MILAN — Stephen K. Bannon leaned back in an armchair opposite a copy of a painting by an Italian old master and explained his modest efforts to build a vast network of European populists to demolish the Continent’s political establishment.
“All I’m trying to be,” he said, “is the infrastructure, globally, for the global populist movement.”
Only months ago, Mr. Bannon was forced out of the White House and Breitbart News, the alt-right news empire he helped make into a political force, for the sharp criticisms of President Trump’s children attributed to him in a book. “He’s lost his mind,” Mr. Trump said at the time.
But now Mr. Bannon, the architect of Mr. Trump’s populist campaign message and the president’s former chief strategist, has returned with an international mission.
On Saturday, he is set to headline the annual conference of France’s far-right National Front in the northern city of Lille, where he will be introduced by its leader, Marine Le Pen. People with knowledge of Mr. Bannon’s itinerary suggested that he might meet later in the weekend with the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orban, but Mr. Bannon declined to say whether or not he would, only saying that he admired Mr. Orban as a “hero” and “the most significant guy on the scene right now.”
In Zurich, Mr. Bannon says, he had a “fascinating” meeting on Tuesday with leaders of Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany party.
They included Alice Weidel and Beatrix von Storch, who recently reacted to a New Year’s Eve public service announcement by the German police that went out in various languages, including Arabic, by tweeting, “Are they seeking to appease the barbaric, Muslim, rapist hordes of men?”
But it is Italy, where populist forces smashed the country’s establishment by combining to win more than half the vote on Sunday, that Mr. Bannon has turned into his de facto headquarters.
In a sprawling interview here, he declined to name whom he had met, other than to describe them as a broad array of politicians, operatives and investors.
(A spokesman for Matteo Salvini, the leader of the anti-immigrant League, said the two would have liked to have met, but did not. A spokesman for the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, which won a third of Italian votes, did not return a request for comment.)
Aside from the occasional coffee at Campo de’ Fiori or photo-op at Piazza Navona, Mr. Bannon has been holed up in hotel rooms, taking meeting after meeting.
In Rome, he stayed at the luxurious Rafael hotel, where Bettino Craxi, the face of Italy’s corrupt establishment and mentor to Silvio Berlusconi, was pelted with coins in 1993 by an angry mob as he departed the political scene.
In Milan, he sat in a room at the grand Principe di Savoia, opposite a copy of Titian’s portrait of the Duke of Mantua, a master of intrigue in Renaissance Italy and a longtime sufferer of syphilis, surrounded by red damask wallpaper. Jams were on a room service cart, and a copy of a book titled “Headlines All My Life” was on the desk.
In both cities, he wore a blue and white striped button down over a polo shirt. In Rome the polo was orange. In Milan it was blue.
He sipped sparkling water and described a grand vision for a global populist future.
In the United States, Mr. Bannon said, he is working on a project to create a think tank to “weaponize” populist economic and social ideas.
He sees that work spreading to Europe, where a proliferation of populist websites in the image of Breitbart News, either owned by him or others, will spread those ideas, under his guidance.
As a final component, he wants to train an army of populist foot soldiers in the language and tools of social media.
Mr. Bannon said that a common message he had received from populists throughout Europe was a desire to establish a media outlet for their views.
“They see what Breitbart did and they want it in their own language,” said Mr. Bannon, who slipped into the present tense when talking about the website from which he recently separated. “That’s the key. Right now my sites are in English, they want one in their own language,” he said, calling that “phase two.”
He could be forgiven the slip, as the site still seems to be in his thrall. (“Stephen K. Bannon took Zurich by storm Tuesday, addressing a sell-out crowd,” began Breitbart’s article on the speech.)
But Mr. Bannon, who said he was paying for the trip, said he was weighing whether to buy a name-brand outlet, like Newsweek or United Press International, or to start a new one, or to connect entrepreneurs with capital or invest himself.
He imagined a scoop-driven and high-metabolism outlet “like Axios,” he said, referring to the buzzy Washington newsletter, but with a populist bent that would devour Europe’s sleepy legacy papers.
“Whether I do it or a local entrepreneur does it,” he said, “there are going to be these populist nationalist news sites that pop up in the next year on line. That will only take these things to the next level.”
With Europe more aggressively tackling the migration issue, Mr. Bannon was aiming to move the future battle of populism to other terrains.
He said that the reason it was so important to get populist nationalist governments in place was to prepare for a coming great-powers clash with an axis of ancient Turkish, Persian and Chinese civilizations. “Elites can’t fight that fight,” he said. “Because people have to buy into it.”
He is also increasingly interested in motivating people to fight media conglomerates like Facebook that monetize their data. And he has become fascinated with crypto currencies and how they can help populist movements, the subject of a speech he gave in Zurich this week.
In preparation for the speech, organized by Die Weltwoche, a conservative Swiss magazine, Mr. Bannon said he visited the town of Zug, known as Crypto Valley for its bustling cryptocurrency industry. He was impressed.
“If Brussels and the European Central Bank is worried about Italy going to the lira, their concerns should be that all these communities and states are going to crypto,” he said in Milan.
In the meantime, he said, he admires Italy’s populist parties for already being on the technological cutting edge.
The Five Star Movement, a web-based party that preaches direct, online democracy, and the League, the hard-right, formerly northern-based secessionist party, both dominated social media during the campaign.
Often, their critics say, they did it with spurious and inflammatory fake news about migrants and crime. Many of those messages seemed propelled by automated bots rather than real supporters.
“You can’t just have just all humans, I’m sure they have some bots,” Mr. Bannon said, unbothered. “The thing is that they are generating enthusiasm on shoestrings.”
He said he hoped the two parties would eventually join forces — something not out of the question as the Italians try to form a government after an inconclusive election.
But he spoke also almost sympathetically about Matteo Renzi, the now vanquished Italian leader who only years ago seemed to be the future of Italy and the European center-left.
Mr. Renzi, he said, was “an object lesson to every rising politician in Europe,” and not a good one.
The former prime minister, he said, had tried to play by Brussels’s rules when it came to the migration crisis, and instead the European Union allowed other countries to close their borders, leaving Italy to take the brunt of the burden.
“They hung him out to dry,” he said.
Mr. Bannon said Italian voters on Sunday also spurned Pope Francis, who has urged tolerance for migrants.
“This vote was a rejection of the pope,” said Mr. Bannon, a Catholic who has nonetheless been a longtime critic of the pope’s politics. “The pope likes to see himself as a radical and an anti-establishment revolutionary for the little guy; the little guy put the pope in his place on Sunday.”
He said he had intended to return to Rome to visit his allies in the Vatican, including the American cardinal Raymond Burke, but then France’s National Front extended its invitation.
“They said, ‘Hey would you stay for the weekend?’ ” Mr. Bannon said. “ ‘All our people would love to hear you speak.’ ”