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Phenomenology of Vigilantism in Contemporary America - An Interpretation

NCJ Number
Terrorism Volume: 1 Issue: 3 and 4 Dated: (1978) Pages: 287-305
P C Sederberg
Date Published
19 pages
American vigilantism is defined and described from a phenomenological perspective, and a description of the four major types of vigilantism and the vigilante personality is given.
Maintenance or vigilante violence is viewed as one of three types of violence lying on a continuum of intended change. It is defined as acts of coercion in violation of societal limits but intended to defend the prevailing distribution of values and resources from some form of attack or subversion. The nature of the participants and the degree of organization characterizing their activities leads to a fourfold typology: (1) private, spontaneous vigilantism, as in the case of 29 New York cab drivers who chased and caught 2 robbery suspects; (2) private, organized vigilantism which might include such diverse groups as a 'Sheriff's Posse Comitatus' and an urban ghetto group with drug pushers as targets; (3) official, spontaneous vigilantism or the systematic application of force, undertaken most commonly by the State; and (4) official, organized vigilantism in which excessive coercion has been a long-term policy of certain security and enforcement organizations. Because vigilantism's fundamental objective is the desire to preserve social stability in the face of innovative behavior, it tries to restrict the range of behavior as much as possible. The vigilante-prone personality can be described as having a positive orientation to power, a strong need to order, a fear of impulsiveness, and anti-introspectiveness. Thus, vigilantes engage in violence in order to stabilize the range of acceptable behavior. One figure and 33 references are given.


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