‘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.
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?
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.