Lynching may be defined as an illegal killing by a group acting on the basis or the pretext of service to publicly held values. This definition is based on one adopted at a conference of leading organizations concerned with American lynching held in 1940 at the Tuskegee Institute, now University (Waldrep  passim). Neither my nor Tuskegee’s definition, which spoke of a group as usually three or more persons, refers to race; the great majority of mob killings around the world have been same-race, even same-village or same-family.
The words ‘lynching’ and ‘lynch law’ emerged from the American Revolution, when Judge Charles Lynch of Virginia ‘presided over extra-legal courts claiming to fight lawlessness in general and Loyalist conspiracies in particular’ (Berg and Wendt  2; see also → Law and Order). The word ‘lynch’ has spread from English to other languages: Spanish, for instance,
uses linchamiento, while the Russian term is sud lincha (the court of lynching). The linguistic origins of the act and its borrowing by other languages helped to establish the idea that lynching was a peculiarly American phenomenon (→ USA), but recent studies have shattered that notion (Berg and Wendt ; Godoy ; Welsh ; Siegel ; Pfeifer ; Thurston ).