Washington, D.C. – Italy’s Giorgia Meloni’s election victory this week was greeted with cheers from US Republicans, who heaped praise on the right-wing European leader despite fears she heads a political party with neo-fascist roots.
The affinity for Meloni in the United States is part of a deepening link between conservative populists on both sides of the Atlantic, experts say, earlier seen when Republican activists embraced Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Increasingly, right-wing nationalists around the world are finding common ground in the fight against common enemies: immigration, progressive views on gender and sexuality, and people they loosely label as “globalists” and “elites.”
And that’s the message that got Meloni so successful, said Lawrence Rosenthal, chair of the Berkeley Center for Right-Wing Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.
“She was angry at gender politics; they ran on the traditional family; they ran into things like protecting borders; She would talk about western civilization the same way Orban and much of the right in this country did,” Rosenthal told Al Jazeera.
Rosenthal said the “grand replacement theory,” the notion that global elites are trying to replace “native” populations in Western countries with immigrants, is at the heart of the grievances uniting these right-wing movements.
The theory is seen by many academics and social justice advocates as a conspiratorial attempt to incite racial fears about non-white newcomers to Western countries.
“All nationalist movements in each country have the same ‘other’ — that is, they all agree that immigrants are ‘the other,’ and they are against it,” Rosenthal said. “In this respect, solidarity across international borders is possible because the enemy is the same for everyone.”
Meloni, 45, is poised to become Italy’s next prime minister after her political party, the Brothers of Italy, emerged as the biggest winner in a right-wing coalition that garnered the most votes in the country’s snap elections on Sunday.
Brothers of Italy – founded in 2012 – is the ideological successor to the far-right National Alliance, which grew out of the Italian Social Movement, a political party founded by supporters of former dictator Benito Mussolini after World War II.
Meloni has denied that her party is fascist and has condemned the anti-Jewish laws and suppression of democracy of the fascist era. However, a video of a young Meloni when she was an activist with the National Alliance shows her praising Mussolini as a “good politician” who acted for Italy.
The Brothers of Italy logo – flames in the colors of the Italian flag – also reflects that of the Italian social movement.
congratulations to @ Giorgia Meloni. Italy deserves and needs strong conservative leadership. Buona fortune!
— Mike Pompeo (@mikepompeo) September 26, 2022
But despite the criticism, scores of Republicans hailed Meloni’s electoral success this week, sharing a viral video of the Italian politician arguing that national identity and the concept of family are being attacked to make people “the perfect consumers.”
“The whole world is beginning to understand that the Awakened Left does nothing but destroy,” far-right Congresswoman Lauren Boebert wrote on Twitter, hinting that Meloni’s win is a positive sign ahead of November’s US midterm elections.
“November 8th is coming soon and the US will fix our House and Senate! Let freedom reign!”
Senators Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were also among Republican officials who expressed joy at Meloni’s victory.
Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, one of the most influential right-wing commentators in the US, also hailed Meloni’s victory as a “revolution,” calling her “clever” and able to articulate what the majority of people think.
Some experts say Meloni’s message about family, national identity and God has resonated with US conservatives because it is specifically tailored to them.
“Giorgia Meloni has put a lot of effort into forging connections and respectability within US-dominated ‘national conservatism’ and Christian fundamentalist networks,” Cas Mudde, a professor of international affairs at the University of Georgia, said in an email to Al Jazeera.
Earlier this year, Meloni gave a speech full of American references to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), an annual gathering of right-wing US politicians and activists.
“That’s what they want – a right hand on a leash, petty and trained like a monkey. But, you know what? We are not monkeys. We’re not even rhinos; we will not be part of their zoo,” Meloni said, invoking “RINOs” or “Republicans in name only,” a term used to describe moderate US conservatives.
So beautifully said.
Congratulations to Giorgio Meloni and to the Italian people. https://t.co/XdM8U2mFgt
— Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene🇺🇸 (@RepMTG) September 26, 2022
“Triumph” for far right
In the same speech, Meloni went on to claim that “everything” conservatives stand for is under attack and that progressives are operating globally to “destroy our identities.” She also compared refugees arriving in Italy to migrants and asylum seekers on the US southern border.
“I see incredible things happening on the border between [the] United States and Mexico, and I’m thinking about our own Sicily,” she said.
“Thousands of migrants are allowed in without permits who end up crowding out the slums of our cities and communities. And they cap the wages of our own workers and in many cases commit crimes.”
Rosenthal said right-wing Republicans are not taking inspiration from Meloni’s message because they have already adopted anti-immigrant rhetoric and politics. Rather, “it is an opportunity to celebrate the ‘triumph of our side’ – from their point of view – internationally,” he said.
Rula Jebreal, a Palestinian-born Italian journalist who is currently a visiting professor at the University of Miami, warned that Meloni’s election will embolden far-right extremists in Italy, as well as the rest of Europe and the US.
Jebreal, who previously publicly debated and clashed with Meloni, said she and other critics of the Italian politician had received death threats since Sunday’s election. “I think these people feel inspired and encouraged,” she told Al Jazeera, referring to right-wing “extremists”.
“This movement is a global movement and people are organized,” Jebreal said.
Over the past decade there have been active efforts to connect right-wing movements around the world. In particular, Steve Bannon, a former adviser to ex-President Donald Trump, founded an unsuccessful organization called The Movement in 2018 to support anti-European Union populists in the European Parliament elections.
The Trump ally placed particular value on right-wing parties in France and Italy.
“Italy is the beating heart of modern politics,” Bannon, who is currently facing a spate of lawsuits and criminal charges in the US, told the Daily Beast at the time. “If it works there, it can work anywhere.”