An article from Do or Die Issue 9. In the paper edition, this article appears on page(s) 60-62.
In Italy on May 31st 2000, a trial that had gone on for four years in which 68 anarchists were accused of being members of an armed band called the ORAI (Organisazion Rivoluzionaria Anarchica Insurrezionalista), ended in each of accused being pronounced not guilty on that charge, because there was 'no case to be answered'. The infamous armed gang, the so-called ORAI, whose members were said to be capable of anything from kidnapping to murder in order to finance their presses and clandestine activity all over Italy, has been pronounced non-existent by the very authorities that invented it.
Leader of the Christian Democrat party and five times Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro was kidnapped by the Red Brigades in 1978 and held for nearly two months. Eventually he was shot and placed in the boot of a car which was left in the centre of Rome.
Four years of often twice or thrice weekly sessions, during which public prosecutor Antonio Marini stage-managed 'repentant terrorist' Namsetchi (who it must be said gave an abysmal performance), then choreographed a supporting chorus of about 300 prosecution witnesses, for the most part cops and narks, intent on demonstrating the existence of the two-tiered organisation of his nightmares.
In Italy special 'anti-terrorist' laws have given the police virtually unlimited powers. These laws were passed in the 70s in response to a situation of massive social and political unrest. In fact their objective was not only to hit a few armed groups but also to strike a blow against the extensive social struggles which had followed the beginning of the restructuring of industry in the 70s. The main aim of these laws was to legalise police violence, which of course was already routinely exercised, and to speed up penal procedures. The law that is most frequently used to frame political groups is 'Article 270-bis' ('armed bands and subversive association'). When the 'terrorist emergency' that justified this special legislation ceased in the 1980s, this law was kept alive with the excuse of fighting mafia crimes. Both mafia and political crimes became legally defined as 'crimes of association' - that is, 'crimes committed by organised groups'. According to Article 270-bis it is not necessary to prove that defendants have personally committed a crime in order to send them down for 'subversive association'; it is enough that they have founded or taken part in an organised group that is considered 'subversive'. This law also allows the police to carry out home searches on 'suspected' people and to keep them under arrest without trial for months (which is not possible in the case of 'common' crimes). Often it is enough simply to be in a solidarity group for political prisoners to be investigated or harassed.
The technique of using 'repentant' members of organisations comes from the supergrass strategy first used by the British government in an attempt to break the IRA. It was imported by the Italian legal system at the end of the 70s and used against Leninist clandestine organisations such as the Red Brigades by prosecutors like Marini. In Genoa, four Red Brigades militants were shot dead in their beds as a result of information from a pentito ('repentant'). At that time a state of emergency had been declared, prison sentences were multiplied by three and carried the aggravated charge of 'terrorism', so you had people doing twenty years for simply handing out a leaflet or saying 'Viva le Brigate Rosse!' Of course, the Red Brigades were a highly structured, armed clandestine organisation. When arrested, their militants raised a clenched fist and declared themselves political prisoners. Some are still in prison nearly a quarter of a century later for not having unclenched that fist to shake hands with the enemy.
The spreading of acts of sabotage over the past ten years against some of capital's ugliest and most dangerous expressions was getting out of hand. These actions were (and are) often claimed only with a few words, or simply with a circled 'A'. Raids had been carried out periodically, but with no positive outcome. So, not being able to prosecute the invisible 'night elves' responsible for the actions, judges in various regions, in particular Tuscany, attempted to prosecute those who openly supported them, namely Alfredo Bonanno, editor of ProvocAzione and Anarchismo. Dozens of trials were of no avail. In spite of the thundering accusations of the prosecution, the charge of 'instigation' was systematically demolished by the accused and his defence in a long series of judicial battles.
However, acts of sabotage continued to occur in many parts of the country - against the pylons of the state electricity company ENEL, against seven of TV magnate Berlusconi's Standa chain stores, against the electoral offices in Cagliari, Sardinia and against various military structures, two of which had taken place shortly before the great round up of the anarchists, one against the Italian air ministry in Rome causing hundreds of millions of lire (tens of thousands of pounds) worth of damage. Moreover, Italy marks the border between East and West, and in Albania, just the other side of the Adriatic, revolt was starting to rumble dangerously close to home. This fact must always be borne in mind when looking at Italy, or Greece for that matter. When these states show themselves to be incapable of keeping internal disorder within manageable limits, supercop USA begins to put pressure on the local police. Something had to be done.
The occasion arose with the arrest of five anarchists following a bank robbery in the north of Italy in 1994. The girlfriend of one of them, who was not an anarchist, became the object of particular attention and one day 'happened to meet' a handsome young officer of the carabinieri Special Operations Corps who had called into the night club where she was working. We don't know exactly what followed, just that they 'became friends' and that after a few days she was then taken to meet Marini. She then accused herself of being the woman involved in one of two more robberies the anarchists were now accused of, and named her 'accomplices'. The trial, denounced as a frame up from the beginning, becomes a farce as she remembers nothing at all of her first and only bank hold up. All of the accused are convicted on the basis of her garbled words, giving her the stamp of approval as a credible state witness.
Then on September 17th 1996, twenty-nine arrest warrants are issued against anarchists all over Italy. Sixty-eight people, nearly all anarchists, are formally accused of belonging to an armed band called the ORAI, never heard of before that day. Marini holds a jubilant press conference. A dangerous anarchist organisation has been dismantled. Photographs of well known comrades are arranged in hierarchical order and roles assigned to each of them. Alfredo Bonanno is the elected leader. The name chosen for the organisation - Organisazion Rivoluzionaria Anarchica Insurrezionalista - is the subtitle of a text written by him, translated and handed out by comrades in Greece at a series of public conferences a few years earlier.
In Italy alone hundreds of people are doing centuries in special prisons as a result of nothing more than verbal accusations of what are known as 'crimes of association' (conspiracy is probably the nearest British equivalent) by self-proclaimed members of illegal organisations. This has led to a proliferation of pentiti, which have now become a mass phenomenon - thousands of social outcasts set to spend the rest of their miserable existences in the care of the state.
All of the acts of sabotage claimed by anarchists over the next five years were consistently linked to the ORAI by Marini in the media, right up to the week before the verdict was due when he was guest on a TV talk show called 'Insurrection: Sex, Bombs and Anarchy'. Anarchist papers which came out in the mid 90s such as Canenero, GAS and others were defined as clandestine internal bulletins of the fictitious organisation. An anarchist accused of delivering a leaflet to Radio Popolare claiming a bomb attack on Palazza Marini in Milan was presented in the press as belonging to the ORAI. Three anarchists arrested and accused of sabotage in support of the mass struggle against the proposed high speed railway in the Val de Suza were accused of terrorism against the state and linked to the ORAI. Two of them are now dead - Eduardo Massari was found hanging in his cell on March 28th 1998. His friend Maria Soledad Rosa was found hanged a month later in a community where she was being held against her will. The third, Silvano Pelissero, has recently been sentenced to six years "not for the nature of [his] crime, but for the popular consensus that [he] creates in a potentially explosive social situation" as the state prosecutor wrote. Comrades from the pirate station Radio Blackout are on trial accused of falsifying a secret ROS memo which they handed over to the police and defence lawyers after it reached them anonymously, in which the whole frame up against the anarchists was mapped out. The plan was simple: invent an organisation, find someone to swear they have been a member of it, back this up with proof of 'militancy' and then present them as a repentant sinner.
Like everything in reality, a court case is not something isolated from the whole of the social conditions at the time, so the question of what attitude to take to this sort of repression cannot be resolved in abstract terms but must be assessed in each specific context by the individuals involved. The law is only one aspect of the repressive apparatus of capital, and by no means the most effective one. It is usually a last resort when the more sophisticated preventative means have failed. It is therefore an admission of weakness, as boasting strength usually is. The most effective response is to continue to act as before, only more than before, adding scorn and anger to our disgust for everything that makes up this society of 'rights'. Far from protesting our innocence, we acclaim our guilt - our guilt of being anarchists, which is what we are really being tried for any time we find ourselves in the dock.
A frame up cannot be fought using the arms of the enemy: falsity and distortion. Nor can we simply oppose this with our 'truth'. Specific attacks by the law and the media aimed at distorting and putting a brake on conscious rebellion are the acid test of our capacity to continue to develop our whole revolutionary project, while remaining solid on its essential precepts - the horizontal spreading of that rebellion and the overthrow of the entirety of capitalist relations. We cannot let ourselves be tricked into the narrow blind alley of directing all our energies to responding to the provocation of the police and the courts. When you are confronted with dozens of comrades locked up on charges carrying life sentences that can be difficult. Suddenly the ideas and methods experimented with with such fun and effectiveness - small affinity groups and spreading sabotage where differences are enhanced and expressed to their full - seem to fade into a hazy kind of 'common front against repression' and suddenly everyone has to agree, leading to endless arguments and accusations, lowering the individual capacity for creative destruction. It is easy to slip into the logic of victims and oppressors, as though we had to prove ourselves blameless...
But such moments can also be times that push us to muster all our unexplored capacities and put them to the test, moving focus from the effects of the repressive attack to its causes, which is our real strength. The more they use the law as an instrument of repression, the further we should be moving away from it into the passionate, creative dimension of constant attack on the existent, inventing a plurality of means to do so, thereby transforming the sadness and anger caused by the enforced separation from our comrades into boundless joy which, believe me, dissolves reinforced concrete and bends iron bars.
That was a metaphor of course - yet, when you think of it, it really happened a year later, only 60 kilometres away in Albania on the other side of the Adriatic, where within the space of a few weeks not one prison remained functioning.