The arrest and subsequent trials in the late 1980s/early 1990s did not change Stefano Delle Chiaie’s worldview. As soon as he was acquitted, he once again tried to assume a leadership position within Italy’s far-right. Thereby, he at first seemed to benefit from the decline and ultimate collapse of the Italian political system at the end of the Cold War. The Tangentopoli (or so-called “Bribesville”) scandal in 1992 destroyed the party landscape that had dominated Italy’s political culture since the end of the Second World War. With the major parties—the Christian Democrats and the Italian Communist Party—gone a political vacuum prime for exploitation by the ultra-right and by political newcomers was created—the perfect conditions for someone (like Silvio Berlusconi) to launch his political career.
Immediately after his acquittal, Delle Chiaie used his contacts and networks within the radical-right to launch a new far-right group in October 1991, named The National Popular Forum (Lega Nazionalpopolare). Many old and new right-wing extremists joined forces with Delle Chiaie, proving that he was still held in high esteem. Among them was Adriano Tilgher, a former member of Delle Chiaie’s AN in the 1970s. However, the group had only marginal success at the polls in 1992 and slowly disappeared.
Tilgher, however, is a good example of the heterogeneity of Italy’s far-right and an indication that former protégés successfully emancipated themselves from Delle Chiaie, who was no longer the only center of gravity of Italy’s radical-right. While he remained a close confidant of Delle Chiaie, Tilgher also became more and more active in the Italian right-wing scene on his own. He joined the right-wing extremist group Tricolour Flame (Fiamma Tricolore), which was founded by none other than Delle Chiaie’s former partner, Pino Rauti, in 1996. However, he was expelled when he started to criticize and challenge Rauti’s leadership. Later, he became associated with several other radical-right splinter groups that tried to enlist the support of Italian and European far-right wing heavy-weights, like Jean-Marie Le Pen or Alessandra Mussolini, to outdo their rivals within the right-wing extremist milieu.
The end of the Cold War and the collapse of Italy’s political party system proved problematic for Delle Chiaie and Italy’s radical-right in the end. With the collapse of the USSR and the marginalization of the Italian Communist Party the enemies Delle Chiaie had fought against for years were finally defeated. Yet, it was not a time to celebrate. With their defeat, the extremist right lacked a common enemy that could serve as a unifying scapegoat for a heterogenous and fractured right-wing milieu. As a result, Italy’s right-wing extremist scene remained splintered into many, small groups and was weakened by internal struggles and competition. A new enemy had to be identified.
Change, however, came with the 2008 global recession, several Islamic terrorist attacks in other European countries and the so-called 2015 ‘migration crisis’. These events offered Italy’s extreme right new scapegoats and an opportunity to build a united and strong movement – a phenomenon that could also be observed on a global scale. Stefano Delle Chiaie quickly seized the opportunity and once again became a rallying figure for right-wing radicals, including a younger generation.
One example of his influence occurred in September 2014. According to a report in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica that was based on an intercepted telephone call by Roberto Fiore, founding member of Forza Nuova, Delle Chiaie’s influence was instrumental in forging an alliance between various far-right-wing groups. Among these groups were Forza Nuova, Matteo Salvini’s Lega Nord (renamed in 2018 La Lega) as well as the neo-fascist group Casa Pound Italia, named after the author Ezra Pound. Delle Chiaie’s efforts apparently paid off and boosted Salvini’s career, who eventually became Italy’s Minister of Interior and Deputy Prime Minister between 2018 and 2019. It was, once again, Delle Chiaie at his finest: He was the puppet-master, the “spider” in the middle of the far-right web, using his old and new networks and above all his reputation to strengthen and shape Italy’s radical-right.
Although Delle Chiaie was busy meddling in Italian politics, he missed no opportunity to construct his own image and reputation. Unusual for a right-wing extremist and terrorist, he wrote several books and articles about his life and work. In 1994, he co-authored – with Adriano Tilgher – the book Un meccanismo diabolico: Stragi – Servizi segreti – Magistrati, in which he denied all charges and accused the state apparatus and the judicial branch of plotting against him. In 2012, he published his autobiography, L’aquila e il condor: Memorie di un militante politico, in an attempt to shape his public image and, once again, in order to deny his involvement in the terrorist attacks.
On 12 September 2019, Stefano Delle Chiaie, the “Black Carlos”, one of the leading right-wing terrorists of the 1970s and 1980s who never served time in jail for his deeds, died at the age of 82. Young right-wing radicals served as a guard-of-honor for his coffin, one more sign of his enduring influence among the radical-right in Italy. The recent declassification of certain government documents has helped us gain a better understanding of his life as well as piece together some of the mysteries surrounding his personality. However, many questions remain, and only future research, based on new material, will provide the necessary evidence to separate truth from myth and show the full picture of Stefano Delle Chiaie’s extraordinary life.
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).