You probably are familiar with the Camorra from Gomorra, both the series and book by Roberto Saviano. The Camorra are one of the main mafie of Italian organized crime groups, primarily working in the region of Campania. Though now they are scattered around the world. While the original book Gomorra was a journalistic view of the criminal organization, the series has bee dramatized a bit. Let’s learn a little more about the Camorra and how it operates:
The Origins of the Camorra
The title of Camorra came around in about the 1730s. When eight gambling houses in Naples were authorized, the word was a play on “capo”, meaning boss, and “morra” the gambling game. As a group, or gang the Camorra began to show up under the Parethenopean Reublic: a time when Naples attempted to be an independant republic (1799-1815).
In1820 the group known as Camorra was first mentioned in the police records. They had recorded various organizational statutes and initiation rights of the group. During this time they were known as the Bella Società Riformata, Onorata Società. They had reached a higher level than just street gang disputes and petty theft, they had real organization.
In the years before the Risorgimento, the Camorra was generally accepted, even at times being hired by groups to rally the poor of the city and help overthrow the king. Police also knew that the city’s poor would listen to them, so they usually worked with them to maintain order. But of course, everything changed post-unification, the government made mass efforts to suppress and kick them out.
In 1911, the Camorra finally took the stand in one of the first major trials. It was for the murder of police spies Cuocolo, in the end it lead to imprisonment of 27 leaders of the society and was a major hit.
Since this early history, the organization has continued to grow and transform. In the 1970s under Raffaele Cutolo, the various groups of the Camorra, which had previously acted separately, became organized as the “NCO”.
In the early 2000s, there was a civil war amongst the organization, which you may remember from Gomorra. At this time the secessionists broke away creating internal disputes and multiple sub-clans. There were hundreds of deaths related to the Clan war.
The Camorra in Present Day
It is a bit complicated to cover all of the various activities, warring families, and clans of the Camorra but I want to give just a little overview. So let’s take a look at what they are up to these days. They are still very active it only takes a quick google search to find the list of the latest victims or the latest financial scandals.
In the last few years, many of the old bosses have been killed, arrested, or are in hiding. Yet that does not mean they have settled. Youth gangs have moved in to take over and they work nationwide in legal and illegal activities, ranging from the drug trade, waste management, and more. It’s hard to place the Camorra under just one category because something that makes them so unique and successful as an organized crime group is their ability to adapt and follow trends and collaborate with others. In fact, the Camorra works alongside various other organized crime groups such as the Albanian and Nigerian gangs.
But from what is known, they work heavily within the milk, fish, and coffee trade around Italy and abroad, plus they own at least 2,500 bakeries in Naples. (In the Italian sense this means bread and pizza shops, not just sweets). They have their hands in the cocaine and sex slavery trade all over Europe, though the ‘Ndrangheta are the ones who run the show.
Then what they are definitely infamously known for: Waste Management. In this, they grab public contracts, then dump waste wherever they can. This not only has damaged the beauty of their region but since their control of waste management in Campania, cancer rates rose by 40% due to the toxic environment as waste pollutes the air, water, and ground.
Then they continue to extort and threaten local businesses. Even just recently in 2019, a bomb went off in front of the famous Sorbillo Pizzeria as a threat.
Internationally they are strong in the Netherlands, the UK, Switzerland, Romania, Spain, Morocco, France, and the Ivory Coast. Within Italy, they primarily operate out of Campania but have worked their way into the business in Piedmont, Lombardy, Lazio, and Emilia Romagna.
It is only since 2012 that the US, under Obama, labeled this group as one of the four key transnational organized crime groups.
Now, there are plenty more stories to tell about the Camorra- from their relationship with Maradona to their part in the 2002 Van Gogh art theft. But, these could fill a book and in fact, they have filled many, at the bottom, you’ll find a few!
Let’s Talk Organization
The Camorra is not a centralized organization, it does not function in a pyramid structure like the Cosa Nostra. Instead, it is made up of multiple clans and families, these families do make efforts to avoid interfering with one another.
Originally the leaders were elected within the society, but this changed to be more familial. Since the early days, there have been two levels of the Camorra members, low and high. Low was like a street boss, controlling the poor neighborhoods, today it might be the local drug gang. Then High refers to those who work in politics and corruption, either directly in office or by winning public contracts and technically working through legal means.
At the moment the original Camorra has been so broken up by various civil wars, that it’s difficult to clarify. What is known is there are multiple gangs all working together, with a clear internal hierarchy.
Want to know More?
Here are some great resources if you’d like to like to learn more, I have found Italia sources are more informative but I have left a mix in all languages:
Gomorra– Roberto Saviano
Naples in the Time of Cholera, by Frank M. Snowden
History of the Mafia and The Two Mafias by Salvatore Lupo
Mafia Republic, by John Dickie
See Naples and Die by Tom Behan