Italy revives Mussolini's 'Blackshirt' vigilantes as fears of Fascism sparks investigation
From the Daily Mail, June 15th 2009
An investigation has been launched after a new Italian vigilante group unveiled a uniform that brought back echoes of the dark days of Fascism. The Italian National Guard is one of many vigilante groups that will be sanctioned to start anti-crime foot patrols once a controversial security bill has been passed. But the group became the centre of a political storm when it emerged that their kit bears a striking resemblance to Italian dictator Benito Mussolini's notorious Blackshirt volunteer militia.
Prosecutors immediately opened an investigation into the group because of the similarity to the black and brown Fascist uniforms worn during the 1930's by sympathisers in Italy and Germany.
The new law, which is expected to pass easily in the Senate this week, allows vigilantes to alert police to public order offences or suspected criminals, but do not have the power of arrest. These groups have sprung up in several Italian cities, especially in the northern strongholds of the right wing, anti-immigrant Northern League. But controversy was sparked when the Italian National Guard revealed its uniform in Milan at the weekend. Members will wear a khaki shirt, black cap featuring a rampant eagle insignia, 18 hole leather boots, Latin motto and armbands bearing a black sunwheel very similar to a Nazi swastika.
A source at the prosecutor's office in Milan where the inquiry was opened said: 'Many of the symbols on the uniforms such as the Latin insignia and the eagles look very Fascist inspired and so it warrants investigation.' But it hasn't hindered the growth of the Italian National Guard, which claims to already have 2,500 recruits, many of them drawn from the police and Armed Forces. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose centre right wing coalition was elected on a tough law and order campaign, has insisted that vigilante groups, such as the Italian National Guard, would be simple 'citizen patrols'. The group is based in Turin, but has offices in the south of Italy in Puglia and Calabria as well as on the island of Sicily. Many Italians blame the country's growing crime rate on illegal immigrants and especially Romany gypsies and see the 'ronde' or vigilante patrols as a necessary course of action. Marco Minniti, from the opposition centre left, described the situation as 'disconcerting delirium'. 'Entrusting the security of the country to political groups like this is a blow to the very heart of democracy,' he said. Other opposition MP's called for the government to change the law and outlaw the vigilante groups as a result of the Fascist overtones. But Interior Minister Roberto Maroni has given them his backing. 'Let's call them vigilante groups - if that's what we want,' Mr Maroni said. 'We have been accused of wanting to return to the era of the Blackshirts but we are simply giving the people a chance to participate in their security.' Maurizio Monti, vice president of the Italian National Guard, said: 'We are a properly resgistered group and we will continue until someone can prove that we have broken a crime. 'The imperial eagle has been a symbol since the Roman times and so it's absurd to say it has anything to do with Fascism - if that is the case then all the monuments of Rome bearing the eagle should be pulled down. 'The Italian National Guard is nothing to do with Fascism - Fascism has been confined to history.' The bill will also make illegal immigration a criminal offence, will extend to six months the period immigrants and would-be asylum seekers can be kept in detention centers and sets a maximum three-year jail term for landlords who rent to illegal immigrants. The Blackshirts were Fascist paramilitaries created by Mussolini and also inspired the British Union of Fascists led Sir Oswald Mosley. Their methods became harsher as Mussolini's power grew, using violence, torture, gang rape, intimidation, and murder against political opponents - one of their distinctive techniques was force-feeding castor oil.