There could hardly be a better subject to unleash the scum of social media: a pregnant Roma woman, the mother of 15 children, who was arrested by the carabinieri on a bus in Rome as she was trying to pick the pocket of a Chinese tourist. To make matters worse, “Madame Furto” (“Madam Theft,” as the 38-year-old woman of Bosnian origin was nicknamed by the media) has committed more than 50 thefts and has racked up 43 convictions over the years.
What is surprising (but only to a limited extent) is the fact that the one who opened the floodgates of insults and vulgarity piled relentlessly against the woman on social media was not Napalm51, the caricature of the hater and Internet troll par excellence invented by Maurizio Crozza—but Matteo Salvini himself.
The Interior Minister wrote an incendiary post on Facebook, commenting on a news account of the woman’s arrest: “This damn thief should go to jail for 30 years, should be made so that she can’t have any more children, and her poor children should be given up for adoption by respectable families. Period.”
Many took these words as permission to engage in a virtual lynching. Over 3,000 people commented on the post, many of them enraged and looking to blow off steam, and Facebook’s moderators mostly allowed them to post whatever they wanted. The most generous proposals called for putting the woman “on a boat in the middle of the ocean so she can meditate… with a one-way ticket”—but few had such polite takes. Instead, most suggested direct action: some took Salvini’s lead and proposed sterilizing the woman “like we do with animals,” or indeed “tying up her tubes.” Some wanted instead to make her “an invalid,” with “one hammer hit to the hands and one to the face.” Others were even less generous, and suggested putting an end to the thief’s career with “a bullet to the forehead.”
But there were also those who tried to counter the tidal wave of vulgarity and threats. Some reminded Salvini that, although he keeps calling the Roma thieves, he has never actually admitted what happened to the €49 million in campaign contributions illegally obtained by the Lega.
“Think about how many politicians have been stealing for years: as you know well, there is an endless variety of thiefs, none of them are pregnant, and they’re still running around doing it,” the user Algio wrote.
“I propose to give her an 80-year payment plan so she can return what she stole,” wrote Chiara G., recalling the generous debt payment plan approved for the Lega Nord to return the infamous €49 million.
Francesco B. wrote: “You’re very good at throwing mud around: look at your own house, it’s worse.”
“Did I read that right? Are we really talking about compulsory sterilization? What a country we have become,” lamented Marco I.
Santino Spinelli, a musician and university professor of Roma origin, was shocked, to say the least, by the expressions used by Salvini. “The language adopted by the minister is better suited to a dictatorial regime than to a democratic system where the rule of law is in force,” he said. “Hearing such words is horrible, because sterilization was practiced by the Nazis. It is one thing to punish those who commit a criminal offense according to the penal code, and a completely different thing to add a surplus punishment just because the offender is Roma. Just 15 years ago, such statements would have led to his immediate removal from office. Today, we are creating a dangerous climate, and this drift must be stopped quickly. Why are the national and international institutions not intervening? Silence means collusion.”
The statements coming from the Democratic Party also pulled no punches: “Justice is not barbarism,” said Deputy Emanuele Fiano. “In a democracy, the act of convicting someone, punishing someone by the book, preventing and fighting criminal activity cannot mean going beyond the bounds of civilization, as Salvini did by calling for the forced sterilization of this person.”
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