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A vigilante is someone who illegally punishes a criminal, or participates in a group which metes out illegal punishment to criminals.

Members of community watch programs and others who use legal means of bringing people to justice are not considered vigilantes. For example, in 1979 Curtis Sliwa founded the Guardian Angels in New York Citymarker, a recognized crime fighting organization that now has chapters in many other cities. See also citizen's arrest.

Etymology

The term vigilante has Latin origins: "vigilans/vigilantis"- the present participle of "vigilare" (to watch), and stands now for "watchman" or "watcher". Its etymology is closely related to the word 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 behavior on the part of the vigilante.

Vigilante behavior

"Vigilante justice" is sometimes spurred on by the perception that criminal punishment is either nonexistent or insufficient for 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 experience as opposed to a social demand.

Persons seen as "escaping from the law" or "above the law" are sometimes the targets of vigilantism. 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, physically attack them or vandalize their property. Anyone who defies the law to further justice is a vigilante, and thus violence is not a necessary criterion.

History

Several groups and individuals have been labeled as vigilantes by historians and media. Vigilantes have been central to several creative fictional works and in some cases have been depicted as heroes and retaliatory against wrongdoers.

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 Age and medieval aristocratic custom of private war or vendetta and the modern vigilante philosophy.

Recourse to personal vengeance and duelling was 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 posited a complex legal and ethical interrelationship between vigilante acts and rebellion and tyrannicide.

In the Western literary and cultural tradition, characteristics of vigilantism have often been noted in folkloric heroes and legendary outlaws (e.g., Robin Hood). 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 societies as the courts of the Vehm [9243] (cf. the medieval Sicilian Vendicatori and the Beati Paoli), a type of early vigilante organization, which became extremely powerful in Westphalian Germany during the 15th century.

Colonial era in America

Formally-defined vigilantism arose in the early American colonies.



19th century



Later in the United States, vigilante groups arose in poorly governed frontier areas where criminals preyed upon the citizenry with impunity.



  • The first Ku Klux Klan, founded soon after the American Civil War, was a secret vigilante group that conducted violence across the South to intimidate freedmen and their allies, discourage education and political activity they disagreed with, enforce their view of justice, and restore white supremacy.






20th century

  • In the early 20th century, the White Finns founded the Suojeluskunta (Protection Corps) as a paramilitary vigilante organisation in Finlandmarker. It formed the nucleus of the White Army in the Finnish Civil War.
  • In the 1920s, the Big Sword Society of Chinamarker protected life and property in a state of anarchy.
  • Formed in 1977, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has 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.
  • During the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the Provisional Irish Republican Army were known to administer punishment beating to petty criminals and drug dealers in order to deter crime.
  • Recognized since the 1980s, Sombra Negra or "Black Shadow" of El Salvadormarker is a group of mostly retired police officers and military personnel whose sole duty is to cleanse the country of "impure" social elements by killing criminals and gang members. Along with several other organizations, Sombra Negra are a remnant of the death squads from the civil war of the 1970s and 1980s.
  • In 1981, a resident of the rural town Skidmore, Missourimarker fatally shot town bully Ken McElroy in 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.
  • In 1984, Bernhard Goetz was surrounded on a New York City subway train by four men intent on mugging him. He shot all four and fled, earning him the media appellation "the subway vigilante".
  • Formed since 1996, the People Against Gangsterism and Drugs of Cape Town, South Africamarker fights 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 Boys of Nigeriamarker were 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.
  • Los Pepes was a shadowy group formed in Colombiamarker during the 1990s that committed acts of vigilantism against drug lord Pablo Escobar and his associates within the Medellin Cartel.


21st century (present day)

  • Current mayor of Davao Citymarker, Philippinesmarker Rodrigo Duterte is noted for transforming the city from the murder capital of the nation to what tourism organizations there now call "the most peaceful city in Southeast Asia". He's been suspected of being involved with the vigilante outfit Davao Death Squad and has been criticized by human rights groups and by Amnesty International for tolerating extrajudicial killings of alleged criminals. Time magazine has dubbed him "The Punisher".
  • Formed since 2000, Ranch Rescue is 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 Afghanistanmarker and 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 Qaeda training 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.
  • Operating since 2002, perverted-justice.com opponents have accused the website of being modern day cyber vigilantes.
  • The Minuteman Project has been described as vigilantes dedicated to expelling people who cross the US-Mexico border illegally.
  • Salwa Judum, the anti naxalite group formed in 2005, in India, is also considered by many as a vigilante group and its policies are suspected to be helping naxals.
  • 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 critics feel the law is little observed or enforced.
  • The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society have been dubbed vigilantes by multiple news agencies.
  • Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), an Irish republican socialist paramilitary group, maintains a presence in parts of Northern Irelandmarker and has carried out punishment beatings on local alleged petty criminals. In 2006, the INLA claimed to have put at least two drugs gangs out of business in Northern Ireland. After their raid on a criminal organisation based in the north-west, they released a statement saying that "the Irish National Liberation Army will not allow the working class people of this city to be used as cannon fodder by these criminals whose only concern is profit by whatever means available to them." On 15 February 2009 the INLA claimed responsibility for the shooting dead of Derry drug-dealer Jim McConnell. On 19 August 2009 the INLA shot and wounded a man in Derrymarker. The INLA claimed that the man was involved in drug dealing although the injured man and his family denied the allegation. However, in a newspaper article on 28 August the victim retracted his previous statement and admitted that he had been involved in small scale drug-dealing but has since ceased these activities.


Works of fiction

See: Vigilantes in popular culture

See also



References

External links




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