"I would your worship take notice" replied Sancho, "that those you see yonder are no giants, but wind-mills; and what seem arms to you, are sails; which being turned with the wind, make the millstone work."This character is a hero, fighting the good fight and defending the innocent from the forces of evil. Not everyone understands the nature of their struggle - in fact, many decry them as being insane - but if only they knew what the hero knew then they would understand that their goals are noble and their methods perfectly justifiable (if a little extreme). There’s only one problem: The struggle is imaginary. There is no struggle. There are no enemies. No-one needs to be saved. They're doing what they 'have to do' to save people from a threat that doesn’t exist. The Trope Namer is Don Quixote, who wanted to be a heroic knight. He saw some windmills and believed that they were actually evil giants, and set off to attack them, in the most famous scene of the novel. A Windmill Crusader is not a Straw Hypocrite: While he might be a Heteronormative Crusader or Principles Zealot, he is not a dishonest person who will try to trick people into a struggle against windmills for the greater good. No, he honestly and wholeheartedly believes the windmills are giants, and is desperately trying to save everyone from this non-existent threat. So, why did he mistake windmills for giants in the first place? Well... maybe he's crazy, maybe someone gave him misinformation that he didn't check up enough, maybe he's interpreting something incorrectly, or maybe he blindly believes some religious or ideological dogma. Fighting a threat that others mistake for a windmill but actually is a real threat doesn't make the character a Windmill Crusader at all. However, it makes it easy to get mistaken for one. Also, a character can fight a real threat and still be a Windmill Crusader: either by misunderstanding what the threat really is, or by fighting real threats as well as windmills. Might suffer from Black and White Insanity or Aggressive Categorism, and is likely to do Activist Fundamentalist Antics. Compare Conspiracy Theorist and Zombie Advocate. Contrast Lord Error-Prone for someone who makes a lot of little mistakes rather than one huge fundamental misconception.
—Don Quixote, chapter XIII
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Anime and Manga
- Martian Successor Nadesico: A major theme, especially the latter half of the series. Amusingly, one could say that Gai Daigouji basically is Don Quixote, only this time some of the windmills really are giants. Naturally, he doesn't last very long.
- Ranma ˝: Tatewaki Kuno carries elements in this, mainly when he attacks Ranma, believing that he has enslaved Akane and the "Pig-Tailed Girl". The first problem with this is that Ranma and the Pig-Tailed Girl are in fact the same person.
- WORKING!!: Inami was taught from a young age by her father that males would all try to rape her (the "windmill"). By the time the story rolls around, she has a severe fear of men because of this including said father. When she falls in love, she's trying to get rid of the training, but it's been so deeply ingrained in her psyche that, even being able to see the "windmill" for what it really is, isn't enough to stop the crusade.
- The principal from Angel Densetsu has the main character, Kitano, threatened as though he is the demon king himself, going as far as to bring people into the school, with the sole purpose of beating up Kitano, or better yet, get him expelled. Of course, Kitano is anything but evil - he merely looks evil.
- Bitchy Butch: Butchy is infamous for this among her fellow gay rights activists. She's paranoid about men (oppressors all of them!) and heterosexual women (traitors!) as well as lipstick lesbians (potential traitors, "not real", or whatever), and see the religious right in every shadow.
- Dilbert features many surreal jokes based on the premise that one character lives in his or her own little reality. Sadly, this is often a character who has power - or who gains power by enforcing his or her crazy perceptions on others.
- In Lucifer, we have the political faction "Efferul for Lucifer" that fights on the Morningstar's behalf. He is not amused, as their agenda is based on a very misguided vision of what he wants and needs.
- Quantum and Woody: Played straight for drama. Quantum is convinced that David Warrant engineered the deaths of his and Woody's fathers, and tried to kill them in the accident that gave them their powers. He still suspects this even after repeated non-violent encounters with Warrant, including one time when Warrant helped save Woody's life. It reaches cataclysmic proportions when Quantum absorbs all of their shared power, neutralizing Warrant at a critical point as he tried to save the Eternals on the Moon.
- A lighthearted example occurs in Peanuts. Linus' annual quest to wait for the Great Pumpkin and prove he exists is an example of pursuing a windmill. (Well, probably. All that is known is, if the Great Pumpkin does exist, Linus has never succeeded in his goal.)
- In The Dresden Fillies: False Masks, the Order Triune truly believe that Harry Dresden/Blackstone is Obsidian, an evil overlord from the distant past who had Resurrective Immortality. The Order was formed to combat Obsidian in all his incarnations, and has killed all magically powerful stallions who look like him, believing them to be Obsidian reborn. A quick list of what they're wrong on:
Films — Animated
Films — Live-Action
- They Might Be Giants is named after Quixote's idea about the windmills, as the protagonist (who believes himself to be Sherlock Holmes) hunts down a possibly-imaginary Professor Moriarty.
- In Downfall, Hitler and some of his closest followers are portrayed as tragic antiheroes who desperately tried to save the world from a world-engulfing conspiracy that they honestly believed to be real. As Berlin falls they face what they believe to be the twilight of mankind itself. Hitler himself is portrayed as a person who is most likely insane, while his followers are rational except for their misguided belief that he is a legitimate leader rather than a madman. Their actions make total sense when one take this tragic belief into account.
- In A Beautiful Mind, the protagonist is the Real Life Nobel Prize winner John Nash, hired by the US government in their struggle against terrorism. What neither Nash nor his closest superiors know is that Nash is not only brilliant but also a paranoid schizophrenic who takes orders from two kinds of US officials: The real and the imaginary. The later “branch of the government” takes him on a quest that only keeps getting weirder as the (imaginary) terrorists get closer to their nefarious goal of planting nukes in American cities.
- The Last Temptation of Christ
- Jesus is initially portrayed as the insane kind of Windmill Crusader. This is played straight for most of the movie, he even gets cured of his messiah complex and gets to live a normal life. Later events radically change the picture.
- Paul is briefly portrayed as the misguided kind of Windmill Crusader. However, he is quickly deconstructed as a Straw Hypocrite who simply doesn’t care if the gospel he preaches is true or not.
- Defendor: Played with, and maybe averted.
- Where Eagles Dare: Played with/inverted; all of the team are sent in to the castle to rescue the general, but only Smith and Mary are aware that the whole setup is a complete fabrication, and most of the rest of the team are the bad guys.
- Arguably, the Operative from Serenity. He'll do anything to create an Alliance without sin, mistaking himself for being a Soulsaving Crusader... until Mal and crew give him a front-row seat to what such a thing looks like.
- God Bless America: Frank, who seem to believe that he's actually doing something worthwhile. Unlike Roxy, he seem rather naive - not unlike the mentally-handicapped television kid he keeps identifying with and feeling sorry for for all the wrong reasons.
- The main character in Creation of the Humanoids is a high-ranking member of a radical anti-robot organization. Recently, they've finally found evidence that the robots actually are engaging in a conspiracy of some sort - have the robots finally Turned Against Their Masters, just like the main character's organization has been warning against? Well, no. The robots really are up to something, but it's nothing that anyone has to be afraid of.
- Don Quixote: The Trope Namer is Don Quixote, a delusional would-be knight errant who engages in a constant struggle against evil sorcerors and wicked monsters that exist only in his own mind. Most famously in chapter eight he mistakes a group of windmills for "thirty or forty outrageous giants" despite his squire Sancho telling him that he is wrong, and gets thrown into the air by one of the sails when he sticks his lance into it.
- In the YA novel The King Of Dragons, the protagonist's father is this. His severe PTSD from military service causes him to believe that terrible things will happen if he and his son are found by the authorities, so he gives him Survival Training from Hell. At the end of the book, he is recovering, and tells his son, "I mistook molehills for mountains, but I taught you how to climb mountains."
- In the Ace Diamond novels, a cab driver suffers a nervous breakdown when his wife destroys his pulp collection and he starts to think he his pulp PI named Ace Diamond and that all fictional Private Investigators are real and friends of his.
- In Going Bovine, there is a constant doubt on whether Cameron is really traveling across the country and saving the world or simply hallucinating due to his mad cow disease.
- Hermione wanders into this territory in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, when she forms a club (consisting of, well, herself) to fight the oppression of house-elves in the wizarding world. While she has only the best of intentions, and she is absolutely correct that some of the house elves are treated abominably by their masters (such as Dobby during his time with the Malfoy family), she takes on the problem in a very badly-arranged fashion. She starts with the house elves of Hogwarts, who are extremely happy and very well treated - Dumbledore is even willing to give them days off and a salary if they want it, which most of them don't. She also fails to realize that the house elves as a species prefer living as indentured servants of sorts, and her efforts to persuade them otherwise seriously upset them.
- Donald Morgan, Harry's 'parole officer' in The Dresden Files, who honestly believes Harry is tainted and going to jump off the slippery slope if he's given an inch. The initial books (all told from Harry's point of view) initially presents Morgan is simply a power-abusing jerkass, but Harry's view of Morgan actually softens slightly when he (much later) realises Morgan sincerely believes he's dangerous.
- Sherlock Holmes, in The Seven Percent Solution. His obsession with the master criminal Professor Moriarty (both in the book and in the Conan Doyle stories) is explained as simply a byproduct of his cocaine addiction. In truth, Professor Moriarty was his mathematics tutor.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: While Buffy has The Cuckoolander Was Right as an inherent trait, the episode “Normal Again” subverts this when Buffy is drugged and hallucinates that she’s been insane all along and that Sunnydale is only in her mind. In this hallucination Buffy is an insane Windmill Crusader before the series started, and has been locked in a mental institution throughout the whole series.
- An episode of Smallville has a similar premise, with Clark being given a hallucination in which he is a mental patient who only thinks he is a super-powered alien. Specifically, in an inversion of an incident in the pilot, he learns that Lex lost both his legs in a car accident after Clark jumped out in front of him insisting he was saving him.
- In Inside Scoop they try to pin society's problems on left-handed people, and propose that we should "ban left marriage". (It's a parody of homophobes, of course.)
- Grotesco 2: In this Swedish comedy show, some religious leaders take their homophobia a few steps beyond Heteronormative Crusader straight into windmill territory. A protestant, a catholic, a muslim and a jew all agree that it's not their fault they have been murdering each other for millennia — nope, the gays made them do it! Oh, and it's not Satan's fault either: He's also an innocent victim of the horrible gay conspiracy.
- Degrassi: The Next Generation gives us Emma Nelson. It's not enough to boycott genetically modified foods, or even petition to have them removed. She's convinced the lunch lady's trying to poison them.
- America Unearthed has host Scott Wolter as a fringe history Don Quixote.
- A major source of humor and conflict in Parks and Recreation is Leslie's tendency to latch onto nearly every local problem or social justice cause she thinks of, even when it's a blatant non-issue that nobody except her cares about (for example, calling for a government bailout over Videodrome going bankrupt despite the fact that nobody cares in the slightest or raising a stink over there being no female garbage truck workers even though no women in town are really trying to get into the job anyways). Sometimes it turns out she had something of a point but more often than not it's clear that she's just too zealous for her own good. Ron considers it to simultaneously be both her greatest attribute and her most obnoxious quality.
- Doctor Who features a particularly weird 12th Doctor episode called "Listen", which revolves around the Doctor and Clara trying to find an alien species that is completely undetectable except during two instances; a dream the doctor once had about a hand grabbing him from under the bed and at the end of the universe. Turns out, the Doctor is a Windmill Crusader in his spare time and his pursuit of these imaginary creatures came from his inability to admit that he is scared of the dark.
- In Paranoia, The Computer became paranoid about the Commies (who had disappeared long before Alpha Complex was built) when an early malfunction caused it to mistake 1957 civil defense files as being up to date. Some disgruntled citizens soon re-formed the Commies (as best they could figure them out) because The Computer was paranoid about them, after which their role varied from No Mere Windmill to Strawman Political to The Scapegoat (for PURGE, or some other secret society, or just self-serving individuals).
- The "Wobblies" society also fall under this. At first, every Troubleshooter sent to investigate this potentially dangerous group reported that they couldn't find anything at all (since the Wobblies didn't exist) and were summarily executed for laziness, incompetence and/or collaborating with the Wobblies. Eventually the Troubleshooters had to found the society themselves just to have something to report on.
- Dragon Age: Origins: Loghain believes that the Darkspawn are not a threat, but the neighboring country of Orlais (who occupied Ferelden for much of his life, until he and King Maric drove them out for good) are still the primary concern for the defense of the country. Interestingly, he considers the Grey Wardens themselves to be dangerous Windmill Crusaders who might weaken the nation's defense against Orlesian invasion, even though the Darkspawn threat is quite real.
- In Dragon Age II it's revealed that some nobles of Orlais do want to reconquer Ferelden for... some reason (national pride, boredom, take your pick...) and are in disagreement with their Empress (who actually planned to marry the King of Ferelden before his death in Origins. So Loghain was on the ball about that, but being Properly Paranoid doesn't mean you're right about everything.
- Word of God and notes found in the "Return To Ostagar" DLC confirm that yes, Cailan was planning on leaving his wife - Loghain's daughter - for the Empress of Orlais and yes, Loghain found out about it, which factored into his decision to betray Cailan. Loghain's biggest error of judgement is that, as Flemeth puts it, believing that "the Darkspawn are merely another army that can be outmaneuvered."
- Maximillion of Northshire, a quest giver in World of Warcraft's Un'goro Crater, will take the player's character on a long quest to defeat the "evil dragons" in the area, rescue the "purse" of a "fair maiden"note who dropped a box of unknown contents from the hot spring, a second fair maiden from a high placenote , and rescued a third maiden from a "foul beast."note Finally, he takes you to something that is actually dangerous: kill an Azeroth-equivalent Tyrannosaurus rex....by running away from it while throwing his armor at it. At the end, he's convinced he's truly done good. Also notable is that one of the rewards for his final quest is a trinket called a Toy Windmill. The entire quest chain is a a huge reference to the Trope Namer, Don Quixote.
- N from Pokémon Black and White truly believes he's rescuing Pokemon from people, but only because Ghetsis only allowed him to interact with abused Pokemon. He planted the idea into N's head that he was the "hero", then used him to further his own plans of regional domination.
- The four old men of Amur in Final Fantasy III. They believe they're the real Light Warriors.
- Captain Martin Walker of Spec Ops: The Line goes into the game trying to rescue the survivors of a sandstormed-ravaged Dubai while dealing with the rogue Damned 33rd and their leader Joesph Konrad. Except that Konrad killed himself prior to the events of the story, and that taunting voice Walker hears for most of the game is all in his head. All those people shooting at him and his squadmates are just trying to keep that crazy gung-ho American from destroying what little hope the survivors have left.
- Agent Riggs claims that the events in Dubai since the sandstorm fell and the martial law imposed by the Damned 33rd would lead to a U.S.-Pan-Arabian war if news of it leaked, and seeks to kill all witnesses by dehydration. It's implied that this is entirely a delusional fantasy of his that mirrors those held by Walker.
- In The Order of the Stick, Miko starts out as a regular Knight Templar but descends into this trope as she becomes increasingly delusional. In the end she is busy saving the world from imaginary threats and interpreting pretty much anything as signs that the Gods are approving of whatever she is doing - ignoring the very real sign that they have stripped her of her paladin powers. She ends up making a misguided Heroic Sacrifice that saves the Big Bad from justice and condemns her people to A Fate Worse Than Death.
- Referenced in this xkcd comic.
- In The Simpsons episode "Much Apu About Nothing," the people of Springfield form an angry mob and demand the town government do something to protect them from "constant bear attacks." All because a total of one bear wandered into town, destroyed one mailbox, and was swiftly and painlessly taken down by Animal Control. Naturally the mayor forms a "Bear Patrol" and passes the cost onto the taxpayers.
- South Park has Eric Cartman in general, but especially as The Coon in the Coon Trilogy, where he will maim anyone for his gain (including harming a small child for liking Mint Berry Crunch better than him) and rationalize it as an heroic action.
The Coon: I'm making the world a better place!Mysterion: For you! You're making it a better place for you!The Coon: *beat* Riiight, and that's what superheroes do.
- Several times, Al Gore is seen crusading against the imaginary monster "ManBearPig", a stand-in for Gore's real-life crusade against global warming.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has an episode where Twilight receives a visit from her future self with a warning of some impending disaster. Unfortunately, future Twilight gets sucked back to the future before she can say what that disaster is, and so present Twilight goes through hell and high water to try and prevent it, whatever it may be. Turns out there was no disaster, and the warning was for present Twilight to not drive herself crazy trying to decipher an incomplete message from the future.
- In the Looney Tunes short "Stupor Duck", Daffy Duck portrays a super-hero hunting for the terrorist mastermind Aardvark Ratnick. What he doesn't know is, Ratnick isn't real, and is only a character in a soap opera. As a result, he "rescues" a building that is actually being torn down by a demolition crew, "saves" a ship from sinking that's actually a submarine, and otherwise causes problems instead of solving them.
- Zigzagged with Numbah One on Codename: Kids Next Door. He plays this Trope straight sometimes; other times, it turns out he's pursuing No Mere Windmill.
- Eliot Kid: Eliot and his friends are this in most episodes, fighting off threats that only exist in their imagination.
- In Ed Edd N Eddys Boo Haw Haw, after his mind is warped by a monster movie marathon, Ed hallucinates that he is "Lothar the Barbarian" and everyone in the Cul-de-sac is a monster sent by a trio of witches to attack the Eds. He then spends the entire episode bashing the brains out of all the innocent bystanders (except for Johnny the spider creature) he encounters.