“Ethics Dunces Assemble!” Supporting Vigilante Justice In The U.S.

“You know…morons.”The Waco Kid, “Blazing Saddles.”

This really does explain a lot…

The Waco Kid’s (Gene Wilder) sage description of “the common clay” to Sheriff Bart (Cleavon Little) when the latter was devastated by his treatment at the hands of the good (but  racist) citizens of Rock Ridge often comes to mind in times like this, when I see a large portion of the public, pundits and the media taking a position that is not merely ethically indefensible, but suggestive of brain death.

Such a position is the rush to rally around Emilio Chavez III, an understandably enraged father who caught a naked peeping Tom masturbating outside his  teenaged daughters’ bedroom window. From media reports:

“Police said Emilio Chavez III, his brother and a family friend beat the alleged peeper, Dylan Maho, 29, so badly that he was hospitalized, a local television station reported. The district attorney wants to charge Mr. Chavez with aggravated battery, a third-degree felony that could land him in jail for three years…Mr. Maho is in stable condition at the hospital and will be charged with voyeurism, a fourth-degree felony that only brings between one and two years of jail time.”

The headlines in the majority of national news sources—all what the mainstream media would call “the conservative media”— that have covered this story, for this is the feature of the incident that they deem makes it “national news,” is the “Believe It or Not!” angle that so backward are the priorities of the U.S. justice system that the father will face harsher punishment for his conduct than the sick pervert will for his! Here’s passage and quote included in most of the reports:

“Community members voiced their outrage and sympathy for their neighbor’s plight. ‘There’s a naked man outside his daughter’s window,” Mr. Chavez’s neighbor Bill Morgang told the station. “I think he was well within his rights chasing him down and beating him.”’

The overwhelming majority of the online comments to these news reports agree with Morgang.

From the Washington Times:

  •  From Truthsayer3: “My word, the DA wants to do WHAT? What a complete breakdown in logical thought… Every day the law turns more and more toward defense of criminals and prosecution of people protecting themselves (or their loved ones in this case) when nobody else will. Ridiculous.”
  •  spasticjack writes (to one of the few to defnd the charges against Chavez):  “Yes if you were staring in my daughters window…i would be happy to do time for making sure you never did it again…and based on your quick jump to defend a creep like this,i can assume you just dont want it to happen to you when you get caught…..freak…”
  • going1234: “I wonder if this D.A. is a liberal loon, who is interested in protecting criminals?”

Here is a representative sampling from the readers of the celebrity site, Bossip:

  • Blak writes,  “I’m sorry but the public needs to take more of a vigilante approach when dealing with perverts. Beat them to death, or slice off their fingers and genitals. Because the law gives these freaks more rights than their victims, which is why they’re able to keep victimizing. When it comes to perverts I’m all for taking the law into your own hands!”
  •  Marquis de Sade inveighs: “Common Sense within the judicial system (sometimes) is at an all time low…Damn, this boggles the mind.”
  •  MrCubano explains, “This is a prime example why people don’t believe in the system cause sh** like this. So let me ask was he suppose to wait until the guy follows the daughter home one night and r@ p3 her, oh but then the cops will say well why didn’t do something earlier.”

Remember, these are not the outliers. They are similar to the vast majority of comments. Here is what New York Daily News readers thought (Blogger and occasional Ethics Alarms commenter Shelly Stow, I am proud to say, contributed some of the very few ethical counterpoints to the discussion on these threads):

  • matt crawford opined, “this guy should get a medal,too bad he did not give the filth A dirt nap..”
  • From let them eat cake: “He makes me feel proud to be a fellow New Mexican. His Spaniard features, his respected Chavez surname, his decent home, his protective father instincts…”
  • mag4565 intones, “I would have killed him! that’s crazy!”

Finally, here is the tenor of comments of Glenn Beck’s popular news agreggator site, The Blaze:

  • RaydocX articulately points out: “I’ve enjoyed past visits to Albuquerque, but if this is the response of the PD and DA to a father’s reasonable response to illegal immoral behavior that statistically often escalates and so represents a real threat to a minor female child, I can spend my vacation dollars elsewhere…An instructor once lectured that the men who have come out of America to save it in the wake of big troubles have invariably come from the Heartland, from small communities that had been shielded from the changes that contributed to the nation’s problems. It’s starting to feel like there could be no one who could roll back the amoral/immoral/activist minority tolerant but mainstream/traditional intolerant attitude our public services have adopted toward the citizens.”
  • JohnofOregon: “That’s what happens when you beat up one of the leaders NSA agents. He was just doing his job.”
  • H00t_Owl notes,  “You say assault …I say defending his daughter from a perv.. Perv”

You know…morons.

I’m sorry to have to be so blunt, BUT. There are not two legitimate sides to this issue. The U.S. does  not accept anarchy, nor are we in the everyone-for-himself dystopia of “The Walking Dead.” The defenders of vigilante justice, a.k.a. “beating the hell out of anyone whom you happen to think deserves it if you are angry enough” are essentially barbarians with the ethics instincts of Los Angeles street gangs.

In a society with the rule of law, instant vigilante or mob justice is a threat to civilization, nothing less. It doesn’t matter whether the assaulting party is a protective father or how much of a pervert his victim is: inflicting physical violence when there is no self-defense involved is a crime, a serious crime, and an inexcusable crime….quite properly a felony. The peeping Tom’s crime was an invasion of privacy and public misconduct, but nobody was physically harmed, and nobody can presume that he posed an immediate or future threat. There is no justification, other than emotion and momentary insanity, for what the father did. This is not subject to debate. The father and his accomplices, if the reports are true, should be given sufficient punishment to dissuade any of the commenters and their fellow Ethics Dunces should they ever be tempted to serve as police, judge, jury and executioner.

Over on her website, Shelly Stow elaborated on the arguments she offered in some comment threads elsewhere, usually to derision. She wrote:

“There is not a one of us that at some point in life has not suffered an injustice, a harm, an assault, or an act of violence. If we each sought our own revenge, took the law into our own hands, and wreaked vigilante revenge upon out wrongdoers, the streets would run with blood from coast to coast. We are a nation with a system of rules and laws; injustices, harms, assault, and acts of violence must be dealt with through our established justice system, which includes law enforcement, the legal and court system, and the prison system. To not deal appropriately with vigilantes is to encourage them and to say that their illegal acts are somehow acceptable.When crime is committed, it must be addressed by law enforcement.

“And this includes crime that is committed by vigilantes under the guise of street justice.”

Exactly. The fact that such an obvious truth of a civilized society of rights and laws even has to be articulated, however, is troubling.

It is small wonder, with such a surfeit of Ethics Dunces running loose (some—more than some— in elected office), that so many Americans couldn’t comprehend the George Zimmerman verdict. That requires some knowledge of the justice system. Rejecting vigilante justice, in contrast, should only require minimal evolution beyond the state of zinjanthropus. It is useful to have the right diagnosis, as the Waco Kid did, for antidemocratic attitudes such as these. How to treat the problem, however, is still a conundrum. You can’t fix stupid, but practicing some basic ethical analysis would be a start.


Sources: KOBWashington Times, Daily News, With Justice For All, The Blaze, Bossip, KOAT

37 thoughts on ““Ethics Dunces Assemble!” Supporting Vigilante Justice In The U.S.

  1. Even passive vigilante justice is illegal. I have a corner lot that some kids like to cut through with their cars, leaving deep treds in my St. Augustine. I WAS going to embed iron spikes along the corner to deter future forays. Even that is ILLEGAL. White turtles are acceptable.

    Unless someone is faced with defending themselves or others, taking action against a criminal just puts you on the wrong side of the law. It’s not really about ethics but avoiding serious legal problems.

    • ARRRGH.

      When you say this… “It’s not really about ethics but avoiding serious legal problems.” you are saying that vigilante justice isn’t wrong, but you just don’t want to be punished. See: Holmes, “The Bad Man.” See: Non Ethical considerations.

      Vigilante justice is wrong whether there are legal problems or not. It is all about ethics.

      • LOL… choosing an illegal path is worse than an ethical mis step, imo. To me being unethical isn’t necessarily illegal, but morally misguided. Anytime someone chooses to be judge jury and executioner, there are more serious problems, beyond ethics.

        • I don’t know that breaking the law is worse than unethical conduct–it depends on the conduct. Jaywalking is not worse than betraying a friend. Adultery is worse than petty theft. They are apples and oranges. Anyway, you said “It’s not really about ethics,” not that it was worse than just bad ethics. Breaking the law IS about ethics.

          Stop laughing out loud and focus.

          • Breaking the law IS about ethics.

            Well, that rather sums up your position. In these replies and the original post, it all rests on that unexamined assumption: that breaking the law is an ethical failure, in and of itself, whereas that is at most a rebuttable presumption. Yet there is an entirely different and self-consistent position, shared by me and many philosophical anarchists, that the presumption should be the other way and that it should be presumed that the law is trespassing upon the sphere of the individual. Under that, whether the beaters had the right to beat the beaten is not an ethical issue at all since the latter was a trespasser upon them, and would have been even if he had not also been furthering an offencence of his own. The quantum of their response is an ethical issue, however, but the disparity of the law’s handling of beaters and beaten is no test of that whatsoever. That means that the commenters cited are entirely justified in remarks suggesting that “the law is an ass” (though not in some of their suggested revenges). While it is entirely arguable that the beaters over-reacted (I suspect that they did so no more than marginally, as incidental damage under conditions of hot pursuit), it is absurd to measure that by the beaten’s punishment under the law and it is absurd to assess the beaters’ punishment under the law with such disparity as the law does. Taking out the specifics of the case, an ethical law (if that is not a contradiction in terms) would not set a punishment tariff for actions taken in repelling intruders in hot pursuit higher than the punishment tariff for intrusive sexual offences – and that would apply even if the intruder had been an unrelated petty thief a week earlier and the sexual offender had been taken in the act by police a week later.

  2. “When you are dead, you don’t know that you are dead. It is difficult only for the others. It is the same when you are stupid.” (A sign on Facebook)

  3. The only problem here, Jack, it that you are attempting rational analysis of the ultimate emotional situation, a father protecting his daughter. When you can buy a t-shirt that sets forth “10 Simple Rules For Dating My Daughter” that includes implied threats to slice off a potential suitors hands and warnings that he might get shot if he does not deliver your daughter home on time and people cheer you for wearing it, is it any wondere that the same folks who cheer those ridiculous rules cheer somebody actually chasing down and beating the tobacco juice out of an honest-to-goodness pervert who did a disgusting thing outside the daughter’s window

    The problem is bigger than just a guy perhaps justifiably losing his temper at disgusting behavior. It’s a culture that cheers on this kind of behavior pretty much from day one. I’m sure you’ve heard the same alcohol-fueled stories at parties that all boil down to How I Kicked a Jerk’s Ass Who Had It Coming, and there’s no way someone as well-schooled in the ways of DC as you hasn’t heard the story of Preston Brooks beating Charles Sumner to a bloody pulp with a cane and being cheered on for it. American culture is still very big on the idea of self-help, taking matters into your own hands, and sometimes just beating the crap out of someone who needs it because nothing else is going to make it clear to him what a jerk he is being. Until that’s not celebrated any more, this is going to be a problem.

    • The popular culture will always celebrate frontier justice, vigilante justice and revenge fantasies, and that’s fine. I like “Kill Bill” a lot. I love it when Gud slams the jerk bartender’s face into the bar for disrespecting him and Captain Call in “Lonesome Dove.” I love it when Bonnie Bedelia punches the TV reporter in the nose in “Die Hard.” I love it when the Duke kicks Strother Martin in the face In “Liberty Valence,” and there is a reason why John Wayne is the most popular film star of all time.

      Not being able to distinguish between different eras and conditions as well as between fantasy and reality, however, is the mark of a child, an idiot, or a menace to society.

      • I must confess I used to very much enjoy when Andy Sipowicz would administer deserved “tune-ups” to the bad guys on NYPD Blue, and I look forward to “Chicago PD” hitting the airwaves in January, which looks just as violent (in the backdoor pilot one perp got a whack with a nightstick, an obvious kick in the crotch, and a “taser” shot inside of a minute) although any cop who actually did half of this would be fired very quickly in real life. You left out one category in your otherwise comprehensive list of bad guys though, a rageaholic, people who feed off this stuff, or shall we just include that under “menace to society?”

  4. Dear Jack,

    While I agree with your characterization of “vigilante justice,” I don’t think this instance actually qualifies as such. The phrase “vigilante justice” calls to mind Bernard Goetz, laying in wait for a chance to exact vengeance for past transgressions on would-be muggers. It carries a connotation of revenge, retribution, and anarchy. It’s intended as a political act (indicting legal/social failures) as well as a personal one. However, Mr. Chavez simply took action to thwart a crime in-progress against a child in his household– a crime that could have escalated into sexual assault or any number of violent offenses. I think your assertion that the Peeping Tom’s crimes begin and end in the misdemeanor section with no possibility of future criminal escalation is outside the range if what we can know about the circumstances of the episode and the man involved. From this perspective, Mr. Chavez’ actions were simple defense rather than “vigilante justice.” I understand your instinct to recoil from the laudatory comments of an angry public. Perhaps there is no need to celebrate his actions or the severity of his intervention, but I believe you may have made a category error in your unequivocal condemnation.


    • The crime was thwarted when the perpetrator was dicovered and the girls removed from view. You’re issuing rationalizations, and equivocations. Yes, shooting him would have been worse.

      It’s obviously vigilante justice. He is not authorized by law to punish anyone.

      • Isn’t it closer to a so-called ‘crime of passion’ than it is to vigilantism? It seems more analogous to a spouse walking in on a cheating spouse in the act and ending the behavior in a violent fit of rage.

        It seems a distinguishing factor between that and vigilante justice is that vigilante justice requires a certain control of one’s emotions and clarity of thought — even if that clarity of thought starts from misplaced priorities.

        Certainly an argument could be made that even vigilantes allow their emotions to guide their reasoning, but not quite as much as those acting out of rage of witnessed affront to his and his family’s private life, which it seems this man did.

        I haven’t found more to the story yet, but it does seem that the reported ‘other family members’ helping in the beating implies a certain amount of clarity of thought or even ‘mob-justice’, which puts it in vigilantism or other extra-constitutional ‘justice’. But the reporting isn’t detailed enough to know.

        • Well, clearly the commenters, who are the main focus of the post, don’t see it that way. Their justifications and sentiments are pure vigilante. If the arguments being made were “I can’t blame him for losing it,” I’d agree with you, but they aren’t. They are “He did the right thing,” “he should get a medal” and “The perv had it coming.”

  5. It’s not merely the common man’s reaction to revenge (although I’ll not deny that that’s a big part of it here). Sadly, however, as the law and the justice system become less and less respectable – and more of a laughingstock – this will only become more common. I think Bastiat says it best: “No society can exist unless the laws are respected to a certain degree. The safest way to make laws respected is to make them respectable. When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law. These two evils are of equal consequence, and it would be difficult for a person to choose between them.

    The nature of law is to maintain justice. This is so much the case that, in the minds of the people, law and justice are one and the same thing. There is in all of us a strong disposition to believe that anything lawful is also legitimate. This belief is so widespread that many persons have erroneously held that things are “just” because law makes them so. Thus, in order to make plunder appear just and sacred to many consciences, it is only necessary for the law to decree and sanction it. Slavery, restrictions, and monopoly find defenders not only among those who profit from them but also among those who suffer from them.

    • The justice system is no more imperfect than the humans that must operate it. For the most part, guilty people are punished and innocent people go free. What people usually mean when they attack the justice system is something like the Zimmerman verdict, which is the justice system working as it must and should.

      Ignorance about justice and the law is not the same as legitimate dissatisfaction. Much or the problem is irresponsible versions of libertarianism, which simply don’t like laws at all, fueled by excessive statism, which tries to legislate everything on the theory that law is a panacea….and then the fans of the state become disillusioned and go off the rails. Laws cannot be perfect, and a place where laws are enforced without discretion is a police state.

  6. In May of 2006 we had a rash of forest and brush fires set by an arsonist.
    FL can be very dry that time of year and a small fire can rapidly become an out of control fire.
    The arsonist was setting his fires in the middle of the night and the sheriff was unable to stop him, much less find him.

    An unassuming citizen, sitting up near a window all night for fear of fire, saw the arsonist in the act and went out and tackled him.
    He and his dog then held the creep until the authorities arrived.

    Sometimes you still have to take matters into your own hands.

    • No argument, but the key word is “have to.” The shop owners during the Rodney King riots who opened fire on looters were not engaging in vigilante justice—they had no choice, because the police had fled.

      Vigilante justice is “we want to, because we feel like it and can ratioanalize it by saying the the authorities will be too lenient.”

  7. Oh yes, then there is the whole matter of State of Emergency / disaster times (hurricanes) when the law is either overwhelmed or unable to reach you.
    In those cases you might have to detain a thief in your shed or tie him to a defoliated tree. haha

  8. This isn’t vigilante justice. This is an enraged father who overreacted in a horrible situation. Of course he should be charged, but my guess is that the charges will be lessened or this will end in jury nullification. Vigilante justice would be when — after the perv was in police custody — the father went and got a gun and shot him if he thought justice was somehow not being served.

  9. In a society with the rule of law, instant vigilante or mob justice is a threat to civilization, nothing less.

    True for a society with the rule of law, where law enforcement has a duty to protect citizens and prevent crime, rather than merely apprehend suspects after the fact.

    I contend that a society where law enforcers have no duty to protect citizens from crime is not ruled by law – it’s more a suggestion, not a rule. A guideline.

    Moreover, a society where “The King (or his representatives) can do no wrong”, with immunity from criminal prosecution, even if theoretically limited or qualified, is also not ruled by law.

    I completely agree that the natural and inevitable result of such situations is vigilantism, “street justice” which is no justice at all. And I agree that that is a threat to civilisation too. Hence a society that wishes to remain or become civilised, to be under the rule of law, cannot be like the USA as it is today..

  10. The obligation of a parent to insure the continued safty of his child from a sexual predator or violent criminal is absolute. it out ways any other legal or ethical obligation. I cannot find any fault in his actions. You say his obligation ended when he chased the man off. I don’t believe it ended until the man was incapable of doing harm to the fathers children.

    • Then he should have killed the guy, then? The way to make sure the peeper is no threat is to get him arrested.

      That’s ridiculous. In a state of laws, authorities are delegated much of the duty to protect, children or others. You can’t really mean what you say. Should fathers incapacitate school bullies? Should a father organize his own posse to track down his daughter’s kidnappers? There is no duty to be a vigilante avenger. In fact, there is a duty not to be.

      • If the school fails to do its duty then the parents should definitely get involved. If the bully was beating the snot out of my daughter I would certainly but a stop to it. As for going after kidnappers if the parent knows who has their child and the authorities won’t act absolutely the parents should its just too bad that every father isnt bryan mills.

        • Not responsive. Law enforcement didn’t refuse to do its duty in the case of the naked masturbator, and the school or police refusing to act was not part of my hypotheticals for you. The issue is vigilante justice when regular authorities are available and ready to respond.

  11. For me, this thread brings up the larger problem of predators — not vigilante justice. Even when they are caught, the question becomes what should the punishment be? We are a nation that believes in rehabilitation, but countless studies have shown that sexual predators rarely, if ever, can be rehabilitated. And, the violence usually escalates over time. Of course, the answer cannot be capital punishment, especially for a crime like voyeurism or public nudity. But should we start having life sentences? Should the sentence be in a criminal hospital vs. a prison? Should all sex offenders be treated this way, or only the ones that engage in rape or assault? What about statutory rape – perhaps that should be carved out with a different type of sentence?

    • That issue aside, looking isn’t molesting, and masturbation isn’t being a predator. I don’t have data regarding whether Peeping Tom’s are more or less likely to be active molesters.

      George McFly was a peeping Tom, you’ll recall.

    • It is such fun to talk about so-called sex crimes these days. Why? Because our society is supposedly progressing toward more enlightened times, when behaviors previously condemned widely as sex crimes are now just…hey, normal, tolerable, nothing to get bent-out-of-shape about. We are in the midst of so much cognitive dissonance, and so many evolving, conflicting, even contradictory standards of decency, that it all adds up to something like a wild rollercoaster ride that’s been hijacked – except, you can never be sure which hijackers rule the ride at any moment. We truly are “progressing” toward sexual anarchy. Fun!

      “…looking isn’t molesting…”

      Based on current law, I cannot agree that looking isn’t molesting – more specifically, that all looking is unconnected with molestation. There is the sly and covert, if irresistible, glance – and then, there is the leer, the objectifying I-own-your-body-in-my-fantasies gaze, that comprises “sexual harassment,” the creation of a hostile, threatening environment.

      I can understand Daddy Chavez’s initial reaction as consistent with a perceived threat. But I cannot excuse him for temporary insanity, or for mitigated punishment due to commission of a “crime of passion.”

      It’s a case of failures of impulse-control by two principals, aggravated by the same failures in a larger public. To progress, our society must reject the enabling and rewarding of such failure. Peeper Maho needs to learn to abide by existing rules applicable to his erotic self-gratification. (I think the same about the wannabe New York City mayor, first name of Anthony.) Chavez (not to mention his allies and sympathizers) needs to manage his anger better, along with learning to avoid the self-gratification he derives from delusions of righteousness while applying disproportional force. We might all be better off to learn not to pile-on, say, “Johnny Football.”

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