In “Of Rats and Hit Men” MoDo says the criminal trial of Boston’s Irish gang is an immorality tale brimming with Judases. The Moustache of Wisdom is in Istanbul and sends us a “Postcard From Turkey.” He says the protesters in Istanbul have a message for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan: Butt out! Here’s MoDo:
It all depends how you look at it, really.
One man’s hit man is another’s humanitarian.
Johnny “The Executioner” Martorano, who turned government witness and copped to killing 20 men and women as part of Whitey Bulger’s Winter Hill Gang, explained to Whitey’s lawyer Tuesday in federal court here that he was motivated by love of family and friends.
“I didn’t enjoy killing anybody,” he said. “I enjoyed helping a friend if I could.”
If anybody insulted, implicated or roughed up his brother or a friend’s brother, if anybody looked at him funny while he was with a date, if anybody ratted on his fellow gang members, if anybody could eyewitness a crime committed by an “associate,” he grabbed a .38 or a knife, a fake beard, a walkie-talkie or a towel to keep the blood off his car, and sprang into action. And somebody usually ended up in a trunk somewhere, sometimes still groaning.
“Family and friends come first,” said the bulldog-faced enforcer, looking natty with slicked back, suspiciously black hair, a dark suit, pink-tinted wire-rim glasses and a kerchief the color of fresh blood. “The priests and the nuns I grew up with taught me that. They always talked about Judas. A Judas is the worst person in the world.”
The 72-year-old Cambridge native did not look at his former pal, the short, trim 83-year-old Bulger of South Boston, sitting military straight at the defense table, and Bulger’s ice-blue eyes did not turn toward him.
So many Judases, so little time.
Whitey sees Martorano as a Judas for making a deal with the feds and testifying against the Irish gang boss, who’s pleading not guilty to involvement in 19 murders. Martorano sees Whitey as a Judas for his years as a snitch for John “Zip” Connolly, a Boston F.B.I. agent who was a Judas to the F.B.I. because he helped Whitey steer clear of trouble. (They were from the same ZIP code.) Whitey’s younger brother, William, who rose to be a political boss in Massachusetts, was a mentor to Connolly when he was a young man.
Martorano testified on Monday that when he learned that Whitey and Stevie “The Rifleman” Flemmi were F.B.I. informants, “it sort of broke my heart.” They were his children’s godfathers, and his youngest son, James Stephen, was named for them.
In a gravelly monotone, with utter aplomb, Martorano talked about those he had taken out with a shot to the temple or heart, between the eyes or in the back of the head — plus several who were hit by mistake, including a teenage boy and girl.
In a sneering cross-examination Tuesday, Henry Brennan, a lawyer on Whitey’s defense team, referred to Martorano’s deal for a “so-called sentence” of 14 years (12 served) for 20 murders and asked the Executioner if he felt he was killing out of honor and integrity.
“I thought both,” Martorano replied.
Brennan sarcastically asked, “And that makes you a vigilante like Batman?”
“I would rather be considered as a vigilante than a serial killer,” Martorano answered, adding: “A serial murderer kills for fun. They like it. I didn’t like doing any of it. I didn’t like risking my life either. I never had any joy, never had any joy at all.”
He doesn’t consider himself a hit man either, even though the book he wrote with the Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr, which has been sold to Hollywood, is called “Hitman.”
“There was no talk about money for murder, ever,” he said primly.
On the lam in Florida from charges of horse-race fixing and racketeering, he flew to Tulsa, Okla., in 1981 to kill a stranger, Roger Wheeler, the owner of World Jai Alai, as a favor to his friend John Callahan, who had been president of World Jai Alai and who was worried that Wheeler suspected him of skimming money from jai alai frontons. (Martorano described the sport as “a game they throw a racket around, a ball around, a Spanish game, I believe.”)
He shot Wheeler in his car at a country club after he came off the golf course, and Callahan rewarded the Executioner with $50,000 for the Winter Hill pot. But it was not a quid pro kill, Martorano explained with gangsta gall: “He gave me that money in appreciation for me risking my life for him so that he wouldn’t go to jail.”
The following year, his old friends Whitey and Stevie wanted Martorano to kill his new friend Callahan and blame it on the Cubans in Miami; they were afraid Callahan, whom they considered a wannabe gangster, would fold and finger the gang for killing Wheeler. Martorano later said he “felt lousy” about having to “kill a guy who I had just killed a guy for.” It was so “distasteful,” he said, that he never murdered anyone else. (He slyly hinted on “60 Minutes” that he might make an exception for Whitey.) The lawyers did their best to make sure everyone understood the criminal argot peppering the testimony. They had Martorano explain the meaning of a boiler (a stolen car), a crash car (a car that can slow down or bump a police car), a throw-off (planting evidence to throw off the investigation to go a different direction) and even a gang.
“What was a gang?” asked the prosecutor.
“A group of guys that got together and formed a gang,” Martorano replied.
“For what purpose?” the prosecutor asked.
“Illegal purposes,” the Executioner explained.
Now here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:
Having witnessed the Egyptian uprising in Tahrir Square in Cairo in 2011, I was eager to compare it with the protests by Turkish youths here in Taksim Square in 2013. They are very different. The Egyptians wanted to oust President Hosni Mubarak. Theirs was an act of “revolution.” The Turks are engaged in an act of “revulsion.” They aren’t (yet) trying to throw out their democratically elected Islamist prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. What they’re doing is calling him out. Their message is simple: “Get out of our faces, stop choking our democracy and stop acting like such a pompous, overbearing, modern-day Sultan.”
The Turks took to the streets, initially, to protect one of Istanbul’s few green spaces, Gezi Park, from being bulldozed for an Erdogan project. They took to the streets because the prime minister — who has dominated Turkish politics for the last 11 years and still has strong support with the more religious half of Turkey — has stifled dissent. Erdogan has used tax laws and other means to intimidate the press and opponents into silence — CNN Turk, at first, refused to cover the protests, opting instead to air a show on penguins — and the formal parliamentary opposition is feckless. So in a move that has intriguing implications, Turkish youths used Twitter as their own news and communications network and Gezi Park and Taksim Square as their own parliament to become the real opposition.
In doing so, they sent a message to Erdogan: In today’s flat world, nobody gets to have one-way conversations anymore. Leaders are now in a two-way conversation with their citizens. Erdogan, who is surrounded by yes-men, got this lesson the hard way. On June 7, he declared that those who try to “lecture us” about the Taksim crackdown, “what did they do about the Wall Street incidents? Tear gas, the death of 17 people happened there. What was the reaction?” In an hour, the American Embassy in Turkey issued a statement in English and Turkish via Twitter rebutting Erdogan: “No U.S. deaths resulted from police actions in #OWS,” a reference to Occupy Wall Street. No wonder Erdogan denounced Twitter as society’s “worst menace.”
Three Turks in America responded to the events in Istanbul by starting a funding campaign on Indiegogo.com that bought a full-page ad in The New York Times supporting the protests. According to Forbes, they received donations “from 50 countries at a clip of over $2,500 per hour over its first day, crossing its $53,800 goal in about 21 hours.”
What’s sad is that Erdogan’s arrogance, autocratic impulses and, lately, use of anti-Semitic tropes, are soiling what has been an outstanding record of leadership. His Islamist party has greatly improved health care, raised incomes, built roads and bridges, improved governance and pushed the Army out of politics. But success has gone to his head. He has been lecturing, or trying to restrict, Turks on where and when they can drink alcohol, how many children each woman should have (3), the need to ban abortions, the need to ban Caesarean sections and even what docudramas they should watch. The Turkish daily Zaman on Monday published a poll showing that 54.4 percent of Turks “thought the government was interfering in their lifestyle.”
While the parents were cowed, the kids lost their fear. I walked with protesters on the streets of Istanbul on Saturday when the police, armed with fire hoses and tear gas, cleared Gezi Park. The pavement literally shook with the energy of young people telling Erdogan to back off. Or as Ilke, 30, an aerospace engineer standing next to me remarked — before we were scattered by tear gas — “They are trying to make rules about religion and to force them on everyone. Democracy is not just about what the majority wants. It’s also what the minority wants. Democracy is not just about elections.”
Erdogan (like Russia’s Vladimir Putin) confuses “being in power with having power,” argued Dov Seidman, whose company, LRN, advises C.E.O.’s on governance and who is the author of the book “How.” “There are essentially just two kinds of authority: formal authority and moral authority,” he added. “And moral authority is now so much more important than formal authority” in today’s interconnected world, “where power is shifting to individuals who can easily connect and combine their power exponentially for good or ill.”
You don’t get moral authority just from being elected or born, said Seidman: “Moral authority is something you have to continue to earn by how you behave, by how you build trust with your people. … Every time you exercise formal authority — by calling out the police — you deplete it. Every time you exercise moral authority, leading by example, treating people with respect, you strengthen it.”
Any leader who wants to lead just “by commanding power over people should think again,” he added. “In this age, the only way to effectively lead is to generate power through people,” said Seidman, because you have connected with them “in a way that earned their trust and enlisted them in a shared vision.”
Can Erdogan learn these lessons? Turkey’s near-term stability and his legacy hang on the answer.