Nobody liked Benito Mussolini, except, of course, his Blackshirt Fascists. Apart from them, I think it’s safe to say that with thousands of people that were humiliated, beaten, or killed, everybody wanted him dead. So did Violet Gibson, who almost succeeded in assassinating the fascist leader.

Benito Mussolini’s Fascism

Benito Mussolini in 1930.

Mussolini became the Prime Minister of Italy in 1922. Although before that, he had established “fasci di combattimento,” which translates to “fighting bands,” composed of republicans, anarchists, syndicalists, discontented socialists, restless revolutionaries, and discharged soldiers wanting to establish a new force in Italian politics. Thus, fascism was created. His followers burned down union and party offices. They also terrorized the local population while wearing black shirts to show their support. Mussolini encouraged them with these attacks. By 1921, the Fascists had controlled most parts of Italy. Fascism under Mussolini represented Statism, the supremacy of the state overall.  As he expressed it, “Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State.”

In the summer of 1922, a general strike was held by remnants of the trade-union movement. Mussolini seized the chance and declared that unless the government would prevent the strike, the Fascists would. In front of 40,000 Fascists in Naples, he said, “Either the government will be given to us, or we will seize it by marching on Rome.” A few days later, the March of Rome began, the beginning of fascist rule and Mussolini’s rise to power.

When he became the Prime Minister, much middle class were willing to submit to his authoritative leadership, as long as the national economy would be stabilized and he would bring back their country’s dignity. While it seemed like a good thing, it cost the outlaw of opposition parties, trade unions, and the press freedom. Spies and secret cops looked after the people. Critics were dispatched, like Giacomo Matteotti, who was kidnapped and murdered.

Violet Gibson

Violet Gibson. Photo from Wanted in Europe

Violet Gibson was a daughter of a Lord Chancellor in Ireland and a Christian Scientist. She grew up going back and forth between Dublin and London. Violet was a sickly child— she suffered both physical and mental illness, which was described as “hysteria.”

Violet converted to Catholicism before she moved to Paris in her mid-20s. There, she worked for pacifist organizations. It is said that her passion for both religion and politics led her to try and assassinate Mussolini.

As written by BBC, “On 7 April 1926, an Irish woman stepped out from a crowd in Rome and fired a shot at one of the 20th century’s most infamous dictators.”

The Italian dictator just delivered a speech to a conference of surgeons in Rome. As he was walking through the Piazza del Campidoglio, the then 50-year-old Violet approached him and raised her pistol to Mussolini’s head at point-blank range. She could’ve succeeded if the dictator did not turn to look at a group of students singing a song in his honor. So instead, the bullet just grazed on the bridge of Mussolini’s nose. She tried again but the bullet unfortunately lodged in the barrel.

The police dragged Violet away, and she was later deported back to England, where doctors declared her insane. Her family agreed to place her in a Northampton mental asylum. There, she stayed until her death in 1956 at the age of 79. 

Of the four people who attempted to assassinate Benito Mussolini, Violet Gibson the pacifist came closest.

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