Archives for the month of: December, 2011

Mourners, Piazza Duomo, December 15, 1969

THE PIAZZA DUOMO was packed. The trade unions had supported this rally. Thousands of Milanese huddled in the cathedral square. The Duomo was overflowing with people. The archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Giovanni Colombo, officiated at the funerals of the 14 victims. Prime minister Mariano Rumor represented the State, while mayor Aldo Aniasi represented the city. Absent from the Piazza del Duomo on the morning of 15 December was a figure of some importance in this affair — not only important but crucial: the unwilling protagonist, Pietro Valpreda.

Pietro Valpreda

Valpreda was a 36 year old Milanese anarchist who, in his younger days, had lived in the Via Civitale in the San Siro district, a few hundred metres from the first marital home of Pinelli and his wife Licia Rognoni. Valpreda lived the typical life of a suburban kid. He had a couple of convictions: in 1956 he had been sentenced to four years in prison by the Milan court of assizes for armed robbery and a second conviction, for smuggling, dating from 1958.

He began taking an interest in political and social issues after his release and devoted himself to reading the works of anarchist thinkers: Mikhail Bakunin, Peter Kropotkin, Errico Malatesta. He also studied modern dance and toured with a few cabaret acts. He had also had the occasional television booking.

In the early 1960s poor circulation forced him to undergo an operation on his legs His involvement with the Milan groups was fitful, but when he was in Milan he usually sought out the anarchists from the Circolo Sacco e Vanzetti at 1, Viale Murillo near the Piazzale Brescia. From May 1968 onwards, he began calling in at the Circolo Ponte della Ghisolfa, the Milanese anarchists’ new premises.

Pietro Valpreda

Valpreda was of average height, agile, ever ready with a witticism spoken in a typical Milanese accent with its slightly rolled ‘r’. Early in 1969, he moved to Rome where he began to frequent the Circolo Bakunin, groups affiliated to the FAI (Italian Anarchist Federation). After falling out with them, he broke away, with Mario Merlino, Roberto Mander, Emilio Borghese, Roberto Gargamelli and Enrico Di Cola to set up the Circolo 22 Marzo at 22, Via del Governo Vecchio. By now his theatre work had dried up and he was to all intents unemployed, so he joined with Ivo Della Savia (who was replaced by Giorgio Spano when Della Savia left the country in mid-October) to open a retail workshop in the Via del Boschetto where he made liberty lamps, jewellery and necklaces. Among the materials he used were coloured glass settings. Curiously, one very similar to them turned up in the bag containing the bomb at the Banca Commerciale. Valpreda had also been in Milan from 7 to 12 December, having left Rome the previous evening to answer a summons from judge Antonio Amati.

Pietro Valpreda

At eight o’clock on 15 December, Valpreda, accompanied by his grandmother Olimpia Torri, went to the chambers of his lawyer Luigi Mariani at 39 Via San Barbara. He was due to report to Amati, the investigating magistrate handling inquiries into the 25 April bomb attacks at the Fair and at Milan’s Central Station. Amati considered himself an expert on anarchists and attentats. Shortly after the Piazza Fontana explosion, he ‘knew’ immediately that it had been a bomb and that that nobody but anarchists could have planted it — and said as much in a telephone call to the investigating officers at Milan police headquarters.

Valpreda made his way to the Palace of Justice with Mariani and Luca Boneschi, another of his lawyers. The two lawyers left him there, arranging to meet after the questioning. Valpreda left his grandmother to wait for him and knocked on the door of Amati’s chambers. This was at 10.35 am. In he went to be greeted by the judge with an exclamation of: “Ah, there you are!” “Yes, I was in Rome so couldn’t come any earlier. You know, I’m a dancer and actor and I have to move around for reasons of work”, Valpreda replied.

Judge Amati cut him off with a flurry of questions: “But who are you anarchists? What do you want? Why this great fondness of yours for blood?” This exchange (real or imagined?) took place in the judge’s chambers, but somebody got wind of it and it was to turn up in the columns of the following day’s Corriere della Sera.

It was Giorgio Zicari, a very particular brand of reporter. At the time, in 1969, he was a secret service informant, but he was not so much an inform-ant as an inform-ee, someone through whom the secret services funnelled news or — rather — confidential whispers.

It was then then minister of Defence, Giulio Andreotti, who lifted the veil on Zicari’s role. In an interview with journalist and erstwhile secretary of PCI leader Palmiro Togliatti Massimo Caprara, published in the weekly Il Mondo on 20 June 1974, Andreotti admitted that Zicari was ‘an unpaid informant for the SID’ and that later he ‘shifted across to the Confidential Affairs Bureau of Public Security.’ (Ufficio Affari Riservati)

Zicari had been in the right place at the right time — as he would be on many subsequent occasions: he had apparently exclusive access to confidential information from police headquarters and the courts.

From his privileged vantage-point, Zicari watched as Valpreda left after being interrogated by Amati at 11.30 am. He watched as Valpreda was led away by two police officers who held him, forcibly, under the arms and took him to a side-room of the court where he was handcuffed and taken to police headquarters.

Valpreda’s grandmother, Olimpia could not understand what was going on. She called out to ‘my Pietro’ but the policemen marched him off to the Via Fatebenefratelli where, after a brief interrogation, he was left on his own in a room. He was then taken to Rome’s police headquarters in the Via San Vitale there where Umberto Improta, a Special Branch inspector (who later went on to become police chief of Milan) was waiting for him, Alfonso Noce, another police officer, police brigadieri Remo Marcelli and Vincenzo Santilli who took the first official statement at 3.30 am. on 16 December.

Prior to that, however, between 2.00 and 3.00 am., Valpreda had gone with the officers to a field adjacent to the Via Tiburtina to search for an explosives dump, but nothing was found.

Valpreda allegedly made the following statement: “As we were going down the Via Tiburtina, before leaving for Rome that last time, we were just about level with the Siderurgia Romana foundry and the Decama works, about two or three hundred metres from the Silver cinema […] when Ivo Della Savia, pointed out a clump of bushes and said : ‘ I have some gear stashed there, not too far from the street at the foot of a shrub that is not too tall’” And he added: “He was not specific as to what he was talking about, but we took the reference to ‘gear’ to mean explosives, detonators and fuses .”

Mario Merlino (then and more recently)

Why did Valpreda make that admission? Simple. Mario Merlino had been the first of the 22 March group to be questioned by the Rome police, but as a witness not as a suspect.

At 1.45 pm. on 13 December Merlino made a statement to this effect: “Concerning the bombings […] I am in a position to state that my friends Emilio Borghese, Roberto Mander and Giorgio Spano spoke to me on separate occasions of the existence in Rome of their cache of weapons and explosives […] Nearly six weeks ago, at the premises of the Circolo Bakunin in the Via  Baccina Spano, talked about attacks in general and told me he had knowledge of facts and details concerning the attacks mounted in Rome …”

When questioned, again as a witness, Merlino (who would later be indicted with Valpreda and the other anarchists from the 22 March Group) said other things that were to condemn his comrades.

He declared: “On 28 November, on the occasion of the national ironworkers’ rally in the Piazza Santa Maria Maggiore, at about 11.00 am., while the  students  who later joined the workers’ march were assembling, Roberto Mander told me he needed explosives as the political situation was developing so quickly and it was time to act. Furthermore, on the 10th or 11th of this month, at around 8,00 pm., in the Via Cavour, after I had mentioned a few things that I had been told by Emilio Borghese, Roberto told me that they did indeed have a dump on the Via Casilina.” A moveable dump, then, that had moved from the Via Tiburtina to the Via Casilina.  Having more to do with bragadaccio than with dynamiting activity, perhaps, Merlino continued: “One or two evenings prior to the encounter with Mander […] at the premises of the anarchist Circolo 22 Marzo, Emilio Borghese told me he had a cache of explosives, detonators and arms in the Via Casilina.  He specifically stated that he had […] a substantial amount of detonators and a smaller quantity of explosives […] I remember he went on to say that he had gone to the dump several days previously in the company of Roberto Mander and Pietro Valpreda, in the latter’s car, and had removed or left […] a quantity of explosives.”

Here is the first contradiction. If Mander had ready access to the famous dump, why did he need explosives? And why had he turned to Mario Merlino? It is a mystery, one that Mander himself, a 17 year old high-school student, the son of an orchestra leader, tried to dispel in a 15 December interview with the police: “On 28 November, the day of the foundry workers’ strike,  I mentioned to Merlino the possibility of bombs being set off to create incidents. That is to say, we discussed if it might help the foundry workers in the event of clashes with the police.

The following week Merlino asked me if it was true that I and Valpreda had an explosives dump in the Via Casilina. I asked Merlino to check where these rumours originated. On that occasion I asked him if there was any chance of his getting hold of explosives for the purposes of carrying out some sort of symbolic action. Over the next few days I put the same request about explosives to Borghese who had told me he did not have any to hand.”

Mander then stated: “I ought to stipulate that when I visited the Via Tiburtina with Ivo Della Savia, where I had been told there was a dump of materials — fuses and detonators I seem to recall —  there were no explosives.”

In a later statement, Mander added: “I believe Valpreda is more an expert in the handling of explosives than I am. For years he has been active in anarchist groups — and he was also implicated in the Milan Fair attacks.  I believe he was involved in other attacks as well.”

The Circolo 22 Marzo members then began pointing the finger at each other. Merlino insisted: “Let me add that today at police headquarters, after I said that the detective had queried the existence of an anarchist explosives cache in the Via Casilina, Mander replied: ‘They know about that then?’ […] Borghese also told me that he had access to other explosives but I don’t know where they were kept.”

Roberto Gargamelli, the 20 year old son of a Banca Nazionale del Lavoro official, refused to be sucked into this police-orchestrated game and at 5.00 am. on 15 December made the following statement:

“During meetings with Valpreda, whether singly or with other comrades, I never heard him speak of explosives. I mean that I never heard Valpreda, Mander or Borghese mention acquiring explosives, nor did I ever hear talk of there being an explosives dump or arsenal in the Via Casilina or the Via Tiburtina where Mander or Borghese supposedly had a cache of such material.”

Mario Merlino posing as an anarchist (1969)

But who was this Merlino character who was so determined to throw suspicion on to his comrades? He was a 25 year-old philosophy graduate, son of a Vatican employee (employed by the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith department).  In 1962, at the age of 18, Merlino had been active in far right groups, especially Stefano Delle Chiaie’s Avanguardia Nazionale. He also had connections with Pino Rauti, the Ordine Nuovo founder who now leads the Movimento Sociale Fiamma Tricolore and with the MSI deputy Giulio Caradonna.

Caradonna, a prominent hard-line Italian fascist, led the 200-odd Giovane Italia (Young Italy) activists (Mario Merlino among them) in the 17 March 1968 fighting with the leftist students squatting in the Faculty of Letters at La Sapienza university in Rome.

Stefano Delle Chiaie

Stefano Delle Chiaie

In April that year Merlino had gone to Greece on a trip sponsored by the ESESI, the league of Greek fascist students in Italy — organised by Pino Rauti and Stefano Delle Chiaie. On his return, Merlino underwent a political conversion. He adopted the dress of the more radical left, grew a beard and moustache and began frequenting groups from the extra-parliamentary left. He launched the Circolo XXII Marzo, which led to the later Circolo 22 Marzo. He distributed leaflets singing the praises of the student revolt in Paris and carried a black flag emblazoned “XXII MARZO” at a demonstration outside the French embassy. By September 1969 he was a member of the Circolo Bakunin in the Via Baccina, where he made no secret of his fascist past, claiming he was an ex-camerata — as well as being an anarchist sympathiser. Within the Circolo Bakunin he associated with those militants who complained the most about its political line and by the end of October he joined with these to launch the Circolo 22 Marzo.

Merlino remains to this day a figure who defies description. Even after they had been arrested and jailed, Valpreda persisted in defending Merlino, arguing that even a fascist had a right to a change of mind and that the climate created by contestation had shattered many of the certainties of members of the far right.

The fact remains that links with the camerati (fascist network) and above all with Delle Chiaie survived his alleged conversion to anarchism. Thus, when he saw the police had him cornered — when his status switched from witness-informant to suspect-under-investigation — Merlino had only one person to turn to for an alibi for the afternoon of 12 December — Stefano Delle Chiaie, a man who would eventually be indicted for perjury.  So much so that in January 1981, in an interview with the weekly L’Europeo, Merlino acknowledged his debt of gratitude to Delle Chiaie:

“He told the truth and even now, 11 years on, he continues to do so […] But that is not the only reason why I hold him in such high regard. In relation to the Bologna bombing, for example, he was the only one with courage enough to say certain things, to own up to his own responsibilities in regard to terrorism, be it red or black. Unlike certain people, like Rauti or Almirante, who engaged in the splitting of hairs, if not trotting along to police headquarters to hand in the membership lists of Terza Posizione.”

Whereas Valpreda showed solidarity with Merlino, he had misgivings about someone that he could not quite identify:

“There was a spy in our ranks […] The police knew our every move and whatever was said at the Circolo”, Valpreda wrote to his lawyer Boneschi on 27 November 1969.

His intuition was correct, but Valpreda did not yet know the identity of the spy who so diligently briefed the police on everything being done by the young anarchists from the ‘22 Marzo’.

Who was it? It was “comrade Andrea”. That was the name by which the anarchists from the Via Governo Vecchio knew him. His real name was Salvatore Ippolito, he was a public security agent given the task of infiltrating the Roman anarchists. Two people — Merlino and Ippolito — therefore were monitoring the tiny group. The former reporting to Delle Chiaie, the latter to his superior officer at police headquarters, commissario Domenico Spinella.

Cornelio Rolandi (the taxi driver who identified Valpreda)

Cornelio Rolandi (the taxi driver who identified Valpreda)

But the ace up the police’s sleeve was neither of them. It was “super-witness” Cornelio Rolandi, a Milan taxi-driver. Rolandi approached the carabinieri and then the police to make a statement. He claimed to have driven the man who planted the bomb in the Piazza Fontana.

Rolandi was taken to Rome, where he arrived at 5.00 pm. on 16 December, and an identification parade was hastily organised. Valpreda was lined up with four policemen (Vincenzo Graziano, Marcello Pucci, Antonino Serrao and Giuseppe Rizzitello). Also present were: Rome prosecutor Vittorio Occorsio (who was to perish on 10 July 1976 at the hands of an Ordine Nuovo commando led by Pierluigi Concutelli and Gianfranco Ferro) and Guido Calvi, Valpreda’s defence counsel.

Judge Vittorio Occorsio (1976)

Prior to the ID parade, Rolandi declared: “The man I am speaking about is 1.70 to 1.75 metres tall, aged about 40, normal build, dark hair, dark eyes, without moustache or beard. I have been shown a photograph by the carabinieri in Milan that I was told must be the person I  should recognise. I was also shown photographs of other people. I have never had this experience before.” Rolandi then picked out Valpreda. Valpreda asked him to look more closely, but Rolandi responded with: “That’s him. And if that isn’t him, then he’s not here.”

It was on the basis of this evidence — the absurdity of which would later be exposed — a monster was created. The press could now crow success: “The terror machine has been cracked.”

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Giuseppe Pinelli and daughters, 1960s.

GIUSEPPE PINELLI had been at home at 6.00 a.m. that 12 December. Home was the apartment at 2, Via Preneste in Milan, in the San Siro district, a strange mixture of mansions, small bungalows with gardens, swimming pools and petit bourgeois condominiums. Pinelli had just come off the night shift where he was a driver in the goods yard at the Porta Garibaldi station. One hour later his wife Licia woke their daughters, Silvia and Claudia, made them breakfast and walked them to school. Then she did some errands before returning home. At around 11.00 a,m., they had a caller whom she disliked — Nino Sottosanti.  Licia was washing the floor. “Go through and I’ll wake him’, she told Sottosanti.  Then she left to collect the girls.

By the time she returned, Pinelli and Sottosanti were discussing the case of Tito Pulsinelli who was in jail with some other young anarchists in connection with the 25 April 1969 bombings at Milan’s Central Railway Station and the Milan Show ground. Pulsinelli was also accused of being the perpetrator of the attack on the Garibaldi police barracks on 19 January 1969.

Nino Sottosanti — 'Nino the Fascist'

Sottosanti was in a position to provide Pulsinelli with an alibi for the night in question. Why? Sottosanti was infatuated with the young Pulsinelli and they had spent the night of the attack together. Pinelli, a founder member of the Croce nera anarchica (Anarchist Black Cross), was obliged, in that capacity, to come into contact with this ambiguous individual whose friends included a number of far-right extremists.

Sottosanti, a former Foreign Legion volunteer, was an admirer of Benito Mussolini and a one-time caretaker at the premises of Nuova Repubblica. At the rallies that were held from time to time in the Piazza Duomo, Sottosanti was known simply as “Nino the fascist” or “Nino the Mussolinian”.

At 2.00. pm., Pinelli and Sottosanti left to change a 15, 000 lire money order for Sottosanti, reimbursing him for his travel expenses. The order was drawn on the Croce nera account with Bureau No 11 at the Banca del Monte in Milan. First they stopped for a coffee at a bar in the Via Morgantini. The pair went their separate ways in the Via Pisanello, where the bank was located. Sottosanti left for Pero where Pulsinelli’s parents lived. According to Lucio Pulsinelli’s statement, he arrived there at 4.30 pm.

Pinelli caught the No 13 to the Porta Garibaldi station where he posted a letter to Paolo Faccioli, another of the anarchists arrested in connection with the 25 April attacks.

Giuseppe Pinelli (1969)

The letter was a simple one, but it says a lot about Pinelli:

“Dear Paolo, this is a belated reply to your letter as I have little time available to write as I would like to do. But, as your mother will have explained to you, we will be keeping in regular contact and up to date on everything.  I hope the situation with the lawyers has been cleared up. I should like you to carry on working, not for the sake of any privileges it might earn, but to keep your mind occupied, hour after endless hour. The time you spend studying will certainly not be enough to fill your day. I have invited the comrades from Trento to keep in touch with those from Bolzano to avert any duplication of activity. Anarchism is not violence — which we reject — but we are loath to be subjected to it either. That is a reasonable and responsible position and the bourgeois press also accepts that. We can only hope that the bench will grasp it as well. No one can fathom the magistrates’ conduct in your case. Since your mother does not want me to send you money, I will send you books, non-political ones as they would only return political ones. Have you read ‘Spoon River Anthology’, a classic of American poetry. As far as other books go, you must let me have the titles. Here, on the outside, we are trying to do our best. Everybody sends you their best wishes, with special best wishes from me and in hope that we shall see each other soon. Yours, Pino.”

At this point a reconstruction of Pinelli’s afternoon becomes complicated. A few patrons of the bar in the Via Preneste — Mario Magni, Mario Pozzi, Luigi Palombino and Mario Stracchi — insist that Pinelli played cards with them from 3.00 to 3.30 until around 5.00 – 5.30, confirming the alibi Pinelli gave to brigadiere Carlo Mainardi, who questioned him.

But the examining magistrate, Gerardo D’Ambrosio, in his findings of 27 October 1975 (the one that cleared all those connected with Pinelli’s death, inventing a new category in world medicine — “active misfortune”) argues that these witnesses are confusing events with the previous day. He focused on the fact that the bar owner, Pietro Gaviorno, refuted their statements and insisted that Pinelli had coffee with a stranger and then left.

D’Ambrosio found a conflict in the timing of Pinelli’s movements, mainly due to the fact “that public security officer Carmine Di Giorgio insisted he was almost certain that he did not play cards that day. “Di Giorgio was another patron of the bar and his “near certainty” carried much more weight than the certainty of the others. D’Ambrosio was able, therefore, to argue that the latter were confused:

“Moreover, it is not insignificant, apropos of the errors concerning the day of the card game, that Pozzi, Palombino and Stracchi were present when Magni was interviewed by reporters. The suggestion which might have flowed from that is evident.”

In any event, after playing cards, or not, Pinelli made his way to the Circolo Ponte della Ghisolfa premises at 31 Piazzale Lugano where he met Ivan Guarnieri, another Croce nera (Anarchist Black Cross) member, and another young anarchist, Paolo Erda. At what time? Sometime between 5.00 and 6.00 p.m.

Pinelli travelled by motorbike, a Benelli, as usual. It was past its best, but it was his pride and joy. He drove to the Circolo in the Via Scaldasole, arriving shortly before 7.00 p.m. This was a recently opened anarchist meeting place in a basement of a crumbling apartment block close to the Porta Ticinese. There was much restoration work yet to be done. Pinelli also wanted to speak to an anarchist recently arrived from Sardinia, Sergio Ardau, whom he knew he would find there.

Before reaching the Circolo, Pinelli, a chain smoker, stopped to buy some cigarettes. It was from the tobacconist that he first heard the news about the Banca dell’Agricoltura.

Circolo Ponte della Ghisolfa (31 Piazzale Lugano, Milan)

Pinelli found Ardau at the Via Scaldasole, but he was not on his own. With him were three police officers led by the deputy head of the Milan political police squad, Dr. Luigi Calabresi.

“Ah, so you’re here too”, said Calabresi to Pinelli. “Come to headquarters. You can follow us on your bike.”

Ardau was escorted to a car by the police. En route, Calabresi told Ardau: “There is a definite anarchist hand in these attacks.” Then he asked after “that criminal nut-case Valpreda,” adding:

“You two are good guys, but you have to face the fact that louche types like this nutcase Valpreda with his gang of youngsters and their criminal hotheadedness force us to take serious steps that may well backfire on you as well. We cannot tolerate any longer that which we tolerated in the past. Remember, 14 people have lost their lives and don’t you or anybody else tell me that it was the fascists. This is an anarchist job, there’s no question about that. You should be helping us to track them down and stop them before they kill again.”

This was the conversation as remembered by Sergio Ardau. Pinelli, meanwhile, was following behind on his motorbike. It would be his penultimate trip. His final journey would be from a fourth floor window of police headquarters in the Via Fatebenefratelli.


, Socorrorso

Inspector Dr. Luigi Calabresi, anarchist specialist of Milan’s Special Branch

‘Horrific massacre in Milan’ ran the headline in the Corriere della Sera’s edition of 13 December. ‘Foul provocation’, screamed the front page of Il Giorno. ‘Massacre in Milan. A terrorist plan for Italy?’ asked La Stampa. ‘Horrific attack leads to awful massacre in Milan. Fits in with fascist provocations and reactionary intrigues’, suggested L’Unità.

But whereas the major newspapers confined themselves to reporting the facts — on the front page at least, and were not yet venturing any hypotheses, except for the PCI newspaper — there were already clear ideas emerging as to the identity of the perpetrators and brains behind the previous day’s massacre.

On the evening of 12 December itself, the prefect of Milan, Libero Mazza, sent Christian Democrat prime minister Mariano Rumor, a telephone message that did not beat about the bush:

“Credible hypothesis that immediate inquiries should focus on anarchoid groups as well as extremist fringe. Following consultation with the judicial authorities, strenuous steps already underway to identify and arrest those responsible.”

The suggestion was plain. And it certainly would not find the officers in charge of the investigation all at sea. Inspector Dr. Luigi Calabresi, deputy head of Special Branch at the Milan Questura (police headquarters), was already targeting leftwing extremists. Motive? Look at the targets: banks and the war monument.

As far as he was concerned they were a dead giveaway. His immediate superior, Antonino Allegra, was even quicker off the mark. The running of the investigation seemed to be following a ready-made script. Indeed, those arrested were primarily anarchists and members of the extra-parliamentary left, with only a few far right activists.

Paolo Finzi, 1970

THAT 12 DECEMBER Paolo Finzi was in bed with a temperature. A touch of ‘flu. Barely 18 years old he was a student at the Giosuè Carducci liceo (high school) in Milan where he was active in the school anarchist group. Another member was Fabio Treves who was to acquire celebrity several years later as a musician and city councillor.

Shortly before midnight there was a knock on the door of the Finzi household. It was the police. Paolo’s anxious parents, Matilde and Ulisse, were told bluntly: “We are taking your son to the Questura because because he a main suspect in the Piazza Fontana massacre.”

Matilde Bassani Finzi was not the sort of woman to shock easily. She was 51 years old and had been an active antifascist since the late 1930s, as a member of Soccorso Rosso (Red Aid) in her native town, Ferrara. From 1943 she played an active role in the resistance in Rome, working with the Bandiera Rossa (Red Flag) groups. She was a woman tempered by her past.

But that night Matilde Bassani worried for Paolo, the youngest of her three children, who had been taken to the fourth floor in the Via Fatebenefratelli, the offices of  Milan’s Special Branch. The premises were crowded with leftwingers, mostly, except for four fascists who were chatting with the police.

Paolo spotted Giuseppe Pinelli. He knew him as one of the ‘old hands’ from Milan’s Ponte Della Ghisolfa anarchist group and founder of the Croce Nera Anarchica (Anarchist Black Cross). But there was another anarchist there, older even than Pinelli and whom Finzi knew as a friend of his parents: Virgilio Galassi.  Galassi had been a militant in the libertarian movement since the war, but by 1969 he was no longer active. Yet he too was among the suspects rounded up. Why?

Meeting of the Ponte della Ghisolfa anarchist group

The reason is as straightforward as it is laughable: he worked for the training section at the Banca Commerciale Italiana, where the unexploded bomb had been discovered. But he didn’t remain long at the Questura and was released after the bank’s president, Raffaele Mattioli, intervened on his behalf.

The hours passed. The prisoners were summoned into another room, one at a time, where they were interviewed.  It was the usual routine.  Alibis were checked, opinions sought on what had happened and one final question:

“Who do you think it was?”

But the question was superfluous; the police had assumed from the start that the bombing was the work of anarchists.

The detainees were then moved downstairs to the holding cells. By the afternoon of 13 December it was all over and nearly everyone released.

But the police continued with their inquiries — or, rather, arresting leftwing militants.  Unlike Paolo Finzi, Fausto Lupetti was not a boy: he was 26 years old, but was in the frame. A member of the Italian Marxist-Leninist Party which a few years earlier had split into two factions, a black (libertarian) and a red (Marxist), Lupetti, a publisher, belonged to the latter.  What is more, this “pro-Chinese” was unusual inasmuch as he lived in a commune in a large apartment in the Via Mosso, off the Via Padova in Milan.

At 6.00 am. on 13 December the members of the commune were wakened by the arrival of the police. Everyone was taken to the station for questioning. Lupetti also saw Pinelli who was probably the best known anarchist ‘face’ in leftist circles in Milan.

“I remember the ground in front of him was strewn with cigarette butts”, recalled Lupetti who was taken later that evening to the San Vittore prison where he remained until 29 December, along with Pasquale Valitutti known as ‘Lello’, a young anarchist, and Andrea Valcarenghi, the leading light of the Onda Verde (Green Wave) group and, from 1971 onwards, the man in charge of the monthly Re Nudo.

On 15 December the front page of the Corriere della Sera carried the splash headline: ‘Twenty seven extremists held in San Vittore. Most are members of neo-anarchist groups tied to international organisations’. The thrust of the article, written by Arnaldo Giuliani, says much about the climate being created at the time:

“At the end of the first forty hours on inquiries, the investigation into the Piazza Fontana massacre can be summed up as follows: 1) so far, upwards of one hundred and fifty suspects drawn from opposing extremes have been arrested; 2) at 8.00 pm. yesterday, 27 youngsters most of them members of anarchoid groups suspected of connections with international anarchist movements were being held in San Vittore.”

The anarchist trail was explored in greater depth in the inside pages. A headline on page five read: ‘Anarchist old hands from the Diana among those rounded up in extremists’ dens’. The author of this report, Enzo Passanisi, profiled the Milan anarchist movement, as if to familiarise readers with the ambience in which the outrage might have been hatched:

“Italian anarchists are gathered together into a federation, the FAI […] But most of  Milan’s anarchists, numbering up to two thousand — with active members and sympathisers — espouse an autonomous line. They consist of circles and groups, only one of which, the Sacco e Vanzetti group whose members are mostly older anarchists, is affiliated to the FAI. The other dozen groups are broken down according to their respective fields of activity.

“For example, the Lega anarchica Milanese (Milan Anarchist League), which is active in the university sector, has members in eight institutions of higher learning. There is also the anarchist trade union. It is worth stressing that the policy line espoused by the movement […]  preaches subversion of society and the seizure of power by the masses directly through popular assemblies and labour communes, eschewing both government and parliament after the example of the Ukrainian Republic set up during the struggle between the Bolsheviks and the  Russian Whites.”

Having described the ‘likely’ perpetrators, Passanini went on to describe the bomb. But not the one in the Piazza Fontana, but the one at the Diana theatre on 23 March 1921.

As an ‘historical precedent’, Passanisi had raised this matter with some anarchists from the Ponte della Ghisolfa.  The answer he got was:

“A mistake. The intention was to strike at the magistrates staying in the hotel adjoining the theatre: the judges who were holding Malatesta in prison without a trial.  Agents provocateurs from the police managed to get the target altered at the last minute and there was a massacre. A massacre that we have always deplored.”

This left the door open for Passanini to comment:

“There is always a margin for error between the attack that is acceptable to the anarchist line and the one that it repudiates. Could there have been a mistake made last Friday too?”

But the  comparison between the bank bombing and the Diana bombing had been made as early as the evening of 12 December by Alberto Grisolia in the Corriere della Sera, the daily newspaper run by Giovanni Spadolini, who was more of an historian than a journalist.

“It’s akin to the Diana”,  Grisolia told Giulio Polotti, class of 1924, the then secretary of the UIL in Milan a socialist deputy. (In the 14 December edition of the Corriere della Sera  Grisolia wrote: “In terms of the seriousness of the attack, the only precedent in Milan is the Diana attack theatre attack […]”.)

Polotti, chairman of the Fondazione Anna Kuliscioff, recalled that Friday afternoon:

“There was a meeting of the three unions at the CISL premises in the Via Tadino to discuss plans for the strike over renewal of contacts. The news of the explosion reached us at around  5.00 pm.,  and so, in my capacity as a deputy, I made my way immediately to the Piazza Fontana to see what had happened. I stepped into the bank concourse and, horror!, trod on the arm of one victim. Then I climbed to the first floor, where the mayor Aldo Aniasi, prefect Libero Mazza, questore Marcello Guida and Cardinal Giovanni Colombo also arrived. By that point it was unmistakable — there had been a bomb. I telephoned Antonio Giolitti in Rome who told me there had also been explosions in the capital. After my telephone call I bumped into Grisolia who spoke to me of the bombings having an historical precedent in the Diana outrage.”

There was a similar atmosphere in Rome. The Corriere della Informazione wrote in its 14 December afternoon edition:

“Extremists of every hue did not sleep undisturbed last night. Throughout the city, police carried out a massive round-up of extremists of every persuasion, individuals involved in movements that have never made any secret of their subversive intentions.”

Further on the author of the article, Fabrizio De Santis, adjusted his aim: “These are clearly people who will shrink from nothing. They seek not only to strike fear into the population and signal their existence as challenging revolutionary elements. They seek to kill.”

The psychological and social climate was in place.  All that was required was a monster to plaster all over the front pages.


MILAN, December 12 1969: Banca Nazionale dell'Agricultura, Piazza Fontanta

The dapper, middle-aged gent who boarded Tram 23 at the Piazza Missori stop did not give the impression of some pop-eyed individual talking to himself, or haranguing the crowd in disjointed sentences. Yet, immediately after paying his 70 lire fare he stared straight ahead and exclaimed: “What was that? A burst boiler — or a bomb?”

A few of the passengers on the tram trundling towards Porta Romana continued either poring over their newspapers or chatting among themselves. Those closest to the middle-aged gent, however, gazed at him, partly stupefied and partly intrigued.  The unsolicited speaker started again: “Coming from the Piazza Fontana, an inferno … there are ambulances, police, carabinieri there … there’s been an explosion at the Banca dell’Agricoltura …”

No one on board the tram, which was, moving away from the centre of Milan, knew anything as yet. The time was a little after five o’clock on the afternoon of another Friday in the run-up to Christmas. But this was no ordinary Friday. This was Friday 12 December 1969 and less than half an hour earlier, at 4.37 pm., a bomb had taken the lives of 14 people (a further two died in hospital) and injured about one hundred. It was a massacre, as the first helpers to reach the scene were to say.

The Piazza Fontana bomb was not the only one. Another device was found close to the Banca Commerciale Italiana in the Piazza della Scala. At 4.25 pm., an employee of the Banca Commerciale, Rodolfo Borroni, spotted a black bag abandoned near the entrance to a lift and picked it up in the belief that it belonged to some absent-minded customer. The bag was heavy. Borroni opened it, together with some colleagues, and discovered a metal box inside, a rectangular plastic envelope and a black disc with graduated markings from 0 to 60.

Nothing else. Someone suggested it could be a bomb. Brigadiere Vincenzo Ferrettino took the bomb into the court-yard and placed on the ground. It was a crucial piece of evidence, but four hours later, at 9.00 pm, Teonesto Cerri, engineer and ballistic expert, attached a TNT charge to the lock and blew the bag up.

Guido Bizzarri, an army NCO and bomb-disposal officer with more than forty years of experience behind him would later tell reporters: “I would have defused it, but nobody asked me to. There was more danger in blowing it up than in opening it.”

This was one of the first mysteries of that 12 December, one which was quickly followed by another. Almost two months later, on 7 February 1970, it emerged that in the bag containing the bomb there was a piece of coloured glass that the Milan police forwarded to the Criminalpol in Rome for forensic examination. Analysis showed the glass was similar to that used in Pietro Valpreda’s workshop in Rome where he manufactured liberty lamps. Valpreda was a Milanese anarchist who had recently moved to the capital.

Milan, 12 December 1969: Banca dell’Agricoltura Piazza Fontana

The sequence of explosions on that incandescent day ended in Rome. Between 4.40 pm. and 4.55 pm, in an underground corridor at the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro in the Via Veneto, an explosion  injured 14 of the bank’s staff. Within the space of ten minutes, after 5.20 pm., two less powerful devices exploded at the National War Monument in the Piazza Venezia. This time only four people were injured — one carabiniere and three passers-by.

And so ended that day of massacre. Radio and television broadcast their first reports while newspaper sub editors decided on the banner headlines for the following day’s editions.