While Italy is making anti-terrorism laws harsher, showing John Kerry the prospect of another military batch in Iraq and hashing out a much controversial cyber-security program, teenagers can still get roughed up, and almost murdered, by free-roaming bands of skinheads in broad daylight. This happens in a country where the Interior Ministry seems to underestimate Neo-fascist violence, and almost brushes off hate groups as some sort of cultural aggregators.
On January 29 several students, some as young as fifteen, were attacked by fascists in front of a well-known, progressive high school in Napoli. CasaPound members, a notoriously vicious organization who refer to its own ideology as “Third-millennium Fascism”, were trying to stick up some racist, xenophobic posters on the wall across the street. Students were clearly outraged and confronted them, started shouting them to get the f**k out of there. These thugs reacted by punching a few underage students, knocking one of them unconscious and with a deep wound to the head. A few hours later, not very far away, the attack went on another level, when fascists ambushed several other activists (belonging to the social center “Je So Pazzo“) and they used large sticks, baseball bats and two-foot long hammers, which were dropped on the ground stained with copious blood, when the thugs left. Luckily, local vendors, who would later describe the ambush as a clear “murder attempt”, promptly rescued the activists (they were hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries).
By all accounts, three CasaPound members were waiting in the street armed with sticks and helmets and their face covered by a scarf — despite their threatening presence no one called the police, or tried to question them.
— ExOpg Je So Pazzo (@ExOpgJesopazzo) January 29, 2016
This type of clashes follows a pretty trite script. As usual, CasaPound denied the allegations, saying they were themselves the victim of attacks by leftists, citing the assault on the local headquarters in Napoli years ago. CasaPound has ramifications all around Italy, with a particularly strong base in Rome and northern Italy. Every time there’s a skinhead beating an activist, in its press releases CasaPound blames the inaction of the police when is one of their hideouts to be targeted — pure diversion indeed. But a diversion that works, in a sense that public opinion in Italy, in its class extremes especially (the very rich and the very poor), tends to digest this news stories as another childish brawl, between two ideological relics. CasaPound relies much on this distorted image of a persecuted political minority.
This is simply not true. CasaPound use bestial violence, but they’re not caged beasts. They are indeed tolerated and supported by a substantial portion of the political establishment, while not openly protected by the police forces.
In 2011, a concert in Rome by the rock band led by CasaPound’s president, Gianluca Iannone, was sponsored by one of the capital’s borough councils. The than mayor of the Italian capital, Gianni Alemanno, is himself a former Neo-fascist, with a history of lynching mobs and street violence (this didn’t prevent him from being endorsed by a wide range of liberal magazines and mainstream conservatives). CasaPound was reported in 2011 to have over 5,000 members in Italy, alongside dozens of loyal local councillors and the support of key officials in Rome and Milano.
The Lega Nord party (Northern League) led by Matteo Salvini, focused mainly on the rebuttal of the European Union economic policy and the deportation of undocumented migrants, has started sharing its own political platform with CasaPound, since at least 2014. Fascists members have attended Lega rallies since then, and although the separatist party doesn’t allow CasaPound on its stage, Lega leaders have often visited the headquarters of these fascists. The Lega has been, together with Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement, the fastest growing political force in Italy for the last two years. Its strength has been limited on a national level only by the political compromise between Renzi’s center-left and the conservatives Christians. But on the local and regional level, the Lega is influent enough to control regions as rich as Lombardia or Veneto and countless villages along the river Po. This means that some of the most popular cities of art in Italy are governed by a party that cooperates with Fascist bullies.
While the roots of CasaPound are especially strong in the richest ares of the country, the movement takes its nutriments from an economic stagnation older than Casapound itself. Insurmountable unemployment, rampant corruption, superfluous austerity measures and inhuman disarray in the peripheries — Italy had it all. But the real kicker to all this, so to speak, is the political meltdown of the EU, ever more perceived as a castle of deception and lies. This is a movement that, while openly professing love for physical violence, racial aggression and hatred for the immigrant, runs a phone helpline for Romans falling victim to loan sharks, and dispatches members to help out during natural disasters, like earthquakes and floods.
These positions are nothing new in the landscape of continental ultra-right, where the hatred for the foreign and the weak needs a remnant of the red heart of socialism to feel legitimized. They would be dismissed as preposterous within an advanced, compassionate society. But in 2016, in a time of dismantled social security and failing cultural antibodies, this looks fascinating to many.
CasaPound, not surprisingly, was founded on a blitz that would look akin to many in the family album of the Left: the squatting of a state-owned complex in Rome, in 2003. Since than, several families moved in it and that was the beginning of the CasaPound “social center”. The approach to economics went instantly pure Mussolini, however: “We would like to see communications, transport, energy and health renationalized and the state constructing houses which it then sells at cost to families,” said Simone Di Stefano, then vice-president. On immigration, the stance is typical of the far right. “We want to stop it,” said Di Stefano. “Low-cost immigrant workers mean Italians are unable to negotiate wages, while the immigrants are exploited.”
CasaPound is named after Ezra Pound, the American poet who sided with Mussolini during the war. They try to hold cultural debates on themes as diverse as Che Guevara and Jack Kerouac, seeing to separate themselves from Italy’s old-style, street-fighting Neo-fascists, who would often use pistols to ambush their opponents, and were linked to some of the most obscure mysteries in Italy. These ones are rabid, caged dogs, who embraced social justice as a Trojan horse to expand in new territories. For how superficially renovated their language might look, at the core of their work there’s old White Suprematism.
The absence of traditional fascist relics and insignia, the mouth always shut with reporters, political statements read only by leaders, the exhibition of a cheap, juvenile imaginary which targets a very specific type of student, the self-absorbed aesthetics of slogans like “17 all my life”, “No pain”, “Beautiful like the Sun” or “Power to the Youth”, all this cleaning up cannot hide the never ending list of aggressions, lynching, xenophobic episodes and antisemitic threats. Granted, these rabid dogs are not involved with any bombing or coup d’état attempt yet – unlike the Italian far-right in the 1970s and in the 1980s. And yet they don’t live at the margins of the political system — they’re a microscopic (but not so much) propagation of it.
The history of CasaPound has all the elements for certifying the movement as a terror threat or a “hate group”: since 2011, 20 or more members have been arrested – an average of one every three months. Charges have been pressed against 359 of them. There have been over a hundreds clashes with leftwing groups, with over two dozen wounded. CasaPound supporters go on anti-immigrant rampages in train stations, beat up or stab drug dealers who operate in “their” neighborhoods – naturally these dealers are picked among the weakest in the intoxicant business – and humiliate members whose families do not respect unwritten rules: abortion and cheating is forbidden, and so are interracial relationships. When not busy working as sentinel guards of racial and social purity, they have the habit of whipping each other with their belts in the moshpit during gigs by Iannone’s band.
It is pretty infuriating, then, to read several paragraphs of a note sent by Mario Papa, police chief in Rome and key figure in the anti-terrorism department, where CasaPound is described in almost benevolent terms — “committed to the cause of the disadvantaged”, “a hard-working militant style… respectful of internal hierarchies”. A note (first reported by the radical blog Insorgenze) where the words “fascist” or “Fascism” weren’t pronounced once. The Interior minister did not only condone that note, but promised that the idea of making CasaPound illegal was not even on the table.
Everything is under control. That’s fine. “Red ticks” (as they are called by both Neo-fascists and Lega Nord leaders) are those who provoke first, by reacting to fascist propaganda. Even if drowned in the contemporary anxiety of the war on Islam, the question is more urgent than ever: should we allow a Neo-fascist organization to extend its propaganda under the protection of the Law, and let them exercise their right to intimidate and attack those few who resist?