The Iron Prefect -- Cesare Mori
May 17, 2012

Born in the northern city of Pavia in January 1872, Cesare Mori passed his first seven years in an orphanage before his engineer father, Felice, and mother, Rachele Pizzamiglio, officially acknowledged the boy as their biological son.

Bound for a career in the Italian army, "height five feet seven inches, brown hair, brown eyes, reddish complexion, healthy teeth," he entered the Accademia militare di Torino in January 1889.

As a young lieutenant his first posting, in 1895, was in the southern seaport of Taranto. In this Pugliese city he met his future wife, Angelina Salvi. According to the regulations of that era, a future wife of a military officer had to be of "good family" and with an appropriate "military dowry." She had the first requisite but lacked the second. Mori, already revealing his resolute and individualistic personality, did not hesitate to resign his commission so that he could marry his dear angel, Angelina.

Cesare Mori took the Public Security placement in 1889, scoring first out of 107 participants. From his first posting in Bari, he was sent to Ravenna where he distinguished himself.

In March of 1904 that he entered Castelvetrano in southwestern Sicily, a village up the road from the ancient Greek Acropoli of Selinunte. Present in town was an unscrupulous politician, one Nunzio Nasi, a schemer and supporter of the mafia, who held the political cards in the area. Surrounded by the kind of corruption and intrigue common in those days in the Sicilian political landscape was not demoralizing to Mori. He thrived in this climate of corruption, adding to his knowledge of things Sicilian, combating the mafia and the officials who worked hand-in-glove with them. Many of the police who worked in Sicily were of northern Italian origin. To be posted to Sicily was to many a cultural shock. They adjusted by doing little and allowing the mafia to continue to dispense its own form of justice. Cesare Mori was cut from another cloth. He had no intention of taking the easy way out and folding to mafia intimidation; in fact, he relished in the fight.

By the time Mussolini and the Fascists had solidified their power in Rome, Mori was losing his. He had become a liability for the Fascists. Fresher approaches were needed. Finding himself a persona non grata, he and his wife retired to Florence, the Renaissance city of the Medici.

Compared to the other Italian regions, the Fascists were late in setting their footprint in Sicily. The Fascists’ strongest support had always been in the northern regions. It was lukewarm in southern Italy and definitely hostile in Sicily.

On May 28th 1924, Cesare Mori received a telegram asking him to return to Sicily, to Trapani, with the unstated understanding that he was destined after a short stay to be ordered to Palermo to organized the fight against the mafia. He was the man of the hour, the only man for the task.

On October 23rd, Cesare Mori notified the Pubblica Sicurezza of the new orders. A city patrolling force was organized, certain occupations, such as cab driver, were placed under close scrutiny and the most modern telephone system was installed. He wanted a police/military force with the ability to strike quickly and forcefully. Mori the dictator, thus his nickname, "Hail Cesare," an obvious reference to the salute given to the Roman dictator, Julius Caesar.

The first large-scale action, which Mori labeled "a plan of war and combat," occurred in the area of Gangi, in the Madonie Mountains, east of Palermo. The Prefetto sent the Gangi mayor a telegram that read that all latitanti (fugitives from justice) must surrender by a designated hour otherwise stern measures would be taken against their families and property. (In extreme cases, where compliance was not forthcoming, families were taken to Palermo and housed in temporary quarters.) Copies of the telegram were affixed to the walls of the town. In addition, the village crier, at the beat of his drum, shouted out the telegram along the streets so that the banditi would be advised of Cesare Mori’s threat as they crouched in their hideaways.

The threats against families and possessions, and the rumor that the military unit Regi Carabinieri would have their way with the women of the bandits, had their desired effect. After thirty-two years of dominating Gangi as its own fiefdom, the Andaloro-Ferrarello gang was destroyed. On 4 January 1926, the newspaper Sicilia Nuova reported that the Gangi venture had all the aspects of a war. "A state of siege in all of its forms…the city cordoned off with no escape…the military in position and at the alert…the color of war…a very exceptional police action."

The bandits’ hiding places, once uncovered, were found to be comfortable apartments, with all the amenities, containing caches of guns and munitions. On January 7th, Giuseppe Andaloro gave up after the Pubblica Sicurezza sequestered and sold to the Gangi citizens his livestock. The other capomafia, Salvatore Ferrarello, nicknamed "Sciroccu," because wherever he went he was as destructive as the hot and sandy wind, the scirocco, that blew in from Africa, and previously condemned to fifty years confinement, was last to surrender. But not before he penned a letter to the local Questore swearing that "they will find me dead. But first I want to satisfy my heart and kill that Prefetto Mori." Cesare Mori was unfazed: "Then I will take him alive."

Cesare Mori became known as the Iron Prefect (Prefetto di Ferro).

Mori understood the soul of the Sicilian—his sense of pride, his suffering from injustice, his utter distrust (with good reason) of legal authority. He had to convince the Sicilians that this new State, this Fascist State, was not like those that had gone before, that the Fascists would dispense justice and equality for all. And, most importantly, to convince them that the symbol of State repression, the sbirro (policeman), was not the enemy and omertà as appropriate behavior was dysfunctional.

On more than one occasion, Mussolini confirmed to the nation Cesare Mori’s vital role in Fascist control of Sicilian politics. "Prefect Mori, I reaffirm, is the highest authority. All citizens must collaborate with him.", said Mussolini.

But the time would come when of Mori’s usefulness would come to an end. The mafia war could not continue indefinitely; it had to be limited and a semblance of peace and order had to descend on the island. With that aim, in 1929, Il Duce replaced "Hail Cesare" with a committed Fascist, the urbane and diplomatic Umberto Albani. Mori’s complete opposite, Albani was a man of accommodation and evenings at the opera. The Iron Prefect had completed his tour of duty and was recalled to Rome and into retirement. As far as Rome was concerned, Mori had delivered a mortal blow to the mafia; there was no longer anything to fear from that quarter and there were more pressing concerns of State.

Once Mussolini announced victory to the world, then victory it had to be. For his cult of personality was such that even the city walls proclaimed in bold script, "Il Duce ha sempre ragione"—"Mussolini is always right."

Cesare Mori 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 Cesare Mori had smashed the mafia.

However some writers today have questioned the effectiveness and value of the methods used by Cesare Mori against the mafia. While his methods were certainly effective, at least in the short term, 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.

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.

Cesare Mori - The Iron Prefect