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Anatomy of the Red Brigades

The Religious Mind-set of Modern Terrorists

Alessandro Orsini, Sarah J. Nodes

Publication Year: 2011

The Red Brigades were a far-left terrorist group in Italy formed in 1970 and active all through the 1980s. Infamous around the world for a campaign of assassinations, kidnappings, and bank robberies intended as a "concentrated strike against the heart of the State," the Red Brigades' most notorious crime was the kidnapping and murder of Italy's former prime minister Aldo Moro in 1978. In the late 1990s, a new group of violent anticapitalist terrorists revived the name Red Brigades and killed a number of professors and government officials. Like their German counterparts in the Baader-Meinhof Group and today's violent political and religious extremists, the Red Brigades and their actions raise a host of questions about the motivations, ideologies, and mind-sets of people who commit horrific acts of violence in the name of a utopia.

In the first English edition of a book that has won critical acclaim and major prizes in Italy, Alessandro Orsini contends that the dominant logic of the Red Brigades was essentially eschatological, focused on purifying a corrupt world through violence. Only through revolutionary terror, Brigadists believed, could humanity be saved from the putrefying effects of capitalism and imperialism. Through a careful study of all existing documentation produced by the Red Brigades and of all existing scholarship on the Red Brigades, Orsini reconstructs a worldview that can be as seductive as it is horrifying. Orsini has devised a micro-sociological theory that allows him to reconstruct the group dynamics leading to political homicide in extreme-left and neonazi terrorist groups. This "subversive-revolutionary feedback theory" states that the willingness to mete out and suffer death depends, in the last analysis, on how far the terrorist has been incorporated into the revolutionary sect.

Orsini makes clear that this political-religious concept of historical development is central to understanding all such self-styled "purifiers of the world." From Thomas Müntzer's theocratic dream to Pol Pot's Cambodian revolution, all the violent "purifiers" of the world have a clear goal: to build a perfect society in which there will no longer be any sin and unhappiness and in which no opposition can be allowed to upset the universal harmony. Orsini's book reconstructs the origins and evolution of a revolutionary tradition brought into our own times by the Red Brigades.

Published by: Cornell University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-4


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pp. v-vi

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pp. 1-8

It is a frightening idea that envy, resentment, and hate can sometimes have a decisive effect on the course of history. A rational vision of politics, in which the actors’ choices are always based on a cost-benefit calculation, is much more reassuring.1 ...

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Chapter 1. The Pedagogy of Intolerance

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pp. 9-29

The “children of the light” are engaged in a fight to the death against the “children of the shadows.” The outcome of this battle—however steep and painful the road leading to the goal—is already written: society will be cleansed of the “pigs”1 that infest it. After this, communism can finally be constructed and people will no longer suffer hunger and oppression. ...

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Chapter 2. The Sacralization of Politics

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pp. 30-47

One of the typical traits of the Red Brigades’ mentality is the sacralization of politics. The Red Brigades have the task of redeeming people, showing them the way to salvation: “We were the saviors,” says the brigadist Roberto Rosso, “and we wanted to bring people convincing values to judge with.”1 ...

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Chapter 3. Toward the Bloodshed

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pp. 48-92

Discipline is very strict in the Red Brigades. Every moment of the militant’s life is subjected to a serious of rigorous rules. The Red Brigades—explains Valerio Morucci—lead “a hidden life at all times.”1 ...

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Chapter 4. The Genesis of the Red Brigades

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pp. 93-154

To understand the desire to become brigadists, we need a theory for individual motivation. The DRIA model is programmed to meet this need. To understand how a revolutionary sect takes root and becomes successful, a broader theory of social change is required.1 These two problems need different types of information. ...

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Chapter 5. The Masters of the Red Brigades

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pp. 155-207

The Red Brigades’ allegory of a joyful kingdom until the end of time has deep roots. It is a yearning for transcendence with respect to this world that tends to reappear during moments of great collective tension. The times and manner of its appearance can vary, but the story is always the same: ...

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Chapter 6. The Purifiers of the World in Power

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pp. 208-252

The populists taught Lenin that the revolution is first of all an inner journey, focused on sacrifice and discipline. Unlike his predecessors, however, he was successful. He achieved power and set about regenerating humanity. His political actions have enabled the effects of the gnostic recipe to be verified “in the field.” ...

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Not a Conclusion

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pp. 253-262

The [Red Brigadist] is a doomed man. He has no personal interests, no business affairs, no emotions, no attachments, no property, no name. Everything in him is wholly absorbed in the single thought and the single passion for revolution. ...

Appendix: Red Brigades and Black Brigades

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pp. 263-284

A Note on Method

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pp. 285-288


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pp. 289-312

Index of Names

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pp. 313-318

E-ISBN-13: 9780801460913
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801449864

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1