In a surprise appearance on Saturday, former Trump adviser Steve Bannon addressed France’s far-right National Front, telling a gathering of the party that they are “part of a worldwide movement that is bigger than France, bigger than Italy, bigger than Hungary — bigger than all of it. And history is on our side.”
The one-time White House strategist, who is often credited with helping Donald Trump win the presidency in 2016, told the group, “The tide of history is with us, and it will compel us to victory after victory after victory,” The Washington Post reported.
Dressed in his trademark disheveled canvas coat and several layers of dark clothing, Bannon denounced central banks, central governments and “crony capitalists,” the Associated Press reported.
The surprise address took place on the first day of the party congress in Lille, in northern France. Bannon’s appearance was announced late Friday via Twitter by the party’s Deputy President, Louis Aliot, who wrote: “The people are waking up and taking their destiny in hand.”
Shortly afterwards, Aliot, tweeted a photograph of him shaking hands with Bannon, who he wrote “represents rejection of the establishment of which one of the worst symbols is the EU in Brussels,” The Guardian reported.
Bannon’s speech came as he tours Europe on what he has described as a listening tour. The former Goldman Sachs investment banker, who was ousted from the White House last year and stepped down as chairman of Breitbart News Network in January, has visited Switzerland — he gave his first European speech in Zurich earlier in the week — and Italy, where voters last Sunday elected a parliament dominated by anti-immigrant populists.
He called the Italy vote “an earthquake” that has boosted far-right movements across Europe.
National Front leader Marine Le Pen is working to unite her divided party and bolster her ability to lead it as the party meets for the first time since she lost resoundingly to Emmanuel Macron in the final round of the French presidential election last May.
Macron won with 66% of the vote vs. 34% for Le Pen, who had threatened to curb immigration and pull France out of the European Union, among other measures.
Macron’s victory followed defeats for right-wing populist candidates in Austria and the Netherlands and was largely seen as a counter to the anti-establishment fervor sweeping Europe.
Recent polling showed that 55% of respondents don’t want Le Pen to run in the next election.
In his address, Bannon praised Le Pen’s vision of a political fight between nationalists and globalists, even as a few party members warned that his support could damage Le Pen’s efforts to cleanse the National Front of its racist stigma.
Bannon told the crowd, “Let them call you racists. Let them call you xenophobes. Let them call you nativists,” The Post reported. “Wear it as a badge of honor. Because every day, we get stronger and they get weaker.”
Le Pen defended inviting Bannon, saying party members should listen to “the architect of Donald Trump’s victory” in 2016.
Founded by Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in the 1970s, the National Front plans to change its name via a vote on Sunday. The younger Le Pen has said the proposed name change is needed to show that the party had become “adult,” The Guardian reported.
She has long sought to “de-demonize” the party by moving away from its racist past, but Le Pen’s own father complained that Bannon was the “most radical” of Trump’s advisers, saying Saturday’s invitation “is not exactly the definition of ‘de-demonization.’”
Follow Greg Toppo on Twitter: @gtoppo