An infection, even one as lethal as cancer, often begins with a single wound. Through this wound the pathogen enters the body by way of a single cell, where it pathologically replicates and corrupts those around it until eventually it consumes the entire host.
As goes infection, so goes totalitarianism. And in 2020, totalitarianism found its wound in the free world by way of Lombardy, Italy. More specifically, by way of one Health Minister, Roberto Speranza, on whose order 50,000 Lombardy residents were placed under lockdown on February 21st 2020, the first lockdown in the modern Western world. Within weeks, lockdown had spread to cities across Italy, until the entire nation was placed on lockdown on March 9th. By April 2020, more than half the world’s population – some 3.9 billion people – had been placed under lockdown.
These lockdowns were unprecedented in the Western world and weren’t part of any democratic country’s pandemic plan prior to Xi Jinping’s lockdown of Wuhan, China. They failed to meaningfully slow the spread of the coronavirus and killed an estimated tens of thousands of young people in countries across the world, including Italy.
Worse yet, officials who led the response to Covid in several major countries have testified that Italy’s adoption of China’s lockdown policy was one of the most important events leading to their own imposition of lockdowns. As White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx wrote in her bizarrely self-incriminating book:
[W]e worked simultaneously to develop the flatten-the-curve guidance I hoped to present to the Vice President at week’s end. Getting buy-in on the simple mitigation measures every American could take was just the first step leading to longer and more aggressive interventions. We had to make these palatable to the administration by avoiding the obvious appearance of a full Italian lockdown. At the same time, we needed the measures to be effective at slowing the spread, which meant matching as closely as possible what Italy had done – a tall order.
Likewise, in the words of Imperial College Professor Neil Ferguson, architect of the wildly-inaccurate Covid models that instigated lockdowns across the free world:
It’s a communist one party state, we said. We couldn’t get away with it in Europe, we thought… And then Italy did it. And we realised we could.
Ferguson’s assessment is doubly ironic, because it was a study led in part by Ferguson and his team at Imperial College that purported to show Speranza’s lockdown of the town of Vo’, Italy, on February 22nd 2020 had been effective that led to the lockdown of all of Italy on March 9th. His study’s conclusion was, of course, bunk – we now have proof that the rate of Covid infection growth was in decline well before lockdowns began in many countries, including those in Lombardy and Vo’, Italy. Ferguson justified the lockdown of the United Kingdom based on the lockdown of Italy, which had in turn been justified with a false study led in part by Ferguson himself.
Thus, it’s of paramount importance that we understand what led to Speranza’s decision to order those initial lockdowns in Lombardy and Vo’, Italy.
In October 2020, Speranza published a book titled Why We Will Heal: From the Hardest Days to a New Idea of Health. Shortly after being published, the book was hastily pulled from stores. The stated reason was that Italy was experiencing a second wave of Covid, but upon reading the book it’s abundantly clear that Speranza, who’d signed the first lockdown orders in the Western world, betrays an embarrassing lack of concern about Covid itself and a much greater concern for how the response could be used to implement far-Left political reforms across Italy. As he states in one telling passage:
I am convinced that we have a unique opportunity to entrench a new idea of the Left… I believe that, after so many years going against the wind, there is a possibility of reconstructing a cultural hegemony on a new basis.
Likewise, Speranza says that a primary lesson of Covid is that the WHO must be strengthened, and he requested that the United States be prevented from leaving the WHO.
In mid-July I wrote a letter to Jens Spahn, the German Health Minister and President of the Council of Health Ministers, and to Stella Kyriakides, asking for an initiative at European level to prevent the United States from leaving WHO, currently scheduled for July 2nd 2021. WHO is fundamental: it must be defended, improved, strengthened, reformed starting from the principles of transparency and autonomy.
By contrast, throughout the 229-page book, Speranza never once expresses any criticism of China, going only so far as to acknowledge China has “a very different cultural, political and institutional model”, while advocating closer ties with China.
China is a great protagonist of the time we live in and I am convinced that an important political space is opening up for Europe, as a hinge between the new Asian power and the United States.
Speranza is a leader in Italy’s newly-formed political party Article One, founded by former Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema, the first known former member of a Communist Party to become Prime Minister of a NATO country. D’Alema now serves as honorary president of the Silk Road Cities Alliance, a Chinese state organisation.
Speranza makes clear that he was well aware, at the time he ordered the free world’s first lockdown in Lombardy, Italy, that he was copying a policy only China had done, and that it would be a restriction of citizens’ fundamental constitutional rights.
The progression of infections in the Lodi area and also in Veneto requires us to ‘close’ areas that are not small, necessarily preventing over 50,000 people from entering and leaving the confines of their area of residence. This is a measure with worrying implications for the economic and social fabric, but also with a terrible symbolic impact. Restricting citizens’ freedom of movement, sending the army to check that closures are respected. Could the protection of the right to health, recognised by Article 32 of the Constitution, lead us to restrict other fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution? And then, will this type of intervention really work, to stop the contagion? No other Western country has yet experienced this virus and the management strategies it requires. The only precedent we can look to is China, with a very different cultural, political and institutional model from ours. In Italy, everyone has been saying for weeks, it would be impossible to do what China has done. But what if it were necessary?
Prior to ordering the Western world’s first lockdowns, Speranza played a role in Italy as an early Covid alarmist similar to that played in the United States by Deputy National Security Advisor Matt Pottinger – the Mandarin-fluent intelligence operative who, beginning in January 2020, unilaterally ratcheted up alarm in the White House, advocated sweeping mandates based on his own sources in China, and appointed Deborah Birx to orchestrate lockdowns across the United States.
Like Pottinger, who organised the first White House meetings on the coronavirus in mid-January 2020, Speranza organised Italy’s first coronavirus task force meetings around that same time – prior to there being any confirmed cases in the Western world. Like Pottinger’s meetings, Speranza’s coronavirus meetings were held on a daily basis. And, like Pottinger, Speranza says that he’d been inspired to do so by the response he saw in China.
Giovanna Botteri keeps the Italian public informed. His updates from Beijing are frequent and punctual. Tens of seconds of news coverage, which however convey a surreal situation. Hospitals stormed, new temporary health facilities organised in a few weeks, temperature checks in every corner of the country. And then the lockdown and quarantine: huge cities, with millions of inhabitants, closed with a total block of activities and a ban on leaving the house. I look at those images and I think that in the West it would not be possible to manage a crisis in this way. But we can’t just hope it won’t be necessary…
And it is with this idea that on January 12th I set up for the first time the task force for the Coronavirus. I immediately consult the main Italian scientists, aware of the privilege of being able to do so. Research, mathematics, for me, are a fundamental part of the strength of humanity. As a staunch rationalist, I have a true faith in science… The task force will meet, in my presence, every day at 9am, sometimes earlier, without exception, until the Technical Scientific Committee (CTS) becomes operational.
Like Pottinger, at the end of January 2020, Speranza began ratcheting up alarm about the coronavirus in Italy’s highest halls of political power.
On January 29th, for the first time, I tell the Parliament that the country must be united in this game. There is no longer a majority or opposition. There are the Italians, there is a huge problem that threatens them and there are the institutions that have to defend their citizens. At the end of my report to Parliament, I take the phone and personally call the three leaders of the opposition: Silvio Berlusconi, Giorgia Meloni and Matteo Salvini.
Around that same time, Speranza also began ratcheting up alarm within the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
Even if the ECDC considers the risk of the spread of the virus in Europe to be low, after some informal and personal solicitations to European Commissioner Stella Kyriakides and the Minister of Health of Croatia – who holds the rotating presidency of the EU – I decide to formally request, in the name of the Italian Government, the convening of the European Council of all health ministers…
But my feeling is that our cohesion is defective, that the level of alert on the virus is too low and the functioning mechanisms of common institutions are too weak to be activated effectively in an emergency. In these hours an urgent meeting of the ministers of health is needed.
The next day, January 30th 2020, Prime Minister Conte announced Italy’s first two confirmed Covid cases and immediately declared a state of emergency, “allowing the Government to cut through red tape quickly if needed”.
When Speranza ordered the lockdown of Lombardy, he conveyed in a press conference that he knew he was taking an action of consequence not only for Italy, but for the entire world.
It seems to me a fairly clear fact, the measures implemented by Italy are at the highest level in Europe, but probably also globally.
This aligns with an anonymous stock tip posted on January 30th 2020, the same day Italy’s first cases were confirmed, from someone who said they had friends and family at the CDC and WHO and that the WHO was planning to begin recreating China’s response across the Western world, first by locking down Italian cities.
[T]he WHO is already talking about how ‘problematic’ modeling the Chinese response in Western countries is going to be, and the first country they want to try it out in is Italy. If it begins a large outbreak in a major Italian city they want to work through the Italian authorities and world health organisations to begin locking down Italian cities in a vain attempt to slow down the spread at least until they can develop and distribute vaccines, which btw is where you need to start investing.
Despite the fact that lockdowns had no precedent in the Western world, this tip proved to be a near-perfect foretelling of subsequent events.
Indeed, Speranza’s coronavirus task force had already commissioned a study on possible scenarios for the progression of Covid. This study, using China’s data, was provided to Italy’s Technical-Scientific Committee on the coronavirus on February 12th 2020, having been led by Stefano Merler at the Fondazione Bruno Kessler (FBK).
The FBK and Merler were cited positively by Bill Gates, second-largest funder of the WHO, at the World Economic Forum in 2017 after Merler and FBK worked with Gates on the response to Ebola. The fact that Merler’s study even existed was kept confidential and not publicly disclosed until months later. For this reason, it was dubbed the ‘secret study’ by Italy’s opposition parties.
Merler’s ‘secret study’ has never been publicly released, but Merler published two additional journal articles in 2020 with several Chinese co-authors and funding from the Chinese Government, each purporting to show the effectiveness of lockdowns and non-pharmaceutical interventions against the coronavirus in China. The first of Merler’s journal articles with Chinese co-authors, funded in part by the Chinese Government, appeared in April 2020 and claimed to show that “social distancing alone, as implemented in China during the outbreak, is sufficient to control COVID-19”, based on data provided by China from Wuhan. The second of Merler’s journal articles with Chinese co-authors, funded in part by the Chinese Government, appeared in July 2020 and claimed to show that NPIs had been effective in controlling the spread of the coronavirus in Chinese cities outside Wuhan, again based on data provided by China.
A reasonable person would likely recognise that the inputs from China on which Merler based the conclusions in his journal articles, coming from a totalitarian regime with a well-known history of fabrication, were lies.
Whether motivated by directed reasoning, funding, or something worse, Stefano Merler, the lead author of the unreleased ‘secret study’ based on China’s data which led to the free world’s first lockdown in Lombardy, Italy, was effectively running a propaganda laundering operation on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party throughout 2020.
Though Merler’s secret study has never been publicly released, it was later shared privately with la Repubblica, Italy’s center-Left newspaper of record. La Repubblica wrote one article about the study, but in my life I’ve never seen a mainstream article so thoroughly memory holed. Not only does the original link to the article not work, but the web archives don’t work either, and the article doesn’t appear on Google. Fortunately, one website copied the article’s text.
Covid must really be some virus, seeing as it prevented Italy’s newspaper of record from upholding basic standards of online record retention for the one article it wrote on a key Government study shared with it privately. Of course, this is in keeping with a pattern of secrecy and outright dishonesty that we’ve seen from governments across the Western world since the coronavirus appeared.
In fact, in parallel with Merler’s secret study, there was also a more detailed ‘secret plan’, specifically titled the “Operational Plan of Preparation and Response to Different Scenarios of Possible Development of a 2019-nCov Epidemic”, no details of which have ever been released. In December 2020, the opposition party went to court to compel release of the secret Operational Plan, but Speranza still refused to release it on the grounds that it was not a “formally approved pandemic plan”.
Speranza’s refusal to release the secret Operational Plan is interesting, because in early 2020 the Government of Germany likewise commissioned a confidential operational plan, later obtained through a series of whistleblower leaks and FOIA requests, “based on the scientific findings of expert teams from the University of Bonn/University of Nottingham Ningbo China”, at least one of whom had no background in infectious disease or epidemiology, containing a “catalogue of measures” to be implemented by Germany’s CDC. It outlined, in line-item detail, the steps to implement lockdowns, mass testing and quarantine facilities, among other draconian measures. The paper specifically suggested “appeals to the public spirit” including the slogan “together apart”. Of the 210 pages of FOIAed emails leading up to the publication of the German operational plan, 118 were blacked out entirely. The emails contain frequent discussion of China, but nearly all these references are redacted. The stated reason: “May have adverse effects on international relations.”
Of course, because Mr. Speranza has decided that it is not in the interest of the Italian people to know the contents of Italy’s secret Operational Plan, we have no way of knowing whether it resembles Germany’s secret operational plan based on the findings of China lobbyists containing specific line-item instructions on implementing lockdowns, mass testing, quarantine facilities and appeals to the public spirit.
- Neil Ferguson justified the lockdown of the United Kingdom based on the lockdown of Italy, which had in turn been justified with a false study led in part by Ferguson himself claiming to show that the lockdown of the town of Vo’, Italy was successful.
- Prior to ordering the free world’s first lockdown in Lombardy, and prior to any Covid cases being confirmed, Roberto Speranza played a role in Italy as an early Covid alarmist similar to that played in the White House by Matt Pottinger, calling Italy’s first daily meetings on the coronavirus and ratcheting up alarm in Parliament and the ECDC.
- Speranza was well aware, at the time he ordered the free world’s first lockdown in Lombardy, that he was copying a policy only China had ever done and that it would restrict his citizens’ fundamental rights.
- Throughout his book, which was hastily pulled from stores, Speranza never once criticises China, while he expresses a strong desire for the response to Covid to bring about far-Left reforms across Italy and a strengthening of the WHO.
- Speranza’s committee commissioned a secret study on possible Covid scenarios which was produced by Stefano Merler at FBK, an organisation with ties to the Gates Foundation, the WHO’s second-largest funder. This secret study led to the lockdown of Lombardy.
- Stefano Merler, lead author of the secret study commissioned by Speranza’a committee, was effectively running a propaganda laundering operation for the CCP throughout 2020, publishing multiple articles with several Chinese co-authors and funding from the Chinese Government purporting to show lockdowns and NPIs in China succeeded in controlling the virus, using inputs that a reasonable person would likely recognise as lies.
- In parallel with the secret study produced by Merler, there was also a more detailed secret Operational Plan which Speranza refused to produce even when formally requested in court.
Speranza comes across as a far more charismatic person in his book than the eerily totalitarian Deborah Birx in her weird confession of a memoir. He often crosses party lines, fondly recalling his first meeting with former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi:
After exchanging some pleasantries, the former Prime Minister concluded with a smile: “You have such a clean face, like a good boy, but what are you doing with these Communists? Come with us!”
Speranza expresses an earnest desire for far-Left policy reforms, and in multiple places he expresses fond memories working as a young International Socialist:
My first real political commitment, in the Youth Left, was largely dedicated to European and international politics. It makes me smile that today Enzo Amendola is sitting with me in the Council of Ministers as Minister for European Affairs. He is a few years older than me and we have worked together for years on international issues, he as head of the International Young Socialists, I in Italy in the youth Left, up to becoming national president, but always with a mind to what was happening in the world…
I was part of the Socialist International and in that trip I really breathed, in the most popular and human way, the concept of international solidarity. The one from below, that of the boys of my generation, with little budget and a lot of faith in the world. From this point of view I believe I belong to one privileged generation, which was already a European community: boys with enormous backpacks on their shoulders who met, anywhere on the continent, and recognised each other.
It’s possible that Speranza gradually got tangled up in a network of Chinese-style totalitarianism out of an overabundance of zeal and affinity for the traditional, egalitarian propaganda of socialism. This was more common in the Soviet era when the dystopian realities of communism were less well known, but all you have to do is talk to a young person in a liberal city bar to know that the original propaganda of communism still goes a long way on the far Left.
Speranza concludes his book with an epilogue that Karl Marx himself would be proud of, and which I’ve reproduced in full below. As a reminder, this is supposed to be a book about a response to a pandemic. I’ll let it speak for itself.
In the course of these pages I have repeatedly used two terms that are essential to me such as “equality” and “rights.” And they served to chart the course in the storm, like the stars for sailors. Hard times are not those in which values and principles have to be left aside. They are the ones you need.
We have seen how politics is daily management, daily choices, daily effort. But it is also an exciting personal and collective story and a leap towards the future. For this reason I believe that another duty we have towards ourselves and towards the country, another way not to waste the hard lessons of these months and to better face the challenges that await us, is to embrace a political wind that has been needed for a long time.
I am convinced that we have a unique opportunity to entrench a new idea of the Left, based on a commitment that today everyone recognises is needed: to defend and relaunch fundamental public goods, starting from the protection of health, the value of education and the defence of the environment. We have experienced unbridled individualism, we have undergone its economic and social translation: neoliberalism as well so unbridled. We believed in the propaganda that a world organised according to these principles would produce wealth and well-being for all. For over thirty years this ideology has been hegemonic in the conscience of the Western world: it has not only oriented the right, but has also significantly influenced the left, changing it little by little.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the ‘end of history’, all over the world the big parties of the Left have had to accelerate the path they were taking, to update their vision of society. It was a just and necessary development: the world is changing and politics must include the new times. In the post-Cold War period, the goal was to definitively free the progressive and democratic camp from the anti-democratic and illiberal impulses that had characterized real socialism. In truth, the social democracies in Europe, and then the Italian Communist Party itself, had already for years made a pragmatic path of breaking with the Soviet experience.
The ideological revision was legitimate. Leaving the field open to a model of civil and political coexistence determined by the market without rules, on the other hand, was a mistake. Individualism has weakened social networks and fragmented representation. It was thought that the state was no longer needed, that it should be reduced to a minimum. That all his interference was a nuisance because society and the economy were able to regulate themselves. They just had to be left ‘free’.
And so the season of extracting resources began at the expense of social equity. The season of cuts in public spending, of the deconstruction of the two great pillars of welfare: health and education. With very rare exceptions, not only in Italy, the national health services have become weaker and less capable there to respond to people’s needs. And within the downsizing of the welfare state, inequalities have exploded. The rich always get more healthy and poor always get more sick.
We have seen the risks taken when a health, economic and social system weakened by decades of wrong choices found itself facing a real emergency.
The months of Covid, however, have accelerated a rethinking process of which some first signs were already visible. We have rediscovered how important fundamental public goods are, starting with the protection of health. For the first time, after many years, the Left is not going against the wind. We have been in the long phase in which history seemed to go in the direction of neoliberal individualism, and in our going against the wind, looking for the route, fighting against solutions that were a bit messy and that had little to do with values of the left, in Italy we have experienced a painful split in the main centre-Left party. Today things are changing and an idea of the Left can be reaffirmed starting from fundamental public goods and a new role of the state.
During the crisis, people have realised that there is a need for someone to protect and defend their life, their personal safety. Who can guarantee these rights to every citizen? Who can offer the certainty that the protection of the right to health does not depend on the economic and social conditions of each person at a given moment of his or her existence?
The market cannot do it alone. In the face of a life that is put at risk, its rules are not enough, nor is individual initiative enough. Insurance is not enough against a virus that kills, nor is a credit card. It is illusory, we have seen it, to think of saving oneself. There is need for a superordinate protection of fundamental rights, which only public institutions can guarantee. We need a great National Health Service, rooted and organised, capable of taking care of everyone and leaving no one behind. To stop the virus, and to re-establish conditions in which nothing that has happened to us can be repeated, it is essential to cure everyone. And doing it isn’t just convenient: it’s right.
People have understood this. And this awareness has cleared up a very fertile political ground for the Left. As long as it puts the defence of fundamental public goods and work at the center of its agenda. As long as it stops imitating the right and its policies and archives, the season of subordination to neoliberalism.
I believe that, after so many years against the wind, there is a new possibility of reconstructing a cultural hegemony on a new basis. Many trends that we see affirming are going in the same direction, from the beautiful environmentalist events inspired by the young Greta to the spontaneous Italian squares of the ‘Sardinians’. They are shouting the same thing at us: there are fundamental public goods that must be defended and protected. And one can no longer stand by and watch. It is time for a new great collective effort.
Covid has changed everything, it has deeply affected individual lives and social coexistence. It is not possible that everything changes and the political forces remain as they are. We need to question ourselves. With courage. I and the women and men who shared the Article One experience with me are available to do so immediately. The Right is very strong. It cannot be underestimated. It has an extraordinary ability to interpret a feeling of anxiety and insecurity widespread in our society, especially in the weaker segments, where there are fewer certainties and more fears. The response from the Right speaks easy and direct language. It identifies in the different, in the other (perhaps with a darker skin colour), a responsible enemy and raises the flag of national identity as a wall, a fence, with the illusion of leaving danger out.
We must cultivate a new great field that starts from the defence of the values of our Constitution, of work and of fundamental public goods. This political area, beyond the acronyms existing today, which all seem quite obsolete to me, must try to hold together the forces that support our Government today. Now it may seem like a utopia, but I believe that the road is already marked and it is the right one. A new dichotomy will ensue. It is necessary, on this basis, to reestablish the democratic and progressive field. This too is a demanding and fascinating challenge.
Workers of the world, unite.
Michael P. Senger is an attorney and author of Snake Oil: How Xi Jinping Shut Down the World. He blogs at the New Normal, where this article first appeared.
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