In Italy, a Neo-Fascist Party’s Small Win Creates Big Unease

In Italy, a Neo-Fascist Party’s Small Win Creates Big Unease


In Sicily, the new headquarters of Brothers of Italy, a descendant of the post-fascist Italian Social Movement, had the phrase “Italians first” written on the wall during its recent inauguration.

Anti-immigration sentiment has grown so popular that the once-secessionist Northern League has dropped the word “Northern’” from its name as it looks for inroads to the south.

The anti-establishment Five Star Movement, while ideologically amorphous, has charismatic firebrand leaders who take the stage to the chanting of their nicknames and then rile up crowds with a message of resentment.

All of this makes CasaPound’s leaders hopeful that Italy is newly fertile ground for fascism.

The Italian Constitution bans “the reorganization in any form of the dissolved Fascist Party.” But CasaPound and other neo-fascist movements have skirted the law by calling themselves the descendants of Mussolini. They insist that they believe in democracy and not a fascist dictatorship.

CasaPound began 14 years ago as a sort of fascist version of the populist Rent Is Too Damn High Party in New York. It now has thousands of chapters around the country.

“We are a young and clean political force,” said Simone Di Stefano, the party’s vice president, as he stood under posters of Mussolini in its Roman headquarters.

The building, which sits incongruously in the heart of an immigrant neighborhood in central Rome, has served as the party’s home since its leader, Gianluca Iannone, a tattooed and extravagantly bearded member of a right-wing punk band, led followers to occupy the apartments.

On a recent afternoon, children of the roughly 20 families now residing there ran in its entryway, brightly decorated with the names of the movement’s heroes, including Julius Caesar, Mussolini and the right-wing philosopher Julius Evola.

Of course, there was also Pound, who ranted against Jews on Italian radio and was imprisoned for treason during the war. (The daughter of the poet has tried to make the party change its name.)

Members with black boots, tattooed necks and shorn hair guard floors decorated with pictures of Fascist-era marches and banners reading “Arm Your Soul.”

Photo

CasaPound supporters were unbothered by the party’s claims to be the descendant of the Fascist leader Benito Mussolini. Some, like Gianluca Antonucci, were proud.

Credit
Nadia Shira Cohen for The New York Times

CasaPound has a more secular and socially tolerant approach than its hard-right cousin Forza Nuova, which Italy’s interior minister, Marco Minniti, banned from re-enacting Mussolini’s “March on Rome” last month.

But its members exhibit the same fondness for Roman salutes and mythic glory days. CasaPound’s leaders shrug off Mussolini’s racial laws and alliance with Hitler with a nobody’s-perfect nonchalance. They instead prefer to focus on Fascism’s role in Italian modernization and military might.

“That spirit of the nation bloomed in this country during those years,” Mr. Di Stefano said. “And I would like to bring that feeling back today.”

That is especially so in Ostia, a suburb of 230,000, home to joblessness, resentment toward immigrants, and an organized crime problem so insidious that the police disbanded the local government two years ago.

The journalist who was head-butted was trying to interview a member of a powerful local clan called the Spadas, which had thrown its support behind CasaPound.

“I voted for CasaPound, and I’m proud of it,” said Marina Luglu, as she walked out of Bar Music, owned by the head-butter, Roberto Spada, whom she admiringly called “Mr. Roberto.”

Voters here rewarded the party for its engagement with their rundown housing projects. CasaPound provided a food bank to hundreds of families, sent handymen to fix elevators and lawyers to locals in need.

Viviana Prudenzi, a 34-year-old house cleaner walking down a seaside street with her mother, said she voted for CasaPound because its members were “the only ones who are here helping — helping the Italians.”

“They call them fascists because they think of Italians and not the foreigners,” she said.

This summer, Mr. Marsella, the CasaPound candidate, led a beach patrol of party members in red vests. They forced unlicensed and immigrant vendors, some visibly terrified, off the beach.

Leftist activists have accused them of beatings. For recreation, party members whip each other with belts in mosh pits.



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