Meet the Man Who Nearly Overturned Italian Democracy

By Gabriele Cruciata

In 1970 a fascist coup failed at the last minute in Italy. The man who was instructed to put a bullet in the president’s head tells his story to The Stand.

Angelo is 77 years old, and wrinkles pass all through his face. He lives in Cittaducale, a small village in central Italy, where he was born. He spent all his life here. His home is an old-fashioned flat filled with old knick-knacks. “Would you ever imagine I was about to kill the Italian President?” he asks.

During the night of 8th of December, 1970, in Cittaducale it was raining heavily. Junio Valerio Borghese, a fascist Italian aristocratic with a past in the naval force, organized a golpe for that night. The wildlife police were his closest partners in crime. At that time, Angelo was part of the wildlife police, whose main barracks was and still today is in Cittaducale.

“They ordered us to get prepared” he said, speaking in Italian. “We all thought it was a training, and we were so pissed off! After all, why do you organize a practice session during such a rainy night?”. Angelo remembers all the details from that night. “Our superiors organized a group of four trucks for a total of about 120 wildlife officers. I was in the leading truck, and this allowed me to have a good view of what was going on”.

When Angelo is asked to talk about how they felt inside the truck, a ghostly expression immediately appears on his face. “We were angry, of course. But as we spent lots of time on Via Salaria following signs for Rome, we progressively felt a sense of anxiety. Trainings were supposed to last for 30 or 40 minutes, no more. We were worried, we were in the heart of the Cold War”.

After some hours driving, the truck reached Rome. “We were seven or eight Kms from the national TV headquarters, while anxiety was growing. We didn’t have a clue of what was going on, and at some point my truck stopped. One of the Commanders rashly got out of the truck and approached two strange guys in the dark”.

Who were they?

“At first, I thought they were two frocioni having secret sex in the car, they were so strange!” he laughs. Frocioni is an Italian word for “fags”.

Did you manage to look at them?

“No, it was so dark, it was raining. But we really weren’t understanding why our Commander decided to stop for a pair of frocioni. When he came back into the truck, he wanted us to come back to our station. We made a U-turn and went back to Cittaducale. In that moment I realized they weren’t frocioni and that something serious was going on”.

In the following weeks and months, his life went back to its everyday routine. “Once, it was Sunday and I was at my parents’. My dad started to call me: “Angelo! Angelo! – he screamed – C’mon, c’mon, come here!”. When Angelo entered the room he found his dad in front of the TV. “He asked me “what the hell did you do? What did you do that night? Look!”.

TV news was reporting on Borghese’s Golpe, and I was involved in the story. I was there that night. I was involved in a fuckin’ coup, you know what I mean?”. It was March, 1971.

The next day, Angelo arrived at the wildlife police station. His workplace was surrounded by Carabinieri. They wanted to investigate on the coup d’état and question all the officers who worked that night. “When they called me – Angelo says – I was afraid. I remember a white, empty room with a desk. An officer was standing right behind it. When he started questioning me, he took a violent attitude. He screamed, he wanted to convince me to tell the truth about that night. He was furious, he tried to punch me in the face”.

When Angelo talks about the interrogation he gets nervous. It was at the end of his questioning that he discovered something he did not yet know: the role he would have had if the coup attempt had gone ahead.

“At the end, I was standing up to go away while he loudly told me You know what? You were expected to kill the President. I got a chill. “I was about to change our history”.

Still today nobody knows why the coup failed that night. Prosecutors know for sure that Angelo’s Commander phoned Junio Valerio Borghese immediately after meeting with the guys in the dark, and he was told to come back to the station. In 2004, thanks to the American Freedom of Information Act, Italian journalists discovered the “frocioni” were two American secret agents who ordered Borghese to stop the coup. Sicilian mafia was aware of the plot, as well. Borghese died in mysterious conditions in 1974.

“Sometimes I wonder how I saw two American secret agents deciding about a coup d’état during the Cold War. I’ve always been a simple person, my world is this small village, but my life intertwined with a coup in which America, secret services, fascists and mafia were involved. I still don’t know the word to describe it”.