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The place: The United States of America.

The time: Whenever organised crime bosses think that they could have a chance of succeeding, between the English recognition of the US as an independent nation and now.

The goal: Organised crime figures to openly usurp government in a minimum of one entire US state, though preferably all of the USA.

I would consider government to have been usurped by organised crime if:

  • The majority of the police have been bought, intimidated and/or killed such that they can no longer effectively even attempt to suppress organised crime other than as directed by the organised crime government.

  • No effective intervention by military forces based in the controlled area is possible. This does not include the possibility of intervention by external military forces.

  • Organised crime figures are openly in charge, and public revelation of their crimes can have no immediate negative consequences to them. I.e. they need make no pretence at being virtuous.

  • The organised crime government need not make any pretence at following state or federal constitutions, and may use whatever means they want to add, remove or replace members of their government that they want.

The usurpation of government may take place by any feasible means, so long as it becomes apparent that the former constitutional government is no longer in effect.

The change of government must persist for a minimum of one year, preferably longer.

The organised crime figures who rise to usurp government may be real historical figures or may be plausible fictional characters.

Is this possible? If so, how? If not, how close could the USA come to having it occur?

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    $\begingroup$ Unfortunately, my question is not, "How could a person unsuited to govern be elected US President?" $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Jan 6 at 5:56
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    $\begingroup$ Sorry to break it to you, but most governments are organized crime, with a hefty public works component and excellent PR. Just look at the hand of state actors in the drug trade, or the open two-tiered justice system in both the industrialized and "developing" world. This isn't just a political spiel, I'm being serious when I say it wouldn't look all that different from the status quo. $\endgroup$ – user49466 Jan 6 at 15:15
  • $\begingroup$ As I remember, something like this is the premise of the serial Buck Rogers (1939) where criminals have taken control of Earth. $\endgroup$ – M. A. Golding Jan 6 at 18:05
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    $\begingroup$ You may want to look up political machine, especially Tammany Hall (New York) and Cook County Democratic Party (Chicago). $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jan 6 at 18:27
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    $\begingroup$ Arguably this has already happened... $\endgroup$ – Morris The Cat Jul 9 at 17:07
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What is the difference between a protection racket and a tax office? The tax office answers to officials who have been elected/selected with the consent of the governed and who spend the funds for the common good, the protection racket does neither.

So imagine you have an organized group which subverts the electoral process to get their people elected as sheriff, governor, senator, president. They make systematic use of graveyard votes, voter suppression, gerrymandering, campaign finance violations, and so on. Once they are elected, they use their official powers to stop any investigation, either by ordering it closed or by starving it of funds -- or by appointing their pawns to do the investigating.

Sounds familiar? Well, not quite. There is gerrymandering and the like in the real world, but it is organized by political factions for what most participants believe to be the common good. Most follow the letter of the law while bending the spirit. There is no organized crime as that is commonly defined, even if some actions might be criminal conspiracies between multiple actors.

Read about Huey Long ...

So how to get organized crime into your story?

Imagine a couple of states or territories soon to become states with homogenous, disadvantaged groups of immigrants. Say there was a state-by-state quota system which encouraged this -- Irish in Boston, Italians in new York, Chinese in San Francisco. Meanwhile, WASPs tried to stay on top of the society/economy and the legal system -- they could do that because many immigrants were no citizens/voters yet. Ethnic-based OC groups took root to govern disenfranchised parallel societies.

Over the years more and more of these people are born citizens, and at some point of historical trouble the political establishment reached out to them. The OC groups took the whole yard when they were offered an inch and decided to go legit. Their money and threats took one of the established parties in their state, or both. They know where enough bodies are buried (from their cooperation phase with the government) to limit Federal oversight.

When could it happen?

It takes decades-long shifts in immigration patterns and a trigger event. That could be the 1920s Communist scare (mob bosses to keep those rabble-rousers in check), or the 1860s Civil War (mob bosses to tell the soldiers that their enlistment isn't up yet, whatever the documents said), or the 1960s Civil Rights (mob bosses to keep farm workers in their place) -- anything to scare the establishment into unwise bargains.

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Scenario 1: Wild West takeover

I am no expert in American history, but considering your requirements, the best case scenario would be that of the American expansion to the West.

That is, crime Lords get hold of US States as they are created (from territories onwards).

In this wild west scenario, which in my opinion is not much different from actual historical, albeit small-scale, settings, gangs become dominant because they set up some type of warlord scenario in which they act like as the paramilitary forces of some corrupt boss or family.

If you want this to be strictly crime-related, I suggest looking into the idea of some early-imported mafia families who, for some reasons, favour the South and West to the Eastern urbanised States. Why? Well, once there they could bribe government officials into awarding them the best land, start running smuggling errands across the border, exploit mining towns, fill pubs with working ladies and start exploiting mass migration to seize momentum and consolidate their power.

If things go wrong in the right way for you (allow me the pun), you would have most of the US set up for a Mexico-like scenario. Fast forward some 170 years (from 1850 to 1970) and you will have the perfect background for a series of cartels running entire Provinces.

In my opinion, even if you favour a late-20th Century scenario, Mexico should definitely be your case study. Because what you want has happened there... More than once.

Additional notes

In addition, given the changes I am suggesting are supposed to happen throughout the 19th Century, my suggestion is to think of the possibility of the Civil War to end up into a Balkanized scenario. Again, with States run by warlord. By the 1920s such States would be no more advanced than nowadays' Transnistria... But maybe this is too far fetched as it would change not just American history but the entire world history.

On a different note, I expect other answers to linger more on the Roaring Thirties period... Great Depression could be a way into mafia leaders seizing control of counties first, and States later. That is, because during those times legislation was unduly harsh and bribery way too common. However, consider world wars usually make it harder for crime gangs to settle down, especially if the country involved is not being attacked on its own land.

Another idea

Another idea would be to start small and unexpectedly. For example, in a far-away State like the Hawaii. I have heard of Ukrainian crime gangs buying off most of St. Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbeans, so I do not see why this couldn't happen elsewhere. However, as I know very little of Hawaii, most of my suggestions here remain way too general.

Hope this contributes.

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  • $\begingroup$ ab initio forestallment of the formation of the present state and/or federal government was not what I had in mind. Yes, warlords could be considered "organised crime"... but only when they operate in the face of established laws. When the US states were being established, there effectively was no law, so it becomes a case of which was accepted first. I'm really looking for something similar to "Al Capone, threatened with an indictment for tax evasion, marshalls support from crime gangs nationwide, who go on to..." $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Jan 6 at 10:46
  • $\begingroup$ Arguably, terrorists (instead of crime gangs) DID take control of many southern states through organized campaigns of propaganda and violent intimidation, ended Reconstruction early, and their inheritors dominated Southerm politics, finance, and culture for a century. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Jan 6 at 11:54
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for the clarification @MontyWild ... I took your time frame very literally, and since you said something like: "from independence onwards", I took chances at what seemed to me the best-fit scenario. $\endgroup$ – Armand_Milieu Jan 6 at 22:38
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The Confederate States of America was an illegal organization and thus everything done by the CSA was illegal, even things which would have been legal if done by legal governments. Therefore, a large percentage of the USA was taken over by criminals and ruled by those criminals for up to four years in some places.

In fiction, the movie serial Buck Rogers (1939) shows the USA and the entire planet Earth, except for the Hidden City, taken over and ruled by a crime c syndicate led by "Killer" Kane.

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  • $\begingroup$ "Everything done by the CSA was illegal:" citation needed. How many people were put of trial and sentenced for participation in this illegal organization? Were all contracts, debts, sales and purchases effectuated in the lands controlled by the CSA declared null and void? Were all trials which took place in the CSA declared null and retried? $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jan 6 at 18:20
  • $\begingroup$ Was the CSA established by people who were criminals prior to the public establishment of the CSA? I rather thought that it was the establishment of the CSA itself that would have been the illegal act. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Jan 6 at 21:19
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP Contracts, debts, sales and purchases were mostly made by individual parties and were more or less valid, though any government fees charged to record deeds, etc. would have been illegal. All the trials which took place in the CSA should have been declared null and retried but the victors considered that too inconvenient. $\endgroup$ – M. A. Golding Jan 7 at 20:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Monty Wild The CSA was established by delegations from states which had already illegally tried to secede from the Union. Thus the delegates had no legal authority and by accepting their assignments as if they were legally valid had already committed crimes and were already criminals before their first meeting in Montgomery, Alabama. $\endgroup$ – M. A. Golding Jan 7 at 20:13

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