The events of yesterday at Capitol Hill were shocking and painful to watch even from abroad. The Confederate flag swinging inside one of the sacred temples of American Democracy was a wound that will be forever difficult to forget, an act of rebellion unseen since the Civil War. For Italians like me, those images had a double effect, bringing up striking resemblances of our buried past.
History is made to be remembered. Even better, history is made not to be repeated. Yet, this is exactly what happened in Washington DC that unfaithful day. The siege of Capitol Hill was a point of no return, a red-line crossed too far. If each one of those masked people wearing paramilitary gears and waving Trump flags really knew the history of their fathers, they would have known that this is exactly what brought Mussolini to power precisely a century ago, and perhaps they would have stepped back. They would have better known the price of nearly two decades of a fascist regime and the bloody Second World War that followed. The same war that our ancestors fought hard and died for, to give us the liberties that we currently enjoy.
Was the insurrection in Washington DC really the fruit of abysmal ignorance or deliberate action? Because this is how fascism came to power.
100 years ago
W̶a̶s̶h̶i̶n̶g̶t̶o̶n̶ ̶2̶0̶2̶1̶ Italy 1921. A worldwide conflict has just ended, leaving open wounds and resentment among the people. They were made promises of glory and a better future with the war and now was finally clear to all the emptiness of such promises and the path of destruction left behind. The society was lost, divided among d̶e̶m̶o̶c̶r̶a̶t̶s̶ rich bourgeoisie and a wide peasant population r̶e̶p̶u̶b̶l̶i̶c̶a̶n̶s̶ , both sides incapable of talking with each other and desperate for leaders and a strong representation in the Parliament. A violent climate was brewing in the Peninsula, heated by the calls to action and patriotism of intellectuals such as Gabriele D’Annunzio, unsatisfied by the outcomes of war and eager to be celebrated with acts of violence and immortal heroism.
To make the matter worse, Benito Mussolini, a brilliant young journalist for the newspaper “Il Popolo d’Italia”, d̶e̶s̶c̶e̶n̶d̶e̶d̶ ̶a̶n̶ ̶e̶s̶c̶a̶l̶a̶t̶o̶r̶ ̶ decided to enter the political career with a new independent party. It was called the “fascist party” and was deemed to represent especially the young and wild population infatuated by the nationalistic rhetoric of D’Annunzio and the Futuristic Movement. To accelerate his political agenda, Mussolini surrounded himself with w̶h̶i̶t̶e̶ ̶s̶u̶p̶r̶e̶m̶a̶t̶i̶s̶t̶s̶ a personal militia that would help him consolidate power and intimidate any opposition, the “Blackshirts”, a paramilitary group of young enthusiasts that would grow to become d̶o̶m̶e̶s̶t̶i̶c̶ ̶t̶e̶r̶r̶o̶r̶i̶s̶t̶s ̶an informal but powerful force within the country and a decisive element in the success of the newly born fascist party.
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Image credit: © Frank the man
March on W̶a̶s̶h̶i̶n̶g̶t̶o̶n̶ Rome
1922, the time was ripe for some strong action. Early in February, a new cabinet was elected under the leadership of Luigi Facta, a liberal politician from the s̶w̶a̶m̶p̶ “old politics” incapable of dealing with the mounting pressure from all parts of the society.
During that year the contrasting ideologies between socialists and fascists merged into open conflict: 48 socialists were killed in the clashes, as well as 35 fascist supporters. The political climate was reaching a point of no return, as the public opinion became more and more polarized into opposing sides. The rich industrials of the north, afraid of the rising of socialism in the country, backed the emerging fascist party as a force of opposition to the working class, unaware of the future maverick they would help release. Thanks to their help, and with the complacency of the political electorate, the small and minoritarian fascist party came to be the expression of a bigger and bigger part of the country.
The moment for action came later that year when was clear that Facta’s government was too weak to hold society together and form any serious opposition, while the fascist party was now becoming a strong force ready to seize power. During a national celebration in Neaples, Mussolini himself gave a final ultimatum with loud acclamations from the crowd of supporters:
“t̶h̶e̶ ̶e̶l̶e̶c̶t̶i̶o̶n̶ ̶h̶a̶s̶ ̶b̶e̶e̶n̶ ̶s̶t̶o̶l̶e̶n̶ ̶”
“Either they’ll give us the government or we’ll go and take it in Rome”
He wasn’t kidding.
Four days later, thousands of blackshirts and violent supporters marched towards Rome to demand power with force. A deliberate act of aggression and intimidation that forced the King himself to consider to call the “state of siege” and invoke the intervention of the military forces that would have ended in a bloodbath.
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Image credit: Aljazeera
A civil war was opening at the doors of the capital, with thousands of heavily armed p̶r̶o̶t̶e̶s̶t̶o̶r̶s̶ blackshirts assaulting the city and threatening the King if their demands were not met. Meanwhile, Mussolini, back in Milan, was watching carefully the events unfolding in Rome as the city was falling into chaos.
There is a famous say in Italy:
“Not every coward is a fascist,
but every fascist is a coward.”
Mussolini wasn’t present at the march of Rome but was waiting eagerly for the outcomes of the insurrection, ready to t̶w̶e̶e̶t̶ intervene at the right time.
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Image credit: Reuters
In Rome, Prime Minister Facta was begging the King to call military intervention and save the country. But the King, instead, ceded to the fears and violent pressure of the numerous blackshirts in the city and finally accepted Mussolini’s requests, inviting him to the capital to “discuss”.
The beginning of the end.
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Image credit: the Atlantic
This is Italy A̶m̶e̶r̶i̶c̶a̶
The following days Facta was forced to resign, and Mussolini was appointed to form a new government.
In the infamous speech on his first day of Presidency, Mussolini threatened all the deputies in the Parliament with the consequences they would have faced if they had opposed the fascist movement on its course.
“I could have made this deaf and gray hall a campfire for warbands: I could have bolted the Parliament and set up a government exclusively of fascists. I could: but I didn’t want to, at least in this first half.”
A striking resemblance of the images of an empty Congress transformed into a battlezone with deputies forced to evacuate and the halls occupied and pillaged by hordes of r̶i̶o̶t̶e̶r̶s ̶“protestors”.
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Image credit: the Atlantic
Never in my life I would have imagined to watch the same movie playing all over again, not in black-and-white and jarred movements, but in full colors and CNN live coverage. I couldn’t help but feel a sort of déjà vu the whole time, as the screen was pumping images that seemed coming from an alternate reality, and not the biggest western democracy.
What happened in America is “textbook fascism”, something we know and still remember very well in Italy. We protect dearly our history because it contains all the teaching and knowledge to avoid the same mistakes from happening again. We already know what’s inside the pages of that textbook and now is up to America to decide whether it wants to fulfill this prophecy or rewrite a new blank page of history from scratch.
When fascism had destroyed our country, we acclaimed the American soldiers as saviors when they came to “liberate” us during the Second World War. From that moment, America has always been a symbol of true freedom and democracy to us. Now, a century later, history seems to be repeating but there are no more saviors in the horizons and only America can save America this time.
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I wish that #ItalyDidIt and brought some sense to America as a weird conspiracy theory on twitter suggested, but unfortunately this alternate reality can’t be further from the truth and the fate of your country is now only in your hands, America. Is time to grow up.
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