The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Benito Mussolini’s granddaughter has spent decades defending him. Now she’s feuding with Jim Carrey.

Alessandra Mussolini holds a rally on May 15, 2014 in Livorno, Italy. (Laura Lezza/Getty Images)

Alessandra Mussolini, the granddaughter of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, is engaged in a bitter feud with Jim Carrey, the actor best known for the likes of “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” and “Dumb and Dumber.” No, this is not an April Fools’ Day joke, and yes, the Internet is to blame.

It all started on Saturday, when Carrey, who in recent years has reinvented himself as an anti-Trump political cartoonist, tweeted out a picture of his latest drawing. The graphic sketch showed the elder Mussolini and his mistress, Clara Petacci, being hanged upside down from a metal girder in Milan after their execution in 1945.

“If you’re wondering what fascism leads to, just ask Benito Mussolini and his mistress Claretta,” Carrey wrote.

More than 83,000 people had liked the picture as of early Monday morning. Alessandra Mussolini, a former movie actress and Playboy cover model who is a member of the European parliament, wasn’t one of them.

“You are a bastard,” she wrote to Carrey on Sunday.

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The far-right politician, who has aggressively defended her deceased grandfather and even fought to pass the family name down to her children, didn’t stop there. Suggesting that Carrey should instead try his hand at depicting various dark points in American history, she asked if he was familiar with the story of Rosa Parks and sent him a photo of an atomic bomb setting off a mushroom cloud. When reminded that Carrey was born in Canada, she pointed out, correctly, that he is a naturalized American citizen.

By early Monday morning, Carrey, who typically does not engage with his many critics on social media, had yet to respond. But after declaring his drawings to be “dirty paper,” Mussolini went on to argue with Twitter users who had criticized her grandfather for several hours on Sunday, calling one a “piece of human garbage” and insulting the families of others, in both English and Italian. Even after declaring that she had “had enough fun replying to the keyboard antifa,” she kept going, using colorful language to dismiss her many antagonists.

“Do you want applause?” she asked one man who had informed her that his grandfather “fought to liberate Europe from people like your grandfather.” Eventually, she concluded her Twitter rampage by announcing that American antifascists were even more boring than those in Italy, and certainly much more sensitive and irritable.

The news that Il Duce has a living descendant with a decades-long career in Italian politics came as a surprise to many Americans who logged onto Twitter just in time to witness the bizarre meltdown. But even before her beef with a comedian arguably best known for playing oafish characters in 1990s gross-out films, much of Mussolini’s life story sounded like the result of a game of Mad Libs.

For one thing, she’s also the niece of actress Sophia Loren, which allowed her to make her movie debut at the age of 9. (Loren’s sister, Maria Scicolone, married Benito Mussolini’s third son, the jazz musician Romano Mussolini, in 1962.) Alessandra Mussolini starred in a dozen Italian-language movies between 1972 and 1990 and released a pop album titled “Amore” in Japan in 1982. The following year, she appeared on the cover of both the German and Italian editions of Playboy magazine.

“Every actress does topless and stuff like this; you have to,” she told the Independent in 2004.

In 1992, after graduating from medical school, she was elected to the Italian Parliament as a member of the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement, which was seen as a successor to her grandfather’s National Fascist Party. “Miss Mussolini has said she admires many of her grandfather Benito’s policies and hopes to carry on his legacy,” the Associated Press noted at the time. Then 29, she declared that he hadn’t gotten everything wrong, adding, “It’s racism to criticize somebody because their last name is Mussolini.”

Her campaign was backed by die-hard fascists, and some elderly men who attended her campaign speeches broke into tears and gave the fascist salute. But she also declared herself to be a supporter of democracy, insisting that she hated the word “fascism.”

“I am not a fascist and my party is not really fascist,” she explained at the time. “All we want is change in Italy. I want to be the voice of joy and anger of the common people.”

Considered to be a rising star within the party, she ran for mayor of Naples the following year, with The Washington Post’s William Drozdiak observing that she “instinctively delivers the kind of demagogic appeal” that would have made her grandfather proud. Her ascendance as an “emotional populist” worried one of the city’s leading intellectuals, who told The Post that the city was sharply polarized between the far left and far right after 20 years of “ideological peace” and that there was the potential for violent conflict.

Ultimately, Mussolini’s mayoral campaign, which focused on pledging to root out graft, was unsuccessful. But for the next decade, she continued to win reelection to Italy’s Parliament, joining the National Alliance Party when it succeeded the Italian Social Movement and telling reporters in 1994 that fascism had been “a very important part of history that can no longer be demonized or canceled out.” In 2003, Mussolini left the National Alliance when its leader denounced her grandfather, which she saw as an attack on her name and her family.

Her politics can be complicated to unpack, the Independent noted. Over the course of her career, she has been an outspoken advocate for women’s rights, campaigning against workplace sexual harassment, leading a protest against a judge who declared that it was impossible to rape a woman who was wearing jeans and pushing for unmarried couples and their children to have the same benefits as married couples. But she also declared artificial insemination to be “against the dignity of women,” used a pejorative term to describe a transgender candidate and called for all sex offenders to be chemically castrated. In 2007, three years after she was first elected to the European Parliament, her coalition collapsed after she declared that all Romanians were criminals.

She’s also been an ongoing source of fodder for the tabloid press: She famously got in a brawl with Italy’s minister for equal opportunities while taping a television talk show, kicking the woman and calling her an “ugly communist” who should “go and live in Cuba.” In 2015, amid a national scandal surrounding an elite prostitution ring, her husband received a one-year jail sentence and a 1,800 euro fine (roughly equivalent to $2,025 in U.S. dollars today) for patronizing teenage prostitutes, who he claimed he hadn’t realized were underage.

Mussolini has acknowledged that the anti-Semitic laws her grandfather instituted, which prevented Jews from working or attending schools, were wrong. She has also expressed sympathy for the victims of the Holocaust and deemed his alliance with Adolf Hitler to be a mistake. But she has simultaneously displayed a surprising amount of pride in her family heritage and lobbied the Italian government to make it easier for mothers to pass their last names along to their children. In 2004, she told the Los Angeles Times that it had taken a year of wrangling with bureaucrats before she was able to give her three children the Mussolini name and that she had considered naming her son Benito but ultimately named him after her father, Romano. Last year, she tweeted that she would inform the authorities and take legal action against anyone who defamed her grandfather online.

Speaking to the Independent in 2004, she shrugged off questions about her family’s role in one of the darkest chapters of history, noting that she had never known anything different.

“I cannot grow up in another family, so for me it is natural,” she said.