Austrian Extremists Partied at Trump Tower on Election Night
Their party was led by a Nazi officer. And now they’re celebrating an American strongman.
In one particular apartment, near the penthouse where the new president-elect resided, a cohort of friends gathered in anticipation of the victory. Among the 60-70 people in attendance were members of Austria’s Freedom Party, a right-wing political outfit whose first leader was a former SS officer.
The Freedom Party members were there to visit George Lombardi, an amicable Italian man who calls Trump a longtime friend and worked to create the grassroots Citizens for Trump group during the presidential campaign. Lombardi has acted as a liaison of sorts between Trump and members of far-right political parties in Europe.
The election night party—first reported by The Wall Street Journal—is part of a growing web of connections between Trump’s camp and Europe’s ultra-right as the two sides attempt to globalize their nationalist revolts. In fact, the Freedom Party was not the only European extremist movement represented on Nov. 8. There was also a representative from France’s National Front. Months later, in January, Lombardi brought Marine Le Pen, the National Front’s leader, for a similar soiree and, as he told The Daily Beast, informed both Trump and White House adviser Steve Bannon that she would be in attendance.
For the election night event, Lombardi said he extended an invitation to Trump and his wife Melania to join them. As Lombardi told it, they could not come in because Secret Service had not swept the room on behalf of the new president.
“We started at 9 p.m.,” Lombardi told The Daily Beast in a recent phone interview saying there were “three or four” Freedom Party (FPO) members in attendance. “Then we invited Mr. Trump. He told me personally he was going to make it. After 3 o’clock [in the morning] when he left the building to the Hilton, we met and he said listen: ‘I wanted to come even just for 30 seconds to say hi but secret service will not let me come in because they didn’t sweep the room.’ It wasn’t really proper to have him come into that environment.”
As Lombardi explained it, he told Trump that the party would include “my friends” and “some people that live in the building.”
“I didn’t have to give him the list of the people who we invited,” Lombardi told The Daily Beast. “He knows who I am. I’m having a party in my apartment, I invited Donald because we’re next door neighbors.
“He knows who my friends are,” Lombardi claimed.
Another individual in attendance at the party, Denis Franceskin, the National Front’s representative in the United States and an adviser to Le Pen, confirmed to The Daily Beast that FPO members were in fact there.
But for the time Franceskin was there at least, Trump didn’t show up.
“I know he was with his staff upstairs,” Franceskin said of Trump during a phone interview. “I think Mr. Lombardi saw him briefly. When I was there Trump didn’t show up. Maybe he did afterward. It was a pretty busy night. It was also unexpected that he will win the election. I’m sure he was busy doing meetings and stuff. For sure he never showed up.”
Franceskin told The Daily Beast he had known Lombardi since 2012 and described him as a “go-between.” Franceskin said however that he did not know the FPO delegation “personally.”
“I cannot tell you who they are personally. I met with them but it was a very brief conversation,” Franceskin said of the party.
Reports about the proximity of certain members of FPO to Trump’s team began to emerge in the days after the election night event. The Wall Street Journal reported on Dec. 1 that “senior politicians” from the far-right group were in attendance. Just over two weeks after that, The New York Times reported that now-national security adviser Lt. General Michael Flynn had met with Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of the party, in Trump Tower. (Jason Miller, a former Trump spokesman, denied in December that a meeting had taken place between Flynn and Strache, calling the report “fake news,” but FPO members then said that Miller’s denial was itself false.)
In conversation, Lombardi was not willing to discuss what, if anything, he knew about the meet-up with Flynn despite the timing seeming to suggest that he could have been involved.
“You have to ask the people because they’re directly involved,” Lombardi said. “I can’t talk about third parties. Are you going to tell me about your wife’s friend?”
The details of the party that Lombardi and Franceskin provided to The Daily Beast were confirmed in part by Harald Vilimsky, the FPO delegation leader in the European Union Parliament. In a November article published in Austria’s Der Standard, Vilimsky said that the FPO group almost met with Trump when they were visiting but the Secret Service did not allow it.
Vilimsky has not responded to a request for comment from The Daily Beast. The White House did not immediately respond either.
But at the very least, Strache and a contingency of the FPO has been inspired by Trump’s success and interested in making the rounds in Washington, D.C.
Strache reportedly came to the nation’s capital last weekend when Trump was inaugurated.
“There is a series of invitations to talks with interesting political representatives of the United States on the sidelines of the U.S. president’s inauguration on our packed schedule,” Strache is quoted saying in The Guardian. He didn’t provide more details about the individuals with whom he’d be speaking. And as for Lombardi, he said he hadn’t heard about the D.C. visit.
“The FPO has got a lot of people,” Lombardi said in an interview. “I’m in regular touch with some of them if not all of them.”
The FPO experienced a crushing defeat on Dec. 4 last year when their candidate Norbert Hofer lost to left-leaning Alexander Van der Bellen in the country’s do-over presidential election. However, in France, the presidential election is still three months away and Le Pen is considered a real contender against Republican Francois Fillon.
Bannon—the former CEO of Breitbart, which has served as a de facto propaganda machine for Trump—has shown an affinity for Le Pen. Her niece Marion previously stated that the presidential adviser had said he was interested in them working together. This point has not been lost on Franceskin who views the new administration as friendly to Le Pen’s agenda as he’s witnessed her stock in the world’s political affairs rise.
“Her party is number one in France right now,” Franceskin told The Daily Beast. “With the political system, she may not win. In terms of votes, she’s definitely number one.”
As to whether there will be a more formal meeting between Trump and Le Pen in the future, Franceskin said it would not shock him. He said he’s never met with Bannon.
“All I can say is the entourage of President Trump knows about the entourage of Marine Le Pen,” he said. “If they are planning on meeting each other any time soon I don’t have this information. I would not be surprised.”
“She has a good chance to become president in four months,” Franceskin added.