The Golpe Borghese, and P-2’s Other Illicit Activities

FROM THE LECTURE SERIES: The Real History of Secret Societies

By Richard Spence, Ph.D., University of Idaho

Post WWII, Propaganda Due, or P-2, a clandestine fascist lodge grew bigger in Italy. It housed a number of influential members for most of its survival. It was, however, at the center of dire controversy and even trouble in the 1960s and 1970s, and many of its key members met unfortunate ends. 

Freemason symbol encrusted on red letter seal.
During the span of its lifetime, Propaganda Due was behind a number of illicit, clandestine activities. One of the most well remembered one was the failed coup, the Golpe Borghese, in 1970. (Image: Victor Moussa/Shutterstock)

What Was the Golpe Borghese?

An event that played a significant role in the fate of P-2 was the Golpe Borghese. 

An image of Italian fascist politician, Junio Valerio Borghese
Junio Borghese spearheaded the Golpe Borghese in 1970. (Image: Unknown author/Public domain)

In the 1960s, Italy faced a lot of leftist protests and labor unrest, peaking in the Hot Autumn of 1969. The country faced hundreds of strikes, either general or from communist-led workers. The fascist leaders of the Ordine Nuovo and the Avanguardia Nazionale entrusted the responsibility of stopping these strikes on themselves. Their first step would be to seize power. It was then that Junio Borghese, a Mussolini loyalist dubbed the “Black Prince”, formed yet another neo-fascist group called the Fronte Nazionale. As could be expected, it borrowed most of its members from the Ordine Nuovo, or the Avanguardia Nazionale. In 1969, National Front cells conducted a series of deadly bombings, which were officially blamed on anarchists and communists as per the “Strategy of Tension”. Tensions kept escalating, culminating into a full-blown coup, the Golpe Borghese, in December of 1970. 

The coup was code-named “Tora, Tora”, as an homage to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. While there were only about a thousand armed activists, many parts of the Italian military and security services stood by to help, as the chiefs of almost all these services were members of P-2, to the extent that Borghese and his allies later boasted about the clandestine support they had from the United States and NATO. 

Fate of the Golpe Borghese and P-2

The plan of the Golpe Borghese coup was to seize the defense and interior ministries along with key government officials and the RAI television station. Licio Gelli, the master of P-2, led a team tasked with capturing—or killing—Italian President Giuseppe Saragat. However, right before the coup, Black Prince Borghese called the whole thing off, later claiming that the government had been tipped off. Some suspected that he just got cold feet, or maybe the real architects higher up pulled the plug. Borghese then fled to Spain and died suddenly in Cadiz in 1974. While the official verdict was a heart attack, signs pointed to arsenic poisoning. Then, Gelli also fled to Spain, where he met exiled Argentine dictator Juan Perón, whom he then initiated into P-2. 

Soon thereafter, P-2 reached Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil. When Perón became Argentina’s leader in ’73, Gelli took over the Italian embassy under his protection and made it the base of his operations there. 

Perón, however, passed away in 1974, and Gelli eventually returned to Italy. 

This is a transcript from the video series The Real History of Secret Societies. Watch it now, on The Great Courses Plus.

Italy after Gelli’s Return

While Gelli was away, Italy had descended into the “Years of Lead”, when terrorists from the entire political spectrum conducted numerous bombings and assassinations. Many organizations, including the New Order, had been banned. It had, however, bounced back with a new name: Ordine Nero or Black Order. The P-2 had also come under scrutiny, and the Italian Grand Orient had distanced itself by suspending the lodge’s charter; this happened in 1976, but was backdated to 1974. Yet, P-2 just reverted itself to a clandestine lodge, with Gelli at the helm, who now allied himself with the Roman crime syndicate, Banda Della Magliana, whose leader again became a P-2 member.

But rogue Masonic lodges were the least of Italy’s concerns.

Learn more about Masonic lodges.

Money Laundering and Michele Sindona

One major concern for Italian authorities was Michele Sindona, who started out as a money launderer for the mafia in the 1950s. He was also connected to the Vatican and Pope Paul VI, who was related to Borghese. Of course, Sindona was also a member of P-2. His criminal empire, however, began to unravel in 1978, beginning with the death of Pope Paul VI. The new administration began to look into corruption in the Vatican Bank, and focused on one of Sindona’s fronts, the Banco Ambrosiano.

Roberto Calvi, the head of Banco Ambrosiano, was yet another P-2 member, as the largest shareholder in the Ambrosiano was the Vatican Bank. When Ambrosiano failed, the Vatican Bank lost $250 million. 

Surprisingly, the new pope, John Paul, was discovered dead just 33 days into his reign. Again, the official verdict was heart failure. If this sounds familiar, it might be because the story was thinly fictionalized in the film Godfather III.

An image of neo-fascist Stefano Delle Chiaie.
Often, the activities conducted by Stefano Delle Chiaie were pinned on other members of P-2. (Image: The 1975 European Championship/Public domain)

Sindona and P-2 were also involved in other deaths. In March of 1979, the gangland-style assassination of journalist Carmine Pecorelli was linked to the Banda Della Magliana and Stefano Delle Chiaie, P-2’s terror mastermind. (Chiaie, a fascist comrade of Gelli’s, is credited with inventing something called the “Strategy of Tension.” This envisioned using terrorism, especially false-fag terrorism, to create a state of insecurity and fear and then exploiting it.)

Interestingly, Pecorelli, too, was a member of P-2, who had apparently asked too many questions about the murder of former prime minister Aldo Moro. While his killers had been known to be members of the leftist Red Brigades, Pecorelli claimed a grand conspiracy, which he called “lucid superpower”.

A few months later, state investigator Giorgio Ambrosoli, who’d been investigating Sindona, was gunned down. Later, Sindona faked his own kidnapping and vanished. He was finally arrested in the United States in 1980 and convicted of fraud. Four years later, he was extradited to Italy to face murder charges. 

Learn more about criminal secret societies.

Aftermath of Sindona’s Investigation

Sindona’s investigation finally led the Italian law enforcement agency Guardia di Finanza to Licio Gelli and the P-2 membership list. After that, the Grand Orient Lodge tried to distance itself from P-2 and formally expelled Gelli in 1981, and in 1982, it abolished P-2 entirely. Of course, none of this did much to destroy the secret society’s thousands-strong, mostly anonymous membership.

In July 1982, Italian authorities seized a suitcase from Gelli’s fleeing daughter. It concealed a “Memorandum on the Italian Situation”, apparently written by Gelli.

The Memorandum on the Italian Situation

The memorandum, created around the year 1977, identified P-2’s primary enemies as trade unions and communists. Communists, further, had to be kept out of the government. Interestingly, Aldo Moro, was an overt activist of political compromise. Again, this sparked more debate around P-2’s involvement in his death. 

Further, P-2 was touted as the incubator of a new political and economic class to replace the rotten Italian Republic, which would be replaced by an authoritarian regime disguised behind democratic trappings. The operation would be funded by a massive war chest of 30-40 billion Italian lira, likely provided by Sindona’s enterprises. 

Controlling the media was imperative, and it was soon discovered that P-2 member Roberto Calvi had financed the purchase of one of Italy’s most influential newspapers, the Corriere della Sera.

In the meantime, Calvi’s bank collapsed and he fled to London, but was found to dead on June 18, 1982. While suicide was initially suspected, investigations pointed to clues that linked his death to Masonry and the Frati Neri, the covert name of P-2.

Sindona was convicted of murder in 1986, and was soon found poisoned in his cell.

Gelli, on the other hand, fled to Switzerland, then evaded the Swiss authorities and fled to Chile, only to return to Switzerland in 1987, from where he was extradited to Italy. 

Common Questions about the Golpe Borghese and P-2

Q: What was the Golpe Borghese?

The Golpe Borghese was a full-blown coup that was formulated in December of 1970. Throughout the 1960s, Italy had seen hundreds of strikes. While the Ordine Nuovo had entrusted themselves to stop these strikes, Junio Borghese formed a neo-fascist “Fronte Nazionale”, which borrowed most of its members from other fascist organizations.

Q: What happened to P-2 after the Golpe Borghese failed?

After the Golpe Borghese was called off, Junio Borghese fled to Spain and died suddenly in 1974. After that, Licio Gelli, the master of P-2, also fled to Spain. From there, he spread the P-2 to Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil.

Q: Who was Michele Sindona? How was he connected to P-2?

Michele Sindona, was a money launderer for the mafia in the 1950s, and was closely connected to the Vatican, Pope Paul VI, and also to Junio Borghese and the P-2. With the death of Pope Paul VI, however, his actions at the Vatican Bank came under scrutiny, and he sought out the help of Roberto Calvi, the man behind Banco Ambrosiano, another P-2 member.

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