Pressure is growing in Italy for the government to ban the neofascist Forza Nuova (New Force) party, after the far-right group played a major role in violent anti-vax protests in Rome over the weekend in which mobs stormed a hospital emergency department and a trade union headquarters.
Italian police said on Sunday that two of the openly fascist party’s leaders – national secretary Roberto Fiore, and Giuliano Castellino, the movement's chief in Rome – were among 12 people arrested after Saturday’s huge protests over COVID measures turned violent.
Thirty-eight officers were injured in the clashes, while the police used tear gas, batons and water cannons to repel the mobs.
The violence erupted after large crowds – numbering more than 10,000 people, according to reports – gathered in the capital to protest the pending expansion of the government’s “green pass” programme. The scheme, which requires employees to show evidence of a COVID injection, recent infection or negative test, is due to be implemented in all workplaces as of Friday.
A group of protesters tried to force their way through police in riot gear guarding the Chigi Palace, the official residence of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, while another group, reportedly led by members of Forza Nuova, stormed the headquarters of Italy’s national trade union organisation CGIL, (the Italian General Confederation of Labour).
Footage showed the mob violently storming the building, with many striking people trying to prevent them from entering with flagpoles and other objects. The protesters then ransacked the building, where they could be heard denouncing the union for “failing to defend workers” from having to comply with the “green pass” scheme.
“I would like it to be clear that if anyone has thought of intimidating us, of frightening us, of making us shut up, they must know that the CGIL, the workers' movement are the ones that have defeated fascism in this country,” CGIL's head Maurizio Landini told reporters on Sunday.
“All those groups that refer to fascism must be dissolved and this is the time to say it clearly.”
Later, dozens of protesters attempted to break into the emergency department at a hospital where one protester was being treated, forcing medics to barricade themselves inside, department head Francesco Pugliese told reporters. At least two health workers and two police officers were injured there, officials said.
The clashes – the most significant outbreak of COVID-related political violence in Italy since the start of the pandemic – have sent shockwaves throughout the country, and drew widespread condemnation from politicians, including the leaders of the populist right-wing League and Brothers of Italy parties. Draghi, who condemned the violence, visited the union headquarters on Monday to meet with Landini.
Clashes were also reported at large protests against the green pass in Milan.
The violence has also sparked calls for Forza Nuova and other fringe fascist parties to be banned under Italian law.
Valeria Fedeli, a Senator for the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), said her party would present a motion in the senate in the coming days calling for the group to be banned under existing laws against fascism.
“The events of Saturday, with the… attack on the CGIL's national headquarters coordinated and carried out by representatives of a neo-fascist organisation like Forza Nuova, take us back to the darkest and most dramatic moments of our history,” she said in a statement.
“They are an extremely serious and unacceptable attack on democracy.”
Similar calls were made by members of the PD, the anti-establishment 5 Star Movement, labour unions and mayors. The PD’s president, Valentina Cuppi, launched a Change.org petition calling Forza Nuova, Casa Pound and “all the parties and movements that refer to the ideas and practices of fascism” to be banned. The petition has so far attracted more than 47,000 signatures.
The proposal is calling for the extreme-right groups to be banned under existing Italian laws such as the so-called Scelba Law, which is intended to prohibit the rebuilding of a fascist party in the country. But efforts to ban the group using this way may be difficult, given a previous court ruling that the right to freedom of thought generally prevailed, except in cases where there was a “concrete danger to the democratic order.”
Forza Nuova, whose leaders are now under investigation by prosecutors for allegedly inciting the unrest, has remained defiant, vowing to continue its resistance to the government’s COVID measures. The fringe group, known for its calls for a halt to immigration, a ban on abortion, and the repeal of hate speech laws, has embraced anti-vax and anti-lockdown views since the pandemic began, including previous protests against the green pass.
“Saturday was a watershed between the old and the new. The people decided to raise the level of the clash,” the group said in a statement.
“The popular revolution will not stop its path, with or without us, until the green pass is definitively withdrawn.”