Activists’ style — their appearance and clothing — are also important common identifiers, sustaining and reproducing collective identities (Polletta 1997). Notably, clothing styles may signal subcultural identities and play a crucial role in contemporary extreme-right activism (Miller-Idriss 2018). As we shall describe, CPI’s hybrid style stands out from that of most of the Italian extreme right and the group commercializes clothing and tattoos to strengthen group and to be recognizable.
Current literature on German far-right youth supporters (Miller-Idriss 2018) observed that activists are increasingly taking a distance from the traditional extreme-right skinhead style that dominated this political subculture in the 1980s and 1990s. CPI appears to be in line with this trend. Only a minority of people we met during our fieldwork were clothed in the bomber jacket, braces and shaved-hair style. Instead, most activists presented a rather conventional look and wore simple clothes, such as a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. While more varied, the clothing of women is even further removed from the common extreme-right standards. Only seldom do CPI activists wear polo shirts, braces, stockings and three-quarter-length jackets. Rather, they do not seem to follow any specific clothing code, including in the choice of colours (generally dark, but also grey and dark red).
All activists display symbols that, despite being highly meaningful for insiders, are generally more obscure for outsiders, and for non-experts probably do not appear to be associated with an extreme-right culture (e.g. the logo of ZetaZeroAalfa (ZZA), the lyrics of their songs, pirate flags, etc.). CPI itself promotes and commercializes items displaying these coded symbols, such as t-shirts, backpacks, hats and hoodies. This merchandizing plays an identitybuilding function, allowing activists to wear branded clothes, and to distinguish insiders from outsiders. The branded clothes are also ideologically meaningful, in that CPI activists are asked to prioritize Italian products over those of multinational corporations. In addition, these commercial products also help CPI to increase financial resources, notably through e-commerce. CPI is informally associated with the music band ZZA, which promotes its own line of accessories, whose frontman is CPI’s president, Gianluca Iannone (see Chapter 2), with a publishing house (Altaforte Edizioni) publishing books, magazines and comics, and with Pivert, a clothing line for men whose registered office is the same as that of CPI’s newspaper, II Primato Nazionale. Pivert aims at reaching a broader audience than CPI activists alone: its clothes do not in fact display the logo of CPI, nor other extreme-right symbols or slogans. While mostly prevalent among the extreme-right youth subculture, a Pivert jacket was worn in public in May 2018 by the former Italian Minister of Internal Affairs, Matteo Salvini (La Repubblica 2018).
In addition to clothing, tattoos play an identity function, defining activists who belong to the community and making CPI adherents recognizable externally. CPI owns a tattoo shop in Rome (Tango Core), where activists have themselves tattooed with the group’s symbol of the turtle. Other tattoos that are common among CPI members confirm the groups’ hybrid imagery and include the pirate ship the Jolly Roger (evoking rebellion against the rules and the system), but also Celtic and ancient Roman symbols (such as the runes or the acronym SPQR), as well as historical Fascist icons (e.g. Mussolini). Activists are very proud of their tattoos and exhibited them with pride — including the most controversial ones — during the interviews. At the same time, they claim that their ‘non-compliant’ tattoos have nothing to do with the fashion for tattoos of so-called ‘hipsters’ disliked by CPI’s activists.
For us, having a tattoo is like wearing an amulet during a battle. It is something more than a medal. It has nothing to do with self-complacency or fashion. We had tattoos twenty years ago, when people considered them ugly, and having them was associated with criminality. And we will have them in twenty years from now, when the others will have had theirs removed.
The tattoos are your story and you must be proud of it, because every self-respecting man or woman is made of blunders, wrong choices, incredible challenges, impossible loves, and broken dreams. Tattoos remind us that we have lived and that we are still alive. When we will not be here anymore, our tattoos will remain.