PREDEPTION – Several thousand fascist supporters in black chanted and sang in honor of the late Italian dictator Benito Mussolini on Sunday as they marched to his crypt, 100 years after Mussolini entered Rome and staged a bloodless coup that ushered in two decades of fascist rule. .

The crowd of 2,000 to 4,000 marchers, bearing Fascist symbols and chants from Italy’s colonial era, was larger than in the recent past, when Fascist nostalgics celebrated the centenary of the March on Rome.

On October 28, 1922, black-shirted fascists entered the Italian capital, launching a coup that ended two days later when the King of Italy handed Mussolini a mandate to form a new government.

The crowd in Predapio, Mussolini’s birthplace and final resting place in the northern Emilia-Romagna region, also appeared emboldened by the fact that a party with neo-fascist roots is leading an Italian government for the first time since World War II.

Organizers warned the participants, who came from as far away as Rome, Belgium and the United States, not to give the fascist salute in Roman or face prosecution. Still, some couldn’t stand it when the crowd stopped outside the cemetery where Mussolini is buried to hear prayers and greetings from Mussolini’s great-granddaughter, Arsola.

“After 100 years, we are still here to worship the man whom this state wanted and whom we will never stop admiring,” Arsola Mussolini said to applause.

She listed her great-grandfather’s achievements, citing an infrastructure boom that built schools, hospitals and public buildings, reclaimed malaria-infested swamps for cities and expanded the pension system to non-government workers. She was joined by her sister Vitoria, who led the crowd in prayer.

The crowd let out a final shout: “Duche, duche, duche!” in honor of Mussolini as dictator of Italy.

On Friday, anti-fascist participants marched in Predapio to mark the anniversary of the liberation of the city — and to prevent the fascists from holding a march on the very anniversary of the March on Rome.

Inside the cemetery Sunday, fans lined up by the handful to enter his crypt tucked away in a back corner. Each received a memory card signed by his great-grandchildren, with a photo of a smiling Mussolini holding his gloved hand aloft in the Roman salute. “History will prove me right,” the card reads.

Italy’s failure to fully come to terms with its fascist past has never been more acute than now, as Italy’s new prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, seeks to distance her far-right Brotherhood of Italy party from its neo-fascist roots.

This week she condemned the anti-democratic nature of fascism and called its racial laws, which sent thousands of Italian Jews to Nazi death camps, a “low point”. Historians will also add Mussolini’s alliance with Nazi Germany and Japan in World War II and his disastrous colonial campaign in Africa to the devastating legacy of fascism.

Meloni, now in power, is seeking a moderate course for a new center-right government that includes Matteo Salvini’s League party and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia. But her victory gives far-right activists a sense of vindication.

“I would vote for Lucifer if he could defeat the left,” said organizer Mirco Santarelli, who heads the Ravenna branch of Arditi, an organization that began as a group of World War I veterans and grew into a Mussolini memorial. I am happy that there is a Meloni government because there is nothing worse than the Italian left. It’s not a government that reflects my ideas, but it’s better than nothing.”

He said he wanted Italy’s new government to repeal laws that prosecute incitement to hatred and violence based on race, ethnicity, religion and nationality. Includes the use of emblems and symbols, which were abundant in the Sunday procession.

Santarelli said the law punishes “thought crime.”

“She is being used as castor oil by the left to silence us. If I am asked about my opinion of Mussolini, and it is clear that I speak well of him, I risk being condemned,” Santarelli said.

Lawyer Francesco Minutillo, a far-right activist representing the organizers, said Italy’s High Court had ruled that the demonstrations were allowed as long as they were commemorative “and did not meet criteria that threatened the re-establishment of a fascist party”.

Still, he said, magistrates in recent years have begun investigating similar demonstrations in Predapio and elsewhere to make sure they are not breaking the law. Last week, one such case was dismissed without charges.

To avoid distorting their message, Santarelli asked those present not to speak to reporters. Most did.

The young American, wearing a T-shirt with a hand-drawn swastika inside a heart and the words “Brand New Dream” and a fascist fez, said he timed his European vacation to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the March on Rome so he could participate in the Predappio march. He declined to identify himself except to say he was from New Jersey and complained that there was no fascist group to join at home.

Rachel Massimi traveled with the group four hours from Rome on Sunday to attend the event, bringing her 3-year-old child with her, who watched from a stroller.

“It’s historic,” Massimi said. “It’s a memory.”

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