Vigilante Politics

Vigilante Politics

Anniversary Collection

Edited by H. Jon Rosenbaum and Peter C. Sederberg

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.

292 pages, 0.00 x 0.00 x 0.00

  • ISBN: 9781512806335
  • Published: November 2016



Vigilante politics is an organized effort outside legitimate channels to suppress or eradicate any threats to the status quo. Simply defined, it means deliberately taking the law into one's own hands.

The history of the United States is filled with many examples of "establishment violence." This form of violence was evident when ranchers lynched the cattle rustler and when the early Ku Klux Klan terrorized African Americans back into their "proper position." It is also apparent when urban community groups execute drug pushers and when political parties resort to breaking and entering, electronic surveillance, sabotage, and seduction.

Establishment violence is a global phenomenon and not restricted to the United States. In Brazil the Esquadāro da Morte (Death Squad) executes individuals suspected of being habitual criminals. The Protestant B Specials in Northern Ireland abused Catholics. Strong anti-Chinese feelings spawned vigilante groups in Southeast Asia. Other vigilante bands have included the Society of Muslim Brothers in Egypt, the White Hand of Guatemala, the Jewish Defense League, and the Nazi Brown Shirts.

Every society that is holding together contains groups that value their place in the system (even if it is modest) and prefer things as they are. If they believe that criminals are escaping punishment because of corruption or leniency, or that people who seek a change in social status and approved values a regaining power, or that the legitimate authorities are unable or unwilling to preserve the present order, they frequently take violent action to defend their position.

These are the vigilantes, and this book considers their brand of "establishment violence" in the widest sense. Their goals, tactics, personalities, and place in a country's general political configuration are thoroughly analyzed by the historians, political scientists, sociologists, and psychologists who have contributed to this volume.

Part I is devoted to theory and offers a typology of vigilantism; Part II covers vigilante episodes in the United States. Part III places vigilantism in a comparative perspective, with examples from Asia, Africa, and Europe.