The scene starts with a shot of our hero, or hero-to-be as he’s not a hero yet. In the distance you can hear police sirens, but they will come too late. The criminals will be long gone by the time they get here. Right then and there our hero-to-be decides that he will stop at nothing to get his revenge and rid this town of all crime.

Sound familiar? It’s a popular plot in action movies, comic books, TV shows. The lone vigilante, often horribly wronged as a child, going after the big criminals. The smugglers, gangsters, psychopaths. Their conviction is relentless and they are almost always considered a “hero”, regardless of the amount of violence they themselves employ. They’re the hero because people love to see the victim, the underdog, stand up and take down the bad guys.

You don’t hear of this plot in reality all too often. People don’t become vigilantes as quickly as they do in the comic books and real life is not as black and white as the average action-packed blockbuster. Most of the time taking the law into your own hands is far from a good thing. But in some cases you can understand why a vigilante did what they did.

Diana, Huntress of Bus-drivers

In the north of Mexico lies the city of Juarez. Since the early 1990’s the city has been seeing increasing numbers of female homicides. Hundreds of women in Juarez have fallen victim to what is called “femicide”; the murder (often paired with sexual abuse) of women by men for no other reason than gender. Many of the victims where women who worked low-income factory jobs in Juarez. Many of them disappeared during their commutes to work. The police arrested bus drivers thought to be connected to the disappearances, but most of the murders went unsolved. Then in 2013 a woman described to be about 50 years old, dark-skinned with blond hair (possibly a wig) stepped into a bus in the early morning, pulled out a gun, shot the bus driver and stepped out again. The same thing happened the day after and an email appeared at local news organizations. The message was from the vigilante. “You think because we are women we are weak, and maybe we are, but only to a certain point.” She referred to herself as “an instrument of vengeance” and signed the mail as “Diana, Huntress of Bus-Drivers”.

The Sea Shepherd

Vigilante justice doesn’t have to be sparked by acts of injustice against humans. In 1977 the “Earth Force Society” was founded to protect marine mammals. A few years later the “Earth Force Society” gave rise to the better known “Sea Shepherd Conservation Society”. While part of their agenda consists of classic protests against for instance whaling, commercial fishing and shark finning, they also have a much more proactive side to them. Using a fleet of ships they keep track of whaling operations and try as best as they can to disable these operations. They do this by throwing stink bombs on the ships, but also by disabling ships using mines, punching holes in the ship hulls or ramming vessels. While these methods may seem very aggressive, the organization enjoys great popularity in part because of the television show chronicling their work. Sea Shepherd claims to have stopped 9 illegal whaling ships from doing their job, saving the lives of thousands of whales.

Phoenix Jones

Fighting under the name “Fear the Flattop” Ben Fodor had made it to the ranks of professional mma fighter. He gained worldwide fame however under the name Phoenix Jones. Not fighting in the ring, but on the streets of Seattle as a real life “superhero”. Wearing a black and gold cowl and body armor and armed with a baton and teargas he patrolled the streets at night. While his actions might not be on par with his comic book counterparts, mostly breaking up fights and chasing away thieves, he did at one point lead a whole group of masked avengers calling themselves the Rain City Superhero Movement. All these vigilantes supposedly had backgrounds in mma fighting or the military. Ben Fodor was arrested for using pepper spray, forcing him to reveal his secret identity to the world. This, however, didn’t stop him from dressing up as a vigilante superhero and patrolling the streets of Seattle.

Is Phoenix Jones really making a difference, or is he just a thrill-seeker who uses his training as a fighter and his arsenal of weaponry to pick fights? Is it right to actively disable the ships of illegal whalers, possibly risking the lives of the people on board. If the local authorities do nothing, is it right to hunt down killers yourself? In each of these situations you find people siding with the vigilante and people opposing them.