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Protection Racket

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Now the guy's got Paulie as a partner. Any problems, he goes to Paulie. Trouble with the bill? He can go to Paulie. Trouble with the cops, deliveries, Tommy, he can call Paulie. But now the guy's gotta come up with Paulie's money every week, no matter what. Business bad? Fuck you, pay me. Oh, you had a fire? Fuck you, pay me. Place got hit by lightning, huh? Fuck you, pay me.
Henry Hill, GoodFellas
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A criminal, usually part of The Mafia or an ethnic equivalent, offers protection to the neighborhood. He will approach local small businesses and comment on their "nice things" and how they wouldn't want anything to happen to them. Most likely the person he is "protecting" them from is himself. The catch is that he will extort regular fees from the person they are "protecting", and if the character does not pay up, the criminal will make it clear who exactly they are "protecting" them from. Sometimes however Neighbourhood-Friendly Gangsters genuinely do protect the businesses from some outside threat, such as rival criminals and corrupt authorities.

A more powerful and high ranking criminal may do this to other criminals, not tolerating crime in their territory unless they get a cut of the action. A Corrupt Cop can also offer this to criminal (or even legit) buisnesses.

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In Medieval focused works, taxes from the local lord are usually portrayed in a similar manner.

Monster Protection Racket is when a character causes a threat, real or faked, so he can stop it and look like a hero. In this case however, the people running the racket are rarely interested in looking the part of the hero.

Compare Loan Shark, the other main underworld mean of extorting people. In this case the money is genuinely owed, albeit with steep interest.


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Examples:

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    Advertising 
  • Parodied in a Miller Lite commercial. Two mafioso (played by Frank Vincent and Mike Starr) walk into a regular convenience chain store and attempt to shake down the clerk, leading to a One Dialogue, Two Conversations misunderstanding.

    Anime & Manga 
  • One Piece: Arlong, a Fishman pirate took over Nami's island and forced its citizens to pay exorbitant protection fees, which he partially uses to bribe Marines into leaving him and his operations alone.
  • Tetsu Ushio from the Yu-Gi-Oh! manga and Toei anime was running an protection service from bullies for a hefty fee. He was shown forcing Yugi to pay him for protection even with Yugi refusing. Ushio soon became the first victim of Yami.

    Comic Books 
  • Dick Grayson became Robin because of this: a local mobster named Tony Zucco sabotaged his parents' act when Haly's Circus refused to pay him money.
  • The Dresden Files: One of the many money making operations John Marcone runs. Notable for actually providing effective protection, up to and including Marcone himself strapping on an automatic weapon and leading a raid on whoever hurt the person paying him.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Henry Hill from GoodFellas describes a typical mafia racket, entered into by way of a deal with a restaurant owner who was sick of having to deal with vicious gangster Tommy DeVito disrupting his business and scaring off his customers and went to the guy's boss, Paul Cicero, for help. Henry notes that Paulie will help the owner with any problem, but the help comes at a steep price, and he will accept no excuses for late payments.
  • The Public Pays is a 1930s MGM "Crime Does Not Pay" short. In this installment of the series the "Creamery Betterment Association" moves into town and starts demanding all the local dairies start paying them a penny for every bottle of milk they sell. If a dairy owner balks, the Creamy Betterment folks wreck his business, with threats of violence to his family if the owner still refuses to play ball.
  • Road House: Brad Wesley runs a protection racket on all local businesses in the guise of managing the local "business owners association". All the local cops are in his pocket and he likes to make a public display of wrecking the business of anyone who refuses to pay.
  • In Skyscraper, a Nebulous Evil Organization came to billionaire Zhao and threatened to make sure he would never be able to finish the construction of his super-scraper "the Pearl" unless he paid up. Zhao pretended to oblige but the electronic transfer of his "payment" included a Trojan horse virus that datamined the organization's financial records and gave Zhao a complete breakdown of their structure. The organization sent their personal Dragon Botha to get the original copy of the program as a result, and he set the Pearl on fire for two reasons: to force Zhao to get the copy and to demonstrate that the organization's threats weren't a bluff.
  • Venom: Shopkeeper Mrs. Chen is robbed by a man implied to be part of some sort of racket, given how regularly and brazenly he robs her. The first time, Eddie Brock shrinks away, but when Brock gains the Venom symbiote he confronts the man and bites his head off.

    Literature 
  • In Discworld the Ankh-Morpork Thieves' Guild switched from random theft to charging people theft insurance policies where they only burglarize them on a pre-determined annual date, after Lord Vetinari proposed the scheme and informed the Guild leadership that he knew where they lived.
  • In The Expanse novel Leviathan Wakes Joe Miller interviews a shopkeeper who used to pay protection money via a transparently fraudulent "insurance policy" to one of Ceres's criminal syndicates, but then they suddenly disappeared — hired by Protogen as cannon fodder on Eros. Shortly after a teenager showed up at the shop and tried extorting the same money from him, but the shopkeeper refused and informed his friends in the Outer Planets Alliance, who dealt with him.
  • In The Godfather, the alleged "Black Hand" Don Fanucci extorted payments from shopkeepers and illegal gambling in the post-World War I immigrant neighborhood of New York. Until he attempted to get a cut of the cash that Vito Corleone, Salvatore Tessio and Peter Clemenza make by stealing and fencing women's fashions, of all things. Corleone launches himself toward his destiny by dealing with Fanucci, then taking his place. The neighborhood, incidentally, is just fine with this, since Vito is not only far smarter and braver than Fanucci, he also shows himself to be a true protector of his fellow Italians.
  • I, Claudius: Amongst Piso's many crimes, he tries to pull one of these on the shopkeepers while he's governor of Syria. Those that refuse to pay are attacked by masked bandits.
  • The Taking of Pelham One Two Three: Mr. Grey was fired from the Mafia for being too violent for them. The novel then explains that Mr. Grey's excessive taste for violence got in the way of running protection rackets effectively; the victims felt no obligation to cooperate since he tended to beat them whether they paid or not.
  • Yendi. Vlad Taltos is a leader in the Jhereg (fantasy equivalent of The Mafia and the Yakuza) in charge of the criminal activities of an area of the city of Adrilankha. One of his operations is the protection racket that extracts money from merchants in his area. It provides most of his income, and when a rival crimelord starts attacking the businesses under his protection, he must take action to stay in charge.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Badger: In "Setts, Lies and Videotape", Chris and Jackie Mason), two teenage hoodlums, terrorize a council estate and run a protection racket which preys on the local traders, mocking the police when they try to intervene. But when they decide to step into the big time by running a badger bait in a wharfside warehouse, they incur McCabe's wrath.
  • In the Canadian series Bad Blood 2017 Declan Gardiner rose through the ranks of the Montreal Mafia because of his "work smarter, not harder" approach to traditional mob rackets. The old-school mobsters had problems collecting protection from immigrant store owners because the immigrants escaped war zones and tyrannical regimes and were not easily intimidated. Declan solved the problem by offering the store owners actual protection that they could not get from the city's bigoted and corrupt police force. Anyone who paid would no longer be harrassed with red tape by the city's corrupt bureaucracy and other criminal gangs were told to stay away. When a bunch of thugs almost killed an immigrant kid, Daclan personally tracked down the culprits, pistol whipped them and made sure that the kid would never again be bullied or even insulted. This brought Declan to the attention of The Don Vito Rizzuto who was running a big scale version of the same scheme on the city's construction industry and other criminal gangs. If you wanted to build a new apartment building or a mall, you paid Vito a "consulting fee" and he would make sure that you had no problems with inspectors or the unions. If you wanted to deal illegal drugs, you gave Vito a cut and he would make sure that the police stayed away and the other gangs did not infringe on your territory. The central conflict of the first season is started when Vito's son Nico decides to renege on the arrangement and turn it back into a straight up extortion racket.
  • Burn Notice:
    • "Broken Rules": A gang is shaking down businesses in a neighborhood in Little Havana. The shopkeeper who hires Michael to deal with them says that "at first they said it was for 'protection'. Now they don't even bother to lie". The gang turns out to be run by a businesswoman who is trying to drive out the residents so she can cheaply buy up the real estate.
    • "Friendly Fire": Team Westen tracks a fugitive who is hosted by a gang that is running a protection racket against another gang. The smaller gang robs baby formula and the like from warehouses to deliver to impoverished residents at a discount, whereas the bigger gang is pushing them to steal prescription drugs for black market sale.
  • Daredevil (2015): Wilson Fisk spends season 3 plotting to make himself a one-stop shop for bribery and protection. He becomes an FBI informant and blackmails his handlers to get them under his thumb, and uses the fact that he sold out the Albanians as a means of scaring gangs into paying him a protection tax, lest they want to risk him also selling them out. In episode 9, he has his FBI handlers round up a bunch of powerful crime bosses, to whom he pitches his offer of protection and demands a 20% cut of their individual profits as tribute. One of the crime bosses, Everett Starr, balks at the payment, prompting Dex to kill him with a baton. This scares the remaining four bosses into quickly agreeing to Fisk's terms.
    Wilson Fisk: The tax is now 25%.
  • Parodied several times in Monty Python's Flying Circus:
    • In one sketch, two members of Cockney Mafiosi approach the colonel in command of a British Army base played by Graham Chapman. One of them says "You've got a nice army base here, colonel. We wouldn't want anything to happen to it." They further imply that the base's equipment could get broken and its personnel set on fire if the Army doesn't pay them off. They then ask for a ludicrously small payment.
    • Doug and Dinsdale Piranha's careers got off to an inauspicious start when they began to operate what they called "The Operation," under whose terms their selected victim would be beaten up if he paid them the protection money. Four months later, they abandoned this operation in favor of "The Other Operation," in which they would threaten not to beat their victim up if he didn't pay them. This operation was likewise unsuccessful, but "The Other Other Operation," in which they threatened to beat up victims who didn't pay, was the turning point.
  • Police Squad! parodied this in the episode "Rendezvous at Big Gulch (Terror in the Neighborhood)". When mobsters beat up a ballet teacher for missing a protection payment, it falls to the men of Police Squad to break up the racket. Detectives Drebin and Nordberg go undercover, posing as locksmiths to attract the mobsters to their business. The mobsters soon arrive, and Drebin refuses to pay, so the mobsters try to intimidate him by perforating the shopfront with machine guns... and then throwing a single rock through the window. Naturally, Drebin fixates on the rock and doesn't even notice the numerous bullet holes. Meanwhile, Nordberg keeps focusing on ways to improve revenue at the shop, apparently forgetting why he went undercover in the first place.
  • The Sopranos: Played with in the final season. One of the family's minor protected businesses folds and is replaced with a Brand X Starbucks. Two of Tony's lieutenants go in to try this routine on the new manager. He immediately recognizes what they are doing, but in an almost sympathetic tone he points out the store's workforce isn't unionized and the company is a billion dollar multinational with complete insurance. What's more, every single bean is in the computer, so if he started skimming for the mob he'd be fired immediately and they'd have to start over. The two mobsters leave, complaining about the state of modern business.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series: Played for laughs and satire in "A Piece of the Action", as the entire planet is Mafia run with gang territories being more or less their own nations, protection rackets have effectively evolved into the equivalent of taxation. At one point several local citizens complain to a lieutenant, demanding to know when The Don is going to send someone to fix the broken streetlamps, arguing that their always on time with their payments with the lieutenant half-heartedly trying to reassure them that if they put their complaints in writing someone will look into it.
  • Steptoe and Son: In a tribute/parody of The Seven Samurai one episode features Albert and Harold facing a local gang boss, trying to set up an "insurance agency" in their area, with him having his two goons smash to pieces a massive vase they just acquired to underline his offer. For added points, he goes as far as having it registered as an official insurance agency, to make it harder to pin anything on him for taking the people's money.
  • Yancy Derringer: In "Mayhem at the Market, merchants are in such fear for their lives that Yancy gets no cooperation in his attempt to break a new protection racket.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Blades in the Dark, protection racket is one of the claims (sources of income) available to the Bravos crew type.
  • Dungeons & Dragons: In the Forgotten Realms setting priests of the ocean goddess Umberlee often exploit their goddess' reputation for causing storms and drowning people on a whim to run protection rackets over harbors and shipping companies, charging ship captains a fee in exchange for travelling with their ship or mentioning it in their prayers so that it will be spared from Umberlee's destructive wrath.
  • In Warhammer, Former Imperial Ambassador to Couronne Matthias von Pfeildorf compares Bretonnia's political system to this trope:
We have political systems like this in the Empire. We call them 'protection rackets'

    Video Games 
  • Neverwinter Nights 2:
    • One of your first missions after arriving in Neverwinter involves a stubborn shopkeeper who is being threatened by the local Thieves' Guild to join a protection scheme. You can either join the guild and "persuade" the shop keeper that paying the guild is in his best interests, or join the City Watch and kill the thugs who come to shake him down.
    • A later quest involves an eccentric market stall owner who's actually overjoyed that thugs are trying to coerce her into paying their protection fee, seeing it as a sign of her successful her business has become.
  • The Godfather: You unsurprisingly spend the bulk of your time taking these over from other Families on behalf of the Corleones. The "protection" aspect is played straight: extortable businesses are guarded by Mooks from appropriate Families, and more lucrative businesses tend to have more powerful guards. Convincing the shopkeeper to pay you, however, is pure Shame If Something Happened.
  • One of your missions for the Mafia in Grand Theft Auto III has you chauffeuring a mafioso as he makes his rounds on a protection racket. At one point he goes into one business that hasn't paid with a baseball bat while we don't get to see what happens, but what we hear isn't pleasant.
  • Honkai Impact 3rd: around 500 years before the present, the Schicksal Organization lost a lot of their members and resources in their crusades against the Honkai threats. They had to resort to extorting money from the closest people (in Europe) at the time to cover their loss, under the pretense of "buying 'indulgences' as a means to pay for their 'original sins' for those who didn't go to the war".
  • In Republic: The Revolution, the Racketeering action (available only to functionaries of the Criminal "profession") lets you set up a protection racket, albeit targeting not the regular folks, but other racketeers with the end goal of your functionary becoming the top dog of the district's criminal underworld and controlling it from the shadows.

    Web Original 
  • The Heaven Cycle: King of hell Azazel offers random cities to renegade demon Naberius to destroy and to turn their inhabitants into his twisted art projects, so Naberius does not prey on Azazel and his fellow demons.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • In the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode, "Zuko Alone", a group of Earth Kingdom soldiers does this to the small Earth Nation village they are supposed to be protecting, threatening violent consequences if they aren't paid. The group is much less organized than most examples, but it works because almost anyone who could fight back against them is off fighting in the war.
    • The Legend of Korra: The Establishing Character Moment of the Triple-Threat Triad is a few members of the Triad walking up to a shopkeeper and asking for protection money: either the man will pay or they will use their Bending abilities to wreck the establishment.
  • Ben 10: Omniverse: The first episode shows an alien gangsters from Undertown implementing one on various shopkeepers, which Ben attempts to investigate. Either the gangsters get their money, or they wreck the entire establishment.

    Real Life 
  • Meyer Lansky first met Lucky Luciano when the latter attempted to racket the former for a small gambling operation.

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