While far right politics have long been considered exclusively a party phenomenon, the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ acted as a catalyst for far-right street protest, triggering a diffusion of extra-parliamentary initiatives against migrants and asylum-seekers throughout Western Europe. Based on new empirical data from face-to-face interviews with anti-immigration activists, and a quantitative content analysis of far-right mobilization over the last two decades, the paper pro-vides an empirical account of the rationale, nature and form of far-right mobiliza-tion on migration in Italy. Quantitatively, I use Political Claim Analysis to trace the major characteristics of far-right protest until 2015-2016. Qualitatively, I draw on 13 face-to-face interviews with activists engaged in different forms of anti-immigration protest, to explore the meaning that they attribute to their initiatives and political mobilization. The findings indicate that the emergence of the ‘refugee crisis’ changed anti-immigration protest in both quantitative and qualitative terms. Not only far-right activism has intensified in recent years, but it also simultaneous-ly shifted from institutional and conventional forms of action, to street protest. The far right successfully seized the opportunities made available by public deba-tes on the crisis, engaging in direct confrontational actions as well as grassroots activities aimed at raising awareness among the citizenry. In this respect, whilst the predominant themes in anti-refugee mobilization discourse was the threat of an ‘invasion’ by migrants, anti-refugee propaganda mixed several themes that are highly embedded in the Italian political context, such the corruption of the political system, and the disillusionment of ordinary citizens with the establishment and mainstream politics.
Keywords: Far right, immigration, refugee crisis, Italy, social movements, political parties.