Rome (CNN)The shooting of African migrants allegedly by a suspect aligned with Italy's far-right, neo-fascist parties has sparked serious political debate about how the country is reconciling its fascist past.
Italians protest against fascism following shooting of African migrants
Luca Traini is accused of going on a shooting rampage February 3 in the central Italian town of Macerata and performing the fascist salute upon his arrest. Six African migrants were injured. The migrants are part of the wave of more than 600,000 people who have arrived by sea from North Africa since 2013 when Italy last went to the polls.
On Saturday, thousands of centrist and leftist supporters gathered under heavy police guard in Macerata to demonstrate against the rise of Italy's neo-fascist parties. Organizers say 15,000 people attended.
The march was held inside a fenced-off perimeter, and police banned fascist groups from participating. Supporters waved Communist Party and Antifa (anti-fascist) flags. Some held banners with "anti-fascism" and "anti-racism," while others displayed signs with fascist and Nazi symbols crossed out.
Few migrants joined the march, according to Sammy Kunoun, head of the Nigerian Community of Macerata. Police had strongly discouraged migrant groups from protesting.
Anti-fascist demonstrations were held in other Italian cities, including Piacenza, where the far-right, neo-fascist fringe group CasaPound engaged in violent clashes with police, according to Italian news reports.
On Wednesday, a group of supporters of the Forza Nuova neo-fascist party, which openly supports the recent shooting spree and has offered to pay the suspect's legal bills, clashed with police in Macerata, which has a high concentration of African migrants and those seeking political asylum.
Several Italian parties support fascist ideology and publicly align themselves with the tenets of fascism, but they cannot call themselves fascist. The 1952 Scelba law makes an "apology for fascism" illegal in Italy, and people can be arrested for making fascist salutes, but it is not illegal to sell memorabilia with fascist symbols or the image of former dictator Benito Mussolini.
Legislation introduced in 2017 sought to make it illegal to sell such fascist souvenirs, but it stalled in Parliament. Mussolini's hometown of Predappio is a popular pilgrimage spot for neo-fascists who still support the ideology. People gather there every October on the anniversary of the March on Rome -- which led to Mussolini's rise to power in 1922 -- and his birth home and family tomb are popular among neo-fascists, who lay flowers on the date of his birth and death. Souvenir shops sell Mussolini wine, batons, towels and key chains with Il Duce's face.
The weekend of the Macerata shooting, the film "Sono Tornato," or "I'm Back," opened, envisioning Mussolini coming back to Italy in 2018 to see what of his fascist ideology remains. The official trailer depicts the film as a comedy in which Il Duce, still in his fascist uniform, performs fascist salutes to passers-by and reminisces about his time as head of the nation, pointing out what symbols and traditions remain.
The suspect gave a fascist salute in front of a war monument built during the fascist era when police arrested him last week. He had run in local elections under the far-right Northern League party, whose leader Matteo Salvini has backed banning mosques and whose main campaign promises is to expel 100,000 Africans immediately if he comes to power.
Police said the suspect said he was avenging the death of Pamela Mastropietro, 18, whose body was found dismembered in two suitcases outside Macerata on January 30. Nigerian migrant Innocent Oseghale was arrested in connection with her death but has not been charged with murder. Initial autopsy reports point to a heroin overdose as her cause of death, but the final coroner's report will not be out for three more weeks, around the time of the March 4 national election.
Recent polling by La Stampa newspaper points to a good showing for a center-right coalition led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Salvini's Northern League party and Giorgia Meloni's Fratelli d'Italia party.
Berlusconi, who cannot run for elections because of a tax fraud conviction, has promised to expel 600,000 migrants if his party is elected.
Meloni held a rally last week in the town of Latina, near Rome. Mussolini founded Latina in 1932, and the town retains strong fascist ties to that era.
During the rally, Meloni brought Rachele Mussolini, Mussolini's granddaughter, on stage to support her anti-immigration platform.
"If we need to do a naval blockade, we will do a naval blockade. If we need to dig trenches, we will dig trenches," Meloni told the rally with Mussolini's granddaughter by her side. "No one enters Italy illegally, and those who have will be sent home."
A larger anti-fascist demonstration is scheduled for February 24, one week before the national election, in other cities across Italy, with the largest set for Rome.