A militant neo-Nazi group raided by Italian anti-terror police this week was ready to carry out violent attacks and had numerous transnational connections, including a member who claimed to have met with Donald Trump’s former adviser, Steve Bannon, according to media reports citing police.
Italian police said on Tuesday they had arrested five members of a white supremacist terror organisation called the Order of Hagal, which was based in Marigliano in the province of Naples and promoted occult neo-Nazi, Holocaust-denial and anti-vax ideology.
Four men, aged between 47 and 25, were arrested on the grounds of association for the purpose of terrorism or subversion of the democratic order, police said, while a fifth was arrested for disseminating propaganda and instigating crimes on the grounds of racial, ethnic and religious discrimination.
Italian far-right expert Francesco Marone, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Teramo, said the group was named after a rune that was widely used by the Nazi SS, supposedly symbolising faith in the ideology of the Third Reich. While the Order of Hagal presented a relatively benign face to the public, representing itself as being on a kind of “social-spiritual” mission, with social media posts referring to its fight “for your values, for your children, for divine beauty,” Marone said the group’s online discussion channels were full of anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories, and members discussed the work of notorious white supremacist terrorists.
Beneath this, core members of the group were involved in even more extreme activities. Police said the group took part in regular paramilitary training, including courses overseas – reportedly in Poland – where members received hand-to-hand combat and firearms instruction. Members of the group were ready to take violent action against police and civilian targets, according to reports, with intercepted communications revealing one member talking about carrying out a massacre “like the one in New Zealand” at a police barracks in Marigliano – a reference to a terrorist attack upon two mosques in Christchurch in 2019 that killed 51 people – and another speaking of attacking a shopping centre in Naples.
The group’s international links reportedly extended beyond the foreign training camps. Italian media reports, citing police, said that the group had direct contacts with a number of Ukrainian ultranationalist groups including Azov and Right Sector, and that one of the suspects police had not been able to locate was a Ukrainian citizen who was believed to be in his homeland, fighting the Russian invasion with one of these armed groups.
Moreover, one of the arrested men, 25-year-old Giampiero Testa, also claimed to have met with American alt-right ideologue Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, during a visit to Trisulti, the sprawling 13th-century Italian monastery where Bannon was attempting to set up a right-wing think tank.
In 2018, Bannon announced his plans to set up the think tank, “The Academy of the Judeo-Christian West,” to train a new generation of European nationalists in his right-wing populist ideology, through the Dignitatis Humanae Institute (DHI), a conservative Catholic institution founded by his British associate, Benjamin Harnwell. The DHI was evicted from the monastery, a listed national monument, last year following a protracted legal battle, with Harnwell facing an ongoing criminal prosecution for fraud in relation to the project. He denies any wrongdoing.
Italian newspaper Domani reported that in Testa’s intercepted communications, detailed in police reports, the alleged extremist had spoken of a visit he had made to the Trisulti Charterhouse, where he claimed to have met both Bannon and Harnwell. The report noted that Testa had read a book outlining Bannon’s political ideology, and that the trip to Trisulti had been funded through unspecified sources.
Asked about the reports, Harnwell told VICE World News he could not rule out having met with Testa or his associates, but said their names did not appear in any of his text or email records.
“When I was based at Trisulti, I met with literally thousands of great people who made the visit to the monastery, interested to know more about our project,” he wrote in an email. “I have no reference to their names in any of my emails or texts, but I obviously can’t say categorically I never met them. I have never heard of any Order of Hagal.”
He said that he “might have at least vaguely remembered anyone who claimed to be a Neo-Nazi.”
“Of course, perhaps they’re not Nazis at all — but simply great patriots the Communists want to destroy,” he continued. “I’ve been publicly accused of being a Nazi and a fascist etc. It’s all bullshit intimidation tactics of the left.”
He claimed that Bannon would not have met anyone from the group, “as his visits were always private and unannounced (for security reasons), and he never had external meetings organised at Trisulti.”
Bannon is currently appealing two convictions for contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena to appear before the select committee investigating the January the 6th Capitol riot. A spokesperson for Bannon did not respond to VICE World News questions about the reports.
Far-right expert Marone, who is also an associate research fellow at the Italian Institute for International Political Studies, told VICE World News that the Order of Hagal arrests underlined how Italian right-wing extremists were increasingly inspired by the accelerationist ideology prevalent in the transnational white supremacist scene – with would-be terrorists explicitly seeking to emulate mass murderers like Anders Behring Breivik, who murdered 77 people in Norway in 2011, or Brenton Tarrant, the gunman who killed 51 people in New Zealand in 2019.
Other cases in Italy inspired by the same forces included a 22-year-old neo-Nazi incel arrested in Savona in January 2021 who was inspired by the US neo-Nazi accelerationist group Atomwaffen Division, and a 23-year-old arrested in Puglia last month who was allegedly a member of US neo-Nazi group The Base, and was found with the names of Breivik and Tarrant painted on his weapons.