Italy’s Culture Ministry Quashes Steve Bannon’s Dream to Turn an 800-Year-Old Monastery Into a School for Far-Right Nationalists

President Trump's former strategist vows to fight the Italian government's decision to evict the academy from the Monastery of Trisulti.

The Trisulti Monastery Certosa di Trisulti in Collepardo. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli /AFP/Getty Images.

Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s quest to build a school for “modern gladiators” of the far right in Italy has hit a snag thanks to the country’s culture ministry. On Friday, the ministry said it would evict Bannon’s academy from the 800-year-old mountaintop monastery where he had planned to hold masterclasses for leaders and activists.

Christened by Bannon as the Academy for the Judeo-Christian West, the institute was designed to accommodate 250 to 300 students at a time. The curriculum, which Bannon was developing himself, would be focused on defending the “Judeo-Christian tradition” in politics and the media against what he claims is growing “secularist intolerance.” Eleven cardinals are listed on its board of advisors.

“Political opinions have nothing to do with [this],” a representative for the ministry of culture, Gianluca Vacca, said in a statement. “We are interested in respecting the law and protecting the national cultural heritage.”

In 2017, Bannon joined forces with Benjamin Harnwell, the British-born director of the Catholic conservative Dignitatis Humanae Institute. They won a bid to lease part of the Monastery of Trisulti, which dates back to the early 13th century. The lease, which was finalized in January, granted the building to the duo for 19 years in exchange for annual rent of $112,000.

Italy is a logical place for the pair to set up shop: White Nationalists have long praised and strategically employed images of Renaissance art as a symbol of and argument for white supremacy.

Benjamin Harnwell, right, listens as former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, speaks with a reporter on his terrace at Hotel de Russie on Friday, Sept 21, 2018 in Rome, Italy. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images.

Benjamin Harnwell, right, with the former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, in Rome in 2018. Photo by Jabin Botsford, The Washington Post via Getty Images.

But the boot camp for political populists proved unpopular with some locals, who organized a series of protests against the academy. In April, the head of Italy’s Democratic Party, Nicola Zingaretti, wrote to the culture minister that “Trisulti has been a place of peace, prayer, and meditation for eight centuries” and that it “is not compatible with the training activities of nationalist groups who often have openly xenophobic positions.”

Benjamin Harnwell poses at the Trisulti Monastery Certosa di Trisulti in Collepardo. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli /AFP/Getty Images.

Benjamin Harnwell at Monastery of Trisulti. Photo by Alberto Pizzoli, AFP/Getty Images.

Now, Italian officials are moving to evict the Dignitatis Humanae Institute from the former monastery in central Italy, claiming that the academy has not met the contractual obligations of the lease, including protecting and maintaining the historic property. A spokesperson for the ministry expressed doubts that the lease was legitimate in the first place, explaining that because the monastery is listed as a national monument, any lease-holder must have demonstrated five years of experience caring for a landmark of cultural significance.

Harnwell, who is a former aide to a conservative British member of the European Parliament, has vowed to fight the decision. “The [institute] would like to clarify erroneous press reports that its lease for the Certosa of Trisulti has been unilaterally revoked by the ministry of culture,” he said in a statement to The Art Newspaper. “While the ministry has announced it is initiating proceedings to revoke the lease, the DHI will contest this illegitimate manoeuvre [sic] with every resource at its disposal no matter how many years it takes. And we will win.”

Bannon is also in no mood to leave. “The fight for Trisulti is a microcosm of the fight for the Judeo-Christian West,” he declared in a statement.

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