Pope Francis was arrested, the Italian President Mattarella is a covert British spy, and Italian officials managed to influence the US elections, tricking President Trump out of office. Also, none of this is true. Here are the twist and turns of the Italian QAnon saga

#ItalyDidIt suddenly started trending across social media platforms on January 6th. In the constellation of websites and message board that are the lifeblood of QAnon conspiracy theories, “proof” emerged that US President Donald Trump’s electoral loss was – drum roll – the Italians’ fault.

The “ItalyGate” theory is comparatively moderate, at least going by the standards of a group that believes the world is governed by a secret cabal of progressive Satanist paedophiles. It posits that an Italian general, Claudio Graziano, conducted a covert operation in Rome’s US embassy to change some of the ballots cast in the latest American elections, from Mr Trump to his rival, President-elect Joe Biden.

According to a questionable testimony by Maria Strollo Zack, an Italo-American former lobbyist who currently runs a pro-family organisation, General Graziano was able to commit this heinous deed via a military satellite with access to the American voting system. The satellite was operated by Leonardo, the leading Italian aerospace company, where the general allegedly sat in the board of directors.

Ms Zack then presented her “proof”: a bogus “affidavit” acquired from Alfio D’Urso, a lawyer who claimed he was representing Arturo D’Elia, a former Leonardo consultant who was recently arrested over hacking charges. The document allegedly contained Mr D’Elia’s admission to the deed.

This theory is easily disproven. For starters, that satellite does not exist; General Graziano never sat on Leonardo’s board (he is currently serving as chairman of the European Union Military Committee); and although two people have indeed been arrested in connection with a Leonardo hack, neither of them was working for the company in 2020. USA Today has more debunking.

Meanwhile, the Italian media started zeroing in on the Italian ends of this story. La Stampa reported that Mr D’Urso was not listed as Mr D’Elia’s lawyer. Nicola Naponiello, the latter’s actual lawyer, dismissed Mr D’Urso’s claims as “pure invention. I firmly deny that [Mr] D’Elia had ever had contacts with this unknown lawyer, [Mr] D’Urso. The existence of that affidavit is a fairy tale.”

The article goes on to describes Mr D’Urso’s career, which features a stint in 2001 as professor at the university of Malta. There lies a connection with the Trump ecosystem, specifically to two central actors of Robert Mueller’s Russia probe: the Trump hyper-loyalist George Papadopoulos and professor Joseph Misfud. The former pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents about his contacts with the latter and Kremlin-connected Russians.

On December 24th, Mr D’Urso unexpectedly resigned from his post as administrator of Catania’s airport. On January 6th, he signed the affidavit that constitutes the fulcrum of ItalyGate.

However, these conspiracy theories tend to have a life of their own; they evolve according to the latest “evidence” in a bid to link al the dots of an all-explaining, anti-Trump conspiracy. La Stampa reported that the QAnon galaxy birthed other improbable Italy-related theories over the weekend.

As the latest “developments” have it, the Italian President Sergio Mattarella is a covert agent of the British intelligence agency MI6 and was part of the anti-Trump effort. This theory emerged on BitChute, the same website where Mr D’Urso’s testimony first appeared.

The “news” was then circulated on Parler, the “free speech” Twitter alternative aimed at alt-right conservatives that features lax rules on hate speech, violence, and disinformation. These are the reasons why the app was recently dropped from Apple and Google’s stores, and went offline following Amazon’s decision to kick it out of its AWS servers.

Moreover, according to the same internet ecosystem, Pope Francis was allegedly arrested on 80 different counts, including incest and fraud. This is supposed to be the beginning of a sweeping Interpol operation against the evil cabal that is ruling the world.

Needless to say, both claims are easily disproven, not to mention absurd. These unfounded theories are all connected and underpinned by their supporters’ underlining belief that the secret cabal must be eradicated, and that Mr Trump is leading the attack on it.

In the last months, the non-conspiratorial world witnessed the escalating power of QAnon’s galaxy of disinformation, fuelled in part by cynical political actors, which culminated in Wednesday’s assault on Capitol Hill in Washington.

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