A third crucial aspect of CPI’s internal structure has to do with the group’s recruitment practices. So far, the literature on the far right has paid little attention to the question of how and why people join these groups (Klandermans and Mayer 2006). In this section we address these questions on the basis of militants’ experiences as described in the interviews.
As regards recruitment, there are two main ways to join CPI. First, as in the case of normal political parties, individuals can visit a local chapter or one of the associations of CPI, and ask to be registered. Through this formal procedure, newcomers receive an official membership card. The cost of the card can vary, but normally it ranges between 10 and 15 euros. Similarly, sympathizers can ask to become ‘web supporters’, paying a reduced fee and getting a different type of membership card.15 Unlike actual members, who are expected to participate in most activities and be active militants, web supporters are only in charge of promoting CPI’s messages and images online. Second, similar to social movements, individuals can join CPI by getting involved in the social activities of the group. Depending on one’s interests, individuals can join any of the various associations mentioned above.
Hence, people can join CPI through voluntary social work, environmental protection activities, as well as through cultural and sports events. In this way, CPI offers multiple non-political access routes to individuals who wish to approach the group. The underlying idea is that outsiders would gradually transition into sympathizers, and sympathizers into activists, by means of participation in initiatives of an increasingly political nature. Accordingly, CPI’s chapters are thought of as places to socialize. They are expected to facilitate the arrival of new recruits, initially through their interest in the recreational activities offered by CPI, or by the prospect of being part of a community. This is why the chapters of CPI do not use the often-impersonal looking rooms of party chapters, mainly utilized for hosting political meetings and other conventional party events. Instead, their meeting places are often bars, gyms, theatres, music halls or tattoo shops.
I was not very interested in politics, because I always thought that it was a waste of time or just too complicated for me. I was always interested in boxing and II Ciraiilo offers good venues to train for decent prices. Here I met some camerati (comrades) who helped me with the training and often we also discussed politics. I understood that I can actually do something to change things. I learned that I should not be passive, and I got the card of CPI.16
In addition to these physical spaces, the Web constitutes a crucial venue for recruitment. Among the people we met during fieldwork, however, many used online platforms to get information and news about CPI, but only a few had been actually recruited online.
I grew up in a small village where no one cares about politics. There were no places to engage in politics, apart from short chats at the bar and ridiculous local campaigns. I discovered the CPI website and its political platform and its events and I was fascinated. When I moved to Rome for my studies, I decided to visit CPI’s headquarters and ... here I am.17
CPI’s recruitment strategies, therefore, are based on a hybrid system of venues of access, which facilitate individual, non-political trajectories of adhesion to the group. The intention is that of constructing a close community, which is as compact on the inside as it is insulated towards the outside world. This emerges quite clearly from the ways in which individual activists describe how they joined the group. For our interviewees, in fact, joining CPI is mainly about identity, and less about ideological or instrumental motivations. Movement participation in CPI can therefore be distinguished in line with the seminal work of Klandermans and Mayer (2006: 8). First, there are identity motivations, which explain movement participation as an expression of personal identification with the group; second, ideological motivations describe participation as a search for meaning for one’s own views; and finally, instrumental motivations see participation as an explicit attempt to change the political and social environment.
Most militants we were able to meet during our fieldwork emphasized identity motivations, and notably the need to be part of a family-like community with whom they can share ideas that are stigmatized by others (Orfali 1990, 2012). A community of like-minded people enables the building of solidarity through political and non-political activities but also prevents factionalism. Thus activism is primarily an existential choice: it is ‘primarily a way of life’18 and activists are aware that ‘CPI is a monolith ... if you are in you are in, if you are
out you are out .
Identification with the community is so important that even when speaking about their individual experiences in CPI, activists rarely used the pronoun T while many used ‘we’ even when speaking about their individual experiences.
There is a very tight relationship among us, the activists. It’s not by chance that we feel like we are brothers. And that’s with every one of us, irrespective of whether we fancy each other or not.2"
Here [in CasaPound] the career is not like in the other parties. Our only reward is to make ourselves available to the whole group.21
Ideological motives for movement participation emerge as well, notably when militants emphasize their need to share their views with like-minded people. This has special importance for a group, like CPI, that promotes highly stigmatized ideas, builds upon controversial figures and symbols, which many militants do not feel comfortable sharing with people outside CPI.
Finally, I had the opportunity to express my true self within the community (...). What I have found within the community of CasaPound, and which I consider truly exceptional, is that every cultural and social barrier is overcome - which for me is fundamental.22
In addition to identity and ideological motivations, some activists also had instrumental reasons. They referred to the need to change Italian politics and its establishment, defined by political representatives, cultural elites and the media. Many describe being an activist as a mission, which does not imply any personal reward. Many describe their involvement as a pure act of commitment:
You don’t join CasaPound to make a career for yourself, here there are no congresses, no factions. You’re in or you’re out (...), either you live with the community and for the community, or you don’t become a leader.23