It is 13 December 2011, when Gianluca Casseri leaves his home in Florence, carrying a gun. Casseri is a supporter of Casapound, an Italian far right movement. He usually shows up in its political circle in Pistoia, where he got to talk about his book and attended various meetings. Casseri is a neo-Nazi, a Holocaust denier. He believes the world is suffering from a Jewish conspiracy.
That day, however, Casseri is not mad at Jews. He’s after immigrants. He decided to shoot as many of them as possible. And he does. He spots two men from Senegal, follows them into a market, and kills them. One of them is Samb Modou. He's 40, a legal resident in Italy, where he works as a peddler to help his family.
Casseri keeps shooting, wounding other immigrants, until the police surround him. Then, unwilling to go to jail, he commits suicide.
Quickly, his articles published on ‘l’Ideodromo’, an online platform held by Casapound, vanish from the net. His companions distance themselves from the shooter, they say they didn’t even know him, had never seen him, but soon they have to admit he was a regular in their circle. ‘He’s a madman, he’s crazy’, they say. The thing people always say when a white man shoots a black man, when a white man shoots white men. Otherwise they say ‘terrorist’, ‘assassin’, or ‘monkey’.
Meanwhile people start cheering Casseri on their Facebook walls. They claim he’d set an example, he was a hero, some say one should keep on doing what he’d begun. Not one of them will be held responsible for their outrageous posts. Not one will face criminal charges.
Samb Modou has a wife in Senegal, Rokhaya. They have a daughter. In Florence, there’s a cousin of Samb. His name his Idy. He came from Senegal too, he’s a legal resident too, he works as a peddler and sends money to his family in Africa, too. Idy escorts Samb’s coffin to Senegal. He organises and pays for his cousin’s funeral.
Then Idy starts helping Rokhaya, sends money to Senegal, pays for her daughter’s education. In the end, Idy and Rokhaya become close. He asks her to join him in Florence. She's scared at first, but everyone else from the Senegalese community convinces her that Italy is not a racist country. Casseri was a lunatic, a nut job, Italians in general are good.
Then, in March 2018, another ‘lunatic’, another ‘nut job’ goes out on the streets and shoots the first black man he meets. He shoots him five times, then he gets closer and fires the killing blow, to the head.
The victim is Idy.
Newspapers, TV stations, politicians, all rush to explain that this was not a race crime. Not a hate crime. The shooter, a 65 year-old man named Roberto Pirrone, is again just a ‘mad man’ who shot the first person he met.
The killer says he wanted to commit suicide, but then lacked the courage, so he decided to shoot the first person on his way, which would send him to jail. In Italy everyone seems eager to believe this stupid version. It quickly becomes the official version. Until, of course, security cameras show that Pirrone encountered a woman with a child, and let them pass, then crossed a white man, and let him pass, before seeing Idy, who was a black man, and clearly deserved to die more than the others.
This removal of ‘race’ in the killing of Florence is even more astonishing, taking into consideration that only a month prior to the event, Italy saw an attempted racist mass slaughter, in Macerata.
It happened when a 29-year-old fascist, Luca Traini, decided to ‘avenge’ the killing of Pamela, a girl presumably killed by a Nigerian immigrant.
It’s February 3, 2018: Traini fires his gun for hours, in the centre of the city, hitting five men and a woman. All black, of course: ‘Niggers’, in his view. Traini then wraps himself into an Italian flag and raises his right hand to make the fascist salute, before surrendering to the police. In his house, among fascists publications, the authorities find a copy of Mein Kampf. They dig a little bit further, and find out that Traini ran for Lega Nord, Salvini’s party, in the local elections, just a year ago.
A few hours after his attempted mass murder, Forza Nuova, a fascist movement inexplicably allowed to compete in the elections, releases an official statement, offering to cover the legal expenses for Traini. In the meantime, on thousands of Facebook walls, racists start writing: ‘Honour to Traini’, ‘I’ll drink to that’, ‘He’s a hero’! People with clear names, easily identified, write, ‘Let’s kill more niggers’, they write, ‘This is just the beginning’.
No one will be held responsible, not one of these people will appear in a court of law to answer for what they wrote. Some guys, in Rome, even show a banner in the very centre of the city. No one is arrested.
Again, people start saying the shooting in Macerata was not a race or hate crime. Luca Traini was just a ‘mad man’, a crazy person, a nut job. This had nothing to do with racism, nothing to do with fascism, nothing to do with the political campaign against immigrants.
Yet the political campaign was a parade of the worst kinds of racial prejudices. The latest elections were held in a political atmosphere of unparalleled hatred against immigrants. It was created by the likes of Salvini or Forza Nuova, who decided to run their whole campaign on the antagonism ‘Italians versus Foreigners’ (‘Prima gli italiani’, ‘Italians first’, was the core slogan of Salvini’s Lega).
Does this antagonism make sense? I would say: Not much.
In Italy, if you go to the hospital, and the crash cart isn’t working, and your father dies, you can’t blame immigrants. You should blame the Italians who stole, over the years, every resource. You should blame Italians who evaded taxes, dramatically damaging public services.
In Italy, if you’re stuck in a nasty bureaucracy that drives you mad, you can’t blame immigrants. You should blame thousands of Italians who clock in and mind their own business without working a single minute of the week. You should blame the thousands of parasites, dodgers, bogus handicapped who plague this country.
In Italy, if every summer you bathe in E. Coli infected water, if you swim in a dirty sea, or in a lake that used to be amazing and from which now you emerge with dermatitis, you can’t blame immigrants. You should blame the Italians responsible for ‘poison ships’, for illegal spillages, for increasingly dramatic toxic levels. You should blame politicians and administrators who, instead of fighting pollution, solve the matter with decrees that raise time and again the maximum allowed percentage of contaminants (waters are more and more polluted, but are again considered ‘bathing sites’ since the criteria of what is tolerable has expanded).
In Italy, if you don’t find a job, if you’re always precarious, with a lousy payroll, you can’t blame immigrants. If in Europe you just need to send out a curriculum to find a decent job and here you have to know the friend of a friend, if in Italy you’re a ‘young writer’, a ‘young journalist’, ‘a young scientist’ at the age of 45, while in England you can edit an important magazine at 25, you can’t blame immigrants. You should blame a baronial system that forces our best minds to leave the country and never come back.
And if you’re not among the best minds and find out, as soon as you leave the country, you’re not fit for the job market of any European state, it’s again not the immigrants you have to blame, but the Italians who destroyed our school system, leaving you three times less educated than a person of your age born in Germany, England, or France.
In Italy, when you eat dioxin-contaminated mozzarella, it’s not the immigrants you have to blame. You should blame a Camorra mobster who spilled toxic waste in dozens of places, in agreement with respectable Italian businessmen who’d rather illegally dispose their toxic chemicals for profit’s sake.
Despite all that, a large percentage of Italians went to the polls convinced that they'd have to punish those who were ‘selling Italy to refugees’, who were responsible for the ‘invasion’, ‘ethnic substitution’, this scaremongering used by racist and fascist parties.
Fake news was the real swing vote in the recent elections: The political campaign was fought with a flood of made up alarms that polarized a vast section of voters on extreme positions against refugees (quickly identified in everybody with a darker skin). That fake news was sometimes so laughable that no person with three neurons would even have considered thinking about it.
Apparently three neurons seem to be luxury equipment in Italy, not widely diffused. Even astonishingly stupid pictures, blatantly photoshopped like this one, were regarded as true and shared by dozens of thousands of people on their walls (the photoshopped sign, deliberately written in poor and ungrammatical Italian, would read something like: ‘Italians goaway from Italy, eart belogs to everybody’).
(In the very moment in which I write this article, thousands of Italians are sharing a picture of a dog pierced by two arrows, with a caption that blames the inhabitants of a refugee centre. The picture was taken two years ago in China and has nothing to do with refugees).
While Salvini and friends were haranguing the masses, trying to convince them that all of their problems came with illegal immigrants, Lega initiated a campaign for the armament of the country. Many times, despite statistics showing a decrease in crimes, Salvini tried to exploit his voters’ fears, promising he'd make it easier to buy and own a gun.
Now, we have the leader of the third biggest Italian party, and the leader of the most wanted coalition, openly campaigning against refugees. We have the same politician saying: ‘Let’s put more weapons in the hands of citizens’. We have thousands of people cheering a guy who shot six immigrants and tried to kill even more. We have a party, Forza Nuova, which wants to cover the legal fees for a terrorist. And then another ‘crazy’ guy who takes a walk and kills the first ‘nigger’ he finds on his way. ‘There's no connection’, most people think and post. But the connection is obvious. It’s not that people wouldn’t see it. They deliberately choose not to see it.
If you ever needed proof, here's one: In Macerata, after the shooting of immigrants by a former candidate of Salvini’s party, the party raised its vote from 0.6% to 21%.
Are we hitting bottom? Not yet. The day after the killing of Idy Diene in Florence, the Senegalese community organised a protest in the city streets. The protesters, who were burying their third friend killed by a fascist, were a bit tense, and some plant pots are destroyed.
God forbid! The mayor of the city, the democratic Nardella, calls it ‘unacceptable violence’. And he's not talking about the killing. He’s talking about the plants. Many newspapers, even democratic ones, choose to run headlines about the flowers.
The Senegalese “are now in the wrong,” because it's obvious, if they shoot you, if they kill your friend, your husband, your father, and you react eradicating a planter, well, of course you switched “from victim to perpetrator,” that is clear, that is flagrant, that is not racism, everybody says and posts, they don’t know how to behave, they don’t know how to respect the planters and the authority, and they're guests here, they don’t have the right to complain, they should just shut up, those monkeys, but this is not racism, come on, we don’t have a racial problem in Italy, there's no fascist comeback
Some hours after the protests, disappointed by the blindness of our government and our press, I open my Facebook and post what I just recounted. Then I work on a screenplay for the rest of the day. A couple of thousand people share my post. I go to sleep.
The next morning, I sit in front of my computer. As usual, I try to delay the moment in which I begin to write. I check my Messenger. Or, well, I try to.
‘Are you Francesco Trento’? Facebook asks. And well, you never know, you mustn't take anything for granted, I’ve read too much science fiction, or Kafka, not to entertain the idea something weird could have happened overnight. I stand up, go to the bathroom, and check myself in the mirror. The overall look matches, but I want to be thorough, I check my teeth. I have a chipped incisor from a football accident. It's still there. Yes, I’m pretty sure: I am me.
I answer Facebook. It asks me for my mail address and password, then comes the surprise: ‘Francesco Trento, your post was removed due to racist content’. My heart skips a beat. Racist content?
Again, I check myself in the mirror.
The version of me who will never write anything racist has a big scar on the shin bone, I broke it when skiing many years ago. The scar is there. Which leaves me with one question: What the fuck?
The fuck is: Fascists and racists reported my post. They entertain secret groups, and if they want to shut you up, they ask everybody in it to report your post.
I write to Facebook, explaining my reasons, ask them to tell me which part of my post could be interpreted as an invitation to ‘racial prejudice’. In the meantime, Facebook has blocked me for the day. If I wouldn’t comply, if I’d post something racist "again", the block could be extended to three days. After that I could be banned permanently.
I write again, once more explaining my reasons. I don’t get any answer. Facebook erases another of my anti-racist and anti-fascists posts.
It’s weird: I spent days trying to explain the comeback of fascism to Italians who don’t want to see it, and the fascists did it for me in a few seconds.
Every wall with ‘Honour to Traini’, every wall hailing Mussolini, all the Nazi groups and private walls with Third Reich slogans and quotes from Goering and Goebbels, all the anti-Semitic pages seem to be ok, and when we report them, Facebook answers: Sorry, they don’t violate any of our rules, if they offend you, don’t follow them, we can’t censor them. If we write something anti-fascist, and the fascists reports us, we violate rules: I don’t know how and why, but we do.
It’s not some algorithm. Many people who cut and pasted my words onto their walls weren't blocked. It’s the anonymous report, the stupidity, the censorship, the bullying. In one word: Fascism.
But, dear Facebook, I don’t take it personally. Maybe you should consider adopting measures that make sense. Maybe you should find a system to contain fake news and fight racism.
Maybe, dear Facebook, you shouldn’t trust the number of people who report a post, and think of something useful instead, like actually reading posts and checking the Nazi and fascist pages we constantly report.
Because, dear Facebook, it seems that the US elections were rigged, thanks to you and your soft policy on fake news (don’t start with Cambridge Analytica, I know you’re already in trouble). It seems that you’re partially responsible for the US electing a president who betrays the Paris climate agreement, which leaves us more likely to face an irreversible environmental crisis.
So, you can either continue blocking our antiracist posts or wake the fuck up and do something about racism and fake news and rigged elections.