Far-Right Hate and Extremist Groups
GPAHE Editor’s Note: GPAHE’s country reports describe active far-right extremist and hate groups (including political parties that meet our criteria) to highlight the growing global threat of far-right extremism and the transnational nature of this movement. You can read more about how we classify far-right extremist groups and the purpose of these reports.
It is impossible not to use the word fascism when writing about the far-right landscape in Italy, both because of Italy’s history with fascism and because the term is frequently used in describing the political landscape today. While most experts agree that the foundations of fascism are authoritarian and nationalistic, there is debate about other basic characteristics, including the role of bigotry and the oppression of marginalized communities in its furtherance.
The modern Merriam-Webster definition is a “political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race (emphasis GPAHE) above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.” For the purposes of this report, it’s important to note that the term fascism appears frequently because Italian sources use it and because there is more acceptance that a current fascistic movement does not exist without bigoted and exclusionary rights-restricting views, which GPAHE’s work concentrates on exposing, and activities that can inspire violence. GPAHE considers all groups profiled here to be far-right extremist and a threat to safety and democracy. Additionally, GPAHE does not attempt to provide a full history of fascism in Italy or its role in the lead up and during World War II, and the impact of Benito Mussolini. Much fuller accounts on these subjects are available.
CasaPound Italia (House Pound Italy)
Dodici Raggi/ Do. Ra. (Twelve Rays)
Fortezza Europa (Fortress Europe)
Forza Nuova (New Force) Lotta Studentesca (Student Struggle)
Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy)
Lealtà Azione (Loyalty Action) FEDErAZIONE (Lealtà Azione subgroup)
Lega per Salvini Premier (League for Salvini Premier)
Movimento Nazionale – Rete dei Patrioti (National Movement – Patriots’ Network), Rete Studentesca (Student Network)
Movimento Social Nacionalista (Nationalist Social Movement)
Pro Vita e Famiglia Onlus (Pro Life and Family Non-Profit)
Veneto Fronte Skinheads (Veneto Front Skinheads)
Italy has a long and complex history inevitably intertwined with the rise of fascism in the early 20th century through the end of World War II, the so-called “Ventennio”, or period of 20 years of Benito Mussolini’s rule through the Nationalist Fascist Party from 1922-1943. After the war, a republic was formed and the monarchy was forced to abdicate, largely because of its support, however shallow, of Mussolini. The legacy of fascism continues to influence today’s political landscape with traces of fascist ideology and rhetoric found in certain political movements and with many groups having direct historical roots in Mussolini’s party.
In recent years, Italy has experienced the rise of populist and far-right parties which have garnered support by exploiting public discontent and concerns over issues such as immigration, national identity, and economic inequality. This trend has been fortified by the increase of xenophobia in Italian political discourse that stemmed from various recent refugee crises. Italy’s position on the Mediterranean makes it a destination for refugees and migrants that try to reach Europe by boat from the Northern African coast.
These far-right movements employ extreme and bigoted nationalist rhetoric, advocating for stricter immigration policies, echoing themes of the fascist era. These demands are often coupled with anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, efforts to restrict abortion, which is legal in Italy to 90 days, but often difficult to obtain, oppression of the the Roma community, and, in some cases, euroscepticism, speech more than practice, through the framing of the frequently antisemitic “anti-globalism” rhetoric. Furthermore, the party leading the current governmental coalition, Fratelli d’Italia (FDI) (Brothers of Italy) is part of a political tradition that can be directly traced back to Mussolini’s fascist party. The rise of this party and its leader, Giorgia Meloni, has ushered in a normalization of extreme far-right movements in Italy in the same vein that other European and Western countries have experienced a rise in far-right extremism. Once controversial political figures have also undergone a political normalization through a historical reframing of the Italian anti-fascist heritage on which the Italian republic itself is founded.
Italy Unfriendly to LGBTQ+ Rights and Equality
Civil rights for the LGBTQ+ community are more limited in Italy compared to other western European countries. In fact, Italy ranks 24th out of 27 EU member countries, behind Hungary at number 20, according to the latest ILGA-Europe reporting on LGBTQ+ human rights. There is no marriage equality for non-heterosexual couples, just civil unions, no adoption rights, and no specific protections from hate crimes. In recent months, some cities have begun recognizing children of homosexual couples conceived through surrogacy abroad (surrogacy is illegal in Italy) or from a previous marriage, but have been stymied by the far-right Meloni government, which has ordered cities like Milan to stop registering children from such couples, as well as trying to approve a law that would make even surrogacy carried out abroad punishable in Italy.
Far-right groups and parties also often target civil rights laws such as the DDL Cirinna (the law that legalized civil unions for homosexual couples in 2016) and the DDL Zan (proposed legislation that would have penalized hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people and instituted a national day against homophobia, an extension to the Mancino law mentioned below). Some groups with stronger ties to Catholicism also contest the “legge 194”, the law that legalized abortion in Italy in 1978.
Targeting Migrants and Refugees
The far-right extremist movements oppose easing the criteria for obtaining Italian citizenship, including recognizing birthright citizenship, and support violating international laws in order to stop the arrival of refugees fleeing to Italy. Of course, these efforts are not just about immigration policy, they also have the purpose of safeguarding what the far right conceptualizes as the “Italian race”. While the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory has always been a recurring topic in far-right Italian circles, it is now mainstream, being specifically mentioned in April 2023 by the agriculture minister of the current government, Francesco Lollobrigida. Lollobrigida said, “Italians are having fewer children, so we’re replacing them with someone else,” adding, “that’s not the way forward.”
Similar to what has been seen in other countries, the extreme far-right in Italy has co-opted the COVID pandemic to recruit and organize, much of it online. COVID denialism has been coupled with antisemitism and other far-right ideologies. For example, in 2021, the heads of Forza Nuova, a neo-fascist party, hijacked an anti-vax rally into attacking a trade union’s HQ, causing violence, and prompting a proposed ban of the group.
Just as in other countries, Italy has an underground extreme far-right movement that is increasingly committed to bringing about a total social and political breakdown through violence, also known as accelerationism. The movement is marked by antisemitism, white supremacy, and conspiracy theories like the racist “Great Replacement,” which has inspired mass violence and murders globally. In November 2022, five members of a white supremacist group calling themselves the Order of Hagal, promoting the occult, neo-Nazi, Holocaust denial, and anti-vax conspiracies were arrested in the province of Naples for “association for the purpose of terrorism.” Authorities believe the members were ready to take violent action against police and civilians, and intercepted communications that spoke of a massacre similar to that in Christchurch, N.Z., where 51 people were killed at mosques. The members also had multiple transnational connections, reportedly taking part in paramilitary training, including some overseas. Although unconfirmed, one member claimed to have met American Steve Bannon. In other cases, a 23-year-old who was allegedly a member of the neo-Nazi The Base was arrested on terrorism charges with the names of white supremacist mass murders painted on his shoes, and still another 22-year-old incel (involuntary celibate) inspired by the accelerationist neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division was arrested for terrorist association and incitement to commit racial crimes, among other charges. In 2019, police raided the homes of 19 individuals from across the country where they found Nazi flags, books on Hitler and Mussolini, and weapons. The individuals were reportedly forming a new Nazi party, calling themselves the Italian National Socialist Workers’ Party, and planned to form a transnational European alliance with other white supremacists. Much as seen in the U.S., where Republicans have refused to address the rise of far-right extremism and violence, in 2019, the Italian far-right parties of Fratelli d’Italia, Lega, and Forza Italia refused to support a parliamentary committee to combat hate and antisemitism when requested by a senator who was a Holocaust survivor and receiving around the clock protection because of the volume of hateful threats she received. Additionally, neo-Nazi groups like Hammerskins, Combat 18, Blood and Honour, and others have little organized presence and are very difficult to track, but have a hand in organizing events like hate music festivals.
A Brief History of Fascism in Italy
Mussolini’s rise to power began in 1922 when his National Fascist Party (PNF) organized the March on Rome, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Luigi Facta. Faced with the threat of violence, King Victor Emmanuel III appointed Mussolini as the head of government. Mussolini gradually consolidated power, establishing a one-party state and suppressing political opposition through censorship, repression, and intimidation. The fascist regime aimed to create a centralized authoritarian state with a strong emphasis on nationalism, militarism, and corporatism, meaning economic control by the state. Mussolini implemented policies including the suppression of labor unions, establishment of state-controlled syndicates, and promoted imperialist ambitions, particularly in Africa.
Italy’s alliance with Nazi Germany during World War II melded its fascism with Nazi policies. The regime enacted antisemitic laws, the Racial Laws, and collaborated with the Nazis in the persecution and deportation of Jews leading to the deaths of thousands during the Holocaust. Italy’s military involvement in the war ended in July 1943 when Mussolini was ousted from power and arrested, and the PNF was outlawed.
In September 1943, Mussolini was freed by the German special forces and reinstated as the head of a Nazi-controlled puppet government in Northern Italy, the RSI (Repubblica Sociale Italiana, Italian Social Republic), sometimes called the Salò republic. He also founded the PFR (Partito Fascista Repubblicano, Republican Fascist Party). The following November, the new republican fascist forces met in Verona to promulgate a new fascist manifesto, the Verona Manifesto.
In the two following years, anti-fascist and anti-Nazi resistance groups formed and opposed the occupying forces with guerilla tactics, eventually called the “Italian civil war.” In reaction, German occupiers, with the help of still-active fascist militias, often engaged in retaliation on civilians. An example is the case of the Fosse Ardeatine massacre, in which 335 Italians, mostly civilians, were executed in retaliation for an attack on an SS group.
On April 25, 1945, the resistance forces, supported by the Allies, initiated a national insurrection in Northern Italy that seized power and dissolved the RSI. Two days later, Mussolini was captured and the following day, executed, bringing an end to the “civil war.” April 25th remains a national holiday celebrating the resistance and the liberation from Nazifascist forces.
After the Italians repudiated the King in a referendum, a new constitution was promulgated incorporating anti-fascist values, authored by the anti-fascist forces of all ideological backgrounds, from Christian democrats to Communists. The constitution ends with a special disposition which included a ban on any reconstitution of the dissolved Fascist party. The constitutional ban remains today through the Scelba law, legislation passed in 1952 that regulates the procedure to dissolve groups that appear to further the “anti-democratic aims of the fascist party,” and the Mancino law, which criminalizes hate speech that incites violence and discrimination on an ethnic, national or religious basis. However, the full application of such laws has always been problematic and arbitrary, given the strong freedom of expression protections in the Italian Constitution. It is difficult to condemn a group or individuals for such acts, and therefore, it usually comes down to the judges’ opinion of what can or cannot be punished. In practice, the dissolution of fascist groups has only been used for very dangerous and/or terrorist groups.
Fascist Influence Continues
Despite that constitutional ban, from the ashes of the Republican Fascist party and the RSI armed forces, the MSI (Movimento Sociale Italiano) was formed in 1947. Ideologically neo-fascist (and allied with the monarchists after 1972), it was consistently the fourth biggest party in terms of vote share during the First Italian Republic. Its historical leader, Giorgio Almirante, had been chief of cabinet for the minister of culture in the RSI and had previously written for the fascist magazine, “La Difesa della Razza” (The Defence of Race). But it was only a part of a governing coalition once during the entire duration of the First Republic, historically dominated by the Christian Democrats. The Tambroni Government (sworn in on March 26, 1960), a Christian Democratic government with MSI support, was seen as dangerously authoritarian and was met with extensive protests and clashes with the police throughout Italy. The government ordered suppression of the protests resulting in the second Reggio Emilia massacre (the first in 1943 where seven brothers resisting fascist rule were killed) in which five striking union members were killed and dozens more injured by police. The government lasted only four months. In response to the massacre, an Italian independent senator, Ferruccio Parri, proposed the legal dissolution of the party for unconstitutionality.
During the Years of Lead (the Italian historical period from the late 1960s to the 1980s, characterized by political instability, terrorism, and extremism), various far-right extremist and/or terrorist organizations formed, mostly sparking from the MSI sphere, like Ordine Nuovo (New Order) (ON). First instituted as a right-wing research institute by the former MSI member Pino Rauti (father of Isabella Rauti, current FDI MP) in 1956, it later became a neo-fascist terrorist organization after Rauti left the group to return to the MSI in 1969. ON was dissolved by the Interior Minister in 1973 for violating the ban on the reconstitution of the Fascist party. Stemming from the same research institute was Avanguardia Nazionale, which formed in 1960 and was dissolved in 1976, after being allegedly involved in some of the most deadly terrorist attacks in Italian history and having been linked to the Borghese coup. This was a failed fascist coup carried out by Junio Valerio Borghese, a war hero to WWII fascists for his role as the leader of the X Mas, a special forces unit guilty of war crimes. In 1977, the NAR (Revolutionary Armed Nuclei), another far-right terrorist cell, was responsible for several murders as well as the worst terrorist attack in post-War Italian history, a bombing in a Bologna train station that killed 85 and injured more than 200. Massimo Morsello, referenced multiple times throughout this report, was condemned for subversive actions for being a member of the NAR.
Modern Far-Right Movements
The MSI tried to introduce its original fascist ideals into the parliamentary system until 1995, when Gianfranco Fini reformed the party into Alleanza Nazionale (AN) (National Alliance). The party was rebranded and abandoned its nostalgic rhetoric to gain legitimacy as an apparently mainstream right-wing conservative movement in order to govern in the Second Italian Republic. This resulted in the inclusion of AN in various governments led by Silvio Berlusconi (Forza Italia; Popolo della Libertà) from 1994 to 2011. Berlusconi was Italy’s longest serving prime minister and was once described as the “man who screwed an entire country.” Berlusconi died in June 2023.
The current Italian government led by Giorgia Meloni of FDI, or Brothers of Italy, was formed by a coalition of right-wing and far-right coalition parties, ranging from Forza Italia and Noi di Centro to the populist far-right Lega (The League) and the post-Fascist FDI (Brothers of Italy), a party with fascist roots that tries to moderate in order to take part in the democratic process. FDI can trace its roots to MSI: Alleanza Nazionale was absorbed by Berlusconi’s Popolo della Libertà (People of Freedom) party in 2009. In 2012, former AN members formed FDI.
Many FDI members and senior leaders got their start as members of MSI or AN youth organizations, including the party co-founder and now PM Giorgia Meloni, who started her political career in the Fronte della Gioventù (Youth Front, MSI youth movement) at 16 and was later elected head of the AN youth movement, Azione Giovani (Youth Action), in 2004. Next in her career was election to the national parliament in 2006. She became minister of youth in the fourth Berlusconi government in 2008.
FDI never fully renounced the MSI tradition, incorporating the writing “MSI” in its symbol up to 2017 (and still retaining the iconic MSI flame symbol as of 2023). Furthermore, MSI figures are still often celebrated by FDI members. For example, in May 2023, FDI co-founder and current President of the Senate Ignazio La Russa honored neo-fascist and Mussolini ally, Giorgio Almirante, on the anniversary of his death. La Russa, an avid fascist memorabilia collector, once wrote on Twitter but later deleted, “Do not shake hands with anyone, the infection is lethal. Use the Roman salute, anti-virus and anti-microbial.” Even though far-right leaders and parties are in government leadership roles and have recently taken up more extreme rhetoric and positions usually relegated to the fringes, many far-right extremist groups are also still active in Italy.