By Benjamin Rubin
Published: March 21st, 2018
President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, called on the far-right to embrace the title racist. “Let them call you racists,” Bannon told the crowd that came to hear him speak in Lille, France on March 10. “Let them call you xenophobes; let them call you nativists; wear it as a badge of honor.”
Bannon delivered his speech to the annual conference of the French far-right party, the National Front, dressed as he usually is—sporting a grumpy fighting uniform of un-ironed clothing under a bomber-style jacket.
Bannon was in Europe promoting his brand of populism and virulent nationalism, and he played up his role in Trump’s victory. “When I came into the campaign, [Trump] was roughly 16 points down, double digits down in every battleground state. Worst of all, they had no money and poor organization. But they did have a secret weapon,” Bannon explained, “all we had to do, was to let Trump be Trump.”
He said that his advice to the Trump campaign was to ignore the traditional political indicators and stay the course with Trump’s messages. “There’s only one number the counts,” Bannon explained, “a poll showed us that 75% of the American people thought that America was in decline, and the working-class people and middle class of the United States of America are not prepared to accept that.”
Both Bannon and the National Front party are going through an inflection point right now. Bannon has been struggling to regain relevance after several major setbacks since his days with the campaign. He lost his job at the White House, and lots of nasty rumors swirl as to why. He also lost his position as executive chairman of Breitbart News, which is notorious for harboring and fostering an alt-right neo-Nazi community.
Like Bannon, the National Front is floundering. They suffered a disappointing showing during the latest round of elections in 2017. This caught them by surprise because in the preceding months, they were riding a wave of positive news. They were doing well in the polls, and Trump’s election victory in the U.S. invigorated extreme-right parties worldwide.
France’s National Front’s leader Marine Le Pen was already well-known for her branding efforts by the time of her defeat in 2017. From the minute she stepped up to power, she has been pledging to de-demonize the party. At the time, she was taking the party over from its founder, her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen. He had called international attention by minimizing the Holocaust.
The conference represented a turning point in the National Front’s branding strategy. Marine Le Pen announced that she was proposing that the party change its name from National Front to National Rally.
Critics quickly pointed out that the new name closely resembles a Vichy era Nazi group’s name. This seems perplexing at first glance. Doesn’t this go against her years-long de-demonization strategy? And why was Bannon invited to speak at extremist parties throughout Europe, while this was happening?
The last few days may have surfaced some clues. A whistleblower from a political marketing company has gone public. Cambridge Analytica has been using underhanded tactics to sow political discord. They targeted the public’s modern civic engagement platform: Facebook.
Leveraging private profile and messaging data from virtually all American Facebook accounts, they targeted ads and misinformation media at users. They set up blogs, videos, Facebook pages, etc. Doing whatever it took to nudge their targets into a desired political direction.
Cambridge Analytica’s first big client? The Trump campaign.
In fact, according to Vox News, Cambridge Analytica’s former vice president is Steve Bannon.
Given his involvement in this shady data firm, it is especially alarming that he is coyly suggesting that the far-right embrace racism and xenophobia and wear it as a badge of honor.