The Italian government has revoked the lease on a medieval monastery granted to a group led by former White House aide and strategist Steve Bannon, citing accusations of fraud connected with its plans to create an international training school for far-right activists.
Italy’s cultural heritage ministry, which had previously leased an 800-year-old 13th century Carthusian monastery near Rome to Dignitatis Humanae Institute (DHI), a conservative Catholic organization, announced Friday that it would no longer honor the contract it agreed to with Bannon, who serves as a trustee to the group.
The government said it took seriously reports of fraud in the competitive tender process that led to Bannon securing the property to establish a self-described “gladiator school for cultural warriors,” where students would learn right-wing, nationalistic philosophy, theology, history, and economics, and receive political instructions from Bannon.
But these plans went awry, potentially permanently, earlier this month after the Italian newspaper, Repubblica, reported that a letter used to guarantee the lease was forged. In its investigation, the newspaper discovered the letter displayed a signature purported to be of an employee at the Danish bank Jyske. Bank officials told the newspaper that the letter was fraudulent because the employee hadn’t worked there for years.
The revelations prompted Italian Culture Minister Alberto Bonisoli to declare the contract with Bannon null and void, arguing the DHI school failed to meet the leasing conditions. Moreover, Bonisoli said the school had not paid the rent and had not carried out required maintenance work.
In an interview with The Economist, Bannon dismissed the Italian government’s claims and said DHI would fight to keep the property. “Everything actually is totally legitimate…all of this stuff is just dust being kicked up by the left,” Bannon said in the interview.
The Italian government’s move represents one in a series of challenges and controversies swirling about DHI and Bannon.
Since December, according to The Economist, DHI’s Chairman Luca Volontè, a former Christian Democrat politician, has been on trial in Milan, charged with accepting a $2.4 million bribe from private and public sources in Azerbaijan.
Volontè was allegedly paid for helping to block criticism of human-rights abuses in Azerbaijan while a member of the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe, The Economist said, adding that Volontè denies any wrongdoing.
Bannon, the former Breitbart News chairman turned senior strategist to President Trump, was forced out of his role at the White House in 2017, after a brief but turbulent stint. Since then, he moved on to create models for far-right political activism in Europe, focusing on populist groups that oppose immigration and advocate for white extremist positions.
But Bannon’s gloomy shadow never completely faded from Washington, where it still has the ability to embarrass Trump and his staff.
Last week, for example, excerpts of author Michael Wolff’s new book, Siege, appeared in The Guardian with searing descriptions of his former boss, the president of the United States.
In the book, Bannon excoriates Trump in his typically, hyperbolic blunt-language style, suggesting there will come a day when even the president’s supporters will turn on him.
“This is where it isn’t a witch hunt — even for the hard-core, this is where he turns into just a crooked business guy, and one worth $50 million instead of $10 billion,” Bannon said in the excerpts published by The Guardian. “Not the billionaire he said he was, just another scumbag.”
Wolff’s previous book, 2018’s “Fire and Fury,” held similarly caustic quotes that were unattributed and generally thought to be from Bannon, a belief that helped hasten his departure from the White House.
After the earlier book was published, Trump issued a statement calling Bannon “Sloppy Steve” and saying he “lost his mind” after being ousted from the administration.
Wolff quotes Bannon on the record, and even gives him special thanks in the acknowledgements of the new book, calling the president’s fallen friend “the Virgil anyone might be lucky to have as a guide for a descent into Trumpworld…. [I]t is a measure of Bannon’s character that he stood by his remarks in ‘Fire and Fury’ without complaint, quibbles or hurt feelings.”