Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Licio Gelli, Villain For the Ages

Fascism, Freemasonry, fraud: The death of the 'puppet master'

Sigrid Klop/Shutterstock
Sigrid Klop/Shutterstock
If this man hadn’t existed, you wouldn’t believe it possible that someone like him actually lived outside the pages of a pulp-fiction novel. Excerpts:

Licio Gelli, who has died aged 96, was a one-time fascist blackshirt and grandmaster of a secret masonic lodge at the centre of Italy’s biggest post-war political scandal; it centred around the collapse, in 1982, of the Banco Ambrosiano, and followed the death of the bank’s former president, Roberto Calvi, who was found in June 1982 hanging from Blackfriar’s Bridge in London.


The Calvi and Banco Ambrosiano affair, however, was not the darkest page in the Gelli story.

In 1981, the year before the bank collapse, Gelli had made international headlines when a police raid on his office discovered a secret list of 1,000 prominent politicians, magistrates, journalists, businessmen (among them Italy’s future leader Silvio Berlusconi), policemen, the heads of all three of Italy’s secret services and some 40 senior military commanders, who were all members of P2. The discovery helped bring down the Christian Democrat government of Arnaldo Forlani.

When searching Gelli’s villa, police found a document headed “Plan for Democratic Rebirth”, which called for a consolidation of the media, suppression of trade unions, and the rewriting of the Italian Constitution. “The availability of sums not exceeding 30 to 40 billion lire would seem sufficient to allow carefully chosen men, acting in good faith, to conquer key positions necessary for overall control,” it read. A subsequent parliamentary commission said the aim of P2 had been “to exert anonymous and surreptitious control” of the political system.

Read the entire obituary. The Propaganda Due scandal wasn’t a case of an outlandish conspiracy theory; it really happened.

It is often a mystery to Americans why Europeans look on Freemasonry, which is so benign in the US (“Protestant voodoo” a friend of mine calls it) with such fear and suspicion. Well, this is why.