Cambridge Analytica in Italy
Cambridge Analytica in Italy – Et tu Matteo?
One of the most prominent emerging figures in this swathe of rising populism is Matteo Salvini of Italy. Sure he looks like your Dad's sleazy mate, of dubious competing odours, who cheats on his wife with a loud, obnoxious, blonde woman who he meets at the local motorway service station for sweaty trysts every other weekend, but don't hold that against him. There are plenty of perfectly legitimate reasons to think this greasy grifter is a bit shifty.
As the Jakarta Post reported:
"Italy's data protection watchdog slammed Facebook Friday with a fine of one million Euros ($1.1 million) for violating privacy laws over the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
The penalty was for "illegal actions committed in the 'Cambridge Analytica' case, the company that gained access to the data of 87 million users through an app for psychological tests," it said in a statement.
In December, Italy's competition authority fined Facebook 10 million Euros for selling users' data without informing them and "aggressively" discouraging users from trying to limit how the company shares their data."
What has been confirmed is that Cambridge Analytica/SCL were definitely working in Italy in 2012, just about the time that Salvini began to become a prominent figure in Italian politics and making waves on the international stage. By sheer coincidence Salvini used exactly the same tactics previously used by Cambridge Analytica/SCL with a reliance on social media, stoking unfounded fears about immigration and foreigners in general. By another sheers coincidence he is promoted heavily by Gatestone Media, Rebel Media, Breitbart and the various other far right media nodes that were financed by those behind the Cambridge Analytica project and used to spread their propaganda as part of the programme.
The company was involved in political campaigning in Italy in 2012. When secretly filmed by Channel 4 News, Mark Turnbull, an executive of the company was recorded boasting that: "We've just used a different organisation to run a very, very successful project in an Eastern European country where... no-one even knew they were there".
But don't take my word for it. Thanks to the wonders of the Wayback machine we can still view Cambridge Analytica's now removed website. On there they have a whole page dedicated to their Italian project. Here is the exact quote taken directly from the site:
"Target Audience Analysis for a Resurgent Party : In 2012 CA carried out a research project on behalf of a resurgent Italian political party last successful in the 1980s. Using Target Audience Analysis, CA researched current and past members along with potential sympathizers to develop a reorganization strategy that catered to the needs of both contingents. The flexible and modern organizational structure that resulted from CA's suggested reforms allowed the party to perform beyond its initial expectations at a time of turbulence in Italian politics."
Origins of La Lega
Now some of you will remember 1991 as "the year punk broke" due to Sonic Youth's European tour. At the same time Italy's political party the Northern League (Lega Nord in Italian) was born. Most historians believe that the two events are in no way connected and I agree. Whilst this may seem an incredibly short time ago (ignoring the old axiom that a week is a long time in politics) Lega Nord is actually Italy's oldest political party in parliament. Lega Nord is sometimes also known as il Carroccio – which is a portable religious alter, drawn by oxen to facilitate a sermon just prior to engaging on the mediaeval battlefield, or by its full name 'Northern League for the Independence of Padania'. Padania is a large area of Northern Italy which traditionally thinks of itself as separate from the rest of the country. Lega Nord has always wanted more power for the regions in the north of Italy, promoting their concept of fiscal federalism and suggesting that the region of Padania is essentially separate from the South and therefore is allowed to keep its own taxes and revenues.
This concept of uniting and helping the north gain independence from the rest of the country traditionally allowed for a cross party coalition of northerners who felt that they wanted to promote this idea. The party's founder Umberto Bossi and its governor Roberto Maroni were both on the left of the political spectrum. Umberto Bossi is actually a former rock singer and laboratory technician. Bossi founded the League and led the party until 2012. He allied the Northern League with Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia in three coalition governments during that time, though the relationship was a rocky one. He resigned over alleged appropriation of party funds in 2012, and later was convicted of fraud.
Prosecutors discovered that party treasurer had stolen over Forty Million Euros and allowed for hundreds of thousands of these to find their way into the hands (and wallet) of Bossi. Public money had been spent on renovating the Bossi home, buying luxury cars and also for the purchase of a fake University degree from Albania to disguise the fact that Bossi's son (who was being groomed for leadership) is a total idiot. This was all very embarrassing for a party who ran on the slogan "Roma, ladrona!" ("Thieving Rome").
Matteo Salvini led the party from that point onward. Salvini has always been more right leaning. The party has always been critical of the EU in regards to preventing the region from being autonomous, but this was upped with Salvini who has publically called the EU a "failed experiment" and the Euro a "crime against humanity" Traditionally Lega Nord rallied against the drain caused by the poor south of the country although under Salvini this shifted to a broader hatred of immigration, altering the target of their previous ire in order to try and get southerners to vote for them. Ideas of succeeding from the country are far less prominent nowadays. When Salvini was a young city councilman in 1999, he refused to shake hands with Italy's then president, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, saying: "No, thanks, you don't represent me." When Salvini was elected to the Italian parliament in 2008, he arrived in Rome in a T-shirt bearing the words "Padania is not Italy".
Traditionally support for La Lega was from the north, but with Salvini shifting the blame for all the regions (and the countries) woes from Southerners to immigrants and foreigners this allowed for them to expand their support and membership.
In general elections, the party's strongest result was 10.1 percent in 1996. That figure dropped to 8.3 percent in 2008, then 4.1 percent in 2013 - with many typical Lega voters instead opting for new kids on the block, the Five Star Movement.
To many political commentators, it looked like the League was about to fade into insignificance, but in fact, quite the opposite happened. Since Matteo Salvini took over as leader in late 2013, the party's public support has leapt from under five percent to around 15 percent, according to opinion polls. That's a strong figure indeed in a country where no party has ever won an outright majority since the Second World War. This just so happened to coincide with Cambridge Analytica's work in the country.
During the shift from a regional ideology of blaming others (Southerners) and isolationism to the broader national campaign of isolationism and blaming others (immigrants) La Lega revealed some flashy new PR that many noticed seemed to be aping that of the campaign of Donald Trump – another Cambridge Analytica stooge.
Their new slogan was "Italians first" – remarkably similar to Trump's (racially loaded) "America First" and similar in tone to the concepts put about by the UK Cambridge Analytica programme about "taking back control". Salvini also started employing the colour blue (rather than the party's traditional green) to match the national flag, including the use of a blue podium, from which he raged against the new enemy, no longer Rome and the South but Brussels, international banks and multinational corporations.
Among the policies touted in their 2018 election campaign were calls for a flat tax rate at 15% (many have pointed out that this type of tax invariably favours the super wealthy – not dissimilar to the tax cuts Trump has given the super wealthy that supported him via the Heritage Foundation, CNP and other right wing think tanks). La Lega also offered taxation on prostitution, free government funded day care, tighter immigration controls and the rejection of a bill allowing Italian citizenship for those born in Italy but with non Italian parents. La Lega came third in the election and formed a coalition government with the Five Star Movement. Five Star was founded by the comedian Beppe Grillo, with a similar populist appeal but a message that is less nationalistic in tone.
Salvini held the position of deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister but his real goal is self promotion, or more accurately promotion of the idea of Salvini, promoting the nationalist popularism that ironically is springing up all over Europe and the world in a paradoxically uniform manner, wherever SCL or Cambridge Analytica happen to set up shop. This basically involves Salvini inserting sound bites into the media that stoke fear and anger among his base. It is all very Trumpian and not by accident in my opinion. His first big rally featured a banner saying "Stop the Invasion". In 2015, he took a risk by organising a major rally in Rome – unusual for the Lega – and took the stage with leaders of neo-fascist groups, against the advice of older Lega leaders, who were vocally anti-fascist. Salvini is not a fan of the Roma people (those of Romany gypsy descent) and has repeatedly asked for "an answer to the Roma question" aping Nazi slogans about the Jewish people.
For many years Italy has insisted that large numbers of Roma are kept in camps separate from "real Italians". These are squalid living conditions and in 2013 Amnesty International reported that over 4000 were living in these camps on the outskirts of Rome hindered from leaving by discriminatory housing policies. Salvini has, unsurprisingly, upped the rhetoric and focussed on the Roma as one of the causes of Italy's problems. Salvini has often threatened to destroy these camps.
However, Salvini's main focus is now immigrants and his insane lust to keep them from docking in Italy, figuring a problem drowned is a problem he will no longer have to be bothered with. In June 2019 he announced a ban on ships carrying immigrants from Italian waters, including banning boats that had rescued drowning immigrants from docking in Italian ports, to be punished by a fine of up to EU 50,000 or confiscation of the ship. This is in contravention of Italy's duty under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Montego Bay Convention). Salvini has defended his decision claiming that only two deaths have resulted from his irresponsible actions (which would put him on par with film star Matthew Broderick – Google it). Other more sensible people such as the International Organization for Migration claimed there were more than 500 deaths (meaning that he has beaten the record of Mafia hit squad Murder Inc in a straight numbers game). In June 2019 the Sea Watch 3 docked in Lampedusa after 14 days at sea with dozens of migrants rescued from rubber dinghies, its second lengthy stand-off with Italian authorities in six month; Salvini threatened to send in the police. Salvini also threatened to refuse to register or document migrants who arrived in Italy, which is contrary to EU agreements and rules and also to any basic standard of human decency.
Salvini is also as bitchy and as prone to throw a childish tantrum as Trump and employs similar tactics to the God Emperor combover, utilising his media platform to whinge about those who oppose him in a manner similar to a troubled teenage girl. He has publically rebuked Judges decisions regarding favourable treatment of refugees and even tried to interfere with the legal process in Bologna and Tuscany. Luigi Patronaggio, a prosecutor in Sicily, investigated the legality of Salvini's ban on migrant ships docking, and received death threats through the post.In 2018, Judge Gerardo Boragine, acquitted protestors who threw eggs at Salvini. The politician reacted like a chastised child and attacked the judge on Facebook, resulting in a torrent of death threats towards the Judge that were deemed serious enough to require police protection.
When he became the Interior minister, one of Salvini's first actions was to turn away a boat containing 600 refugees rescued from the sea by the charity SOS Meditarranee. Although this resulted in international condemnation it depressingly increased support for La lega. Salvini rose to prominence as one of Italy's most favoured politicians.
If you have been reading this blog series and are familiar with the social media based tactics of Cambridge Analytica, it will be no surprise to you that Salvini is considered a bit of a wonder on Facebook and Twitter. Salvini has also used the platform in a very similar manner to Trump – throw a load of bullshit into the trough to feed your base. In the latter half of 2015 Salvini somehow managed to triple his Facebook following. He capitalised on the refugee crisis but still this is a huge spike in numbers. One wonders if Cambridge Analytica's microtargeting and the efforts of media outlets such as Breitbart had anything to do with this.
As reported in the Guardian:
"At the time, the Italian edition of Wired magazine reported that Salvini posted an average of 10 times a day, "doing in a week what his competitors do in six months". Since then, his following has increased more than fivefold, to 2.9 million.
The magazine found that Salvini's following often spiked after he made an especially provocative statement – such as declaring, in 2016, that the pope's welcome to immigrants would "encourage and fund an unprecedented invasion". But another Wired study found that Salvini has become increasingly sophisticated in the last few years, stimulating positive feelings as well as the usual negative emotions of anger and fear. "The rhetorical strategy is clear: you lower the reader's guard by playing on fear and anger, but also suggesting that, by putting faith in the Lega, things will get better," the magazine concluded. "There is a positive element to his posts, even a bit of joy."
This is remarkably similar to the tactics employed by Trump and Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party. Similar to Trump and Farage (and by a remarkable coincidence this is a prima facie tactic of fascism) Salvini is an incredibly wealthy person that pretends to be a man of the people.
As the Guardian continues:
"Salvini, on the other hand, comes across as the nice guy who lives down the block. He is known for giving blood and organising blood-donation drives, and makes frequent references to "mamma" and "papa", to goodness and generosity.
Although Salvini cultivates a strongman image, he alternates soothing traditional Italian references to love, friendship and family with harsh attacks on his enemies: criminal immigrants, mainstream journalists, financial and cultural elites, faceless EU bureaucrats and bankers. He addresses his Facebook followers as "friends", but makes frequent use of the term "enemy" as well."
By leveraging a false enemy (which is the main focus of Cambridge Analytica's programmes) Salvini has managed to do what inveterate liars Trump and Farage have also managed to do, convince people that he is trustworthy despite all of the readily available evidence to the contrary. This to me is another strong indication of Cambridge Analytica's role in promoting Salvini.
Tweets Similar to Trump:
Salvini uses a scattershot approach to incensing his followers with a barrage of unrelated ills for his audience to fume over, not dissimilar to Trump. Salvini, like Trump focuses on smaller, secondary issues rather than bring complex, real problems to the foreground. If he did that, he might have to do something about it. It is far easier to leverage a false enemy than actually deal with one of Italy's innumerate problems such as talented, qualified people leaving the country, growing unemployment or the threat of the Mafia and organised crime. Salvini's social media tactics, like Trump involve setting up an enemy to be attacked as the root cause of any and every problem presented.
As Politicalcritique.org reports:
"The Roma must be identified with a census. Migrants must be rejected. The effectiveness of vaccines must be questioned. The good times for illegal immigrants are over. The European Union. NGOs paid by Soros. Mario Balotelli. The Italian anti-mafia journalist Saviano. The smugglers behind humanitarian rescue operations. Social centres. Mateo Salvini's political communication tactics can be summarized in the daily construction of an enemy that must be attacked.
Salvini's efforts are all aimed at a constant production of "novelties", newsworthy information, dictating the agenda to newspapers and online media in particular, with outbursts against the enemy of the day, in an attempt to dominate the political scene with a sort of ubiquity.
Salvini acts in a decidedly linear way. Generally he rants the loudest, the way Trump does in the United States, he waits to see what "effect" this has, and once he has fired up his supporters, once the controversy is unleashed, he stands his ground with a "decisionist" and unrelenting attitude, head-on, further reinforcing his image as a strong man in charge. This is how he prevents a real debate on the issues he raises from taking shape, because yet another rant immediately shifts the attention to another issue, and so on.
There is no communication other than that aimed at creating immediate and 'gut' support,
This interpretation also stems from an intelligent analysis of the new relationship between economy and media. The success of social networks has also entailed a decrease in profit of the press. The economic policies of today's press is also driven by the logic of click-baiting, i.e. the constant need of editors to publish articles capable of attracting repeated views. And so, of attracting investments of advertisers, which have become increasingly pivotal in ensuring the economic sustainability of a newspaper.
This system has allowed Salvini to transform the press into his own megaphone. His phrases are designed, more than before, to be picked up by newspapers."
The focus on gut support and feelings is, again, a familiar tactic that formed the mainstay of the Cambridge Analytica campaigns across the world.
Also similarly to Trump, Salvini has a strange symbiotic relationship with the news media. He rallies against them as the enemy and yet he needs their publicity and they need his quotes to create stories and sell copy. Salvini, like Trump is particularly adept at creating media spectacles, usually by saying something awful. These sound bites make excellent click bait fodder. In the same way that the reality TV star, President Trump is constantly in the media whilst claiming that he is unfairly ignored and that any negative press is "Fake News", Salvini plays the media expertly. The media themselves are complicit in promoting this charlatan in the pursuit of stories and papers to sell. Salvini similarly marshalls his followers via social media, creating an echo chamber effect and (bolstered by a very savvy social media campaign) to make it seem like his decisions and actions are those of the unheard masses. He has an army of "followers" whose job it is to pour scorn on any critical coverage, which in turn makes it seem like it is the general populous and not Salvini's media team who are leading these ideas. This is remarkably similar to the tactics employed by the loathsome boil on the arse of humanity, Nigel Farage – namely stoke lies, get the public to repeat them and then say, see I am just acting for the people. This has worked for Salvini by creating the impression amongst his followers that they themselves worked out that anti- Mafia journalists are not to be trusted and those helping dying migrants are just "do-gooders" unaware that this has been drip fed into their consciousness.
As Politicalcritique.org continues:
"Salvini's tactic is the same used by Trump, for example, during his winning 2016 electoral campaign. To quote Giovanni De Mauro, who in turn quotes a study by the American linguist Lakoff in "Internazionale" no. 1261, Trump uses different types of tweets. These are "(…) never casual. Some belong to the category of 'Preemptive Framing', and their function is to provide an interpretation of facts before anybody else does. There are 'Diversion' tweets, which divert attention from sensitive matters. There is 'Deflection', which shifts the blame to others. And finally there is 'Trial Balloon' used to see how people react to an idea."
In other words, it is a communication tactic whose only objective is to outstrip the media's role as fact checker and address the audience directly and that, however, employs these same media outlets which have become mere carriers of information."
This has been greatly helped by spin doctor and director of communications Luca Morisi who saw Salvini on TV in 2012 and decided to construct a social media character around him. He decided to focus on Facebook rather than Twitter, as t is more popular in Italy.
Morisi utilised a game called "Vinci Salvini" which was used to gather data in a manner almost identical to the games and quizzes that Cambridge Analytica used (this was at a time when Cambridge Analytica admitted to being in Italy). Morisi was questioned about this method in Youtrendit.com:
"Some people have expressed critical skepticism about the way the data of the FB users that joined the "Vinci Salvini" ["Win Salvini"] game were managed. What's your answer to this?
The users who signed in the "Vinci Salvini" game were totally aware of the fact they were giving their basic data. A registration on a FB app was required – we used 100% legal and official FB tools only, there was no homemade tool – and this app simply registered the flow of likes and comments, and associated their ID with the users'. But that was only meant to establish the name of the game winner each day, and to send emails only to those users who had chosen to give us their address beforehand. The data were not used for any kind of profiling."
When pressed on any potential involvement with Cambridge Analytica this was strongly denied:
"Some people though linked this case to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Both these stories are about the use of the FB user's data for a political aim. Isn't that true?
There's nothing in common with the Cambridge Analytica story here. That case was about selling data gathered with a pseudo-scientific psychological test, for electoral aims. We did nothing even close to that. But we should always keep in mind that in the digital era, unfortunately, everything we do is tracked: if something is free – including social networks – it means the user himself is the product. There are always distortions and abuses, but it's ridiculous to get upset about your privacy when you offer your personal life to the public on the SN in the first place."
The only problem that I can see with that denial is that they actually admit to doing the exact same thing as Cambridge Analytica, they just attempt to downplay it and claim they achieved similar results through organic means not reliant on algorithms. Personally I am still extremely suspicious. Morisi claims that all of this success is due to his team which he calls "The Beast".
"Morisi also talked about the so-called "Beast", a software his team has been using over the past few years to optimize tasks and activities, as Morisi demonstrated to the participants of ED. No "evil algorithm": "The Beast is a cooperative software for the automation of activities – such as cross-posting, graph creation, event promotion, news monitoring"."
So their story is that they were not involved with Cambridge Analytica.
Salvini posts on average about six times a day. This is a clever tactic that makes people believe they are close to him. In reality this is nothing more than a para-social relationship, but an expertly constructed one. Salvini (like Trump et al) uses reassuring traditional references to religion, family and Italian people which at the same time raging against immigrants, bankers, EU bureaucrats, the media, LGBT people and foreigners (sound familiar?). This allows his followers to emulate this legitimised and yet abhorrent behaviour under the auspices of their motto "Italians first". This fervour and whirlwind of lies seems to lull his followers into a sense of false security, seemingly oblivious to the more autocratic elements of his personality – just like in the UK and USA.
"Populist groups always have to have an in-group and an out-group – an 'us' and a 'them'," explains Nicoletta Cavazza, a political scientist at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia. "Salvini managed to keep the basic structure of the Lega discourse, but shifted the 'us' to all Italians – and he substituted Rome with Brussels, so the enemy was no longer southerners, but immigrants."
Salvini received much criticism for his ant Migrant rhetoric and then decided to double down on his batshittery by using a quote from Mussolini – "Many enemies, much honour." (what a twat). Similarly to Trump, Farage and other childish pricks on the far right, Salvini has used the playground tactic of claiming that there is no racism on the right (no discrimination, no religious persecution, no racist epithets, no racist murders, no wars based on stereotypical views of us and them) it is simply an invention of the left. Lorenzo Fontana, also of La Lega, has made similar claims writing on Facebook, "Racism has become an ideological weapon, used by the globalists and their slaves (some journalists and mainstream commentators, certain parties) to point the finger at the Italian people and falsely accuse them of every kind of dirty business." Firstly this is completely ahistorical and requires a minimal amount of effort to expose this as bullshit. Secondly, this is a classic case of projection, with the right wingers themselves being propped up by big business and petrochemical companies. Finally the logic of this is complete and utter bollocks. This ridiculous method of attempting to avoid responsibility for your own vile actions relies on the premise that racists were not racist until forced into racism by mean old anti racists. This also requires you to believe that the racists were not actually racist but then a swathe of anti racism came out of the blue and in response to this the racists (who were not racist in the first place) decided to be racist to show the anti racists that anti racism is bad. Seems legit when you explain it like that.
The ironic truth
World events certainly seemed to play into Salvini's hands, as Libya descended into chaos huge numbers of people risked life and limb in an attempt to escape the warzones and find a better life. In 2014, Salvini's first year as party secretary, there was a huge jump in the number of people entering Italy from North Africa – from 42,000 in 2013 to 170,000 in 2014, reaching a peak of 181,000 in 2016, a year in which 5,000 people drowned trying to make the crossing.
At the same time over 157,000 Italians also left the country mostly due to the dire economic state of the country. Italy has still not recovered from the 2008 banking crash and it's GDP remains at 10% lower than before that time. Times are hard and people are leaving to make a better life for themselves too. Unemployment remains above 10%, and youth unemployment is above 30%. Some 2 million young people – most of them skilled and educated – have left the country during the last decade to seek their fortunes elsewhere.
This has led to a false belief, fostered by dishonest social media post, which indicates immigrants are taking over the country.
Economist Tito Boeri points out the fatal flaws in this logic:
"When Tito Boeri, a respected professional economist who heads Italy's national pensions system, pointed out that it would collapse without a steady flow of immigration, Salvini said Boeri would soon be looking for another job. Boeri, whose appointment is scheduled to last until 2019, also pointed out that blocking legal immigration actually increases illegal immigration – the kind that Salvini and Di Maio really hate. "In general, a reduction of legal immigration of 10% leads to an increase of illegal immigration of between 3% and 5%," Boeri said.
Boeri also pointed out that Italians have a seriously exaggerated perception of the actual presence of immigrants. It is true the immigrant population has risen rapidly, from 2.5 million in 2007 to more than 5 million in 2017, according to official statistics. But Italians believe immigrants make up 26% of the population, while the true figure is only 9% – this is the largest gap between perception and reality in Europe. "It is the result not only of prejudice but out of real disinformation," Boeri said."
Despite the fears stoked by anti immigrant campaigns, the facts show that crime has been steadily declining in Italy over the past decade.
Similarly economists have pointed out that the 15% flat tax proposed by Salvini and the reduction of the retirement age would be a huge economic detriment to the country. Simply put, they can't give a tax break to the rich and pay for everyone's pensions, regardless of how angry you are about brown people. Salvini has also floated the idea of an increased minimum wage. Who knows? Perhaps he has a magic money tree?
Salvini had the incredible good fortune to back Donald Trump even before he was the Republican candidate and was photographed with him in April 2016. Many were perplexed by this but Salvini stuck to his guns and later declared "It's the triumph of the people against globalisation, against the mainstream press and the big economic interests," when Trump won the election. Now, either Salvini is some sort of mystic with powers of such occult manifestation as to be feared by even the most powerful warlock, or he knew Trump was going to be backed by Cambridge Analytica, because Salvini was already in touch with Cambridge Analytica. The latter seems more likely to me.
Steve Bannon and the Movement
The American reggae band the Movement has recently released their album Ways of the World to great acclaim with respectmyregion.com describing it as "A very powerful album!" So, good for them, I hope they continue to strive. Steve Bannon's similarly titled hate group isn't doing quite so well.
As previously discussed Bannon was attempting to create a "popularist" superbloc throughout Europe to put forward MEP's to disrupt the EU. Such luminaries as Viktor Orban (BlackCube's favourite project), Eduardo Bolsonaro – the son of the Brazillian Dictator/President(Cambridge Analytica), Geert Wilders and Marine Le pen (darlings of Gatestone Media). Added to this were Salvini and Luigi Di Maio. Both la Lega and the far right Brothers of Italy named themselves as partners in the Movement. Surprisingly the AFD and UKIP rejected membership (although one could argue that UKIP is irrelevant and was only a platform for Bannon and Mercer ally Nigel Farage who is now running the Brexit Party with an ex Cambridge Analytica employee.) Bannon has publically stated that he believes that "right-wing populist nationalism" is the future of Europe after decades of integration. It is strongly suggested that Salvini ramped up his rhetoric after listening to the tactics of Steve Bannon. Bannon has stated "Italy is the beating heart of modern politics," Mr Bannon said. "If it works there it can work everywhere."
In September 2018 The Guardian reported:
"Matteo Salvini, Italy's interior minister and populist leader, has met Steve Bannon and joined the anti-European establishment group, the Movement, founded by Donald Trump's former chief strategist.
"He is in!" tweeted Mischaël Modrikamen, the Belgian politician and co-founder of the People's party, who is also a member of Bannon's group which unites Euroscepticand populist forces.
According to Italian media, Bannon has suggested the upcoming European elections in 2019 could open the way for new populist movements to fight the influence of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the French president, Emmanuel Macron.
The meeting in Rome on Friday follows recent talks between Salvini and the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, another leader of European populism who shares an anti-migration stance.
After their meeting, on 28 August, Salvini and Orbán claimed they were "walking down the same path" after discussing the formation of a common anti-migration front to oppose the policies of Macron."
This is of course nonsense. As we have seen in previous posts Orban himself is contributing heavily to the refugee crisis in Europe by refusing to take any in and in fact exacerbating the problem by bussing them to other countries and leaving them there – all the while crying foul.
Bannon saw Salvini as a potential leader for his Movement, utilising his popularity in Italy. Bannon convinced Salvini to launch a series of scathing attacks on the Pope, due to his request to treat refugees as human beings. Specifically Bannon told Salvini to 'to target pontiff's stance on plight of refugees'
As reported in the Observer:
"During a meeting in Washington in April 2016, Bannon – who would within a few months take up his role as head of Trump's presidential campaign – suggested the leader of Italy's anti-immigration League party should start openly targeting Pope Francis, who has made the plight of refugees a cornerstone of his papacy.
"Bannon advised Salvini himself that the actual pope is a sort of enemy. He suggested for sure to attack, frontally," said a senior League insider with knowledge of the meeting in an interview with the website SourceMaterial.
After the meeting, Salvini became more outspoken against the pope, claiming that conservatives in the Vatican were on his side. One tweet from Salvini's account, in May 2016, said: "The pope says migrants are not a danger. Whatever!" On 6 May 2016, Salvini, after the pope's plea for compassion towards migrants, stated: "Uncontrolled immigration, an organised and financed invasion, brings chaos and problems, not peace."
"You can go around Europe and it's [populism] catching fire and the pope is just dead wrong," said Bannon.
Following the September 2016 meeting between Salvini and Bannon, the League leader was photographed holding up a T-shirt emblazoned with the words: "Benedict is my pope."
The slogan refers to a Vatican version of the "birther" campaign waged by Trump against Barack Obama, claiming that Francis's papacy is illegitimate and that his ultra-conservative predecessor Benedict XVI is in fact the true pontiff.
The League source also alleged that Salvini would have attacked the pope harder but was restrained by his own party, predominantly by Giancarlo Giorgetti, the deputy federal secretary of Lega Nord who is close to senior figures in the Vatican.
"[After the Bannon meeting] Salvini moved very tough and said: 'We have to attack the Vatican, but the other guy said wait.' Salvini thinks by himself and acts by himself ... so he started to act [for example, by appearing with the 'Benedict is my Pope' T-shirt]," said the source.
Bannon has steadily been building opposition to Francis through his Dignitatis Humanae Institute, based in a 13th-century mountaintop monastery not far from Rome.
In January 2017, Bannon became a patron of the institute, whose honorary president is Cardinal Raymond Burke, an ultra-conservative who believes organised networks of homosexuals are spreading a "gay agenda" in the Vatican.
The institute's chairman is former Italian MP Luca Volontè, on trial for corruption for accepting bribes from Azerbaijan . He has denied all charges."
Another person of interest attached to the Dignitatis Humanae Institute is former Breitbart contributor Austin Ruse. What a coincidence that a Breitbart alumnus would make an appearance. Another trustee to the institute is Ben Harris-Quinney, chairman of the Conservative thinktank the Bow Group, which backed the illegal Leave.EU campaign ran by Arron Banks with the help of Cambridge Analytica in the UK. The Bow Group has received contributions from Boris Johnson, Priti Patel, Liam Fox, Norman Lamont and John Redwood – all arch Brexiteers. In May 2019, the Bow Group sponsored the conference "Europe at a Crossroads: The Virtue of Nationalism". Geoffrey Howe, founder and Senior Patron of the Bow Group, died on 9 October 2015. Harris-Quinney described him as a "quiet revolutionary" at the heart of the Thatcherite Government and movement. Bugger me if it isn't all the same people doing the same thing in the same way again.
Just as Bannon's movement (dear god I don't mean his bowel movement and apologise for searing that image into your mind) was looking to fizzle out in a fireball of greasy, twin shirted racism, Salvini stepped up to the plate and announced his own far right coalition. Now, some saw this as a power grab or a betrayal of Bannon. I was not quite so sure. Following the release of the documentary "Brink" which showed Bannon attempting to construct his Movement, he was humiliated. The documentary painted Bannon in a very bad light and made his association rather toxic. At this point Salvini made his announcement. Personally I think that this was a public relations move to show that this popularism was organic and in no way manipulated by Bannon, Cambridge Analytica, The Heritage Foundation and others.
"With lofty rhetoric and classic populist messaging, Italy's Matteo Salvini launched what he called "a vision of Europe for the next 50 years" in Milan on Monday, in an attempt to bring the far right from across Europe into an alliance.
"The European dream is being threatened by the bureaucrats and bankers governing Europe. They have been governing Europe for too long; it should really be a government of people," Salvini told a packed hall.
Monday's event was called "Towards a common sense Europe: peoples rise up" and had been billed as the launch of a new European coalition with Salvini as its figurehead. In the end, Salvini appeared alongside just two other MEPs, Jörg Meuthen, of Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), and Anders Vistisen, of the Danish People's party, as well as Olli Kotro, a candidate for the Finnish nationalist Finns party at the upcoming election.
There is no doubt that the far right is on the rise across Europe. Rightwing populists are in power in Hungary and Poland, while Salvini has become Italy's most powerful politician and his rightwing coalition has been making big gains in domestic elections. Salvini's League, Marine Le Pen's National Rally in France and the Freedom party in Austria are all expected to do well at the elections, boosting the number of far-right populist MEPs."
When explaining his reasons for seeming to drop Bannon, Salvini appeared to confirm my thoughts that this is just window dressing, as reported by the Daily Beast:
"But during the campaign leading up to European parliamentary elections in May, which many analysts predicted would lead to the exact power play Salvini pulled last week, he hinted that the European project needed to be fixed from the inside out or scrapped entirely.
That campaign rhetoric helped double his support from 17 percent to 34 percent, and that is troubling to many who hope the European Union can heal its fault lines after Brexit. "He has no principles," former Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta told AFP over the weekend. "One day, he can say he wants Europe, the next that he wants to leave. With Salvini, an Italian 'Brexit' is not impossible."
The article continued:
"Bannon is ready to support a Salvini-led government, which will focus on some of the tenets of the Trump administration including migration, security and the economy.
Speaking to Corriere Della Sera from the New Mexico-Mexico border where he is part of a group called "We Build The Wall," Bannon said he wished the best for his Italian friend who he now believes is the "best leader" Italy needs to move forward. "Salvini dresses up much better than me now," he joked. "He looks like a Hollywood star, he's fit." Whether that star power will be good for Italy–or Europe for that matter–is an entirely different matter."
At the time of writing
As I was writing this piece, Salvini attempted to seize power by dissolving the coalition between La Lega and the Five Star Movement. He assumed that this would force a General election which he would sweep to power. However this did not work as the Five Star Movement simply abandoned La Lega and set up a new coalition with the Democratic Party. The coalition revoked Salvini's migrant ban and he reacted very poorly screaming and shouting like a spoiled brat. But nothing is certain, Salvini still remains extremely popular and the current coalition may dissolve at any time forcing elections. Salvini will definitely be a strong contender if this happens and even stronger if he uses the tactics of Cambridge Analytica.
In other news
By mucking about with the Wayback machine I was able to find out more about the previous campaigns of Cambridge Analytica. Well it turns out that they were in Mexico too.
"In July 2017, Cambridge Analytica revealed that it had teamed up with a phone app in Mexico and Colombia called Pig.gi, which gives users free service in exchange for watching adverts and taking surveys.
"There's a huge opportunity in this country to find the issues that are important for people and actually turn people out to vote," Cambridge Analytica's vice-president of business development, Brittany Kaiser, said.
Separately, it was reported in October that the head of operations for Cambridge Analytica in Mexico, Arielle Dale Karro, had posted an advertisement on a Facebook page for foreigners living in the country.
The post sought people "with significant political experience" who were interested in becoming a campaign manager in one of eight Mexican states, Buzzfeed reported.
Cambridge Analytica later denied that Ms Karro was carrying out any political work for the firm. Mr Nix also stated that "Cambridge Analytica is not working for any political party in Mexico".
Boris Johns using Bots to pretend he is popular:
I also discovered that the man of many lovechildren Boris Johnson has been using bots to spread his messages on Twitter and to give the impression that he is far more popular than he actually is. This was reported by the Zelo-Street Blog:
"It seems that whenever Bozo The Clown Tweets, rather a lot of fellow Tweeters decide to Like and Retweet whatever The Great Leader is telling the world, which sounds innocuous enough until the status of many of those fellow Tweeters is considered. Rather a lot of them have few followers; indeed, many have no followers at all. Some have Tweeted very rarely since their accounts were created, if at all. But they like to Like Bozo.
Some appear to be based in Russia, some in China, some in the Middle East. They have one characteristic in common: when Bozo Tweets, they become momentarily active. This boosts the Twitter metrics for Bozo's Tweets, but more importantly, it helps to increase the signal strength of the Bozo broadcast. So how many of these Bots are out there?
Labour activist Chris Furlong has discovered hundreds of these accounts, as he told recently: "The latest [Boris Johnson] tweet got thousands of retweets & likes within an hour. However, when you check the accounts retweeting/liking it, many have no or very few followers, never tweeted themselves, brand new accounts. Who is paying for the many thousands in The Boris Bot Army?"
Who indeed? We can only speculate at this point in time. However Johnson has spoken with Cambridge Analytica before (after the scandal broke) and he may very well have an election to win in the near future or have to deal with the fallout of a no-deal Brexit. Either way popularity, even if it is only perceived, may help to weather these coming storms.
As if to prove my point
After I published this blog post a couple of things came to my attention. On June 23rd 2019 just after Boris Johnson was made the unelected Prime Minister of Great Britain, he received a plug from an institute that you may be familiar with.
Fox business.com announced Johnson's successful bid with an interview with the director of the Heritage Foundation and the Margaret Thatcher centre for Freedom and former advisor to the Iron lady herself, Nile Gardiner. He and the sycophantic Stepford wife host, praised Johnson as funny and charismatic – similar to Trump – that's what they said not me. Gardiner described Johnson as an "optimistic, forward looking visionary" and not a blithering prick, so we shouldn't take this guy too seriously. Basically the guy from the Heritage Foundation pushed a hard "No deal" Brexit – quelle surprise, lying about the UK being tied to the shackles of the EU and regaining its sovereignty – more untrue bollocks.
Gardiner then freewheeled into a diatribe about free trade deals and destroying Iran – why on earth the oil baron filled Heritage Foundation would want this is anyone's guess.
As if to further prove my point
So when Salvini was ousted from the Italian government by the formation of a new coalition guess who sprang to his defence? That's right, the Gatestone Institute. This, as you may remember is the institute founded by Nina Rosenwald. It's media arm, Gatestone Media, is the outlet behind spreading the Cambridge Analytica propaganda and publicising the favoured far right candidates across Europe. Viktor Orban, who was installed into power by Blackcube- the Cambridge Analytica offshoot financed by Mossad – had some very nice things to say about Matteo:
"We Hungarians will never forget that you were the first Western European leader to make an effort to prevent illegal migrants from flooding Europe via the Mediterranean Sea. Irrespective of future political developments in Italy and of the fact that we belong to different European party groups, we consider you as a brother in arms in the fight to preserve Europe's Christian heritage and stop migration."
What a disingenuous arsehole. Still what is apparent is that the cabal is showing their hand a little to eagerly now.
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