A new youth movement has been taking to the streets and occupying buildings in Italy. Their occupazioni non conformi (unconventional squats) serve as places for young Italians to discuss politics, listen to music and hang out. These squats also draw attention to their primary social and political concern: the right to housing for all Italians.
It would be easy to assume, based on this description, that this movement is another example in a long line of left-wing activist groups. They utilize left-wing tactics of occupying buildings and squatting to draw attention to housing shortages, pledge support for Italian workers, oppose Italy’s austerity programme and are strong critics of globalization and international capitalism.
Instead, this group, calling themselves CasaPound Italia, describe themselves as "neo-fascists" who are unabashed about their support and admiration for former Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.
Welcome to the new face of Italian fascism: a mixture of populist distrust of the establishment, youth culture, non-conformism, desire for direct action politics, and a curious melange of left and right-wing beliefs. In the words of the group’s founder, Gianluca Iannone, CasaPound transcends the traditional right-left wing divide (Liddell, ‘In the house of Pound’). They are "Third Millenium Fascists", underlining their continuity with the past and their desire to resurrect fascist ideas and apply them to current social problems.
Their reverence for the American expatriate poet and fascist, Ezra Pound, a vocal anti-Semite, and emphasis on ethnic Italians and nationalism, place them on the far-right side of the spectrum. Comment forums are often filled with xenophobic and violent language. In December 2011, a CasaPound sympathiser killed two Senegalese street vendors and wounded three others before killing himself.
While the movement has received more attention in recent years there have been very few studies looking at who CasaPound supporters are. In particular, the group has an active presence on the Internet and makes effective use of social media to spread their message and recruit new members. Understanding who supports Casa Pound is key to understanding the nature of the movement’s appeal, and its likelihood of growing.
In the Summer of 2011, as part of a Demos research project supported by the Open Society European Policy Institute investigating the emergence of far-right or "new right" groups in Europe, we surveyed over 400 supporters of Casa Pound on Facebook. This only represents a sub-set of their support, but it’s nonetheless instructive.
Like many other new far-right populist groups in Europe, Facebook supporters of CasaPound are overwhelmingly male and young. In fact, CasaPound supporters were more likely to be male than any other group that we surveyed. To those aware of the group this shouldn’t come as a surprise: the group emphasises physical activity and confrontation, described by one member as the "cult of the body",and are most distinctive in their use of the cinghiamattanza or "massacre belt" in the moshpits at gigs of Iannone’s band Zetazeroalfa, where male participants whip each other with their belts often until bleeding.
Like other far-right populist groups we surveyed, CasaPound supporters had very low levels of trust in the various institutions of society, including the government, media, European Union, trade unions and the press. For a group that stresses non-conformism of all shades (celebrating the likes of Che Guevara or Peppino Impastato alongside Mussolini), this also seems obvious.
However, there were a few counterintuitive findings that distinguish CasaPound supporters from supporters of similar populist groups across Europe. First, CasaPound supporters were more likely than the average populist right supporter to cite economic issues, unemployment and corruption. Only five percent cited Islamic extremism as a top concern, compared to a European far-right populist average of 25 per cent. Second, supporters were also less likely to cite the protection of cultural identity as a reason to support CasaPound, focusing instead on the group’s perceived integrity and uniqueness. While overall pessimistic about the effectiveness of politics, CasaPound supporters were more optimistic than the average European far-right populist supporter as well as the other street-based movements we surveyed.
What seems clear from our research is that CasaPound is appealing to a number of young Italians through a combination of right and left wing ideology, symbols and methods. Their emphasis on a direct approach to politics, through street protests, occupying abandoned buildings and political stunts, as well as culture and music provides an exciting alternative to traditional politics for a number of young people. As one respondent to our survey memorably put it: "CasaPound is the only revolutionary answer to the political dullness of these days. It’s life in a land of dead people!"
Social media will continue to provide an avenue for the emergence of new populist groups similar to CasaPound across the political spectrum of left and right. Understanding these new movements, their ideas, their appeal, their supporters and likelihood of growing, requires understanding who their online supporters are and the extent to which they get involved offline. The report by Demos is the first attempt to do this.
Read the Demos report. What’s your response to the findings? How do you think citizens and politicians should respond to the rise of groups like CasaPound?
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