Previous chapters discussed how historical Fascism inspires CasaPound’s worldview and its hybrid organizational configuration, which is somewhere between the forms of political parties and of social movements. To continue the investigation, this chapter examines hybridization in the formation of a collective identity within CPI. We define collective identities as the sense of common purpose and shared commitment to a cause (Melucci 1995; Olson 1965; Pizzorno 1996). According to Melucci (1995) collective identities are formed through shared definitions of the goals, means and tactics to which activists apply a common language, rituals, practices and cultural references. Collective identities generate and sustain individuals’ commitment to a given group or cause over time, by providing resources that make it easier for activists to face the risks involved in joint action (Olson 1971).
Building on the literature on collective identities in social movements, we examine shared meanings, symbols and practices in CPI’s activism (Polletta and Jasper 2001; Snow 2001) that crucially contribute to the public visibility of the group. We use evidence gathered through participant observation and face-to-face interviews as well as qualitative content analysis of written material, namely the lyrics of the songs of ZetaZeroAlfa and CPI’s internal literature. This allows us to disentangle the symbols, rituals and narratives through which activists attribute meaning to collective action, and thus understand, negotiate and infonn themselves as part of the community. Specifically, the chapter looks at four vectors of identity fonnation: imagery, in the form of references to shared items and visual symbols (5.1); style, understood as a common identifier establishing shared aesthetic and clothing codes (5.2); music, as an expression and result of shared subcultural belonging (5.3); and violence, understood as a way for activists to behave (5.4). The chapter argues that commitment to CPI results from shared hybrid images and practices, which trigger a network of relationships of trust among activists. Collective identity in CPI is thus not only explained by the adherence to a set of classic extreme-right symbols and rituals, but by a more complex combination of extreme and coded references, mediated by different political cultures. This mix of extreme right, pop-culture and left-progressive references supports the engagement of individuals in CPI, by consolidating the group’s internal identity and by ensuring public recognizability.
Symbolic resources act as signifiers of collective identity and shared symbols are crucial to sustain individuals’ commitment to a group (Hirsch 1990; Hunt and Benford 1994; Klandermans 1997). In this respect, CPI exhibits hybrid features, combining symbols belonging to different (if not opposite) political cultures: while CPI’s imagery and aesthetic codes are crucially inspired by the tradition of historical Fascism, the choice of specific symbols and ways to promote engagement in the community recalls the political culture of left- wing movements. This unusual symbolism came to represent a trademark of the group.
The bulk of CPI’s imagery, used for both external and internal communication, includes classic symbols of historical Fascism (see Figure 5.1). By exhibiting Mussolini’s icon, or the monumental heritage of ancient Rome, CasaPound differs from the majority of contemporary far-right parties, which avoid using the symbols of the inter-war regimes. These symbolic choices locate CPI in the nostalgic milieu of the Italian extreme right. References to classic Fascist symbols include easily recognizable images of the squadristi (blackshirts, on the bottom left in Figure 5.1), glorification of fascist architecture (in particular the Palazzo della Civiltd Italiana in Rome, the top-right flyer in Figure 5.1) and the use of slogans such as ‘Spring of Beauty’ (Primavera di Bellezza). Also derived from historical Fascism and neo-Fascism are the gestures used as a greeting in CPI public and closed events. CPI activists are seldom seen making the ‘Roman salute’ at public occasions (the ann is held out straight forward, with palm down and is more common during private events). Instead, they often make use of the so-called ‘legionary handshake’ (performed by clasping the forearm instead of shaking hands). In a similar fashion, CPI graphic style is directly inspired by the aesthetic codes of the Italian futurist school of the early twentieth century, which emphasized notions such as youth, speed, violence and technological progress (Ferrarotti 2016). While the connection between Italian Futurism and historical Fascism is known, CPI leaders justify this choice ideologically: Futurism represents CPI’s ‘constant search for dynamism’.2 Futurist images, paintings and sculptures encourage the observer to join the action lather than remain a passive observer. Similarly, for CPI, ‘beauty is in the action not in contemplation’.3
Next to an imagery clearly inspired by the Fascist and neo-Fascist traditions, however, CPI utilizes symbols that are generally associated with the political left, including communist icons and ideologues, figures belonging to the anarchist
FIGURE 5.1 References to historical Fascism in CasaPound’s posters and events.
Top left: public debate on ‘Benito Mussolini: father of the nation’ (2010), Lamezia Ternie (Calabria); top right: CasaPound’s campaign against the eviction of Italian citizens in Rome (2016), showing the Palazzo della Civilta fto/wnd/Squared Coliseum; bottom left: poster advertising a 2010 debate on the book Diary of a Tuscan Blackshirt in Siena (Tuscany); bottom right: inauguration of the local chapter in Cisterna di Latina (Latium), in 2018.
sphere, and modes of action associated with progressive movements. To forge the group’s public profile, CPI appropriated several images commonly associated with the left, including political figures like (die Guevara and Karl Marx, music stars such as Rino Gaetano, and pop-culture icons like the comic books hero Corto Maltese (see Figure 5.2). Our impression is that this choice of hybrid imagery complements CPI’s predisposition to use tactics that are generally associated with left-wing social movements (see Chapter 6). In fact, associating a given imaginary' with a specific repertoire of contention offers a basis on which to build collective identities, as in the case of direct activism among the the Black Bloc (Jasper 1997). Indeed, CPI’s imagery during street actions and meetings does not aim to disseminate extreme-right aesthetics and symbols, but
FIGURE 5.2 References to left-wing symbols in CPI’s posters and events.
Posters of CasaPound advertising public events related to Rino Gaetano, Che Guevara, Karl Marx and Corto Maltese.
rather to make the protest sensational, and thus catch the attention of large segments of the Italian public and quality media (see Chapter 7).
On the one hand, unlike other extreme-right groups in Italy, which invest considerably in commemorations and other symbolic gatherings, CPI manages to organize events featuring public figures who are not associated with the extreme- right, such as well-known gay rights activists, mainstream journalists and the president of the Chinese community in Rome.4 On the other hand, CPI promotes spectacular tactics that can maximize the media impact of collective actions: it hung mannequins from buildings (CPI 2008a) and left messages in hundreds of botdes in fountains as a protest during the housing crisis (II Cannocchiale 2008), and has occasionally stormed the political meetings of opponents (II Messaggero
2013), TV shows (L’Occidentale 2008) and public schools, thereby gaining visibility in the quality media (Rai News 24 2012). The peculiarity of CPI’s hybrid imagery stems precisely from its ability to borrow the icons and tactics of the political left and to combine them with the extreme-right references mentioned above. The result is a clearly defined, highly recognizable profile, which facilitates the identification of CPI by insiders, as well as outsiders such as the media, political opponents and the public.