Vigilante Threshold (Warning – Disturbing Imagery)

What’s your threshold for vigilantism?

I won’t tell you what mine is.  I know this blog is being indexed by Google.  I know Google plays nice with the NSA.  I know the NSA plays nice with Five Eyes.  I know any organization with the word “eyes” in the name is watching.  Like a good citizen living in 1984, I will keep my nose clean and avoid the telescreens.

Instead, let’s take a look at what the theoretical Prime Dictator from a parallel dimension would do.  You can’t be charged with a crime in this dimension if it’s committed in another dimension, can you?

Before we get interdimensional, let’s get definitional.  Most of us know what a vigilante is, but let’s define it just to be safe:

From Merriam-Websters, a vigilante is: a member of a volunteer committee organized to suppress and punish crime summarily (as when the processes of law are viewed as inadequate).

I don’t necessarily agree with this definition.  I don’t always think a vigilante is a member of a committee.  Sometimes they work alone.  Ever seen the movie, Frailty?  Ever seen Judge Dredd?  Unbreakable?  Death Wish?

There are a ton of good vigilante movies out there.  Why do they appeal so much to us?  What has me so worked up?

The evil of this world.  The scum of the earth.  Those who manage to find the cracks in the system.  Sometimes our rule of law is impotent to dispense justice.  When the cops and the lawyers fail to see that justice is served, what can we do?

A woman hops out of a Jeep Wrangler and tosses a bag of puppies into a garbage dumpster.  She’s a bouncy little cutie in her summer dress.  Nonchalantly she tosses a bag of puppies into the trash.  Who the fuck does she think she is?

A man and woman park their car at a Home Depot.  The rapist, pathetic fuck of a man goes in to buy garbage bags and a hammer to dispose of a toddler that he’s been having fun with for a few days.  He’s in there long enough that the woman could go get help, save the girl.  Run.  Flag down a stranger.  But she’s too high on meth.

Then there’s the Canadian sensation who helped her husband serial rape and murder at least three minors (including her sister).  She must be serving a long stint behind bars, right?  Actually, no.  In exchange for her testimony against her husband, she got a lighter sentence.  She’s now as free as a bird – and for a while, she was doing some occasional volunteer work at an elementary school.  Thankfully the school changed its volunteer policy before something bad happened.

Three stories.  Off the top of my head.  There are others, like the military Colonel who liked to act out his sexual deviances on the young girls he tortured.  Others, like the pig farmer fuck who killed at least 27 women and buried them on his property.  Others, like the assailants who “thrill killed” a new father whos only mistake was accompanying them on a test drive.  He was just trying to sell his truck via an online classified ad.

I can tell you that in some cases, “justice” was served (if you count being locked up in safety, with access to a library, a TV set in your cell, three square meals a day, and the opportunity to gain a college education – all on the taxpayer dime, justice).

In other cases, the perpetrators are never caught, or they take a slap on the wrist.

What can I do about it?  Not much.  I’m certainly not going to publicly state on the world wide web that vigilantes should go round these fuckers up and dispense justice.  But if we can momentarily jump into another parallel dimension…

…now we’re in a world where the Prime Dictator doesn’t give slaps on the wrist.  At a minimum, he dispenses leaf rake spankings that insult and sting, and at maximum, he puts an exclamation point on swift justice.

You don’t have to worry if you stole a loaf of bread to feed your starving family.  The Prime Dictator is not without compassion.

But if you’re into whacking toddlers you’ve raped over the head with a hammer you’ve wandered into the wrong fucking dimension.

What would push you to take the law into your own hands?




18 thoughts on “Vigilante Threshold (Warning – Disturbing Imagery)

  1. Good topic. Complex.

    Like everyone, I feel a natural sympathy for vigilantes, especially lone vigilantes. They are portrayed as the heroes in nearly every story in which they appear, from Robin Hood to A Time to Kill.

    But on the whole, I’m agin vigilante “justice.” Even more than institutional justice, it’s open to being abused. The only difference between vigilante justice and a truly scary mob is, basically, in the eye of the beholder. Most lynchings were vigilante justice according to the people committing them.

    In island southeast Asia, where I lived for some years, there is a long tradition of village mobs forming to punish someone they perceive as having stolen from or insulted their community. There’s one in nearly every made-for-TV movie, and they still form on the streets of Jakarta.

    The problem with mob justice is, there’s no brakes. Someone gets an idea (as likely to be wrong as right), it spreads like wildfire, and the “offender” might be dead before anyone figures out what really happened. It’s way too easy to sic vigilantes on a person, family, or group by accusing them of a sufficiently horrific crime. Think pogroms. Also, the mob has no sense of proportion. They might set a person on fire for having stolen a $20 item.

    Even with lone vigilantes, it’s very easy for them to get the wrong impression of what really happened. Their emotions are so strong with outrage over the crime that they might not take the time to make sure they have the right guy. Think of the Spider Man movies. Spider Man is a really good kid, and even he gets it wrong.

    This is why our system, with all its flaws, has wonderful things like Miranda rights, trial before a jury of our peers, and laws against cruel and unusual punishment.

    As for the circumstances in which I’d find vigilante justice acceptable, I think I would in a case where civil society had completely broken down and we were basically living in a state of anarchy. Then I would hope that the members of my community would come together to form a sort of militia to protect and police the community in an organized way. This is portrayed in Dies the Fire, a post-apocalyptic novel, and to a lesser extent, it happens in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter. That’s the least scary form of vigilant justice, and the closest to the dictionary definition you cite above. But even in those circumstances, it’s very fragile.

    About whether jail time is good punishment for atrocities like the examples you cite, I agree that it’s not. I think torture and violent rape should carry the death penalty. Those crimes steal the life of another in a very real sense, and it’s appropriate that the offender should pay with his or her life. Also, by the time someone does something like that, they are usually very far gone down the road of sexual depravity and highly unlikely ever to change their way of thinking.

    On the other hand, for some crimes, years in jail is too heavy a sentence, considering that people often get raped in jail and that living there for years can handicap people for return to wider society. I think in some cases, some kind of physical punishment might actually be more just because it’s over more quickly. But, no one is asking me and that’s lucky because my fount of wisdom will run dry pretty quickly.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for weighing in. I don’t think your fountain of wisdom is in danger of running dry anytime soon.

      There is a certain demented killer in Canada who, in the past, has claimed to have information about other victims. In order to provide closure to the families, the police have politly and respectfully listened to him. The whole police interview is entertainment for him. He gets to relive that part of his life through talking about it.
      It gets him out of his cell for a little while. I can’t help but feel it might be better if this guy just went away forever like Ted Bundy.

      The problem is the death penalty comes with many of the same pitfalls as vigilantism. Innocent people have been put to death. Thank goodness DNA has exonerated many that would have been put to death otherwise.

      I don’t think the angry mob is the right answer either. I recently saw a great example of the mob mentality you speak of. It was a football game in 2001 where the Cleaveland Browns fans became an angry mob after a bad call and started throwing beer bottles at the players and officials.

      At the end of the day maybe we just need a just and fair judge, like Judy or Dredd to dispense justice.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Interviewing psychopaths is an art, for sure. I once read a book by an seasoned interviewer about the techniques she uses. One is to engage the person’s pride and get them to boast about their crimes. It might seem too gentle, but the point is to collect evidence.

        I don’t think “an innocent person might be executed” is a good enough reason to have no death penalty. I think a better solution is to improve the system so that convicting the innocent happens less often. Any punishment, including years of jail time, sometimes happens to innocent people too. The possibility of being wrong is not a good basis for figuring out which punishments are just. Taken to the logical conclusion, we’d never punish any crime just in case the accused is actually innocent.

        I realize this might seem inconsistent since my main problem with mob “justice” is that they usually get it wrong. But the point is to have a logical system that’s designed to figure out what actually happened. I think our current institutional system does that at a rate of, maybe, 50%. Mob justice does it at 1%.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. In the case of the psycho I referenced, he has “dangerous offender” status in Canada, which means he is never getting out of jail. So all of the evidence collecting just feeds his ego. Maybe it gives some small semblance of closure to some people…

        I’m okay with the death penalty in the really heinous cases with really strong evidence. I’m also okay with it in cases involving children (although a psychologist friend who has worked with those convicted of assaulting children would tell you that I should show more compassion for their individual situations).

        Mob justice might be ineffective, but I think it’s a different animal than vigilante justice. Ever seen the show Dexter?


      3. Wow. That’s pretty horrifying. I imagine they are trying to identify all his victims so that they can close those cases.

        I guess I think of vigilantism as any kind of vengeance or enforcement that takes place outside of established authority structures. So mob “justice” would be a subset of that. I include it because mobs almost never think they are mobs. But I realize you are talking about lone vigilantes.

        I’ve never had any desire to watch Dexter. I understand he is a serial killer?

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I guess the purest form of vigilante justice would be self defense. Although allowed for within the law, it is kind of vigilante because the decision is made outside of a courtroom to unleash karma on the perpetrator.

        Dexter is a forensic lab technician, so he often has the proof of a person’s guilt or innocence before the police do. He kills, but he has rules.

        I thought it was a good show, although somewhat unrealistic, and like many shows it went on for too many seasons.


  2. This is funny … your post got me thinking: I have 2 1/2 novels completed. In each of the three, the plot turns on vigilante justice and how it is executed … badly, rightly, or not at all. I have an awful lot of vigilante violence in my fiction for someone who doesn’t approve of it.

    But that’s what happens when you write about an isolated people group fleeing from an apocalypse.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a tough one isn’t it. On one hand, so many crimes take place where the perpertrator receives an unequal commeuppance. But on the other, the problem with a vigilante playing Judge, Jury and Executioner is that they are only considering their own perspective. I believe that we are all wrong a lot of the time and need to be open to the idea that the perspectives and input of others MIGHT be useful.

    All of that said though, I would never say that ANYBODY deserves to die but there are some truly vile criminals out there that nobody would miss if somebody bumped them off.

    Liked by 1 person

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