Politics by Other Means in the Italian ‘Years of Lead’: Armed Groups, Ideology and Patterns of Violence


  • Valeria Scuto Middle East, North Africa and Turkey Analyst, Sibylline Ltd.


Armed Groups, Patterns of Violence, Ideology, Targeting and Repertoire


Though many studies have analysed the variations in the use of violence by armed groups, an overall understanding of the phenomenon remains challenging. Building on the work addressing the role of institutions and ideology in armed group behaviour, this paper proposes a greater understanding of the role of the programmatic content of an ideology in shaping patterns of violence, specifically in terms of targeting and repertoire. The starting point of this analysis is to provide a new perspective on the meaning of political violence and address the organisational role of ideology in influencing the institutions of an armed group. To account for this, the paper does not consider the presence of an ideology but rather its strength, as a useful lens of analysis. I argue that if an ideology matters in defining a group, then the use of violence should be reflexive of its organisation. This theoretical framework is used for a micro-comparative, most-similar case study analysis of the Red Brigades and New Order militant organisations in Italy during the so-called ‘Years of Lead’. The case studies both share the presence of a strong ideological underpinning, with similar end goals and in the same context but present variations in their patterns of violence. The scope condition of the case studies is to examine whether the different patterns of violence can be explained by the variations in the programmatic nature of the ideology. Through the analysis of qualitative sources and quantitative evidence, the paper highlights the causal nexus between ideology and observed patterns of violence whereby the use of violence by armed groups represents an information and identification mechanism ideologically defined.


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