MACERATA, Italy — At the end of his shooting rampage as police closed in, Luca Traini climbed the steps of a fascist-era monument, wrapped himself in an Italian flag, and straightened his arm in a fascist salute.
He had shot and wounded six African migrants — from Ghana, Mali, and Nigeria — in this medieval city near the Adriatic Sea to avenge the dismemberment of a young Italian woman, allegedly by a Nigerian drug dealer. In his mind, he was a patriot.
But to Italian leaders, liberals and antifascist groups, Traini was a terrifying omen.
National elections were weeks away and the Feb. 3 shootings came during a hate-laced campaign marred by anti-migrant language, rising intolerance and hints of a fascist revival.
At the height of the migrant crisis, Italy had been a progressive bastion and a staunch supporter of European unity. But now, the national mood had hardened. Traini’s rage crystallized, in grotesque form, the growing backlash against migrants and the rise of right-wing politics.
The March 4 elections swept in a new populist government which is deeply skeptical of the European Union and has already slammed the door to new migrants while threatening to expel the ones already in the country. To some in Brussels, Italy is now Europe’s greatest existential threat.
Macerata had a reputation for tolerance and, in 2013, won national recognition for its integration efforts. The former bishop once boasted about the “welcoming spirit” encoded “in the DNA of the city.”
Humanitarian groups such as the Catholic charity Caritas set up in the city to work with migrants.
But recently, Macerata’s new bishop, hand-picked by Pope Francis, observed recently that “all the tensions rising in the country are now visible in this city.”
In the university, founded in 1290, left-wing students warned that a group of hard-right students were espousing the works of Julius Evola, the spiritual and intellectual godfather of Italian fascists and Italy’s post-fascist terrorists.
They said students were attempting to form chapters for hard-right groups such as Forza Nuova, which in October attempted to re-enact Mussolini’s 1922 March on Rome.
Martina Borra, a local leader of Forza Nuova, is a friend of Traini, who has been charged with racially motivated attempted murder. He has admitted to the shootings but claimed temporary insanity and is on trial. Borra said he had many local supporters.
“If you ask most people about Luca Traini, they will tell you, ‘He did well, but he should have killed them.’” She added that Italy owed him a debt of gratitude for “having revealed a problem” — and she seemed unbothered that none of the victims were thought to be drug dealers.
Like many Italian cities, Macerata suffered in the aftershocks of the 2008 financial crisis. A devastating 2016 earthquake brought another setback. But city leaders hoped this year would be a turning point.
Romano Carancini, the city’s affable mayor from the center-left Democratic Party, spent the winter preparing a dossier called “Friendly Macerata” as part of a campaign to become Italy’s 2020 capital of culture. It was a designation that would make the city a major tourist destination.
But it was the area’s tranquility that attracted Pamela Mastropietro, an 18-year-old from a working-class section of Rome. She had started dating a Romanian drug dealer and gotten hooked on drugs.
Her mother, a hairdresser, finally persuaded her to enroll in a drug-treatment center.
But on Jan. 29, Mastropietro left the rehab center to buy drugs at Diaz Gardens, a park outside Macerata’s city walls.
There, Mastropietro is believed to have been led to a 29-year-old Nigerian named Innocent Oseghale, who had arrived in Italy on Aug. 26, 2014, around the height of the migrant landings. He had dropped out of his asylum program and turned to crime.
Soon after Mastropietro’s dismembered body was discovered, the police found her bloody clothes inside Oseghale’s apartment. Italian prosecutors charged him in June with murder, drug dealing, and the desecration of a body.
Her mutilation horrified the country and immediately became an issue in the national elections. On the campaign trail, Salvini pounced.
“What was this worm still doing in Italy? He wasn’t fleeing a war. He brought the war to Italy,” Salvini said on Facebook after Oseghale’s arrest. “The left has its hands dirty with blood. Another state killing. Expulsions, expulsions, monitoring and still expulsions!”