Around this time last year, a violent mob attacked the U.S. Capitol. They were encouraged by a mendacious claim that a victory had been stolen. Their party began to game the electoral system. They saw themselves as protecting their culture.
Connecticut was present in these events. Its residents attended the rally. One was elected to office in November. Seven were charged in connection with the attack. As events were unfolding in Washington, a crowd gathered in Hartford to jeer Connecticut’s newly elected officials.
Later that month at the legislature in Hartford, a raft of bills were introduced to curtail voting rights (e.g.: SB 478 – Eliminate election day registration; SB 795 – Prohibit absentee ballot applications; HB 5874 – Require election day photo ID’s). It was worse in other states.
As local elections approached in November, there was an orchestrated effort under the cultural banner of critical race theory to suppress a reckoning with racism.
Amazing and unprecedented, you might think! Not so much. A hundred years ago, in another country, similar tactics were used. They worked for a while. Until they didn’t.
The country was Italy. The leader was Benito Mussolini.
On October 24, 1922, Mussolini told his violent private army of blackshirts that they would be given the government or they would take it by marching to Rome. They had been told that they had been cheated out of the fruits of victory in World War I. The next day, blackshirt mobs marched on Rome while Mussolini observed from afar. King Victor Emanuelle III was no Mike Pence. Fearing civil war, he invited Mussolini to become prime minister and form a government.
Once in control, the fascists rammed through the Acerbo Law of 1923. This gave the fascists a ruling parliamentary majority despite having fewer votes than the combined opposition parties who were disorganized and cowed by Mussolini’s armed supporters. Italy became minority ruled.
Unlike the Americans who did not succeed in hanging Mike Pence, the fascists did succeed in 1924 in murdering Giacomo Matteotti – the opposition leader. A year later, Mussolini declared that “I alone” am responsible for fixing society and proclaimed himself the Duce.
Mussolini left the Jews alone for a while. But in 1938, he rolled out the racial laws which made anti-Semitism official government policy. Jews were removed from the government, the armed forces, and the schools, their property was confiscated, and some were herded into camps. The fascists saw themselves as protecting their Christian culture.
Mussolini’s actions were popular at first. But bullying doesn’t age well. In 1940, he made common cause with Hitler. His armies saw action on many fronts (France, Greece, Africa, Russia). All were disasters. The last straw came when Sicily was conquered and Italy changed sides. The Germans did not take this kindly and murdered many of their erstwhile Italian allies. The Wehrmacht flooded into the country. Italy suffered massive death and destruction. Mussolini was fired in 1943. Briefly imprisoned, he was freed by a German commando raid and installed in a puppet regime in the north. Eventually he and his mistress were shot by Italian partisans while trying to escape to Switzerland. His body was hanged in a square in Milan.
There are three lessons from this history:
1. Don’t mount a violent insurrection based on a lie.
2. Don’t game elections.
3. Don’t suppress minorities.
Connecticut is a far cry from Mussolini. But as a state with a great Italian heritage, it would do well to take note of past times in the beautiful country of its ancestors and mark well that bad things happen to good people when they let down their guard.
Frank Hanley Santoro of Deep River is the author of When Will They Come For Me? – a book about Trump and Mussolini on which this opinion piece is based.