Britain’s overseas intelligence service helped Benito Mussolini finance his first forays into Italian politics, newly uncovered documents show. Hoping to keep Italy on its side in 1917, during World War I, MI5 gave Mussolini, then 34 and editor of a right-wing newspaper, the equivalent of what’s now $9,500 a week to keep propaganda flowing. He used some of that, the Guardian reports, to pay veterans to beat up peace activists—a move his fascist blackshirts later used.
“The last thing Britain wanted were pro-peace strikes bringing the factories in Milan to a halt,” one historian notes of Mussolini’s then-£100 weekly salary. “It was a lot of money to pay a man who was a journalist at the time, but compared to the £4m Britain was spending on the war every day, it was petty cash.”