BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Just as Karl Rove was often referred to as President George W. Bush's brain, Steven K. Bannon just may be President Donald Trump's brain on steroids. Were President Donald Trump's executive order, "Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States" – aka the Muslim ban -- and the naming of Bannon, his chief strategist, to the National Security Council, indicative of the first stages of a holy war against Islam?
As The Washington Post's Frances Stead Sellers and David A. Fahrenthold recently pointed out, "Bannon's past statements, aired primarily on Breitbart and other conservative platforms, serve as a road map for the controversial agenda that has roiled Washington and shaken the global order during Trump's first two weeks in office."
In 2014, before Bannon, a former Goldman Sachs banker, who at the time was the proprietor of the incendiary white-nationalist Brietbart News, became a household name as Trump's chief political strategist, he told a Vatican-held Christian conference audience that: "We're now, I believe, at the beginning stages of a global war against Islamic fascism."
Speaking at the International Conference on Human Dignity -- the third annual meeting organized by the Rome-based Christian organization Dignitatis Humanae Institute – via Skype, Bannon told the gathering: "We're at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict, of which if the people in this room, the people in the church, do not bind together and really form what I feel is an aspect of the church militant, to really be able to not just stand with our beliefs, but to fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that's starting, that will completely eradicate everything that we've been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years."
Bannon extolled the virtues of capitalism: "I'm a very practical, pragmatic capitalist. I was trained at Goldman Sachs; I went to Harvard Business School. I'm as hard-nosed a capitalist as you can get," he explained.
He criticized the libertarianism of figures like Ayn Rand, however, for "taking away from the underlying spiritual, moral foundations of Christianity and really Judeo-Christian belief." He added, "That form of capitalism is quite different, when you really look at it, to what I call the enlightened capitalism of the Judeo-Christian West."
According to Alternet's Ben Norton, "The Dignitatis Humanae Institute is a religious group that advocates for 'the active participation of the Christian faith in the public square.' It promotes what it calls 'authentic human dignity' by, in its words, 'supporting Christians in public life, assisting them in presenting effective and coherent responses to increasing efforts to silence the Christian voice in the public square.'"
Bannon has called the group's founder Benjamin Harnwell, a longtime aide to Conservative member of the European Parliament Nirj Deva, "the smartest guy in Rome" and "a very tough guy."
BuzzFeed's J. Lester Feder pointed out that The Dignitatis Humanae Institute "has ties to some of the most conservative factions inside the Catholic Church; Cardinal Raymond Burke, one of the most vocal critics of Pope Francis, who was ousted from a senior Vatican position in 2014, is chair of the group's advisory board."
At the time of the speech, Bannon, the chairman of Breitbart and an influential media figure on the far right, had little standing within government circles. Now, all that has changed.
As Haaretz correspondent Bradley Burston posited earlier this month, "Not only does it [the Vatican speech] predict the imminence and inevitability of a war pitting Christianity against Islam, it obliquely suggests that Jews could find themselves a target for U.S. Christian anger somewhere down the road."
Bannon said that when he worked for Goldman Sachs, he understood that "there are people in New York that feel closer to people in London and in Berlin than they do to people in Kansas and in Colorado, and they have more of this elite mentality that they're going to dictate to everybody how the world's going to be run."
In response to a question about the 2014 Republican primary defeat of then-House majority leader Eric Cantor - at the time, the sole Jewish Republican in either the House or Senate -- Bannon said the defeat was "monumental" and "the biggest election upset in the history of the American republic." He pointed out that it the Tea Party candidate David Brat - whom he did not name -- is an evangelical Christian. "And the reason that this guy won," Bannon said, "is quite simple: Middle-class people and working-class people are tired of people like Eric Cantor who say they're conservative, selling out their interests every day to crony capitalists."
After you put his white supremacist-sympathizing views aside, perhaps the most troublesome thing about Bannon, who is a navy veteran, is his apparent obsession with warfare. According to The Daily Beast's Asawin Suebsaeng, people who have known him for years describe him as "a man almost obsessed with military history, guerilla warfare, and the general art of war and nationalist foreign policy."
"He constantly used military terms, used military terms to describe people who worked for him… like, 'grunts,'" one former Breitbart staffer told Suebsaeng. "He always spoke in terms of aggression. It was always on-the-attack, double down... macho stuff. Steve has an obsession with testosterone."
"Steve is a strong militarist, he's in love with war—it's almost poetry to him," Julia Jones, Bannon's longtime Hollywood writing partner and former close friend, told The Daily Beast in an interview last year, well before Trump won the election and Bannon landed his new job. "He's studied it down through the ages, from Greece, through Rome... every battle, every war… Never back down, never apologize, never show weakness… He lives in a world where it's always high noon at the O.K. Corral."
There is no question that Bannon has earned Trump's loyalty, and is now at the center of power in the White House. How Bannon's white supremacist, Christian nationalist views, his obsession with military strategy and tactics, and his favoring of muscular action in dealing with Islamist terror networks will play itself out is still unclear. What does seem clear, however, is at this point is that there are few if any Trump staffers who can control him.