Two right-wing Italian councilmen sparked outrage Tuesday when they removed prayer rugs from Turin city hall ahead of a Muslim conference, reports confirmed Wednesday. The councilmen, Roberto Carbonero and Fabrizio Ricca, members of the anti-immigrant party Northern League, or Lega Nord, were criticized by local leaders in the Italian government who feared the influence of a growing far-right, xenophobic movement countrywide and across Europe, the Local reported.
"It's not as if people build a chapel whenever there's a Christian conference," La Stampa reported one of the councilman as saying, according to the Local. Both Carbonero and Ricca insisted they were not racist.
The following Tweet purportedly showed the councilman removing the prayer rugs:
— Andrea Doi (@AndreaDoi) July 28, 2015
The incident was "an arbitrary and violent act," said Michele Paolino of the Democratic Party. Many other democratic leaders have rallied to the sides of Muslims in the community, condemning the actions of these two men.
The Northern League party has built a reputation for xenophobia and has been gaining ground since its victories in the June 1 elections, winning several mayoral seats in economically important regions. The party found popularity, particularly following the economic recession of 2008, by forming a euroskeptic platform. Italy has also seen thousands of migrants and refugees arriving every day from Africa and the Middle East, and the visible presence of so many immigrants, especially Muslim ones, has served to rally center-right Italians to the far-right.
The incident in Turin was not the first time where a Northern League politician has acted against Muslims in an explicit way. Following the June terror attacks on British beachgoers in Tunisia, the Northern League mayor of Lombardy called for mosques in the region to be shut down. “I hope that we don’t have to witness a terrorist attack in Italy before realizing that we have to tackle radical Islam,” said Simona Bordonali, head of immigration in Lombardy, the Telegraph reported.
The Northern League was just one of several anti-immigrant, euroskeptic parties across Europe, with similar parties exerting a strong presence in France, Germany, and the U.K.