Reportage. Forty years ago, neo-fascists murdered a communist in Bari, in southern Italy. On Friday night, there was a reprisal of that kind of street violence, with members of CasaPound attacking unarmed anti-fascist marchers in Taranto.

CasaPound neo-fascists violently attack marchers in southern Italy

For one night, Bari seemed to have gone back in time to the 1970s, when street clashes between the “reds” and the “blacks” were an everyday occurrence. It all came to a head on the evening of Nov. 28, 1978, with the murder of an 18-year-old worker and communist, Benedict Petrone. He died after his stomach was cut open with a knife in an ambush by squads of the Fronte della Gioventù (“Youth Front”), the youth organization of the neo-Fascist Italian Social Movement party.

On Friday night, in Via Crisanzio in the Libertà neighborhood, tragedy struck again when a group of members of CasaPound, armed with crowbars, chains and brass knuckles, decided to attack a group of people who had just left the anti-racist march “Bari non si Lega,” (“Bari has no ties to the Lega”) organized by the Mai con Salvini (“Never Salvini”) network.

Two marchers received the most serious injuries: Antonio Perillo, 36, from Naples, a militant of the Communist Alternative and a parliamentary assistant of the MEP Eleonora Forenza, who was elected on the “The Other Europe with Tsipras” list and is a representative of Power to the People; and Giacomo Petrelli, also from the Communist Alternative. Both sustained wounds to the head and face that required stitches.

In addition, two more people needed medical assistance: Forenza herself for an anxiety attack and Claudio Riccio, a former LeU candidate and a member of the Sinistra Italiana (Italian Left), who was hit with a chain aimed at his face, which he managed to block with his hands.

The attack took place in the same neighborhood which hosted the Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, a week ago (who, on his part, condemned last night’s violent episode), and where a group of local residents led by Luigi Cipriani, head of the organization Riprendiamoci il futuro (“Let’s take back the future”), started a petition to “drive out the illegal immigrants who have invaded our neighborhood,” which also got the support of local members of the Lega.

Saturday morning, a note from the prosecutor’s office circulated with a first reconstruction of the events and the names of about 30 CasaPound militants identified during the night, at least eight of whom actively took part in the attack. The police are in the process of acquiring the tapes from a security camera positioned just a few meters from where the attack took place. According to leaks from inside the investigation, police believe at this point that before the attack, a first group of protesters leaving the march had passed by the headquarters of CasaPound shouting “fascisti di m…” (“Shithead fascists!”).

According to this narrative, the far-right militants retaliated with violence, but targeted a second, unrelated group of protesters who were passing by on their way home. This version of events is similar to a point to the one provided by the CasaPound militants themselves, who said they had acted to “defend” their headquarters in Via Eritrea from a supposed attack by a group of civil society demonstrators.

However, the version of events described by the group of protesters, primarily by MEP Forenza, is very different: according to them, they suddenly found themselves chased and attacked by the far-right militants from behind, for no apparent reason.

The MEP said that while they were going back to their cars, the group of marchers stopped to assist an Eritrean woman together with a friend and a little girl, who were too frightened to cross Via Crisanzio, as a group of CasaPound members were standing there. Later, four to five people broke off from that group and first verbally assaulted and then violently attacked the MEP and the people around her.

Immediately after the attack, dozens of anti-fascist activists and militants gathered in Via Crisanzio, hemmed in by police and carabinieri in riot gear, who even attempted to intervene in force to disperse the protest. The spontaneous demonstration lasted until after midnight, with the protesters holding banners and shouting slogans in a highly tense atmosphere.

On Saturday, many chose to take a stand against this attack.

“The fascist aggression, which a group of anti-racist protesters fell victim to yesterday evening in Bari, arouses our indignation and serious concern,” said the statement by the Coordinamento Antifascista Provinciale e Regionale (“Provincial and Regional Antifascist Coordination”), an umbrella organization for local anti-fascist groups. “With methods that we have sadly already seen in the past, the aggressors targeted some isolated demonstrators. The thugs acted undisturbed, using their headquarters as a base of departure and return, and were obviously prepared for it, since they used blunt instruments such as clubs and chains. The behavior of the police forces in the area, who were absent during the attack in the vicinity of the CasaPound headquarters and who therefore failed to prevent the attacking and injuring of peaceful demonstrators, should be investigated and punished accordingly.”

The organization has called for an anti-fascist demonstration on Tuesday in Piazza Prefettura—the place where Petrone was murdered.

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