The protest arena: issues and tactics in CasaPound’s mobilization
We begin the empirical investigation of CPI’s repertoire of action by looking at the issues over which the group mobilizes and at the different modes of action. To identify the main issues featuring in CPI’s external mobilization, we first look at the issue content of CPI’s claims in the public domain, differentiating across six issue categories drawn from previous literature and detailed in the methodological appendix (3) (Kriesi et al. 2008). Instances of ‘claims-making’ are defined as the expression of political opinion by physical or verbal action in the public sphere, thus including verbal acts, conventional forms of intervention, as well as protest (Koopmans and Statham 1999) (see Appendix 3). Figure 6.1 reports data on CPI’s issue attention as it appears in the quality paper II Corriere della Sera. The vertical bar in 2013 indicates the first year that CPI ran for general elections.
As discussed in Chapter 3, claims referring to historical Fascism and socioeconomic concerns related to housing rights and welfare for Italians are at the core of CPI’s worldview, whereas other issues (such as the European Union and immigration) acquired importance mostly in response to external events and the content of public debates. This is confirmed by Figure 6.1. The turning point in CPI’s public image took place in 2014, when the group shifted its attention away from socio-economic issues and commemorations of historical Fascism, towards issues connected to migration. In so doing, it reconfigured its profile in line with most far-right organizations in Europe. This coincides with the increasing interest of quality media in CPI. While our data covers events only up to December 2015, the public debates of the following years, notably concerning the ‘European asylum policy crisis’, have further accelerated this process (Castelli Gattinara 2018). Over time, CPI also diversified its strategies of mobilization. Occupying a hybrid position between party and social movement arenas, CPI could choose from a vast array of options to attract the attention of the media and the public. As Della Porta and Diani (1999: 165) have observed,
FIGURE 6.1 Issue content of CasaPound mobilization in the mass media (2004-2015). Source: Own calculation based on data from II Corriere della Sera.
in choosing their repertoires of action, collective actors also make a decision as regards their degree of conventionality and the intensity of radicalism in mobilization, both of which mirror their collective identity. Figure 6.2 illustrates CPI’s main forms of mobilization.
Over time, CPI increased its investment in conventional tactics (such as electoral campaigns, lobbying and petitioning). However, demonstrative actions (such as legal actions and authorized demonstrations) represent the dominant form of activism for CPI throughout the whole period. Figure 6.2 also highlights that demonstrative actions increased in importance in recent years, especially after 2013. Confrontational actions (such as illegal demonstrations and blockades) and episodes of violence (against people or things) represent a crucial part of CPI’s external mobilization, constituting the second and third most important tactics for the group.
In sum, if one compares mobilization prior to and after 2013, when CPI announced its electoral switch, it appears that there has been little change in the group’s repertoire of action: Political Claims Analysis shows a consistent (rather than mutually exclusive) engagement in both conventional and protest actions, and a predominance of demonstrative and confrontational activism. While CPI benefited from increased media coverage in recent years, this is mostly associated with social movement activism, such as violent events and confrontation, rather than electoral campaigning and conventional politics. In other words, CPI’s
FIGURE 6.2 CasaPound’s repertoire of action in the mass media (2004—2015). Source: Own calculation based on data from II Corriere della Sera.
episodic electoral participation is not accompanied by a change in the group’s strategy for external mobilization. On the contrary, while the group attempts to achieve legitimation in the public sphere, it remains primarily involved in street protest and social movement activism. In this respect, two main forms of action deserve attention: direct activism and violent repertoires.
With direct activism, or ‘direct social actions’ (DSA), social movements’ scholars refer to unconventional fonns of activism that do not seek the mediation of representative authorities, but directly aim at redressing a public problem (Bosi and Zamponi 2015: 371). In the early days, DSAs were at the core of CPI’s mobilization on housing rights, but then extended to other issues over time, such as security and migration, as well as environmental requalification and voluntary work to help disabled, unemployed and elderly people. The outbreak of the sovereign debt crisis in Italy after 2008 further motivated CPI towards organizing direct actions of solidary with a nativist scope: the provision of free health and fiscal services, the distribution of food to Italian families and the setting up of a unit of civil protection to work in times of emergency and distress. As the attention progressively shifted to immigration, DSAs hinged upon anti-refugee blockades, patrolling migrants’ detention centres and squatting buildings originally meant for asylum seekers.
In addition, CPI’s repertoire of action also includes disruptive protests such as violent confrontations with opponents and public authorities. About one-fourth of the events promoted by CPI and reported in the mass media involve at least a certain degree of violence against physical or symbolic targets. CPI’s youth section engaged in violent clashes with left-wing student movements in Rome in 2008 and the group organized a number of illegal actions against the EU in 2013, which led to confrontation with the police, and the arrest of CPI’s vice- president. Violence, therefore, is not confined to a simple rhetoric and to rituals used to structure a collective identity (see Chapter 5), but is also part of CPI’s external mobilization.
CasaPound’s ethics code envisages that, in some cases, one can and should actually fight, in order to defend one’s ability to do politics from those who want to deny it and contrast the arrogance of the intolerants. In order to save one’s own life, to defend a comrade. We fight, yes. It’s not beautiful, it’s not polite. But it is still more vital, transparent, radiant than any moralistic farce that dehumanizes the other in the name of the ‘struggle against barbarism’.
(Sciatica 2011: 362)
CPI thus holds an ambiguous stance towards violent repertoires. It tries to strike a balance between the identity needs of its community (see Chapter 5), and the structures of opportunity which it needs to confront. On the one hand, light forms of violence are deployed to radicalize the political campaigns to which CPI attaches particular importance, such as housing issues and more recently migration affairs. Furthermore, violent actions often target political opponents, especially those involved in counter-movements. On the other, the leadership of CPI condemns the most blatant episodes of violence. In December 2011, CPI argued that it bears no responsibility for Gianluca Casseri, a 50-year-old accountant and a CasaPound sympathizer, who drove to a crowded street market in the city of Florence and shot at a group of Senegalese market traders, killing two and wounding three before committing suicide. Similarly, CPI condemned ‘without hesitation’ the terrorist acts of February 2018, when a 28-year-old far-right activist went on a shooting rampage in Macerata, a small town in central Italy, wounding five men and one woman of African origin (II Secolo d'It alia 2018). CPI thus neither endorses nor rejects symbolic and physical violence, as it considers violent confrontation part of its variegated array of strategies for doing politics. If an excess of violence is certainly condemned, light forms are an effective way for CPI to capture media attention and pressurize public opinion (Castelli Gattinara and Froio 2018).