“The Black Carlos”: The Story of Italian Right-Wing Terrorist Stefano Delle Chiaie (Part II: Stefano Delle Chiaie and the “Black” International)

In the second part of a mini-series on right-wing terror organizer, Stefano Delle Chiaie, Senior Fellow Dr Tobias Hof takes a look at his actions in Italy and South America – asking the questions about his influence and connectedness. Part 1 of this mini-series can can be found here.

Stefano Delle Chiaie

 Losing Control: The “New Right”

Once Stefano Delle Chiaie arrived in Spain in December 1970, he speedily established contacts with Francisco Franco’s regime. According to some sources,[1] he helped the Spanish security forces in suppressing Basque nationalism, up to and including murdering members of the Basque terrorist organization, Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA). During the time, Delle Chiaie worked for Franco, he observed and regularly commented on political events in Italy. In an interview with journalist Giorgio Zigari for the Corriere della Sera (19 November 1971), he denied any involvement in the Piazza Fontana bombing (1969) and rejected any responsibility for the right-wing violence engulfing Italy. Although Delle Chiaie portrayed himself as the incarnation of innocence, he had absolutely no intention of abandoning his contacts in the Italian right-wing scene. He frequently travelled to Italy and met with the new leader of the neo-fascist party, Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI), Giorgio Almirante, and members of the right-wing extremist groups National Vanguard (AN) and New Order (ON).

How Delle Chiaie managed to travel back and forth between Spain and Italy without being arrested remains a mystery to this day. Was he protected by the Italian security apparatus? Or was it just sheer luck on his part? Regardless, his contacts with AN and ON raises the more serious question regarding the extent of his actual influence and participation in the “strategy of tension.” While there is no doubt that he still sought to manage Italy’s far-right scene, his endeavors were only partially successful due to a variety of internal and external changes.

Already in 1972, the failure of Delle Chiaie’s “strategy of tension” became obvious. Rather than leading to a decline of the left, the destabilization of public order was exploited by communist and socialist parties. In addition, the MSI supported referendum against divorce failed, right-wing groups AN and ON were banned, and left-wing terrorism was on the rise. To overcome the apparent crisis of the radical right, a younger generation pushed for a radical change of tactics. They proposed the creation of smaller groups to carry out a strategy of armed spontaneity directed against both groups they considered “inferior” (i. e. the left and the entire “system”) – with the latter including state officials and members of the security apparatus. In the minds of these young radicals, the goal was to clear the way for a utopian “new” system, devoid of the faults and weaknesses of the current one.

This anarchic form of right-wing terrorism, predominantly inspired by an oversimplified reading of Julius Evola’s philosophy, debuted in 1972 with the murder of three Carabinieri in Peteano by Vincenzo Vinciguerra. Delle Chiaie disapproved of this new strategy as it threatened his well-established network within the security apparatus, which was essential for his own survival. Despite repeated attempts to control the “new right” and use it for his own benefit, his actual influence seemed to decrease further: The murder of state attorney Vittorio Occorsio in 1976 is regarded as the official end of the “strategy of tension” and the beginning of a new phase of right-wing terrorism, which was dominated by the “new right” and signaled Delle Chiaie’s loss of influence.

A New Home

The split of Italy’s right-wing extremist scene occurred at a time when the radical right was under pressure across Europe. The fall of the dictatorships in Portugal (“Carnation Revolution,” 1974), Greece (1974) and Spain (death of Franco in 1975) were heavy blows to Delle Chiaie as it deprived him of potential safe havens outside Italy. He therefore decided to change his strategy and opted for a temporary tactical retreat from the European right-wing scene.

While things were dire in Europe, the situation in South America looked much more promising for a right-wing radical and staunch anti-communist, like Delle Chiaie. Military dictatorships ruled countries, such as Argentina (1976-1983), Brazil (1964-1985), Paraguay (1954-1989), Peru (1975-1980) and Uruguay (1973-1985), and benefitted from the support of the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The CIA sought to suppress the spread of communism via any and all means, including covert actions and psychological warfare, tactics that had come under a lot of scrutiny in Europe after the publication of the Congressional Pike report. Particularly after Augusto Pinochet overthrew Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973, right-wing forces seemed to be unstoppable, transforming South America into a hotbed of anti-communism, human-rights abuses and state-sponsored terrorism—the perfect spot for Delle Chiaie to re-build and strengthen his “black international” network.

The Terrorist Mercenary

As more and more information about Delle Chiaie is declassified,[2] we are slowly building a clearer picture of his activities since he left Europe. Between 1974 and 1982, he roamed freely in South America, offering his services to various authoritarian regimes and recruiting old supporters (e. g. Pierluigi Pagliai) and new followers (e. g. Joachim Fiebelkorn) to his cause. In particular, Delle Chiaie supported DINA (Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional), Pinochet’s secret service and one of the pillars of the CIA-backed “Operation Condor” in South America, a campaign of state terror against political opponents of the military dictatorships.

One of Delle Chiaie’s closest contacts in South America was former German SS officer Klaus Barbie, whom he met in 1976. Barbie, known as the “Butcher of Lyon”, had fled to South America after World War II and collaborated with the American CIA in its crusade against communism. In their search for a suitable spot for the headquarters of the “black international,” which could function as a coordinating center for their state-sponsored terrorist activities, Delle Chiaie’s and Barbie’s gaze turned to Bolivia, a country with weak democratic institutions constantly torn apart by recurring military coups. As a consequence, Delle Chiaie moved to La Paz in 1978 to head the CIA-controlled Summer Institute of Linguistics, a training camp for right-wing radicals.

However, the Bolivian paradise was imperiled when left-wing parties won the majority of the votes in the July 1980 election. It was under these circumstances that the “black international” under Delle Chiaie and Barbie launched its most successful campaign: With the help of the “black international” and the support of the Argentinian military junta in the form of military advisors such as Lieutenant Colonel Julio César Durán, Bolivian General García Meza staged a bloody coup against the newly elected government on 17 July 1980. The military dictatorship Meza established ruled the country for more than two years.

After the coup, Delle Chiaie continued his collaboration with the new Bolivian military junta. Trying to stay aloof from the sometimes-bloody internal rivalries between the different branches of the Bolivian army, he collaborated with Meza’s secret police and was an advisor for the regime’s Ministry of Propaganda. However, in addition to his work for the Bolivian government Della Chiaie also published a neo-fascist journal (“Confidential”) and diligently fostered his global right-wing terrorist network, earning him the nickname “Black Carlos.” Between 1976 and 1980, he repeatedly visited Europe (Spain and France in particular) and participated in several meetings of the radical right, including the World Anti-Communist League gathering in 1976.

 Conclusion: A mastermind of global right-wing terrorism?

Delle Chiaie and members of his network are today associated with many of the major terrorist incidents and criminal activities that swept the Western world between 1975 and 1982, including the attempts to kill Bernardo Leighton (1975) and Pope John Paul II (1981), the assassination of General Carlos Prats (1974) and Orlando Letelier (1976), the Bologna train station massacre and the Oktoberfest bombing in 1980 and the shady dealings of the Italian Lodge P2 under Licio Gelli. However, due to the loose nature of Delle Chiaie’s network, to this day it remains difficult to prove his personal responsibility in some cases.

While we should not take Delle Chiaie’s rebuttals at face value, we should also be cautious of overstating his actual influence and portraying him as the all-powerful mastermind of global right-wing terrorism. There are two main reasons for this caution: First, many right-wing terrorists who were arrested and interrogated by law enforcement agencies incriminated Delle Chiaie. Were these statements true? Or did they seek to blame someone who had successfully escaped justice enough times to appear untouchable? Second, these statements and others characterized Delle Chiaie as a “super-terrorist” with global networks and protection, and the ability to strike everywhere at every time. However, and as we know from the manifestoes of recent attackers, right-wing terrorists often tend to use different labels, names and networks to create the misleading impression of greater numbers and power.

These questions aside, one thing is certain: Without underestimating Delle Chiaie’s role and influence within the right-wing terrorists’ scene during this time period, his own approach to terrorism had radically changed. Though he started as an idealistic young radical in the 1950s who wanted to overthrow the decadent and decaying Italian “system,” he now embraced authoritarian military dictatorships and became their willing tool in suppressing political opposition through the use of state-sponsored terror. Delle Chiaie precisely and without any scruples carried out what he was asked to do, using his own contacts and networks when needed. Despite being engaged in a state-sponsored terror campaign against the left, he was less interested in participating in an ideological debate about the future of right-wing extremism. During this period, he seemed to be content with making a living as a mercenary rather than as a radical idealist.

These priorities—particularly his predilection for materialistic considerations over ideological philosophy—became even more clear when he and Italian right-wing radicals Giovanni Lanfre and Sandro Saccucci established an “Import – Export” company in Chile, which became heavily involved in arms and drug trafficking. Delle Chiaie’s illegal activities hugely benefitted from his contacts to the Bolivian military junta, which was also involved in the drug business. Not for nothing was Meza’s coup nicknamed the “Cocaine coup.” While cooperation between right-wing extremists and criminal organizations is not unique to Delle Chiaie, his decision to get involved in the drug trafficking business—as the next part of the series on Delle Chiaie will reveal—would eventually be the cause of his downfall.

Dr Tobias Hof is a Senior Fellow at CARR and Privatdozent for Modern and Contemporary History at Ludwig-Maximilians-University München. See his profile here.

© Tobias Hof.  Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).

[1] Information can be found in Christie,S, Stefano Delle Chiaie: Portrait of a Black Terrorist, (London: Anarchy Magazine, 1984), p. 34-35 – he refers to the information provided by neo-fascist Aldo Tisei.