1 1 The Italian Fascist Police and Italian-American Identity Fraser M. Ottanelli University of South Florida In this paper, I will focus on the origins and nature of support for Mussolini and his regime among Italians in the United States during the interwar years. Specifically, I call attention to the ways in which Italian authorities made their repressive presence felt within the Italian community. The efforts by Fascist institutions to regiment first and second generation Italians migrants were based on a new and expansive definition of Italian identity no longer confined to those living within the borders of the nation state but that encompassed all who originated from Italy wherever they resided. Consideration to the coercive presence of the Fascist Italy in the United States broadens our understanding of transnational political practices adopted by the states of countries of origin and their impact on the development of ethnic identities among its citizens and their descendants living abroad. Consequently, attention to this process historicizes what social scientists, in their discussion of contemporary migration, have defined the deterritorialization of the nation states. 1 Starting in the mid-1920s, by which time the Fascist regime was firmly established domestically, Mussolini resolved to project a respectable image of Italy in foreign affairs. This meant downplaying the more strident ideological characteristics of Fascism in favor of presenting an appearance of stability. One of the main motivations behind this change was to strengthen relations with the United States. During the interwar years Fascist authorities viewed the United States as a vital economic partner and a source of credit essential to Italian national interests. Good relations with U.S. political
2 2 and economic circles were considered essential to the interests of the Italian state and, consequently, Fascist authorities initiated a resolute campaign directed toward the United States to insure a sympathetic public opinion and to establish control over the Italian- American community. 2 In order to ensure cordial relations between the two countries, Italian authorities ended efforts aimed at enlisting Italian Americans into openly Fascist political organizations. The leaders of the Italian government came to the conclusion that the regimentation of Italian Americans into a Fascist political body controlled by Rome would stir suspicion and opposition among both Federal authorities and U.S. public opinion as interference into the country s internal affairs. 3 Therefore, by the end of the 1920s Rome charged professional diplomats with promoting a definition of ethnic identity based on the combination of a cultural characterization of italianità which rested the combination of non-political devotion to their country of origin and its leader with support of the dominant conservative interpretation of Americanism. This shift meant that Italian immigrants could simultaneously support the Fascist regime and be loyal Americans, making support for Mussolini a key element of Italian-American identity. 4 As pro-mussolini sentiment facilitated the process of incorporation of Italian immigrants into U.S. society as citizens authorities in Rome saw another advantage: Italian-Americans could then use their new found political power to act as an effective lobbying group in support of the economic and political priorities and interests of the Italian state. 5 An essential component of the new course of Fascist diplomacy was the coercive control of the Italian-American community and, consequently, the intimidation and
3 3 repression of anti-fascists. In this Italian authorities could rely on the acquiescence and even the active support of multiple U.S. government agencies. Through the 1920s and 1930s, on several occasions U.S. federal authorities, including Secretary of State Frank B. Kellog and his successor Henry L. Stimson, openly praised the Italian dictator and his regime for having restored law and order in Italy as well as for being an ally in the struggle against Bolshevism both in Europe and within the Italian-American community. These shared priorities led to formal institutional arrangements between high-ranking representatives of both governments to repress subversives --broadly defined as anyone opposed to the Fascist regime. In 1923, shortly after a meeting between the Italian Ambassador Gelasio Caetani with undersecretary of state W.L. Hurley and J. Edgar Hoover, 6 federal authorities arrested and sentenced to one year in Federal penitentiary the prominent Italian-American anarchist Carlo Tresca for using the mail to send issues of his paper Il Martello that contained an ad for birth control. 7 Tresca's trial and conviction exposed Washington s compact with Fascist authorities in Rome. Eventually, under pressure from civil libertarians the government relented and Tresca was pardoned by President Calvin Coolidge after four months in jail. 8 As a result of this embarrassing fiasco, Federal authorities began to display greater caution. While high ranking officials within the Coolidge administration reassured Italian diplomats of the government s support for Mussolini they apologetically stressed how their actions against enemies of the Fascist regime were constrained by U.S. Constitutional guarantees on freedom of speech and of the press. 910
4 4 By the mid-1920s it had become obvious to Italian officials in Rome that, in spite of shared concerns, U.S. authorities could not be relied upon to monitor the activities of Italian-American antifascists. Given this general state of affairs, on direct order from Mussolini, the Italian Political Police dispatched one of its best and most experienced agents, Umberto Caradossi, to establish a secret Ufficio riservato within the Italian Consulate in New York. 11 Caradossi carried out his duties with great discretion and ruthless efficiency. Operating under diplomatic cover and concealing his true mission in order to shield Italian authorities from the potentially embarrassing charges of interference in internal U.S. affairs, Caradossi s true assignment was known only to a few career diplomats. He was directly in charge of surveillance over a vast area that went from the Canadian border south to Washington D.C. and west as far as Cleveland. His main concentration, however, were the five boroughs of New York along with areas with a high concentration of Italian Anarchists such as Boston, Paterson and Newark, Hartford and New Haven and of Communist activities such as in the mining areas of Pennsylvania and Ohio. In addition Caradossi was charged with following prominent antifascist leaders as they traveled on speaking tours across the country and, most importantly, with evaluating intelligence gathered by Consuls throughout the rest of United States. 12 Caradossi oversaw the activities of the Italian police in the United States until the summer of 1941 when, together with all Italian government officials, he was ordered to leave the country. 13 During all this time he was a key figure in the Fascist regime's campaign against its enemies in the United States. His duties were clear: identify, collect information on and generally make life difficult for Italian antifascists; investigate the
5 5 movement of funds, propaganda material and leaders between antifascist organizations in exile and groups in Italy, and finally help direct local authorities against the enemies of the regime. To carry out his orders, Caradossi relied on an extensive network of informants (who in turn ran their own smaller networks) within the Italian community and infiltrators inside antifascist organizations. For example Caradossi had a source within the Bronx anarchist group affiliated to L Adunata dei Refrattari. In 1931 this person alerted Caradossi that a member of this group Michele Schirru, a naturalized U.S. citizen, had left for Italy with the intention of assassinating Mussolini. Immediately Caradossi provided vital information to his superiors that led to Schirru s his arrest and eventual execution in Rome. 14 Through the auspices of the Ufficio Affari Riservati run by Caradossi Italian authorities received a steady flow of information on all the most important Italian- American labor and radical organizations, on their leaders and rank-and-file activists. By the end of the 1930s Italian police authorities had updated or opened a total of approximately 6,000 active files on as many Italian Americans classified as affiliated to subversive parties considered dangerous to public order and security. While Caradossi and his network of informants were essential cogs in the apparatus that controlled the Italian American community, the repression of antifascists living in the United States relied on informants on both sides of the Atlantic. For instance in several cases the surveillance of individual in the United States originated with reports received from Geneva, Switzerland, where the Italian police had infiltrated a local Anarchist group that funneled funds collected by individuals or local organizations across
6 6 the Atlantic to help pay for activities in Italy. 15 Furthermore, Caradossi could have not successfully carried out his activities without the active assistance from U.S. local, state, federal authorities as well as nativist and anti-radical organizations with which he exchanged information, conspired to intimidate opponents of the regime and even to sidetrack investigation of terrorist acts committed by Italian-American fascists against their opponents. 16 Italian authorities concluded it would be counterproductive to openly harass prominent Italian-American leaders who often had contacts and influential supporters in mainstream U.S. society. Instead, the Fascist regime generally chose to focus on midlevel or rank-and-file militants along with anyone who expressed in public or in private even the mildest criticism of the regime and its leaders. Intimidation and control followed a well-established pattern. After individual immigrants were identified as either active antifascists or in any way critical of Italy and its ruler, their friends and relatives in Italy were intimidated, threatened with job loss and their homes searched. In several instances close family members who still lived in Italy, including wives and children, were denied passports to join their loved one in the United States. In the United States, Fascist authorities determined that that the most practical and effective weapons to control the Italian-American community and to silence opposition was through a combination of economic pressure and selective use of deportation. 17 Hence, pressure was exerted on U.S. companies involved in import-export activities warning that they were in danger of jeopardizing access to the Italian market if Italian Americans considered to be non-friendly to the regime were either hired or not fired. 18
7 7 Businesses that sold Italian-made goods in the United States were denied export licenses if they placed adds on anti-fascist papers or refused to support and subsidize pro-fascist activities. 19 These forms of economic pressure were direct and usually effective: Fascist authorities made it hard for their opponents to earn a living and consequently forced them either to cease any activity against the regime or into leading nomadic lives. 20 The threat of deportation had a chilling effect on silencing opponent of the Fascist regime as well as any critic of the Italian government. Particularly vulnerable to this measure were the thousands of Italians who entered the United States during the twenties and thirties. Many of them, in order to circumvent discriminatory U.S. immigration law and Fascist restrictions, enlisted in the Italian merchant marine and then jumped ship in U.S. ports. In the United States, maritime deserters became the backbone of Italian antifascist, mainly communist, activities. Hence, their status as "deserters" in Italy, which in some cases led to sentences in absentia of up to five years in jail, and as illegal immigrants placed them in a precarious situation. 21 Through the 1920s and 1930s Italian consular authorities provided U.S. immigration officials with the names and whereabouts of any politically active illegal immigrant, who would then be arrested and held for deportation back to Italy. There are many recorded instances of immigrants who suffered this fate. 22 Constant fear of arrest severely limited the activities of antifascist leaders while the danger of deportation forced their supporters into time consuming and costly campaigns to defend their comrades who had found refuge in the United States and who were legitimately afraid of what would happen to them if they were forced back to Italy. The experience of Mafaldo Rossi is was in many ways typical. Born and raised near Bologna, his political activities had earned him the designation by Italian police of
8 8 Communist terrorist, 23 as well as several beatings from Fascist black-shirts. Forced to emigrate, Rossi was arrested while trying to cross illegally from Canada into the United States in He jumped bail and settled in New York. 24 From the moment he arrived in the United States and although he adopted several aliases to conceal his identity Rossi was under the constant surveillance of Italian authorities who notified U.S. officials of his status as illegal immigrants. A consular official in New York reported that once Rossi learned that a warrant had been issued for his arrest, he made himself scarce and evaded two attempts to apprehend him. Until he returned to Europe in 1937, Rossi was forced to lead a clandestine existence, covering his traces in order to conceal his places of employment and residence from Italian authorities and the New York City police. 25 In contrast after Dismo Cinelli was arrested and held for deportation supporters contacted Congressman Victor Berger who was able to have the expulsion decree suspended. 26 In the case of two stowaways arrested in Florida local antifascists secured passage and employment in Mexico. 27 A bungled attempt by a federal inspector to arrest for deportation the anarchist leader Armando Borghi during a large anti-fascist meeting at Cooper Union in New York ended in the death of an innocent bystander while Borghi managed to flee. 28 In 1926, based on a tip from the Italian ambassador, U.S. authorities arrested the former Italian Socialist deputy Vincenzo Vacirca along with the Communist Vittorio Vidali, both charged with being in the country illegally. As the deportation process bogged down Vacirca was released and allowed to remain the in the country while Vidali fled to Mexico. 29 The Italian ambassador informed his superiors in Rome that the arrest of Vidali in and of itself constitutes a severe warning on antifascists and will have deep repercussions among working-class Italians. 30
9 9 As the Italian ambassador had predicted, the combination of economic pressure with the threat of arrest and deportation of immigrants amplified real or perceived notions of the repressive abilities and pervasiveness of the Fascist state within the Italian- American community. The myth of the omnipresence of the Fascist secret police was strengthened and fostered even by the New York Times when, in a special report titled Fascism Admits Existence of OVRA, it provided a greatly exaggerated estimate of its total personnel which it estimated at 30,000 volunteers. 31 Looking at Italy, historians have argued that the totalitarian repressive nature of the Fascist regime makes it impossible to state, as some have, that Mussolini enjoyed a broad consensus within the peninsula during the 1930s. I contend that the same holds true first and second generation Italians living in the United States a group which, to this day, many continue to describe as having strongly identified with Fascist Italy. In the United States, however, in order to domesticate Italian Americans the regime could not rely on the same coercive laws and institutional controls it used in Italy. Instead Italian authorities forced support for Fascist Italy and, at the same time, pursued its critics in the United States selectively but deliberately, through means that would strike at Italian Americans where they were the most vulnerable but, at the same time, would never overtly undermine U.S. sovereignty. In fact Mussolini sought and received the backing of U.S. authorities in order to extend his web across the Atlantic. The activities of the Italian Fascist police operating in Italy and the United States combined with pervasive xenophobic and anti-radical sentiment of local, state, and federal authorities meant that Italian Americans who openly criticized the regime did so at great risk: a warning that
10 10 was well understood within Little Italies from coast to coast. In conclusion then, the combined threat that came from Italian and US cooperation to quash broadly defined subversive activities sent a clear message to all Italian Americans that it was advisable that their hyphenated identity place support for Fascist Italy on one side and acceptance of the conservative definition of Americanism on the other. 1 For recent studies on the changing nature of the nation state see: Linda Basch and Nina Glick Schiller, Nations Unbound: Transnational Projects, Postcolonial Predicaments, and Deterritorialized Nation-States, (Amsterdam, 1997) passim; Sarah J. Mahler, Theoretical and Empirical Contributions Toward and Research Agenda on Transnationalism, in Transnationalism from Below, edited by Michael Peter Smith and Luis Eduardo Guarnizo, (New Brunswick, 2002), , and Ninna Nyberg Sørensen, Narrating Identity Across Dominical Worlds, in Ibid., [See among others: Diggins, Mussolini and Fascism, ] 3 [check footnote] Ambassador De Martino to Mussolini, May 10, 1925, Ibid. See also: Goodman, "The Evolution of Ethnicity," 85-90; and Alan Cassels, "Fascism for Export: Italy and the United States in the Twenties," American Historical Review, (April 1964). See Migone. Ambassador De Martino to Mussolini, April 10, 1925, in Fascist Italiani negli Stati Uniti, , Pos St.5, busta 63, Ambasciata Washington (schedatura provvisoria), ASMAE. [I don t have copy of this document] De Martino to Mussolini, May 10, 1925, in Duplicati di documenti relative a rapporti tra fasci e consoli 1923, , Pos St. 5. busta 64, Ambasciata Washington (schedatura provvisoria), ASMAE. MERGE THE FOLLOWING--For an excellent analysis of the policies pursued
11 11 by Italian authorities toward the Italian American community during the 1920s see Goodman, The Evolution of Ethnicity, chapter 2; Luconi; on Caetani see GG Migone].Luconi, Diplomazia Parallela, 19-24; ; Introduction, Il fascismo e gli emigrati, Emilio Franzina and Matteo Sanfilippo editors, Laterza: Rome-Bari, 2003, v- vii. Debate over dual citizenship between De Martino and Fascist authorities in Rome see: Goodman, The Evolution of Ethnicity, The connection between the development of an Italian ethnic identity and support for fascism is explored in Madeline Jane Goodman, The Evolution of Ethnicity: Fascism and Anti-Fascism in the Italian-American Community, , PhD., Carnegie Mellon University, 1993, 56-66, For recent studies on the changing nature of the nation state see: Basch et all, Nations Unbound, passim; Mahler, Theoretical and Empirical Contributions Toward and Research Agenda on Transnationalism, in Smith and Guarnizo, Transnationalism from Below, , and Ninna Nyberg Sørensen, Narrating Identity Across Dominical Worlds, in Ibid., Pernicone, "Il caso Greco-Carrillo," On Caetani see: Gian Giacomo Migone, Il regime fascista e la comunità italo-americana; la missione di Gelasio Caetani ( ), in Problemi di storia dei rapporti fra Italia e Stati Uniti, Torino: Rosenberg e Sellers, Diggins, "The Italo-American Antifascist Opposition," 583 and Mussolini and Fascism, 117; proof of Italian government efforts to silence opposition in the US is in memo send my Ministero degli Esteri to Ministero degli Interni in Tresca file CPC; see also
12 12 "Tempeste," Il Martello, (IX, 1923, 33):2, "Il vero significato della condanna di Carlo Tresca," Il Lavoro (December 22, 1923):2, and the New York Times, May 7, See articles in the Nation and New Republic quoted by Diggins, Mussolini and Fascism, 118, and "The Italo-American Antifascist Opposition," Italian Ambassador to Benito Mussolini, July 3, 1926, in Attività Sovversivi, , Pos A 63, busta 15, Ambasciata Washington (schedatura provvisoria), ASMAE. See also Umberto Caradossi to Ambassador, July 25, 1926, Ibid.; and Diggins, Mussolini and Fascism, Diggins, "The Italo-American Anti-Fascist Opposition," and Mussolini and Fascism, ; Goodman, "The Evolution of Ethnicity," 195. On the campaign by US authorities against Il Nuovo Mondo see Labor (March 27, 1926). 11 Consul Axerio to Ambassador, November 24, 1925, in Attività dei sovversivi, , Pos A63, busta 15, Ambasciata Washington (schedatura provvisoria), Archivio Storico Ministero degli Affari Esteri (hereafter ASMAE), Rome; Italian Ambassador to Benito Mussolini, July 3, 1926, and Italian Ambassador to Consul Axerio, June 10, 1926, in Attività sovversivi, , Pos A63, busta 15, Ambasciata Washington, (schedatura provvisoria), ASMAE; Canali, Le spie del regime, 44 and 53; and Italian Ambassador to Benito Mussolini, July 3, 1926, and Italian Ambassador to Consul Axerio, June 10, 1926, in Attività sovversivi, , Pos A63, busta 15, ASMAE. 12 Italian Ambassador to Benito Mussolini, July 3, 1926, and Italian Ambassador to Consul Axerio, June 10, 1926, in Attività sovversivi, , Pos A63, busta 15,
13 13 Ambasciata Washington, (schedatura provvisoria), Archivio Storico Ministero degli Affari Esteri (hereafter ASMAE), Rome. 13 Caradossi Umberto, Personale di Pubblica Sicurezza fuori servizio, versamento 1957, busta 244, fascicolo 1453, ACS; Sistemazione del personale, January 26, 1928, in New York, Personale II, 6, ASMAE; and Ministero degli Affari Esteri, Ambasciate Legazioni e Consolati del Regno d'italia all'estero, Rome: Ministero degli Affari Esteri, 1928 through Caradossi Umberto, ACS; and Giuseppe Fiore, Vita e morte di Michele Schirru: l anarchico che pensò di uccidere Mussolini, Bari: Laterza, 1990, 88-89; and Canali, See: Stati Uniti anarchici, , Ministero dell'interno, Direzione Generale della Pubblica Sicurezza, Divisione Polizia Politica, Materia, pacco 13, ACS; Nominativi di anarchici residenti all estero dal 1931 al 1934, Ibid., pacco 132; Movimento Anarchico, PS, 1929, busta 195, ACS; Stati Uniti, Movimento Anarchico, PS, 1929, busta 196, ACS; Stati Uniti, movimento anarchico, PS, 1933, busta 21, ACS; Circolo anarchico educativo Libertà in Ministero dell'interno, Direzione generale della publica sicurezza, Divisione affari generali e riservati, Associazioni antifasciste all estero, , Categoria G 1, busta 310, ACS; and Associazione anarchica Aurora (USA), , Ibid., busta On the Italian fascist police and its surveillance of the enemies of the regime in the United States see Fraser Ottanelli, "Fascist Informant and Italian American Labor Leader: The Paradox of Vanni Buscemi Montana," The Italian American Review 7,(Spring/Summer 1999):
14 14 17 The meeting was held on June 22, 1926, see: Italian Ambassador to Benito Mussolini, July 3, 1926, in Attività Sovversivi, , Pos A 63, busta 15, Ambasciata Washington (schedatura provvisoria), ASMAE. See also Umberto Caradossi to Ambassador, July 25, 1926, Ibid. On the conversations on Italian antifascist activities in the U.S. between the Italian Ambassador and Castle undersecretary of state [?] see also Ambassador Demartino to Esteri, March 31, 1926, in Deportazione sovversivi, , Pos A63, busta 15, Ambasciata Washington (schedatura provvisoria), ASMAE 18 For Arturo Giovannitti see: "Consolato di New York al Ministero degli Interni, September 9, 1930," "Vice-Console di Los Angeles all'ambasciatore italiano a Washington, September 17, 1930," and "Consolato di San Francisco all'ambasciata d'italia a Washington, July 24, 1931" all in Arturo Giovannitti, CPC, busta For Pietro Allegra see: NY Consul to Ambassador, April 2, 1927 in Movimento antifascista Estero: Stati Uniti, PS, 1927, busta 148, ACS; as well as "Consolato di New York al Ministero degli Interni, December 31, 1926," and "Prospero De Nobile to Ministero degli Interni, March 9, 1927," in Pietro Alleg ra, CPC, busta Salvemini, Italian Fascist Activities in the United States, 37-38; Duffield, "Mussolini's American Empire," Fama, "Fascist Propaganda in the United States," 91; Diggins, Mussolini and Fascism, 82 and 100, and Luconi, Diplomazia parallela, Axerio to Ambassador Demartino, October 10, 1925, in Miscellanea giornali antifascisti, , Pos A63, busta 17, Ambasciata Washington (schedatura provvisoria), ASMAE; and Umberto Caradossi to Ambassador, July 25, 1926, Attività Sovversivi, , Pos A63, busta 15, Ambasciata Washington (schedatura
15 15 provvisoria), ASMAE. Quote in Italian Ambassador to Benito Mussolini, July 3, 1926, Ibid. 21 In a 1926 letter to Mussolini, the Italian ambassador estimated that in New York City alone there were over a thousand "subversives" who had entered the United States illegally by deserting from Italian vessels. Italian Ambassador to Benito Mussolini, July 3, 1926, in Attività Sovversivi, , Pos A 63, busta 15, Ambasciata Washington (schedatura provvisoria), ASMAE. See also Fascicolo 695/2, Enea Sormenti [aka Vittorio Vidali], Il movimento comunista italiano negli Stati Uniti-Alcune note necessarie, s.d., , Archivio del Partito comunista, Fondazione Gramsci, Rome. 22 Mussolini's letter is in "Deportazione sovversivi, ," Ambasciata Washington (schedatura provvisoria), Pos A 63, Busta 15, ASMAE. On the deportation of antifascists from the United States see: Capodieci Tobia, CPC 1033, Baldassarre Giuseppe, CPC 1895; Dapello Giovanni, CPC 1617; and Estradizione di Lionello Orciani, , Pos C2, busta 68, Ambasciata Washington (schedatura provvisoria), Pos A 63, Busta 15, ASMAE. On the forced return to Italy of Giuseppe Machnig and Giordano Finillich see Prefettura di Trieste to Interni, July 12, 1926, in Movimento antifascista internazionale Stati Uniti, PS, 1926, busta 102, ACS. 23 Comunista attentatore. 24 On Mafaldo Rossi [a.k.a. Nello Vergani] see his obituary Nello Vergani vive oggi più che mai, L Unità Operaia, September 4, 1937; and Mafaldo Rossi, Casellario politico centrale (hereafter CPC), Ministero dell'interno, Direzione Generale di Pubblica Sicurezza, Archivio centrale dello Stato, Rome (hereafter ACS), busta Mafaldo Rossi, CPC busta 4451.
16 16 26 Information on the Cinelli case is in Espulsioni. Pratiche nominative, , Pos C9, busta 74, Ambasciata Washington (schedatura provvisoria), ASMAE. 27 Antifascists Cheer Italians Who Dodged War: Have Farewell Party for Two Stowaways, Tampa Tribune, April 4, Diggins, Mussolini and Fascism, 120; New York Times, April 7, On a meeting held at the Manhattan Lyceum on May 2, 1926, see leaflet in Movimento antifascista internazionale Stati Uniti, PS, 1926, busta 102, ACS. See also: Diggins, Mussolini and Fascism, ; New York Times, September 8, 21, 1926 and April 30, Ambassador DeMartino to Mussolini, March 1, 1927, in Movimento antifascista Estero: Stati Uniti, PS, 1927, busta 148, ACS; and Demartino to Esteri, October 20, 1926, in Deportazione sovversivi, , Pos A63, busta 15, Ambasciata Washington (schedatura provvisoria), ASMAE. CONTROLLARE. 31 New York Times, April 3, 1932.