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On 5 December 1969 the Piazza del Duomo was packed with left-wingers, rather than the expected fascists

Mariano Rumor wasted no time. The day after the bombings of 12 December 1969, the prime minister called a meeting of the secretaries of the Christian Democrats, the Socialist Party, the Unified Socialist Party (the name used by the social democrats after the socialist split on 2 July 1969) and Republican Party. His aim was to rebuild a four-party coalition cabinet.

It was to take them over three months to come up with a new government line-up. The overall impression was that although the socio-political situation might be dramatic, in the palaces of Rome they were still using the same old alchemy in the allocation of ministerial portfolios likely to assuage the various political camps.

Mauro Ferri and Mario Tanassi, the two leaders of the new social democratic party, were behind a strong government that — riding the wave of emotion triggered by the bombs — sought to impose an authoritarian stamp on the country. They spoke for that “American party” (as it was known) which vehemently opposed Italy’s progressive drift leftwards.

Rumor’s real intention was to establish a centre government of Christian Democrats and the Unified Socialist Party that would crown, at policy level, the strategy that had led to the Piazza Fontana carnage. But the enormous turnout of trade unionists and left-wingers at the funerals in Milan forced him to think again.

The situation that had developed since 1968 was worrying to broad sections of the middle and entrepreneurial classes. First the student unrest and then the labour unrest had fuelled their paranoia about the “red menace”. The traditional unions had for many months been unsuccessful at keeping their members’ struggles within the parameters of the usual demands. So much so that on 3 July 1969 a general strike called to press for a rent freeze witnessed the FIAT workers in Turin’s Mirafiori plant chanting an ironic slogan that had a threatening ring as far as the ruling class was concerned: “What do we want? Everything!

Striking workers at the FIAT Mirafiori plant (1969)

That slogan had immediately taken off. Soon it was being chanted with growing insistence on marches. And in fact 1969 recorded 300,000 hours lost to strikes as compared with the 116,000 average for the 1960s.  Labour costs were on the rise, from 15.8 per cent (or 19.8 per cent in industry), increasing the wages component of the gross national product from 56.7 up to 59 per cent. A discernible shift in earnings was under way. A threat to the privileged classes of society and to those who only a few short years before had been the beneficiaries of the “economic miracle”.

A seemingly pre-revolutionary situation existed in the country. Even though the revolution for which most students and a segment of the workers yearned for was not merely a distant prospect, but a practical impossibility, but what did that matter? Many honestly believed it was just around the corner, and many more were afraid that that was the case.

Even though the advocates of the radical transformation of society were a tiny minority compared with the total population, the nation’s political axis was shifting to the left. Although harshly criticised by the extremist fringe, the Communist Party was preparing to expand into new areas. Caught on the hop by the student demonstrations at the start of 1968, the Communist Party leaders from the Via Botteghe Oscure quickly deployed to make up the lost ground, especially in the field of institutional politics — parliament. So much so that on 28 April 1969 the debate began on disarming the Italian police in an attempt to turn them into British “bobbies”. It only took the bombs in Milan on 25 April to consign that scheme to utopia.

The strategy of tension was under way. This phase involved a revamping and synthesis of what had already been devised in theory and put into practice since the mid-1960s by leaders of the far-right and important elements in the armed forces. Italian Nazis and fascists were eager to eradicate the “communist contagion” and in this they were aided, abetted, monitored and, ultimately, directed by the Italian and American secret services.

The CIA had been operating in Italy since the end of World War Two. In 1947 it had funded — through the AFL-CIO — the breakaway socialist party led by Giuseppe Saragat and helped by anti-Stalinist revolutionaries, the Iniziativa Socialista, led by Mario Zagari.  Apart from the ideological motives that drove Saragat and Zagari, the CIA’s dollars successfully undermined the Popular Front and facilitated the victory of the Christian Democrats on 18 April 1948 when they took 48.5 per cent of the votes and won an absolute majority in the Chamber of Deputies.

That victory had almost been written off. On 20 March 1948, George Marshall, the US Secretary of State, had warned Italians that in the event of a communist victory all US aid to Italy would dry up. In 1969 the CIA found its activities facilitated — the Italian president, Saragat, was a man who owed them a favour.

April 21, 1967: The Greek Colonels launch their US-led coup d'état

The CIA had one great foe — communism, just as the KGB used every method available to it to combat the West. But whereas in the Third World the two agencies fought on almost equal terms — with the KGB having the edge — in the west the CIA brooked no interference. So much so that in 1967 it came up with a brilliant resolution to the Greek crisis by installing its own man, George Papadopoulos in power by means of a coup d’état. From this point on the “coup-makers” held the upper hand in the Agency in Europe — and would continue to do so right up until the mid-1970s.

The three leaders of the US-backed Greek Revolutionary Junta: Papadopoulos (left), Pattakos (centre), Makarezos (right)

After Greece it was Italy’s turn and within the US-dependent SID the coup-maker faction was in the ascendant. From 1966  — the year he took office — Admiral Eugenio Henke led the SID and D Bureau was headed by Federico Gasca Queirazza, one of those who had been briefed in 1966 by agent Guido Giannettini on what the Venetian Nazis Franco Freda, Giovanni Ventura and Delfo Zorzi were planning.

Gasca Queirazza passed this information on to his superior, Henke, who in turn forwarded the information to Interior Minister Franco Restivo. Did Restivo pass on this information to his party colleague and prime minister, Mariano Rumor? No? That takes some swallowing, if only because the repeated unbelievable attacks of amnesia suffered by Rumor during the first trial in Catanzaro provoked such hilarity, in spite of the dramatic setting.

When Vito Miceli took over from Henke in 1970, the coup-maker faction was no longer simply diligently coordinating the attacks mounted by the far-right, it had taken the initiative as a direct organiser and Junio Valerio ’s coup attempt was part and parcel of this new dynamic. Miceli was also to stand trial for this later, but, as ever, nothing came of it.

When they struck on the night of 7 December 1970’s men were not nostalgic old codgers. They had substantial cover and assistance.  Miceli briefed Defence Minister Tanassi on what was happening, as did the chief of staff, Enzo Marchesi. In fact, Restivo knew everything even before the plotters held part of his ministry for a few hours.  But when questioned in parliament on 18 March 1971, after the news had broken, Restivo denied everything. Naturally.

The history of the coup in Italy remains unfinished business, as is the case of Piazza Fontana. History repeated itself in April 1973 with the Rosa dei Venti conspiracy, which involved even greater heavyweights who were much better prepared than Borghese had been — officers such as Colonel Amos Spiazzi (who had been around the block earlier, on 7 December 1970).

The man who oversaw this proliferation of attacks and coup preparations was a leading engineer by the name of Hung Fendwich whose office was based in Rome’s Via Tiburtina. But it was not located in the sort of secret lair that one might imagine; it was in the offices of the Selenia Company, part of the STET-IRI group, for which he worked.

Fendwich was the typical eminence grise who studied and refined plans, drew up analyses of the socioeconomic and political situation, but left the operational work — the “dirty work” — to men of more modest rank, men such as Captain David Carrett attached to the FTASE base (NATO command in Verona from 1969 to 1974), or his successor (up until 1978), Captain Theodore Richard based in Vicenza.

Sergio Minetto, one of the CIA’s top Italian informants, led these men. Minetto was the man to whom Carlo Digilio, their plant inside the Ordine Nuovo group in Venice, would have been reporting. As an operator it was he who prepared the explosives and trained Delfo Zorzi and Giovanni Ventura in the group’s powder magazine — an isolated house in the Paese district near Treviso.

The bomb attacks that erupted in Italy between 1969 and the mid-1970s (although they continued after that date) were regarded as overtures to a coup d’état. Indeed, although the coup never happened, it was always in the air and indeed had a precise function. It sent out a clear and menacing message to the opposition — i.e. the Communist Party.

But it was no coincidence that following the coup in Chile in September 1973 — which brought the number of military regimes around the globe to 47 — PCI secretary Enrico Berlinguer floated the idea (from the columns of the review Rinascita) of an “historic compromise” — i.e. for a government agreement between the Christian Democrats, the Italian Communist Party and the Italian Socialist Party.  But it was to take another 23 years before the Democratic Left Party, the PCI’s heir, entered the government as part of a centre-left coalition.

The bombings crystallised the institutional political situation and in response the left presented the prospect of armed struggle. The ongoing outrages and the threat of a coup, among other things, drove many extra-parliamentary militants underground, including people such as the publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli.

All this gave rise to a vicious circle, which, to some extent, served as an a posteriori excuse for the theory of “opposing extremisms’. The only hope was to trust whoever was in power at the time — that is, the men who were rubber-stamping and providing the cover for what the Interior Ministry’s Bureau of Confidential Affairs and the SID were doing under instruction from the CIA.

From the ministers came the directives and the secret services carried them out — and added more than a little initiative in the process. It was no coincidence in 1974, when SID officers brought Defence Minister Giulio Andreotti (in the fifth Rumor government) the recordings made by Captain Antonio Labruna with industrialist Remo Orlandini, a man who had been caught up in the coup attempt. Andreotti’s advice was that they “do a bit of pruning”. Translation? Purge the tapes of the most important names, which is to say the names of high-ranking military personnel implicated in the failed coup attempt.

This behaviour was similar to that of his predecessor, Mario Tanassi (defence minister with the fourth Rumor government). In the summer of 1974 Judge Giovanni Tamburino asked the SID for information about the pro-coup activities of General Ugo Ricci whom he considered one of the men behind the Rosa dei Venti. The SID, who knew all about Ricci’s activities, reported that the general was a man of unshakable democratic beliefs. But before forwarding that report the SID chief forwarded the judge’s request to Tanassi who returned it with the annotation: “Always say as little as possible.”

The practice of saying nothing or telling lies continued through the years. On 13 October 1985 the weekly Panorama published extracts from a document by Bettino Craxi, the prime minister, inviting the men of the secret services “to abide by a policy of noncooperation” with the magistrates questioning him.

Craxi never denied the veracity of that report. How could he? But he did bring pressures to bear on the judges to ignore it. So the politicians knew all about the secret service plots — and were often the prime movers behind it. They knew that the fascists were being used to further the strategy of tension and they were either jointly responsible for this or direct promoters of it, like Restivo.

So there was raison d’état behind the 12 December 1969 bombs — a matter of opting for terrorism as a means of holding on to power.

12 December 1969 signalled a watershed in the history of the republic, in the history of the left, in the history of movements […] because in effect on that date, along with 16 ordinary individuals there perished a significant portion of the first republic — a substantial portion of the machinery of state consciously plumped for illegality. It set itself up as a criminal power while continuing to man essential institutions and was permitted to do so (the ‘State servants’, policemen, judges, secret agents, politicians, secretaries, ministers, pen-pushers and henchmen who cooperated in the implementation of this crime and its cover-up by the laying of false trails, obstruction and ensuring the crime remained unpunished are numbered in the thousands). Since then, Italy has ceased to represent a constitutional democracy in the fullest sense”, wrote the political scientist Marco Revelli in his book Le due destre.

That political analysis is borne out and documented in the investigation carried out by Judge Guido Salvini: ”The protection afforded members of the Venice cell […] was absolutely vital, insofar as the caving-in of even one of the accused would have led the investigators, level after level, right to the highest powers who had made the operation on 12 December feasible, and the repercussions from that might well have proved incompatible with the maintenance of the country’s political status quo.”

Such widespread collusion also raises doubts. How much did the main opposition party — the Italian Communist Party, now the Democratic Left Party — know about the Piazza Fontana massacre? A lot, to be sure. But how much? And to what extent did the fear of bombs and coup d’états taint the PCI’s positions? To what extent was it induced by such fear to propose its historic compromise and then embrace coexistence? The answer to that can be found only in the archives in the Via Botteghe Oscure, which are as impenetrable as the Vatican’s.

But we can offer one answer, an answer which — given the guilt that lies at the highest levels — can only be that the massacre of Piazza Fontana was a State massacre. And the State was, moreover, the mother of all the massacres.

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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