Mussolini’s Crackdown on Camorra and Sicilian Mafia
Just as Prohibition was producing a business boom for organized crime in the US in general, and the Italian mafia in particular, Benito Mussolini and his fascists came to power in Italy. No Italian government before had managed to keep the Sicilian mafia and the Camorra in check. Nor did any Italian government since. Mussolini crushed them. Farcical buffoon he might have been, but that was one thing the Italian dictator succeeded in doing.
The Sicilian Mafia and Camorra throve, and still do, in Italy’s corrupt political culture, working the system and mastering its intricacies, subverting politicians, police, and judges by bribes or threats, bending them to their will until organized crime became a state within the state. The fascists were not ones to share power or tolerate challenges, however, and Mussolini was neither concerned with nor constrained by legalities in dealing with the Sicilian mafia and Camorra. The dictator simply bypassed the criminal justice system and sent in the army and Black Shirts to round up Mafiosi en masse, killing any who resisted. For over a century, Mafiosi had intimidated civilians, strutting as scary tough guys. They discovered that soldiers were scarier and tougher.
Serendipitously for the American mafia, Mussolini’s crackdown on their peers in Italy forced many of them to flee the old country. The push factor at home coincided with a pull factor in the US, where Italian crime families were experiencing an unprecedented boom, and the Italian Mafiosi fleeing Italy swelled the ranks of Mafiosi in America just when their services were most needed.
Indeed, it was not until WWII and the Allied invasions of Sicily and Italy that the Camorra and Sicilian mafia were reborn, when the US Army made use of their remnants to help administer the occupation: it was wartime, and the exigencies thereof called for using whatever was at hand to help win and save American lives, and Mafiosi were committed anti-fascists, after all.