Italy has closed a far-right, ultra-Catholic “gladiator school” linked to Steve Bannon, a former advisor to US president Donald Trump.

Driving the news

Italy’s Culture Ministry announced Thursday that it had evicted the ultra-populist Dignitatis Humanae Institute (DHI) from the 13th-century Trisulti Charterhouse in Collepardo, south of Rome.

In February 2018, the DHI acquired a 19-year lease on the Charterhouse from the Italian Government for the sum of 100,000 euros a year.

The planned “Academy for the Judeo-Christian West” was to form the next generation of conservative leaders in ultra-traditionalist Catholic theological, political, philosophical, historical and economic values.

But in January this year, at least one cardinal attached to the DHI – Renato Martino, the former Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations and former President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerants – objected to the far-right political leanings of the planned populist boot camp.

“I recommend you make sure the abbey is really turned into a place for worship and meeting open to everybody”, Martino wrote to DHI director Benjamin Harnwell.

“I really hope you and DHI succeed in carrying out the project without any distortions or modifications, including in its implementation phase, that will degenerate the purposes you have worked for so hard”, the cardinal added.


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The Italian Government said it was revoking the DHI lease because “contrary to what had been declared at the time of the candidacy, the association did not meet the conditions required for the concession” of the monastery.

Not only did the DHI have no experience with the management of heritage sites – or had undertaken to make Government-mandated repairs to the monastery – but a bank document submitted by the DHI in its application to use the Charterhouse turned out to be forged.

The DHI was also not registered with the Italian Government as a non-profit organisation.

The Culture Ministry also decided that the DHI did not have the strictly religious principles it claimed to espouse, but instead was motivated by political ideology.

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Why it matters

The Italian Government’s decision to evict the DHI from the Trisulti Monastery is a blow for Steve Bannon, who had hoped to form at the Charterhouse the next generation of Matteo Salvinis and Viktor Orbáns.

The eviction will hit the ex-Trump strategist especially hard after he lost the support in June of even ultra-reactionary Cardinal Raymond Burke, ‘leader of the opposition’ to Pope Francis.

Most of all though, the Culture Ministry’s call is a victory for common sense over the anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-migrant, anti-Muslim and anti-women populisms currently plaguing Europe.

Pope Francis has repeatedly denounced this kind of politics, even going so far in August as to compare them to Hitler’s speeches in 1934, before the outbreak of the Second World War.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.