The passionate interest of Italians in their homeland was at the root of the greatest controversy involving the Italian American press. Beginning during the 1920’s Italian American papers ran articles and editorials praising the Fascist Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, whose efforts they thought would unite Italy and bring justice and prosperity to the peasantry. Chief among Mussolini’s Italian American supporters was Generoso Pope, a businessman who bought several newspapers, including the New York papers Il Progresso Italo-Americano and Corriere d’America, both of which enjoyed wide circulation. Pope had personal access to both Mussolini and U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt and used his newspapers to promote the Fascist agenda. He was not alone, however. Most mainstream publications, including many supported by the Roman Catholic Church, were ardent Fascist supporters—until Mussolini’s bellicose imperialist ventures in Africa and Spain during the mid-1930’s turned American opinion against him. Even then, some Italian papers ran articles critical of Mussolini in their English-language sections while continuing to print favorable pieces about him in Italian.
Support for Mussolini was not universal, however. In Detroit, La Voce de Popolo editor Monsignor Joseph Ciarrocchi ran articles exposing the Italian dictator’s propaganda campaign being waged in America. Many left-leaning publications were highly critical. One of the most vocal anti-Fascist publications was Il Martello, owned and edited by Carlo Tresca, a lifelong activist who had fought for workers’ rights since arriving in the United States in 1904. Frequently, those publishing unfavorable material on Mussolini before the outbreak of World War II were intimidated or even assaulted by pro-Fascist elements in the United States. After the United States entered World War II against Japan, Germany, and Italy at the end of 1941, open support for Fascism in the Italian American press was replaced by calls for the overthrow of Mussolini’s regime.