The First Great Wars

The First Great Wars

The story of Captain Angelo di Carlo’s life takes us through a turbulent period in world history, and in the history of the Sicilian Mafia: through two world wars, and two more for domination of New York City by competing mafia organizations. In his lifetime, Italy would fight its old enemy, Austria-Hungary, in World War I, but before doing so, would fight a colonial war in Libya against the Ottoman Empire. The rise of fascism in Italy nearly destroyed the Sicilian Mafia before the end of WWII, but due to the political blunders of the Allies following Operation Husky, the Mafia was able to reform itself under their protection. Angelo di Carlo is considered one of the architects of this renaissance.

The Turbulent 1890s

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Captain Angelo di Carlo

Angelo was born in February 1891 in Corleone,the eighth of thirteen children. According to the family historian, Angelo’s nephew and godson, Vincent di Carlo, their family was distinguished in Corleone by its very tall, fair, and beautiful members. Vincent reports that DNA evidence shows the family is descended from Normans, part of the Lombard resettlement of Corleone beginning in the 11th century.

The month after his birth, eleven men, most of them Sicilian immigrants, would be killed in a New Orleans prison in the largest mass lynching incident in American history.

The decade of Angelo di Carlo’s birth would see an Italian banking crisis unseat its prime minister, and the birth of a powerful worker’s movement, the Fasci Siciliani, with one of its most notable leaders, Bernardino Verro, organizing in their native Corleone. Verro would join the Fratuzzi, the local mafia, in 1893, and die at their hands in 1915. In 1930, when Angelo di Carlo lives in New York, Morello and Ferro battled for dominance over the gambling dens of Manhattan, in a war that would take Morello’s life.

In the late 1880s, Giuseppe Morello made a name for himself as a vicious cattle rustler, working with Paolino Streva, under the protection of Fratuzzi boss Giuseppe Battaglia. Morello and Gioachino Lima both fled the country in 1892, following a series of murders, including that of the Sylvan Guard, Giovanni Vella, who was investigating Morello’s crimes. The Morello-Terranova family would spend most of the next decade as agricultural laborers in the American South.

In Sicily, Angelo di Carlo received a good education: a total of ten years in public school and gymnasium, the European equivalent of American high school, followed by a year in lyceum (college), and one year in officer military school. He graduated from military academy and became an officer in the Italian Army. As an adult, Angelo was tall and strongly built, distinguished and yet physically imposing. His military rank of “Capitano” became a lifelong nickname.

Living Space

Like Germany, Italy saw itself as a natural heir of the Roman Empire. In the years leading up to Angelo’s military service, the Italian elite embraced a philosophy termed “Unredeemed Italy” (“Italia Irredenta”) that dovetailed with a fascist belief in Aryan expansionism, called “Lebensraum” in German and “spazio vitale” in Italian. Not unlike the American myth of “Manifest Destiny,” fascist doctrine included the notion that man was a species continually at war. All three movements put varying degrees of emphasis on the primacy of Nordic people, and traced their political lineage to ancient Rome. To avoid stagnation, fascists argued that Italy would once again have to expand its borders, through reclamation of lands historically occupied by culturally Italian people, and through colonization. The “Spazio vitale” effort was particularly concentrated in the Mediterranean and in Africa.

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Italian troops entrenched behind the Tripoli zone, in the Italo-Turkish War (circa 1911). (Public domain)
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Ataturk commanding Libyan fighters against Italian occupation, 1911 (Public domain)

It was in pursuit of this nationalist effort that Italy declared war in 1911 on the Ottoman Empire, and Angelo di Carlo saw military service as an artillery captain in the 3rd mobile battalion of the 40th infantry, in the Italo-Turkish War, in Libya. The Italians took Libya, held at that time by the Turks, in response to losing their own territory in Eritrea. Angelo would remain in active service until 1915, just before Italian entrance into World War I, and in the reserves until 1932.

The Mafia-Camorra War

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Giuseppe Morello

In the early years of the Great War in Europe, Italian mafias in New York were beginning to fight one another for dominance. Following the New York Stock Exchange crash of 1901, Giuseppe Morello returned north to the city, where he remarried to another Corleone native, and began a counterfeiting operation. One of Morello’s captains, Gaetano “Tommy” Reina, eventually left Morello’s organization to form his own. While Reina’s family built a reputably peaceful ice trade empire in the Bronx, the Morello organization was drawn into a bloody war for dominance over gambling in Manhattan. The Sicilians, clustered around Spanish Harlem and the Bronx, and the Napolitani Camorra, based in Brooklyn, both wanted the monopoly. This prudent neutrality would benefit Reina right up to the eve of the second great mafia war, which began with his assassination in 1930.

On the national scene at this time, Woodrow Wilson, presiding over a small, unready military, remained publicly committed to American neutrality. German submarines sank the Lusitania, a passenger vessel, killing more than a hundred American citizens, but failed to lure America into the conflict.

Reina’s former associate Nicolo’ Terranova, Giuseppe Morello’s half-brother, was killed in the Mafia-Camorra War against the Napolitani, in 1916. That year Steve LaSalle, born Stefano la Sala, was with the Terranova brothers in a plot to kill Joseph DeMarco, one of the Camorra, in retaliation for Nick’s murder. LaSalle turns up later in support of Angelo di Carlo’s release from internment during WWII.

One of the last efforts of the Camorra, when assassinations proved ineffective, was to go after Ciro Terranova’s legitimate business interests, including artichokes (Ciro’s nickname was “the Artichoke King”) and coal. These were not successful, either. Participants in the murders turned informant, including Rocco Valenti and Ralph Daniello, the latter murdered after his release from prison in 1925. Mafia-Camorra War trials continued through the 1920s for Frank Fevrola and Antonio Paretti, with the latter executed at Sing Sing in 1927.

Fasci Siciliani

Meanwhile in Sicily, Bernardino Verro, the first Socialist mayor of Corleone, was increasingly at odds with the mafia’s primary clients, the large landowners, through his organization of peasant labor. Verro was killed by his fellow Fratuzzi in 1915 and replaced with another Socialist, Antonino lo Cascio. His worker’s movement, the Fasci Siciliani, would be subverted by right-wing nationalists who would become known as the Fascists.

The following year Angelo di Carlo, recently retired from active service and still living in Italy, married his first cousin, Luisa Castro.

In the years following the Mafia-Camorra War, the US would enter WWI and help bring about a victory for the Allies on the Western Front. Turbulence—economic, political, and social—would rock both sides of the Atlantic through the 1920s, and persecution by the Fascists would send suspected mafiosi to the US in the hundreds, among them, one reserve Italian Army captain by the name of Angelo di Carlo, pursued by charges of killing a Fascist in Palermo.

Feature image credit: Italian marine troops landing on Tripoli. (Public domain)

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Labor and the Mafia

Labor and the Mafia

The image of a saint was often burned in the initiation ritual into the mafia. The feast day of Saint Isidore, patron of labrorers, is 15 May.

When the pioneering labor organizer Bernardino Verro joined the Mafia in the spring of 1893, he was inducted through a ritual involving his own blood, and the burning image of a skull.

The Fratuzzi leader at this turbulent time in Sicilian history was Giuseppe Battaglia. Critchley says that in December 1889, when Giovanni Vella was killed, the leader was Paolino Streva, whose uncle had led the cosca before him. Other sources, however, say that Battaglia took over leadership from the former capo, Salvatore Cutrera, in the early 1890s.

A proverb popular in the late 19th century in Sicily divided a peasant’s opportunities into two categories: immigrate, or become a criminal. Of course, some managed doing neither, and others did both. Birds of passage—migrant workers from Sicily who intended to return—included the father of Vito Ciancimino and his brothers, who were barbers and shoemakers. Giuseppe Morello‘s stepfather, Bernardo Terranova, and his family were also among the early wave of immigrants that left Corleone in the 1890s, seeking opportunity in America.

Critchley says that Gagliano was Giuseppe Morello’s uncle, but I have not been able to confirm this. The men shared a first name and with it, the common nickname “Piddu.” Using clues from two sources that give Battaglia’s year of birth and his father’s name to find his vital records, I’ve learned that Battaglia’s wife, Maria Rosa di Miceli, is a third cousin of Morello.

During a brief liberal period of Italian leadership around 1893, a worker’s movement arose, with Corleone as its hub. Bernardino Verro held one of the first labor conferences there in the summer of 1893, a few months after he joined the local mafia.

John Alcorn, writing about the Fasci Siciliani, offers another proverb to explain why Verro would have enlisted the aid of the criminal organization. “If he can take what you have, give him what he wants.” Unlike other successful labor movements that relied upon funds to support their members until the conclusion of negotiations, Corleone’s Fasci Siciliani (also called the Sicilian Leagues in English) used threats and violence to enforce the strike. In order to make a credible threat against landowners and potential scabs, Verro enlisted those who excelled at extorting and committing violence.

Because neither the mafia, the landowners, nor the peasants were as solidly organized as history can make them appear, the reality was one of strike interspersed with violence, but also with compromises from landowners, and strike-breaking laborers. At the end of the planting season, in the late fall, most workers were still locked out of their lands. A long simmering banking scandal erupted, taking the liberal prime minister with it. The Italian government switched to conservative rule, and peasants redirected their frustration from the landowners to the state. In the ensuing riots, government offices were burned down, and several dozen people were killed by troops who fired on demonstrators.

The failure of the strikes of 1893 to bring fair contracts, resulted in massive emigration from Sicily, writes Alcorn. An early wave of pioneering immigrants provides a critical mass in the destination country, making it easier for others to follow. As I’ve written in this blog before, part of the structure that evolved to provide such aid, was the early Sicilian Mafia in America.

 

Sources

John Alcorn. “Revolutionary Mafiosi: Voice and Exit in the 1890s.” Accessed http://www.comune.corleone.pa.it/file%20da%20scaricare/Saggi%20palermo1_Saggi%20palermo1.pdf 5 May 2016.

David Critchley. The Origin of Organized Crime in America: The New York City Mafia, 1891-1931. Routledge: New York, 2009.

Marzia Andretta, “La mafia corleonese e la sua continuità.” Accessed http://www.comune.corleone.pa.it/file%20da%20scaricare/Saggi%20palermo1_Saggi%20palermo1.pdf 6 May 2016. (Citing Archivio di Stato di Palermo, GP, aa. 1906-1925, b. 267, f. 3, Associazione per delinquere scopertosi in Corleone, 13 agosto 1916.)

Featured image credit: Isidore, patron saint of laborers, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=183298

The Enemy Within: Church, State, Freemasonry, and the Mafia

The Enemy Within: Church, State, Freemasonry, and the Mafia

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 cosci.

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.

Foto_di_Giuseppe_Mazzini_dal_Fondo_Comandini,_Biblioteca_Malatestiana
Giuseppe Mazzini

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, mayor of Corleone 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.”

 

Sources:

Silvia Bentivegna. La Rivoluzione del 1848-49. Accessed http://www.bentivegnanellastoria.it/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=352:la-rivoluzione-del-1848-49&Itemid=250 21 July 2015.

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.

Fr. Alexander Lucie-Smith. “Most of us would laugh at the idea of a masonic mafia at work in the Vatican. I’m not sure that we should.” Catholic Herald. Published 30 July 2013. Accessed at http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2013/07/30/most-of-us-would-laugh-at-the-idea-of-a-masonic-mafia-at-work-in-the-vatican-im-not-sure-that-we-should/ on 8 March 2016.

“Man Arrested Here in Italian Murder.” 19 August 1927 New York Evening Post accessed at [fultonhistory.com/Fulton.html Fultonhistory.com] 26 February 2016.

Salvatore Lupo. History of the Mafia. Translated by Antony Shugaar. Columbia University Press, 2009.

Peter T. Schneider and Jane Schneider. Reversible Destiny: Mafia, Antimafia, and the Struggle for Palermo. University of California Press, 2003.

“Wealthy Italian Arrested Here As Slayer Of Fascist.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, New York, Friday, August 19, 1927 edition. Page 16. Accessed [http://www.fultonhistory.com online] 26 February 2016.