Italy’s centre-left warns of ‘return of fascism’ amid wave of support for far-right shooter

Key figures in Italy's ruling centre-left Democratic Party have warned of racial tensions and a possible revival of fascist sentiment following a racist shooting in central Italy.

Italy's centre-left warns of 'return of fascism' amid wave of support for far-right shooter
Democratic Party politician Graziano Delrio, who warned of "a return of fascism". Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP
Speaking to the Repubblica daily, PD politician Graziano Delrio said: “We are at the threshold of a time of neo-fascism” after a far-right sympathizer shot six African migrants in the attack.

He went on to tell the newspaper, which has strong links to the centre-left party, that “those who justify incidents like the one in Macerata throw open the door to a return of fascism”.

Ths suspected shooter has received a wave of support from “ordinary people”, his lawyer said on Wednesday.

Luca Traini, who shot five men and one woman from Ghana, Mali and Nigeria in the central city of Macerata last Saturday, said the “trigger” was the murder of an Italian woman allegedly by a Nigerian asylum seeker. 

“These messages of solidarity continue to arrive, from all parts of the political spectrum — often from ordinary people and also from left-wing friends from Macerata and also obviously from right-wing people with the same ideology as Luca,” his lawyer Giancarlo Giulianelli said.

“The messages mostly come from regular people who want to write letters or send money. Some even support the act itself, as though they were happy that he did it.

'It could have been me': Shooting highlights racial tensions ahead of Italy election
Police stand guard during investigations at one of the sites of the shooting. Photo: Giuseppe Bellini/AFP

“There are people who say 'let me know your IBAN (bank details) so I can send money', but my client, although he thanks everyone for the messages, doesn't intend to have any financial support because he wants it… to be sent to help Italian families in difficulty.”

And in Rome, a large banner reading 'Onore a Luca Traini' (Honour to Luca Traini) was photographed on a bridge over the Tiber river.

Traini, a 28-year-old security agent, awaited police draped in an Italian flag after the shootings in a country where immigration is a hot-button issue a month ahead of elections.

READ MORE: 'It could have been me': Shooting highlights racial tensions ahead of Italy election

Giulianelli said his client 'snapped' a day after a Nigerian asylum-seeker and drug dealer was arrested in the same town in connection with the death of an 18-year-old woman, whose dismembered body was discovered in suitcases.

The Nigerian man is still being held on suspicion of for concealing and showing contempt for a body, but not for homicide, due to insufficient evidence. The cause of the woman's death has not yet been verified, with the suspect saying she died of a drug overdose. A second man is also being probed for allegedly selling drugs to the 18-year-old woman, who had left a rehabilitation facility just two days before her death.

“[Traini] went to the gym but then immediately changed his mind because he had this profound hatred inside of him. He lost it, that's what he said. 'I lost it and I wanted to kill black drug dealers'. That was his version,” Guilianelli added.

“Leave aside the politics — Luca was a marginalized person with problems related to his life that exploded with this act.

“The act obviously had a racial element so it highlights Luca's political ideology. But it was the act of a person who really isn't very well.

'Stop the violence': Italians march to remember woman found dismembered in Macerata

A view over Macerata. File photo: Abraham Sobkowski/Wikimedia Commons

“Luca is not a fascist criminal, he is a boy who needs help,” his lawyer insisted, saying people on the left and right swung from exaggerating to denying the problems posed by migration, whose solution “cannot be that given by Luca.”

Traini has a fascist-inspired tattoo and left a Mussolini votive candle near the spot where Mastopietro's body was found. He is a member of the far-right Northern League, the junior ally in a centre-right coalition that is currently leading opinion polls ahead of a March election. He also ran in local elections last year. 

Both Northern League leader Matteo Salvini and coalition ally Silvio Berlusconi have said the shooting was “non-political”. Salvini said that “the moral responsibility of every incident of violence that happens in Italy is that of those who have filled it with illegal immigrants”, while Berlusconi called immigration “a social bomb ready to explode”.

Interior Minister and PD politician Marco Minniti earlier said the shooting was motivated by “racial hatred”, and that the attack was part of a culture “of right-wing extremism with clear reference to fascism and Nazism”. His party colleague, Justice Minister Andrea Orlando, visited the two wounded shooting victims who were still in hospital on Wednesday.

Plenty of members of the public and Macerata residents have denounced the shooting too, including the family of the 18-year-old who was found dead. 

Anti-racism and anti-fascism campaigners have however cancelled a demonstration planned for Saturday after Macerata's mayor asked for protests to be paused, in order to avoid “divisions or possible violence” and give the city time to heal after the two horrific crimes. Demonstrations had also been planned by the neo-fascist CasaPound party and the extreme-right Forza Nuova.

Italy has in the past been accused of never fully condemning the fascist period of its history, with a number of Italians continuing to venerate Mussolini. Mussolini's hometown of Predappio in the region has become a focal point for neo-fascists, with 50,000 Mussolini pilgrims visiting each year in order to have their photo taken at the dictator's tomb and leave messages of admiration in the visitor's book near his grave

In late 2017, parliament voted to outlaw fascist propaganda, including souvenirs and other products seen as celebrating fascism or Nazism.

READ MORE: Mussolini museum project awakens demons of Italy's past



‘Very violent’: How Italy’s youngest mafia is terrorising the Puglia region

SPECIAL REPORT: The Italian state is finally paying attention to a “fourth mafia” operating in the southern Puglia region, and experts say it's the country's youngest, least evolved, and most violent crime syndicate of all.

'Very violent': How Italy’s youngest mafia is terrorising the Puglia region

It took a loaded pistol pointed at Lazzaro D’Auria’s head for the Italian landowner to finally say yes to the demands of the country’s newest and most violent mafia.

The Puglia farmer had resisted their extortion attempts in the past; threats, fires, and damage to his crops and property.

But an early morning visit from a dozen men, including a boss with a gun, forced him to agree to their demand for 150,000 euros a year.

Instead of paying up the next day, D’Auria went to the police, making him one of the few people to ever denounce Foggia’s little-known and long-ignored mafia known for its extreme violence.

 “If more citizens pressed charges, the local mafia could be weakened,” D’Auria, who has lived under police protection since 2017, told AFP.

READ ALSO: ‘We don’t talk much here’: Silence grips Sicilian mafia boss hometown

“Citizens, speak out!” implored the 57-year-old, who sees recent crackdowns by authorities as a sign the mafia can be weakened if locals overcome their fears

Farmer Lazzaro D’Auria being escorted by police in the province of Foggia. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)

Its bloody clan wars were once dismissed as farmers’ feuds, but the local mafia operating in the northern part of the Puglia region is finally setting off alarm bells inside the Italian state.

It is sometimes referred to as the ‘Fourth Mafia’ – after Sicily’s Cosa Nostra, Calabria’s ‘Ndrangheta and Naples’ Camorra.

But interest in its activities has come late, as Italy’s youngest mafia already has a stranglehold over the province.

“It’s a rudimentary, primitive mafia. Very violent, very aggressive,” said Ludovico Vaccaro, Foggia’s public prosecutor.

While the other main mafias have graduated to less visible, more profitable activities, including infiltrating the legitimate economy, the Foggia mafia is still in a nascent phase.

READ ALSO: Messina Denaro: Captured boss’s cousin speaks out against ‘mafia culture’

“Today the mafias have evolved, so they shoot less, seeking a strategy of silence to stay unnoticed,” Vaccaro said.

“Whereas this is still a mafia that, to show its power over the territory, shoots and kills.”

Foggia Public Prosecutor, Ludovico Vaccaro pictured at his office in Foggia. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)

The ‘Foggia mafia’ is a catch-all label for a syndicate comprising different groups.

The province of Foggia has Italy’s third-highest homicide rate, and five of the 16 murders last year were mafia-related.

Family-based ‘battalions’ from different areas often cooperate, dividing extortion money that pays associates and prisoners.

When conflicts sometimes arise over the division of the illicit proceeds, there are quarrels and the battalions clash and start killing each other,” said deputy police chief Mario Grassia.

Each group has its speciality, from military-style armed robberies of freight trucks in Cerignola to the old-school tactics used in the city of Foggia, where nighttime bombings of storefronts and cars persuade hesitating shopkeepers to pay up.

Farmers in San Severo like D’Auria often find their olive trees felled, their harvests torched or tractors or livestock stolen.

In Gargano, whose spectacular coast welcomes tourists as well as Albanian drug shipments, the mafia is particularly violent.

The Gargano mafia’s grisly calling card, authorities say, is shooting victims in the face, or dumping them in caves.

READ ALSO: PROFILE: Ruthless Sicilian mafia boss Messina Denaro’s reign of terror

“It’s easy to hide things. Every once in a while we find something serious, stolen cars, bodies of missing people,” prosecutor Vaccaro said.

An aerial photo of the city of Foggia, southern Italy. (Photo by Giovanni GREZZI / AFP)

During a recent drive with police through the city of Foggia, AFP saw countless reminders of the bloodshed that has terrorised the population for decades.

“Right now there’s no mafia war, but there’s a settling of accounts,” said a detective who requested anonymity.

Deputy chief Grassia said he was particularly concerned by three of last year’s murders being committed by minors.

“Those participating in these gangs have kinship ties with subjects linked to organised crime,” he said.

The newest danger posed by the mafia is infiltrating public institutions. Foggia’s city council was dissolved in 2021 due to mafia infiltration and its mayor arrested on corruption charges, one of five local governments in the province dissolved since 2015.

A police detective checks inside a building in Foggia. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)

In recent years a number of top bosses, including Rocco Moretti and Roberto Sinesi, have been jailed as authorities try to wrest control of the territory from the mafia.

But the upcoming release of one of their rivals, Raffaele Tolonese, and last month’s prison escape of Gargano boss Marco Raduano, underscore the challenges.

Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi visited Foggia in February to seek to reassure locals, pledging to reinforce security, including adding what local authorities say are badly-needed surveillance cameras and street lamps.

Beyond those basics, argued Vaccaro, more police, prosecutors and courts are desperately needed to counter the “climate of fear and intimidation, the cultural and social poverty” in the deprived area.

Only one courthouse serves the entire province, which has a backlog of over 12,000 criminal cases waiting to be tried.

“In this vast territory, either the state has control, or the criminals will take it,” said Vaccaro.

By AFP’s Alexandria Sage