A race absolutely alien to God has invaded the land of the Christians, has reduced the people with sword, rapine and flame.
- Pope Urban II, 1095 AD before the First Crusade
Last Friday, President Trump’s controversial and besieged chief strategist Steve Bannon left the White House, ending seven months as the unabashed driver of the president’s populist agenda.
Just a few days later, Bannon returned to his old position at Breitbart News, an alt-right online publication, as executive chairman. “The populist-nationalist movement got a lot stronger today,” Breitbart News editor in chief Alex Marlow said in a statement. “Breitbart gained an executive chairman with his finger on the pulse of the Trump” administration.
During his return to Breitbart, Bannon announced that the Trump presidency was “over”, but that he planned to advance his populist agenda and go “to war for Trump against his opponents- on Capitol Hill, in the media, and in corporate America.”
As a news editor and political operative, Bannon is often reviled as a mysterious figure working behind Washington DC lines. While that depiction may ring true for some of his enemies, the populist ideology that Bannon carries back to Breitbart News contains a clear message with definite objectives.
At the center of Bannon’s populism is what he calls the “crisis” surrounding western Judeo-Christian culture, one that is caused by several distinct forces. In effort to cure this existential crisis, Bannon seeks to wage a revolution where Judeo-Christian westerners combat their enemies to take back their way of life.
According to Bannon, the first threat to Judeo-Christian culture is the ideological advancement of Islamic fascism. In a 2014 speech to the Human Dignity Institute, a conservative Christian organization, Bannon spoke of an “all-out war” with Islamic fascists. He further characterized the conflict as “metastasizing” across the world, through social media and violent attacks, and threatening Judeo-Christian values.
An additional threat comes from a “brutal” form of capitalism, one driven by state-sponsored cronyism and private commodity driven output, that has supplanted the Judeo-Christian method of “enlightened capitalism”.
In his 2014 speech, Bannon stated that during the twentieth century the West used “enlightened capitalism” to generate large amounts of wealth, and take back Europe by defeating the “barbaric empire of the Far East.” In addition to providing territorial gains, Bannon explained that “enlightened capitalism” offered a humane and equitable form of wealth exchange. In practice, the system does not objectify workers for profit, rather it distributed wealth to the middle class for the utility of society.
But the emergence of state sponsored and commodity driven capitalism, says Bannon, has denigrated Judeo-Christian economics- a system that empowers its chosen people through “divine providence” to be “the creators of wealth”- in favor of a small percentage of wealthy elites.
Based on these existential threats to Judeo-Christian culture, Bannon has put his populist ideology into practice- taking aim at destroying Islamism and the elite institutions that threaten the Judeo-Christian way of life.
As a member of President Trump’s staff, Bannon lobbied for the Muslim travel ban, and loudly voiced his desire to destroy the ‘administrative state’, an amalgam of institutions he sees as culpable for the destruction of ‘enlightened capitalism’.
Furthermore, Bannon has applied his ideology using a Leninist-type revolt based on suppression and undemocratic principles. Just days after seizing power in Russia, Vladimir Lenin employed combative, and at times brutal, tactics to further his revolution. He censored the press, and violently denounced his critics in effort to “destroy” and remove them “from the face of the earth”.
Bannon uses a similar tactical approach when executing his populist ideology. Just months into the Trump administration, Bannon told the New York Times that the media should “shut up” and was the “opposition party”. As he left the White House, Bannon referred to himself as “Bannon the Barbarian” and vowed to “crush the opposition”.
Even more disconcerting, however, is the ethnocentric basis for Bannon’s populist message.
Throughout his 2014 speech, Bannon lamented the destruction of Judeo-Christian values, and vowed to restore the culture to its previous state of prosperity. Nowhere in that speech, however, does Bannon include ethnic groups outside of middle-class Judeo-Christians- a notion that implicitly excludes all people besides those with historical roots in Judaism and Christianity.
As a result, Bannon’s populism aligns with the ethno-nationalist trend, witnessed in Charlottesville, that is emerging in the US. By denouncing the ‘mitigating forces’ against Judeo-Christians, such as globalism and Islam, Bannon has created an ‘us against them’ narrative- designating Judeo-Christians as the embattled true holders of world enlightenment.
It is within Bannon’s message, and his ethnocentric howl for revolution, that we find the danger in his populist ideology. Indeed, Bannon veils his worldview of global ethnic dominance with a more palatable message- one of war against terrorism and economic inequality.
In fact, Bannon’s sense of populism already contributes to poverty-based racial conflicts, like the one seen in Charlottesville, that are angry expressions of financial destitution manifested as ground-level ethnic conflicts.
Though Bannon no longer holds a position in the Trump administration, his media platform with Breitbart News provides a wide audience for his message. Thus, it is important to remain wary of Bannon’s cryptic populism of ethnic dominance, and spot dangerous strains of nationalism hidden under the context of economic prosperity.