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The Berlusconi Attack and its Potential to Breed Conspiracy Theory

There’s always a lot of chaos and confusion surrounding a physical assault made on a political figure, but yesterday’s attack on Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has the potential to shake open an especially big can of worms.

The internet is awash with photos of Berlusconi’s stunned and bloodied visage after 42-year old Massimo Tartaglia hurled a miniature statue at the PM’s head and punched him while he was signing autographs at a rally, breaking his nose and two of his teeth. A day later, as Berlusconi heals in the hospital, the layers of potential aftermath are growing thick.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the innumerable angles that news reports have provided us with over the last 24 hours, some of which are vaguely hinting at the potential political wheelings and dealings that could occur, but none stating them explicitly:

Some reports are mumbling that Berlusconi was warned about the risk of attack before the rally by his security team, and he immediately told reporters that he, “almost saw this coming.” This wouldn’t seem all that strange, except for the fact that the Italian press has scrutinized the security at the event for being inadequate. The PM, who’s usually surrounded by a convoy of S.U.V.s and guards armed with automatic weapons, was permitted to re-exit his car immediately after the attack and stand outside of it for a few seconds, unexposed, as this video shows.

There’s also the fact that while the assailant has a history of psychological treatment, Tartaglia has no criminal record and has yet to offer a motive for the assault besides that he doesn’t really like Berlusconi’s politics.

Before yesterday, Berlusconi’s biggest problem was his entanglement in longstanding charges of corruption — his political allies have launched an attempt to pass legislation that would automatically end the corruption trials and clear his name. Bloomberg reported that yesterday’s assault and the subsequent “outpouring of sympathy” could help push the legislation forward and end the trials.

And then there’s the fear rhetoric coming from a number of Italian politicians and journalists. Some are referencing the “Years of Lead,” a period in the late 1970’s during which the Red Brigades murdered Premier Aldo Moro and neo-fascists killed 85 people in a train bombing. One leftist paper wrote that yesterday’s events could “signal a tragic era, similar to the one we have already witnessed in the darkest days of our lives.”

Whatever emerges as the bottom line, Berlusconi’s at least got a few weeks during which his inbox will be dominated by “Get Well” cards instead of hate mail.

Tens of thousands gathered in Rome on Saturday to protest Prime Minister Berlusconi’s alleged corruption while a case against him and his tax lawyer has adjourned.

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