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Family event in Italy’s 'city of love' hides violent ties

  • Italian group hosting World Congress of Families downplays links to neo-fascists Forza Nuova
  • Forza Nuova members are accused of dozens of attacks on immigrants

  • Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini will open conference in Verona on Friday

Organisers of an international conference on children’s rights and women’s dignity that opened in Italy today say they chose Verona as the venue because it is the “city of love”—a message that belies darker links to an extremist group whose members have been accused of a series of violent attacks.

Among the hosts for this year’s World Congress of Families, a meeting of Christian activists, is Italian anti-abortion campaign group ProVita Onlus. Its president, Antonio Brandi, will chair the meeting set to be headlined by Matteo Salvini, Italy’s far-right deputy prime minister.  

Salvini, catapulted into office by the surprise success of his Lega party in elections last March, is not the only right-wing figure to embrace the Congress, whose anti-abortion, anti-gay agenda has made it a focal point for ultra-conservatives. Another notable supporter is Konstantin Malofeev, a Russian businessman known as the “Orthodox oligarch” who is on the US and EU sanctions lists and said to be close to President Vladimir Putin.     

While many of the 72 delegates due to speak in Verona are no strangers to inflammatory rhetoric, ProVita is closely entangled with Forza Nuova, a neo-fascist group whose extreme politics have frequently spilled over into violence.

Members of Forza Nuova, known in Italy for its racist posters, anti-immigrant “patrols” and Nazi salutes, have been involved in dozens of violent incidents, including targeted beatings of immigrants and stabbings, according to Infoantifa Ecn, a Bologna-based campaign group that tracks attacks by the far right.

To coincide with the World Congress of Families, Forza Nuova is planning parallel anti-abortion events in the Veneto region.

ProVita’s Brandi is an old friend of Forza Nuova’s founder Roberto Fiore, a former MEP who in the early 1980s fled to London when he was wanted in Italy in connection with the bombing of a Bologna railway station that killed 85 people. Members of a terror organisation linked to his Terrza Posizione group were later convicted of the atrocity.

Fiore’s eldest son Alessandro is now a spokesman for Brandi’s ProVita. Its magazine was initially distributed through a company owned by two of Fiore’s daughters and led by a business associate of the Forza Nuova leader.

Brandi also arranged for several Forza Nuova members to travel to an ultra-conservative conference in Moscow in 2014, a leaked spreadsheet shows. Alessandro Fiore was among those travelling on Brandi’s recommendation—as were Serena Sebastiani, a former Forza candidate in municipal elections in Rome, and Alessandra Benignetti, a young former Forza Nuova candidate who as a journalist for the newspaper Il Giornale was recently granted an exclusive interview with Russia’s defence minister.

Another who travelled to Moscow was Alessio Costantini, Forza Nuova’s top official in Rome. In a conversation intercepted by Rome prosecutors and reported by La Repubblica, Costantini said that Brandi financed the far right party.

In 1981 the UK refused to extradite Fiore over the Bologna bombing. Questions were later asked in parliament about claims, denied by Fiore, that he was an MI6 agent who avoided repatriation by giving the British intelligence service information about the Lebanese Phalange militia, which he visited before coming to London.

While Fiore was eventually cleared of involvement in the Bologna bombing, in 1984 an Italian court sentenced him in absentia to five and a half years in prison for armed conspiracy and subversive association.

Fiore stayed in London, where he would “become rich” running a “housing scam” through two student services companies, according to a 1994 parliamentary motion brought by Labour MP Harry Cohen. Fiore set up Forza Nuova in 1997, returning to Italy after his conviction had lapsed.

Meanwhile, International Third Position, the UK arm of Fiore’s Terza Posizione, remained active in the UK: an Edwardian mansion in the Liss Forest in Hampshire bequeathed by veteran fascist Rosine de Bounevialle to a trust run by Fiore and became the organisation’s training school for “political soldiers”, the Sunday Express reported in 2000.

Charity Commission documents reviewed by SourceMaterial show a UK trust connected to Fiore continued to transfer funds to his family’s companies in Italy as late as 2016. No accounts have yet been filed for 2017 or 2018 by the charity, whose trustee, Beniamino Iannace, has been both a Forza Nuova candidate and director of administration at  ProVita’s magazine.

Like Fiore, Brandi ran a student services business in London in the 80s and the pair may have first met then. It was “possible” that the relationship began around that time, Brandi told SourceMaterial in an interview, while denying any close collaboration between ProVita and Forza Nuova.

“I have known Roberto Fiore for donkeys’ years but we don’t cooperate,” Brandi said by telephone during a trip to the Czech Republic, where he has business interests. “As much as I respect him as a human being, I don’t share certain of Forza Nuova’s views.”

Asked for further details about his relationship with Fiore, Brandi said, “this conversation stops here”. Later he called SourceMaterial and asked for questions about Fiore to be deleted from the record.

Photograph by Christian Berti, licensed under Creative Commons.

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