The Italian mob has been stirring up trouble and looting stores as the country endures its coronavirus crisis.
Guards stand outside grocery stores after people started refusing to pay, and clerks were too afraid of catching the virus to stop them -- and authorities believe the Mafia has been stoking the unrest before stepping in to bring order and increase their power in the southern regions, reported The Daily Beast.
Closed Facebook groups with thousands of members have been calling for riots and civil disobedience in southern Italy, which so far has escaped the grim coronavirus fate as northern regions for reasons that aren't entirely clear.
Authorities fear the Mafia will be able to offer up loans and black market jobs as the government is distracted by the COVID-19 outbreak that has claimed thousands of lives, and Italians start missing paychecks and payments on their housing.
“We need to act fast, more than fast,” said Palermo Mayor Leoluca Orlando this week. “Distress could turn into violence.”
Italy has been locked down for four weeks, and that country-wide order has been extended until at least Easter.
Orlando fears the Sicilian Mafia or Cosa Nostra is behind closed Facebook groups calling for unrest if the lockdown is not lifted in areas where the virus has not been as devastating, but officials fear less consistent testing in the south has given rise to a false sense of security.
Organized crime has gutted the south's infrastructure and medical system, which would be wholly unprepared for the type of large-scale outbreak that overwhelmed even the wealthier north's hospitals -- and officials fear unrest in the south would spread to the north.
“The situation is very heavy," Orlando said, "because behind the threats of unrest echoed via social networks is a den of Mafia jackals ready to exploit the desperation of the new poor from coronavirus. We cannot underestimate the risk of an alliance cemented by despair. In the north the risk is speculative, but here, where there is greater poverty, the danger is that desperate subjects may fall into the hands of criminals, Mafia members.”