Throughout Latin America, processes of democratization have coincided with increasing levels of violent crime, the privatization of justice and security, and widespread support for heavy-handed policing. The Colombian paramilitaries are perhaps the most notorious case of brutal violence committed against civilians with general support from both state and society. The article explores the surprising amalgam of actors of which the paramilitaries are comprised. It illustrates the way in which their development was shrouded in and facilitated by legal ambiguity, and distinguish their war tactic of targeting the civilians from the guerrilla’s strategy. Finally, it discusses the political success of the paramilitaries in terms of their land and wealth consolidation, their insertion into the political science, and their legal demobilization. It is suggested to conceive paramilitary violence not merely as havoc wrecked in the margins of the state, but as a central component of contemporary governance.