This essay first appeared in Cliterati on November 17th; I have modified it slightly for time references and to fit the format of this blog.
The great mythologist Joseph Campbell once told the legend of a samurai whose lord had been murdered; he was given the duty to seek the man out and execute him. The quest took some time, but at long last the samurai cornered his quarry; the man knew that he could not escape, so in one last desperate gesture of defiance he spit in the samurai’s face. The noble warrior was instantly filled with rage at the insult and raised his sword to strike…then sheathed it, turned his back and walked away. The reason for his unexpected action? If he had struck the man down at that moment, it would have been a personal act resulting from his rage rather than an impersonal one done to satisfy justice, a murder rather than an execution.
“Authorities” like to speak disparagingly of “vigilante justice”, but as the blogger Furry Girl pointed out over three years ago,
…”the justice system” and “the police” are simply vigilante justice implemented and accepted by majority rule…”Vigilantism” is an accusation I’ve seen commonly used by a majority to dismiss efforts on behalf of the marginalized…to actualize their own immediate self-defense and self-offense, often after being failed by official systems…
I totally agree. For me, the line between justice and something very nasty indeed is not whose hand the sword is in, but the motivation behind bringing it down. In the official narrative, a woman shooting her rapist would be “vigilantism” while the cops arresting a drug dealer would be “justice”…but what if the woman wanted to protect other women because the rapist had a history of escaping charges, and what if the cops were motivated by the desire to enrich themselves? It’s true that we can’t know what’s really going on inside people’s heads, but we can do our utmost to eliminate perverse incentives which encourage people to act in ways that harm both individual people and the cause of justice.
Profit, of course, is among the most powerful motivators, but it isn’t the only one; men in particular are also strongly motivated by glory. The “child predator” hysteria has already gone on far longer than is typical for such panics, gaining strength by leaning on the Satanic abuse and “sex trafficking” panics, and scope by redefining normal men’s sexual attraction to biologically-adult women below some arbitrary age as “pedophilia”, which it most certainly is not. And when a moral panic fills the public mind with hordes of bogeymen hiding amongst us, what better way to play the hero than by accusing someone of being one of them and claiming his scalp as a trophy?
…[members] of an online subculture…pose as children [or young women] to lure men to meetings where they accuse them of grooming children for sex. The filmed encounters are then posted on YouTube…[the process can] wreck the lives of the accused regardless of whether there is evidence of a crime…Hunter groups have been active in the Midlands and some targets have been convicted, but police want it to stop…[one man] thought he was meeting an 18-year-old…[but was accused by hunters] of trying to meet a 15-year-old…his phone was jammed with abusive texts and voicemails…his house was hit with bricks and…his wife tried to kill herself with an overdose of pills…[another] was beaten to the ground near his home after a…vigilante…[claimed he wanted] to meet an 11-year-old girl…Gary Cleary…killed himself four days after he was arrested…following a sting by a Leicestershire group, Letzgo Hunting, in which they posed as a 14-year-old girl…Police say some hunters have exposed people whose potential child grooming behaviour was previously unknown, but that in the majority of cases…the targets do not reflect any sexual interest in children…
One of the “hunters”, Kieren Parsons, claims to have been inspired by an American TV show called To Catch a Predator, in which a reporter worked with a group called “Perverted Justice” whose tactics are similar to those of the British groups. Perverted Justice (the irony of the name seems to escape them) has been accused of aggressively pursuing victims online, then altering the chat logs to manufacture nonexistent “evidence” of “grooming”. The show’s downfall began in the autumn of 2006 when a Texas district attorney named Bill Conradt was lured by a Perverted Justice member pretending to be a 13-year-old boy. Conradt did not show up at the sting, apparently having thought better of the idea, but the show’s presenter, Chris Hansen, wasn’t about to let a big fish like that get away; the next afternoon Conradt’s house was surrounded by police cars and TV cameras, and when a SWAT team smashed its way in, he shot himself before they could drag him out to humiliate him. Conradt’s sister successfully sued the show’s producers, and it was not renewed after the last episode aired. The entire incident demonstrates how little difference there is between “law enforcement professionals” and internet vigilantes when moral panics and perverse incentives are involved: the police had ignored legal advice to work with the program in the first place, had allowed a reporter to direct a police operation and were clearly eager to look like big heroes on television.
But while Conradt and some of the other men were almost certainly indulging in behavior that was at least unsavory if not illegal, innocence is no protection against hysteria-driven violence:
…Bijan Ebrahimi, an Iranian man who lived in Bristol, England, was murdered in July after [it was rumored]…that he had been taking indecent photographs of children…Ebrahimi…had indeed taken photos of local youths…[who] had been harassing [him] by damaging his flowers, and…[planned to present] the photos as evidence…to the police…On July 11, Ebrahimi’s neighbors…[called police] about this photo taking…[but he] was found innocent of all charges and…released…[three days later]…he…was…beaten unconscious by…24-year-old…Lee James…[who] with the help of Stephen Norley…then set Ebrahimi on fire after dousing him with alcohol. Both…have…admitted to the murder…[and] police admitted they were partially to blame…
In the “hunter group” cases, “police admit they have been torn over whether to embrace or reject” the vigilante’s methods. In the Conradt case, cops went along with a foolish and wicked plan motivated by a desire for TV ratings rather than proper legal procedure. And in the Ebrahimi case, police admit their asinine actions helped encourage brutal thugs to commit murder. Their uniforms, titles and supposed “authority” do not distinguish them from those they term “vigilantes” in any meaningful way; all too often, both professional and amateur “pedo hunters” are nothing but vicious boys playing a game of “cops and robbers” with other people’s lives.