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Protests as Bannon defends Europe’s far right at debate

Trump’s controversial former top aide was interviewed for festival in London

© Reuters Steve Bannon: ‘I absolutely do not condemn Orbán or what Salvini is doing.’

By Mark Townsend, The Guardian

Protesters voiced their anger on Saturday as Steve Bannon took part in a controversial live debate in which he defended far-right political figures in Italy and Hungary.

Speaking in New York at the Open Future festival organised by the Economist, Donald Trump’s former aide hailed Matteo Salvini, Italy’s deputy prime minister, and Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s nationalist prime minister, for attempting to protect the “sovereignty of their country”.

As Bannon was interviewed in front of a live London audience via video link by Zanny Minton Beddoes, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, protesters at the New York office vented their anger at what they saw as the promotion of extreme views. They held banners reading: “Don’t normalize Bannon!” and “Shame”.

“Of course media have to interview odious figures sometimes, and if it’s done with critical skill, that’s simply normal journalism,” Andrew Stroehlein, European media director of Human Rights Watch, said on Twitter. “But media do not have to put an odious figure on stage, advertise him, & sell tickets to see him. @TheEconomist’s #OpenFuture is the latter. In short, white nationalism is not entertainment.”

Less than two weeks ago a scheduled appearance by Bannon at the New Yorker festival was swiftly cancelled following a backlash. The editor of the New Yorker, David Remnick, had announced that he would interview Bannon in front of a live audience with “every intention of asking him difficult questions”.

The Hollywood figures Jim Carrey, John Mulaney, Patton Oswalt and Judd Apatow were among those who warned on social media that they would withdraw from the event if Bannon also appeared.

Bannon’s appearance at the London festival, held to mark the 175th anniversary of the Economist, was also criticised by some, with the musician Emmy the Great withdrawing from the event explaining that she was “worried that not speaking up would be inaction that I would regret later in life, after his [Bannon’s] dangerous ideas had proliferated further”.

Another to pull out was the lawyer and social activist Mónica Ramírez, who said: “Power comes in many forms and can be exercised in a multitude of ways. Among these, power resides in the ability to decide when to speak, where to speak and with whom we speak alongside.”

At the event Bannon refused to call Orbán, who has described refugees as “Muslim invaders”, and Salvini, who has cracked down on migrants, as racist. “These people are trying to make their countries better. I certainly do not condemn Viktor Orbán and Salvini,” he said.

“I absolutely do not condemn Orbán or what Salvini is doing, these individuals, these populist national movements across Europe, are trying to get the sovereignties of their countries back.”

There was a mixed reaction from those watching. Anil Dash said: “The only true thing Bannon said on stage is that he seeks to get his ideas out there and convert young people to his beliefs, and he got a platform to do exactly that.” But Tony Wan, managing editor at the US education technology firm Edsurge, tweeted: “Bannon really had no sensible responses, mostly finger pointing, blame … and a WTF grasp of history.”

Tony Blair told the festival audience that the European Union should make Britain an offer over Brexit to put an end to the “paralysis” of the UK government.

Beddoes had earlier defended her decision to invite Bannon to speak stating that “progress is best achieved when ideas are tested in open debate”.

In a statement on 4 September – the day after the New Yorker had uninvited him – Beddoes said: “Bannon stands for a world view that is antithetical to the liberal values the Economist has always espoused. We asked him to take part because his populist nationalism is of grave consequence in today’s politics.”

She said the Open Future festival had been conceived to “remake the case for liberal values in the 21st century by engaging in a global conversation about our world view with our supporters and, crucially, our critics”.

Bannon’s articulation of far-right views and ties to white nationalist and alt-right groups have made him a divisive figure. He managed Trump’s campaign in the final months of the 2016 election and was chief White House strategist until August 2017, leaving in the aftermath of the deadly far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Related: Indulging Steve Bannon is just a form of liberal narcissism | Nesrine Malik

In January, he lost his role at Breitbart News and was banished from Trump’s inner circle after he was extensively quoted in Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff’s incendiary book about the Trump White House.More recently, Bannon announced plans to establish a foundation in Europe that he hopes will fuel the spread of rightwing populism across the continent. Called the Movement, he has said that it would offer polling, data targeting and support to rightwing populist and far-right nationalist parties in the European parliament elections next May.

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World News: Protests as Bannon defends Europe’s far right at debate
Protests as Bannon defends Europe’s far right at debate
Trump’s controversial former top aide was interviewed for festival in London
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