"It's inside you," says Fulvio, head of the SPQR skinheads.
"You can feel it grow and you realise you can't sit by and watch while things are happening that you don't like. One of the survivors of the Social Republic [the last phase of Mussolini's fascist state] paid us the biggest compliment in a way, when he said, 'In our day, you couldn't sit on the fence. You were on one side or the other. It was easier because you were forced to choose. But you lot today, what do you do it for?'
"In the early 90s, people just saw us as ignorant, drunken louts. We have had to break down a lot of prejudices to get the right to accept us. There were a lot of tensions in those days, not like now. For us, being skinheads is a framework; it's a way of life, but it's not the most important thing. What really matters is the political ideology. We have brothers who aren't even skinheads; others who look and dress like us, but they don't have the same ideas."
Fulvio explains: "I like the Social Republic period [also known as the Republic of Salò]; I like the name as well. I'm not nostalgic about civil war – I hate people who are obsessed with all that. Fascism is a source of inspiration: just like Roman culture inspired fascism, fascism inspires us today. But we know we could never go back to what it was, we have to adapt it to present times."
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The current battlefield is social welfare. The various nationalist groups gather in suburban streets abandoned by political parties; they hand out clothes to the unemployed and distribute food to the elderly and books to students. They occupy uninhabited buildings to house the homeless in the same way that the far left used to do. The SPQR skinheads have taken over an abandoned school with another group, CasaPound. "It's a five-storey building and now we've got 15 or 16 families living there, who haven't got money for rent. There was no water or power: we sorted it out.
"There are about 50 of us. I'm 34 and I'm one of the oldest. I'm working for a degree in dentistry – I know I'm a late starter. I only enrolled at 27. There are all sorts: manual workers and architecture students, lawyers and mechanics. And a lot of kids – there's one lad of 14. Before they let him come and live with us, his parents wanted to meet us: they know kids change, they don't support his choice, but they didn't stop him either." While CasaPound recruits in schools and universities, the average age is older in the far-right Forza Nuova party, where there is a consistent intake of young joiners.
"The real values are brotherhood and loyalty," Fulvio says. "Those are my values, and I prove it by the way I live and by my actions. No hypocrisy, no meanness. I'm also talking about respect for my enemies or, rather, my opponents. I'm not afraid if anyone wants to fight me, but I don't go out looking for a fight. We're more interested in survival."
The siege mentality exists throughout the blackshirt world, a deep-rooted fear of betrayal, as if everyone is still haunted by Mussolini's downfall. "We're focused on the survival of our group," Fulvio says. "We've got nothing against violence – we appreciate it in boxing or martial arts. We're not madmen who go around beating people up, but if we're attacked, we don't exactly turn the other cheek… We fascists have learned to defend ourselves, because we've always been targeted." He quickly adds: "Defend ourselves physically and legally."
Clashes with the left are rare skirmishes in which both sides are merely marking their territory. "The girls are the hard ones. Boys try to avoid fighting, but girls don't – they're more likely to attack than walk away. On Sunday meets, the men tend to gather around the TV and watch the football." The skinheads don't go to the match? "No, we'd only end up in fights between Rome and Lazio fans. Then there'd be fighting among fans of the same team. Better leave it alone."