Francesco Restivo (1911-1976): Christian Democrat MP, President of the Regional Council of Sicily (1949-1955), and Minister of the Interior (1968 1972)

Two of the protagonists in our tale, Ordine Nuovo and Avanguardia Nazionale, were important and leading players.  Why? According to the most recent evidence it was members of these organisations that carried out the outrages in Milan and Rome on 12 December 1969. But they were not merely the operatives of terror. The relationship between the executors and the masterminds was more complicated than that. It was not a simple case of “Take this bomb and go and blow the thing to kingdom come”. There was a web of complicities, promptings, assistance and mutual blackmail that added up to some of the most poisonous pages in Italian history. A history that witnessed the Interior Ministry itself, in the shape of the man in charge at the ministry, Franco Restivo and many of his successors, especially Federico Umberto D’Amato, head of the Confidential Affairs Bureau (disbanded in 1978) as puppet-masters of the strategy of tension.

Federico Umberto D'Amato (Bureau of Reserved Affairs, Ministry of the Interior)

The bottom dropped out D’Amato’s world (who died on 1 August 1996) when, at the end of that year, 150,000 or so uncatalogued files (from which some of the most compromising documents may well have been removed) were discovered in a villa in the Via Appia on the outskirts of Rome — and not just documents either.  There was, for example, the dial of the timer used in the 9 August 1969 bombing of the Pescara-Rome train (the one carried out by Franco Freda himself).

Aldo Gianulli

This documentation, uncovered on 4 October 1996, after D’Amato’s demise, by Aldo Giannuli, an expert appointed by Judge Salvini, added up to an alternative record of the goings-on at the Viminale Palace. They contained information on many of the stories bound up with domestic espionage activity.  It was a secret archive that had never been shredded, simply deposited higgledy-piggledy in a dump— perhaps for possible future use.

At this point we need to go back forty years or so when, in 1956, Giuseppe Rauti, known as Pino, began to display signs of intolerance towards the “petit bourgeois and legalitarian” policy of Arturo Michelini, the secretary of his party, the Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI).  Michelini had been elected supreme leader of the Italian neofascists in 1954 and was regarded as too soft in the parliamentary confrontations between the Christian Democratic right and the “hard-liners” from Giorgio Almirante’s faction.

Giorgio Almirante (left) and Pino Rauti (right) in 1956

Rauti was one of the hardest of hard-liners. He broke away from the MSI to set up the Ordine Nuovo study centre with Clemente Graziani, Paolo Signorelli, Stefano Serpieri and Stefano Delle Chiaie. In the autumn of 1969, when Giorgio Almirante became secretary of the MSI, Rauti returned to the party and dissolved the study centre.  This was only a formality as the Ordine Nuovo groups and organisation continued operating for several more years.

In 1958 Delle Chiaie began to cut loose from Rauti’s apron strings and in 1960 this led to his launching Avanguardia Nazionale. This latter organisation was formally disbanded in 1966 to allow many of its members to rejoin the MSI, but in 1968 Delle Chiaie formally refloated the never disbanded organisation.

Julius Evola

Ordine Nuovo and Avanguardia Nazionale were substantially the same ideologically. Their main theoretical reference point was the philosopher Julius Evola, whom Rauti had known in the later 1940s. Their programmes were based on the struggle against communism and capitalism and in support of a corporatist State, following the model of the 28 August 1919 revolutionary nationalist programme of the Fasci di Combattimento established in the Piazza San Sepolcro in Milan on 23 March 1919. That programme had been refined (in its presentation at least) by the Salò Republic (the volunteers of which had included the then 17 year old Rauti). The fight was also directed against the parliamentary system and all forms of democracy, in order to bring about an aristocratic and organic State, borrowing the ideas of Nazi Germany. The ultimate goal was a New European Order.

In practice, both organisations shared Italian territory: Ordine Nuovo’s groups were located primarily in the North, whereas those of Avanguardia Nazionale were based mainly in Rome and the South.

Carlo Maria Maggi

By the spring of 1969 they began to operate jointly. The Venetian leadership of Ordine Nuovo met the Rome-based leaders of Avanguardia Nazionale on 18 April 1969 in Padua, in the home of Ivano Toniolo, one of Freda’s most loyal lieutenants. With the blessing of Carlo Maria Maggi, the boss of Ordine Nuovo in the Triveneto area and of the national leadership, Signorelli and Rauti. From then on the two organisations were to operate in concert with each other, at least in large-scale operations. On 25 April the bombs exploded in Milan (at the Fair and at Central Station).

An operational axis had been formed stretching from Venice through Padua to Milan, down to the capital and as far as Reggio Calabria. And the personnel? Venice was represented by Delfo Zorzi, Martino Siciliano, Giancarlo Vianello (who infiltrated Lotta Continua in 1970, fell in love with a member of that group and eventually parted company with his fascist colleagues), Paolo Molin and Piercarlo Montagner — with “technical” backup from Carlo Digilio.

In Padua, under Freda’s leadership, there were Giovanni Ventura, Massimiliano Fachini and Marco Pozzan. Giancarlo Rognoni was the acknowledged leader of the La Fenice group in Milan. In Rome, Delle Chiaie presided over Avanguardia Nazionale, while in Reggio Calabria its bulwark was the Marchese Felice Genoese Zerbi who could call on a sizable band of determined militants such as Carmine Dominici, Giuseppe Schirinzi and Aldo Pardo.

These were characters with chequered pasts. Freda and Ventura were eventually to be convicted of 17 attacks mounted between 15 April and 9 August 1969 (including the bombings in Milan on 25 April and the train bombings on 9 April). Rognoni was spared 23 years in prison by going on the run, primarily to Spain, and was in fact sentenced in his absence for an attack mounted by his lieutenant, Nico Azzi.

Nico Azzi (the Turin-Rome train bomber)

On 7 April 1973 a bomb exploded in a toilet on the Turin-Rome train, but the bomber, Azzi, however, did not get away unscathed. The device had exploded while he was handling it — or rather it went off between his legs. He was injured, arrested, tried and sentenced to 20 years. Two other La Fenice members — Mauro Marzorati and Francisco De Min — ended up in jail with him.

Paulo Signorelli

The attack, planned in the presence of Ordine Nuovo ideologue Paolo Signorelli, was intended to distract the Milan magistrates’ inquiries into the Piazza Fontana bombing — and as a focus for a maggioranza silenziosa (silent majority) demonstration planned for Milan on 12 April. Following the bombing someone was to have made a telephone call claiming responsibility on behalf of a leftwing organisation.

A strong character, tough, quick to use his fists, his face frequently marked by wounds, he was not impressed by the sight of blood and inflicted punishments personally on errant colleagues. But at the same time he was introverted and fascinated with both Buddhism and Evola’s ideas. This was how Siciliano described his leader, Zorzi. This was the man who would confess on at least two occasions that he had had a hand in the 12 December 1969 bombing in Milan.

On 31 December 1969, Zorzi, Siciliano and Vianello were celebrating New Year’s Eve with a visit to prostitutes in the Corso del Popolo in Mestre. “This was a cameratesca (comradely) practice linked to the fascist notion of virility”, Siciliano noted. They then went to Vianello’s home for a meal, a drink and to sing fascist songs.  The conversation then turned to the bombings of a few days earlier.

Delfo Zorzi (1969)

Siciliano told Judge Salvini on 8 June 1996: “Zorzi reminded us that according to our greatest theorists even blood can serve as a trigger for a national revolution which, launched in Italy, could be the salvation of Europe by rescuing it from communism. He picked up on the line that had already been given out in Padua — that the common people, stricken and defenceless, would clamour for a strong State, especially since the strategy anticipated that such serious incidents would be laid at the door of the far left.”

According to Siciliano, Zorzi’s closing remarks were: “He gave us clearly to understand that the anarchists had had no hand or part in anything and that they had been used as scapegoats simply because of their history — that sort of charge levelled against them was believable — and that in reality the Milan and Rome attacks had even thought up and commissioned at the highest levels and actually carried out by the Triveneto Ordine Nuovo.”

In January 1996 Digilio told Judge Salvini what Zorzi told him in Mestre in 1973: “Listen, I was personally involved in the operation to plant the bomb at the Banca Nazionale dell’Agricoltura”. And, Digilio continued: “That was what he said, word for word and I remember it well, not least because of the seriousness of the words. Zorzi never mentioned those killed in the bombing but he did use the term ‘operation’ as if it had been a war-time operation.”

At this point Zorzi explained to Digilio: “I dealt with things personally and it was no easy undertaking. I had help from the son of a bank director.”

Delfo Zorzi (now)

Zorzi moved to Japan after Judges Giancarlo Stizin Treviso, Pietro Calogero in Padua, Gerardo D’Ambrosio and Emilio Alessandrini in Milan began chasing up the fascist trail in connection with the Piazza Fontana outrage.

In Tokyo, where he now lives, having married a Japanese woman by whom he has had a daughter, Zorzi runs an import-export firm which has made him a (lire) multi-millionaire; so much so that in 1993 he was able to make Maurizio Gucci a loan of 30,000 million lire — a fortune some suspect he amassed thanks to the protection of the Yakuza, the Japanese Mafia, and of the Italian and US secret services.  His Italian defence counsel is Gaetano Pecorella who denies his client had any involvement in the Piazza Fontana carnage. This is the same Pecorella who in the 1970s concentrated on defending leftwing activists before switching in the 1990s to a mixture of clients ranging from Zorzi to Ovidio Bompressi, the former Lotta Continua member sentenced to 22 years for the murder of Inspector Luigi Calabresi.

“I was in Naples attending the oriental university, in which I enrolled in 1968”, Zorzi stated apropos of 12 December 1969 in an interview carried by Il Giornale on 14 November 1995. That alibi has yet to be confirmed.

Another name, another fugitive. At the time he was being questioned by Judge Salvini, Digilio already had one ten year sentenced passed against him in his absence. In 1983 while a clerk at the Venice firing range, Digilio had been arrested for unlawful possession of ammunition. Although he had been freed after a few days, he realised other more serious charges could follow so he fled to an isolated house in Villa d’Adda in Bergamo province, moving on to Santo Domingo in 1985, on forged papers. He was arrested by Interpol in the autumn of 1992 and returned to Italy to serve his sentence: for resurrecting Ordine Nuovo, possession of detonators, dealing in weapons, possession of machinery for repairing and converting weapons and for forging documents.

Then we have the most famous fugitive of all: Delle Chiaie, known in Rome as “il caccola” (“the little man”) before he was re-dubbed “the black primrose”. During questioning at the Palace of Justice in Rome, he asked to use the toilet and vanished. That was on 9 July 1970.

Even though he was seen in the capital for several months thereafter the police never managed to recapture him.

After the failure of the coup, Delle Chiaie moved to Madrid where he could count on protection from the leading lights of Francoism, but in February 1977, by which time the Franco regime was no more, Delle Chiaie moved to the greater safety of Latin America.

On his return to Italy he refused to discuss this, even though Giorgio Pisanò, publisher of the fascist weekly Il Candido, sent him a clear message through his newspaper column. In an open letter published on 9 January 1975, Pisanò wrote: “Stay where you are and keep silent. If you return there are many things you need to explain: the arms dealing; the disappearance of funds entrusted to your care, your connections with Mario Merlino, or indeed your dealings with the Ministry of the Interior’s Confidential Affairs Bureau.” Delle Chiaie kept on the run — through Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay and Chile.

He adopted a new identity, calling himself Alfredo Di Stefano, but in 1987 he was arrested in Caracas and his 17 years as a fugitive from justice was brought to an end.

An international warrant had been issued for his arrest. On what charges? The Italicus bombing, theft, conspiracy to subvert, aiding and abetting the Piazza Fontana massacre, membership of an armed gang. He went on trial in October 1987 with Massimiliano Fachini before the Court of Assizes in Catanzaro (the last trials relating to the Piazza Fontana incident). On 20 February 1989, both men were cleared on all counts after 90 court sittings, a finding that was confirmed on appeal on 5 July 1991.

Catanzaro Trial

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Pino Rauti (Founder of Ordine Nuevo) - click for more information

THE FACT THAT from the mid-1960 onwards fascists and Nazis stepped up their efforts to obtain arms and explosives was no casual matter.  The strategy of tension theory was being elaborated— and elaborated openly. In Rome from 3 to 5 April 1965 leading exponents of the right gathered in the Parco dei Principi hotel for a symposium on “Revolutionary Warfare”, organised by the Alberto Pollio Institute of Military History.

Prominent figures who attended included Ordine Nuovo founder, Pino Rauti; Guido Giannettini, journalist and SID agent; and Edgardo Beltrametti and Enrico De Boccard, two journalists who went on to set up the Nuclei di Difesa dello Stato (State Defence Nuclei). Twenty or so students had also been invited. Among these were two whose names would crop up over and over again throughout those years: Stefano Delle Chiaie (the head of Avanguardia Nazionale) and his pupil, Mario Merlino. [See La Storia Siamo Noi – L’inchiesta su Ordine Nuovo – Piazza Fontana]

Guido Giannettini with Franco Freda (at the Catanzaro Piazza Fontana bomb trial)

While Rauti and Giannettini’s contributions drew applause, it was the university lecturer and Orientalist, Pio Filippani Ronconi, a cryptographer with the Defence Ministry and the SID who electrified the audience. The papers read at the symposium were published later that year as La guerra rivoluzionaria by the Gioacchino Volpe publishing house. The book enjoyed what was essentially a “militant” readership among the various far right groups. For instance, Paolo Molin from took a copy to show to Ordine Nuovo activists in Venice, including the members of the cell run by Delfo Zorzi.

Pio Filippani Ronconi

The topic of the Parco dei Principe symposium was the appropriate short-term strategy to be adopted in the face of perceived communist advances and to keep Italy within the western orbit. In his paper “Hypothesis for a Revolution”, Filippani Ronconi suggested a security organisation structured on various levels — operational as well as hierarchical. The grassroots would be professionals — teachers and small industrialists — people capable of carrying out only wholly passive and non-risky activities, but the sort of people in a position to boycott communist promoted initiatives.

The next level consisted of people capable of “bringing pressure to bear” through lawful demonstrations: these were people who would rally to the defence of the State and of the laws.

At the third, more skilled and professionally specialised level” Filippani Ronconi argued, “would be the very select and hand-picked units (set up anonymously and immediately) trained to carry out counter-terror and possible ‘upsets’ at times of crisis to bring about a different realignment of forces in power. These units, each unknown to each other, but coordinated by a leadership committee, could be recruited, partly, from among those youngsters who were currently squandering their energies to no effect in noble demonstrative ventures.”

With regard to the senior level of the organisation, Ronconi added: “A Council should be established above these levels on a ‘vertical’ basis to coordinate activities as part of an all-out war against subversion by communists and their allies. These represent the nightmare which looms over the modern world and prevents its natural development.”

Texts on the threat of communism were nothing new, but here was something that was qualitatively new — and it was not just a theoretical essay. The organisation outlined by Filippani Ronconi was already being set up and would shortly become operational.

In 1966 2,000 or so army officers received a leaflet through the post from the Nuclei di Difesa dello Stato. Its authors aimed to play on the servicemen’s pride: “Officers! The perilous state of Italian politics demands your decisive intervention. The task of eliminating the infection before it becomes deadly is one for the Armed Forces. There is no time to lose: delay and inertia represents cowardice. To suffer the vulgar rabble who would govern us would be tantamount to kowtowing to subversion and a betrayal of the State. Loyal servicemen of considerable prestige have already formed the Nuclei di Difesa dello Stato within the Armed Forces. You too should join the NDS. Either you join the victorious struggle against subversion or subversion will raise its gallows for you. In which case it will be the just deserts of traitors.”

Nuclei di Difesa dello Stato

The authors and distributors of this leaflet were Franco Freda and Giovanni Ventura, two of the main protagonists of the outrages.

Another individual of some note in this tale appeared on the scene at this time: Guido Lorenzon who was an officer on the establishment of the base in Aviano at the time and who was among those who received the leaflet. He mentioned it to his friend Ventura and — surprise, surprise — Ventura admitted that he was one of the authors of the document. He would eventually be convicted with Freda in 1987 of incitement to crime.

Gladio emblem

Along with the Freda and Ventura, someone else was working to set up the Nuclei di Difesa dello Stato network — which shadowed the better known, but more dangerous ‘stay-behind’ secret army organisation, Gladio.

After a refresher course with the Third Army Corps in Milan in the autumn and winter of 1966-1967, Major (now colonel) Amos Spiazzi, in charge of the army’s I (Intelligence) Bureau in Verona was tasked by his superiors “individually and by word of mouth” to shadow Gladio’s structure in his home city. As Spiazza told Guido Salvini on 2 June 1994: “I was also informed that, on a region by region basis and province by province, personnel with similar characteristics needed to be recruited, in units as water-tight as possible and trained in three man teams […] using the services of instructors from the local units […] These Nuclei adopted the designation of Legions […]. In this way I set up the Fifth Legion with 50 hand-picked people “.

Spiazza, who had been front-page news in 1974 over his involvement with the Rosa dei Venti subversive network, continued: “At meetings […] there was pressure for ever closer collaboration with the Corps, with existing political associations such as the Friends of the Armed Forces, the Pollio Institute, Combattentismo attivo, in order to bind our efforts into active endeavour to defend, support and make propaganda on behalf of the Armed Forces and the values for which they stand.”

Spiazzi’s involvement was not limited to training: he organised conferences and debates, contributed to the journal of General Francesco Nardella‘s Movimento di Opinione Publica (Nardello was a member of Licio Gelli’s P2) and was in touch with Adamo Degli Occhi, a Milan lawyer who led the demonstrations of the alleged Maggioranza Silenziosa (Silent Majority), and with Junio Valerio Borghese’s National Front (Borghese had been commander of the Decima MAS and had defected to the Salò Republic in 1943).

He stated: “Every single thing I did outside the service within the context of these activities was known to my I Bureau superiors.”

From the Veneto region to Lombardy, and, more precisely, to the Valtellina, Carlo Fumagalli was a mythic figure as far as his men were concerned.  As a commander during the resistance, he had headed a non-aligned unit, I Gufi, made up of “white” partisans. His group had worked closely with the American wartime clandestine service, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS, later the CIA), for which he received the Bronze Star at the end of the war. Fumagelli maintained his links with the American intelligence services and at the end of the 1960s he was ready to help influence the Italian political system towards a presidential structure with an even more emphatically pro-NATO stance.

Fumagalli had set up the Movimento di Azione Rivoluzionaria (MAR) and to provide cover for its illegal activities, he ran a garage, which specialised in off-the-road vehicles and associated activities. He wholeheartedly adopted the strategy of provocation through attacks intended to be blamed on the left, but the coup d’état for which he yearned had none of the pro-Nazi connotations of his “allies”. Not that this stopped him from mounting spectacular operations.

A fire started in the Pirelli-Bicocca tarpaulin depot in the Viale Sarca took ten hours to burn out. The damage was estimated at a thousand million lire at the time. During the fire a 30-year-old worker, Gianfranco Carminati, lost his life. Years later Gaetano Orlando, the man regarded as the MAR’s ideologue admitted: “The MAR group’s plan was that the attack should be put down to the Red Brigades which were on the rise at the time”.

I remember the Pirelli attacks at the beginning of 1971 and can confirm that our organisation had nothing to do with big fire at the Pirelli-Bicocca tarpaulin depot” was the claim made on 23 July 1991 by Roberto Franceschini, the then leader of the Red Brigades in Milan, who has since severed all ties with terrorism.

Exactly one month earlier, on 7 December 1970, a number of armed columns led by Prince Borghese from the Fronte Nazionale entered Rome. Among the main financial backers of the operation were Remo Orlandi, a Rome builder and Borghese’s right hand man, and Attilio Lercari, from Genoa, the administrator with Piaggio. The objective was to seize the main political headquarters, the RAI TV station and the airport, while Stefano Delle Chiaie’s men (Avanguardia Nazionale [AN] — personnel) were to seize control of the operations centre at the Interior Ministry.  The ministry would be handed over to the carabinieri while the AN people rounded up political opponents for internment on the Aeolian Islands. Ships provided by Genoa shipping magnate Cameli were on stand-by to transport them.

It was a classic coup d’état. But something went awry, or somebody backed out. After a frantic round of phone calls the would-be coup-makers pulled out of Rome.  Roberto Palotto and Saverio Ghiacci who, with other Avanguardia Nazionale militants, had succeeded in getting inside the Interior Ministry (with the help of Salvatore Drago, the duty physician at the ministry and P2 member), had to evacuate the building at speed. But the coup attempt was not confined to the capital.

The Major told us to wear civilian clothes and maintain a state of readiness”, remembered Enzo Ferro one of Spiazza’s junior officers doing his army service in the Montorio barracks in Verona in December 1970. “We were due to be brought to the Porta Bra district in Verona, to the premises of the Associazione mutilati e invalidi di guerra, where the Movimento di Opinione Pubblica bulletin was published. […] We were told that we were to step in and could not back out and that, on reaching the muster-point, we would be armed and taken into the area where we would be providing back up for the coup d’état. Every civilian and military cell would be involved. But Major Spiazzi told us in person around 1.30am that orders standing-down the operation had been received from Milan.”

In Venice too […] on the night of 7 December, arrangements had been made for people to muster at specific points. Muster they did, but shortly after that the stand-down orders arrived, much to the disappointment of all those present […] The rendezvous point was the Naval Dockyard — that is the area outside the Naval Command. In connection with these initiatives I reported regularly to Verona (to the FTASE NATO Intelligence Service), which I then briefed on various developments” explained Carlo Digilio, who was linked with the Venice Ordine Nuovo group and had been a CIA asset since 1967. The agent to whom Digilio reported was Sergio Minetto, head of the CIA network in the Triveneto area. Minetto, of course, denied his part in the affair. The FTASE to which Digilio alludes was the general command of the Atlantic Alliance in Southern Europe.

In Reggio Calabria,” recalled Carmine Dominici, a member of Avanguardia Nazionale — led in that city by the Marchese Felice Genoese Zerbi — “we were all mobilised and ready to do our bit. Zerbi said he had been given carabinieri uniforms and that we would be going on patrol with them, also in connection with the drive to arrest political opponents named on certain lists which had been drawn up. We remained in a state of readiness almost until 2.00 am. but then we were all told to go home.”

Other evidence, again collected by Judge Salvini, revealed that in many places around Italy, servicemen, civilians and carabinieri were on stand-by to act in support of the coup d’état in Rome.

The man who called a halt to the operation was in fact its mastermind, Licio Gelli who was also to have supervised the kidnapping of Giuseppe Saragat, Italy’s president. Gelli was later to exploit the involvement in the coup of a number of high-ranking officers for his own blackmail purposes and long-term intrigues.

[NB – Borghese’s plot was closely modelled on the 1964 Plan Solo coup — which was to conclude with the assasination of prime minister Aldo Moro — planned by carabinieri general Giovanni De Lorenzo]

But the verdicts handed down in November 1978, November 1984 and finally by the Court of Cassation in March 1986 cleared the conspirators of all charges. As for Gelli and the conspiratorial activity of the members of lodge P2 over many years, a definitive ruling from the Court of Cassation on 21 November 1996 found that Gelli should be sentenced to — but not serve— 8 years, solely for the offence of procuring sensitive intelligence, thereby closing the case begun in 1981, when the Guardia di Finanza discovered a list of 962 names of P2 lodge members in Gelli’s home, the Villa Wanda, in Castiglion Fibocchi.

That investigation had been taken from Milan magistrates Gherardo Colombo and Giuliano Turone and transferred to Rome.  The prosecutors in the capital had done their duty and stymied the investigation.

The Night of the Republic


Delfo Zorzi (head of Ordine Nuevo in Mestre)

Mestre, June 1968. Early that month a rash of fly-posted bills appeared singing the praises of Mao Tse Tung. Car-owners found their vehicles daubed with slogans extolling the leadership of the Chinese chairman. An act of daring by Venetian Maoists? No. The perpetrators were three young activists from the city’s neo-Nazi Ordine Nuovo group: Delfo Zorzi, Paolo Molin and Martino Siciliano. Siciliano was the one who confessed to the provocations on 6 October 1995 to M Guido Salvini, the Milan magistrate who investigated the Piazza Fontana outrage from 1989 to 1997: ‘we did the graffiti on vehicles parked in the area in order to annoy the residents and take the provocation as far as it would go.’

On 15 May 1969, seven members of the fascist group Giovane Italia were arrested in Palermo charged with attacks that had taken place between April and the day before their arrest. They had attacked the Regina Pacis church, the carabinieri stations in Castellammare and Pretoris, the recruit training barracks and Ucciardone prison. In Legnano, on 15 September 1969, 26-year-old Ettore Alzati, a travelling salesman, and 19-year-old Ermanno Carensuola, a haulage firm employee, were arrested. They confessed to throwing a petrol bomb at the entrance to a club where an Avanti! festival was taking place. But the arson attempt failed as the bottle smashed without exploding. They then tried to set fire to posters advertising the event, but with the same disappointing outcome. Before leaving, and now weaponless apart from some paint, they daubed a huge circled A on a wall.

They stood outside the Club Turati and daubed ‘Long live Mao’ on the wall. Alzati and Carensuola were rightwing extremists, members of the Legnano branch of the MSI.

Three instances from among so many that prompt the question: what was happening? Had even fascists and Nazis been touched by the events of May 1968 in France? What were the origins of these strange groups who described themselves as Nazi-Maoists? Why were rightwing extremists mounting attacks and trying to blame the anarchists? Was this spontaneity or part of some plan?

Croce Nera Anarchica members in Milan, Giuseppe Pinelli for one, favoured the latter explanation. In the first issue of the Anarchist Black Cross Bulletin, published in June 1969, they wrote apropos of the Palermo incidents: ‘Emotionally disturbed though the neo-fascists may be, we are not so naive as to believe in seven of them going ga-ga at the same time. Plainly, their actions were part of some plan.’

The bulletin’s editors explored their hypothesis: ‘For fascists to strike at “anarchist” targets is explicable only if the objective is 1) to whip up a panic about subversive attacks in order to justify a police crackdown and a tightening-up by the authorities, 2) to bring anarchists (and, by extension, the Left) into disrepute.

It is an essential part of the first of these purposes and would suit the second, that some innocent person be injured or, better still (if more dangerously) killed.’  The article ended with a prophecy. ‘What has happened in Palermo bears out what we said immediately after the 25 April attacks in Milan (at the Fair and the railway station): the attackers do not come from our ranks. And the police’s insistence in arresting and detaining anarchists gives rise to grave suspicions.’

After the train bombings on 9 August, the Croce Nera bulletin (No 2, August 1969), stated: ‘Where there is an authoritarian regime in place, in the lead-up to the advent of some important statesman, special checks are carried out and hotheads, subversives and anarchists are detained by the police, some to help with inquiries, some on criminal charges: all as a precautionary measure. So, in this ghastly year of 1969, we wonder: what on earth is going on in Italy?’

The bombs on 12 December 1969 answered that question.

The Croce Nera bulletin editors had an inkling that something was afoot but obviously were not yet in possession of all the facts. For instance, they were not to know that the ‘Chinese manifestos’ operation and the other terrorist operations mounted by fascists which purported to be the work of anarchists or Maoists, represented the prologue to the ‘strategy of tension’.

Federico Umberto D’Amato: strategist of tension — the puppetmaster

They had no way of knowing that the idea of having posters printed up by the tens of thousands and distributed for sticking up by Nazi-fascist groups originated with Federico Umberto D’Amato, head of the Confidential Affairs Bureau of the Interior Ministry (Ufficio Affari Riservati). The details of that strategy had also been worked out in the document Our Political Action, seized by rebel soldiers from the premises of Aginter Press in Lisbon in 1974 during the revolution.

Aginter Press was a rightwing terrorist organisation run by Ralph Guerin Serac (an alias of Yves Félix Marie Guillou, born in France in 1926) and was one of the mainstays of international fascist subversive activity.

The document stated that in addition to infiltrating pro-Chinese groups, propaganda operations should also be mounted that appear to emanate from their political adversaries — all for the purpose of adding to the climate of instability and creating a chaotic situation.

Vincenzo Vinciguerra (former member of Avanguardia Nazionale and Ordine Nuevo. He is currently serving a life sentence for the murder of three policemen)

The Croce Nera people did not know at the time that the provocations and false trails were being overseen personally by D’Amato (holder of masonic membership card No 1643 in lodge P2). This only emerged later following statements to Judge Guido Salvini by Vincenzo Vinciguerra (the person responsible — with Carlo Cicuttini — for the Peteano attack on 31 May 1972 in which three carabinieri were killed and one wounded), a member of both Ordine Nuovo and Avanguardia Nazionale. Vinciguerra, a self-described ‘revolutionary Nazi’, had dissociated himself from his former comrades on the grounds that they were being manipulated by the secret services.

Throughout 1969 the fascists persisted in carrying out attacks or spectacular actions and portraying them as the work of anarchists or leftwing extremists. The practice was to continue for years.

One more example. On the night of 15 October 1971 a bomb exploded outside Milan’s Catholic University in Gemelli Square, causing some exterior damage to the building. Who was behind it? As Martino Siciliano explained to Judge Salvini on 18 October 1994: “It was a spur-of-the-moment thing after a dinner in Marco Foscari’s house at 19 Via Piceno in Milan. Those present were Foscari and his wife, Gianluigi Radice and his wife, Giambattista Cannata aka Tanino, and myself.”

Siciliano arrived from Mestre with a mortar shell with no detonator. After dinner, the group decided to mount an attack that would be blamed on far left groups. Siciliano prepared the bomb using material Fornari had in the house: a detonator, firing powder and a fuse.  He packed the space where the fuse should have been with firing powder, and then fitted the detonator and fuse.

With the technical business over, the group discussed targeting. They decided on the Catholic University as they had the student card stolen from a left-wing student they had mugged at the university in the Piazza Gemelli.

Cannata went with Siciliani in the former’s Fiat 500 while the others stayed behind with the women. The idea was to leave the student card near the site of the explosion, but unfortunately they had forgotten to bring it with them. No matter; the fuse was lit and the device left near the railings as the pair hot-footed it back to the car and fled the scene.  But without the leftist student’s card the action did not have the desired effect. To confuse matters further, there was another bomb attack on the Communist Party’s premises around the same time. As Angelo Angeli was to complain later, in a letter to Giancarlo Esposti (both neo-Nazis) the two incidents were effectively linked in the newspaper reports.

But the neo-Nazi groups did not only mount operations posing as leftists. They had been training for insurgency and attacks on leftwing party premises and leftist militants well before 1969.  Training and ideological indoctrination took place at paramilitary training camps around the country where arms and explosives were collected and stored. It was in one of these camps in Pian del Rascino that Esposti met his death in 1974.

Early in 1965, Siciliano, Piercarlo Montagner and Zorzi were in the car of Triveneto area Ordine Nuovo leader, Carlo Maria Maggi, bound for a marble quarry near Arzignano del Chiampo in Vicenza province, an area well known to Zorzi who had been born there.  They broke into the explosives store and stole nearly 40 kilos of ammonal, detonators and other explosives and slow-burning fuses. It was a major haul, one that was too big to fit all the material into the car, so they hid part of it — well away from the quarry. They then returned to Mestre while Zorzi set about hiding their booty.

A few days later they were back in Arzignano. This time they travelled as far as Vicenza by train, then by Pullman to Arzignano. They hid the explosives and fuses under their coats and made their way back to Venice.

Ordine Nuovo’s Venetian militants grew increasingly active throughout 1969. They trained regularly in the use of gelignite.  The bomb that exploded in Milan on 12 December consisted of a kilo and a half of gelignite.

Zorzi had procured the dark red sticks of explosives through Carlo Digilio who had been sold them by Roberto Rotelli, a Venetian smuggler who specialised in salvaging valuables from shipwrecks. “Rotelli told me he meant to sell the explosives, for which he had paid about 5 million (lire) of the proceeds of his cigarette smuggling. Rotelli came up with Zorzi’s name as a potential buyer and I replied that he seemed to fit the bill”, Digilio told Judge Salvini on 13 January 1996. Ane he added: “Zorzi was very concerned that the purchase should be kept a secret and I reassured him that none of us had anything to gain by talking about it.”

Trieste 3-4 October 1969. Within a few days of this date, Italian president Giuseppe Saragat was due to pay a state visit to Yugoslav president Tito. Zorzi, Siciliano and Giancarlo Vianello met in the Piazzale Roma in Venice where they collected Maggi’s large car from the garage. In the boot were two metal containers each filled with gelignite and attached pre-set timing devices. All that remained was to connect them up to the battery.

The whole operation had been prepared by Digilio, also known to the trio as Otto, a former legionnaire apparently well versed in the use of weapons and explosives. But, unknown to the young Ordine Nuovo members, Digilio had another nickname  — Erodoto (Herodotus). This was his CIA agent code name in the Venice region. It was a name he had inherited when his father Michelangelo — also a man with US intelligence services connections — died in 1967. Zorzi’s team set off for Trieste. Their first target was the Slovene School in the Rione San Giovanni. They planted the first bomb on a widow-sill after connecting up the battery and scattering anti-Slav leaflets. They then headed on to Gorizia and target number two. But forty minutes passed and they heard no boom.  Forensics was to establish that the battery was completely flat: ‘Evidently somebody had had other plans for the operation, because a mistake of that sort strikes me as impossible”, was Siciliano’s comment to Judge Salvini on 18 October 1994.

It was daylight by the time they reached Gorizia. They waited for darkness to fall, then placed their bomb and leaflets by the pillar at the front of the old railway station.  Then it was off to Venice. But the outcome was the same as before: the bomb was discovered, unexploded.

Giancarlo Rognoni: head of Ordine Nuovo's Phoenix Group

This prompted Giancarlo Rognoni — head of Ordine Nuovo in Milan, the La Fenice (Phoenix) Group, to restore the honour of his Venetian comrades and on 27 April 1974 two La Fenice militants blew up the Slovene School.

Fascists and neo-Nazis continued with their outrages for years, virtually right up until the end of the 1980s. Some have left a lasting impression in our collective memories — the Piazza della Loggia bombing in Brescia, the Italicus train bombing in 1974 and the bombing of Bologna railway station in 1980 to name only the most famous of them. But there were others that did not make it into the papers, even though they were important.

Take, for example the Calabrian town of Gioia Tauro, on 22 July 1970, when a TNT charge tore up part of the track outside that town. Six passengers were killed and another 54 injured. Investigators initially indicted four railway workers for culpable homicide, but this was no accident that could be put down to carelessness or negligence. It was an outrage that would be followed by further outrages against Calabrian trains.

According to evidence given in 1993, the perpetrators were allegedly Vito Silverini and Vincenzo Caracciolo (who died in 1987 and 1990 respectively). Apparently they had been paid to commit the outrage by the leaders of the Comitato d’azione per Reggio Capoluogo (‘Make Reggio the Capital Action Committee’), effectively a Calabrian fascist pressure group.

26-27 September 1970: five anarchists die in mysterious circumstance

Two Calabrian anarchists, Angelo Casile and Giovanni Aricò carried out a counter-investigation into this outrage and both men were killed on the night of 26-27 September 1970 — along with three other anarchists — when they skidded into a truck that had braked suddenly on the road from Reggio to Rome. Leftwing counter-investigators published some nonsense about the dynamics behind this incident. One thing they did say was that it was a calculated rightwing murder and it was no coincidence that the crash had taken place on to a stretch of road (about 60 kilometres from Rome) close to one of the estates of Prince Junio Valerio Borghese.

Prince Junio Valerio Borghese (ex-Decima MAS commander and a key figure in the Italian neo-fascist movement). In December 1970 he led a CIA-sponsored coup d'etat (with James Jesus Angleton) against the government of Giuseppe Saragat.

Prince Junio Valerio Borghese (ex-Decima MAS commander and a key figure in the Italian neo-fascist revival). In December 1970 he led a CIA-sponsored coup d'etat (with James Jesus Angleton) against the government of Giuseppe Saragat.

However, on 26 March 1994, Aricò’s cousin, Antonio Perna, presented himself before Judge Salvini and gave a statement that the day before he set off for Rome, Aricò had confided in him that he had taken considerable important documentary evidence about the Gioia Tauro attack to Veraldo Rossi (known as Aldo), a member of the FAI in Rome and editor of the weekly anarchist paper Umanità Nova. Perna claimed that when Aricò set off he had that documentary evidence with him, but no trace of it was found at the scene of the accident, nor were the address books of the five victims ever returned to their families. Furthermore, Angelo Casile, one of the dead youths, had been interrogated that summer by Judge Vittorio Occorsio (investigating the bombings of 12 December 1969) and he had given a deposition that he had seen Giuseppe Schirinzi, an Avanguardia Nazionale member in Reggio Calabria, in Rome immediately after the cenotaph bombing and that in the heat of the moment he had accused him of being the perpetrator of the attack.

On 7 December 1969, only days before Casile ran into him in Rome, Schirinzi was convicted (with Aldo Pardo) for the attack on police headquarters in Reggio Calabria. But Schirinzi was no bomb-maker; he was a prominent member of Avanguardia Nazionale. In April 1968 it was he who went with Mario Merlino (the provocateur who helped Valpreda launch the Circolo 22 Marzo in Rome) on the crucial trip to the colonels’ Greece. He had also tried to ingratiate himself into the Reggio Calabria anarchists’ circle — known, ironically, as the 22 March Circle — in the summer of 1969.

Circolo 22 Marzo: original members


25 April 1969: Police experts examine the scene of the 25 April bombing (Milan Central Station)

DURING THE Festival of Liberation of 25 April 1969, there was an explosion on the FIAT stand at the Fiera campionaria in Milan. It was nearly 7.00 pm and 20 people were injured, though none of them seriously. Shortly before 9.00 pm. a further explosion occurred in the Central Station at the bureau de change of the Banca Nazionale delle Communicazioni — again, fortunately, with few people injured. No lives were lost, but that was only by luck. Both bombs had been activated by a timing device.

August 1969: scene of train bombing

Figures released the Interior Ministry stated that these terrorist attacks had been preceded by 32 other attacks. By the end of the year the number of explosions and arson attacks stood at 53. But other sources counted as many as 140. Why the disparity? Because only those attacks for which someone had been denounced or arrested made it into the ministry’s figures. Attacks by persons unknown were not included in the official statistics.

Inspector Dr. Luigi Calabresi

In the case of the 25 April bomb attacks (with their echoes of the partisan war and ‘leftwing’ targeting of those standard-bearers of Italian capitalism, FIAT, and Italian financial institutions), there was a trio on the job that was to become famous by the end of the year — Inspector Luigi Calabresi, his superior Antonino Allegra and Judge Antonio Amati.

Antonino Allegra

All three took off on the anarchist trail. They rounded up fifteen anarchists, of whom they detained four — Paolo Braschi, Paolo Faccioli, Giovanni Corradini and his wife Eliane Vincileone.

Whereas the first two were very young and virtually unknown in leftwing circles in Milan, Corradini and Vincileone enjoyed a certain renown. He was an architect and  both had a wide circle of acquaintances. They were good friends, indeed, of the publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli and his fourth wife Sibilla Melega. This led to Corradini and Vincileone being depicted as the organisational brains — the masterminds — behind the attacks.

Giangiacomo Feltrinelli and Sibilla Melega

Corradini was regarded by the Special Branch as an anarchist theorist because, in 1963, he had been in charge of running the monthly Materialismo e libertà, a paper deemed to have broken new ground in anarchist circles, but one that had been short-lived, running to only three issues.

In addition to this foursome there was also Angelo Piero Della Savia, who was extradited from Switzerland, and Tito Pulsinelli who was picked up in Riccione on 22 August. Pulsinelli was arrested with Enrico Rovelli who was, however, soon released. He dropped out of the investigation and joined the ranks of Inspector Calabresi’s informants. His role was finally exposed during the inquiries into the attack carried out outside police headquarters in Milan by Gianfranco Bertoli, an individualist anarchist, on 17 March 1970. Rovelli turned up a year later, still at large on the streets of Milan, as the organiser of big rock concerts and manager of the celebrated Rolling Stones Club on the Corso XXII Marzo.

17 May 1973, Milan Police Headquarters: Gianfranco Bertoli, an 'individualist anarchist' moments after throwing a handgrenade during the official inauguration of a plaque commemorating Inspector Dr. Luigi Calabresi. Among those present was Mariano Rumor, Italy's then minister of the Interior

17 May 1973: Bertoli's arrest outside Milan police headquarters (Questura). The reason he gave for the attack was to settle accounts with interior minister Mariano Rumor whome he blamed for the murder of Giuseppe Pinelli.

The anarchists were charged with both 25 April bomb attacks (conveniently, this occurred three days after the parliament was due to debate draft legislation on disarming the police and which, in view of the climate at the time, was set aside) and of another 18 lesser offences. The anarchists allegedly confessed to a number of the latter offences, but consistently rejected the charges relating to the 25 April bombings. When it came to court, they retracted their ‘admissions’, stating these had been extorted by Inspector Calabresi.

Corradini and Vincileone were freed from prison on 7 December 1969 due to lack of evidence and their alibi having been confirmed by Feltrinelli and Melega, (although the latter were indicted for perjury, a charge that was to collapse when it eventually came to court).

22 April 1971: trial of (l/r) Giovanni Corradini, Ivo Della Savia, Paulo Braschi, Paulo Faccioli and Eliana Vincileone (all were acquitted)

The trial opened on 22 April 1971, nearly two years after the initial arrests.  The accused were cleared of the Fiera campionaria and Central Station attacks on 28 May, after 36 sittings, but were convicted of six of the minor attacks. The sentences handed down were: Della Savia — eight years: Braschi — six years and ten months: Faccioli — three years and six months. The Court of Appeal later reduced these sentences in April 1976. Pulsinelli was cleared of all charges.

The trial ended with a substantial repudiation of the inquiries made by Inspector Calabresi and of Judge Amati’s examination. The charges brought against the anarchists relied mainly upon two witnesses, that of Rosemma Zublena and another whose name was to crop up again — ballistics expert Teonesto Cerri.

Zublena, Braschi’s former lover was twenty years or older than him and proved totally unreliable under cross-examination. She accused the young anarchists of the bombings, claiming that Braschi and the others had told her about their activities. Cornered by the defence lawyers, who exposed the contradictions in her evidence she tried, unsuccessfully, to claim Giuseppe Pinelli as the source of her information. Finally, after more pressure, she came out with the statement that said it all: ‘I have merely repeated what Calabresi knew.’

Antonio Scopelliti (prosecution counsel in the 25 April bombing trials)

Antonio Scopelliti (prosecution counsel in the 25 April bombing trials)

Even the prosecution counsel, Antonio Scopelliti, in his final summing up told the court to ignore her evidence: ‘The court should pay no heed to this witness who has stained a number of the pages of this indictment with her gross and cumbersome presence […] The role of witness is not suited to Zublena and the trial records have plainly exposed her weakness as a witness.”

Cerri, by contrast, stuck to his accusations by alleging theft of explosives from a quarry in Grone — a theft that had never been reported and which those in charge at the quarry denied had ever taken place. Yet, flying in the face of all reason, the jury confirmed the theft from the quarry. Why? — to justify the sentence handed down for the six minor offences and, incidentally, to show that Valpreda could have had explosives in his possession.

Even more seriously, however, the court chairman, Paolo Curatolo, ignored a document published at the beginning of December 1969 in The Observer and The Guardian newspapers in Britain. International experts had pronounced the document reliable.  This was a secret memorandum addressed to the Greek Foreign Affairs minister in which premier Giorgios Papadopoulos was briefed on the results of a provocative campaign mounted in Italy by the Greek government over some time — with the connivance of fascist groups and “some representatives from the army and the carabinieri.” The report speculated about the chances of a rightwing coup d’état through an escalation by action groups that had been in operation for some time past.

Greek facilitators: Junta leaders (l/r) generals Giorgios Zoitakis, Stylianos Pattakos and Giorgios Papadopoulos

The 3-page dossier assessed the activities of Luigi Turchi, a Movimento Sociale Italiana (MSI) [principal fascist party] deputy and by an unidentified Mr P.  It read: “Only on 25 April was it possible to mount the actions scheduled for earlier. The alteration to our plans was forced upon us by the fact that it was hard to gain access to the FIAT pavilion. Both actions have had a considerable impact.” The other action had been the Central Station explosion.

Rome, March 1968: neo-fascist MSI deputies (l/r) Sandro Saccucci, Luigi Turchi and Giulio Caradona

But then another even more sensational development occurred. On 13 April 1971 — a few days prior to the opening of the proceedings in Milan — Giancarlo Stiz, the examining magistrate in Treviso, issued warrants for the arrest of Giovanni Ventura, a 27 year old publisher and bookseller from Castelfranco Veneto, Franco Freda, a 35 year old prosecution counsel from Padua and Aldo Trinco, a 28 year old student.

Catanzaro, 18 January 1977: Franco Freda (left) and Giovanni Ventura (right) during the fourth Piazza Fontana massacre trial

Judge Stiz accused them of conspiracy to subvert and ‘procurement of war materials’ but also — above all— of planning bomb attacks in Turin in April 1969 and on the state railways in August 1969. Freda and Ventura would later be sentenced to 15 years in 1987 for these outrages and for the 25 April 1969 bombings in Milan.

However, there was one worrying detail with regard to this matter.  Gianni Casalini of the Padua Nazi group (and an SID informant code-name Turco) had told the secret services he had driven to Milan with an Ivano Toliolo, a confidant of Freda’s, who had brought with him a bag containing explosives. But Gianadelio Maletti, director of the SID’s D division (counter-intelligence), decided to bury this information.

General Giandelio Maletti (Servizio Informazioni Difesa - SID), Italian counter-intelligence

What happened in August 1969?

Ten trains travelling between Northern and Central-Southern Italy were targeted by eight bombs, which exploded between one o’clock and three o’clock on 9 August — another two failed to explode. Twelve people, passengers and railway employees, were injured. The cost-benefit outcome for the perpetrators was certainly not favourable. A lot of logistical effort had been deployed (the bomb on the Pescara-Rome train had needed the direct involvement of Freda and Ivan Biondo, also from the Nazi group in Padua) even though the desired effect was not produced. A climate of alarm was created, but no life had been lost.

Investigators Allegra and Calabresi again headed down the anarchist trail. Allegra, the head of the Milan Special Branch, put this allegation to Giuseppe Pinelli who laughed in his face. On that occasion, too, August 1969, the press ran with the police misinformation. On 13 August La Stampa carried a piece by-lined g.m. entitled ‘Anarchists have gone to ground to escape questioning’.

‘In the wake of the train bombings ‘ wrote the Turin daily’s correspondent, ‘the Milanese anarchists dropped out of circulation. Partly to go on holidays, partly to avoid police questioning, they have sought a change of air. Some were rounded up last April on charges relating to a flurry of attacks, of which the one at the Fair in Milan was one. Notwithstanding the evidence gathered by the police, those arrested still denied all the charges: perhaps the courts will establish the truth. The Milan anarchists have ‘gone to ground’ and the premises of La Comune at 39 Via Lanzone and of the Ponte della Ghisolfa group have been closed. After the Fair bombing, it seemed as if the young anarchists’ organisation had been smashed: in reality, their black flag was never taken down: the ranks have been reshuffled in accordance with new criteria to render it more difficult to identify new recruits.’

The article closed with some fantastic allegations: ‘Up until some time ago the anarchists in Milan were few in number, bereft of resources and unorganised. Now someone had taken it into his head to exploit their utopianism. The anarchists have been wooed and funded by the totalitarian right and the leftwing extremists.’

Notwithstanding back up from the press, the police in several cities failed to arrest or charge anyone — but the climate was right for a clampdown on extremists.  And so, in Milan, at dawn on 19 August, 150 police and carabinieri forced their way into the former Commercio hotel, now rechristened the Casa dell student e del laboratory. The building, due for demolition, was in the Piazza Fontana, directly opposite the Banca Nazionale dell’Agricoltura branch.

Squatted after a student meeting on 28 November 1968, the premises had become a regular meeting-place for the far left: the newspapers described it as ‘a headquarters of Maoist and anarchist contestation.’ The police burst in on 58 sleeping people who were rounded up for identification. Three were arrested and released on 22 August. Immediately after the police forced entry, a demolition team went into action and within hours the premises had been reduced to rubble.


Licia Pinelli, 20 December 1969

Licia Pinelli, 20 December 1969

Giuseppe Pinelli’s death marked the first deep fracture in a bewildered Italian public opinion. The mountain of charges levelled at Pietro Valpreda and the other anarchists from the Circolo 22 Marzo remained. But Pinelli’s ‘fall’ from the fourth floor at police headquarters  — someone well known and well-respected in leftwing circles in Milan —left many bewildered. The contradictory evidence from the police, the false statements from police chief Marcello Guida and the unlawful detention had not gone unnoticed.

Marcello Giuda (Milan's Police Commissioner)

And when, on 27 December 1969, Licia Pinelli, Giuseppe’s’ widow and mother filed a complaint and sued Guida, some newspapers began back-pedalling over Pinelli’s guilt and suicide. ‘The suit concerns ongoing and aggravated defamation. The complaint relates to breaches of professional confidentiality’.

Police chief Guida allegedly committed both offences immediately after the railwayman’s suicide by issuing statements to the press ‘that he ought not to have done’ and venturing ‘assessments, interpretations and opinions’ which the two Pinelli women regarded as defamatory of the person of their deceased relative” wrote Giampaolo Pansa in La Stampa on 28 December. He went on to say: “The three young criminal lawyers assisting the two women in this matter — Domenico Contestabile, Marcello Gentili and Renato Palmieri — have spoken. The charges brought by the lawyers are based on three points. Namely, that immediately after Pinelli’s death the police chief stated ‘in further press conferences’ that all of the railwayman’s alibis had collapsed.

Marcelo Gentili, a solicitor acting for Licia Pinelli and Pinelli's mother

According to the three lawyers, this involved ‘grave and unfounded’ claims that Guida allegedly repeated several times […] The police chief’s second ‘offence’ — that he was quick to draw a connection between the charges against Pinelli and ‘the alleged suicide’ by telling everyone that Pinelli had killed himself because he was compromised by the police officers’ questioning […] The third ‘charge’ against Guida (and the most serious one in the view of the three lawyers) was that he had named Pinelli as guilty of ‘dynamite attacks’.

Pinelli's funeral, 20 December 1969

Pinelli's funeral, 20 December 1969

In short, many people wondered, if Pinelli were innocent, why did he kill himself? Why did three thousand people walk behind the anarchist’ s coffin on 20 December in spite of the atmosphere of police intimidation? These were questions that ate away at the official ‘truths’ of the police and magistrates. Who had lied about a fellow born in Milan in 1928 in the working class district of Porta Ticinese?

Funeral procession of Giuseppe Pinelli, 20 December 1969

Pinelli's funeral, 20 December 1969

Giuseppe Pinelli

Stockily built, of medium height, black whiskers and goatee, Pinelli left school after elementary level, working first as a waiter and later as a warehouseman. But leaving school early, however, did not mean that he had given up on books: he read them by the hundreds. He was a passionate self-educator. In 1944 he had been a runner for the resistance in Milan, the Brigata Franco where he became involved with a group of anarchist partisans. That meeting left its mark on his life, and his anarchist activism can be traced back to those years.

In 1954 he won a competition and joined the railways as a labourer. The following year, he married and was to father two daughters, Silvia and Claudia.

In 1963 some young people set up the Gioventú libertario (Libertarian Youth) group, which brought a breath of fresh air to the political atmosphere of Milan. Even though he was 35 and the others were little more than 20, Pinelli got on well with them. He became a natural point of contact between newcomers to anarchism and the older militants who had survived fascism.

Then things took a turn for the better. In 1965 he helped found the Circolo Sacco e Vanzetti in the Viale Murillo. Milan’s anarchists hadn’t had their own premises for ten years, but in 1969, the youngsters found premises in the Piazzale Lugano and called it the Circolo Ponte della Ghisolfa, only a few metres away from the bridge of the same name overlooking countless gardens.

The winds of May in France were blowing through Europe at the time. Pinelli lived through the frenzy of those days: students were challenging the authorities and the workers were showing signs of running out of patience with the traditional unions. This atmosphere presented Pinelli with a tremendous opportunity to revive the USI (Unione Sindacale Italiana), the libertarian trade union which, under Armando Borghi’s guidance in the 1920s, included among its membership a young Giuseppe De Vittorio, who was to win fame as the secretary of the CGIL.

The first of the united rank and file committees (CUBs), trade union structures that were independent of the three big trade union centrals, the CGIL, the CISL and the UIL, were coming into being. The most pugnacious of these CUBs was the one at ATM, the Milan tram company. It was led by a fifty-year old who had been active in the anarchist movement in the immediate post-war years.

Ponte Della Ghisolfa (anarchist meeting place. Milan)

There was considerable affinity between the tram worker and Pinelli the railway worker. The CUBs found the Ponte della Ghisolfa premises the most appropriate place to meet (until the bombs of 12 December and the hysterical anti-anarchist campaign prompted the CUB members to look for other premises). Pinelli was forever on the lookout for chances for confrontation, reaching out to those who had lost patience with the official unions. Another circle opened in the Via Scaldasole, a favourite meeting place for students galvanised by the events of May ’68 in Paris. The situation was excitable to say the least, but unlike the ‘chaotic’ structures the newspapers wrote about later, the Milan anarchists (and they were not alone) had well-defined small groups of militants who knew one another well.

In Milan the Gioventù Libertaria (Libertarian Youth) changed its name to Bandiera Nera (Black Flag). This group included, in addition to Pinelli, another worker — Cesare Vurchio, born in Canosa di Puglia in 1931. Pinelli worked closely with Vurchio. They were of a similar age and both had families to support. The rest of the members were youngsters, some of them still students.

One of these youths, Amedeo Bertolo, although only 28 years old, already had some experience inasmuch as he had been involved in a spectacular action in 1962 — the abduction of Franco’s vice-consul in Milan, Isu Elias.  It had been the first political kidnapping since the war.

What was the reason for the abduction? Early in September 1962 Jorge Conill Valls, a young Spanish anarchist, had been sentenced to death for anti-Francoist activities by a court martial in Barcelona. Speed was of the essence.

Bertolo — who had met Cunill in person a month earlier, during a ‘mission’ organised by the clandestine Spanish Federación Ibérica de Juventudes Libertarias (FIJL – Iberian Libertarian Youth Federation) — quickly set the abduction in motion on 29 September, together with a half a dozen anarchists and ‘restless’ socialists.

The kidnapping dominated the front pages of the international press for days and triggered a campaign of anti-Francoist solidarity that brought considerable pressure to bear on the Franco regime at several levels — from street demonstrations to the ‘humanitarian’ intervention by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini, the future Pope Paul VI (1963-1978). Conill’s death sentence was commuted after three days to one of thirty years imprisonment and Isu Elias was immediately released.

His kidnappers were quickly identified and jailed. The last of these, Bertolo, who had fled to France, spontaneously and quixotically surrendered himself at the courthouse just as the trial in Varese opened. The trial itself was covered by much of the Italian press as an indictment of the Spanish fascist government rather than of the actions of the young Italian anti-Francoists.

Three of the accused following the verdict in the Isu Elia kidnapping trial

On 21 November all the accused were found guilty but received nominal sentences. For Bertolo (who, in April 1969, was to be among the founders of the Croce nera anarchica, dissolved after Valpreda’s release in 1973) the sentence was six months imprisonment for the kidnapping and 20 days for unlawfully bearing arms. In their judgement, the judges, presided over by Judge Eugenio Zumin, recognised that the accused had ‘acted on motives of particular moral and social import’ and all were found blameless and released on parole.


The demonisation of Pietro Valpreda

“THE TERROR machine has been blown apart. It is now only a matter of picking up the pieces. The beast responsible for the fourteen lives lost in the Piazza Fontana and perhaps also the death, the suicide in the Via Fatebenefratelli, has been arrested and locked down: his face is here on this newspaper page. We must never forget it. The beast made us cry and brought the taste, the bitterest taste of pain and rage to our hearts of hearts. Now we can begin to breathe again and start to get the measure of the diabolical adventure. The butcher’s name is Pietro Valpreda; he is thirty-seven years old and has never amounted to anything in his whole life.  Apart from one elderly aunt who irons his shirts and brushes down overcoat, he has fallen out with his entire family. She helps him out. He comes from the madcap world of be-bop and rock, a world where the men are men and the girls are too. He has dabbled in outdoor dances and dances on the city centre streets.  Available also for stage work in musical revues, he used to play the boy, one of those with arching pencilled eyebrows, dressed in the most foppish trousers, like some soubrette walking or leaping down from a staircase of glittering neon lights. What a short-lived, unhappy and poorly paid profession. This wretch is also unwell. The circulation in his legs is not as it should be. He has Burger’s disease, a savage ailment that causes a blockage and could bring on an embolism and death. Step by step, Pietro Valpreda is on the road to becoming a monster.”

This was the opening paragraph of an article published on the front page of the Corriere d’Informazione of Wednesday 17 December 1969, over the by-line of Vittorio Notarnicola. The editor was Giovanni Spadolini who was adding this job to his post as number one at the Corriere della Sera. Two large photos — one of the taxi-driver Cornelio Rolandi and a photo of Pietro Valpreda overshadowed the article. The bold capitalised headline read:  ‘VALPREDA DONE FOR’.

The morning papers that day, formally less sensational, took a clear line, albeit with some circumlocution. They accepted Valpreda’s guilt unreservedly. Corriere della Sera proclaimed: ‘Anarchist Valpreda arrested for collusion in the Milan massacre’. La Stampa opted for: ‘Anarchist arrested for colluding in massacre. Inquiry into suicide at police headquarters in Milan’. Il Giorno went for ‘Charged with massacre’. L’Unità chose: ‘Arrest made for massacre’. Avanti!: ‘Arrested for collusion in massacre’. Il Resto del Carlino declared: ‘An anarchist arrested for massacre’. Il Messaggero went for: ‘Criminals arrested’. Il Tempo: ‘Murderer arrested: anarchist Pietro Valpreda’. Paese Sera opted for: ‘Man identified by cab-driver reported for colluding in the massacre’. Il Popolo: ‘Anarchist arrested over Milan massacre’. Il Mattino plumped for: ‘Terrorist who carried out massacre arrested’. Roma: ‘Arrested: the monster is an anarcho-communist dancer from Canzonissima’.

Television was not far behind. Reporter Bruno Vespa, speaking live from the police headquarters in Rome during the evening show of 16 December, stated: ‘Pietro Valpreda is a culprit, one of those responsible for the massacre in Milan and the attacks in Rome. There had to be no question about that.’

Cornelio Rolandi, taxi driver (State witness against Valpreda

So it looked as if the file could be closed. The police had tracked down those responsible in record time. The sole basis for these accusations was the taxi-driver Cornelio Rolandi’s statement — and it was barely credible.

At 4.00 pm. on 12 December, Rolandi was in his Fiat 600 in the Piazza Beccaria when a customer asked him to take him to the junction at the Via Santa Tecla. When they arrived the fare asked Rolandi to wait while he got out, carrying a black bag. He returned after a few minutes and they drove to the Via Albricci where Rolandi dropped him.

Anyone familiar with Milan city centre will find this strange. The taxi rank in the Piazza Beccaria is 135 metres from the entrance to the Banca Nazionale dell’Agricoltura. It is 117 metres from the Via Santa Tecla to the bank.

In order to spare himself a journey of 135 metres, Valpreda allegedly made a return trip 234 metres, with the added risk of possible recognition by the random taxi driver he asked to make the trip.

This is how Rolandi remembered that afternoon: ‘the guy with the bag boarded my taxi in the Piazza Beccaria; he was clutching a black bag in his hand. I looked at him in the rear-view mirror and spotted right away he had the long sideburns in fashion these days. He asked me to drive him to the Via Albricci via the Via Santa Tecla. The trip was quite a short one, but in the Via Albricci there are lots of airline offices. I thought he might be a passenger off on a flight. I stopped in the Via Santa Tecla, as requested by the fare. I said that the Via Albricci was not far away and that he could walk it, but he told me to wait as he was pressed for time. Off he went with the bag. He returned after a short time, but without the black bag.  I drove him to the Via Albricci where he paid the 600 lire fare and left.’ (Franco Damerini, ‘Intervisto a Milano con il teste-chiave’ in Corriere dell’Informazione, 17 December).

Apart from the fact that under the fare structures of the time the cost of that short journey, complete with tip, ought to have been no more than half of the 600 lire mentioned by Rolandi, there is evidence that throws doubt on this reconstruction of events. It comes from Liliano Paolucci, director of the Milan school principals’ associations. Paolucci caught taxi 3444 (Rolandi’s taxi) with his daughter Patrizia on the morning of 15 December and observed that the taxi driver was obviously a novice, continually taking the wrong turn. Once his daughter had been dropped off at her school, Rolandi confided in Paolucci who taped his recollections of the conversation on Sunday 21 December in order to have a definite record of this strange encounter:

‘To the best of my recollection, this is the story told to me by the taxi-driver. It was about 4.00 pm. on 12 December. I was in the Piazza Beccaria when I saw a man of around forty years of age entering the Piazza Beccaria from the Galleria del Corso. He came up to me in flawless Italian with no regional accent and: “Banca dell’Agricoltura in the Piazza Fontana.” I replied: ‘But the Banca dell’Agricoltura is only a few steps away — 50 metres away, signore. You’d be better off walking it.“ He said nothing, opened the door and stepped into the taxi. I had a good view of him. He was carrying a briefcase, a fat briefcase that appeared very weighty. Off we drove to the Banca dell’Agricoltura, within five or six minutes. He got out of the taxi, walked briskly into the Bank and came out equally briskly within 40 or 50 seconds, a minute at most. He got back into the taxi and he said: “At this point Paolucci interrupted asked him why the man would be coming from the Galleria del Corso. Rolandi’s response was priceless: “Don’t you know that the Galleria del Corso is a notorious hangout?’ A claim he repeated three times.

Even more mysteriously, though, Rolandi was later to deny that he had ferried Paolucci and that he had spoken with him. Even more strangely, the police and the magistrates never confronted Rolandi with Paolucci to compare their differing versions of events.  That was not the only oddity, as Paolucci himself pointed out to the reporter Enzo Magri who interviewed him for the weekly L’Europeo of 9 March 1972:

‘At 9.15 am on the Monday, I, a citizen, reported a serious matter. […]  I gave chapter and verse in my report. Yet how did the police react? They did not jump on it, never rushed round to see me and never even contacted me by phone. Bear in mind that Cornelio Rolandi had yet to approach the carabinieri in the Via Moscova, where he would report at 1.35 am that day. So this Rolandi could have been a nutcase, but equally he could have been telling the truth. And they say the truth has to be sought out before anybody gets the chance to eradicate it […] I, however — the only person with any knowledge of a disconcerting truth — was called by the telephonist at police headquarters half an hour after my call and told: “I am the police officer who took your call. Are you aware perhaps that you didn’t ask the taxi driver how the man whom he dropped off outside the Banca Nazionale dell’Agricoltura was dressed?”’

Rachele Torri (Valpreda's Great Aunt)

These were not the only contradictions Paolucci mentioned. There was another witness too — a very important one. This witness insisted that Valpreda was in bed sick on 12 December. Who was it?  Valpreda’s great aunt Rachele Torri who lived in the Via Vincenzo Orsini in Milan.

This was how the great aunt remembered that afternoon: ‘Pietro was in bed with a fever. He was about to fetch the overcoat that he would need the following morning if he were to keep his appointment with Judge Amati.  Well, I went instead. It must have been 7.00 – 7.30 pm and I remember that as I was boarding the E bus in the Piazza Giovanni dalle Bandere a lady opened a copy of La Notte and I caught sight of some headline about deaths. I asked her if there had been an accident and she replied that there had been bombings. I got off in the Piazza del Duomo and cut through the Via Dogana to catch the No 13 tram to Pietro’s parents’ place in the Piazza Corvetto. I stopped at the newsagent’s and bought a copy of La Notte. When I arrived at my niece’s flat I told her that Pietro had arrived, ill, which was why I had come to fetch his overcoat.  Pietro’s sister, Nena, urged me to get him to eat something and gave me the overcoat and some shoes. I then went straight home and told Pietro his sister had asked him to eat something. Then I gave him the newspaper.’ (Interview with Rachele Torri in Rivista A— Rivista Anarchica of February 1971).

The next day, 13 December, Valpreda met with his lawyer Mariani and went with him to a meeting with Judge Amati. The judge was not available so they left him a note saying Valpreda would call again on Monday the 15th. He then made his way to the home of his grandparents, Olimpia Torri Lovati and Paolo Lovati in the Viale Molise, where he remained until the morning of 15 December.

His sister, Maddalena and girlfriend, 33-year-old Elena Segre, a translator who lived in an apartment block in the Viale Lucania where Valpreda’s parents lived, called to see him. Segre dropped by to see Valpreda at around 6.00 pm. on Sunday the 14th.

In an interview with Giampaolo Pansa in La Stampa on 18 February 1970, Segre stated: ‘Pietro was here at his grandparents’ place. I rang the bell and they let me in. He was on the settee pushed against the wall over to the left, wearing blue pyjamas and he got up to meet me…’ Pansa interrupted to remind her that her evidence had already been taken by Ernesto Cudillo, the examining magistrate, and by Vittorio Occorsio, the public prosecutor and that therefore if she told lies they could arrest her.

Segre replied: ‘Listen, the guy was there on the Sunday! What can I do about it if I saw him there? He greeted me. We hadn’t seen each other for a long time. He sat on the sofa bed as did he and I was sitting on my right, facing his two grandparents. We chatted […]’

So Valpreda had an alibi for the days from 12 to 15 December — alibis that showed he could not have been in the Piazza Fontana and contradicted his incredible taxi trip.

Croce Nera Anarchica (Anarchist Black Cross) posters

Croce Nera Anarchica (Anarchist Black Cross) posters

By that time it was hard to argue Valpreda was guilty. But the police and magistrates had certainly not acknowledged defeat. And so, a little over a month later in early February 1970, they brought out a few Roman witnesses to testify that Valpreda had been in Rome on 13 and 14 December. If Valpreda’s relations were telling lies about those two dates, then they had lied about 12 December too and so the taxi driver Rolandi’s testimony would stand.

Who were these witnesses? Ermanna Ughetto, stage name Ermanna River, Enrico Natali, Gianni Sampieri, Armando Gaggegi and his wife and Benito Bianchi — all avant-garde theatre folk who appeared regularly at the Ambra-Jovinelli theatre in Rome.

But when Valpreda was brought face to face with these witnesses on 6 March, there were clearly two conflicting versions of events. The Roman witnesses claimed to have met in Rome Valpreda on 13 or 14 December. Valpreda argued that the meeting they referred to had taken place about ten days earlier — shortly after Valpreda had been released from the Regina Coeli prison on 25 November.

Valpreda and Gargamelli (1970 - during their trial for the 19 November 1969 affray)

In fact, Valpreda had been arrested on 19 November following a fracas with fascists in the Trastevere district.  But there was another detail. During a medical inspection prior to his entering prison, Valpreda had bruising around his left eye, bruising that had cleared up by the time he was arrested on 15 December. Some of the witnesses remembered the bruising when they claimed they had met Valpreda after the Piazza Fontana massacre. This was another contradiction that does not appear to have raised doubts in the minds of Cudillo and Occorsio, who indicted Valpreda’s relatives for perjury.  Inexplicably, though, no action was taken against Segre who made the same claims.

To add to the charge sheet, on 7 February Benyamin Safari from Milan police headquarters stated that the bag containing the unexploded bomb in the Banca Commerciale Italiana contained a piece of stained glass similar to that used by Valpreda in the manufacture of his liberty lamps. An unforgivable oversight by the anarchist bomber.

According to the police, the discovery of this incredible evidence dated back to 2.00 pm. on 14 December 1969, but nobody spotted the coloured glass until February. Valpreda’s defence counsel, Guido Calvi, was easily able to cast doubt on this “heaven-sent” discovery.

Valpreda's parents with Guido Calvi (right), Valpreda's barrister

As the judges saw it, Valpreda arrived in Milan in his Fiat 500 on 12 December. At 4.00 pm. he took a taxi to plant his bomb in the Piazza Fontana. On the morning of 13 December he accompanied his lawyer Mariani to see Judge Amati. He failed to find him and left a note to say that he would return on 15 December. Then he left for Rome in his beaten-up Fiat 500.

That evening he bumped into the dancer Ughetto and went to dinner with her. On Sunday 14 December he was back in the bar near the Ambra-Jovinelli theatre where he was seen by others who would be able to give the lie to his alibi. He was still in Rome as of 9.00 pm. By 8.00 am the following day he was back in Milan with his lawyer.

Technically, using a different car perhaps, this was feasible. But it defies belief that Valpreda would have put together a false alibi that could so readily be rebutted by so many people. Just as it defies understanding why Valpreda’s relatives and his girlfriend Segre, with whom he had not spoken at the moment of his arrest, were able to confirm what Valpreda had said. Cudillo and Occorsio had a different version of the truth — Valpreda was guilty. Not only was he a liar, but his parents were also lying. Especially when Rolandi was telling the truth and was in for the 50 million lire reward from the Interior ministry. Cudillo and Occorsio made sure this truth was written into the record in an interrogation ‘for future use’; perhaps they foresaw Rolandi’s death on 16 July 1971.


Luciano Lanza (author)

“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.

Amedeo Bertolo

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.”

Who 'Suicided' Pinelli?

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.”


Death of Pinelli by Flavio Costantini

HAD THE interrogation reached a crucial point or was it proceeding according to the usual routine? Was he excited or relaxed? Had the suspect’s alibi fallen apart or did it still stand? Was the atmosphere in the room calm or violent? Was the window shut, partly open or wide open? These are questions that cannot be answered with certainty because the witnesses contradicted themselves time and time again. Contradicting each other and themselves. The final hours of Giuseppe Pinelli’s life are locked in the accounts of his police interrogators, whom a large segment of public opinion holds responsible for his death.

The truth was laid to rest with Pinelli in Musocco cemetery in Milan and later, in 1981, in Carrara cemetery.

That night Inspector Luigi Calabresi, officers Vito Panessa, Giuseppe Caracuta, Carlo Mainardi and Pietro Mucilli and carabinieri lieutenant Savino Lograno were interrogating Pinelli on the fourth floor at police headquarters. Then the anarchist railwayman flew through the window.

At midnight on 15 December, L’Unità reporter Aldo Palumbo left the pressroom at headquarters for a cigarette.  He was standing in the courtyard when he heard a thud, followed by a further two thuds. Something had bounced off the cornice of a number of storeys. Palumbo raced over to find a body sprawled in the flowerbed. He raced off to fetch the police and his colleagues. Was this at midnight or several minutes before midnight? Or were we already into 16 December? Another unresolved question.

Milan Police Headquarters (re-enactment of circumstances of Pinelli's murder)

The exact time of Pinelli’s fall was to become another teaser in this tortuous tale. Was the request from headquarters for an ambulance made before Pinelli ”fell”, or afterwards? That is a mystery. One that Gerardo D’Ambrosio attempted to clear up with his celebrated finding of “active misfortune” that left everyone in the clear while fully rehabilitating Pinelli. D’Ambrosio wrote:

“Pinelli lit up a cigarette offered to him by Mainardi. The air in the room was unbearably stale, so he opened the balcony window and went over to the rail for a breath of fresh air. He suddenly suffered a dizzy spell, made a clumsy attempt to save himself, and his body tumbled over the rail into the void.”

Milan Police Headquarters (re-enactment)

There you have it all.

Gerardo D'Ambro, Examining Magistrate (right) in Police HQ courtyard

D’Ambrosio gave no consideration to the huge contradictions in the police statements. According to them, Pinelli threw himself from the window exclaiming: “This is the end for anarchy!” The police rushed to stop him. Panessa claimed he managed to grab Pinelli and was left holding one shoe. But the reporters near the corpse saw a shoe on each foot. Also, Pinelli’s hands and arms were uninjured. Had he fallen, he would have raised them instinctively to shield his head.  There was no sign of the injuries (bleeding from the nose and mouth) normally encountered in such cases. None of these contradictions were of any relevance to Judge D’Ambrosio.

Milan Police Headquarter — scene of the crime

D’Ambrosio merely uttered a few critical words regarding the conduct of the interrogators.

To recap: Pinelli was arrested at the Circolo Scaldasole with Sergio Ardau at 7.00 pm. on 12 December and followed them, voluntarily, to police headquarters on his motorbike. His first interrogation did not take place until midnight. They asked him about that “nutcase Valpreda”.

Ardau was transferred on Saturday, 13 December, to San Vittore prison, while Pinelli remained in Special Branch custody.

On the morning of 14 December a police officer telephoned Pinelli’s wife to say: “Madame should let the railways know her husband is unwell and will not be reporting for work.” His tone was friendly: no need to complicate matters with his employers. At 9.30 a.m. on Monday 15 December the anarchist was visited by his mother, Rosa Malacarne, who found him calm, smiling and relaxed. At around 2.30 pm. his wife, Licia, had a telephone call from the political squad: “Madame should ring the railways and tell them her husband has been arrested pending inquiries. Do you understand? You should say he is under arrest.” No more fair play: Pinelli ought to know his job was at risk.

At 10.00 pm., there was another call, this time from Calabresi himself: “Madame should look for her husband’s pass-book.” (The railway worker’s log, recording his travels. Ten minutes later, Licia Pinelli telephoned police headquarters back to say she had found the passbook and at 11.00 pm., an officer arrived to pick it up. Calabresi had another card to play. He resurrected the possibility that he might be implicated in the train bombings on the night of 8-9 August (as Allegra had tried to do some time before).

Pinelli’s last interrogation took place in Calabresi’s room. The inspector himself claimed he left the office before midnight — before Pinelli went through the window — to bring his superiors up to date with how the interrogation was progressing.

Shortly after 1.00 a.m. on 16 December, a couple of reporters went to Pinelli’s home to tell his wife that her husband had had fallen from a window at Milan police headquarters. She immediately telephoned Calabresi: “Why didn’t you tell me?” To which the inspector replied: “We hadn’t time. We have a lot of other things to be doing…”

Investigators examine the crime scene

Pinelli, in the meantime, had been taken to the Fatebenefratelli hospital where three reporters Camilla Cederna, Corrado Stajano and Giampaolo Pansa turned up. Cederna managed to interview Nazzareno Fiorenzano, the duty doctor, who said: “There is no discernible cardiac activity, no pulse, horrific abdominal injuries, a series of gashes on the head. We have tried everything, but nothing can be done. He won’t last long.”

It was 7 April 1970, four months later before Fiorenzano was questioned by the deputy prosecutor, Giuseppe Caizzi. It was this man, Caizzi, who was to wind up the investigation into Pinelli’s death on 21 May 1970.

And the outcome? No culpability. Pinelli had died as the result of “a wholly accidental circumstance.”

The file was passed to the chief examining magistrate Antonio Amati who closed the file on 3 July. On 17 July, in a courtroom all but closed for the holiday period, Caizzi applied to have another file closed: the application by Pinelli’s wife and mother to bring a case against police chief Marcello Guida.

On what basis? We have to return to the night of 15-16 December and to the office of police chief Guida (who had been Mussolini’s governor on Ventotene prison island in 1942). With Guida are Allegra, Calabresi and Lograno. It is the early hours of 16 December as the press are ushered in to hear Guida declare apropos of Pinelli’s death: “He was strongly implicated in abetting the massacre … he was an individualist anarchist … his alibi had fallen through … what else can I say? … he saw that he was done for … an act of despair … in short, a sort of self-incrimination.”

These are the contemporaneous notes Cederna wrote in her note-book.

Camilla Cederna, journalist (L'Espresso), author of the 'Open letter to Inspector Luigi Calabresi'. She was also wrote the book 'Pinelli: una finistra sulla strage' ('Pinelli: a window on the massacre')

Then it was Allegra’s turn. His view of Pinelli had changed recently, because some reports had shown the anarchist in a new light. In his view he was possibly implicated in the Piazza Fontana bombing. This was noted by L’Unità reporter Renata Bottarelli.

Bottarelli also noted Calabresi’s contribution to the press conference: “First he told us that at the time of the fall he was elsewhere; he had momentarily gone to Allegra’s office to brief him on the crucial progress that, he reckoned, had been made during the comparison of evidence. He had in fact cited his dealings with a third person whom he obviously was not in a position to name, leaving him with the impression that knew a lot more than in fact they did. He observed that Pinelli seemed startled and, disturbed by this, ordered the interview be suspended while he briefed Allegra on this turn of events. It was not, in any case, a proper interrogation.”

Chief Inspector Dr Luigi Calabresi

Calabresi later gave a different version of events. But, on the morning of 16 December Guida issued a statement that was, to say the least, bewildering:

“I swear to you that we didn’t kill him! The poor wretch acted in accordance with his own ideas. When he realised that the State, which he fought against, was closing in on him, he did as I would have done — were I an anarchist”.

Remember, though, that Pinelli’s alibi had not in fact fallen through: under questioning, Mario Pozzi had confirmed that Pinelli had played cards with him on the afternoon of 12 December, and a grinning Pinelli had thanked him for it.

Nearly a month later, on 8 January 1970, Calabresi told reporters: “We were caught off guard by his action, not least because we did not think that his position was serious. As far as were concerned, Pinelli was still a decent guy and would probably have been going home the next day […] I can say that we did not regard him as a key witness, but merely as someone to be heard.”

Someone to be heard, yet someone who was being held illegally. His police detention should have expired on the evening of 14 December and the magistrate charged with the investigation, deputy prosecutor Ugo Paolillo, knew nothing about the arrest. Just as he was also in the dark about Valpreda’s having been moved to Rome. In fact, Paolillo had already had the investigation taken out of his hands. From now on everything would be decided at police headquarters in Milan and in the Rome courts.


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.”


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.