COLLEPARDO, Italy (ChurchMilitant.com) - The day after winning its battle for Trisulti Abbey, the Dignitatis Humanae Institute (DHI) has learned its founder, Benjamin Harnwell, has been criminally charged in connection with the project.
Trisulti is the proposed location both for DHI and for Steve Bannon's Academy for the Judeo-Christian West, his "school for gladiators." The idea is to form counter-cultural educational institutions that will train the next generation of world leaders capable of sustaining and enriching Christian civilization.
Global press coverage makes it clear that no one expects the legal wrangling over Trisulti to end anytime soon. The Art Newspaper, based in London, described Bannon and Harnwell's short-lived victory as "the first [our emphasis] major legal battle." Press giant Reuters characterized the legal ruling in Bannon's favor as "the latest phase" in the battle for Trisulti.
The day after the three-judge panel ruled that the Italian Ministry of Culture failed to provide any evidence for their claims that DHI had given false information in connection with the lease agreement, Harnwell received notice from the Italian attorney general he is being criminally prosecuted for the alleged irregularities.
In an exclusive response to Church Militant about his situation, Harnwell pointed out: "We have now won four court decisions in a row, losing none."
"The Left can do whatever they want, in whatever legal arena they care to chose. We will be ready to fight them, and we will win," he said, further emphasizing his personal commitment.
The battle for Trisulti is not without cost. "It is a huge financial and time commitment to engage in these year-long legal battles, because we can't focus on anything else while it's going on," said Harnwell. "But I can't describe the exquisite satisfaction of wiping the stupid grin off of their sanctimonious faces every time we win. It makes it all deliciously worthwhile."
Invoking his partnership with Bannon, Harnwell revealed the secret to his perseverance. "One thing Steve has drilled into me is the Bulldogs' motto at Fresno State. We will fight 'Anybody, Anytime, Anywhere.'" Expanding on the theme, he told Church Militant:
This is pure gladiator, pure honeybadger. And here's the thing — we thought our gladiator school for culture warriors would take place in the arena of the classroom. But no, we haven't even started yet, and we have already presented before the world our first lesson in gladiatorial formation — our string of legal victories has been covered by every newspaper across the globe. This is what it means to be a gladiator today. You never give in, no matter what lies, detraction or calumny the left throw at you. You never give in, because losing simply isn't an option. And you win. And that is our first lesson freely offered to the whole world, and we ourselves are the first case study.
In the face of budget shortages and the desire to lure visitors to less popular parts of the country, Italy's Ministry of Culture identified more than a hundred properties — old houses, inns, farmhouses, monasteries and ancient castles — that could be acquired for free. But whoever took up the offer had to commit to restoring and transforming the sites into functioning facilities that could be of interest to tourists.
Harnwell and Bannon set their sightss on Trisulti Charterhouse, a former Carthusian monastery first established in the 10th century, now owned by the Italian State. DHI agreed to a certain level of restoration and other commitments. The lease was granted and made public, along with Bannon's affiliation and his plans for the Academy for the Judeo-Christian West.
When Harnwell told the press the Academy would "institutionalize the thoughts and political insights of Steve Bannon," public protests broke out and a local politician seized the opportunity to crusade against the project. The Ministry of Culture tried to revoke the lease, claiming it was secured under false pretenses. It was that claim against which the three-judge panel ruled last week.
In their ruling, the judges explained to the Ministry of Culture what its next legal move should be: In order for the lease to be revoked, its allegations against DHI would need to be proven in a criminal court. It is likely the Ministry of Culture was aware of this outcome because it had the criminal charges lined up and ready for execution the following day.
The criminal charges are not without risk. Taking the battle to the criminal court system will require extensive disclosure of documents, many of which could be incriminating or revealing of the Ministry of Culture's Pink Panther bungling.
Harnwell is a seasoned political leader. A British convert to Catholicism, he was the secretary to the European Parliament's Working Group on Human Dignity. DHI grew out of the European Parliament's 2004 refusal to endorse the nomination of Rocco Buttiglione as European commissioner for civil liberties, justice and home affairs.
When Buttiglione, a noted scholar and respected public figure in Italian politics, specifically was questioned about homosexuality and his views on the family, his orthodox Catholic responses raised concerns, even though he emphasized that those were his personal views and would not be the basis of any decisions he made in his official capacity as commissioner. Harnwell, based in Brussels, watched this incident play out from his front-row seat and identified it as a harbinger of secularism's growing dominance in Europe. He took action — and DHI was born, with Buttiglione as the founding patron.
In an exclusive interview with Church Militant, Bannon said many people urged him to walk away from Trisulti. But Bannon is committed. In his mind, it is more than a legal battle, it is a battle for the Judeo-Christian West.