There was shock and outrage in Italy on Tuesday days after hundreds of people gave a fascist salute at a rally in Rome, sparking widespread condemnation and calls for the country’s far-right leader to take action.
A video circulating online shows hundreds of people making the banned salute at an event Sunday commemorating the killing of three neo-fascist youths in the Italian capital in 1978.
The Acca Larentia killings, as they’re known, are marked annually, but this year’s public display and an apparent lack of police intervention has prompted criticism from opposition lawmakers.
The people in the video stand in at least a dozen rows and, when prompted by a voice shouting outside the frame, raise their right arms in a salute that dates to the regime of Benito Mussolini, Italy’s fascist dictator.
They appear to shout “present” three times in unison in response to someone yelling: “For all fallen comrades,” a typical rallying cry at neo-fascist events, according to a Reuters translation.
Under Italy’s post-World War II legislation, use of fascist symbolism, including the straight-armed salute, is banned.
The rally was held in front of the former headquarters of a post-war neo-fascist party called the Italian Social Movement (MSI), which gave root to the Brothers of Italy party now led by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.
Meloni came to power in 2022 as Italy’s first female prime minister at the head of a coalition, giving the country its most right-wing government since World War II. She praised Mussolini in her youth but has since changed her stance and said there was “no space” in her party “for nostalgia for fascism, racism or antisemitism.”
“The video is obviously concerning, but it’s not surprising,” said Daniele Albertazzi, a professor of politics at the U.K.’s University of Surrey, who specializes in the European radical right and contemporary Italian politics.
“There are in Italy several groups on the right of the governing Brothers of Italy,” he said, “which are very explicit in the fact that they are still inspired by not only the ideas and the values, but also even the iconography of fascism.”
But the video circulating online in the last few days was shot in a way that exposed the scale and the synchronicity of those participating in the Acca Larentia rally this year, Albertazzi told NBC News. “They really look like a platoon of soldiers in Nazi Germany,” he said.
“You see them all moving as one, and that’s very upsetting and very worrying as an image,” he added.
‘Not acceptable’Meloni is now facing calls to disband neo-fascist organizations amid outrage from Italy’s centrist and liberal-leaning political opposition.
The leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, Elly Schlein, said in a post on Facebook that the scenes from the video felt “like 1924,” a reference to the year in which Mussolini solidified his rule and led Italy into a one-party dictatorship that then allied with Nazi Germany.
Schlein vowed to let Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi know that what happened was “not acceptable,” adding that neo-fascist organizations must be dissolved.
The leader of the centrist Azione (Action) Party also re-posted the video on X on Monday, calling it an “unacceptable shame” in a European democracy.
The video has also sparked condemnation from the main umbrella group for Europe’s national Jewish communities.
“Absolutely abhorrent,” the European Jewish Congress said on X, sharing the video. “That gesture is from the darkest chapter of our history and must be left there.”
It’s not uncommon, however, to see a fascist salute at the commemorations of neofascist militants in today’s Italy, said David Broder, the Berlin-based author of “Mussolini’s Grandchildren: Fascism in Contemporary Italy” who specializes in Italian politics. But, he said, the difference is that with the Brothers of Italy now in government, the heights of state power aren’t condemning it, but making excuses for them.
“Meloni’s government says Mussolini is history now, but is much less willing to clearly break ties to its neofascist martyrs,” Broder said.
And while scenes of men dressed in black and standing in rows doing a fascist salute may seem shocking, he said, they are not so unusual in today’s Italy, and such displays are “routinely tolerated.”
NBC News has reached out to Meloni’s office for comment on the video and the ensuing controversy. She has yet to comment publicly on the video.
“In my view, these things actually damage Meloni much more than they help her,” Albertazzi said.
The time has really come for her to decide, he said, whether she wants to be seen as a radical, anti-democratic leader who would not condemn something like this. “She has done an enormous amount of work to be seen as credible by the international media, and these things obviously destroy all that,” he added. “I think it’s a disaster for her.”
It remained unclear Tuesday if the people in the video had been identified or if police were involved at any point, although Rai state television said Monday evening that Italian police were investigating the mass salute at the rally.
Deputy Premier Antoni Tajani, who leads a center-right party in Meloni’s 14-month-old coalition, was pressed by reporters about the salute.
“We’re a force that certainly isn’t fascist, we’re anti-fascist,’’ Tajani said at a news conference on another matter. Tajani, who also serves as foreign minister, noted that under Italian law, supporting fascism is banned. All rallies “in support of dictatorships must be condemned,” he said.