Last Wednesday, as pallbearers led the flag-draped casket of Frank Angiulo out of St. Leonard’s in the North End, the feds were lugging David Wright into federal court down on the waterfront.
The juxtaposition was striking, capturing how much things had changed in 30 years. If Frank Angiulo’s demise represented the end of organized crime as we knew it, David Wright’s appearance in court represented the emergence of the disorganized crime of Islamic extremism that needs only an Internet connection and a cellphone.
Wright is accused of acting in concert with his uncle, Usaamah Rahim, in some loopy plan to kill police officers in some haphazard jihad. Rahim was shot to death by an FBI agent and a Boston police officer last week in Roslindale when they tried to question him about incriminating information they had gleaned from electronic communications between him and Wright.
The grainy video released on Monday sure made it look like Usaamah Rahim wanted to die. He was allegedly armed with a knife and kept moving toward the cop and FBI agents who had surrounded him until he got within a few feet of one and they shot him. Bringing a knife to a gunfight is never a good idea.
Frank Angiulo carried neither a gun nor a knife. He wielded a pen. He was the accountant for the Mafia crew headed by his foul-mouthed brother Jerry. Frank used to yell at the bookies who were short when they made their drop-offs at the mob’s Prince Street office. Then Jerry would yell at Frank because the bookies weren’t producing.
All of this was captured on bugs the FBI planted in the Mafia office. Oh, that and Jerry bragging about whacking guys. The wiseguys talked their way into prison, recalling murders the way you and I might remember hitting a home run in Little League.
Frank Angiulo’s death touched off a bout of nostalgia, and it was inevitable that some would wistfully recall how much safer the North End was when the Angiulo brothers ruled the roost. I guess all those bodies stuffed in the trunks of Cadillacs or left on the sidewalk don’t count.
The Mafia killed a lot more people around here than Islamic extremists have, but then, the wiseguys were at it a lot longer. Still, they’re gone now. La Cosa Nostra is regarded around here like drive-ins and Yaz bread.
And while the people who try to sanitize what the Mafia was like back in the day are kidding themselves, it is true that wiseguys weren’t keen on hurting people in law enforcement. Wannabe jihadis are responding to pleas from halfway around the world to kill anyone wearing a uniform or a badge.
“There were certain unwritten rules,” Vince Lisi, the special agent in charge of the FBI in Boston, told me.
The number-one unwritten rule being that if a Mafia guy killed a law enforcement agent, he would have to worry about his own people more than the cops. That sort of thing sounds almost quaint given today’s climate.
The Mafia was a secret organization, but its membership was widely known. The FBI and State Police had rosters, the names and photos and various positions occupied by made guys and associates. The up-and-comers, the wannabes, drew attention to themselves, kissing each other’s cheeks in the espresso joints on Hanover Street like they were auditioning for a role in “The Sopranos.’’
Finding wannabe jihadis is much harder. “We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Lisi says.
Since the 1993 truck bomb attack on the World Trade Center, extremist tactics and law enforcement responses have constantly changed.
The Mafia was decimated by informants and electronic surveillance. The calculus in targeting lone-wolf jihadis is the same. The Joint Terrorism Task Force allegedly got onto Rahim because he consumed propaganda and wrote and talked about it.
The jihadis don’t play by the same rules as the wiseguys. Hopefully, they’ll continue to talk as much as those guys did.