Arrest of ‘Fake’ Hitler Shows Muddled Italian Take on Fascism Law

A man dressed as Charlie Chaplin’s parody of Adolf Hitler was detained, but neo-Nazis unchallenged by police in northern Italy.

Francesco Benedetti

MILAN – A man was arrested in the northern Italian city of Bergamo last Sunday for showing up at a protest dressed as Adenoid Hynkel, Charlie Chaplin’s parody of Adolf Hitler in the 1940 anti-Nazi movie “The Great Dictator.” His alleged crime was apologia del Fascismo (literally, “apology of Fascism”). However, on the very same day the openly neo-Fascist group Forza Nuova demonstrated in another northern city, Bologna, undisturbed by the authorities.

Publicly expressing sympathies to Nazism and Fascism is explicitly prohibited by Italian law since the 1950s. But the application of such law is so arbitrary that it may well defy the purpose.

“I find it quite puzzling that I got arrested while people from Forza Nuova and CasaPound can walk freely with all their Mussolini paraphernalia, and can even have authorized demonstrations,” said Giampietro Belotti, 29, referring to the country’s two largest far-right groups. Belotti, a self described “fervent anti-Fascist,” says all he wanted to do was use movie references in order to mock homophobes.

As the Italian parliament is discussing a new “anti-homophobia law” that sanctions discrimination based on sexual preferences, an umbrella of right-wing groups called the Sentinels organized protests against it in several towns. Belotti showed up to one of these demonstrations wearing the Hynkel costume (that resembles a Nazi uniform but has a fictional “double-cross” symbol instead of a swastika), holding a copy of “Mein Kampf” and the sign “Illinois Nazis support the Sentinels,” a reference to “The Blues Brothers.”

Within 10 minutes he was taken to the police station and his “Illinois Nazis” sign confiscated as evidence. However, the police could not confiscate his copy of “Mein Kampf,” notes Belotti, since it is not a banned book (you can buy it online on numerous Italian websites). Belotti was held for three hours and then released. Charges against him were dropped by the examining magistrate on Wednesday.

Also Sunday, Forza Nuova – a far-right nationalist group founded in the 1990s from the ashes of two disbanded neo-Fascist parties – joined another protest against the “anti-homophobia law” in Bologna. Although Forza Nuova and the Sentinels have no official ties – FN has accused the Sentinels of being “too moderate,” while the Sentinels describe themselves as “nonpolitical” even though their founder belongs to the ultraconservative Catholic Alleanza Cattolica movement – they share the same anti-gay-rights agenda.

No one was arrested in the Bologna protest, although police intervened when clashes erupted between Forza Nuova’s militants and left-wing activists leading a counterprotest.

Forza Nuova has announced a new anti-gay-rights protest in Bologna on October 18. The city police say they do not rule out the possibility of prohibiting it, but only on security grounds. “Everyone is free to express his or her opinion, even if we do not agree with them,” said Vincenzo Stingone, head of the local police. Unless, perhaps, he’s dressed as a Charlie Chaplin character.