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may take place by any feasible means, so long as it becomes apparent that the former constitutional government is no longer in effect.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
    Commented Jan 6, 2019 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
    Commented Jan 6, 2019 at 15:15
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ You may want to look up political machine, especially Tammany Hall (New York) and Cook County Democratic Party (Chicago). $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Jan 6, 2019 at 18:27
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Arguably this has already happened... $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 9, 2019 at 17:07
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ any sufficiently advanced organised crime gang is indistinguishable from government $\endgroup$
    – Kepotx
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 12:31

7 Answers 7


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.


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.

  • $\begingroup$ 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
    Commented Jan 6, 2019 at 10:46
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ 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
    Commented Jan 6, 2019 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. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 6, 2019 at 22:38

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 syndicate led by "Killer" Kane.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ "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
    Commented Jan 6, 2019 at 18:20
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ 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
    Commented Jan 6, 2019 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. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 7, 2019 at 20:08
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @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. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 7, 2019 at 20:13
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ By the same (lack of) logic, the United States was and is a criminal organization because it illegally revolted against the authority of Britain. The CSA was merely following that precedent (and AFAIK there was no actual law against secession: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secession_in_the_United_States ). If there were crimes involved, they were arguably commited by Lincoln and his followers, who were willing to kill around 2/3 of a million Americans in order to cling to power. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Aug 31, 2019 at 3:41

Very easily

On a long enough timeline, what you describe is inevitable.

  • Precondition: the political system is not adequately protected against corruption

Safeguards against corruption come in many forms. Indeed, a society must institute multiple overlapping safeguards if it is to have any hope of avoiding rule by organized crime.

One reason countries don't do this is because politicians benefit directly from many kinds of corruption1, and countries generally depend on those same politicians to write the rules that would keep them honest. Unsurprisingly, these politicians "fail" to write and enforce rules that would take away their own opportunities for personal enrichment.

1 Political corruption benefits individual politicians until the corruption is so widespread that the people doing the corrupting acquire control over significant parts of the economy or government. From that point forward, political corruption stops being an opportunity for gain, becoming instead a skill that is necessary simply to avoid poverty, imprisonment, or death.

  • Assumption: criminals become wealthy

One of the primary reasons people commit crimes is precisely to gain wealth they might not gain otherwise. Nobody cheats to get into last place. This is not to say that most criminals become rich -- they don't. Rather, crime is appealing as an alternative path to success, a path which becomes more appealing when there are few legal paths to success, such as when legal paths have been deliberately closed by people who are already wealthy.

  • Assumption: economic power translates into political power

If you have or control enough wealth, you can use that wealth to manipulate the political system. This is light-years beyond simple bribery, which is usually cartoonishly depicted as a criminal secretly giving a politician a sack full of cash.

Here's an example: you are the CEO of a giant company, and you learn that some lawmakers are going to create a new law that would interfere with some of your favorite money-making schemes. So, you identify a couple lawmakers who are trying to make that happen, and you let them know that if they do this, you will relocate some of your businesses out of their districts, which will lead to an economic downturn in that area, which residents will blame the lawmaker for (and you can help make sure they do assign that blame). This is not a bribe, it's a threat. And there are a million ways to deliver that threat which prevent it being exposed as extortion.

Things are made infinitely worse when having lots of money becomes a prerequisite for becoming a lawmaker in the first place, as is the case in every country that allows political campaigns to raise and spend as much money as they like to win election.

If those conditions persist long enough, you'll reach a point where a significant amount of economic power is in the hands of people who have decided that government is merely an impediment to them being even richer, an impediment they want to remove.

These people will have something in common with organized crime: they want to see government smaller and weaker so it can't interfere with their private plans of getting rich(er).

The rich folks will pursue a few different strategies simultaneously:

  • they will try to convince non-rich people to dislike and distrust government
  • they will try to invent some kind of theory or political philosophy that justifies making government weak
    • without eliminating property rights, since acquiring personal property is their entire goal
    • while strengthening contract law, since contracts are one of the primary tools used by rich people to acquire manpower (from the non-rich) for their activities
  • they will cultivate like-minded people with the goal of inserting them into government, because government is after all just made up of people and rules, and if those people are all working in concert to help you get rich and stay rich, then you'll find that government no longer interferes with your hoarding of wealth ("people are policy," as the saying goes)

The rich people who are not criminals will be working to weaken government because a weak government will be unable to punish them for "victimless" crimes like tax evasion and predatory business practices.

The organized-crime types will welcome this because it takes a lot of resources to detect and prosecute organized crime syndicates that are competent, and a weak government won't be able to do that.

Eventually the only people with economic or political power will be law-abiding rich people and rich organized crime figures. This is when the organized crime figures can take advantage of the fact that law-abiding rich people have been relying on stuff like social norms and laws to protect them from people who want what they have -- but that stuff only has power if the people in the situation choose to adhere to it. So the organized crime figures will then use force to seize their fortunes.

Finally: one enormous benefit of taking over the government is that this allows you to change the laws so that your previous crimes can't be punished and the crimes you're planning to commit in the future are no longer considered crimes. An especially audacious criminal might even pardon himself while in office for high crimes he committed in that office in an attempt to keep the office.


See also: Michels' "iron law of oligarchy".


What your describing dose exist in Mexico today. For it to happen in the usa just recreate the conditions in Mexico.

  1. USA is impoverished.

  2. A close Neighbor becomes wealthy.

  3. A valuable resource that can be found in American is made illegal by said neighbor.

  4. Criminals in America begin Marketing this illegal product to its neighbor.

Once that in place you just give it enough time for your cartel to get enough of money to Essentially become a criminal version of Macdonald. Then they can begin controlling the government the same way modern corporations do only even more so since they have guns And the ethics or lack thereof to use them.


Some political scientists consider the modern United States of America to be a civil oligarchy under the control of various corporations and corporate powers. A group of criminal organizations could take over the United States in a similar fashion by bribing and controlling society in a manner similar to these corporations in real-life.Heck, plenty of organized criminals defend their criminal behavior with a front organization with businesses that seem legitimate acting as the legal face of the criminal organization. Thus, you can have a similar civil oligarchy with a bunch of criminal organizations using front corporations or corporations they have infiltrated as go-betweens to influence the politics of the whole United States (or at least a single state where corruption and anti-bribery laws are pretty weak).


Last year if Trump had succeded in invalidating the elections and taking over the capitol is a great example. And it was not far, he had apointed the proper judges during is mandate.

In fact I would presume that the current world leading figures are all a big criminal organization. They are super rich and get richer every day, they have legal inmunity against most charges and if they ever go to trial they have to face judges who where apointed by the government.

Do anyone think that what happend to Julian Assange was legal? or was it just a big organization (with the power to define what criminal is) bulling someone who has wronged them?

Edit: I've been pointed out that I am undermining my argument by saying "all world leaders are criminals". Its hard to make a list as I know mostly about my country, and I dont want to make too long of an oftopic with my answer, but. In spain the right party has been involved in several corruption cases uncovered by the partys accountant but as they can only be judged by judges apointed by them noone has ever been found gilty (exept said accountant). There was also a fire in the place where evidence was and alarm missfunctioned. There was a a case of suicidal with a hunting shotgun, some other ivolved fell twice down the stairs, another one died of the flue in a travel abroad so no autopsy could be aplied. All atourneys that would prosecute the case where removed from the case... and so one. I guess that Berluskony in Italy, plenty of South america countries, Puttin in Russia, Comunist pary in china and a long etc. I amb not that much into politics, but its ptitty obvious.

The whole point of a criminal organization ruling a country is that they will never be found guilty.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ As it is the 2nd and 3rd paragraph of your answer hides pretty much a deep rant against specific people groups. You can have these kind of opinions, of course! But they doesn't help very much in giving your answer a strong foundation to build your argumentation on. Can you provide more factual hints and write in a more neutral tone to overwrite the feeling it currently gives? $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 28, 2022 at 16:26

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