The group was particularly active on social media networks, where it spread racist messages and conspiracy theories, based on virulent neo-Nazi and neo-fascist views. The predominant theme of its propaganda was anti-Semitism, with inflammatory tones and brutal images, and additional designated enemies included migrants and LGBT people.
The group used two Facebook pages and a VK community (VKontakte, the popular Russian mainstream social media that has attracted much attention from far-right activists in recent years). These channels were open and therefore available to anyone.
The Aryan Roman Order’s members also used a WhatsApp group, called The Judenfreie Liga (Oar) (“The free-of-Jews League”, based on the infamous Nazi term), which incited violent acts against Jews and other minority groups. They were also interested in compiling a list of Jewish surnames in order to identify Jewish people in the country.
The police operation was conducted by the Carabinieri police force, with the coordination of the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Rome, as part of an investigation that began in 2019. In addition, the Postal Police put down a website with over 17,000 subscribers worldwide, which reportedly encouraged people to conduct extreme acts.
The official name of this online group is arguably an explicit reference to the doctrine of the “Aryan Roman” race, conceived by Fascist-linked thinker Julius Evola (1898-1974). As it is well-known, Evola was an influential ideologue for the extreme right in Italy and beyond after World War II.
However, according to the information currently available, the group’s propaganda does not seem to be strongly inspired by him nor by his esoteric and occultist themes. Insted, the Aryan Roman Order apparently displayed a “biological” form of racism unlike Evola’s (self-declared) “spiritual” version of racism. As explained in its propaganda, this online group believed that “the nation does not consist of language but only of blood.”
Twelve alleged members of the group, aged between 26 and 62, are under investigation on charges of criminal association aimed at spreading propaganda and incitement on grounds of ethnic and religious discrimination. Half of them were based in the Rome area, while the others lived both in the North and South of Italy.
Some of these suspects were already well-known to the Italian authorities, although they did not have a formal criminal record. The alleged founder of the online group has been identified as M.M., a 41-year-old resident of Sassari, Sardinia. The man had already made headlines in 2007 when he was the target of an investigation, along with other people, for establishing a minor political movement inspired by Mussolini’s National Fascist Party.
Another suspect is F.R., 38 years old, from the Milan area. She was branded by the Italian media as “Miss Hitler” after she reportedly won a sort of international pageant promoted by far-right groups on VK in 2019. F.R., who has an eye-catching black eagle with a swastika (the emblem of Nazi Germany) tattooed on her back, was already implicated in an investigation into a neo-Nazi “party”, together with other eighteen suspects, in November 2019. In August of the same year she was a speaker at an international conference in Lisbon aimed at promoting an alliance between European neo-Nazi groups. The presence of a woman with an active role in a far-right group is worthy of attention, albeit not unprecedented
In addition, according to the information currently available, a Carabinieri officer is also under investigation: the man, who was immediately suspended from duty, allegedly met with some Aryan Roman Order’s members.
An online chat conversation intercepted by the Italian authorities suggests that admission to this online group required a sort of formal presentation, with the indication of the candidate’s real name and a photograph.
According to the available information, the members of the group also had connections abroad. In particular, some of them had relations with members of the Portuguese far-right group Nova Ordem Social (New Social Order), as confirmed by the 2019 Lisbon conference.
While several details of this case are not yet available at the time of writing, this Italian group not only shared extremist material on the internet, but it also incited violence. For example, a member of the group wrote online: “Aryan Roman Order has become the worst nightmare for Italy’s Jews [giudei, in a derogatory sense] and you, Italian, can contribute so that this nightmare becomes a reality”. Investigators think online activities were “clearly aimed at encouraging concrete, violent and provocative behaviors” and emphasize the “concrete potential to solicit material actions that are harmful to the physical safety of people belonging to one of the human communities targeted”.
Above all, according to some partial indications, the group was also interested in carrying out terrorist attacks. At least some of the suspects were thinking about planning a bomb attack on a NATO facility, which has not yet been identified by the authorities.
In particular, in an intercepted conversation, a member of the group told the alleged founder it would have been easy to build a homemade bomb to hit a NATO base. According to this man, he could have access to a supposed inside source, a person who had allegedly worked for NATO in the past. This member also suggested to carry out the attack at night in order to catch by surprise “important people” sleeping in the facility. To achieve this goal, according to the Italian media, the members of the group shared tutorials on how to build homemade bombs. Moreover, this potential terrorist operation reportedly could have benefited from the cooperation of other Portugal-based militants.
However, according to investigators, no phase of this plan had been put into practice yet.
This police operation against Ordine Ario Romano is part of a sequence of investigations and operations launched in the country in recent months, sometimes connected with each other. It confirms the threat posed by right-wing extremism in Italy.
Interestingly, unlike recent cases, these extremists were not particularly young and not particularly influenced by American white supremacy. The most recurrent subject of the group’s propaganda was, obsessively, anti-Semitism, in rather “traditional” forms. On the whole, Italy, like other Western countries, is not immune from these manifestations of prejudice and hostility. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic, social, and political consequences may have the effect of increasing the spread of anti-Semitism, for example by encouraging conspiracy theories about the supposed role of Jews in the pandemic.
At the time of writing, a disturbing aspect of the case of Aryan Roman Order appears to be the alleged involvement of a police officer and, once confirmed, the group’s contact with a person with access to information about a NATO facility, especially considering the wider context wherein some right-wing extremists are attempting to infiltrate the military in various Western countries. Incidentally, with regards to Italy, it is worth recalling that a US Army soldier with violent neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic, and Satanic beliefs was charged with terrorism offenses for planning a deadly ambush on service members in his own Italy-based unit in 2020.
In conclusion, while Italian anti-democratic, far-right fringe groups and activists are typically engaged in propaganda and indoctrination activities, especially on the internet, the risk of even more dangerous repercussions in the real world cannot be underestimated.