Steve Bannon loses bid to start right-wing political academy in Italy

Philip Pullella
·2 min read
FILE PHOTO: Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon exits the Manhattan Federal Court in New York City

By Philip Pullella

ROME (Reuters) - Steve Bannon, the former adviser to ex-U.S. President Donald Trump, has lost a legal battle to set up a right-wing Catholic political academy in an abbey in Italy.

The Council of State on Monday ruled against the Dignitatis Humanae Institute (DHI), backed by Bannon, which wanted to start the school in an 800-year-old monastery south of Rome.

The case has been in the Italian court system for years, with suits and counter-suits between the DHI on one side and the culture ministry, which owns the property on the other, along with a group of local environmental and civic organisations.

Bannon, a Catholic, was helping to craft the curriculum for leadership courses aimed at right-wing Catholic activists at what was to be the Academy for the Judeo-Christian West in the town of Trisulti.

Bannon in a statement on Monday vowed to fight the decision.

"We intend to appeal and win," he said. "Trisulti is an Italian treasure and we will fight for it.”

Many residents opposed the school. In 2019, the ministry withdrew a 19-year lease, citing violations of contractual obligations. The institute appealed to the regional tribunal saying the move was politically motivated and won the appeal last year.

The institute’s founder, Benjamin Harnwell, confirmed Monday's decision against the DHI in a telephone call with Reuters but said he had no immediate further comment. He said lawyers were still studying the ruling.

During the Trump administration, the project for the institute found support among Italy's populist right-wing politicians, such as former interior minister Matteo Salvini.

Over the years the project lost support of key Roman Catholic conservatives, including American Cardinal Raymond Burke, who for years strongly backed Bannon and was a honorary president of the institute.

Burke yanked his support after Bannon said he wanted to make a film from a book alleging homosexuality in Vatican.

Days before leaving office in January, Trump granted clemency to Bannon, a key adviser in his 2016 presidential run.

Bannon was charged last year with swindling the president’s supporters over an effort to raise private funds to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. He pleaded not guilty.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella, additional reporting by Mark Hosenball in Washington; Editing by Giles Elgood and David Gregorio)