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Thousands of people commemorate Mussolini at the crypt

PREDAPIA, Italy — Several thousand supporters of fascism in black chanted and sang in honor of Benito Mussolini as they walked to the crypt of the slain Italian dictator on Sunday, 100 years after Mussolini entered Rome and ended a bloodless coup that led to two decades fascist rule.

The crowd of about 2,000 to 4,000 marchers, many sporting Fascist symbols and singing Italian colonial-era hymns, was larger than in the recent past, when Fascist nostalgics celebrated the centenary of the March on Rome. On October 28, 1922, black-shirted fascists entered the Italian capital, launching a coup that ended two days later when the King of Italy handed Mussolini a mandate to form a new government.

The crowd in Predapio, Mussolini’s birthplace and final resting place in the northern Emilia-Romagna region, also appeared emboldened by the fact that a party with neo-fascist roots is leading an Italian government for the first time since World War II.

Organizers warned the participants, who came from as far away as Rome, Belgium and the United States, not to give the fascist salute in Roman or face prosecution. Still, some couldn’t stand it when the crowd stopped by the cemetery where Mussolini is buried to pray and greet Mussolini’s great-granddaughter, Arsola.

“After 100 years we are still here to worship the man whom this state desired and whom we will never cease to admire,” Arsola Mussolini said to cheers.

She listed her great-grandfather’s achievements, citing an infrastructure boom that built schools, hospitals and public buildings, reclaimed malaria-infested swamps for cities and extended a pension system to non-government workers. She was joined by her sister Vitoria, who led the crowd in prayer.

The crowd let out a final cry of “Duce, Duce, Duce,” Mussolini’s honorific name as dictator of Italy.

On Friday, anti-fascists marched in Predapio to mark the anniversary of the city’s liberation — and to prevent the fascists from marching on the anniversary of the March on Rome.

Inside the cemetery Sunday, Duce fans lined up to enter his crypt, tucked away in a back corner, a handful at a time. Each was given a memory card signed by his great-grandchildren, with a photograph of a smiling Mussolini holding his leather-gloved hand aloft in a Roman salute. “History will prove me right,” the postcard reads.

Italy’s inability to fully come to terms with its fascist past has never been more acute than now, as Italy’s new prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, seeks to distance her far-right Brotherhood of Italy party from its neo-fascist roots. This week she condemned the anti-democratic nature of fascism and called its racial laws, which sent thousands of Italian Jews to Nazi death camps, a “low point”. Historians will also add Mussolini’s alliance with Nazi Germany and Japan in World War II and his disastrous colonial campaign in Africa to her devastating legacy.

Meloni, now in power, is seeking a moderate course for a new center-right government that includes Matteo Salvini’s League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia. But her victory gives far-right activists a sense of vindication, even if they see themselves as even more right-wing.

“I would vote for Lucifer if he could defeat the left,” said organizer Mirko Santarelli, who heads the Ravenna branch of Arditi, an organization that began as a group of World War I veterans and grew to include care for Mussolini’s memory. “I am happy that there is a Meloni government because there is nothing worse than the Italian left. It’s not a government that reflects my ideas, but it’s better than nothing.”

He said he wanted the new government to repeal laws that punish incitement to hatred and violence based on race, ethnicity, religion and nationality. Includes the use of emblems and symbols, which were abundant in the Sunday procession.

Santarelli said the law punishes “thought crime.”

“She is being used as castor oil by the left to silence us. If I am asked about my opinion of Mussolini, and it is clear that I speak well of him, I risk being condemned,” Santarelli said.

Lawyer Francesco Munitillo, a far-right activist representing the organizers, said Italy’s High Court had ruled that the demonstrations were permitted as long as they were commemorative “and did not meet the criteria of threatening the re-establishment of a fascist party”.

Still, he said, magistrates in recent years have begun investigating similar demonstrations in Predapio and elsewhere to make sure they are not breaking the law. Last week, one such case was dismissed without charges.

To avoid distorting their message, Santarelli asked those present not to speak to reporters, saying that the words of hotheads are often misinterpreted. Most did.

Rachel Massimi drove the group four hours from Rome on Sunday morning to attend the event, taking her 3-year-old child with her, who watched the march from a stroller. “It’s historic,” Massimi said. “This is a memory.

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