Police Search for Anti-Vaccine Activists Accused of Plotting Attack on Italy's Government

Police in Italy conducted searches on 17 anti-vaccine activists allegedly involved in a Telegram chat promoting violence against the government and prominent figures, the Associated Press reported.

This chat was called Basta Dittatura, or Enough of the Dictatorship. Turin police officers told AP that this Telegram chat had tens of thousands of members and that the searches turned up weapons and flammable acid.

The chat served as a "prime forum" for organizing protests against Italy's Green Pass requirements.

The Green Pass shows proof of COVID-19 vaccination, recent negative test or already having and being cured of the virus. Italy and several other European countries require people to show their pass to enter restaurants, museums, movie theaters and long-distance public transport.

Protests grew last month after Italy began to require the pass to access workplaces, becoming the first Western country to do so. Nearly every weekend, there is a new anti-vaccine or anti-pass protest in the country's major cities.

AP reported that Turin police monitored the Basta Dittatura chat for weeks. The 17 extremists searched were deemed the most dangerous, making threats to people like Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Italy, anti-vaccine, protest
Police conducted searches across Italy on Monday against 17 anti-vaccine activists who were affiliated with a Telegram chat group that espoused violence against government, medical and media figures for their perceived support of COVID-19 restrictions. Above, people stage a protest against the Green Pass in Milan, Italy, on July 24, 2021. Antonio Calanni, File/AP Photo

In a statement Monday, police said searches of the 17 extremists' homes across the peninsula Monday turned up weapons and flammable acid, police told a press conference in Turin.

"Other recurring targets were also the police, doctors, scientists, journalists and other public figures accused of 'enslavement' and 'collaboration' with the 'dictatorship' in place," the statement said.

Italy has seen an increase in anti-vaccine protests across the country. In one protest October 9 in Rome, extremists trashed the headquarters of Italy's main labor union. A protest this past weekend in Milan featured American anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy.

Last week, the Interior Ministry issued guidance to police departments nationwide advising them to restrict protests from being staged in congested city centers. The ministry reaffirmed the right of protesters to gather, but cited the potential threat to public security and contagion in recommending protests be allowed only farther afield.

Italy, where the coronavirus outbreak first erupted in Europe in February 2020, is seeing a steady increase in its daily caseload amid a new wave of infections. Authorities registered 62 cases per 100,000 inhabitants last week, the third consecutive week of increased incidence.

But Italy for now is doing better than many other western European countries. Nationwide, hospital bed capacity is well below the critical threshold and, while Italy's official death toll of 132,775 remains one of the highest in Europe, daily deaths have remained under 100 for months. Experts cite Italy's green pass requirement, continued indoor mask mandates and relatively high vaccination rate: 84 percent of the population over age 12 is fully vaccinated.

Robert Kennedy, Italy, anti-vaccine, protest
Protests have broken out across Italy in response to the country's recent requirement to show the Green Pass to enter workplaces. Above, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., son of Robert Kennedy, delivers a speech as he stages a protest against the COVID-19 vaccination pass in Milan, Italy, on November 13, 2021. Antonio Calanni/AP Photo