Vigilante Law and Legal Definition
A vigilante is someone who takes law enforcement into their own hands. Vigilance committees were formed in the South in the 1830's to keep blacks and abolitionists from advocating against slavery. Northerners founded their own vigilance committees to help fugitive slaves. On the west coast, a vigilance committee was formed on the Barbary Coast in 1851. By 1860, members were being called by the Spanish name vigilantes.
Vigilantes are commonly associated with mob violence. Today, the use of self-help measures and the right to defend oneself or one's property with deadly force varies by state.