Pub. date: 2008 | Online Pub. Date: May 28, 2008 | DOI: 10.4135/9781412963930 | Print ISBN: 9781412941655 | Online ISBN: 9781412963930 | Publisher:SAGE Publications, Inc.About this encyclopedia
Vigilantes are those who take enforcement of the law or moral code into their own hands. The term developed in ancient Rome, and today it applies to citizens carrying out frontier justice when they perceive established authorities as weak, corrupt, and/or insufficient. The word vigilante originated in Spain. Where no established law exists, private citizens may find it necessary to impose the values of their group. Lawyers call vigilantism “extra-judicial self-help,” and many often equate it with vengeance. However, vigilantism becomes vilified when it leads to such criminal behavior as lynching. Although a worldwide activity, vigilantism found fertile ground in the United States, beginning in colonial times and extending into the early federal period. By the late 1700s into the 1800s, groups that took matters into their own hands formed committees to identify and punish immigrants suspected of crimes. After fading for a while, its renaissance as an urban phenomenon ...