Mussolini visited Sicily in 1924 and came away enraged. The cause of his ire was a mafioso Mayor who had told him that he needn’t have brought members of his personal security forces as he was already “under the protection” of the Mayor himself. Such an insult could not be ignored and in 1925 Mussolini despatched Cesare Mori, a policeman whose hard-line methods had been successful against anti-fascists in the north of Italy.
Mori’s mandate was quite simple: destroy the Mafia. He had full powers to do as he pleased and his arrival in Sicily, with two brigades of black shirts, was akin to an invasion. His first move was to enforce a total clampdown on crime, followed by a massive round-up of known and suspected Mafiosi. Trials were non-existent and those arrested, including many innocent citizens, were sent straight to prison. Many mafiosi fled abroad to Tunisia and the USA.
Mori knew that he had to beat the Mafia at their own game, which meant being more ruthless, more violent and more underhand than them. He famously said, “If Sicilians are afraid of the Mafia, I will show them that I am the strongest mafioso of all.”
The most celebrated event of his crusade was the military siege of Gangi, a small town in the Madonie Mountains known to be a Mafia stronghold.
The most celebrated event of his crusade was the military siege of Gangi, a small town in the Madonie Mountains known to be a Mafia stronghold. He entered the empty main piazza and gave a grim warning to the town’s residents, who listened from behind closed doors. A few days later he returned to carry out his threat, arresting all the suspects that could be found.
Those that had gone into hiding soon gave themselves up when Mori took their womenfolk and children hostage. Such tactics were, it seems, grudgingly approved of by the Mafia itself. The boss of all bosses, Don Calogero Vizzini, who was himself arrested and sent to a remote island prison, admitted that Mori was indeed “a man”.
Soon Mussolini announced to the nation that the scourge of the Mafia had been defeated and Mori was recalled to Rome in 1929. He was made a Senator and soon disappeared from the political scene.
During his time in Sicily he had imprisoned over 10,000 people. But while the Mafia had been dealt a severe blow, they had in no way been eradicated. Those who escaped arrest or left the country lay low and waited for an appropriate moment to reappear...
That moment came in 1943, with the Allied Invasion and the Mafia quickly returned to their former position of prominence.