It has been a wild June for the city of Boston. Two events have transpired in rapid succession, one that turned the city upside down, and another that threatens to turn it – along with the FBI and the Department of Justice – inside out.
On Wednesday the 15th, the entire city leaned in to their television screens in a collective act of concentration, hoping to will the Boston Bruins to victory in the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Finals. They were not disappointed; one goal in the first period and two more in the second put the game firmly in Boston's hands, and when Brad Marchand flicked in an empty-netter with less than three minutes to go, the entire city detonated in an explosion of joy and relief. For the first time since Richard Nixon's first term as president, the Boston Bruins hoisted the Stanley Cup, and another championship banner would be raised to the rafters.
The following Saturday, the team and the trophy paraded through the city before a crowd whose size rivaled the fabled Red Sox parade of 2004. It was simply magnificent, and the buzz has yet to subside; even now, one cannot swing one's dead cat by the tail without striking someone dressed in black and gold. For the city, it was the seventh championship in nine years, an utterly absurd run of luck that is unprecedented in professional sports, and if you don't think the people of Boston are going to brag about it until the sun burns out, well, you don't know this town very well.
The Bruins victory was a shot to the heart. What followed several days later, by comparison, was a punch in the gut. After a decades-long reign of terror and sixteen years on the lamb, Boston's number one crime boss was finally under lock and key. James “Whitey” Bulger was caught hiding in plain sight in the Princess Eugenia apartment complex in Santa Monica, California, with thirty guns and $800,000 in his possession. Also apprehended was Catherine Grieg, Bulger's long-time girlfriend, who had been on the run with him since fleeing Boston ahead of an indictment on a number of charges.
Whitey Bulger is as much a part of Boston lore as Crispus Attucks, Paul Revere and the molasses flood, but his story is slathered in corruption, blood and murder. As the head of the fearsome Winter Hill Gang, Bulger ran a crime syndicate that dabbled in everything from racketeering to gambling, drug dealing and murder. Bulger himself was alleged to have nineteen murders to his name when he disappeared sixteen years ago, and even during that absence, his shadow still hung over the city. The stoutly Irish neighborhood of South Boston – called “Southie” around these parts – was his own private game preserve, and while he cultivated a Robin Hood reputation that earned the respect and protection of Southie's residents, he was selling drugs to their children and murdering anyone who looked at him sideways.
Over the years Bulger ran the Irish mob in Boston, law enforcement officials marveled at his ability to evade arrest and conviction. Everyone knew what he was up to, but no one was ever able to put the arm on him, a fact that only endeared him to the people of Southie, who loved watching Whitey stick his thumb in the eye of the law with impunity. Police believed the residents of Southie protected him and covered for him, and many whispered into their sleeves that his brother – then-Senate president William Bulger – used the power of his office to keep him safe. While these theories were absolutely true to one degree or another – the people of Southie largely loved Whitey, and William Bulger was once quoted as saying he would never help authorities apprehend his criminal brother – the facts behind Whitey's seeming invincibility were far more squalid and corrupt than anyone could have imagined.
For you see, Whitey had an ace in the hole.
FBI Special Agent John Connolly had grown up in Southie, and had hero-worshipped Whitey Bulger ever since he was a kid. Upon being posted to the Boston office, Connolly convinced Whitey to become a secret FBI informant. The arrangement, he argued, would benefit them both: Whitey would inform on the Patriarca crime family, which operated out of the city's Italian-dominated North End, allowing the FBI to take down his competition. Connolly and the FBI, with Whitey's help, would earn many feathers for their cap by dismantling the North End crime operation. Everybody wins.
Whitey was true to his word, and helped Connolly and the FBI destroy the Italian Mafia in Boston. In the process, however, Whitey managed to co-opt Connolly and other agents in the Boston office with bribes, dinners and lavish gifts. Before long, Whitey was running the Boston FBI instead of the other way around, and very rapidly, the city was his for the taking. Connolly would warn him when state or local officials were getting too close, he would redirect federal investigations away from Bulger, and in doing so, he gave Whitey all the cover he needed. Bulger murdered, racketeered and dealt drugs utterly free from worry, until at last, the hammer came down.
Investigations into Bulger's criminal activities were finally being done behind the FBI's back, because law enforcement officials had come to realize something was terribly wrong in the Boston office. Eventually, indictments were returned against Bulger for a whole constellation of crimes, and John Connolly got wind of it. His last act of loyalty to Bulger, the man who had turned the Boston FBI into an accomplice to murder and theft, was to warn Whitey to blow town, and Whitey did just that. He was not seen or heard from again until a few days after the Bruins hoisted the Cup, and at long last, James “Whitey” Bulger finally stood before a judge to begin the process of answering for his crimes.
In the late 1990's, when the Boston Globe finally broke the story of corruption that had infested the Boston office of the FBI, when the truth of just how much of a scumbag Whitey Bulger really was, that behind his Robin Hood façade lurked a drug-peddling murderer, and that men like John Connolly had been protecting him for years for his own personal gain, the city shuddered and turned inward on itself. To this day, a lot of people in Boston believe there is much more to the story than that which is already known, and nobody here wants the FBI involved in dealing with Bulger, lest they try to sweep other corrupt officials quietly under the rug. It is a safe bet that, at this moment, there are present and former members of the FBI, and the Department of Justice, who are developing terror-induced ulcers thinking about what Whitey Bulger might be saying into microphones and the ears of court stenographers, now that he is finally in the tank where he belongs.
The story of Whitey Bulger is a Boston story, right down to the roots, but it is also an American story, one that has been repeated ad nauseam through the years. Criminal acts are committed, nests are feathered, and the occasional body thumps into the bottom of an unmarked grave. Instead of justice, however, there are backroom deals, payoffs, and cover-ups. It is the story of Congress, of the courts, of corporate America, of a political and legal system that has been utterly corrupted by those with no honor or decency, who are motivated by greed and a lust for power, and who operate beyond the reach of the law because they are protected, coddled, and insulated from justice.
Compared to the criminals and confidence men who rule this country, Boston's Whitey is less than a cipher. He killed nineteen people, while the powers-that-be can lay claim to corpses beyond numbering. Whitey ripped off drug dealers, while the powers-that-be rip off every single breathing person in the land. Whitey is is jail, while the powers-that-be who outstrip his bloodthirstiness by orders of magnitude walk around free and easy. Whitey's version of “organized crime” is a child's game compared to what these people do, day after day, without any fear of ever being brought to justice.
But in the end, Whitey Bulger is a metaphor for all that ails America today, and it will not be changed unless we the people change it. More than a million people took to the streets here to celebrate the Bruins. Imagine what might happen if crowds of that same magnitude took to the streets of Washington, New York, of every major city in this country, to demand that the Whitey Bulgers who are the real power in America be brought, at last, to true justice, and that the John Connollys who protect and enrich them are chased from their cozy positions and run out of town on a rail.
Now that would be cause for a parade.