The arrest of far-right propagandist Steve Bannon in the US on fraud and money-laundering charges has sent shock waves through far-right populist circles around the world.
Bannon, who was arrested by agents of the US Postal Service aboard a super-yacht belonging to a Chinese billionaire, is accused of running a fraudulent fundraising scheme. The indictment alleges that he and others behind the “We Build The Wall” campaign – supposedly aimed at helping Trump build his wall on the Mexican border – defrauded donors and personally profited from the scheme.
Extraordinarily, this was reported by the BBC with no mention of the fact that Bannon is a close friend and political associate of Nigel Farage. Farage credited Leave’s win in 2016 to the help given by Bannon and his toxic far-right website Breitbart. Bannon is also the former vice president of Cambridge Analytica, the company at the centre of a massive data abuse scandal that gave considerable help to the Leave campaign, as well as to Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016.
In many ways, Bannon can be seen as Nigel Farage’s mentor. Their relationship dates back to at least 2012, when Bannon invited Farage to spend several days with him in the US, introducing him to key figures on the US far right who have since gone on to occupy various roles in the Trump administration.
Farage began writing a column for Breitbart in 2014, and Breitbart stories promoting Brexit and attacking immigrants were widely shared on social media in the run-up to the referendum, heavily amplified by an army of Russian bots and sockpuppets. So grateful was Farage for this help that he gave his mentor a portrait of Bannon as Napoleon, in the style of the famous painting by Jacques-Louis David.
It’s not known whether Farage has also been getting tips on fundraising from his old friend and helpmeet, though there is video evidence of Bannon offering financial help to a fawning Farage. And the Brexit Party leader’s fundraising schemes have certainly been extremely…’interesting’.
Farage’s former personal assistant, “Posh George” Cottrell, served time for a fraud in the US that involved offering to launder drug money on the dark web. Cottrell co-directed Brexit referendum fundraising for UKIP and is also linked to Arron Banks and to Russian entities involved in money-laundering.
Curiously, when “Posh George” was arrested by the FBI in 2016, Andy Wigmore (the Belizean diplomat who was Arron Banks’ sidekick at Leave.EU) passed FBI documents about the arrest to the Russian Embassy in London. He and Banks subsequently lied to a parliamentary committee about their multiple meetings with agents of Putin’s mafia state, and have never satisfactorily explained why they passed these documents to the Russians.
Farage has used some highly questionable techniques for raising funds for/via the Brexit Party (which is run as a private limited company whose directors are Farage, Richard Tice and Paul Oakden). In 2019, the Electoral Commission found that the “the fundraising structure adopted by the party leaves it open to high and ongoing risk of receiving and accepting impermissible donations”.
Farage is not Bannon’s only British friend. He is also well acquainted with Boris Johnson. In 2019, he told an interviewer:
“Right after we won [the 2016 US election], Boris flew over. Because their victory was as unexpected as ours. I got to know him quite well in the transition period.”
Bannon also said that he had been advising Johnson on key political speeches, including his resignation speech as Foreign Secretary in 2018:
“I’ve been telling him one of my recommendations is that he gave one of the most important political speeches of 2016. Was his closing speech, a three-to-five-minute speech in June 2016, his closing argument on national TV for the Leave campaign … And it was magnificent.
“And all I was telling him all weekend was just to incorporate those themes. Those same themes. Basically, he was saying that June 23 was independence day for Great Britain. Their independence day being like our July 4… This is the tee up, right. He’s back.”
The more we discover about Trump, Brexit and the people who promoted them, the more they stink of fraud and corruption. As Senator Elizabeth Warren tweeted on the news of Bannon’s arrest: “Trump’s monument to hate at the border has always been one big con to fan the flames of bigotry and help his buddies get rich.” Exactly the same could be said of Brexit.
Bannon enjoys his reputation as the Prince of Darkness of the right. “Darkness is good,” he told one interviewer. “Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power.”
But his arrest shows that those who fan the flames of far-right populism for their own ends may not be as safe from the long arm of the law as they’d like to believe.