In Italy, Right-Wing Politicians Set Their Sights On Parliament

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

With economic crises and a massive influx of migrants, extreme right-wing movements have gained a lot of ground in Europe. Italy is no exception. As NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports, seven decades after the fall of Mussolini's dictatorship, some neo-fascist groups are setting their sights on getting back into parliament.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Several thousand angry Italians are marching in downtown Rome. They're protesting a bill granting citizenship to children born in Italy to long-term resident foreigners. Sara Polimeno came from the northern Piedmont region to demand a stop to migrants.

SARA POLIMENO: (Through interpreter) There is an invasion of Muslims imposing their religion on us. They have different customs and culture. And they're upsetting all our habits. They're demanding too much. Enough.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).

POGGIOLI: Protesters shout, homeland, employment and identity. We will defend our civilization - buzzwords reminiscent of fascist ideology. Giovanni Orsina, political science professor at Rome's Luiss University, says pockets of hard-core fascist sympathizers have long existed in Italy.

GIOVANNI ORSINA: This area of nostalgia, of ideological persistence of fascism - today has more leeway - can use the new issues of migration, identity in order to grow stronger.

POGGIOLI: One neo-fascist group riding the anti-migrant wave is Casa Pound, named after American poet Ezra Pound - a fascist propagandist during World War II. It has spearheaded violent actions against migrant housing and aggressive confrontation with migrant vendors on the Roman seashore in Ostia.

In Ostia's recent municipal election, Casa Pound surged from 1 percent of votes cast four years ago to 9 percent. Posters had urged voters to send fighters to city hall and claimed we put Italians first - first in housing, welfare and education. With parliamentary elections next spring, Casa Pound is now aiming for a role on the national stage. Thirty-two-year-old Casa Pound leader Luca Marsella explains what it means to be a fascist today.

LUCA MARSELLA: (Through interpreter) It means to love Italy. It means giving one's self to the welfare of our nation to fight for the good of our nation.

POGGIOLI: With the arrival of more than 600,000 mostly African migrants in the last four years, racist incidents and extreme right-wing posts on social media have surged. The lower house has approved a government bill that would ban distribution of propaganda, images and symbols of fascist and Nazi ideologies. Offenders risk up to two years in jail. MP Emanuele Fiano of the governing Democratic Party wrote the bill.

EMANUELE FIANO: (Through interpreter) This law doesn't punish a person who says I'm a fascist or Nazi. It punishes propaganda of ideas that are clearly against liberty and democracy.

POGGIOLI: Opposed by right-wing parties and the Maverick Five Star Movement, the bill is before the Senate. But with just a few months left in the legislature, it's not certain it can become law before the next election campaign. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.

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