ROME (Apr. 16)
“It was just like the Fascist hooliganism of the 1920s,” said Sandro Pertini, president of the Italian Chamber of Deputies. He was referring to the neo-Fascist riots in Milan last Thursday which left one policeman dead–ripped by a combat-type hand grenade–and sent shock waves around Italy.
For more than two hours hundreds of neo-Fascist youths, faces covered with black hand-Kerchiefs, strutted through the streets of Milan shouting slogans against “Communists” and “Jews.” They exchanged Hitler-like salutes and many carried iron bars and clubs. The grenade that killed the young police officer, 22-year-old Antonia Marino, was apparently stolen from Italian Army stores.
The battle erupted when about 500 youths defied a police ban on political meetings in Milan until April 25. The ban was imposed because of tension at the State University earlier in the week which resulted in rioting. The neo-Fascists had planned a rally which was to have been–ad-dressed by Sen. Ciccio Franco of the Italian Social Movement (MSI). Franco is the political leader of the tough “Black Action” terror squads responsible for intermittent violence in the southern city of Reggio Calabria during the past three years.
The violence in Milan destroyed the claims of the MSI to be the party of law and order. For Italians, it was a new lesson in the darker side of the radical right, which has been growing virtually unchecked for several years. The leader of the MSI, Giorgio Almirante, has for years been trying to give his party a moderate “law and order” image in an attempt to capture the votes of Italy’s “silent majority.” He has succeeded in making the MSI the third largest party here, with 56 deputies in parliament.
DIEHARDS REJECT MODERATION
But Almirante’s “moderation” is rejected by diehard extremists who scorn what they call “Fascism of the double breasted suits,” a reference to the natty dressing of party leaders. As a result, a number of fringe organizations tolerated by the MSI–but repudiated by the party when convenient–have mushroomed on the extreme right of the Italian political spectrum. Such a group is “National Vanguard,” which was deeply involved with last week’s riot.
Police have arrested one member of the organization, Vittorio Loi–22-year-old son of former boxing champion Duilio Loi–and have issued arrest warrants for three other youths in connection with the killing of the policeman. National Vanguard is one of a number of groups which have turned Milan into what one police official called “The European capital of cracked skulls.”
They have made a virtual Nazi stronghold of Milan’s central San Babila area where dozens of persons have been savagely beaten as suspected “Communists” merely because they wore a beard or carried a left-wing newspaper or other-wise attracted the attention of right-wing extremists. Many Italians suspect that the right-wing groups, with the tacit approval of the MSI, have a plan to sow disorder in Italy that would lead to the fall of the government and the advent of a colonels’ regime along Greek lines.
National Vanguard, New Order, Mussolini Action squads, Young Italy and other such groups have training camps organized on military lines and have among their memberships a number of former parachutists and legionnaires. The MSI said it disowned the killers of the policeman and offered a reward of $8000 for their arrest. But the Milan rally was held under party auspices, and the MSI has made no attempt to disown the extremist groups which hang on to it. In fact, Almirante urged street violence during a speech in Florence last year.
Many Italian politicians are sincerely worried about the threat from the right. Two years ago, an attempted coup by the extreme right had comic-opera overtones. But now the neo-Fascists are better organized. They have a powerful parliamentary base, and the extremist youth organizations have expanded and are giving all of Italy serious cause for alarm.