TRISULTI CHARTERHOUSE, Italy (CN) – When Steve Bannon comes to Italy, he likes to make his way to this walled monastery hidden away from the world in the mountains south of Rome. Bannon, the globetrotting advocate of right-wing nationalism and former chief strategist for candidate and then President Donald Trump, has ambitions for this magnificent relic of medieval monastic life: He sees the old abbey one day functioning as his “Academy for the Judeo-Christian West,” a place where he can mold cultural and political “gladiators” to carry out his fight against liberal elites, Islam and socialists.
Think of it as a cauldron from which mini-Bannons and mini-Trumps might be released onto the world with a seal of approval to lead nationalist causes.
Bannon's project is moving ahead despite the Italian culture minister's move in May to revoke a license to operate the monastery for 19 years. The license was awarded to a conservative religious think tank tied to Bannon. Now a legal fight appears set to take place.
“The ministry has no grounds whatsoever to revoke the license or to annul the lease,” said Benjamin Harnwell, director of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, the think tank that runs the monastery.
Harnwell called Culture Minister Alberto Bonisoli's actions “politically motivated.” Bonisoli is a member of the 5-Star Movement, an anti-establishment party with left-wing tendencies.
“I am looking forward to clearing our name and fighting as forcefully as possible when this gets to court,” Harnwell said inside the monastery in an interview with Courthouse News. He expected any legal fight to take a long time, possibly years, considering Italy's complicated legal system.
The ministry charged that Harnwell's think tank, which took possession of the monastery in January, has failed to pay rent and perform renovations as promised. Harnwell dismissed those allegations as untrue.
“If they [the ministry] don't go to court, we will,” Harnwell said. “They've damaged our image.”
The ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment. As of July, Harnwell said the ministry had not formally ordered his institute to leave the premises.
In the meantime, Harnwell said Bannon's visions for a nationalist academy are moving forward. He said his institute will provide more information about the academy's courses, curriculum and degrees this autumn.
It's not hard to imagine Bannon's academy taking shape inside the cloister, churches, courtyards and nooks and crannies of the Trisulti Charterhouse, a 13th-century monastery.
In recent years as the monastery's remaining monks died, the Italian government sought a new purpose for the charterhouse, which is owned by the Italian state and open to the public. The monks here tended to a prodigious collection of medicinal herbs and concocted sambuca, a sweet anise-flavored liqueur.
“For many years now it had lost its religious function,” said Giorgio Liberatori, an architect in the nearby town of Collepardo. “It was inevitable that it had to change hands.”
Liberatori said he and others in Collepardo are not opposed to Bannon's academy taking up quarters in the monastery. He said no one else had showed much interest in the charterhouse. As for Bannon and his radical ideas, he said time would tell how having his academy close to Collepardo might affect the town. But he added: “The average citizen doesn't care.”
Harnwell said Bannon's academy will be housed in the former cloister, a secluded area where monks once lived in simple rooms, engrossed in prayer and silence.