At the end of Prohibition, the Young Turks fought a colonial war for the Sicilian Mafia in New York.
The Families of the Genovese and Lucchese trace their roots directly to two mafiosi from Corleone: boss Giuseppe Morello, and his captain, Gaetano “Tommy” Reina. During the first Mafia war in New York, between the Corleonesi and the Napolitani, Morello’s half-brother Nick Terranova was killed by one of the Camorra (the Neapolitan Mafia), and their brother Vincenzo took over the Morello-Terranova Family. Reina left and formed his own Family, which he put under the protection of Joe Masseria (originally from Menfi, a coastal town in Agrigento province) in the late 1920s.
Prohibition strengthened the Mafia, providing them the opportunity, according to Joe Valachi, to get into racketeering in a big way, on the level with other, non-Mafia criminal organizations operating in the US. In 1922, Masseria survived an assassination attempt. He made Morello his conisigliere. Increasingly, the Mafia in the US overcame its provincial prejudices enough to forge working relationships with Jewish, Irish, and African-American criminals, and for the first mixed gangs to form. Yet a long simmering antagonism between Sicilians from Corleone and those from Castellammare del Golfo flared once more at the end of Prohibition.
The Castellammarese War of 1930 in New York was a colonial war. On one side was Joe Masseria, the most powerful figure in organized crime, with a coalition of allies including the Corleonesi Giuseppe Morello, Lucky Luciano (from Lercara Friddi), and Al Capone (born in New York of Italian mainland parents). On the other side were Salvatore Maranzano and the Castellammarese, backed by Don Vito Cascio Ferro, one of the most powerful men in Sicily at the time. Cascio Ferro sent Salvatore Maranzano to New York to form a monopoly on criminal enterprise. When Joe Valachi got out of prison the first time, he emerged to learn of “trouble in the air” between Tom Gagliano and Ciro Terranova. This was the beginning of the war.
This war is often characterized as one between the “Young Turks” behind Masseria, and the “Mustache Petes” on Maranzano’s. Although Masseria was killed first, it was the Young Turks who ultimately won New York.
Cascio Ferro had lived for a few years in the US, in New York and in the South, like the Morello-Terranova family. He escaped prosecution for his participation in Morello’s counterfeiting racket, and returned to Sicily in 1904. His power there extended over several towns, including Corleone, where he temporarily eclipsed the native Fratuzzi. In 1909, he ordered the murder of the American policeman, Joe Petrosino, who pursued him on charges of killing Benedetto Madonia in New York, the famous “Barrel Murder.” Following his arrest in 1925, Ferro’s star began to fall. Mussolini’s prefect in Palermo, Cesare Mori, attempted to stamp out the Mafia entirely, from 1925-29. Ferro was imprisoned for life, beginning in 1930.
Before the Castellammarese War, Tommy Reina began paying tribute to Joe Masseria. Masseria put additional pressure on Reina, who may have switched to Maranzano’s side. Whether he did or not, the rumor of it reached Masseria, who ordered Reina’s murder. Masseria was killed in April 1931. Accounts of Masseria’s assassination vary and legends abound. It appears that the animosity came from his own men, who resented the war’s effects on their own profits.
Maranzano, the victor, held a meeting in which he laid out many of the structural details that would later form Lucky Luciano’s “Commission”: the rules that would permit the peaceful coexistence of New York’s Five Families, as well as Mafia families in other American cities. Despite these signs of progress, Maranzano was regarded by his lieutenants as another “Mustache Pete.” Besides his support from the clannish Castellammarese, there was his distrust of Luciano’s Jewish associates. The “Young Turks” struck again. Maranzano was killed five months after Masseria.
Featured Image: Vito Cascio Ferro (left), Joe Masseria (top right), Charles “Lucky Luciano” (bottom right)
Before and during World War I, Giuseppe Morello was fighting his own war in New York, while in Africa, Captain Angelo di Carlo was fighting an aggressive war of colonial expansion in Libya, which Italy had recently wrested from the Turks. Angelo found himself on the other side when the Fascists rose to power in 1922, as it soon declared a war on the mafia in Sicily, nearly wiping them out, and forcing di Carlo to flee. Meanwhile, his future associate in the United States, an Italian Fascist propagandist, was making a name for himself in the United States.
Francesco Macaluso was born in Casteltermini (in Agrigento province) on 18 November 1886. (A poet and lawyer by the same name, born in the same province the previous year, was a socialist, and ardent opponent of fascism.) Francesco and his wife immigrated to New York in 1914, joining his sister there briefly before moving on to Boston, where their first two children were born. Francesco and his wife, Esmeralda, named their first child Ferdinando Antonio Americo Macaluso. It’s hard not to see the Macalusos as making a declaration of confidence in their new home, giving their first born son the name “Americo.” What can be more difficult to resolve is the simultaneous regard Macaluso held for fascism and for the United States.
Fascism was not only a European phenomenon. The ideas of eugenics, social darwinism, and “Nordicism,” a set of myths about the aggressive, colonizing nature of Aryan people, were in powerful circulation in the US, from at least the 1890s, the same time it was galvanizing Europe. The Fascist League of North America had an active chapter in Boston by the late 1910s, with Macaluso at its head. As part of his political organizing, he published a monthly journal, called “Giovinezza,” the first openly fascist publication in the US.
While World War I raged in Europe, Giuseppe Morello, one of the original bosses of the Sicilian Mafia in New York, was fighting the Mafia-Camorra War against a Neapolitan gang based in Brooklyn. In 1906, Morello’s former captain, Gaetano “Tommy” Reina, married a woman from Corleone, Angelina Oliveri, whose mother was a Streva. Angelina is a second cousin of Paolino Streva, the captain under which Giuseppe Morello worked in Corleone as a cattle thief, in the 1890s.
Reina formed his own family, and managed to avoid the conflict, enjoying the protection of Joseph Masseria, who would figure prominently in the next mafia war, the Castellammarese. Tommy and Angelina’s daughter, Carmela “Millie” Reina, would marry Joe Valachi, a Lucchese gangster, at that war’s conclusion in what is described as a “union of underworld convenience,” in 1932. (Valachi famously turns pentiti before the US Senate in 1963, and brings down the crime family his father-in-law originated.)
Italy entered the war against Austria-Hungary on 23 May 1915, in order to annex two historically contested regions, the Austrian Littoral (Trentino) and Dalmatia (South Tyrol). However, at the end of the war, Italy did not receive the territories, a “mutilated victory” that would become an important part of Italian Fascist propaganda.
The US finally entered WWI by declaring war on Germany in 1917. The following year, large numbers of American troops deployed to Europe. Doctor of Italian law Francesco Macaluso, an Italian national, working for the Italian bank, Banco Stabile, in Boston at this time, requested an exemption from the US draft, because he was supporting a family. By this time, he and Esmeralda also had a daughter, Rose.
The end of WWI saw the beginning of another worldwide catastrophe, a flu pandemic that killed between three and five percent of the total population. Previously healthy young adults were its main victims. The US experienced a mild economic recession during the pandemic, followed by a more severe one that began in 1920. By that year, Francesco Macaluso and his family had returned to New York, where their third child, Armand, was born.
In one of the first scenes of the 1974 film, “The Great Gatsby,” set in 1922, Nick Carraway arrives at his cousin, Daisy’s rich estate on Long Island, and her boorish husband, Tom Buchanan, is spewing classic “Nordicism”: white supremacy, and its allied fascist mythology of world domination. It comes up three times in the film: everyone remembers the glasses on the billboard across the street from the filling station, but fascism is as essential to “Gatsby” as the Charleston. While white America was dancing to the new sound, jazz, Black Americans in the 1920s were being brutally repressed by their government, and through extralegal violence. The KKK was at the height of its power in 1925, when 400,000 members marched on Washington. It is no exaggeration to say that the Holocaust is descended from Jim Crow. Nazi Germany modeled its discrimination and segregation laws on America’s.
In Italy, Fascist Benito Mussolini took power through use of the Blackshirts, paramilitary squads of First World War veterans and ex-socialists. He marched them on Rome in October 1922, and the king appointed Mussolini Prime Minister during their march, turning a military invasion into a victory parade. Under Mussolini’s orders to eradicate the Mafia in Sicily, Cesare Mori, Prefect of Palermo, arrested over 11,000 people between November 1925 and June 1929, and a countless number died in mysterious circumstances or simply disappeared while in police custody. Hundreds fled to America to avoid the purge, including “Capitano” Angelo di Carlo.
Angelo arrived in the United States for the first time in 1926, age 35. Although married, he traveled alone, arriving in New York on July 16, 1926. The manifest lists his occupation as Captain. Several of those traveling with him are stamped “Diplomat.” Angelo met his uncle Giovanni di Miceli, a banker living at 241 East 108th St, New York. One of Angelo’s brothers was staying with him, already.
Not much is known of Francesco Macaluso during the 1920s. Based on the census records, he lived near his sister in New York, and worked as a lawyer. It’s possible that he traveled back to Italy in 1928, calling himself a journalist at this time: a manifest matching his name, age, and birthplace is likely Macaluso. Evidence indicates he remained active in the American fascist movement: in the 1930s, his propaganda would shift from print to film, in partnership with the di Carlo brothers.
By the late Twenties, there was already notable tension between the two factions who would fight the Castellammarese War, the gangs of Joe Masseria (the future Genovese family) and Salvatore Maranzano (the future Bonanno family). Maranzano, born in Castellammare, Sicily, was sent by Don Vito Cascio Ferro (a Palermitan who lived for a time in Corleone) to take over Masseria’s operations in New York.
Tommy Reina had become successful under Masseria’s protection, but now the boss began demanding a portion of Reina’s profits, prompting him to consider defecting to Maranzano. Masseria, learning of this, arranged with Reina lieutenant Tommy Gagliano to have Reina killed. (Gagliano and Reina are related through Reina’s wife: they are second cousins, once removed.) On February 26, 1930, Vito Genovese murdered Reina, on Masseria’s order. The hit is widely considered the opening salvo in the Castellammarese War between the exported mafias of Corleone and Castellamare del Golfo: the “Mustache Petes” of the Old Country and the “Young Turks” of the New World. That August, Giuseppe Morello, the first mafia boss of New York, was killed.
Feature Image: Still from “The Great Gatsby” (1974)
How fascism moved from left to right, and the Mafia’s enduring relationship with Freemasonry.
The historic relationship between the Mafia and Freemasonry is a fascinating one, for the role that its members have taken in world events. It’s a story that unfolds over centuries, crosses oceans, and takes many turns. But once I started asking the internet about connections between Freemasonry and the Mafia, it wasn’t long before I was neck deep in conspiracy theories about shadow governments run by corrupt pagan cultists in high places. What is true about the relations among Church, state, Mafia, and Freemasonry?
Some connections—like those between the Knights Templar and Freemasonry—are discredited. But sometimes true stories get lumped in with those that can’t possibly be true. The Mafia and Freemasonry, although both secret organizations, are not centrally governed, making the “New World Order” under their totalitarian rule, a dystopian fantasy, not a reasonable conclusion based on the facts. What has been true through much of their shared history in Italy, is that Freemasonry has been a shield behind which the elites in politics, business, and criminal enterprise meet in brotherhood and secrecy, allowing corruption to flourish.
Freemasonry today distinguishes work in stone—operative masonry—from the culture that developed through lodges, known as speculative masonry. The organization we know today as Freemasonry is believed by most historians to have evolved out of medieval guilds of master stonemasons. The term “freemason” originally referred to the advanced, operative masonry skill to shape decorative stone. From the late 17th century, lodges of speculative Freemasons—men who studied the principles of organized, operating freemasons, and applied their philosophies in other aspects of their lives—began to organize in Scotland and England. By the early 18th century, leadership of the Freemasons in the UK became the domain of the nobility. At the same time, American colonial leaders including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin were active Freemasons.
Freemasonry is organized into independent Orients and Lodges, by geographical location. No group or individual rules over all Freemasons. Some bodies within Freemasonry do not recognize one another. Propaganda Due (P2), for example, was a Masonic lodge operating under the Grand Orient of Italy from 1945-1976, when its charter was withdrawn. It continued to operate covertly until 1981. The banking scandal of Michele Sindona was linked with P2.
Instead, members share bonds forged by a common authoritarian culture, and mutual recognition of rules and values. Salvatore Lupo says Freemasonry and the Mafia are similar, both by design and membership overlap. Both organizations share values of humility, a respect for the rules, and for the hierarchy. Like Freemasonry, the Mafia is made up of local organizations that are independently run, but share alliances and concerns with other families, or cosche.
Since before Freemasonry’s introduction to Sicily during the Napoleonic wars, the Catholic Church has considered Masonic membership a violation of Catholic values. As early as 1738, Pope Clement XII denounced Freemasonry, and membership remains grounds for excommunication. The Church argues that the fraternal organization teaches deism, a belief in a kind of Creator as Engineer of the Universe, which precludes such concepts as grace, in the Catholic sense of all help coming from G-d. Freemasonry requires its membership to believe in a creator, but does not further specify what relationship people should have with such an entity, making membership open, from the organization’s perspective, to a wide array of faiths. The Mafia, at least in legend, began as a mutual aid society. Masons, too, swear an oath of loyalty to help fellow members. But the Church calls for men to seek such help from G-d.
In Catholic countries, the Church competes with the state for power, particularly in periods of liberal rule, when the Church and its clergy tend to have their roles limited. The land seizures from the Church by the state, even in the Bourbon period, benefited the mafia, who were positioned to rig auctions, and had the capital to buy formerly Church-held land as it came onto the market. Liberal periods of rule after the Risorgimento also correlated with greater levels of political corruption. The lodge was where politicians, business leaders, and criminals, all at the highest levels in their fields, could meet on a level playing ground, under neutral auspices. During periods of state repression, Masons met publicly, but under other names, such as the “Centro Sociologico Italiano.”
Yet it was a vertical alignment of social classes, from high to low, that Salvatore Lupo argues made the Mafia possible in western Sicily. At the turn of the 19th century, Sicilians learned the principles of the French Revolution from Napoleon’s armies. An Italian sect of Freemasons known as the Carbonari, or “charcoal burners,” emerged, the name a reference to a now-illicit activity common among peasants, of burning wood to make charcoal in the baron’s woods. Sicily’s anti-Bourbon nobles flocked to the Carbonari and found themselves imprisoned for sedition.
Lupo writes, “According to a document dated 1818, the distinction between freemasonry and carboneria was the openness of the carboneria movement to the lower classes, to the ‘good craftsman, [to] the honest farmer,’ perhaps even to the ‘common riff-raff.'” In prison, the seditious barons shared their ideas with the men they met there, who spread the radical idea among other mafiosi. The Carbonari were singled out for excommunication by Pope Pius VII after they played a key role in the uprisings of 1820-21.
One of the Italian Carbonari, and a 33rd Degree Freemason, was Giuseppe Mazzini. By the 1830s, he had founded Young Italy, a secret movement organized around the principle of “Italian unification as a liberal republic.” Despite his use of the term “liberal,” by most analyses Mazzini’s politics are on the far right of the political spectrum. He called for “class collaboration,” a vertical alignment of social classes, to use Lupo’s phrase, that made Mazzini “an enemy of both communism and capitalism.” (Karl Marx, on more than one occasion, called Mazzini a reactionary old ass.)
Vincenzo Bentivegna of Corleone was influenced by Mazzini’s ideas, and began to spread his philosophy among other young people who were, like him, the children of Carbonari. The Marquis of Chiozi, Ferdinando Firmaturi, of the only noble family that lived in Corleone at this time, was converted by Vincenzo. Don Giuseppe Catinella, who would later represent the district in Palermo, was a Carbonaro. One of his close friends and advisors was Francesco Bentivegna, a cousin of Vincenzo’s, and an ardent Republican revolutionary.
However, the revolution of 1848 was not successful. The mafia, initially supporters, switched sides and were rewarded by the Bourbon king with lucrative government contracts. By 1856, the Bentivegna brothers, and the revolution they came to represent, had been betrayed, the brothers themselves imprisoned, or killed.
Another follower of Mazzini’s ideas, Giuseppe Garibaldi was inducted into Freemasonry in 1844, while in exile, and used his networks of Freemasons and socialists, among others, to gain support for Italian unification. Garibaldi conquered Sicily in 1860, but he no longer believed, as Mazzini wrote, that popular insurrection was the only way to unite Italy. Instead, Garibaldi handed the conquest of the Thousand to Piedmont, who he believed was the only force powerful enough to unite Italy against foreign rule. Francis Marion Crawford gives credit elsewhere. In his nonfictional account, Rulers of the South, he writes that “when the Mafia joined Garibaldi, the Bourbons fell.” (There is a third theory of Garibaldi’s success in Sicily, which credits the saints of Corleone.)
The term “fascism” was originally applied to organisations on the political Left. “Fasci” are bundles of sticks, like in the parable. Band together, like a bundle of sticks tied together, and no one can break you. The Fasci Siciliani was a peasant movement to organize labor, similar to the guilds of master tradesmen. The term was subverted to serve Mazzini’s far-right political agenda during World War I, when Benito Mussolini founded the Fascist party in Italy.
Bernardino Verro (my third cousin, three times removed) was an early labor organizer, and Corleone native. In the summer of 1893, he hosted a labor conference in Corleone. That was also the year Verro joined the Fratuzzi, the local mafia, to “give teeth” to his labor unions. Their relationship was strained from the start, with Verro’s organizing in direct opposition to the concerns of the nobility, which were protected by the Mafia. A year and a half after taking office as the first Socialist mayor of Corleone, Verro was killed, in November 1915. “Socialist carpenter” Carmelo lo Cascio (no known relation by blood, though he is by marriage) replaced him as mayor. Although there was a trial, there were no indictments for Verro’s murder.
Although the Mafia and the Fascists were both on the Right, politically, they were in opposition to one another. The Fascist regime in Italy was strongly opposed to the Mafia—authoritarians do not like competition—and nearly destroyed the organization during WWII. In the 1920s, hundreds fled Sicily to avoid arrest. Not only the Mafia, but Freemasonry was also suppressed. The latter became a dog whistle for the former. Angelo di Carlo, who is later called an architect of the Mafia in Sicily after WWII, went to New York during the purges of the Twenties. Shortly after his arrival, the Italian government accused him of the politically motivated murder of a Fascist in Palermo. Rather than call him a member of the Mafia, the Fascists call di Carlo an opponent of Fascism and “a member of the Masonic fraternity.” This is a strange set of accusations, unless you’re keeping track of political alliances.
When the Allies occupied Sicily during WWII, the Mafia regained power because they were the only ones who “had no compromising dalliances with the Fascist regime.” Di Carlo began his involvement in a decades-long money laundering conspiracy that was later discovered in an investigation of Vito Ciancimino, a Corleone native and mayor of Palermo, in the early 1970s. The Fascists were again in control of Italy at this time, planting bombs to frighten the public away from the liberal philosophies spreading on college campuses. The government called di Carlo, who died in prison awaiting trial in 1967, an anarchist and a deserter during WWI.
In recent years, the Italian government has voiced the opinion that Masonic affiliation continues to provide criminals with networking contacts in every field. In 2013, Father Alexander Lucie-Smith made some remarks in the Catholic Herald, about the mafia in masonic organizations, that serve the same caution when applied to the state, or even to the culture. “Italian masonry is strongly identified with big business and banking, and the powerful secretive elites that are supposed to be the ‘real’ government of the country,” Father Lucie-Smith writes. “Masonry is also seen as strongly anti-clerical; thus a masonic lobby in the Vatican would be opposed to virtually everything the Church stands for, and a real enemy within.”
Commissione Parlamentare d’inchiesta sul fenomeno della mafia e sulle altre associazioni criminali similari (CPA: Commissione Parlamentare Antimafia) Relazione sui Rapporti tra Mafia e Politica, Page 59, Roma, 1993.