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The following is extracted from a lengthy and interesting article about vigilantes through history. It can be found here
Briefly, vigilantism has often been espoused by folkloric heroes and legendary outlaws (e.g., Robin Hood being the most obvious example). Vigilantism in literature, folklore and legend is connected to the fundamental issues of dissatisfied morality, injustice, the perceived failures of authority and the ethical adequacy of legitimate governance.
Not all vigilantism is aimed at the bad guys, though. It’s all in the perceptions of the aggrieved, and that of course is the danger. And there are documented instances where mistaken identity has meant the death of innocents. Here are some examples, the good and the bad, perhaps, from Wikipedia:
In 1858 San Luis Obispo vigilantes ended the murderous reign of the bandit gang of Pío Linares on El Camino Real between San Luis and Santa Barbara.
In October 1862 in northern Texas, several Unionist sympathizers were arrested and taken to Gainesville, Texas for trial on charges of treason and insurrection. Seven were tried and hanged, and 14 were hanged without trial. A few weeks later, Unionist sympathizers were hanged without trial across northern Texas. Known as "The Great Hanging at Gainesville", it may have been the deadliest act of vigilante violence in U.S. history.
The Great Hanging at Gainesville - Wikipedia commons
In 1865, the Ku Klux Klan was formed in Pulaski, Tennessee by a group of six Confederate War veterans. The KKK or "Klan" sought to use extralegal force to resist Reconstruction in the post-Civil War South of the United States. The KKK became a leading agent of racist violence in the US.
In the early 20th century, the White Finns founded the Protection Corps as a paramilitary vigilante organisation in Finland. It formed the nucleus of the White Army in the Finnish Civil War (January-May, 1918).
In the 1920s, the Big Sword Society of China protected life and property in a state of anarchy.
The Guardian Angels organization was founded February 13, 1979 in New York City by Curtis Sliwa and has chapters in 15 countries and 144 cities around the world.
Recognized since the 1980s, Sombra Negra or "Black Shadow" of El Salvador 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 Hampshire, England (where Sudden Vengeance is set!), during 2006, a vigilante slashed the tyres 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, since individuals using their mobiles while driving have caused death and serious injury, but critics feel the law is little observed or enforced.
On April 15, 2011 a group of women in Cherán armed with rocks and fireworks attacked a bus carrying illegal loggers armed with machine guns in Michoacán associated with the Mexican drug cartel La Familia Michoacana. They assumed control over the town, expelled the police force and blocked roads leading to oak timber on a nearby mountain. Vigilante activity has spread to the nearby community of Opopeo. The government of Mexico has recognized Cherán as a self-governing indigenous community, but criminals continue to murder residents in the forest.
There are many more examples.
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