EDMUNDSON — Steve Bannon, the nationalist internet provocateur and former adviser to President Donald Trump, on Sunday told a cheering St. Louis-area crowd of several hundred conservative activists that the Republican establishment needs to be vanquished even before the Democrats.

“The Democrats … we’ll get to them, and we’ll beat them like we beat Hillary Clinton,” Bannon said in a brief but fiery speech at an event at the St. Louis Airport Marriott. “But the first thing we have to get through is a corrupt and incompetent Republican establishment.”

It’s a message he hinted was coming with Trump’s backing.

“It’s the reason I left the White House: (Trump) needed a wingman to go against the Republican establishment,” said Bannon.

Bannon, who has returned to his post at the head of Breitbart.com since leaving the White House last month, called for the nominations of several GOP outsiders who are challenging sitting Republicans in various offices around the country. He stressed the need for a “populist, conservative, nationalist” message.

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Of the Republican Party’s establishment, he said: “They’re not conservatives. They are liberals.”

The event was hosted by the group Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagles, named for the late iconic conservative activist who was based in the St. Louis region.

Bannon’s highly touted appearance lasted less than four minutes, after an hourlong buildup by numerous speakers. They included Republican candidates who are challenging sitting GOP incumbents as insufficiently conservative in upcoming primaries in Illinois, Wisconsin and Utah.

Common refrains of speakers included praise for Trump, criticism of Republican congressional leaders for failing to carry out Trump’s goals on health care and immigration, and a running joke about the fact that a previously announced protest to Bannon’s speech initially drew just two demonstrators outside the hotel. Later, more than 20 people were gathered there.

Speakers also took jabs at the NFL, as the day’s news spread about football players around the country kneeling or declining to take the field during the National Anthem in response to Trump’s current feud with protesting players.

“What are you all doing here? You’re missing football,” joked the emcee, area Tea Party organizer Bill Hennessy, to laughter.

Phyllis Schlafly Eagles, the host of the event, is an organization headed by longtime Missouri politico and newly minted CNN commentator Ed Martin, who also spoke.

Martin formerly headed Eagle Forum, the Alton-based organization founded and headed for decades by Schlafly, and he was her hand-picked successor before she died last September. Martin still controls a nonprofit that had been connected to Eagle Forum, but he has been ousted from Eagle Forum itself by its board members, including Schlafly’s daughter. Phyllis Schlafly Eagles, which Martin founded, is a separate organization that has been embroiled in a legal battle with Eagle Forum over control of Schlafly’s legacy.

Among Eagle Forum’s allegations has been that Martin’s new organization is designed to confuse and siphon off Schlafly’s followers by making it appear that his “Eagles” organization is the same as Eagle Forum.

The stage where Bannon spoke displayed two large “Phyllis Schlafly Eagles” signs that declared: “Leading the conservative movement since 1964” — a claim that could apply to the Eagle Forum but not to the recently created “Eagles.”

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(c)2017 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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