Recent investigations have uncovered an Italian group of anti-Semitic far-right extremists with an interest in Nazi occultism. According to investigators, they allegedly were involved in anti-vaccine campaigns, showed their willingness in planning acts of violence, and had contacts with Ukrainian ultranationalist forces.
In particular, on October 19, 2021, Italy’s State Police carried out house searches against 26 people in nine Italian provinces, from the north to the south of the country. At least 12 people are now formally under investigation for “subversive association of neo-Nazi and supremacist matrix”, apology for fascism, denial of the Shoah, incitement to racial hatred and to anti-Semitism.
According to investigators, these suspects, including four women, were part of a clandestine group, characterized by a hierarchical structure and rigid information compartmentalization. The group had two leaders, Italian citizens in their forty who were based in the Naples area (southern Italy). The group carried out anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi-inspired campaigns and organize face-to-face and online indoctrination lessons in order to extend its network of followers.
Additionally, the group was engaged in paramilitary training. The house searches also led to the seizure of ammunition, modified airsoft weapons, one grenade launcher, and military tactical clothing. A few members attended training courses for the use of guns and for hand-to-hand combat techniques, even abroad (reportedly in Poland). They allegedly were assisted by members of Ukrainian paramilitary groups.
In fact, according to Italian investigators, members of this Italian group had “close contacts and frequent relations” with Ukrainian ultranationalist formations, such as the notorious Azov Regiment, also with a view to joining fighting groups. Although many details are not currently available, these alleged links appear to be of particular interest, especially considering the important role that Ukraine and the conflict in the disputed region of the Donbass have assumed in some far-right circles. Along these lines, some scholars have recently gone so far as to argue that Ukraine can be considered as a crucial hub and a battlefield laboratory of the transnational white supremacy movement. Incidentally, it can be recalled that Italian far-right extremists actually moved to the Donbassregion to join the clashes, on both sides of the conflict.
Furthermore, according to investigators, the clandestine group was even interested in planning acts of violence. For their part, the leaders of the group rejected this accusation.
It is important to highlight that this Italian clandestine group operated in the shadow of a public association, called the Order of Hagal. Hagal is the name of a Scandinavian rune, at least in the original interpretation offered by the Austrian occultist Guido von List (1848-1919). List’s occult-nationalist work exerted significant influence on the Nazi Party. The hagal rune, already used by the SS, is also the symbol of this Italian association.
The Order of Hagal presented itself as an ordinary association, with an (apparently innocuous) public charter, a registration fee and so forth. It also had a blog and other communication channels on the Web. According to currently available information, these channels did not present explicit references to violence, but rather emphasized the association’s alleged “religious/social-spiritual” mission, sometimes with reassuring tones (for example: “Hagal represents the world as all of us, you as well as me, wish: it is a world of naive children carefree playing in a garden”). However, some of these online channels did not hesitate to focus on hostility against Jews and other groups or categories of people, often within the framework of conspiracy theories. Unsurprisingly, these theories also connected disparate events and practices such as the September 11 attacks, seigniorage, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Furthermore, members of the group mentioned the work of David Lane, a founding member of The Order, a white supremacist terrorist group active in the US in 1983-1984. Lane promoted a combination of anti-Semitic conspiracy and neo-pagan elements. In general, he can be considered as one of the most influential ideologues of the white supremacist cause, even after his death in prison in 2007. Another name that was evoked in these online communications is Léon Degrelle (1906-1994), a Belgian Nazi collaboration and a prominent figure in European neo-Nazism.
Interestingly, the online channels of the Order of Hagal and of its two leaders were very interested in issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, they continually relaunched anti-vaccine messages. For example, on its official blog it claimed that the COVID-19 vaccine “is not a vaccine, but an experimental gene therapy. Being vaccinated means accepting an irreversible and perpetual modification of one’s own DNA”. Besides, there was no shortage of appeals against 5G technology. These positions were arguably used to attract the attention of new potential followers. According to media reports, members of the Order of Hagal also made references to the well-known, typically far-right QAnon conspiracy theory.
This latest move by Italian authorities follows other recent policeoperations against relatively small extreme right-wing groups and networks in Italy. Moreover, it is worth mentioning that few days ago, on October 9, during (and on the sidelines of) a relatively large demonstration in the center of Rome against the COVID-19 “green pass” (mandatory for all workers), a group of radical protesters led by neo-fascist activists were responsible for various acts of violence, including the assault on the national headquarters of the CGIL (Italy’s most important trade union), in ways that have partially resembled the January 6 US Capitol siege. As a result of those incidents, Italian authorities had arrested 12 people, including two leaders of Forza Nuova (a small neo-fascist political party), with criminal backgrounds, and one of the founders of the historic NAR (Nuclei Armati Rivoluzionari, a terrorist network active in Italy from 1977 to 1981). On that occasion, too, far-right activists had tried to ride on the cause of opposition to the COVID-19 vaccine and the “green pass” system.
In conclusion, this latest police operation confirms that the fragmented extreme right-wing scene is vital in Italy. Furthermore, today at least some sectors of this extremist milieu have an interest in violence are ready to establish relations with like-minded groups and individuals abroad, make extensive of contemporary conspiracy theories (in addition to traditional ones), especially on the Web, and are actively involved in taking advantage of the COVID-19pandemic.