The saying “there is still space in Piazzale Loreto” (“a Piazzale Loreto c’è ancora posto“) is still casually used in Italy when commenting on a civilian or a politician displaying or supporting authoritarian tendencies.
Jim Carrey, the actor turned artist, provided his take on that sentiment when he tweeted a drawing he made of the slain World War II dictator Benito Mussolini and his mistress, Claretta Petacci, hanging upside down. He intended it to be a warning that all fascists are doomed to perish disastrously.
The drawing was based in the historic photograph showing Mussolini and Petacci’s corpses displayed alongside two other fascists in Milan’s Piazzale Loreto, after they had been executed near Como on April 28, 1945.
For an Italy that had been beset by fascism, war, and then civil war for two decades, the display was cathartic. Those mutilated corpses represented the end of a nightmare, a final victory against fascism as embodied in the man who had started it all.
With his drawing, Carrey meant to send a warning to fascists worldwide. The undignified end of the man whose rule inspired Adolph Hitler is a graphic, powerful symbol. But the reaction to his tweet and the context into which he launched it shows how anti-fascists need to stand warned.
Carrey was immediately attacked on Twitter by Alessandra Mussolini—granddaughter of dictator Benito Mussolini and member of the European Parliament who represents Silvio Berlusconi’s populist Forza Italia.
“You’re a bastard,” she said in a reply that received more than 14,000 likes. She then went on to spar with others who criticized her, eventually railing against “the American #antifa“—the anti-fascist activists that Mussolini called “perhaps more annoying than our own.”
Fascism never died in Italy
Alessandra Mussolini didn’t just reply to Carrey as a private citizen—she has been a prominent member of Italian politics since 1992. Her rise, less than 50 years after her grandfather was hanging upside down in Piazzale Loreto, came because of her last name, not despite it.
In the years since she entered politics, her far-right, sometimes outright fascist ideology became more influential, and normalized. Mussolini uses the freedom that the “antifa” she laments fought for to call Carrey a “bastard” on Twitter, in Italy freedom of speech is so endangered that author Roberto Saviano is facing a trial for libel because he called interior minister Matteo Salvini a criminal, after he refused rescuing migrants crossing the Mediterranean and let them die at sea.
At the same time, Italy’s strongest political current is a deeply xenophobic interpretation of sovranismo (essentially nationalism under a new name) embodied by Salvini and an aggressive anti-immigration political doctrine that values being straight, male, white, and Christian above all else.
Just this weekend, he addressed a self-described “congress of families” in Verona, which was organized to oppose the rights of LGBTQ people, amongst others. Only miles away, anti-fascist groups protesting against an anti-abortion rally by members of neofascist group Forza Nuova were met by police brutality.
The long reach of the far right
Italy is not alone in providing support for the far-right movements that have taken hold in democracies across the West by promulgating nationalist and anti-immigrant sentiment.
Today (April 1), the president of the US—for whom Mussolini has expressed her support—described the almost universally recognized right of “the (sic) asylum” as a “loophole,” right after cutting aid to central American nations facing humanitarian emergencies.
None of this appears to portend these movements coming any nearer the end Carrey alludes to. In fact, the reaction to his tweet—who reacted, and in what political context—serves as a stark reminder that the fight against fascism’s tenets is ongoing.
Mussolini was elevated to power by the popular vote of a fractured, insecure country. His ignominious end was cheered by a war-battered Italy that decades before had seen him as the answer to its prayers. Many made the mistake of thinking the scene in Piazzale Loreto represent the end of fascism. If anything, the fight was just beginning.