Dangerous Organizations and Bad Actors: CasaPound Italia
| by CTEC
CasaPound Italia (CPI) is an Italian neofascist accelerationist movement and militant organization founded in Rome in 2008. United fundamentally around a romanticization of Italy’s fascist past, CasaPound’s group identity centers on militancy, a glorification of violence, and violent confrontation. Its extreme nationalist and nativist ideologies draw on historic Italian fascism and its far-right philosophers while incorporating international influences like the French Nouvelle Droit (New Right) and European anti-immigrant discourse. By combining an aggressive, confrontational, and sometimes violent style of activism with softer tactics like providing community social services, CasaPound has gained substantial media attention and cultural traction, driving the normalization of fascism in contemporary Italy.
Through a variety of connections, CasaPound can be considered a descendant of Italy’s historic, Julius Evola-inspired neofascist terror scene during the “Years of Lead.” CasaPound’s heritage can be traced all the way back to the Movimento Sociale Italiano, the most important of the postwar neofascist parties. More concerningly, CasaPound commemorates and celebrates neofascist activity during the later “Years of Lead,” when the frustration of neofascist parliamentary strategies and governmental pressure campaigns (the “Strategy of Tension”) led some groups to adopt ultra-violent, proto-accelerationist strategies.
CPI’s dominant feature is its open admiration for historical fascism and nostalgia for Mussolini’s regime, unusual among modern far-right political movements. “Santa Teppa” (Holy Mob), Mussolini’s label for his paramilitary blackshirts, features prominently on the wall of their headquarters. In 2012, group deputy president Simone di Stefano explained that “The reference to fascism is fundamental. We do not put fasces everywhere and we will not always quote Mussolini,” but “the link with fascism is total.”
CasaPound militants view fascism as a spiritual and communal ideology—in the formulation of Fascist philosopher and Italian politician Giovanni Gentile, “a total conception of life.” Their engagement with fascism is personal and emotional; its mythological conception of the Italian state and people provides a sense of deep-rooted identity and pride. CPI’s fascism is an existential rather than political commitment. Members view themselves as promoting the restoration of the golden-age Italy of historic fascism and to an extent, the Roman Empire, when the nation was ostensibly strong, united, and culturally proud. The organization aims to forge an independent “third way” in the world and to preserve the Italian state as a distinct cultural and social unit. As such, CPI counts a number of far-right thinkers and proto-fascists like Gentile, Gabriel d’Annunzio, and Julius Evola among its ideological influences.
However, CPI distinguishes itself from other neofascist groups in the way it combines its overt fascist nostalgia with references to left-wing revolutionaries and pop culture more generally. This hybridization produces a brand that often appears to aim for non-conformism rather than ideological purity. It aims for a young, off-beat image selling “hipster fascism.” CPI adopts the identity of a countercultural group focused on basic issues like hunger and housing scarcity, vigorously tackling the issues that the existing Italian order is too sclerotic to deal with. Additionally, the organization has expressed its support for same-sex marriage and abortion rights, despite its embrace of the “traditional family” ideal. Di Stefano argues that CPI is a “young and clean political force” offering Mussolini’s modernity and social welfare programs.
As CPI’s activism focuses primarily on contemporary social and economic issues, their periodic participation in the electoral system can obfuscate their fundamental mission: to undermine Italian liberal democracy and replace it with a fascist regime. They adopt Anthony Gramsci’s concept of “metapolitics” as adapted to the right-wing landscape by the French Nouvelle Droit and Alain de Benoist. Metapolitics, as pursued by CPI, means the transformation of culture and ethics in order to facilitate the return of fascism and the disruption of the current order. CPI’s primary goal, therefore, is to attract media attention and use their social agitation to dominate cultural and social debates, shifting the boundaries of acceptable ideology and normalizing neofascism.
In the early 2010s, CPI began to shift its public priorities from primarily socioeconomic issues towards race and migration. This shift stemmed both from the heightened political importance of migration in Europe after 2014 and from the spread of the Great Replacement Theory among European far-right groups. CPI’s adoption of The Great Replacement narrative was unsurprising, as the group had long been tied to the French far-right scene and Renaud Camus. Camus’s 2012 book The Great Replacement argues that immigration threatens to take over Europe and destroy its unique culture. CPI absorbed many of these ideas, becoming part of the growing “identitarian” movement and endorsing “ethnopluralism”—the idea that each people’s culture should remain uncontaminated or unmixed with others. These ideas connect CPI back to radical thinkers like Julius Evola, whose doctrines of race as an ethnic and spiritual construct allow CPI to pursue racially motivated policies while denying charges of racism.
Violence and physical activity forms a key part of the CPI identity and provides a bonding mechanism for the group. Despite assertions by CPI that it only does “politics, not hooliganism,” CPI has been frequently involved in violent street brawls, physical assaults on reporters and counterprotesters, and aggressive confrontation of opposition demonstrations. Couched in arguments that they are simply defending their group’s “right to exist,” CPI’s violence often amounts to open aggression. Their use of violence as a political tool also helps them attract media attention, build notoriety, and stir controversy.
Violence serves a purpose beyond simply increasing their media influence and intimidating its opponents, however—it is a key ideological component of the group. CPI looks to Mussolini’s Squadre d’Azione (Action Squads) as a heroic ideal. The lyrics of Zetazeroalfa’s songs, which continue to provide a cultural and social touchstone for CPI, glorify struggle and fighting. In addition to these rituals and trainings that emphasize physical fitness, pain tolerance, and martial preparations, CasaPound’s language itself is anchored in combat. They envision their group’s activity in the terms of collective struggle, and describe the streets they march in as “trenches.” CPI idolizes the epic warrior and his value systems, operating a number of gyms and a fighting club called Il Circuito. Major themes in their addresses include the “cult of struggle,” emphasizing discipline and physical power in combat. One particularly notable ritual is that of Cinghiamattanza (“death by belt”), taken from a Zetazeroalfa song (a neofascist rock band led by CasaPound’s Iannone and the official band of CasaPound), where militants beat each other with their belts as a demonstration of their belief that pain and combat make up key elements of the human experience.
CPI’s origins and central headquarters are in Rome, though it has gradually expanded and by 2018 boasts over 150 local chapters in Italian cities, each reporting back to the Roman headquarters. It is a hierarchical and tightly organized group which disdains outsiders and follows their founder, Iannone, with intense loyalty. Members are expected to conduct virtually every aspect of their lives within the group, which provides extensive social opportunities and a demanding activism program. Members demonstrate intense group identification and look to the community to provide for their spiritual, emotional, and material needs. Though women are emphasized in CPI’s propaganda, they make up a very small percentage of the overall membership, and their roles are “extremely marginal” and “absent from all the high hierarchies.” Its youth wing, Blocco Studentesco, aims at abolishing private education and creating a singular, high-quality public system. This system aims to invigorate and empower students with a unified sense of Italian pride, in line with CPI’s ideological outlooks and social desires to shape Italian culture and nationalism in a fascist manner.
A number of traceable links exist between CPI and historical neo-fascist terrorist groups of Italy’s “Years of Lead.” CPI’s political genealogy goes back to the major post-war neofascist political party, MSI (Movimento Sociale Italiano) via its parent group Fiamma Tricolore. MSI itself historically spawned several violent radical factions. Pino Rauti’s Evola-inspired, deeply violent Ordine Nuovo in the 1950s and 1960s, gave way to the ideologically-extreme terror groups Nuclei Armati Rivoluzionari and Terza Posizione, practicing “armed spontaneity” attacks as a first step to national fascist revolution.
CPI is most closely linked with Terza Posizione, founded in 1978, just before the killings of two right-wing militants in Acca Larentia in Rome, which are commonly considered the immediate trigger for the worst of the neo-fascist violence during the Years of Lead. Terza Posizione (“Third Position”), like CPI, offered fascism as an alternative to the ills of both capitalism and communism. Physical symbolism is representative of the organizations’ affiliations with one another; CPI leader Iannone has Terza Posizione’s symbol tattooed on his finger, and the Nazi-affiliated Wolfsangel rune was used by both Terza Posizione and by CPI affiliate Luca Traini after his anti-immigrant shooting spree in February 2018. Additionally, following Terza Posizione’s leader Gabriele Adinolfi return to Italy in 2000, he and Iannone overlapped in a variety of cultural and academic endeavors. Recently, in both 2018 and 2019, CPI organized large marches and demonstrations to commemorate the fallen militants of the Acca Larentia killing, indicating a desire to carry on the legacy of the 20th century groups.
In the early 2010s, CasaPound built ties with the Greek neo-Nazi and neofascist political party Golden Dawn on the basis of EU economic issues. Golden Dawn representatives traveled to Rome in 2013 for talks with CasaPound. According to CasaPound’s in-house newspaper Il Primato Nazionale, Iannone and a CPI delegation went to Greece in 2015 to collaborate with Golden Dawn to distribute humanitarian aid to Greek citizens (a replica of their Italian “direct social actions”), speaking of European brotherhood. However, Golden Dawn is no longer active and the alliance does not seem to have been an especially high priority for either group.
CasaPound has also been affiliated with Ukraine’s neo-Nazi Azov Regiment. Azov, like CasaPound, draws on the French Nouvelle Droit and Gramsci’s concept of metapolitics, pursuing cultural transformation as a route to political power. Olena Semenyaka, Azov’s international secretary, has pursued ties with CasaPound and publicly lists them as an allied group. A small handful of CPI-linked individuals were identified participating in Azov’s military operations against Russian separatists in the Donbass region of Ukraine in 2014/2015. However, CPI’s ties to Azov and Ukrainian nationalism are complicated by CPI’s open affinity for Putin’s Russia and its fascist elements. In 2018, CasaPound hosted Russian radical traditionalist figure and regime collaborator Aleksander Dugin for a public discussion in Rome. Simone di Stefano was reported stating “Russia is a fundamental strategic ally for us” and admiring Dugin’s concept of the spiritual “eternal Russia.”
The now-defunct neofascist accelerationist web forum Iron March claimed CasaPound as a supported group, stating in an infographic that it was “widely supported on IM” despite having “no IM members in its ranks.” Based on information from Iron March data leaks, scholar H.E. Upchurch concludes that Iron March helped direct Italian fascist sympathizers towards CasaPound. However, there are substantial barriers to mixing between these two communities. CasaPound is primarily a tight-knit militant community requiring intense dedication from its members—joining it is no casual endeavor.
CasaPound is active on several social media platforms, including Twitter, YouTube, Facebook (despite a legal case which ordered Facebook to reactivate CasaPound’s account after an attempted ban), Telegram, a CPI radio show called Radio Bandiera Nera, a CPI cell phone app available for iPhones and Androids, and CPI’s official website. On these platforms, CasaPound frequently discusses organization-specific news and disseminates propaganda to its audiences. Its propaganda typically mirrors its non-conformist ideological approach, combining left-leaning sentiments with far-right ideals to produce content that aims to garner public support and ensure media coverage. Nostalgic references to a fascist past are also common.
CasaPound’s propaganda often encourages a traditional and conservative ideal of the “good fascist mother” and the “good fascist wife.” Women are believed to be duty-bound to have and raise children in a manner which ensures the future prosperity of a fascist Italy. One CPI campaign in particular, translated as the “It’s time to be mothers” campaign, advocated for lowering working hours for mothers without lowering their pay in an effort to emphasize the importance of a mother’s consistent presence in raising children. CPI’s conservative ideals for women became more mainstream following the 2017 media coverage of CPI women in the Italian edition of Marie Claire, which showcased their private lives and key ideals in an alluring manner. This media coverage, along with other media featuring CPI women, ultimately resulted in mainstream support, with audiences expressing admiration for the women’s traditional approach to life and their natural beauty. In turn, this has aided CPI in glorifying fascism within a particular traditional aesthetic.
The vast majority of CPI’s dangerous activities come in the form of street brawling with left-wing groups and counterprotesters at their demonstrations, as well as assaults on members of the media. However, Italian individuals linked to CPI and their ideologies have undertaken a handful of anti-immigrant mass shootings in the last ten years. In 2011, sympathizer Gianluca Casseri went after Senegalese immigrants in a square in Florence, shooting 3 and killing two. In 2018, the neo-fascist sympathizer Luca Traini with reported ties to CasaPound shot six black men in the town of Maserata, though CasaPound denies any linkages to him. While CPI leadership formally condemned these attacks, they indicate the logical consequences of CPI’s cultivation of deeply nationalistic, identitarian anti-immigrant ideologies and endorsement of a confrontational warrior mentality.
Despite holding no physical connections to either, Traini’s attack inspired and was invoked by both Brenton Tarrant and Payton Gendron. Tarrant wrote Traini’s name on his firearm prior to his massacre of innocent Muslims at two mosques in Christchurch New Zealand. Gendron, copying Tarrant, did the same prior to his mass murder attack on a Tops grocery store in Buffalo, NY. This tactic of signaling to the in-group’s collective “Saint” culture and hero worship of terrorists who target immigrants and minorities is deeply tied into the “contagion and copycat effect” of militant accelerationism.
Over a decade after its establishment, CasaPound has enjoyed a significant and consistent media presence in Italy, in large part due to its provocative fascist and accelerationist principles and its associated violence. The organization’s multitude of affiliations across Italy and across Europe more broadly, as well as its status as a supported group of the Iron March network, demonstrates its capability to network transnationally and appeal to like-minded groups. Additionally, CPI’s emphasis on fighting, violence, and the warrior archetype incites violence to both its own membership and to external adherents; most notably, CasaPound affiliate Luca Traini’s name was mentioned in Christchurch shooter Brenton Tarrant’s manifesto as well as written on Tarrant’s gun. CasaPound’s adherence to extremist ideologies, propensity for mass violence, and ability to influence mass shooters transnationally is demonstrative of its danger to society at large.