A left-wing Italian lawmaker and her friends were attacked by chain-wielding far-right extremists as they left an anti-racism rally Friday night, in a brutal assault that left her assistant with a 3-inch gash in his head.
And she’s blaming Italy’s populist new government, which has pursued a high-profile campaign against illegal immigration since coming to power in June, for emboldening far-right extremist groups.
“It was terrifying,” Eleonora Forenza, a member of the European Parliament for left-wing alliance The Other Europe, told VICE News Monday. “My assistant was very seriously injured to his head. He was losing a lot of blood. I was very scared about the possibility of something very serious happening to him.”
Forenza said she and her friends were walking home from an anti-racism rally in the southern city of Bari late Friday when they passed a young Eritrean woman with a baby. The woman was intimidated as her path home was being blocked by a group of 20 or so supporters of the far-right CasaPound movement, who were gathered outside their local headquarters.
As Forenza and her group stood with the woman, the CasaPound group started marching toward them, then chased them down the street.
“They followed us, started to shout at us that this was their territory. They threatened us with metal chains,” said Forenza. “Then they began to attack us with these instruments.”
The politician said she was shoved against a wall by the attackers, but the two men in her group, including her parliamentary assistant Antonio Perillo, bore the brunt of the violence, with the extremists beating them with the chains. She said the assault, carried out by at least five attackers, continued until the assailants spotted another group of left-wing demonstrators and ran off after them.
Perillo and another man in Forenza's group were hospitalized with head injuries, the former with a 9cm cut to his head, but have since been discharged.
Forenza reported the assault to police and says she is confident arrests will be made, and she’s called on the Italian government to shut down the operations of CasaPound and other neo-fascist groups through Italy.
Named after the American poet and fascist sympathizer Ezra Pound, CasaPound is a youth-focused Italian far-right street movement that’s co-opted typically left-wing tactics such as squatting in pushing its “Italians first” agenda, and has been linked to violence, including the murders of two Senegalese in Florence in 2011 and the spree shooting of six Africans in Macerata in February. The group did not respond to VICE News’ request for comment Monday.
“There is a terrifying climate in Italy with Salvini’s policies,” said Forenza, referring to the hard-line interior minister Matteo Salvini, the architect of the anti-immigration campaign. “Groups like CasaPound feel stronger, and free to carry out the aggression of Friday night, because they feel confident about their impunity.”
Andrea Costa, coordinator of Baobab Experience, a large transit camp for migrants in Rome, agreed with Forenza’s assessment. He told VICE News that groups such as CasaPound felt legitimized by the new government “because the country is now going in the direction they were talking about.”
“It’s like they won a cultural battle in this country,” he said.
Critics say that the government’s relentless campaign against illegal immigration has unleashed a wave of hostility toward migrants and led to a spike in racist violence. Government hate crime statistics show 24 potentially racially-motivated violent attacks in the year to early August, two of them fatal, compared with 13 in all of 2017 and 19 in 2016; tallies by NGO groups are higher still.
Forenza’s bloc in the European Parliament issued a statement calling on the Italian government to bring those responsible to justice, and “stop ignoring racist and xenophobic violence.”
“This is yet another incident of violent aggression by this fascist organization and must be a source of grave concern for every democratic citizen of Italy and Europe,” said the statement. “Such fascism cannot be tolerated nor allowed to raise its ugly head.”
The Italian government has not yet commented on the attack, but Forenza says she will push for more to be done to crack down on extremist groups. “I will insist on it,” she said.
Cover: In this Sept. 9, 2017, photo, supporters of neo-fascist group CasaPound practice martial arts at a national meeting in Borgo Sabotino, Italy. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)