Title

Mussolini's March On America: Italian Americans and the Fascist Experience, 1922--1941

Date of Award

2003

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

History

First Advisor

Geoffrey Jensen

Advisor Department

History

Abstract

In 1922, shortly after Mussolini's rise to power in Italy, an Italian-American Fascist movement arose in the United States that developed differently and far less extremely than Fascists movements throughout Europe or other parts of the Americas. Mussolini and his Fascist party in Italy carefully controlled the formation and development of Fascism in the United States--creating a hierarchical organizational structure, funding Fascist groups, establishing careful guidelines, infiltrating Italian-American social groups, supplying leadership personnel from Italy, and forcing obedience to Italian Fascist consuls in the United States. Although the Fascisti in Italy held tight control of Italian-American Fascist organizations through the organizational leadership of Blackshirt leaders in the United States, these same leaders allowed and encouraged ordinary Italian-Americans who were loyal Americans or who misunderstood Mussolini's Fascist doctrines to comprise the support base of the movement. The few extreme members within the Fascist groups mainly acted without open approval by Fascist leaders, although they covertly sought to use the extreme members to oppose socialists and communists within the Italian-American communities. This study concludes that although the Blackshirts in America created a powerful organization with broad support, strong financial means, and sympathy from many Italian Americans, the leaders of the movement could not create a mass following of loyal supporters in the United States. The organizational policies of Italian-American Fascism held contradictory and self-defeating goals: one the one hand, Blackshirt groups sought to foster strong relations between Fascist Italy and the United States; on the other hand, the extreme members of the groups attempted to subvert loyalties to the United States by spreading anti-American political ideas. Blackshirt leaders failed to accomplish either goal. Furthermore, much of the Blackshirt propaganda was far too ambiguous, contradictory, and confusing to persuade Italian Americans to abandon their loyalties to the United States and their mistrust of Italian political authorities. When Italian-American Fascism became more belligerent in the late 1930s, many Italian Americans who gave only moderate and qualified support to the Blackshirts abandoned Mussolini and Italian Fascism.