The problem with conspiracy theories is that every now and again one of them turns out to be true. That is certainly the case with the conservative Propaganda Due, or P2, a decades-old Masonic lodge in Italy whose members were implicated in range of political scandals from the 1960s to ’90s. These included the collapse of the Banco Ambrosiano in 1982 (the so-called “Vatican Bank”), the murders of the investigative reporter Carmine “Mino” Pecorelli and “God’s banker” Roberto Calvi, in 1979 and 1982 respectively, and the corruption cases known as the Tangentopoli in the early 1990s, a controversy which pretty much encompassed an entire generation of Italian politicians. Unsurprisingly P2 was sometimes referred to as a “state within a state” or a “shadow government”, numbering prominent journalists, parliamentarians, industrialists, army generals, police commanders, and government ministers among its members. Just to illustrate its reach, at one stage the directors of the country’s three intelligence services (at the time, the SISDE, SISMI and CESIS) were all P2 loyalists, while Signore Bunga Bunga himself, former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, laid the foundations of his long career through his lodge membership. Now the fascistic spider at the centre of the Propaganda Due web, Worshipful Master Licio Gelli, has died, allowing the press to reach for their P2 files.
From Corriere Della Sera:
“For over 34 years, Villa Wanda in the hills near Arezzo was widely viewed as being at the heart of Italy’s dark history, from P2 to the negotiations between the state and the mafia. It is in one of the rooms of the mansion that Licio Gelli, Grand Master of the Masonic Lodge “Propaganda Due”, has died at the age of 96, probably taking many of his secrets with him.
The name of Licio Gelli emerged from the shadows during Italy’s “years of lead”, on 17 March 1981, when Milanese magistrates Gherardo Colombo and Sergio Turone, investigating the staged kidnapping of the banker Michele Sindona, searched the mansion and the Giole mattress factory at Castiglion Fibocchi. They were looking for a list of 500 businessmen who had exported capital with the help of Sindona, but instead found a list of members of the secret masonic lodge Propaganda 2, led by Grand Master Licio Gelli, hidden in a suitcase in an office in the factory.
The list of 962 names included three ministers as well as heads of the intelligence services, 208 officers, 18 senior judges, 49 bankers, 120 businessmen (including the then publisher of Corriere della Sera, Angelo Rizzoli), 44 MPs, and 27 journalists. Many of them denied belonging to the lodge.
Born in Pistoia on 21 April 1919, Licio Gelli enlisted at the age of 18 in Franco’s black shirts in Spain. In Italy, he was first a fascist, then a partisan.”
The “Years of Lead” or Anni di piombo refers to Italy’s turbulent period of political instability in the late 1960s to early ’80s when right-wing and left-wing groups conspired against each other, incurring up to a thousand fatalities in various acts of terrorism and violence. The paranoid and deeply reactionary P2 was involved in many aspects of the conflict, either through the forces of the Italian state or through various extremist proxies. Politico Europe touches upon this when it reports that Gelli was found guilty of:
“…obstructing justice during police investigations into an explosion at Bologna train station in 1980 in which 85 people were killed. He later escaped from house arrest and fled to Switzerland.
In 1995, a judge linked Gelli with a 1970 plot to instigate a military coup in Italy, but the case was dropped because it was outside the statute of limitations.
The P2 was also accused of attempting to halt efforts to save former prime minister Aldo Moro, who was murdered by the Red Brigades leftist group in 1978 after being held hostage for 55 days.
“I am a fascist and will die a fascist,” Gelli said at a news conference in 1999.”
And all this doesn’t even begin to touch upon the controversial, if oft exaggerated, functioning of the Operazione Gladio, which truly takes you down the rabbit hole of Italian politics.