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Saturday, April 21, 2018

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

Steve Bannon revealed to a Swedish newspaper that he will be visiting the country to “learn from” the Sweden Democrats (SD), an anti-immigration, anti-Muslim party attempting to rebrand away from its neo-Nazi roots. In seeking alliances with Sweden’s most prominent right-wing party leaders, Bannon is trying to dig himself out of the political irrelevance his downfall has brought. But it appears that even the members of a party with neo-Nazi origins are embarrassed to be associated with him.

In a March 28 interview with Dagens Nyheter, a daily newspaper in Sweden, Bannon revealed his plan to visit the country in the next few months “to learn” from the Sweden Democrats, “some of whom we have studied closely.” When asked what insights would he share with SD members from his time at the White House (he was fired in August 2017), Bannon said he’d urge the SD to continue fighting, increase the party’s contact with the base, and stay away from the so-called “globalists.” He also called SD leader Jimmie Åkesson a “dynamic” politician and characterized SD as an example for “the whole world to study.”

Bannon’s interest in Sweden is neither new nor surprising, as he has long telegraphed his plans to export his far-right politics to Europe. During Bannon’s time at the helm of Breitbart.com, as well as during and after his White House stint, the outlet has shown an obsession with a mythical migrant crime wave in Sweden, particularly as the nation prepares for a general election (Sweden has become a gateway to the anti-migrant agenda in Europe). Bannon’s announcement of his plans comes on the heels of a series of embarrassing setbacks for him — ranging from a humiliating electoral loss by a Republican politician he championed in a ruby-red state to his ousting from Breitbart, which he helped build. It appears he is looking for a comebackwherever he can find it.

When asked directly whether the SD party invited him to visit Sweden, Bannon gave a vaguely affirmative answer, stating he didn’t want to make an announcement yet but that he would “definitely come to Sweden … relatively soon.” But just hours after the interview was published, the secretary of the Sweden Democrats party denied that anyone in the party arranged or even had knowledge of Bannon’s trip and refused to say whether SD will welcome Bannon to Sweden.

Though SD was born out of neo-Nazi circles in the late ‘80s, it has since attempted to enter the mainstream by distancing itself from the overt white nationalism of some of its past leaders. In 2006, the party changed its logo from the torch used by the U.K.’s fascist National Front to an innocuous blue and yellow flower. Now, Sweden Democrats is the nation’s most established right-wing party and boasts a thriving (if controversial) social media presence. But its polarizing message has pushed its supporters away from the party in recent months.

Though SD was polling as the nation’s second-largest party last June, a December 2017 poll showed support for SD has dropped to its lowest level since 2015. In February, a local SD member was forced to resign after posting anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on Facebook. Just last week, the party suffered another self-inflicted wound when one of its members was sentenced for repeated domestic abuse.

The recently created more extreme far-right party Alternative for Sweden (inspired by the German AfD) serves as an additional threat to SD. AfS hopes to curry favor with SD’s most extreme elements and has successfully recruited several SD parliamentarians in the past few months, including one who was expelled from SD for extremist ties.

It’s a testament to Bannon’s toxicity that the Swedish party that perhaps most viably embodies Bannon’s ideology has denied any contact with him, seemingly in an attempt to protect its vulnerable credibility. SD’s Åkesson has admitted that in the past, his party has been its own worst enemy, a problem which Bannon might find hard to resist, probably because he can easily relate.

Header image by Sarah Wasko / Media Matters