A vigilante is a person who ignores
due process of lawand enacts their own form of justicein response to a perception of insufficient response by the authorities. Several groups and individuals have been labeled as vigilantes by various historians and media. Vigilantes have been central to several creative fictional works and are often depicted as being heroes and retaliatory against wrongdoers.
The term "vigilante" is Spanish and Portuguese for "watchman" or "watcher," [cite web |url=http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=Vigilante|title="Vigilante" etymology |accessdate=2008-09-03|last=Harper |first=Douglas |work= |publisher=
Online Etymology Dictionary|month=November | year=2001] ultimately from Latin "vigilantem"- the present participle of "vigilare" (to watch). Its etymology is closely related to (though its meaning very different from) that of the term "vigilance". Note that the term "vigilantism" is a derivative of "vigilante", not of "vigilant" or "vigilance". The term "vigilante" was introduced into English from the northeast United States. Vigilantism is generally frowned upon by official agencies (who would otherwise encourage vigilance on the part of citizens), especially when it gives way to criminal behavioron the part of the vigilante.Often seen in rapidly growing western towns, citizens sometimes choose vigilantism, capturing suspected criminals and punishing them without a trial.
impetusof vigilant behavior must exist to facilitate a subjective definition of vigilantism.
"Vigilante justice" is sometimes spurred on by the perception that
criminal punishmentis "insufficient" or "nonexistent" to the crime. Some people see their governments as "ineffective in enforcing" the law; thus, such individuals fulfill the like-minded wishes of the community. In other instances, a person may choose a role of vigilante as a result of personal experienceas opposed to a social demand. Most significantly, some vigilantes specifically target authoritarian entities such as government. Persons seen as "escaping from the law" or "above the law" are sometimes the targets of vigilantism. [cite web|url=http://www.csvr.org.za/papers/papvtp1.htm|title="As for Violent Crime that's our Daily Bread": Vigilante violence during South Africa's period of transition|first=Bronwyn|last=Harris|month=May | year=2001] It may target persons or organizations involved in illegal activities in general or it may be aimed against a specific group or type of activity, e.g. police corruption. Other times, governmental corruption is the prime target of vigilante freedom fighters.
Vigilante behavior may differ in degree of violence. In some cases vigilantes may assault targets verbally, terrorize victims, perform inhumane acts, or may exhibit no violence at all, choosing other means of pressuring the target. Anyone who defies government and institution to further justice can be considered a vigilante, and thus violence is not a necessary criterion.
Vigilantism and the vigilante ethos existed long before the word "vigilante" was introduced into the English language. There are conceptual and psychological parallels between the
Dark Ageand medieval aristocraticcustom of private waror vendettaand the modern vigilante philosophy. Recourse to personal vengeance and duellingwas considered a class privilege of the sword-bearing aristocracy before the formation of the modern centralized liberal-bureaucratic nation-state (see Marc Bloch, trans. L. A. Manyon, "Feudal Society", Vol. I, 1965, p. 127). In addition, sociologists have also posited a close and complex relationship between vigilantism and the phenomena of tyrannicideand rebellion.
In the Western literary and cultural tradition, characteristics of "vigilantism" have often been noted in folkloric heroes and legendary
outlaws(e.g., Robin Hood[cite web|url=http://books.google.com/books?id=X6OZHSrJCRAC&pg=PA316&lpg=PA316&dq=%22robin+hood%22+vigilantism&source=web&ots=NcKSZQr7cU&sig=_I4QU9r_FedDq-F1_UGGkp-YXdw#PPA316,M1|title=A Great Effusion of Blood?: Interpreting Medieval Violence|author=Mark D. Meyerson, Daniel Thiery|date=2004-11-01] ). Vigilantism in literature, folklore and legend is deeply connected to the fundamental issues of morality, the nature of justice, the limits of bureaucratic authority and the ethical function of legitimate governance.
During medieval times, punishment of felons was sometimes exercised by such
secret societiesas the courts of the Vehm(cf. the medieval Sicilian Vendicatoriand the Beati Paoli), a type of early vigilante organization, which became extremely powerful in Westphalian Germany during the 15th century.
Formally-defined vigilantism arose in the early American
colonies. In these instances, the line between "taking the law into one's own hands," and rebellionor tyrannicide(to destroy an abusive corruption of a legitimate government and vindicate moral ends) was not clear.
*Established the mid-18th century, for instance, the
Regulator movementof American colonial times was composed of citizen volunteers of the frontierwho opposed official misconductand extrajudicially punished banditry.
Later in America, vigilante groups established themselves in poorly governed
frontierareas where criminals preyed upon the citizenry with impunity. [cite web
title=Malachi Fallon First Chief of Police
*In the 1850s, the
San Francisco Vigilance Movementwas an example of secretive groups of vigilantes who cleaned up city streets of crime with a segment focused against immigrants.cite web
title=VIGILANTISM REVISITED: AN ECONOMIC ANALYSIS OF THE LAW OF EXTRA-JUDICIAL SELF-HELP OR WHY CAN’T DICK SHOOT HENRY FOR STEALING JANE’S TRUCK?
*In the aftermath of the Civil War and the South's defeat,
vigilantesecret societies, such as the Ku Klux Klan, which hid behind masks and robes, and the Knights of the White Camellia, emerged, using violence and intimidation to continue an insurgent war, enforce white supremacy against blacks, and to intimidate white Republicans and Freedmen's Bureau agents. With state and Federal enforcement, violent activity from these groups began to taper off until dissolution in 1871.
* In 1868 between 60 and 70 vigilantes broke into the
New Albany, Indianajail and lynchedthree Reno Brothers.
*Active in 1883–1889, the
Bald Knobbers(or Baldknobbers) were masked men who retaliated against invading marauders and drove out outlawsin Taney County.
*In the 1920s, the
Big Sword Societyof Chinaprotected life and property in a state of anarchy.
*Formed in 1977, the
Sea Shepherd Conservation Societyhas been increasingly active against whaling and fishing vessels which they see as violating international laws, regulations and treaties, particularly where whaling is concerned. It endorses an active policy of scuttling fishing and whaling vessels while in harbor, and ramming and sinking vessels engaged in the killing of whales. A tally on the side of the Sea Shepherd vessel RV Farley Mowatdisplays the ten whaling vessels (referred to as "Pirates" by the society) sent to the bottom by Sea Shepherds::1979 – the whaler Sierra rammed and sunk in Portugal; :1980 – the whalers Isba I and Isba II sunk in Vigo, Spain; :1980 – the whalers Susan and Theresa sunk in South Africa; :1981 – the whaling ships Hvalur 6 and Hvalur 7 sunk in Iceland; :1992 – the whaler Nybraena sunk in Norway; :1994 – the whaler Senet sunk in Norway; :1998 – the whaler Morild sunk in Norway.
*Founded in 1979 in
New York City, the Guardian Angelsis a recognized crime fighting organization that now has chapters in many other cities. It has sometimes been incorrectly called a vigilante organization. Safety Patrol members are instructed to call police, are trained in basic first aid, CPR, law, conflict resolution, communication, and basic martial arts, and are prohibited from carrying weapons.
*Recognized since the 1980s,
Sombra Negraor "Black Shadow" of El Salvadoris a group of mostly retired police officers and military personnel whose sole duty is to cleanse the country of "impure" social elements. Along with several other organizations, Sombra Negra are a remnant of the death squadsfrom the civil war of the 1970s and 1980s. [cite web
title=RIGHTS-EL SALVADOR: Death Squads Still Operating
Inter Press Service]
*In 1981, a resident of the rural town
Skidmore, Missourifatally shot town bully Ken McElroyin broad daylight after years of crimes without any punishment. Forty five people witnessed the shooting, but everybody kept quiet when it came time to identify the shooter.
Bernhard Goetzentered a subway trainin New Yorkand was surrounded by a group. He shot all four, fled the scene, and was called "the subway vigilante" by some media.
*Formed since 1996, the
People Against Gangsterism and Drugsof Cape Town, South Africafights drugs and gangsterism in their region. They have been linked to terrorism since they bombed some American targets in Cape Town.
*Formed since 1998, the
Bakassi Boysof Nigeriawere viewed as the frontmen in lowering the region's high crime when police were ineffective.
*Formed in 1996, Mapogo a Mathamaga of South Africa provides protection for paying members of this group. Leaders have been charged with murder, etc.
21st century (present day)
*Formed since 2000,
Ranch Rescueis a still functioning organization in the southwest United States ranchers call upon to forcibly remove illegal aliens and squatters off their property.
*In the early decade of 2000, after the September 11 attacks,
Jonathan Idema, a self-proclaimed vigilante, entered Afghanistanand captured many people he claimed to be terrorists. Idema claimed he was collaborating with, and supported by, the United States Government. He even sold news-media outlets tapes that he claimed showed an Al Qaedatraining camp in action. His operations ended abruptly when he was arrested with his partners in 2004 and sentenced to 10 years in a notorious Afghan prison, before being pardoned in 2007.
*Operated since 2002,
perverted-justice.comopponents have accused the website of being modern day cyber vigilantes.
*In Hampshire, England, during 2006, a vigilante slashed the tires of more than twenty cars, leaving a note made from cut-out newsprint stating "Warning: you have been seen while using your mobile phone". Driving whilst using a mobile is a criminal offence in the UK, but the law is little observed or enforced. [BBC news website: [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/hampshire/4791439.stm] ]
Northern Ireland, vigilantism has been observed against drug dealers and pedophiles. In one such case, a known pedophile had been released from prison early, kidnapped by a group of men dressed in black clothing and balaclavas, much like the Provisional Irish Republican Armyor Ulster Volunteer Force. He was stabbed twice, then put in the back of a Ford Transitvan where four Bull Mastiffdogs were waiting for him. He was then driven around Belfastand Derryfor two hours. After the dogs mauled him, he was dumped in the verges of a dual carriageway. He survived.
*In 2007, religious vigilantes in the southern
Iraqi city of Basrain warning against "violating Islamic teachings" killed at least 40 women not wearing traditional dress and head scarves. [Vigilantes Kill 40 Women in Iraq's South [http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5hZnCkP0LBfeyJAVTm6fjlcmGOiUwD8TE7EI80] ]
*The internet-based group Anonymous has brought down websites of the
Church of Scientologyin response to their attempts at Internet censorship, a form of Internet vigilantism.
The Minuteman Project, a group created to deter illegal aliens and drug smugglers from entering the United States, was criticized for making citizen arrests.
Works of fiction
Hollywoodvigilante had its development in the 1960s and 1970scite web
title=Cop Action Films
last=Gates] at a time when the cop or detective story was
popularand replacing the Western (genre)in popularity where vigilantism often occurred. There was a change in the film industry, change in self regulationin the industry, and change in American valuesall which opened up production to violent content without completely banning it or censoringit to viewers making way for a "vigilante cop." These cops are said to express unrelenting and uncompromising violence towards anyone who got in between both the vigilante cop and criminal that broke laws to accomplish their objectives.cite web
url = http://www.crimeculture.com/Contents/detectivefilm.htm
title = A Brief History of the Detective Film
The Vigilante" (1947)
*"Batman" (1966), Batman" (1989), "
Batman Returns" (1992), " Batman Forever" (1995), "Batman & Robin" (1997), " Batman Begins" (2005), and "The Dark Knight" (2008)
*"Magnum Force (Dirty Harry 2)" (1973)
Walking Tall" (1973 and 2004)
*"Death Wish" (1974) and its sequels "
Death Wish II" (1981), " Death Wish 3" (1985), ' (1987), and ' (1994)
*"Street Law" (1974)
Taxi Driver" (1976)
Vigilante Force" (1976)
The Exterminator" (1980)
The Star Chamber" (1983)
Raising Arizona" (1987)
*"Above the Law" (1988)
*"The Punisher" (1989 and 2004)
Falling Down" (1993)
The Crow" (1994)
Jimmy Hollywood" (1994)
*"Leon aka The Professional" (1994)
*"Eye for an Eye" (1996)
A Time to Kill" (1996)
The Boondock Saints" (1999)
The Limey" (1999)
A Man Apart" (2003)
Dead Man's Shoes" (2004)
*"Man on Fire" (2004)
Suspect Zero" (2004)
The Devil's Rejects" (2005)
*"Four Brothers" (2005)
*"Hard Candy" (2005)
*"Sin City" (2005)
Lucky Number Slevin" (2006)
*"V for Vendetta" (2006)
*"The Brave One" (2007)
*"Death Sentence" (2007)
Hot Fuzz" (2007)
The A-Team" (1983–1987)
The Equalizer" (1985–1989)
Bubblegum Crisis" (1987)
Tales from the Crypt (TV series)" "The Man Who Was Death" episode (1989–1996)
The Simpsons" " Homer the Vigilante" episode (1989-Present)
Bubblegum Crash" (1991)
Dark Justice" (1991–1993)
Swat Kats" (1993–1995)
You're Under Arrest" (1996-2008) Strike Man often distributes divine punishment upon wrong doers who illegally park their cars or smoke in smoking-free zones.
Bubblegum Crisis 2040" (1997–1998)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" (1987–1996)
Mezzo Forte/ Mezzo DSA" (1998/2001)
Vengeance Unlimited" (1998–1999)
*"Dark Angel" (2000–2002)
*"Birds of Prey" (2002–2003)
Death Note" (2003–2006)
*"The 4400" (2004-Present). Season 1, Episode 2. Improved Carl Morrissey cleans the Bradley Park in order to bring it back to its old state.
Batman Beyond" (1999-2001)
*"The Virginian" by
Owen Wister(1902) is the first American western novel based on the theme of "frontier justice."
*"Blue Belle" (1988) by
Without Remorse" by Tom Clancyis explicitly about an ex-US Navy SEALwiping out a gang of drug dealers.
Darkly Dreaming Dexter" (2004), " Dearly Devoted Dexter" (2005), and " Dexter in the Dark" (2007) by Jeff Lindsay, with adapted TV series "Dexter" (2006), are all about fictional character "Dexter Morgan" who by day is a blood splatter expert for the Miami-Dade Police Departmentand by night hunts down and kills those who he feels "deserve to die."
*"A Stout Cord and a Good Drop" by James Gaitis (Globe Pequot 2006) is a lengthy literary work of historical fiction based on a rigorous analysis of the facts associated with the Montana Vigilantes, the infamous Montana hanging spree of 1863-64, and the foundation of the Montana Territory in the midst of the American Civil War.
*"The Vigils" are a fictional group in Robert Cormier's
The Chocolate War. They are semi-private, meaning students and teachers know of them but do not speak of them. They run the school, giving students "assignments" that bend or break school rules and regulations.
*"The Executioner" by
Don Pendletonis a book series about a ex-US Army Master Sergeant Snipernamed Mack Bolanand his "war" against the Mafia.
In comic books
Vigilantism in the comic book arena has its basic concepts in several fictional genres, including stories published in
dime novels and comic books. Many of the heroes of pulp fiction and comic book superheroes are vigilantes because they operate outside the law in order to combat lawlessness. In fact, virtually any superhero can be considered a vigilante if he is not acting under the direct authority of a law enforcement agency or other government body.
A key example is "
Watchmen", a DC Comics limited seriesof the late 1980s written by Alan Moore, in which the superheroes that remained active after the series' Keane Act are portrayed by society and government as illegal vigilantes. Also of note is the DC comic book character of the 1940s and revived in the 1980s, the Vigilante.
In video games
Double Dragon" (1987)
River City Ransom" (1989)
Final Fight" (1989)
Streets of Rage" (1991)
Final Fight 2" (1993)
Final Fight 3" (1995)
Interstate '76" (1997)
Max Payne" (2001)
Dead to Rights" (2002) and it's sequel " Dead to Rights II" (2005)
*"The Punisher" (2005)
Sam & Max Hit the Road" (1993)
Sam & Max Season One" (2006–2007)
Sam & Max Season Two" (2007–2008)
Assassin's Creed" (2007)
Grand Theft Autoseries, the player has the opportunity to steal a police vehicle and play as a vigilante.
Jurisdiction- Modern centralized state jurisdiction, and the associated right to 'legal' punitive coercion, gradually evolved out of the decentralized, polycentric jurisdictional system of medieval feudalwarrior-princes.
Monopoly on force
Vendetta- Now-illegal form of non-governmental interpersonal violence practiced by feudal chieftains and currently by organized crimegangs
* [http://borderstories.org/index.php/campo-high-pointer.html From Border Stories, a profile of a Minuteman Project volunteer in Campo, CA]
* [http://borderstories.org/index.php/sierra-vista-virtual-vigilante.html From Border Stories, a video on the American Border Patrol]
* [http://www.ocap.ca/songs/vigilant.html Lyrics to "Vigilante Man"] by
* [http://deadwoodoutlawsandlawmen.blogspot.com/#vigilante Historical Deadwood Newspaper accounts of George Keating and O. B. Davis hung by vigilantes for stealing horses 1878]
*Comfort Ero, [http://www.accord.org.za/ct/2000-1/CT%201_2000%20pg25-29.pdf “Vigilantes, Civil Defence Forces and Militia Groups: The other side of the privatization of security in Africa,”] "Conflict Trends" (June 2000): 25-29.
*Martha K. Huggins, editor, [http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=Hp3pXKrcDqAC&oi=fnd&pg=PR7&dq=Vigilante&ots=HgZgSR1CRO&sig=Jz345Vb0IEcIJxs9-zhnCg3VIaM#PPP1,M1 "Vigilantism and the State in Modern Latin America: Essays on Extralegal Violence"] , Praeger/Greenwood, 1991.
*Bill Ong Hing, [http://www.donkeyphant.com/vol9/art.pdf “Vigilante Racism: The De-Americanization of Immigrant America”] , "Donkeyphant", Vol. 9 (Summer 2002).
*Tom O’Connor, [http://faculty.ncwc.edu/toconnor/300/300lect10.htm “Vigilantism, Vigilante Justice, and Victim Self-help”]
*Stephen Faris, [http://www.motherjones.com/news/feature/2002/04/bakassi.html “Nigeria’s Vigilante Justice,”] "Mother Jones" (April 25, 2002)
*"EyeWitness to History", [http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/vigilante.htm “Vigilante Justice, 1851”] .
*Steven F. Messner, Eric P. Baumer, and Richard Rosenfeld, [http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3757/is_200609/ai_n18621794 “Distrust of Government, the Vigilante Tradition, and Support for Capital Punishment,”] "Law & Society Review" (September 2006)
*Vincent Moss, [http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4161/is_20060625/ai_n16504954 “The Paedo Vigilante”] , "Sunday Mirror" (June 25 2006)
* [http://www.politicalarticles.net/blog/2007/12/18/joe-horn-a-vigilante-emboldened-by-the-on-going-racist-anti-immigrant-rhetoric/ Joe Horn - A vigilante emboldened by the on-going "racist anti-immigrant" rhetoric]
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