A mass-shooting targeting six West African immigrants in Italy is the latest sign that white supremacy and nationalism are seeing a resurgence throughout the country, as elections loom large.
Alleged gunman Luca Traini, 28, is responsible for a drive-by shooting in the city of Macerata on Saturday that reportedly left six bystanders injured, at least one of them severely. The victims included five men and one woman, all immigrants from Nigeria, Ghana, and Mali. Traini, who is white, allegedly exited his car following the shooting and climbed the stairs of a monument in the city, raising his arm to give a fascist military salute. The Italian flag was reportedly draped around his shoulders.
“He drove around in his car and when he saw any [people of color] he shot them,” Macerata resident Marcello Mancini said.
A 29-year-old victim identified only as “Jennifer” told the Turin-based newspaper La Stampa that the incident had changed how she saw Italy.
“I have always been comfortable here. People are friendly. I don’t know why that guy fired at us,” she said.
Authorities said on Sunday that Traini has ties to white supremacists and seemed “lucid and determined, aware of what he had done” following the attack. A copy of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf was found in his home, along with other publications touching on Nazism and Fascism. A Celtic cross, symbolic in many white supremacist factions, was also found.
According to reports, Traini previously ran unsuccessfully as a candidate for the Northern League, a regionalist anti-immigrant party with ties to other right-wing parties across Europe, including France’s National Front. Local news said Traini had ties to the neofascist Forza Nuova and CasaPound parties as well.
Interior Minister Marco Minniti called the attacks an “evident display of racial hatred.”
“The only element that links the persons who were injured is the color of their skin,” Minniti said. Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni urged unity following the shooting, telling Italians that “hatred and violence will not be able to divide us.”
The shooting is thought to be an act of revenge for the killing of 18-year-old Pamela Mastropietro, a teenager whose body was found in a suitcase a few days prior. Authorities have linked Mastropietro’s murder to Innocent Oseghale, a 29-year-old Nigerian man denied asylum last year. Oseghale is currently in police custody.
Italy, the birthplace of fascism, has had 64 governments since 1946 and is no stranger to far-right movements or ethnic and racial tensions. That history has been put to the test in recent years, as refugees flee violent conflict and domestic turmoil in Syria, Libya, and elsewhere, heading to Europe in search of safety.
The influx of refugees has so far garnered a positive response in many ways — refugees have rejuvenated Italian towns and many Italians have welcomed the newcomers and volunteered their time to help with resettlement logistics. But others have been less receptive. As in other European countries, some have expressed dissatisfaction with the influx, and anti-refugee sentiment runs deep. As Justin Salhani reported for ThinkProgress in December, neofascist elements are gaining traction in Italy, targeting vulnerable communities in the process.
Politicians have seized on the tensions. Where other far-right populist movements have been met with resistance across Europe, Italy has shown a more welcoming attitude: the Five Star Movement, a Euro-skeptic, anti-immigrant party, has emerged as one of the country’s most popular parties, and far-right parties more generally are gaining traction, bolstered by resentment towards refugees, economic struggles, and the resurgence of nationalism.
That trend could soon come to a head. Italy’s general election, set for March 4, has ushered in a familiar face: former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the scandal-plagued Italian media tycoon whose nine years running the country left a lasting impression. Berlusconi, who has a prior tax fraud conviction, is unable to run for office himself. But at 81, he is poised to serve as a kingmaker for Italy’s right-wing movements this election season, notably pledging to deport 600,000 refugees from Italy through those alliances.
“Immigration has become an urgent question, because after years with a left-wing government, there are 600,000 migrants who don’t have the right to stay,” he said, calling immigration a “social bomb ready to explode.”
He added, “We consider it to be an absolute priority to regain control over the situation.”
Recent polls indicate Berlusconi’s right-wing alliance is likely to win a plurality of the upcoming vote, though not enough to secure a working majority. The alliance includes the Northern League, the party with which alleged gunman Traini aligned himself when he ran for office.