Steve Bannon brought his effort to foment a nationalist, anti-immigrant movement across the world to Roswell Thursday evening to stump for Republican candidate Mick Rich, who is running to oust Democrat Martin Heinrich from the US Senate.
At the Hi-Q on Virginia Street, Rich took the podium first, praising President Donald Trump's first two years in office. He then bowed to Bannon, who spoke for several minutes. A screening of a pro-Trump propaganda film produced by Bannon followed, blasted from a projector and onto a large screen for the audience of about 70 people.
SFR couldn't determine whether the Rich campaign or Bannon's newly formed political organization, Citizens of the American Republic, first initiated contact to arrange the gathering. Nathan James, a spokesman for the campaign, said Rich was simply invited to speak.
"It's kind of a chicken and egg situation, I'm not sure who set it up," Rich tells SFR. "It's the grassroots message [of Bannon] that really resonates with my campaign."
Rich has pushed his background in construction as a major part of his appeal to New Mexico voters. His campaign website features flattering reflections of his time as a laborer, including memories working as a field engineer in California. A typical passage from the website, referring to Rich's childhood: "The loud throaty engine roar of the big equipment excited me."
Rich's fetishized presentation of blue collar life aligns with Bannon's stated appeal to the native-born working and middle classes in the United States and elsewhere. During a short speech to a crowd that was primarily older and almost exclusively white, Bannon called Rich a "real populist."
"This is a guy who put his own money up and is running as a working man," Bannon said. "These congressional districts are going to be decided by a couple hundred votes on each side."
"Populism," at least as Bannon wants people to understand it, is central to his message: That the "elites" and "globalists" have plundered America for themselves and left common folk outside and with no voice. This, from a guy who made a fortune on Wall Street and, before working in the Trump White House for a time, led a media empire—Breitbart—that paddles in the nation's darkest right-wing swamps with financing from the arch conservative, billionaire Mercer family.
The stop in New Mexico was part of Bannon's cross-country blitz to support candidates sympathetic to Trump ahead of next month's midterm elections. He told ABC News last week that his organization, COAR, which he chairs, is pouring $3 million into digital ads supporting those candidates.
Bannon plans to hold 75 more screenings in the next three weeks, and ABC reports he'll be in Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Michigan, Arizona, Iowa, Minnesota, Texas and Florida in the coming weeks.
The undercurrent at Thursday's event—and others like it—was Bannon's push to elevate the "alt-right," a loosely affiliated coalition of white nationalists, anti-semites, anti-feminists and others bent on pushing America toward a white ethno-state. Bannon once described his beloved Breitbart, where he briefly went back to work after leaving the White House, as "the platform for the alt-right."
The US tour comes after Bannon's European campaign in the summer. On the Continent, he heads up a think tank connected to Russian nationalists that works to elect far-right politicians who support the collapse of the European Union. There, Bannon has attempted to make inroads with nationalist figures including Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Italian Deputy Minister Matteo Salvini and French presidential hopeful Marine Le Pen.
All three leaders have expressed virulently anti-immigrant views. Orban, for example, has characterized immigrants as "a poison" and said every migrant "poses a public security and terror risk." Salvini has called for a "mass cleansing" of the country's Roma minority and approvingly quoted Benito Mussolini, leader of the Italian Fascists during WWII. France's Le Pen staked her last presidential campaign on stoking French citizens' fears of refugees from the Middle East and Africa.
In August, Bannon met with the campaign of would-be authoritarian Jair Bolsonaro, who is poised to become Brazil's next president. Bolsonaro, an advocate for a return to Brazil's late 20th century dictatorship, has openly called for indiscriminate murder of leftists and petty criminals and expressed admiration for Trump's hard line on immigration.
Trump himself kicked off his presidential run by insulting Mexican migrants as rapists and criminals and punctuated his later speeches with references to Syrian refugees as cunning snakes. Just today, Trump tweeted a short clip of Latin American people, mostly women and children, speaking Spanish and standing in a line. The president included no context for the video clip except an incredulous comment: "Can you believe this, and what Democrats are allowing to be done to our Country?"
At the Roswell event, Bannon made clear that he saw the people in the room as part of his vision for a worldwide, far-right dark age, although none of his statements were tailored for New Mexico residents. He sees Trump's presidency as the development of this global movement on US soil.
"I give speeches all over the world to populist national groups—France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Ohio, Pennsylvania—it's the same audience," Bannon said. "It's the working class and middle class people in those countries, where the burden falls on their shoulders. … The globalist elites have had a tremendous run. That's why they're fighting for the system so hard."
A frequent theme of his speech was the perceived condescension against audience members by elites from both political parties and in the "opposition party" media. He drew parallels between Brexit and the failure of corporate media outlets to foresee Trump's presidential win. Sporting his now-familiar multi-collared outfit and unshaven visage, Bannon urged the crowd to see the midterm election as the president's "first re-election."
"This is the fourth big turning in American history," Bannon said, a reference to the book The Fourth Turning, which posits that the United States is on the cusp of a once-in-a-generation, cataclysmic turning point. "The first big test is coming up on November 6."
Ahead of the gathering, Democratic Party of New Mexico chairwoman Marg Elliston said there was "no place for Steve Bannon or his hatred in New Mexico."
After about 20 minutes of speaking, Bannon said he had to leave, and officials from the Chaves County Republican Party then screened his film. When it ended, Rich took the podium once again, criticizing Heinrich as an out-of-touch elite intent on impeaching Trump.