Dangerous Bars

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Perhaps
Richard
Humphreys, the Sioux Falls man who for his “burning Bush” comment
was sentenced recently to over three years in prison
, should
have tried the “drunk” defense instead of the 1st Amendment defense.
It worked in fascist Italy in the 1930s.

In
his book Informers (Delatori, which is unfortunately not
available in English translation), the Italian historian Mimmo Franzinelli
cites various instances of Italians who, when in their cups, were
careless enough to criticize the Duce, Benito Mussolini. In a section
of his book titled Dangerous Bars (which forms part of Chapter 2:
The Spy Next Door), Franzinelli writes that the offenders' “state
of drunkenness” in which they made their remarks “worked in their
favor” when charges were brought against them.

For
example, in 1933 a Tuscan farmer named Egisto Ceragioli met two
fascists in a bar and invited them to drink with him. In the course
of their carousing, Ceragioli remarked: “I survived the last war,
and I'm still strong enough to go down to Rome with my pistol permit
and kill that pig Mussolini!” The unfortunate Ceragioli was arrested,
and his wife wrote a letter to the Duce imploring clemency, explaining
her husband's conduct as a result of “excessive libations,” and
protesting her family's loyalty to the fascist regime. The incautious
husband was sentenced to a mere month in prison.

In
1936, another Tuscan farmer, Giocondo Rossi, was arrested for having
said in a bar: “The Duce is a usurper! We've all become beggars
because of him. If he were here now, I'd gouge one of his eyes out!
I'd like to crack his head open!” Witnesses confirmed that Rossi
had made the remarks; but in the defendant's favor was the fact
that he had “a tendency to drink, and that night he was completely
drunk on wine.” And so the tippler was let off lightly.

In
1935, Angelo Rosci, while under the influence, was overheard by
a fascist to say: “Italy is a bully! Italy is a wreck!” This same
fascist undertook a citizen's arrest. On their way to the authorities,
the two men passed some fascists who were extolling the virtues
of Mussolini, Empire Builder. The still-tipsy Rosci shouted out,
“F*** him!” Once sober, Rosci sought to excuse him comments by ascribing
them to an altered state of mind induced by too many afternoon glasses
of wine. He was let out of prison after a few days but kept under
surveillance till 1940.

Other
offenders, however, were not so lucky. In 1933, a poverty-stricken
man named Giuseppe Cernetti was arrested and imprisoned for drunkenness.
He opined to his cellmate: “Mussolini is a scoundrel. He's robbed
millions and millions. He's a pig, a coward.” The cellmate dutifully
reported Cernetti's remarks to the warden, who after interviewing
Cernetti decided that he was suffering from a “grave mental imbalance”
and had him committed to a mental hospital.

In
1936, a carpenter named Angelo Gurrieri was arrested for having
offended in a state of drunkenness the Duce, the king and the regime.
He was sentenced to five years in an internment zone, during which
time he accumulated ten more convictions for antifascist remarks.
He was set at liberty in 1943, about a month after the fall of the
fascist government.

Was
Humphreys drunk when he made his remarks, and if so, would the drunk
defense have worked in his case? Of course, had he used such a defense,
the hapless Humphreys would have implicitly denied that his right
to make a political joke was guaranteed him by the 1st Amendment.
But in any case, the federal government seems to have unofficially
repealed that amendment already.

Mussolini's
fall from power, by the way, was occasioned by his failed dream
of empire. Convinced that an alliance with Nazi Germany would result
in the aggrandizement of Italy's empire, he pledged complete support
of Germany and entered WWII at its side. As a consequence, he lost
his African colonies and in 1943 was forced to step down as head
of the government after the Allied invasion of Sicily. In 1945,
he was captured by Italian communists and executed. His body was
then strung up by the heels in a Milanese piazza.

December
10, 2002

Kevin
Beary (send him mail)
writes
from his home in Italy.

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