The fascist virus is back again.

AuthorMalone, Hannah

'Du-uce! Du-uce! Du-uce!' With right arms raised, neo-Fascists chanted during violent protests in Rome on 6 June 2020. A mixed bunch of political extremists and football hooligans who are associated with Forza Nuova (New Power) and Ragazzi d'Italia (Lads of Italy) rioted against the government and the 'big lie' of the epidemic (their expression). Although these groups constitute a fringe minority, their views are mirrored in the 'respectable' mainstream. The far-right parties of La Lega and CasaPound organised their own marches against the government's handling of the crisis. These parties seek to undermine the centre-left government by capitalising upon the anger and despair of the many Italians who have lost jobs or earnings due to the lockdown. These tensions are by no means uniquely Italian: the far right has gained traction from the crisis in Germany, Spain, Brazil, the USA and other countries across the world. Traditionally, right-wing populists have been skilful at exploiting popular discontent to discredit the democratic state and to insert themselves in the gap between the state and its citizens. In Germany, neo-Nazis and members of the far-right Alternative for Germany party (AfD) have joined forces with anti-vaxxers and anti-capitalists to denounce the virus as a liberal conspiracy. At the top of their respective governments, Jair Bolsonaro, Narendra Modi and Donald Trump have used the crisis as a smokescreen to mask their persecution of disadvantaged minorities and immigrants. For such strongmen, the crisis provides an ideal opportunity to grandstand, gain power and silence opposition. In addition, in the USA, white supremacists and neo-Nazis have been using the protests in the aftermath of George Floyd's death as a chance to disseminate extremist propaganda. Meanwhile, President Trump has used tactics drawn from the fascist playbook, including demonising his opponents and legitimising violence against them.

Echoes of the early twentieth century, when every industrialised country had a movement that defined itself, or was defined, as fascist, have prompted fears of a return to the past. But history does not repeat itself, nor do societies stand still. The question, therefore, is not whether fascism is happening again, but whether this is a new form of fascism, or something else. The protestors in Rome invoked Benito Mussolini, but they are among a minority who self-identify as fascist. Although relatively few political movements...

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