Monday, January 14, 2008

Mafia Brought Down by the Internet

The internet: what can't it do?

The Mafia has a history of bouncing back from defeat, but this time it is up against something entirely new: a Web site where businessmen are finding safety in numbers to say no to the mob...

The number of rebels on the Web site is still tiny compared to Palermo's businesses overall, but their movement has helped to chip away at the Mafia's psychological hold on Sicilians long conditioned to believe that defiance would bring ruin or a death sentence. And any consistent crumbling of that culture of fear could ultimately lead to Cosa Nostra's undoing.

The businesses are openly defying the Mafia by signing on to a Web site called "Addiopizzo" (Goodbye Pizzo), which brings together businesses in the Sicilian capital that are resisting extortion.

The campaign was launched in 2004 by a group of youths thinking of opening a pub. They started off by plastering Palermo with anti-pizzo fliers, reading "An ENTIRE PEOPLE WHO PAYS THE PIZZO IS A PEOPLE WITHOUT DIGNITY," and eventually brought their campaign online where it struck a profound chord with Sicilians fed up with Mafia bullying.

Confindustria, the industrialists' lobby, has also boosted the movement with a threat to expel members who pay protection money. Its Sicilian branch has gone through a list of pizzo-paying companies found in a raid on a top Mafia boss' hideout, and this month began summoning heads of those companies to demand to know if they indeed had been paying and should be drummed out of the politically influential lobby.

It reminds me of the Sopranos episode 'Johnny Cakes,' which features some of Tony's goons trying to shake down the new Starbucks in the neighborhood. The manager explains that the corporate offices track every item in the inventory, so there's no way for him to pay protection money. Tony's boys lament that there's no longer any room for 'the little guy.'

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