Fontana, a member of the far-right Northern League who is running for president of Lombardy with the backing of a centre-right coalition, made the comments to his party’s official radio station on Sunday.
“We can’t take in everyone here, because if we did the social and ethnic reality would no longer be us,” Fontana said during a lengthy discussion on migration.
“Because there are many more of them than us and they are much more determined to occupy this country. It isn’t a question of being xenophobic or racist, but being logical or rational. [...]
“We have to decide if our ethnicity, if our white race, if our society should continue to exist or if it should be wiped out.”
Hear Fontana's full interview above.
As opponents condemned his comments, Fontana on Monday put them down to a “slip of the tongue”, insisting he meant to say that Italy should rethink its migration policies to protect “our history and our society”.
The head of the Northern League, Matteo Salvini, defended Fontana, claiming that Italy was under threat from an “invasion” and “Islamization” that – he maintained – had nothing to do with skin colour.
Fontana’s main rival for the presidency of Lombardy, centre-left candidate Giorgio Gori, urged voters to reject “hysteria and demagoguery” when they go to the polls on March 4th, the same day as Italy’s general election.
“There are those who talk of pitchforks and a white race. We’re talking about training, jobs, growth, Europe. You choose,” he tweeted.
Campagna elettorale: c’è chi parla di forconi e razza bianca. Noi parliamo di formazione, lavoro, crescita, Europa. Scegliete voi. #FareMeglio si deve, senza isterismi e demagogia. pic.twitter.com/mKcqIt3xYC— Giorgio Gori (@giorgio_gori) January 15, 2018
The Northern League is currently waging its most ambitious general election campaign to date as part of a conservative coalition with Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party and the far-right Brothers of Italy.
Though Salvini has dropped or diluted some of the party’s most extreme talking points – such as northern secession or quitting the euro – in a bid to make it more palatable to a national audience, he has maintained its hardline stance against immigration.
The leader of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), Luigi Di Maio, suggested that Fontana’s comments revealed the true nature of the League and its coalition partners.
“Berlusconi says that we’re worse than post-communists, that they’re moderates and we’re extremists,” Di Maio said. “If they’re moderates then I’m Gandhi.”
Attilio Fontana. Photo: Associazione Amici di Piero Chiara/Wikimedia Commons
Fontana began his campaign just last week, after the sitting president of Lombardy, fellow Northern League member Roberto Maroni, unexpectedly announced his withdrawal from the race. Maroni, considered a moderate by League standards, cited political differences with Salvini.
Lombardy, the region containing Milan, is one of the League’s biggest strongholds. The latest poll, conducted before Fontana made his remarks, put him in first place to win the regional election with 42 percent, ahead of Gori with 37 percent.