August 30, 2009

Knight Without Fear and Without Reproach*: Giuseppe Petrosino - a True “Supercop”

Lt. Joe Petrosino, NYCPD, Badge #285
By Niccolò Graffio 
“When the will defies fear, when duty throws the gauntlet down to fate, when honor scorns to compromise with death – this is heroism.” R.G. Ingersoll: Speech in New York, May 29, 1882
Growing up, like many American-born boys, I was enamored with tales of superheroes, men with “powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men” who used their powers in the fight against evil. The names of these fictitious heroes no doubt would ring a bell with many who are reading this article: Superman, Spiderman, Thor and Daredevil, to name just a few. To a young boy like me it was exhilarating to read of the exploits of these people in comic books, even if in the back of my mind I knew they didn’t really exist (except in the world of imagination). Of all of them, my favorite was always Batman.

Why Batman, you say? Simple: unlike the others, Batman wasn’t blessed with extraordinary powers no real human could possess. True, he was highly intelligent, very athletic and a capable fighter, but nothing about Batman (except perhaps, some of the technology he utilized) was out of the realm of the possible. In short, Batman was a “normal human.” I guess then you could say he was my favorite because I could most identify with him.

As I grew older (and more cynical) I put away “childish things” like comic books because like most adults, I saw things “through a glass darkly” and realized the world was nothing like that in comic books. Superman and Spiderman didn’t exist. There was also certainly no one like Batman, a normal human who, equipped with nothing but guts, sheer force of will and available technology, could wage a reign of terror against the forces of evil.

Needless to say, it was refreshing for this young boy at heart to learn he was wrong.

Giuseppe “Joe” Petrosino was born in the town of Padula in the region of Campania, in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies on August 30, 1860. At an early age he came down with smallpox (which killed his mother). He would carry the scars of that disease for the rest of his life. Shortly afterwards, his father sent him over to America to live with his grandfather and a cousin in New York City. 

Tragically, a street car accident took the life of his grandfather. Joe and his cousin wound up in surrogate court, where they faced the dismal prospect of being remanded to an orphanage. Instead, and incredibly, the judge took the two boys into his own home, providing for them until relatives in Italy could be contacted and sent over.

This provided opportunities for young Joe that otherwise might not have been available for him, given the fact he was a recent immigrant. Taking advantage of the situation, he studied hard and eventually joined the New York City Police Department on Oct. 19, 1883.

A common stereotype of Petrosino perpetuated to this day is of him being short and fat. While it is true later photos show him on the portly side, earlier ones show a thickset man with very wide shoulders, large chest and bull-like neck. He looked like someone with whom you didn’t want to tussle. What he lacked in height he more than made up for in tenacity and brute strength, something that served him well in his early days as a beat cop. New York City in the 1880s was a far more brutal place than it is today, as crime statistics from that time will attest. The police, in turn, often had to resort to more brutal methods to enforce the law and maintain order.

Joe Petrosino thus proved more than capable of handling the rigors of patrolling the streets of New York City on foot. One incident that highlighted this was the case of a Mr. Washington, who was set upon by three large muggers. Trying desperately to fight them off, Washington was quickly joined by Officer Petrosino. Between the two of them they pummeled the three thugs into the dust, and Petrosino subsequently arrested them. In the beginning Joe was constantly being tested by neighborhood toughs. In time, however, they backed off as they soon learned he was no pushover.

Petrosino eventually attracted the attention of then-Police Commissioner Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, who promoted Joe to Detective Sergeant assigned to Homicide (1895), according to some making him the first Italian-American ever to hold that position. The “Bull Moose” also saw in Joe a kindred soul, and the two quickly struck up a friendship that would last a lifetime.

Roosevelt’s promotion of Petrosino proved to be a wise one, as Joe, in addition to being a competent street-brawler, possessed a keen, intuitive mind as well. It is documented that during his tenure in Homicide, he racked up more arrests and convictions than any other detective in the Bureau. Documentary evidence shows most of these cases were solved using long hours of painstaking research, making him a true-life “Lt. Columbo.”

According to Petrosino himself, his favorite case concerned an Italian immigrant named Angelo Carboni, who was sentenced to die in the electric chair for murder. Joe was convinced of the man’s innocence, and took it upon himself to save him. Over a period of four weeks (and traveling through two countries), he used disguises, informants & police savvy to eventually capture the real murderer and free Carboni, who was literally just days away from being executed!

In December, 1908 Joe was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant and put in charge of the Italian Squad, an elite group of Italian-American detectives whose job was to investigate and crush organized crime in New York’s Italian-American communities. At this time a particular problem was the existence of a criminal activity labeled “The Black Hand” (Sicilian: “A Manu Neura”) which had been brought over by gangsters from Italy. Black Handers would extort monies from victims by letter threatening assault, kidnapping, arson or murder if their demands were not met. Preying almost exclusively on their fellow immigrants (who they knew were less likely to cooperate with police), by some accounts as many as 90% of Italian-Americans were victimized by these traitorous scum, including famous Neapolitan tenor Enrico Caruso!

Petrosino made it his life’s work to shut down the operations of these gangsters.  Armed with arrest warrants and with the help of his fellow members of the Italian Squad, Petrosino arrested hundreds of gangsters, often during actual meetings of the gangs! Published accounts state overall crime in Italian-American communities fell 50% thanks to Joe and the Italian Squad.

Numerous anecdotes exist attesting to the incredible bravery and tenacity of this man. My favorite concerns his run-in with Ignazio Saietta (i.e. “Lupo the Wolf”), a vicious gangster (and prolific murderer) who vowed to “take care” of Petrosino. Learning of the threat, Joe confronted him in a store in Little Italy, Manhattan. During a heated exchange, Saietta apparently called Joe a “son of a bitch” (an insult taken quite literally back then). Enraged at the insult to his late mother, Petrosino lunged at Saietta, chasing him outside the store and beating him black and blue. He finished Saietta off by dropping him, head first, into an ash can. Turning to the small crowd which had gathered in wonder at the scene, Joe pointed to Saietta and yelled “Is this the coward you are all so afraid of? How tough does he look now?” before stomping off.

Another concerns a young Italian girl who was kidnapped and held for ransom by the Black Hand. She was kept in a room and every night a woman would come in to feed and wash her. One night, while lying in bed, the skylight opened up and a rope came down. A man started climbing down the rope. The girl cringed in terror. The man placed his finger over his lips, motioning for her not to scream. Upon reaching the floor he showed her his badge, identified himself as Petrosino, assured her she’d be alright and then instructed her to hide under the bed. He then waited in the darkness until her captors appeared and promptly arrested them.

Petrosino’s fame exploded! Among his many accomplishments:

• He helped set up America’s first organized crime task force (the aforementioned “Italian Squad”)
• He set up America’s first Bomb Squad, learning how to trace bomb-making components
• He helped pioneer witness protection and intelligence-gathering programs
• He stressed the need for infiltrating criminal organizations for purposes of gathering intelligence against them

Every superhero has his nemesis, and Lt. Petrosino would be no different. Just as Batman has his Joker, Joe would have his Vito Cascio Ferro. Ferro was a prominent Mafia thug, born and raised in Sicily, who immigrated to the United States. Uneducated but by most accounts very intelligent, he had a hand in reorganizing the Mafia in the U.S. before running afoul of Petrosino, who chased him to New Orleans before Ferro fled back to his native Sicily. Before he left, Ferro vowed to one day kill Petrosino “with his own hands.”

In 1909, Joe came up with an ambitious plan to cripple the Mafia in the United States. Secretly traveling to Sicily, he would gather the names and photos of every Mafioso known to Italian police. By comparing them to files in the U.S., American authorities could then arrest and expel any gangsters living here as “undesirable aliens.”

The Fates, however, had decided to confer upon Lt. Giuseppe “Joe” Petrosino that greatest of honors a warrior of law and good can receive…the crown of martyrdom! Shortly before he was to depart for Palermo, Sicily, New York City’s corrupt and incompetent police commissioner Thomas Bingham leaked word of the mission to a local newspaper. In spite of this, Joe decided to go anyway, naively believing the Sicilian Mafia (like their American counterpart) would not kill a policeman.

While in Palermo he was contacted by an unknown party asking to meet him in the Piazza Marina, ostensibly to give him information concerning the Mafia. It turned out to be a trap, however. He was gunned down in cold blood. Though he was never tried for the crime, both Italian and American law enforcement officials believe Vito Cascio Ferro was the “trigger man.”

Back in the United States, Lt. Petrosino would be given a hero’s funeral (attended by over 250,000 people). Vito Cascio Ferro would earn “street cred” for the murder, and would subsequently go on to rule over the Mafia (and the island of Sicily). He would not be lucky enough to rest on his laurels, however. Within a few years the political situation in Italy would change drastically. By 1922 Benito Mussolini and the Fascist Party would be in control of the country. Within four years “Il Duce” would establish dictatorial control. One of his first orders of business was to rid Sicily of the Mafia…and Vito Cascio Ferro. This was accomplished by one of Mussolini’s underlings, Cesare Mori: “the Iron Prefect of Sicily.” Stripped of his power and spirited off to an island prison, Ferro would die a gruesome death in 1943 (and people say there’s no such thing as karma!).

Back in the United States, law enforcement officials would be left to wonder how different American history would have been had this real-life Batman been successful in his mission to Palermo.

*- Said of the Chevalier Pierre du Terrail Bayard (1476-1524)

Further reading: “Joe Petrosino” by Arrigo Petacco (MacMillian Publishing, 1974)

August 20, 2009

Brief Excerpts from Julius Evola's "The Path of Cinnabar"

The first keyword, I argued, was to be counter-revolution. Leaving aside the broader horizons mentioned in Revolt Against the Modern World, in Men Among the Ruins I described the preliminary, practical duty of those men who remained standing (among the ruins, as it were) in terms of an integral and uncompromising rejection of all the ideologies borne of the French Revolution. The liberal revolution, after all represented the starting point of the latest phase in the crises of Europe: having engendered the democratic revolution, it had paved the way for socialism and Communism. No compromise, in this respect, was to be made. In the face of the increasing insolence and arrogance of the forces of subversion, I invoked the intellectual and physical courage of labelling oneself a 'reactionary': a charge which all the petty politicians of Italy feared – including those belonging to so-called Right wing parties. 
Naturally, the reaction I invoked had nothing to do with the kind of reaction which serves as a handy pretext for our enemies: for it had nothing to do with the interests of an economic class and with the capitalist Right. The reaction I had in mind was rather that of a political and aristocratic Right, which would regard any form of power derived from the mere possession of wealth as an act of usurpation and subversion. Counter-revolution I defined not on the basis of material interests but of ideals. With the rejection of progressive social myths, I argued, fundamental ideals would emerge which possessed an immutable normative value for all social and political organisations of a superior kind. In a similar way, I suggested, Vico had spoken of 'the natural laws of an eternal republic which takes on various forms at different times and in different places'. — Julius Evola, The Path of Cinnabar, Integral Tradition Publishing, 2009, p. 188-189, Chapter XIII, In Search of Men Among the Ruins
 * * *
A further distinguishing trait of the true state, I argued, is its organic unity. For the true state exists as an organic whole comprised of distinct elements, and embracing partial unities, each possesses a hierarchically ordered life of its own. At the basis of the true state, therefore, lie the values of quality, of just inequality and of personality: the fundamental principle of such a state being the Classical principle of suum cuique ('to each his own and to each his own rights' in accordance with natural dignity). Hence the sharp contrast between the organic state and the totalitarian: for the latter necessarily expresses a leveling, despotic and mechanistic kind of unity. The totalitarian state derives from the individualistic corrosion of the organic state: for once individualism has freed each person from what links him to higher powers, once 'freedom and equality' have destroyed all hierarchies, and a shapeless multitude has emerged amid a chaotic array of separate interests and forces – each aiming to gain ascendancy by all possible means; in such a context, the violence of 'totalitarianism' acts as desperate means to impose some sort of external order by establishing a system which, nevertheless, stands as the materialist counterfeit of organic unity. I here recorded how the very process, which only recently unfolded on a vast scale, had already been recorded by Tacitus in exact terms: 'To overturn the state (i.e., the genuine, organic traditional state), they talk of freedom; once freedom will have been attained, this, too, they will attack.' Likewise, Plato had observed that: 'Tyranny is borne and takes hold from no other political system but democracy, which is to say that from extreme freedom, the most unmitigated and harsh slavery arises.' I shall add one final quotation, taken from Vico: 'Men first desire freedom of the body, then freedom of character – which is to say freedom of conscience (the "immortal principles") – and wish to be equal to others; then they wish to dominate their equals; and finally, to trample on their superiors'. — Julius Evola, The Path of Cinnabar, Integral Tradition Publishing, 2009, p. 190-191, Chapter XIII, In Search of Men Among the Ruins
Giambattista Vico (1668-1774) is a Neapolitan philosopher who is best known for his book, The New Science, in which he outlined a cyclical theory of civilisations as progressing through three ages: the divine, the heroic, and the human age, which closely resembles traditional doctrines of history.

August 16, 2009

Pontelandolfo Commemoration Marred

Pontelandolfo rally, August 14, 2009 (Photo courtesy of Agostino Abbaticchio)
On August 14 a small group of Due Siciliani patriots made their way to Pontelandolfo to pay their respects to the victims of the 1861 massacre. The pilgrimage to the small town in Benevento has become an annual event to help recount the Piedmontese atrocity in Pontelandolfo (and neighboring Casalduni), where 336 townspeople–men, women and children–were raped and slaughtered by the Italian military.

Assembling in the piazzetta the participants, about 40 in all, peacefully made their way to the Chiesa del S.S. Salvatore to commemorate the fallen. However, at the church entrance they were met by the Mayor of Pontelandolfo, Dr. Cosimo Testa, who ignobly informed the attendees that they were in violation of incitement of civil disobedience because of their Bourbon flags. The patriots protested but most of them were barred entry into the church and forbidden to attend the "official" observance with their seditious flags. To add further insult, the Carabinieri harassed the participants by collecting personal information from them as if they were common criminals.

It seems more than a little strange that in a country where mobs of Communists and Moslems can rally (or riot) with impunity that such a small and peaceful gathering would evoke the response it did. (Also, at a time when church attendance is at an all-time low one would imagine they would be happy to have people filling the pews and praying to the memory of the victims.)

In defiance the gatherers sang the Hymn of the Two Sicilies on the church stairs and proudly flew their flags while chanting, "Long live the King" before leaving. They returned to the piazzetta to hold a commemoration of their own, leaving the mayor to perform his ceremony with virtually no one in attendance. The mayor and his color guard further marred this solemn occasion by bearing the Italian tricolor, for in whose name the victims at Pontelandolfo and Casalduni were slaughtered.

August 14, 2009

The Pontelandolfo – Casalduni Massacre

General Enrico Cialdini: 
The Butcher of Gaeta
By Giovanni di Napoli

On August 14, 1861 the towns of Pontelandolfo and Casalduni were sacked and torched by the Piedmontese military during the so-called "war against brigandage" in Southern Italy. On the orders of General Enrico Cialdini (*) the towns were reduced to rubble and townspeople indiscriminately slaughtered in retaliation for the death of 41 soldiers at the hands of partisan loyalists.
Accounts of the Piedmontese reprisal describe the shooting of unarmed men and bayoneting of groveling women. The survivors were left homeless and without means of survival. Dispatched by Cialdini, Colonel Gaetano Negri telegraphed his superior to report on the carnage: 
"At dawn yesterday justice was done to Pontelandolfo and Casalduni. They are still burning." 
Sadly, Pontelandolfo and Casalduni were not the exception. In the first 14 months after the conquest of Southern Italy the towns of Guaricia, Campochiaro, Viesti, San Marco in Lamis, Rignano, Venosa, Basile, Auletta, Eboli, Montifalcone, Montiverde, Vico, Controne, and Spinello all suffered a similar fate. Arbitrary arrests and summary executions were common. By 1864 over 100,000 troops, nearly half the Italian army, were deployed in the South to try and keep order.
Despite attempts to prove otherwise (so they could politically justify Piedmontese atrocities) the insurrection was not the work of common criminals and brigands, but was in fact a popular revolt by former Bourbon soldiers, loyalists and desperate peasants against the Northern invaders. These resistance fighters were protecting their homes and families. As many as 80,000 Southerners were imprisoned for political reasons. It was only after the floodgates of immigration opened in the decades after "unification" and large parts of the South were depopulated that the violence began to wane. Unfortunately, due to unreliable figures, the exact number of Southerners killed during the "war against brigandage" will never be known.
(* It should be noted that General Enrico Cialdini was the commander in charge at the Siege of Gaeta who refused a cease-fire, as was the custom, during negotiations for surrender. His actions led to the unnecessary deaths of over fifty defenders when a powder magazine exploded just prior to Gaeta's capitulation. He was made Duke of Gaeta as reward for his bloody assault on the Southern Italian fortress.)

Remember Otranto!

Martyrs of Otranto, ora pro nobis
sangue otrantino
saporito come menta e petrusino,
sangue forte e fino
contro il turco malandrino.

Otrantini blood,
pungent as parsley and mint,
strong blood and fine
against the wicked Turk.

On August 14, 1480 eight hundred men from Otranto, a small town in the Kingdom of Naples, were driven before their captors up the Hill of the Minerva to be beheaded. Their crime was the refusal to convert to Islam. At about 200 men per-day for four days straight, the last remaining men of Otranto were mercilessly slaughtered.

The victims were captured after the sacking of Otranto by the Ottoman Turks. Despite heroic efforts, the stalwart defense was no match against the marauding hordes of Mehemt the Conqueror. Hopelessly outnumbered and poorly armed the defenders were eventually overwhelmed. When the walls were breached on August 11th the Ottomans poured in and raped and murdered as they pleased.
Coat of Arms of Otranto

According to some sources, as many as 12,000 townspeople were slain and another five thousand sold into slavery in the seraglios of Albania. With a foothold in the Salento peninsula the Ottomans wreaked havoc and destruction until their expulsion by the Neapolitan and Hungarian forces led by Duke Alfonso of Calabria in 1481.

After the invaders were driven from Southern Italy, the remains of the martyrs were gathered and interred in reliquaries in the city's Cathedral, where they can still be seen today. The Hill of the Minerva has since been christened the Hill of the Martyrs in their honor.

* A lullaby the women of Otranto sing to their babies. Reprinted from Otranto, a novel by Maria Corti, Italica Press New York, 1993

Remembering HM Francis I, King of the Two Sicilies

Today is the 232nd anniversary of the birth of King Francis I of the Two Sicilies. Born in Naples on August 14, 1777, he became Crown Prince and Duke of Calabria in 1778. His Majesty married Maria Clementina, Archduchess of Austria, daughter of Emperor Leopold II, in 1797 and after her death he married Maria Isabella of Spain, daughter of King Charles IV of Bourbon, in 1801. Francis I was 48 years old when he ascended the throne in 1825. Due to the long reign of King Ferdinand I, Francis I ruled for only five years. He died on November 8, 1830 in Naples. Viva 'o Rre!

August 6, 2009

Who We Are

As an advocate of Southern Italian independence and self-determination I’m often asked, “Who are Southern Italians and where exactly does Southern Italy begin and end?” Ironically, these seemingly clear-cut questions don't always have explicit answers. Depending on whom you ask, you’re likely to get any number of responses. For instance, some say Sardinia is part of Southern Italy; others include Rome. For the sake of clarification I would like to take this opportunity to share my personal opinions on this delicate subject.

While I agree that Sardinia and Rome share similarities and face some of the same problems with the Mezzogiorno I do not consider these regions part of Southern Italy. They are their own distinct entities with their own historic memories and should be in control of their own destinies. For me, Southern Italy’s boundaries are those of the former Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, which includes the regions of Abruzzo, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Molise, Puglia and Sicily.

Having said that, I would like to stress that this also includes the territories partitioned and rezoned into the province of Lazio in 1920's. For example, Gaeta is now technically part of Lazio, but this area historically belongs to Campania's Terra di Lavoro and is an important part of Southern Italian history. In fact, Gaeta is where the Bourbons made their heroic last stand against the invading Piedmontese. Amatrice, Cassino, Cittaducale, Sora, and others belong to the South as well, and in my humble opinion any talk of an independent Southern Italian nation must include these lost territories.

As for who is Southern Italian, the most straightforward answer I can give to this question would be to say the indigenous people (Calabrese, Neapolitans, Sicilians, etc.) of the Southern Italian regions. This, of course, includes the millions of immigrants and expatriates from Southern Italy found around the globe. On the other hand, migrant workers and refugees coming into the homeland, even those who are law-abiding and speak the local vernaculars perfectly, are not Southern Italians. Even though I live in the United States I'm still Southern Italian because my ancestors hail from Napoli, Sturno and Catania in the same way, for example, the Chinese living in Palermo will always be Chinese. By law they may be citizens but they are not Southern Italian. Certainly, some kindred people (the Arbëreshë, for example) are assimilable, but I believe that a people create a culture, not the other way around, so it's undesirable to change the ethnic composition of the regions, especially if we wish to preserve our distinct culture and heritage.

~ Giovanni di Napoli, August 5th, The Feast of the Madonna della Neve 

Addendum (added December 31, 2010):
Chinese schoolhouse in Southern Italy helps children remember origins