The American dark money behind Europe’s far right

From Britain to Hungary to Italy, the far right is on the rise. Investigations over the past year have revealed the vital role of US Christian conservatives.

By Mary Fitzgerald Claire Provost

July 14, 2019 "Information Clearing House" - Five years ago, Matteo Salvini stripped and posed half-naked for a series of “sexy” photos that were auctioned on eBay. At the time, he was a senior official of Italy’s separatist Lega Nord party. His bizarre photoshoot took place on the sidelines of a National Front conference in France. Beneficiaries of the auction included part of an Italian anti-abortion network that claims to be “inspired” by the “heritage of Christian culture” and responds to a “conspiracy against life.”

Today, Salvini’s party has transformed itself into one of the most prominent nationalist movements in Europe (now known only as Lega). Salvini himself has become Italy’s interior minister and the country’s most recognizable politician, emboldened by stunning results in the recent European Parliament elections, in which his party won a third of Italian votes (about five times more than the 6 percent it received in 2014).

Along with Marine le Pen in France, leader of the National Front (now rebranded as the National Rally party), Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, and others, Salvini is leading a startling resurgence of Europe’s far right. Across the continent, the messaging of these right-wing populists is increasingly slick, their party machines are disciplined, and their policies have been carefully crafted to appeal to a wider range of voters.

Back in 2013, a senior Tory dismissed the anti-EU activists in his own Conservative Party as “swivel-eyed loons.” Three years later came the political earthquake of the Brexit referendum result—in which the fringe became the majority. Today, Europe’s nationalist movements have undergone a makeover of a comparable speed and magnitude. Last month, they collectively won a record number of seats in the European Parliament.

“It is a sign of a Europe that has changed,” proclaimed Salvini at a triumphant press conference in Milan, shortly after the polls closed. Holding up a rosary, kissing a crucifix, and thanking the “Immaculate Heart of Mary,” he proclaimed it time to “save” Europe’s “Judeo-Christian roots.” In Hungary, his ally Orbán—self-styled champion of illiberal democracy—hailed “a new era in European politics.”


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