A neo-fascist group has been disqualified from patrolling the Italian streets after showcasing their uniform — strikingly similar to that of Benito Mussolini's Black Shirts — at a press conference on Saturday.

The Italian National Guards was one of the groups which planned to take up the Italian authorities' offer of patrolling the streets in order to lessen crime. The proposed legislation, which is currently in its final stages of parliament, would allow local authorities to authorise civilian groups to patrol the streets. The volunteers would not be armed and could do little more than alert the police to suspected activity. But since the Italian National Guards turned up belted and booted with eagle-emblazoned headgear and Red Sun arm bands, the initiative has come under fire, both in Italy and abroad.  

Our Observer Alberto Celani alerted us to this story.

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Aly Baba Faye is a sociology professor in Rome. Originally from Senegal, he's been living in Italy since he was 22.

Even if you ignore the fascist symbolism of the guards' uniform, allowing these kind of people to patrol the streets would be dangerous because it would signify a demission of normal state functions. Privatising security has never done anything good for democracy.

What would these watchmen deem suspicious in order to report it to the police? Would the colour of a person's skin affect their judgement? We have no way of guaranteeing their moral values.

The idea is part of an enormous “ethnic cleansing” initiative that's been going on for the past five years in Italy.

Racist attitudes are deeply rooted in Italian society. The media and the political judiciary themselves have contributed to the association between immigrants and criminals.

And as fear plays a big part at election time, today even the centre-left have taken on the theme of security, simply for electoral gains.

It's in this climate of fear that these initiatives come about. They're nothing more than a result of racist and xenophobic propaganda.

And in response, immigrants react by withdrawing into themselves.

Recently we've seen some communities, like Ecuadorian and Colombian groups, resorting to the organisation of gangs. The relationships between communities are falling into urban warfare. 

I'm extremely disappointed. In the 25 years I've lived here, I've never felt such a strong sense of racism.

Today, we can't rule out a return to fascism. Every week we find out about new ominous movements like this one. It's got to such a point that some communities, like the Moroccans, are sending their families back home.

We've gone past the point of being able to discuss immigration politically. Racism has become a part of the culture here.

“We aren't fascists”

The president of the group, Gaetano Saya, posted a video response to criticism on YouTube.

He said: "We aren't Black Shirts, we aren't fascists, we aren't Nazis. We are Italian patriots and we want freedom."

His claims weren't taken very seriously though, after Web users noticed he was wearing the Italian flag the wrong way round.

The uniform that caused the outrage

These pictures were taken from The Italian National Guard's website. It was this uniform that the group paraded at a news conference in Milan on Saturday.