1931: Severino Di Giovanni, anarchist

1 comment February 1st, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1931, Italian anarchist Severino di Giovanni was shot in Buenos Aires for a terroristic bombing campaign.

Having just cracked his twenties, the young Abruzzo native fled to Argentina with the rise of Benito Mussolini.

Argentina was a popular destination for Italian emigrants, so Giovanni landed right in a yeasty community of emigre anarchists. And Argentine anarchists, for that matter: anarchism burgeoned in early 20th century Buenos Aires.

Giovanni was among the most active — and most vocal. He founded his own paper, Culmine, to advocate his brand of propaganda of the deed.

Its pages summoned comrades to arms in support of those worldwide icons condemned in Massachusetts, Sacco and Vanzetti.

Iconoclasts! Rebels against all oppression and injustice! Young temperaments uncowed by all the storms of life, the time has come when we must COOPERATE with all our powers in order to save the lives of Sacco and Vanzetti, and the revolutionary dignity which moves us. Let us light the fuse on the dynamite of vengeance! Let us destroy the obscene caste of slavers and let us commit ourselves to the most desperate struggle for the complete liberty of the two inmates of the jail at Charlestown!”

And Giovanni wasn’t just messing around.

Though little-known to present day Anglophones, Severino Di Giovanni was one of the most energetically committed anarchist terrorists in history, and a giant (and controversial, among his comrades) on the Argentine anarchist scene.

Further to Sacco and Vanzetti’s cause, Giovanni bombed the U.S. embassy in Buenos Aires (withstanding police torture upon his subsequent arrest), a George Washington statue, a Ford Motor Company concession, a tobacco firm attempting to commercialize the Sacco and Vanzetti name, and U.S. banks as part of his campaign. After Sacco and Vanzetti’s execution, Giovanni attempted to orchestrate a strike on the American President-elect Herbert Hoover during his state visit to the southern cone.

The Braintree martyrs were far from Giovanni’s sole concern, however; late in the 1920s his circle authored a number of bombing attacks on various targets of reactionary violence and bourgeois complacency, including the Italian embassy, locally-based fascists, and possibly even the editor of one of the rival anarchist journals that opposed his dynamite-oriented politics.

Spending monotonous hours among the common people, the resigned ones, the collaborators, the conformists; that isn’t living, that’s a vegetative existence, simply the transport, in ambulatory form, of a mass of flesh and bones. Life needs the exquisite sublimity experienced by rebellion of mind and arm.

Haters gonna hate, and collaborators gonna collabor-ate.

The anarchists who’d been complaining that Giovanni’s bomb-chucking would only make a right-wing coup more likely must have been in full I-told-you-so mode when a right-wing coup happened in 1930. Weeks later, Giovanni was finally taken in a firefight, along with his comrade Paulino Scarfo.

In a drumhead military tribunal, their lawyer was so impolitic in his advocacy that he himself was arrested after the sham proceedings, and eventually deported.

Giovanni met his firing squad fusillade with an energetic “Evviva l’Anarchia!” Scarfo shared his fate a few hours later.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Argentina,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Murder,Revolutionaries,Shot,Terrorists

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1928: Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray

10 comments January 12th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1928, a suburban femme fatale and the corset salesman who had murdered her husband were electrocuted at Sing Sing prison.

“A cheap crime involving cheap people,” one writer called it.

“Ruthless Ruth,” as the press inevitably called her, was on the wrong side of 30 and married to a wet blanket on the wrong side of 40 from whom she couldn’t even get away during the day because they worked for the same boating magazine.

The banal hell of the bourgeoisie.

Ruth had a banal solution: commence affair with handsome, limp-willed corset salesman (also married) from New Jersey.

Given a large enough metropolis with a large enough pool of adulterous data points, it must be statistically inexorable that a certain proportion will resolve the love triangle by throttling the cuckold with a wire.

But only that remorseless calculator in the sky can compute why these two, of all those thousands, were the ones not to run off together, or let the affair fizzle, or just continue to rendezvous indefinitely into the future. They certainly weren’t constitutionally cut out for crime; they set up the room in a poor simulacrum of a robbery, and told of a couple of unknown Italians* who’d broke in and done poor Albert Snyder to death.

For their poor judgment and for the speedy collapse of their crummy alibi, journalism owes them a debt of gratitude.

The execution of a woman was quite sensational; Ruth Snyder was to be the first electrocuted since 1899.

For the occasion, The New York Daily News hired a Chicago Tribune journalist to witness the execution … and at the moment the current struck, Tom Howard hoisted his pant leg and secretly snapped with a one-use camera one of the most indelible images the death chamber offered the 20th century, to be splashed in a few hours’ time on the Daily News‘ cover under the headline

DEAD!

The Snyder-Gray adulterous melodrama and its violent conclusion inspired novelist James Cain‘s Double Indemnity, and the noir film of the same title with Barbara Stanwyck as the black widow at the center of the web.

It also inspired the state of New York to begin searching official witnesses to its electrocutions.

* Blame-the-Italians here is a Roaring Twenties Queens version of fingering the black man. The murder was committed in May 1927, just as the Sacco and Vanzetti case was approaching its climax.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,Murder,New York,Popular Culture,Ripped from the Headlines,Sex,USA,Women

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