MILAN -- A third descendant of Benito Mussolini is entering Italy's political arena.
Caio Giulio Cesare Mussolini — Mussolini's great-grandson, whose name is taken from one of ancient Rome's most famous rulers — is running as a candidate in European elections for the far-right Brothers of Italy Party.
Party leader Giorgia Meloni announced Mussolini's candidacy over the weekend. His political ambitions follow that of his second cousins, Alessandra Mussolini, an EU parliamentarian for Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, and Rachele Mussolini, a Rome city council member associated with Brothers of Italy.
Meloni said online protests against the latest Mussolini political debut led Facebook to cancel his profile because of his last name. Caio Mussolini said Tuesday that his profile had been restored, with apologies.
Caio Mussolini, 51, was a naval officer for 15 years, then an executive in Italy's largest defense contractor Finmeccanica before turning to politics.
"He is a professional, a serviceman, a patriot," Meloni said against the backdrop of the multi-arched facade of the Palace of Italian Civilization that was built by Benito Mussolini and known to modern-day Romans as the "Squared Colosseum."
Standing beside Meloni, Caio Mussolini, who is running in southern Italy, called it an honor to run for Brothers of Italy, which he described as "patriotic, like I am."
In an interview with the right-wing paper Libero, Caio Mussolini conceded that his name is not an easy one to carry, but that he will "never be ashamed of my family."
Asked if he would define himself as a fascist, he responded: "Fascism died with Benito Mussolini."
He added that he was born well after that period and that fascism was now something for "historians to study." Anyone worried about its revival, he said, "is seeing imaginary enemies."
"I see other dangers. The thought police, globalism, the dictatorship of political correctness, uncontrolled immigration a few small financial groups that control everything, Islamic extremism," the newspaper quoted him as saying.
Still, Caio Mussolini recognizes the strength of the family name, making #scrivimussolini, or #writeinmussolini, a campaign motto, because, he said on Twitter, "Many want to write Mussolini on the ballot."
Indeed, the strength of Mussolini's rhetoric, drawing heavily on the old glory of the Roman empire, still has not lost political currency.
Opinion writer Michele Serra wrote in La Repubblica that "if the great-grandson of il Duce wasn't named Caio Giulio Cesare, but Beppe, he would not be a candidate with Brothers of Italy, but with some boring party in the center."
Benito Mussolini was Italy's dictator for two decades until his summary execution in 1945.
Mussolini plunged Italy into World War II, allying himself with Nazi Germany's leader Adolf Hitler, and signing racial laws that led to the deportation and murders of thousands of Italian Jews.
That modern-day politicians stir controversies when they praise any Mussolini accomplishment, particularly infrastructure, underlines the dictator's fraught legacy.
Neo-fascist parties remained part of Italy's post-war political landscape, even though supporting or promoting fascism became a crime.
Mussolini's granddaughter Alessandra has been part of Italian politics for decades, first as a member of a party founded after the war by her grandfather's supporters, then by successor movements that moderated their rhetoric before being absorbed into conservative parties.
At the same time, anti-fascism became prominent in post-war Italian history, wielded against even those who weren't fascists at all. That created a political culture of rebellion against demonizing fascism, despite the damage it did.