Steve Bannon went to Italy to support its sweeping populist victory

  • Populist firebrand Steve Bannon, Trump's former White House strategist, has shifted his focus to Italy for the country's election, which took place Sunday and plunged national politics into deep uncertainty.
  • Bannon began his tour of Europe supporting Italy's right-wing parties, the largest of which saw its share of the vote increase dramatically.
  • The political strategist is to give a speech in Zurich, Switzerland on Tuesday on the spread of populism in Europe, at an event which has already sold out.
President Donald Trump's former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, poses at Piazza Navona in Rome, March 2, 2018.
Tony Gentile | Reuters
President Donald Trump's former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, poses at Piazza Navona in Rome, March 2, 2018.

Populist firebrand Steve Bannon, Trump's former White House strategist, has shifted his focus to Italy for the country's election, which took place Sunday and plunged national politics into deep uncertainty.

Bannon's mission? To help spread populism in Europe by supporting Italy's right-wing parties, the largest of which saw its share of the vote increase dramatically. His visit to the country is part of a European tour focused on galvanizing the movement's spread throughout the continent.

Italy's election "epitomizes everything, it is pure populism," the former Trump campaign chief told the New York Times from Rome last week. He called Italy the "leader," telling the newspaper in an interview: "The Italian people have gone farther, in a shorter period of time, than the British did for Brexit and the Americans did for Trump."

The anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) and the right-wing Lega party were widely considered to be the main victors on Sunday, with M5S gaining an unprecedented 33 percent of the vote and the center-right coalition, which included Lega, winning 37 percent. Of the parties in that coalition, Lega won the greatest amount of votes at 18 percent, its highest ever.

Both parties claimed victory over the weekend, while the result leaves Italy with a hung parliament and no clear path forward for the formation of a government.

The vote was a harsh repudiation of the center-left alliance that had been leading Italy since 2013, which trailed behind at 23 percent of the vote. Before the results came out, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni called the election "a contest against populism."

Political violence and anti-immigrant demonstrations

Immigration and euroskeptism have been cornerstones of Italy's political shift, so much so that a mainstream politician like Silvio Berlusconi, the former prime minister and leader of the country's center-right coalition, openly proposed mass deportation of more than half a million undocumented migrants.

This year's contest was marked with political violence, as fascist and anti-fascist protesters clashed in the streets and anti-immigrant demonstrations swelled in major cities like Milan.

The leaders of the anti-establishment and right-wing parties have issued calls echoing those of Bannon's white nationalist "alt-right" movement. These included proposals for mass deportation of migrants, economic populism, a turn away from the euro zone, and greater closeness with Russia.

Bannon, who until January served as executive chairman of the website Breitbart, was a staunch Trump backer from the early days of his campaign, and is credited with pushing ethno-nationalism and populism onto the forefront of national politics.

The political strategist is to give a speech in Zurich, Switzerland on Tuesday on the spread of populism in Europe, at an event which is said to have already sold out. A few activist groups have already announced their intent to stage protests outside the speech venue in opposition to Bannon's visit.

Italy is the latest to catch the anti-establishment wave, which has ripped at the seams of the European Union and has seen particular success in the governments of central and eastern European countries like Hungary, Austria and Poland.