Matteo Salvini, the leader of half of the recently formed Italian government has swiftly drawn several comparisons to President Trump. A meeting between the two was held in 2016, after which Trump leant Salvini an endorsement. Needless to say, Trump had strong reasons to praise the Italian leader. Salvini’s call for the registration of Rome within Italy, the immediate detention and pending deportation of undocumented immigrants and his continual admiration of Putin and Mussolini are some of the obvious motives why the two leaders are seen as being similar. Salvini has even adopted a slogan which echoes Trump: ‘Italian’s first’. The similarity between the two leaders is evident. However, by unpacking the history of Salvini’s party, a more worrying development emerges.
Salvini’s Northern League has associated itself with some troublesome folk through the years, the most alarming being the neo-fascist party CasaPound. The two groups have participated in rallies together and share views on a number of issues; the fascist slogan ‘Italy for the Italians’ closely resembles Salvini’s own slogan. Crucially, CasaPound’s campaign strategy is a vital example of how an incremental political strategy can normalise racism. They had begun by focusing on the threat of illegal immigrants and Islam, palatable issues for a mainstream electorate which give them a ‘moderate’ image - the image that Salvini personifies. However, the key philosophy that lies behind CasaPound’s incremental strategy is the concept of the ‘great replacement’. The idea is that some form of ‘elite’, usually seen as the Jews which are characterised today by a demonised George Soros, is ‘importing’ people of colour or ‘Muslims’ to create a white, or ‘Christian’, genocide. This explains how CasaPound can go from protesting against illegal immigration and ‘Islamisation’ to saying, as one of the group’s leaders Simone Di Stefano said to the Guardian, ‘We have to solve the problem of Africa’.
The impact of this incremental discourse is horrific. Soumalya Sacko, a legal immigrant, was shot by a sympathiser of both CasaPound and the League, who described Salvini as a ‘great militant’ against migration. The man did not stop to ask Mr Sacko if he had travelled illegally to Italy, or what God he prayed to - no. Instead, he simply assumed that he must be an immigrant, and thus an enemy, all because of his black skin. The attacker was simply ‘solving the problem of Africa’ making sure Italians come first in Italy.
However, this is not isolated to Italy. The AfD has begun a similar campaign in Germany; garnering popular support by opposing Islam but incrementally unveiling racism. Alexander Gauland, its leader, described migrants as ‘foreign invaders’, echoing the logic of the ‘great replacement’. His ideology was further shown by senior party member Jörg Meuthen, who said: ‘in some German cities, I struggle to find Germans on the streets’. Needless to say, it’s unlikely he tried to stop each of these ‘non-Germans’ to engage in a prolonged discussion about their understanding of the German culture. On the same token, Alexander Gauland declared about Jérôme Boateng that ‘They [the Germans] like him as a football player, but they don’t like to have him as a neighbour’. However, the crowning achievement was Frauke Petry’s, who stated that the Nazi term ‘volkisch’ actually isn’t about race, just how ‘Italian’s First’ or ‘Italy for the Italians’ are not really about illegal immigration and Islam.
Nevertheless, going back to Trump, the US is not immune to this virus. Laura Ingraham has recently ran a section on Fox News about demographics which may as well have been a continual recital of the white supremacist ‘14 words’. As such, it goes without saying that Trump and Salvini are part of this incremental process. By legitimising the demonization of one group, like illegal immigrants, it opens the door to the incremental processes. Through them, Soumalya Sacko becomes an enemy of Italy. But at least Jérôme Boateng couldn’t trouble his neighbours as he’s definitely not part of Petry’s ‘volkisch’.