Style: from protest to electoral politics

In addition to this variegated media infrastructure, hybridization in CPI’s communication has much to do with the group’s distinctive manner of disseminating information about itself to activists, sympathizers and external audiences. Over the years, external communication represented the ‘hunting ground’ used by CPI to recruit sympathizers and to diffuse its ideas and political proposals among the quality media. On the one hand, media activism became more professionalized, thanks to the creation of devoted channels of communication and entertainment allowing both the far-right milieu and external audiences to be addressed. On the other hand, the quality media crucially contributed to spreading CPI’s image outside the smaller group of extreme- right sympathizers.

The ‘marketing mix’ adopted by CPI is the result of a strategic hybrid communication aiming at presenting CPI as a political party and as a social movement to mainstream media. We can distinguish two phases in CPI’s media management towards mainstream television channels and the press. A first phase corresponds to the early years of the organization, when CPI needed to differentiate its image from the traditional parties of the Italian extreme right. Three key strategic choices help explain the strategy used by CPI to achieve its communication goals during this phase: eclecticism, popularization and polarization. As the group engaged in electoral politics, however, its political communication changed too, shifting the attention from the organization to its leaders. Thus, this second phase corresponds to CPI’s increasing need to set up electoral campaigns, through three additional strategic choices: sensationaliza- tion, presidentialization and centralization.

Crafting a social movement profile

In the early years, the communication of CPI presented the group as a grassroots movement, in opposition to ‘party models’. Recognizing the crucial role of the younger cohorts, which represent a traditional stronghold of extreme-right movements (Antonucci 2011; Roversi 1999), CPI intentionally opted for unconventional actions aimed at challenging the party-based hegemony of the Italian far right. In 2003, it advertised its first occupation with a minimalist black and white flyer: ‘A cat has gone missing. Its name is Pound. If you find it, call this number.’ In 2008, CPI distributed flyers and press releases reproducing the statement released after the occupation of the headquarters of MSI (see Chapter 2). The main goal of this communication strategy was to get visibility in the public sphere through quality media (mainstream press and television), but also - and perhaps more importantly — recognizability within the Italian extreme-right subculture.

The means of political communication selected for this purpose were adapted to this goal. They included tactics and symbols inspired by left-wing movements, as well as confrontational actions to attract the attention of the media (Castelli Gattinara and Froio 2018). This political communication mix also included the organization of spectacular events, which suggested a sort of ideal continuity with the creative and anti-establishment cultural movement of Italian Futurism (Koch 2013). In so doing, CPI promoted traditional extreme-right ideals, while also claiming to interpret a profound renewal of the far-right political culture. CPI thus presented itself as a group that is in continuity with historical Fascism, while at the same time rupturing with the ‘sclerotic’ and ‘immobile’ nature of political parties on the extreme right. This hybrid communication strategy granted CPI a certain degree of news prominence (Watt et al. 1993) in the far-right milieu and beyond.

Most notably, the main strategy that CPI put in place to achieve recognizability among the various actors of the Italian extreme right consisted of organizing public events that hosted political and cultural figures who did not share CPI’s beliefs. We refer to this strategy as eclecticism, in that it expressed CPI’s willingness to go beyond existing paradigms or sets of assumptions about the extreme right. These events aimed at conveying the idea that CPI draws upon different insights around a subject, or upon unconventional issues altogether (see Chapter 5). CPI explicitly sought to overcome the traditional division between the political right and left, contesting the symbolism that is usually associated with these political cultures. ’ In this sense, CPI’s eclecticism consisted of using the codes of other political cultures and adapting them to the realm of their political communication (Miller-Idriss 2018; Schedler 2014). This strategy was mostly successful in attracting the attention of the mainstream media.

A second strategy rested on the adoption of pop-culture codes for the representation of extreme-right political content and messages. We refer to this strategy as popularization. A crucial element of this strategy was the branding of the communicative style of CasaPound, through a systematic choice of colours, fonts and styles. This ensured that any public claims by CPI and its affiliated organizations would be immediately associated with the group. Popularization was based on a multiplicity of iconic figures, including the hacktivist movement ‘Anonymous’, fictional characters like Captain Harlock and Corto Maltese, or the novel Fight Club. In this sense, CPI’s communicative style targeted specifically adolescent cohorts, a tactic employed by other far-right and populist parties in Europe (Frigoli and Ivaldi 2017), based on the idea that younger people are more attracted by romantic ideals and powerful heroes than by the traditional fascist imagery. Combined with CPI’s territorial structure, this communicative strategy was particularly successful for the recruitment of young people, facilitating the merging of different imageries and subcultures within the codes and routines of extreme-right politics (Koch 2017).

The third strategy we focus on consists of CPI’s attempts to erode the legitimacy of their political opponents on key subjects. We refer to this strategy as polarization, which we understand in terms of Mouffe’s notion of antagonism as opposed to agonism (Mouffe 1999). On the one hand, CPI campaigned on the inability of the progressive-left culture to protect the rights of underprivileged Italians against globalization and economic recession. The symbolic antagonism was thus based on the terrain of the classic left-wing issue of workers’ rights. On the other, it stressed the illiberal nature of anti-fascist mobilization when it comes to the right to free speech of extreme-right groups. Hence, antagonism focused on liberal rights such as freedom of opinion and freedom of political organization. The communicative strategy implied antagonizing the left-wing and staging an opposition that stands between a decaying political culture and the emerging, challenging subculture, interpreted by CPI (Almagisti 2011). The success of this hybrid media management strategy over the past few years is confirmed by the intense coverage of events in which CasaPound demonstrated in front of factories or in support of blue-collar strikes {La Repubblica 2018).

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