University of Ottawa
This ambitious volume brings together 17 case studies of xenophobic and racist vigilante groups, with a focus on Europe and North America. Drawing on news reports, interviews, participant observation, and social media analysis, the contributors describe each group's practices, membership, and targets. They also document the evolution of each group, with careful attention to the historical, social, and political context. The case studies are fresh and provocative, pushing back against two dominant understandings of vigilantism: that it is a response to high crime rates, and that it occurs in states that are weak, failing, or illegitimate. Instead, as Bjørgo & Mareš argue, vigilantism is often more performative than functional. Some forms of vigilantism also advance strategic aims other than crime control. For example, patrolling is remarkably common across the cases, in part because it is a public endeavor that generates media coverage, spurs recruitment, and enhances groups' visibility. The main weakness of the volume is that the contributors do not share a common definition of vigilantism. While perhaps inevitable in a collaborative project of this scale, this means the volume veers close to conceptual stretching. At times 'vigilantism' seems to encompass all hate crimes and paramilitary activities. The volume also could have benefitted from more engagement with the rich literature on vigilantism in Latin America and Africa. Nonetheless, this volume is a tremendous resource for scholars of vigilantism, especially thanks to its perceptive analysis of the links between vigilante groups, political parties, and the state. The editors and contributors should be praised for helping us see that vigilantism is not just a knee-jerk reaction to crime; rather, it is a complex and deeply political behavior.