On February 19, 2023, Italian newspapers published news of a brutal attack that occurred that morning before classes started in front of the “Michelangiolo” High School in Florence. A video of the assault soon surfaced showing the victims, all of high school age, being beaten to the ground and viciously kicked by another group of young people. In the footage, a boy can be heard shouting “Fascisti di m*rda!” (F*cking fascists!) at the attackers.
According to news reports, the Italian special police Digos quickly identified six of the attackers, three of whom are underage, all with connections to the far-right youth group Azione Studentesca, which is closely connected to Casaggi. Azione and Casaggi are both tied to National Youth, the official youth wing of the far-right Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) (FDI), Prime Minister Georgia Meloni’s party. They could be charged with “private violence” which is punishable by up to four years in prison. The police believe that the beating was likely in reaction to the victims asking the attackers about offensive leafleting. The victims are a part of the high school’s local antifascist collective “SUM” (Michelangiolo United Students) who tried to question the far-right activists about their illegal propaganda activity in front of the school that morning.
As of February 20, Meloni had still not acknowledged the events nor commented on the ties between the attackers and her party. The local FDI party chapter generically condemned violence and the clashes, while at the same time calling for Florence’s mayor and others to abstain from accusations about the events before further investigations.
Florence’s mayor Dario Nardella from the liberal Partito Democratico (Democratic Party) defined the violence as an “intolerable fascist aggression” and Sinistra Italiana (Italian Left) MP Nicola Fratoianni announced he will present a parliamentary interrogation to the government on the events and the possible ties between the aggressors and Meloni’s governing FDI party, the largest party in the right-wing Meloni governing coalition. Among others, Movimento 5 Stelle (5 Star Movement) MPs and two Tuscanian senators from the Partito Democratico denounced Meloni’s party for not condemning the attack.
While having no formal affiliation with Brothers of Italy, Azione Studentesca is a student movement that was spawned from Casaggì, a radical far-right, Florence-based group that is strongly linked to Gioventu Nazionale (National Youth), FDI’s official youth movement. On its website, Azione Studentesca describes itself as having its roots in the Fronte della Gioventù (Youth Front), the former youth movement of the MSI (Italian Social Movement), the old Italian neo-fascist party of which FDI proudly boasts to be descendent of (Meloni herself started her political career as a member of the Fronte della Gioventù). Their web page also says that Casaggì Florence is responsible for refounding this student movement in 2016.
For its part, Casaggì, which celebrates Nazi figures like SS members Leon Degrelle and Robert Brasillach as its main inspirations, is regularly associated publicly with FDI. For example, in 2018, when the Casaggì headquarters were vandalized with paint, Meloni publicly expressed solidarity and condemned the attack on Casaggì as if it constituted an official FDI chapter headquarters. Both Casaggi and the Florence FDI party are located at the same Florence address. Coincidentally, Gioventù Nazionale Florence’s official FB page refers to Casaggì in its bio and lists the same address as its location.
Additionally, Florence Azione Studentesca’s Instagram account features the same address and links to Casaggì’s account and Gioventù Nazionale’s website.
On the day before the attack, the social media accounts of Florence Azione Studentesca, Gioventù Nazionale and Casaggì posted the same graphic that announced their upcoming propaganda effort with the slogan #stradediguai (Streets of trouble). On the same accounts, which often share identical posts and photographs, members can frequently be seen at official events alongside FDI officials, recently at the national Folbe commemoration day in early February.
The Corriere Fiorentino reported that students from another school now see a link between a similar attack that happened to them on Feb. 9. On that occasion, students were reportedly threatened with beatings with a belt by Azione Studentesca members in front of the Pascoli High School. Florence students, like those part of the SUM collective, have called for a march on Feb. 21 in order to protest these fascist attacks.
On Feb. 20, leaders of other parties, Letta from the Partito Democratico and Renzi from Italia Viva (Italy is Alive – centrist party) also publicly spoke out against Meloni’s silence, saying “If she continues to keep silent, she becomes an accomplice,” and “I wait patiently for Giorgia Meloni’s agency or one of her delegates to come out with the following sentence: I condemn the violence of the students of Azione Studentes and I undertake to expel from right-wing youth movements those who use their hands instead of their brains. Too difficult?”
Groups like Casaggi are a breeding ground for future policymakers as evidenced by Alessandro Draghi, who is now a city councillor, and Francesco Torselli, who is the leader of FDI in the Tuscany council, both after starting out as Casaggì exponents.
Street violence from the far right harkens back to Italy’s dark past under the Mussolini fascist regime, whose followers routinely beat political opponents and were instrumental to Mussolini’s rise to, and consolidation of, power. Meloni’s party, with its far-right, anti-immigrant and intolerant rhetoric creates the environment in which such violence can happen and it is the responsibility of leaders, who have the ability to influence the actions of their followers, to denounce violence in all its forms.