BARCELONA, Spain — In what might be seen as a Memorial Day gift to President Trump, residents of a mountain range outside of El Paso today woke up to a new vista — a nearly mile-long wall of metal slats constructed along the border with Mexico, much of which shot up over the weekend. The secret project, which started on Friday evening, was the work of We Build the Wall, a new group whose director is the former White House strategist Steve Bannon. The CEO is Air Force veteran Brian Kolfage, who had raised $20 million to build the wall through his GoFundMe project, but it appeared to be floundering until Bannon took the helm.
Bannon, who for much of the weekend was in Kazakhstan for a geopolitical seminar, says the project, overseen by construction mogul Tommy Fisher of North Dakota-based Fisher Industries, involved hundreds of workers and cost $6 million.
He says his group asked local authorities what is the most dangerous part of the border with Mexico, and they were pointed to this precarious mountain strip, “where the cartels and asylum seekers are coming in” through a gap between two 21-mile strips of completed wall. The group hastily “purchased the rights” to the land and went at it Friday evening. “We had to catch them by surprise,” says Bannon, who predicts residents are “gonna freak out” when they see what was erected over the past two days.
Perhaps construction is Bannon’s new calling. His political activities in Europe geared to shift the EU to the hard right didn’t go as well as anticipated in parliamentary elections this weekend. The nationalist and populist parties he’s been advising across the continent — among them Italy’s La Lega, headed by Matteo Salvini, and France’s National Rally party of Marine Le Pen — did make gains in elections. Both parties came in first in their respective countries, with National Rally beating out the La République en Marche party of French president Emmanuel Macron. However, others, such as Dutchman Geert Wilders’s anti-Islam Party of Freedom were trounced — losing all four of their currently held Parliament seats; the Bannon-advised anti-immigrant, anti-abortion Vox Party, a newcomer in Spain, which took 10 percent in last month’s national elections, scored scarcely 6 percent in this weekend’s elections. (Most EU countries saw record turnouts of over 50 percent.)
In total, the hard-right parties that Bannon had predicted would take at least 30 percent of seats — at points he suggested they might take half of the Parliament —causing an “earthquake” for the European Union, instead won scarcely 25 percent of seats. While the showing represented an increase over the 22 percent they gained in 2014 elections — it fell short of the one-third of the European Parliament’s 751 seats that would be required to form a bloc that could effectively hinder legislation and nominations to the higher ranks of the EU.
Within hours, however, Bannon was back at it, hailing the “huge victories” for Europe’s nationalist parties and telling the Associated Press that enough seats were gained to form “a critical mass” that “can start to block things” in the European Parliament. “Every day in Brussels is going to be Stalingrad,” he said.
As for the wall outside of El Paso that Bannon’s group said it was just about to finish, the project was instead halted, after local authorities issued a cease-and-desist order, citing lack of proper permits.
Melissa Rossi is a U.S. journalist based in western Europe
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