Reportage. “The return of fascism, too often tolerated, needs to be fought with great resolve.” Italian politicians reacted Saturday to a shooting spree by a former local candidate for the far-right Lega Nord party that left six Africans wounded. But not everyone was distraught.

Lega Nord’s Salvini rebrands terrorist shooting as ‘social conflict’

The victims are all Africans. The gunman is Italian. They arrested him as he was making the Roman salute. He had been a candidate for the Lega Nord.

As of this writing, Saturday afternoon, there are no more news updates from Tolentino. Luca Traini, the 28-year-old gunman, was taken to police headquarters. The six injured are in the hospital. Everyone is waiting for a statement from Matteo Salvini, the leader of Lega Nord. In half an hour, the statement arrives.

The condemnation of the act—if it is a condemnation at all—is dealt with quickly, in the first sentence: “Whoever shoots someone is a criminal.” But the substance comes afterwards: “It is clear and obvious that out of control immigration, an invasion like the one organized, promoted and financed in recent years, leads to social conflict.” Fascist terrorism is thus rebranded as “social conflict,” and those responsible are, ultimately, the victims.

It has been some time since the leader of the Lega Nord has abandoned all pretense. Those who asked him to distance himself from the attack during the half hour before his statement arrived were hopelessly naïve. After all, his comments of two days before regarding the terrible murder of Pamela Mastropietro had been a sort of call to arms. “A Nigerian immigrant, with an expired residence permit, a drug dealer,” Salvini had written on social media. “This is the specimen arrested for the murder of a poor 18-year-old girl. What was this worm still doing in Italy?”

Traini, a militant Lega supporter from Tolentino and previous member of Forza Nuova, seems to have gotten the message. From Rome, Forza Nuova are saying that they “are by his side,” and they promise to pay his legal bills. It is not difficult to find people expressing such opinions and praising the attack online.

Salvini clearly has his own idea of what “peace of mind” means. In addition to his understanding attitude toward mass shootings, he also had a campaign promise to make: “I can’t wait for March 4, for you to give me the power to restore order, tranquility, safety and peace of mind throughout Italy.”

The outgoing president of Lombardy, Roberto Maroni, took the opportunity to signal his dissent toward the new head of Lega Nord: “What a horror,” he wrote regarding the news from Macerata. “This man is a fascistoid criminal. This has nothing to do with the glorious history of our great Lega Nord.” As for that, it might as well be renamed the “League for electing Salvini Prime Minister.”

Before and after his statements, Salvini was attacked by Grasso (who said that “he is responsible for this spiral of hatred”), Boldrini (who said “he must apologize”), and on Twitter by Roberto Saviano, who called him “the moral instigator of the events in Macerata” and “a mortal danger to the democratic order.”

Democratic Party leader Matteo Renzi and Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, obviously worried, tried to calm the heated atmosphere. The secretary of the Democratic Party described the attacker as “a wretched and insane person” and said we must “immediately lower our voices, all of us,” and leave the election campaign out of this “terrible event,” because “it is a time for calm and responsibility.” The prime minister professed to “trust in the responsible nature of all the political forces,” and that “criminal behavior cannot have an ideological motivation”—of course, even when accompanied by the Roman salute.

Interior Minister Marco Minniti, however, after visiting Macerata himself, spoke of “an individual criminal initiative” but which was “definitely organized and designed” by an individual “with a personal right-wing background, with ties to Nazism and fascism.” He added that “the only thing connecting those wounded was the color of their skin, so it’s an obvious racial issue.”

Others have reacted with far more alarm, first and foremost the National Association of Italian Partisans (ANPI): “No one is excused from protecting democracy and the fundamental principles of civil coexistence. The return of fascism, too often tolerated, needs to be fought with great resolve. This is enough,” wrote the president of the association, Carla Medlar.

By contrast, the Five Star Movement has chosen silence. Luigi Di Maio even launched “an appeal” for politicians on the campaign trail to keep silent in order to “show respect for the victim of a few days ago and the wounded of today.” Alessandro Di Battista said that “those who are politically responsible have only one duty: to keep quiet!” Only Roberto Fico added that he “could not refrain from saying that Salvini’s words are unacceptable,” and condemned “any idea that incites racism or violence.” By remaining silent, the political leader of the Five Star Movement was able to avoid condemning these things himself.

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