Inequality and the Emergence of Vigilante Organizations: The Case of Mexican Autodefensas
2017. Comparative Political Studies 50 (10): 1358-1389
32 Pages Posted: 13 Jul 2016 Last revised: 14 Mar 2018
Date Written: July 11, 2016
What explains the emergence of vigilante organizations? Throughout the world, vigilantes emerge to illegally punish perceived criminals, often leading to serious consequences. However, the literature presents partial and conflicting explanations for this phenomenon. This article argues that local economic inequality creates a situation ripe for vigilante organizations. Inequality creates demand for vigilantism because poorer citizens feel relatively deprived of security compared to wealthier neighbors who have advantages regarding private and public security. Additionally, inequality suggests a patron-and-worker distribution of labor, and this is ideal for organizing a particular type of group, the patron-funded vigilante group. Empirical tests use original data on the 2013 wave of Mexican vigilante organizations, present in 13 of Mexico’s 32 federal entities. Municipal-level income inequality is robustly associated with organized vigilantism. Less support is found for competing explanations.
Keywords: vigilantism, inequality, income inequality, Mexico, vigilantes
JEL Classification: D63, D74, F52, N46
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation