An ultra-Catholic group linked to former Trump strongman Steve Bannon has been ordered to vacate an Italian monastery under threat of police escort.
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Benjamin Harnwell, founder of the Bannon-backed Dignitatis Humanae Institute (DHI), received a letter December 5 from the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage signed by Edith Gabrielli, director of the Lazio Museum Department.
In that missive, Gabrielli ordered Harnwell to vacate by December 15 the Certosa di Trisulti, a former Carthusian abbey in the village of Collepardo, near Rome, and to leave it “free of people and goods belonging to the DHI”.
Otherwise, Gabrielli warned Harnwell, “we will proceed by forcible means” to the eviction of the DHI – that is, with the help of Italian police – “without the need for further warnings”.
The eviction of the DHI from the thirteenth-century Trisulti Charterhouse represents a serious blow for Harnwell and Bannon in their quest to establish in the religious house a school for the next generation of populist “culture warriors” trained in ultra-Catholic theological, philosophical, historical and political thought.
What Harnwell and Bannon baptised the “Academy for the Judeo-Christian West” at the Trisulti monastery was set in train in January 2019, when the DHI won a 19-year lease on the abbey under an Italian government project to involve the private sector in the maintenance and restoration of public cultural heritage sites.
But the ultra-Catholic “school for gladiators” unravelled from April, when politicians and neighbours began to protest over the “openly xenophobic” political activities planned by the DHI that would replace the “prayer, peace and meditation” proper to an eight-centuries-old monastery.
Journalists subsequently discovered numerous falsities in DHI’s application to lease the Trisulti site, which included forged bank guarantees, irregularities in its legal status and a non-commitment to pay the required rent of 100,000 euros a month plus maintenance costs on the monastery.
Key backers such as cardinals Raymond Burke and Renato Martino also backed out of the DHI project, concerned over the sectarian nature of its Catholicism.
Harnwell and Bannon are fighting for the DHI’s continuity at the Trisulti monastery on three separate fronts.
Not only are they appealing in a Lazio administrative tribunal the Culture Ministry’s October annulment of their lease, but they’re also fighting separate investigations by a court of auditors and Frosinone public prosecutors over allegations they haven’t paid rent and that they forged their tender application documents.
Now, with the Culture Ministry’s eviction order, that fight for the Trisulti monastery seems almost a lost cause for Harnwell, Bannon and the DHI, but a win for those who care about the cause of democracy both in Italy and in Europe generally.