Stephen K. Bannon, the former chief of Breitbart News and now President Donald Trump’s chief strategist, was the main driver of the president’s rapid signing of an executive order on immigration, which set off a political firestorm.
At the center of critics’ concerns is the perception that the order is aimed at Muslims, though Trump said the order “is not a Muslim ban” and noted that it singled out only seven of about 50 majority-Muslim countries.
Bannon long has argued that Americans, whether they know it or not, are in a war with radical Islam, describing it in sweeping, almost apocalyptic terms. His view appears to be shared by Trump and his national security adviser, the retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, and by several lower-ranking officials.
Illuminating Bannon’s views is a lengthy talk he gave in the summer of 2014 via Skype from Los Angeles to a meeting of the Institute for Human Dignity, a conservative Catholic group based in Rome.
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Following are excerpts from the talk, which was first published in full by BuzzFeed in November, with explanatory comments.
Speaking as Islamic State fighters battled their way across Iraq, seizing territory and shocking U.S. and European officials, Bannon repeatedly stated the United States was in a “global war” with radical Islam, which he sometimes describes as “Islamic fascism.” He emphasized its targeting of Christians and their use of contemporary social media:
... (W)e are in an outright war against jihadist Islamic fascism. And this war is, I think, metastasizing far quicker than governments can handle it.
If you look at what’s happening in ISIS. ... If you look at what they’ve done with Twitter and Facebook and modern ways to fundraise, and to use crowdsourcing to fund, besides all the access to weapons, over the last couple days they have had a radical program of taking kids and trying to turn them into bombers. ...
That war is expanding and it’s metastasizing to sub-Saharan Africa. We have Boko Haram and other groups that will eventually partner with ISIS in this global war, and it is, unfortunately, something that we’re going to have to face, and we’re going to have to face very quickly.
What ISIS wants
Bannon discusses the hopes of the Islamic State,also known as ISIS or ISIL, to slaughter people in Western Europe and the United States:
They have a Twitter account up today, ISIS does, about turning the United States into a “river of blood.” ... And trust me, that is going to come to Europe. That is going to come to Central Europe, it’s going to come to Western Europe, it’s going to come to the United Kingdom. ... We are in a crisis of the underpinnings of capitalism, and on top of that we’re now, I believe, at the beginning stages of a global war against Islamic fascism.
Asked whether “secularism or the Muslim world” posed the greater threat to Judeo-Christian civilization, Bannon links the two:
It’s a great question. I certainly think secularism has sapped the strength of the Judeo-Christian West to defend its ideals, right?
If you go back to your home countries and your proponent of the defense of the Judeo-Christian West and its tenets, oftentimes, particularly when you deal with the elites, you’re looked at as someone who is quite odd. So it has kind of sapped the strength.
But I strongly believe that whatever the causes of the current drive to the caliphate was – and we can debate them, and people can try to deconstruct them – we have to face a very unpleasant fact: And that unpleasant fact is that there is a major war brewing, a war that’s already global. It’s going global in scale, and today’s technology, today’s media, today’s access to weapons of mass destruction, it’s going to lead to a global conflict that I believe has to be confronted today. Every day that we refuse to look at this as what it is, and the scale of it, and really the viciousness of it, will be a day where you will rue that we didn’t act.
A questioner asks about Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, and Bannon gives a mixed answer – rejecting Putin’s corruption but suggesting “the Judeo-Christian West” could learn from his “traditionalism.”
I’m not justifying Vladimir Putin and the kleptocracy that he represents. ... However, we the Judeo-Christian West really have to look at what he’s talking about as far as traditionalism goes – particularly the sense of where it supports the underpinnings of nationalism – and I happen to think that the individual sovereignty of a country is a good thing and a strong thing. I think strong countries and strong nationalist movements in countries make strong neighbors, and that is really the building blocks that built Western Europe and the United States, and I think it’s what can see us forward.
Asked how the West should respond to the threat from radical Islam and “not lose itself in the process,” Bannon for the first time dropped the adjectives and talked simply about the “struggle against Islam.” He connects the current world situation to centuries-old conflicts between Christianity and Islam.
You should take a very, very, very aggressive stance against radical Islam. And I realize there are other aspects that are not as militant and not as aggressive and that’s fine.
If you look back at the long history of the Judeo-Christian West struggle against Islam, I believe that our forefathers kept their stance, and I think they did the right thing. I think they kept it out of the world, whether it was at Vienna, or Tours, or other places … It bequeathed to us the great institution that is the church of the West.
Bannon was referring to two historic victories of Christian forces over Muslim attackers: One was in 732 in Tours, France, when Charles Martel successfully fought off Muslim horsemen. The other was in 1529, with the failed siege of Vienna by the Ottoman Empire. Bannon calls on his fellow Catholics to act during what he describes as a “crisis.”
I would ask everybody in the audience today, because you really are the movers and drivers and shakers and thought leaders in the Catholic Church today ... ask yourself, 500 years from today, what are they going to say about me? What are they going to say about what I did at the beginning stages of this crisis?
Call to action
In conclusion, Bannon pressed his call for action – without making clear what sort of action he seeks – but also warned against what he calls “our baser instincts.”
It is a crisis, and it’s not going away. You don’t have to take my word for it. All you have to do is read the news every day, see what’s coming up, see what they’re putting on Twitter, what they’re putting on Facebook, see what’s on CNN, what’s on BBC. See what’s happening, and you will see that we’re in a war of immense proportions.
It’s very easy to play to our baser instincts, and we can’t do that. But our forefathers didn’t do it, either. And they were able to stave this off, and they were able to defeat it, and they were able to bequeath to us a church and a civilization that really is the flower of mankind, so I think it’s incumbent on all of us to ... really think about what our role is in this battle that’s before us.