Italy is among the Member States that have been affected by the increasing success of right-wing populist and extremist parties. In recent years, radical right and far-right political parties have entered mainstream politics. As right-wing extremist propaganda has grown online, xenophobic sentiments and public hate speech have found more resonance in parts of the population. Particularly young people are targeted by far-right recruitment on social media pages. Extreme right parties as Forza Nuova (New Force) and CasaPound Italia have in fact been embracing ultra-nationalist and conservative political campaigns, combined with strong xenophobic and anti-Semitic narratives, and ultra-religious ideologies with respect to abortion, euthanasia, and same sex marriages.
Moreover, in 2020, far-right and right-wing extremist groups’ propaganda have sharply criticised restrictions related to COVID-19, with a narrative against the Italian
political establishment. The propaganda, both online and offline, has mostly revolved around “incitement to disobbedienza (disobedience) and focused on the perceived dittatura sanitaria (health dictatorship)”.
In this regard, in October 2021 violent protests against the extension of the COVID-19
“Green Pass” to all workplaces145 took place in Rome.
The protests saw the participation of neo-fascist activists and leaders of Forza Nuova, who were involved in the assault to the headquarters of the Italian General Confederation of Labour (CGIL) trade union and were later arrested.
Following the violent attacks, thousands of people gathered in the streets of Rome in a protest against rising fascism and right-wing groups.
In light of these events, the Italian Senate and Chamber of Deputies approved a
centre-left motion urging the government to dissolve Forza Nuova and ban all neo-fascist political movements and groups.
At EU level, a plenary session of the European Parliament addressed rightwing extremism and racism in Europe, calling for a united and swift response to rising extreme-right
violence in Europe.
As reported by Europol, in Italy right-wing extremist propaganda has used online methods to communicate and disseminate ideological material through social media platforms such as Twitter, Telegram, and Vkontakte.
Far-right online and offline communities have been observed to be deeply characterised by anti-Semitic and racist messages inciting the use of violence, also as a recruiting
mechanism among young people. As noted by the Special Operations Group of the Italian Carabinieri in a 2017 law enforcement report against Forza Nuova, members of the party have been involved in hate crime and inciting violence as an indoctrination practice to recruit young individuals.
Use of violence and anti-Semitic ideologies are also supported by other neo-fascist extreme right groups — as Veneto Fronte Skinheads, Fascismo e Libertà, Hammerskin, Do.Ra153 — and violent supporters of Italian football teams.
Regarding extreme violence, over the last decade two extreme right attacks have been reported in Italy.
In 2011, an armed CasaPound militant killed two Senegalese citizens in Florence, leaving three others injured. In 2018, a right-wing attack occurred in Macerata, with a man shooting and wounding six people whom he thought were Africans. Several additional incidents of violence, incitement to violence and hate crime by far-right groups have occurred in Italy, sparking media attention and the
attention of law enforcement and prosecutorial authorities.
Investigations have led to the arrest of several individuals for violent aggression and illegal possession of firearms, ammunition and explosives.
Regarding right-wing extremists, Europol has reported a total of 11 right-wing affiliated
arrests between 2017 and 2020.157 Scholars have also investigated severe forms of right-wing terrorism and violence (RTV) perpetrated by lone actors and organised groups and targeting, among others, ethnic minorities. Research results reveal an increasing trend of non-fatal attacks between 2015 (3 attacks) and 2019 (24 attacks), with a decline in 2020 (17 attacks) and a total of 72 non-fatal RTV events between 2015 and 2020.158 Lastly, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights
(ODIHR) collects hate crime data reported by Italy. As for RTV attacks, figures show an increasing trend of hate crimes recorded by police over the period 2015-2019, with 555 events recorded in 2015 and 1119 in 2019.
Data also show racism and xenophobia as the most common bias motivation for
committing hate crime in 2019 (805 incidents), followed by bias against other groups / people with disabilities (207 incidents). As for the types of crime, the most common forms of hate crime recorded in 2019 were incitement to violence, physical assaults, and desecration of graves.
The health crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic decline and the criticism of the national political elites have contributed to the appeal of disobbedienza (disobedience) against a perceived dittatura sanitaria (“health dictatorship”), despite of the general support for lockdown regulations among the population. Within this context, groups and movements on the spectrum from radical nationalism to right-wing extremism have been contributing to the spread of COVID-19 disinformation and fake news on social media. They have also used disinformation to target minority groups to incite hatred, anti-immigration sentiments, and violence.
This development not only influences Italy’s political landscape and relationship with the European Union; it also increases the threat of right-wing extremist violence and hate crimes, particularly affecting the safety of minorities.
In 2021 alone, the Italian police discovered weapon collections during investigations against neo-Nazi groups. As explained above (see Chapter 2), it is difficult to shoe-horn parties and movements, in particular their members into specific categories. An example of this is the killing of a Moroccan immigrant by a councillor and member of the right-wing radical Lega (League) after an altercation in July 2021.
In Italy, the popularity of radical right-wing groups as well as the mobilisation of individuals has increased in recent years.161 Radical-right and radical-nationalist political parties, as Lega (League) and Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy), together gained 40 per cent of the votes in the 2019 European Parliament election in Italy, while the most recent 2021 opinion polls for the next Italian general election shows both parties polling above 20%.
4.5.1. Legal framework
The legal framework to combat right-wing extremism can be identified in a number of criminal offences defined by the Italian Constitution and Criminal Code. The Italian Constitution, states that states that “it shall be forbidden to reorganise, under any form whatsoever, the dissolved Fascist party.” Furthermore, the Constitution includes articles stating the equality of citizens before the law “without distinction of sex, race, language, religion, political opinion, personal and social conditions” (art. 3). The only associations which are forbidden by the Constitution (art. 18) are those “that are […] forbidden by
criminal law. Secret associations and associations that, even indirectly, pursue political aims by means of organisations having a military character shall be forbidden”.
In terms of criminal law, the most notable laws are the Legge Scelba (Scelba Law) and the Legge Mancino (Mancino Law). The Scelba Law (Law no. 645/1952) was the first law introducing the crime of apologia del fascismo (apology of fascism) into the Italian legal system. The law, named after the then Interior Minister Mario Scelba, was passed in 1952 to implement the provision of the Italian Constitution, relating to the dissolving of the fascist party.”255 The Article 4 of the Scelba Law sanctions anyone who promotes or organises in any form, the constitution of an association, a movement or a group having the characteristics and pursuing the purposes of reorganising the dissolved fascist party.
The penalty is imprisonment from five to twelve years. Furthermore, the law punishes anyone publicly exalting the exponents, principles, facts or methods of fascism, or its anti-democratic aims — therefore also propaganda.
The Scelba Law was further supplemented by the Mancino Law (Law no. 205/1993), which further specifies the provisions of the Scelba Law to punish hate crime and racial discrimination. The law, passed in 1993, amended Law no. 654/1975 that ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination — adopted in 1965 and entered into force in 1969. The Mancino Law punishes the propaganda of ideas based on superiority or on racial and ethnic hatred, or whoever instigates or commits acts of discrimination for racial, ethnic, national or religious reasons, with imprisonment of up to one year and six months or with a fine of up to 6,000 euros.
In addition, the law introduces “a general aggravating circumstance for all offences committed with a view to discrimination on racial, ethnic, national or religious ground or in order to help organisations with such purposes. Any racially aggravated offence is prosecuted ex officio”.257 Pursuant to Legislative Decree 21/2018, the aggravating circumstance has become art. 604-ter of the Italian Criminal Code, while the former article 3 of the Law no. 654/75 has become art. 604-bis of the Italian Criminal Code. The latter
article can be considered as a regulatory tool to counteract hate speech, as it punishes the “Propaganda and incitement to crime for reasons of racial, ethnic and religious discrimination”. In this regard, it is important to mention the first case of hate speech submitted to the Italian Supreme Court of Cassation (Supreme Court) in 2015. With Judgment no. 36906 of 14/09/2015, the Supreme Court reviewed the
decision made by the Court of Appeal of Trieste which had confirmed the fine of 3,000 euros to an individual found guilty of the crime of racial hatred propaganda under Law no. 654/1975 (art. 3), for having written “Basta stranieri” (enough of foreigners) on an election leaflet. In reviewing the judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed that such expression, used in the context of the so-called political criticism, did not constitute racial hatred propaganda. In addition, the Supreme Court specified that hate speech cannot tout court integrate the crime of propaganda of racist ideas, as they still constitute a free expression of thought, which, as a constitutionally guaranteed right pursuant to art. 21 of the Constitution, tolerates limits only when faced with the need to protect constitutional rights of equal rank.
Lastly, over the last five years two bills have been presented to the Italian Parliament to regulate and criminalise individuals’ behaviour associated with far-right ideologies. In 2017, the deputy of the Democratic Party Emanuele Fiano presented a new bill on the apology for fascism. The Chamber of Deputies approved the proposal, but the term of the legislature put an end to the discussion of the law in the Senate. The “Fiano” bill aimed at introducing in the Italian Criminal Code a new article, 293-bis, to punish anyone propagating images or contents belonging to the fascist party or the German National Socialist party. In 2020, Alessandro Zan, a member of the Democratic Party, introduced the DDL Zan (i.e., the “Zan Bill”) in the attempt of extending the Mancino law to homo- and transphobic crimes.
The bill aims at criminalising discrimination against members of the LGBTQ+ community
(along with other categories included in the Marino law) with a sanction of up to four years of imprisonment or community service. The bill, which has found strong opposition from the two radical right parties of the League and Brothers of Italy, has been approved in the Chamber of Deputies in November, thus passing to the Senate, where it was rejected.
In conclusion, it is important to note the effectiveness of the Italian legal system in prosecuting and preventing right-wing extremist crimes. Regarding the prosecution of such crimes, the application of the Scelba and Mancino law for apology of fascism has often been difficult and controversial because of the conflict arising with the Constitutional Rights of associative freedom (art. 18) and freedom of expression of thought (art. 21). In fact, both laws must guarantee free thinking that can only be compressed in the name of an urgency, that the Constitutional Court in its judgment 74 of 1958 identified in the “concrete danger for the democratic order”. Despite the difficulty of individuals’ prosecution for the reorganisation of the dissolved fascist party, the extensive monitoring of police
and law enforcement authorities has led to the arrest of several far-right extremists for their involvement in violent aggression, hate crime and discrimination, and online propaganda.
In 2019 the Postal Police monitored more than 2,000 virtual spaces for racial discrimination, right-wing extremism, anti-Semitism, as well as threat of attack to the Rome-Milan railway section.
Lastly, other major police operations have led to the discovery of large amount of weapons and explosives owned by far-right extremist groups being monitored across Italy.
10.3. Other responses to right-wing extremism
At national level, two government bodies implement measures against discrimination and hate crimes:
the Ufficio Nazionale Antidiscriminazioni Razziali (UNAR) and the Osservatorio per la Sicurezza
Contro gli Atti Discriminatori (OSCAD). The former combats all forms of discrimination and has built a
network of regional centres that collect complaints and work with local authorities. The OSCAD,
operated by the police and the Carabinieri, collects data on hate crimes since 2013. The observatory is
also responsible for data monitoring, training for law enforcement and the improvement of the
cooperation among different police agencies and stakeholders. In this regard, civil society stakeholders
have actively developed different preventive measures: educational tools against (Islamophobic) hate
speech online, the training module Counter-Narration for Counterterrorism (C4C) for schools which
focuses on victims’ testimonies,the EXIT program for the deradicalisation of individuals, and the project
Eurotopia for countering far-right propaganda online. Moreover, organisations like the Milan Bar Association offer free legal advice to victims of hate crimes and far-right violence.578 Lastly, the Rete
nazionale per il contrasto ai discorsi e ai fenomeni d’odio (National Network for the Fight against Hate
Speech and Hate Phenomena) was established in 2020. The network brings together NGOs,
researchers, observatories and the National Anti-Racial Discrimination Office to monitor and prevent
hate speech online as well as to develop counter-narratives.579
Other responses to far-right groups and neo-fascists include the organisation of protests and
boycotts. Activists from anti-fascist groups as the National Association of Italian Partisans (ANPI) regularly organise counter-protests and denounce neo-Nazis to the police.580 In 2019, about 200,000
participants took part in the anti-discrimination march in Milan and the “Sardines” movement mobilised tens of thousands of protestors who rallied against the success of far-right parties in the
In the same year, several Italian authors and the Auschwitz museum decided to
withdraw from the book fair Salone del Libro in Turin due to the participation of the founder of the neofascist publishing house Altaforte, who was consequently barred from the international fair.582 The
president of the Piedmont region and the mayor of Turin denounced him for apology of fascism on the
grounds of the Legge Scelba and the violation of the Legge Mancino.
The municipality of Predappio, Mussolini’s birth place, also planned to open a documentation centre on fascism in reaction to neofascist pilgrimages.584 In 2020, anti-racist Black lives matter protests took place across the country.585
In some instances also private companies have developed responses to right-wing extremism. In 2019,
Facebook deactivated CasaPound Italia’s social media pages, including the profiles of several