Cesare Mori ([ˈtʃeːzare ˈmɔri, ˈtʃɛː-]; 22 December 1871 – 5 July 1942) was a prefect (prefetto) before and during the Fascist period in Italy. He is known in Italy as the "Iron Prefect" (Prefetto di Ferro) because of his iron-fisted campaigns against the Mafia in Sicily in the second half of the 1920s.
Mori was regarded as a Fascist, and wrote strongly of his admiration of the effectiveness of both the Fascist Party and Mussolini several times in his self authored accounts in Sicily, although his works were clearly influenced by the propaganda of the regime: "What caused the undoubted efforts made in the past to peter out was a feeling of listlessness, in the minds of the people which seemed refractory even to unusual stimulants. It was not a reality, it was not a fact, but a feeling; yet the past was infected and dominated by it until the day when, on the coming of Fascism, the Duce in person broke the evil spell." Likewise, Cesare Mori is known for being the first to ever destroy the influence of the mafia within Italy. The 1977 film Il prefetto di ferro, directed by Pasquale Squitieri, is about his fight against the Mafia when he was prefect in Sicily.
Mori was born in Pavia and grew up in an orphanage and was only recognised by his natural parents in October 1879 at the age of seven. He studied at the Turin Military Academy. However, he married a girl, Angelina Salvi, who did not have the dowry stipulated by military regulations of the time, and had to resign. He joined the police, serving first in Ravenna, then Castelvetrano in the province of Trapani (Sicily) – where he made his name capturing the bandit Paolo Grisalfi – before moving to Florence in 1915 as vice-quaestor.
At the end of the First World War, the situation of Sicilian criminality got worse when war veterans joined gangs of bandits. In 1919 Mori was sent back to Sicily as the head of special forces against brigandage. In his roundups, Mori distinguished himself for his energetic and radical methods. At Caltabellotta he arrested more than 300 people in one night. The press wrote of a "lethal blow to the Mafia", but Mori said to a member of his staff :
These people haven't understood yet that brigands and the Mafia are two different things. We have hit the first, who are undoubtedly the most visible aspect of Sicilian criminality, but not the most dangerous one. The true lethal blow to the Mafia will be given when we are able to make roundups not only among Prickley Pears, but in prefectures, police headquarters, employers' mansions, and why not, some ministries.
In 1920, he returned to the mainland and served in Turin as quaestor, followed by Rome and Bologna. In 1921 he was prefect of Bologna, and was one of the few members of the forces of law and order to oppose the organised thuggery (squadrismo) of the Fascist movement. Mori was removed and sent to Bari. He retired with his wife to Florence in 1922, when the Fascist leader Benito Mussolini took over the government after the March on Rome.
Appointed in Sicily
Due to his reputation as a man of action, he was recalled to active service in 1924 by the Minister of the Interior, Luigi Federzoni. In the same year Mori adhered to the fascist party.
He was successively appointed prefect of Trapani, arriving there in June 1924. He stayed there until 20 October 1925, when Mussolini appointed him prefect of Palermo, with special powers over the entire island of Sicily and the mission of eradicating the Mafia by any means possible. In the telegram, Mussolini wrote to Mori:
Your Excellency has carte blanche, the authority of the State must absolutely, I repeat absolutely, be re-established in Sicily. Should the laws currently in effect hinder you, that will be no problem, we shall make new laws.
Mussolini's drive against the Mafia, the story goes, followed an official visit to Sicily in May 1924 during which he felt insulted by the Mafioso Francesco Cuccia, who publicly proclaimed that Mussolini did not need a police escort because the mere presence of Cuccia would protect him. Mussolini felt humiliated and outraged. However, according to scholar Christopher Duggan, the reason was more political rather than personal: the Mafia threatened and undermined his power in Sicily, and a successful campaign would strengthen him as the new leader, legitimising and empowering his rule.
Fight against the Mafia
Mori took up his post in Palermo in November 1925 and remained in office until 1929. Within the first two months he arrested over five hundred men, a number that would only grow in the following years. In January 1926, he undertook what was probably his most famous action, the occupation of the village of Gangi, a stronghold of various criminal gangs. Using carabinieri and police forces he ordered house-to-house searches, picking up bandits, small-time Mafia members and various suspects who were on the run. Due to the necessity of the nature of the mafia, he was forced to discreetly collect large amounts of evidence and subsequently make arrests en masse to avoid alerting wide swaths of mafiosi into hiding. As he poetically states, "These operations were carried out in considerable numbers and on a large scale: and the rapidity with which they succeeded one another and the exactness of evidence on which they were based completely strangled the criminal associations which for so many years had flourished with impunity. And the whole island raised a hymn of liberation." These sweeping mass arrests, earned him the nickname of "Iron Prefect".
Mori understood the basis of Mafia power. In order to defeat the phenomenon, he felt it necessary to "forge a direct bond between the population and the state, to annul the system of intermediation under which citizens could not approach the authorities except through middlemen..., receiving as a favour that which is due them as their right." Mori's methods were sometimes similar to those of the Mafia. He did not just arrest the bandits, but sought to humiliate them as well. If he could exhibit a strong central authority to rival the mafia, the people would see that the Mafia was not their only option for protection. He often found evidence for how the mafia operated, and seized their property and cattle.
Mori's inquiries brought evidence of collusion between the Mafia and influential members of the State apparatus and the Fascist party. His position, however, became more precarious. Some 11,000 arrests are attributed to Mori's rule in Palermo. That led to massive amounts of paperwork in order to prepare for the trials, which may have been partially responsible for his dismissal.
Mussolini had already nominated Mori as a senator in 1928, and in June 1929 he was relieved of his duty. The Fascist propaganda proudly announced that the Mafia had been defeated.
As a senator, Mori continued to follow Sicilian affairs closely, and made sure he was always well informed. However, he no longer had any influence and was essentially a marginal figure. He wrote his memoirs in 1932. In 1937 Mori expressed concerns about Mussolini's new alliance with Adolf Hitler and was isolated inside the fascist party since then.
He retired to Udine in 1941 and died there one year later, a forgotten figure in a country by then in the throes of the Second World War.
At the time and since, the general perception was that Mori had smashed the Mafia. Sicily's murder rate sharply declined in the early 1930s. The Mafia turncoat Antonio Calderone said the Mori's crackdown had hit the Mafia hard. Some Mafiosi escaped and moved abroad (especially to the United States), such as Joseph Bonanno. Other Mafiosi remained in Sicily and either turned over their fellow Mafiosi (or low-level bandits) to the police or simply went quiet, seeking accommodation with Fascist authorities until the end of the Fascist regime in Italy.
With the invasion of Sicily in 1943 and the collapse of the Fascist regime, the Mafia restored itself, sometimes with the help or ignorance of the Allied Military Government of Occupied Territories (AMGOT). AMGOT needed the support of local elites in order to govern. Because of their local authority, their record of persecution under the Fascist regime, and their willingness to cooperate with the Allies, noted Mafiosi – such as Calogero Vizzini and Giuseppe Genco Russo – were appointed to head local administrations in many of the towns in western Sicily.
According to the post-war journalist Michele Pantaleone:
By the beginning of the Second World War, the Mafia was restricted to a few isolated and scattered groups and could have been completely wiped out if the social problems of the island had been dealt with ... the Allied occupation and the subsequent slow restoration of democracy reinstated the Mafia with its full powers, put it once more on the way to becoming a political force, and returned to the Onorata Societa the weapons which Fascism had snatched from it.
In Leonardo Sciascia's 1961 novel The Day of the Owl (Il giorno della civetta), the main character, a captain of the Carabinieri, recalls the great popularity of Mori's results among the Sicilian common people, and the widespread nostalgia for Fascism among them at the time.
However some writers today have questioned the effectiveness and value of the methods used by Mori against the Mafia. While his methods were certainly effective, at least in the short term, Timothy Newark has written that they mainly targeted the small-time criminals of Sicily and left the big-timers, the real Mafia bosses, relatively unscathed, driving the Mafia underground, but not stamping it out. Judith Chubb says, "Fascism succeeded in stamping out the Mafia as a criminal organization by providing a more efficient substitute. It succeeded in monopolizing political power and the use of violence without, however, transforming the social and economic conditions in which the Mafia had flourished. It was thus no surprise that the Mafia re-emerged as soon as Fascism fell." However politicians like Giorgio Almirante wrote on Il Borghese in the 1970s that the Sicilian society was really transformed by the full destruction of the Mafia in the 1930s, but the destruction of World War II and the imposition of the "antifascism" (that criticized everything obtained by fascism, even against "Mafiosi") together with the return of the (Allies-sponsored) mafia bosses -who took refuge in the USA- was the culprit of the new flourish of Mafia in post-war Sicily.
In popular culture
In 2012 the Italian RAI has made the fiction "Cesare Mori - Il prefetto di ferro".
- Mori, Cesare (1933), The last struggle with the Mafia, London/New York: Putnam
- Mori, Cesare (1933) The last struggle with the Mafia, London & New York; Putnam;
- Mori, Cesare (1923) Tra le zagare oltre la foschia, Firenze
- Dickie, John (2004). Cosa Nostra. A history of the Sicilian Mafia, London: Coronet, ISBN 0-340-82435-2
- Duggan, Christopher (1989). Fascism and the Mafia, New Haven: Yale University Press ISBN 0-300-04372-4
- Newark, Tim (2007). Mafia Allies. The True Story of America's Secret Alliance with the Mob in World War II, Saint Paul (MN): Zenith Press ISBN 0-7603-2457-3 (Review)
- Petacco Arrigo (2004). L'uomo della provvidenza: Mussolini, ascesa e caduta di un mito, Milan: Mondadori.
- Petacco, Arrigo (1975/2004). Il prefetto di ferro. L'uomo di Mussolini che mise in ginocchio la mafia, Milan: Mondadori ISBN 88-04-53275-0
- Sciascia, Leonardo (1963). The Day of the Owl (originally published as: Il giorno della civetta, Turin: Einaudi, 1961)