Editor’s Note: Kevin Patrick Kelly’s “Towards A Millennial Revolution” is published every Monday OR Wednesday.
There will be a crisis under a Trump administration.
What that crisis will be remains to be seen and felt by the populace. It could be a terrorist attack, a cyber attack, or the effects of the coming ecological disaster will reverberate across the United States with new urgency.
The policies of deregulation and outsourcing have created a distance between the wealthiest Americans and those who remain immersed in debt and poverty. Barack Obama failed to hold the financial behemoths accountable for their flagrant disregard for the rule of law after the 2008 economic crisis. President-elect Donald Trump seems intent on pursuing the same flawed Republican economics that precipitated the housing panic. Only this time, it could be a depression worse than the one witnessed in the 20th century.
If the coming panic is to be an economic one, there is one group that has been embedded within the country for decades that intends to capitalize: The Mafia.
Members of law enforcement and even journalists who have spent most of their professional careers vigilantly watching organized crime families have noticed that there is resurgence within the various Mafia enterprises across the country. In my state of Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Crime Family has grown in strength. There are now forty made members patrolling the streets of Brotherly Love. This translates into more than one-hundred associates looking to accept the oath of omertà and become fully inducted members of the Mob.
According to former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter George Anastasia, the Philadelphia Crime Family has not seen enrollment into their ranks this high since the end of the 1980s. Even with the recent arrest of alleged Philadelphia Mafia Don Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino, the Family shows no signs of abatement. They have their extended their tentacles into various illegal enterprises. Some of those schemes include video poker machines, narcotics, health insurance fraud, and running unlicensed firearms.
In neighboring New York City, the Five Families, who have control over the Philadelphia Crime Family, are rapidly changing. The Gambino Crime Family has Sicilians as the primary caretakers of the illegal institution. Frank Cali, believed to be the Don, is a man who has roots and connections that trace deep into the Mafia’s country of origin: Italy. Sicilians within organized crime families have become a headache for law enforcement. They never make the conscious choice to “flip” or trade in their criminal identity and transform into government informants. Even worse, they never hesitate to massacre other members of organized crime who have betrayed their oath and their entire families.
This is very different from the days when the Mob attempted to portray itself as a noble criminal outlet. They preferred to avoid targeting civilians, law enforcement, or family members of gangsters. This new violent custom is not just relegated to one Mafia Family. Incarcerated former Bonanno Crime Family Boss Vincent Basciano was placed in solitary confinement for eleven years after it was discovered that he allegedly passed along a hit list to another inmate that contained the names of the federal judge, prosecutor, and cooperating witness that delivered him a life sentence.
What explains the explosion in organized crime? According to former New York Times investigative journalist and Mafia expert Selwyn Raab, the September 11 terrorist attacks were a blessing in disguise for the Five Families of New York City. The FBI’s New York Bureau, the largest in the country, immediately shifted its focus after the horrific act of terrorism. Parts of the bureau that specifically monitor the Mafia have been shrunk or their budgets allocated to other departments that are watching terrorist activity.
According to Raab, it could not have come at a worse time. “The Mob was on the ropes and really needed only one or two more crushing blows before the FBI could really turn these people into old street gangs. That changed after 9/11.”
It is what Raab refers to as the “Cockroach Theory.” In the darkness, the cockroaches roam freely. When the lights are turned on, they quickly scatter.
You can see that in politics, in the election, and every time there’s another attack like San Bernardino or the recent bombing in New York – but when you leave [Mafia members] alone, they recoup. And that’s always been the problem. They have an organizational framework such that makes it so it doesn’t matter if you take out the leader. It’s not like drugs or even bank robberies where if you take out the leader, the operation is gone. They’re all replaceable. Somebody moves in to continue the operation – and I thought that this East Coast cooperative, where they were working from Massachusetts all the way down to Florida, was pretty good evidence of that — and the Mafia is still effective and still making inroads.
If an economic collapse did rear its ugly head, the citizenry could witness gangsters controlling not only various illegal enterprises, but legitimate financial and political institutions. We have already seen this scenario play out before, during the Prohibition Era. Americans heard tales of iconic gangsters from, “Bugsy” Siegel, to “Lucky” Luciano, and Al “Scarface” Capone.
Even after prohibition had been repealed, gangsters had already attained so much political power that they were able to control local and national politics for decades. In the 1950s, Frank Costello, nicknamed the “Prime Minister,” was often seen in New York City’s backrooms and at Tammany Hall handpicking candidates to run for office. Even in the 1980s, the Philadelphia Mafia funneled money into Michael Matthews’ campaign to run for Mayor of Atlantic City. After winning the election, he ceded complete control of the casinos and construction projects to then-Philadelphia Mafia Boss Nicodemo “Little Nicky” Scarfo. Luckily, Matthews eventually went to prison for extortion.
Nobody is more familiar with this possible reality than Donald J. Trump. He routinely conducted business with members of organized crime. His political mentor, Roy Cohn, even provided legal counsel to notorious gangsters such as John Gotti.
That is why it is more important than ever to form movements that will demand an economic agenda to steer us away from certain doom. If the financial house of cards collapses, I fear the worst elements in our society will be all too eager to relive the violent days our nation witnessed during Prohibition.
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