Steve Bannon’s School for Far-Right Populists Can’t Be Evicted From an 800-Year-Old Italian Monastery, a Court Rules

The Italian Ministry of Culture plans to appeal the verdict, and is pushing for Bannon’s organization to be slapped with criminal charges.

Benjamin Harnwell, right, translates as former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon participates in a press conference at Atreju 2018, a conference of right-wing activists, on Saturday, Sept 22, 2018 in Rome, Italy. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images.

Steve Bannon’s far-right Judeo-Christian organization has won the latest legal battle in its quest to establish a school at an 800-year-old mountaintop monastery in Italy. But now, the Italian Ministry of Culture, which has sought to oust the organization for over a year now, is hitting back with criminal charges.

Following a hearing held earlier this month, three administrative judges ruled this week that the ministry has no right to revoke the 19-year lease of the monastery that it awarded over two years ago to Bannon, Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, and his partner Benjamin Harnwell, a former aide to a conservative British member of the European Parliament. The verdict was first reported by The Art Newspaper.

The ministry has been trying to evict the duo ever since they announced their plans to turn the complex, an ornate abbey built by Carthusian monks in the 13th century, into an educational facility for far-right “modern gladiators” called the Academy for the Judeo-Christian West. Billed as a kind of boot camp for populists, the academy will offer courses in history, philosophy, politics, and theology to 250 to 300 students at a time.

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

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

The judges declared that the ministry failed to seek an annulment of the contract within the allotted time period. They were also not convinced by the ministry’s claims that the Dignitatis Humanae Institute (DHI), the name of the organization founded by Bannon and Harnwell that is behind the school, made “false and mendacious” statements in its lease application.

“I am very satisfied with this result. Now I hope to be able to carry out the monastery’s restoration project in accordance with the program we presented,” Harnwell told TAN, noting that his academy will launch remote learning programs beginning next month. 

This week’s ruling is the latest in a string of victories in the Italian courts for Trump’s former chief advisor. After the Ministry of Culture initially annulled the lease in October of last year, Bannon and his partner won an appeal in an Italian administrative tribunal in December, which effectively squashed the ministry’s efforts. Then the decision was upheld in February in the country’s highest administrative court.

But the Italian government is not backing down. To revoke the lease, the judges said in their ruling this week, the ministry’s allegations against the DHI must be proven in a criminal court. So within 48 hours after the ruling came down, the Attorney General’s office in Rome informed the DHI that the organization is now facing criminal prosecution over its supposed contractual crimes. 

For the Ministry of Culture, the relationship with Bannon and the subsequent episodes in court have drawn numerous public critiques from local leaders and media. The ministry did not respond to Artnet News’s request for comment, but informed TAN that it planned to appeal the most recent verdict.   

“We stood by the monastery, the community and Italy during this pandemic when it would have been easy to walk away,” Bannon said in a statement released through Harnwell. “We now launch the program of learning and training that will make the world more prosperous, more secure, and more healthy for everyone.”

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