Early polls out of Italy following its Sunday election suggest that Giorgia Meloni, an ultra-conservative leader known for her opposition to gay rights and immigration, will become its first female prime minister—and the most extreme right-winger to run the place since, you guessed it, Benito Mussolini.
Meloni’s victory makes her party, Brothers of Italy, the most successful of the new radical-right movements thriving on Europe’s economic struggles and migration crisis. Its predecessor was a neo-fascist party formed by Mussolini supporters after World War II, although Meloni claims that she’s gotten rid of the Brothers of Italy’s outright fascists. Her fixation on the Great Replacement Theory and her vendetta against George Soros are nothing to worry about, I’m sure.
Meloni is also completely obsessed with J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, regarding the series—which has been venerated by Italian fascists for decades—as an almost Biblical text. In her early twenties, Meloni haunted the web as “Khy-ri, the dragon of the Undernet.” Tolkien, she told the New York Times, explains “better than we can what conservatives believe in.” Her take on Mussolini? “Everything he did, he did for Italy.”
Meloni insists that she isn’t a fascist herself, even if her party’s flag includes the symbol of the old pro-Fascist party whose youth wing she belonged to. She praised Il Duce at the time, decades before her small, splinter party leaped to the top of the polls. Italians aren’t necessarily turning far-right themselves, one analyst told NBC—but after decades of gridlock and stagnation, they’re desperate for something “new and disruptive.”
Disaffected Italians turned out to vote in record low numbers, seemingly bearing that out. But early exit polls show the country’s far-right coalition winning about 45 percent of the vote, much more than any other parties. That puts Meloni on track to be the country’s first ultra-right prime minister since World War II, a prospect that worries everyone from gay couples to women seeking more social and economic power.
Election results are expected to be finalized by tomorrow, but Trump cheerleader Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s authoritarian head of state, has already congratulated Meloni. It looks like authoritarianism is still spreading.