“THEY’VE THROWN Pinelli from a window at police headquarters. Let’s demonstrate in the Via Fatebenefratelli and have ourselves arrested. They’ll have to push us all out of a window to silence us”, Amedeo Bertolo told Luciano Lanza (the author) in pained but excited tones over the phone. That was shortly after 7.00 a.m. on 16 December. The grapevine was set in motion. Everybody was alerted. I was stunned, but I threw on some clothes and was out of the house within minutes.
I lived in the Porta Venezia area so I cut through the public gardens into the Piazza Cavour and made my way on foot towards police headquarters in the Via Fatebenefratelli. There were no anarchists to be seen yet.
I waited. The minutes dragged by. Nobody.
Then I realised that a few people, almost certainly plain-clothes police officers, were staring at me. I tried to appear unfazed, although it was not easy. I waited.
After nearly an hour, although it seemed like hours, I saw Enrico Maltini from the Ponte della Ghisolfa group arrive. We waited for the others so we could all go inside together and surrender ourselves to the police. Our intention being to make a political issue out of it, but nobody else had shown up.
We were beginning to feel uneasy. The police had all but surrounded us. “Let’s make a phone call”, Maltini suggested. He rang Bertolo, whose wife, Antonella, answered and all but shrieked at us: “They arrested him on the stairs”. That immediately sparked a round of phone calls to the others.
The outcome was always the same. They had all been arrested. At this point Maltini and I realised we were virtually the only Ponte della Ghisolfa members still at large. We conferred briefly about what to do. Maltini, who was also a member of the Croce nera anarchica (Anarchist Black Cross), suggested: “Let’s see Boneschi.”
When we arrived at Boneschi’s chambers, one of the lawyers acting for the anarchists, we found him at his desk. His were modern chambers, with white upholstered furniture — but Boneschi’s face was whiter still. Eyes circled in black were the only signs of life. He saw us and could not help but make a gesture of bewilderment: “But how on earth are you still at large? Clear off out of here … they’re rounding everybody up here.”
But the lawyer was mistaken and by the early hours of that afternoon nearly all the detainees had been released. While he was being held at the local police station in San Siro, Amedeo Bertolo heard one police officer call out cheerfully: “A dog has died. One dog less to worry about”. It was a reference to Pinelli. Not that the other detainees received any better treatment — their alibis were checked out and there were threats and bullying. But in the end all were released.
And so another flurry of phone calls called the anarchists to meet at Conca del Naviglio, near the Circolo in the Via Scaldasole.
The first act was to issue a press statement. Bertolo sat on a bench and scribbled a short text that closed with a message of defiance: “For every anarchist that falls, ten will take his place. No pasarán!” (the slogan used by Spanish antifascists during the civil war against the mutinous generals.)
At that point another anarchist arrived: “The students are holding a rally at the State University to decide on their response to Pinelli’s death.” One of those present undertook to deliver the press statement to the ANSA agency (it was ignored by every newspaper) while the others decided to move on to the State University. But when they arrived there was a surprise waiting for them: the students had already assembled for a meeting — to discuss study plans, not repression or Pinelli’s death. One of the student leaders, Andrea Banfi, told the dumbfounded anarchists that the gathering was about to break up and that they could address it, if they wished.
Nearly an hour later, I took the floor. I read out our statement and stressed the gravity of the situation. Moves were afoot to trigger a backlash that would damage the most radical trade union movement and the revolutionary left. Suddenly, Banfi, Salvatore Toscano and Popi Saracino, three student leaders, intervened. Later they claimed to have been the first to waken up to the “fascist danger”.
The following day, 17 December, the anarchists from the Ponte della Ghisolfa held a press conference on their own premises. A few reporters showed up, including Enzo Passanisi from the Corriere della Sera and Pier Maria Paoletti from Il Giorno. The anarchists defended themselves by launching an attack: “Pinelli was killed, Valpreda is innocent and the massacre is the State’s doing.”
It was at this press conference the phrase “state massacre” was coined, a slogan that was to become a watchword of demonstrations and counter-information efforts and would provide the title for a famous book about the Piazza Fontana events. Next day the Corriere della Sera carried the banner headline: ‘Ranting press conference at the Circolo Ponte della Ghisolfa. No recriminations between the anarchists.’
Passanisi’s article exemplified the way the Italian press dealt with the Piazza Fontana massacre in the immediate wake of Pinelli’s death. He wrote: “Terrifying police machination designed to rescue the system, is the watchword. Anarchists are being blamed in order to cover for the fascists. Valpreda? Never did anyone any harm, aside from a few youthful peccadilloes like armed robbery and laughable thievery.”
“Pinelli? Given that he had no reason to kill himself, it could only have been the police, directly or indirectly, materially or psychologically. A diabolical machination in fact which the youngsters from the Piazzale Lugano counter with their own truth, argued with a Fidel-like conviction from which they are not in the least disposed to back off. “
“Were the massacre and the contemporaneous attentats errors or not? A grand strategy, a grand international strategy and, obviously, a fascist one.” “The youngsters from the Circle, reeling from the shock of the past few days, do not realise that they have overstepped the mark somewhat in this counter-accusation gambit.” “Between the attacks on 25 April, in August and last Friday, there is a connection: a logical continuity the underside of which is a government and police conspiracy targeting the anarchists. The dead of the Piazza Fontana are to be chalked up to the ‘sixth sense’ of the police that jails innocents and leaves the guilty parties operating, undisturbed, ‘beyond the law’. Guilty parties for whom the Ministry of the Interior covers up but into whom inquiries should be mounted.” Passanisi closed with the sarcastic comment: “But left us sleep easy in our beds. These young anarchists mean to rescue Italy from fascism.”