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The Strategy of Tension in Italy

Neofascist Terrorism and Coup Plots, 1969–1980

Juan Avilés is Emeritus Professor of Contemporary History in the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, Madrid. In recent years his research has focused on the history of terrorism in its different manifestations: anarchist, neo-fascist and jihadist. His main books on the subject are: La daga y la dinamita (2013) and Historia del terrorismo yihadista (2017).

The third wave of terrorism in Europe has been the subject of numerous studies after David Rapoport’s theoretical classification, especially as it relates to “New Left/Marxist/Socialist” activity. But one of its components has not hitherto been subject to scholarly investigation: the Italian neo-fascist terrorism that committed indiscriminate massacres as part of an alleged strategy of stoking political tension. There is evidence that members of the intelligence services and security forces contributed to cover-ups and indeed the neo-fascist murders that took place may have been aimed at creating an atmosphere favourable to a coup d’état. While conspiracy theories abound there is little in-depth academic research on the circumstances despite the many sources available to researchers: court rulings, evidence gathered by various parliamentary commissions of enquiry and recently declassified official documents.

Juan Avilés Farré’s comprehensive study of the neo-fascist killings, the coup plots, the cover-ups and the alleged but unproven involvement of US agents, the Stay Behind paramilitary structure and the P2 Masonic Lodge, draws a firm line of demarcation between the real conspiracies that took place in Italy and unfounded conspiracy theories. He offers an unparalleled interpretation of the alleged strategy of creating political tension based on all the available evidence. At the heart of the investigation is the threat to democracy and the way in which Italy was able to avoid the authoritarian drift to which many countries, from Greece to Chile, succumbed in those years. The lessons learned have far-reaching implications for all nations that subscribe to democratic values.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-78976-110-8
Hardback Price: £70.00 / $84.95
Release Date: December 2021
Page Extent / Format: 304 pp. 234 x 156 mm
Illustrated: No



List of Abbreviations

The Main Characters


1 The History of a Controversy


2 Christian Democrats, Communists and Neofascists


3 Faceless and Nameless: Piazza Fontana


4 The Borghese Coup


5 Peteano: The Bombing and its Cover-up


6 A Strange Attack by an Anarchist


7 The Rose of the Winds Conspiracy


8 The Would-be Partisans of the Valtellina


9 Brescia: The bomb under the Arcades


10 The Blast in the Italicus Train


11 The "White" Coup d'État that Never took Place


12 Bologna: The Last Massacre


13 The P2 Lodge and its Venerable Master


14 NATO and the Grand Old Man


15 Paramilitary Structures in the Shadows



Reckless Soldiers and Runaway Horses





Juan Avilés has done a very rigorous research on the most obscure aspects of the Italian history of the ‘years of lead’, reconstructing with precision the most outstanding facts of that period and proposing interpretative keys that constitute an important contribution to its comprehension.
Gabriele Ranzato, Università di Pisa

A nuanced and penetrating study of a crucial aspect of modern Italian history which, by drawing on extensive and path-breaking research, sheds new light on a subject which has received remarkably little attention from scholars hitherto.
Nigel Townson, Universidad Complutense, Madrid

“The strategy of tension clearly explained without falling into the clichés that often surround it. An essential book to understand one of the darkest periods in the history of the Italian Republic.
Matteo Re, Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, Madrid

A sobering and rigorous vision of the ‘strategy of tension’ and the ‘years of lead’ in Italy.
Xavier Casals, Universitat Ramon Llull, Barcelona

An excellent study by Professor Aviles on terrorism and putschism in contemporary Italy.
José Luis Rodríguez Jiménez, Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, Madrid

Beyond elucubrations and conspiracy theories, a scholarly study based on all the documentation available on some of the most unfathomable ‘mysteries of Italy’.
Ángel Herrerín, Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, Madrid

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