This week in Europe, several people were killed when a man opened fire in a crowded street. No, it wasn’t the attack on a market in Liege, Belgium, it was the killing of two street traders in Florence, Italy, and the wounding of two more. Gianluca Casseri opened fire at two markets, on Senegalese traders, before blowing his own head off.
The attack in Belgium made the headlines. The Florence attack barely made the news. Perhaps that’s because the Belgium attack was more spectacular, involving grenades and footage of panic — but perhaps it’s also because the Florence killing was a political one, in a way that news sources don’t know how to deal with.
Casseri was a Right-wing militant, a member of a neo-fascist group called “Casa Pound”, and his attack was another incidence of the rising levels of Right-wing violence in Europe, of which the most extreme example was Anders Breivik’s massacre of 77 young people in Norway in July.
Breivik targeted young Left-wing people because he regarded them as traitors; Casseri targeted black immigrants directly. The Casa Pound group is the latest iteration of Italian fascism, which is now nearly a century old, and one of dozens of inter-connected, hard-Right groups in Europe.
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Casa Pound — the name derives from the fascist poet Ezra Pound — didn’t sanction the killing, of course, but it is a violent group that specialises in late-night violet assaults on groups of immigrants. As with Breivik, the murderous violence emerged from a context in which Europe is held to be “disappearing”, Muslims are spoken of in disgusting racialist terms, and in which extreme measures are spoken of as necessary and inevitable.
There was no question that there would be outbreaks of violence such as this after Breivik’s massacre, and there is no doubt that this one will not be the last. Yet, as with the Breivik killing, mainstream journalists are slow to notice a trend that isn’t served to them on a plate.
Slow to realise that radical Islamist violence has all but ceased in Europe (though it may well return), most seem simply unaware that the violent Right has been growing and organising for some time in Europe, as part of a wider movement of political xenophobia, as expressed by the rise of nationalist “people’s” parties.
Indeed this lack of comprehension was present at the time of the Breivik massacre. Commentators such as Peter Hartcher were desperate to deny any link between Breivik’s actions and hard-Right propaganda, while Annabel Crabb saw the debate about Breivik’s motives as a wearying battle of “culture warriors”, and suggested that any notion that Breivik’s actions were the start of a more violent turn in the European Right — as suggested by your correspondent — was a “big call”.
Well it is if all you know is the anti-politics of the Canberra fish bowl. If you turn your attention to the world outside Rip Van Australia, at the start of a decade of depression, you find that politics is about radically different world views, and violence is not some random occurrence, but a systemic process.
Such clueless mainstream political commentary has given the hard-Right an easy ride. It has also made it possible for other members of the Right to mount a convincing denial of any connection between violent expressions of Right-wing beliefs, and the broader movement.
Thus, a fortnight ago, Chris Berg returned to the fray, to slate a book that your correspondent co-edited on Anders Breivik and the Utoya massacre. Though Breivik has shown total lucidity about his motives and intentions at all times, and compiled a 1000-page manifesto justifying his actions, Berg could find no dynamic link between the apocalyptic ideas of Daniel Pipes, Mark Steyn and other frequent contributors to Right-wing journals and websites (and frequent guests of the Australian Right), and Breivik’s atrocious act.
There is no question that liberals such as Berg do not endorse the xenophobic and apocalyptic imaginings of the hard-Right — but historically and currently they’ve been more than willing to turn a blind eye to the dark forces on their side of politics.
Thus, in the week of the Breivik massacre, the Centre for Independent Studies was hosting a visit by Thilo Sarrazin, author of Germany Abolishes Itself, and a proponent of the idea that all Jews have genes that make them smarter than other people, and that Turks may have one that makes them stupid.
Why would a respectable think tank be so keen to host a German talking of the genetic differences of Jews? Well, feedback suggests that several members were deeply embarrassed when Sarrazin’s more noxious beliefs became visible, but many members of the liberal Right believe that a political program that includes free-market liberalism has to include a social conservatism.
Such an alliance is founded on an awareness of the socially destructive power of the uncontrolled market — and sees nationalist social conservatism as the remedy. Often this is either engineered patriotism or kitsch, Bradman and the beach, etc, and all organised top-down by a state, curiously exempt, in these cases from being minimised.
When a harder-Right emerges to the Right of engineered social conservatism, aspects of it must be incorporated — as did the Coalition with Hansonism in the early 2000s. That creates a problem when elements of the Right become explicitly violent, either through assault-level street violence, or, these days, lethal single-actor massacres. This was the course of the Right in Europe in inter-war years. Could it happen again?
It’s already happening. Take Greece, where the new “technocratic” government includes members of the LAOS, or New Orthodoxy party, some of whom were street thugs in the ’90s, as part of various openly fascist movements. Here’s a photo of LAOS minister Makis Voridis, from the ’90s, on street patrol, at a time when immigrants were attacked, often lethally, by fascist gangs.
Voridis is the one holding the axe.
Makis Voridis holding an axe (photo from “Ios”, Eleftherotypia newspaper 9/6/2002)
How will the liberal Right deal with the increasingly violent and racist trajectory of the hard-Right? Not well, one suspects on the evidence. The violence — whether it is beating of migrants, or the arson on a Roma camp in Italy last week (sparked off when a 16-year-old girl made a claim of rape, that she now admits was fabricated), or new lethal attacks — will continue. As the tyranny of the markets continues to raise the tension, the ideologues will exploit it, and it will have its outlet, in the markets of Florence and beyond.