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Authors: Scott M Dietche

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BOOK: The Everything Mafia Book
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In this book you’ll learn more about some of the biggest names in mob history as well as the names of some of the lesser-known characters—every bit as dangerous, but not fodder for the evening news. You’ll also get a peak inside the structure of a Mafia family, its arcane rules, and its colorful colloquialisms. You’ll read about the Mafia’s alleged role in the Kennedy assassination and learn about emerging crime groups around the world. Many of the old Mafia myths are shattered and new truths are revealed.

A Beginner’s Guide

Crime has been around since the dawn of humankind, and organized crime has been around almost as long. Ever since humans, social animals by nature, banded together in primitive tribal associations, there have always been rogue elements that banded together in the shadows to prey on the rest of the pack. From these primal bands of men rose the Mafia, known throughout the world due not just for its criminal prowess but also for its role in popular culture.

The Culture of Crime

As long as there have been societies there have been secret societies within them. Many of these had a criminal element that thought it was a better arrangement to steal from the hard-working members of the culture than to work for a living. For much of ancient history, the predominant criminal was the bandit. Gangs of bandits terrorized the countryside of every land, stopping weary travelers and merchants transporting their wares. The organization of these crime families was for the most part fairly simple. One alpha male ruled the roost. The less macho types followed him, and occasionally an up-and-coming bandit challenged and defeated the leader. If he bested the bandit leader, he was then the top dog.

Organized crime needs collaborators to thrive. As long as there has been political and governmental structure, there has been corruption. The underworld needs, and always finds, help from the “overworld” to pursue its illegal endeavors. In the early years criminals bribed kings, feudal lords, and knights.

Roving Gangs

The bandit gangs did not live by a code. Fear and control were the only methods employed by the bandit leaders. It was essential for the leader to instill fear in the rest of the bandit gang. Through fear the leader maintained control. Intimidation and the threat of bodily harm and/or death were the ways that a bandit leader stayed in power. Of course, the communities the bandits preyed upon lived in a constant state of fear.

One Man’s Bandit

There is a popular argument that has been made over the years that “one man’s bandit is another man’s freedom fighter.” It is true that there have been many tyrannical governments over the millennia and that people have taken up arms against their oppressors many times in the history of the world. Legends like Robin Hood and the movie and television adventures of Zorro always capture the imagination of people. These are archetypes of the crusading hero against social injustices.

The Mafia’s PR Campaign

The Mafia has tried to use this argument as a public relations tool on occasion. The Sicilian Mafia is said to have begun as a ragtag band of freedom fighters who took refuge in the rocky hills, often swooping down to attack the many conquerors in that island’s long history. Al Capone tried to paint himself as a maverick rebel who was providing a service that an oppressive government tried to deny the people (a drink during Prohibition). He said he was simply giving the people what they wanted. John Gotti took the dashing rebel against society to the extreme, becoming a pop culture icon in the process.

Some things never change. The alleged efforts of the Russian Mafia to influence the judges at the 2002 Winter Olympics is nothing new. Similar corruption occurred at the ancient Greek Olympics. In those days it was considered “impiety,” a crime against the gods, and punishable by death.

Mafia . . . What’s in a Word

The Mafia has its origins on the island of Sicily, which is off the coast of Italy in the Mediterranean Sea. The island has had a tumultuous and turbulent history that proved to be fertile soil for an underworld crime structure to take root. From small towns and villages rose one of the most powerful criminal organizations in the history of the world.

Al Capone

Courtesy of AP Images

Al Capone photographed at a football game in Chicago on January 19, 1931. Capone always wore a loud tie, a bent-brim fedora hat, and a camel hair polo coat and always had an entourage of bodyguards.

Where the Word Mafia Comes From

The exact origins of the word Mafia are not clear. There are some historians who claim the name derives from ancient Arabic word,
mu afyiah
, meaning “swagger.” This may be a result of the Moorish occupation of Sicily.

Other noted experts claim the word comes from popular culture and plays about criminality in Sicily. By the mid-1870s police were using the term to describe criminal bandits based out of Sicily. Although the term
is Sicilian in origin, it now denotes any type of criminal organization. The term is rather loosely defined, hence Elvis Presley and his “Memphis Mafia.”

There is a school of thought that places the origin of the name Mafia as being an acronym of the phrase Morte Alla Francia, Italia Anela, meaning “Death to the French is Italy’s Cry.” It was a popular rallying cry during the French occupation of the island.

The Old Country

Sicily’s history is one of occupation. The native inhabitants were called
, and it is believed that they came over to the island from southern Italy. This was in the mists of prehistory, before the time when written records were chiseled into stone or scratched onto papyrus. These Siculi, sometimes called the
, were subject to an almost nonstop parade of invading armies and rulers for over 1,000 years.

Ripe for Invasion

The first known new residents of the island were the Greeks and Phoenicians who took up residence on the island, from approximately 734 to 580 b.c. Next came the Carthaginians, who arrived on the island and waged war with the Greeks for supremacy. They battled it out for many decades, and control changed hands more than once.

The mighty Romans conquered Sicily. The Roman reign was the longest, lasting several hundred years until their empire fell. Then came the Vandals. These invaders killed many citizens and enslaved the rest. Afterward the Saracens, a group of Arabs who practiced the newly established religion of Islam, attacked and occupied the island. In the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the Spanish and French were in control of the island for various periods of time.

The native Sicilians, who came over from Italy before recorded history, never had control of their island homeland. This constant subjugation made the people insular, clannish, and suspicious. This climate allowed the secret society that became the Mafia to germinate and grow.

As an island nation, Sicily did much more than give birth to the Mafia. Celebrities like Sonny Bono, Martin Scorcese, Frank Sinatra, Al Pacino, Rachael Ray, Frank Zappa, Joe Montana, Joe DiMaggio, and Tony Danza all trace their roots back to Sicily.

Vive La France

The French were in control of the island when the Mafia as we know it came to be. It is natural for oppressed peoples to form secret societies. In Sicily, the native men banded together in groups to discuss their situation and their plans to fight their oppressors. In all tyrannies, freedom of assembly is forbidden and punishable by imprisonment or worse. The oppressors know that, as the old saying goes, “in unity there is strength,” and therefore they cannot safely allow the oppressed to join together for fear of losing their power over them. But the oppressed population often does manage to come together in a clandestine manner.

BOOK: The Everything Mafia Book
8.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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