[[quoteright:318:[[Literature/DonQuixote http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/don_quixote_9789.jpg]]]]
[[caption-width-right:318:[[AllMusicalsAreAdaptations Man of La Mancha]]]]

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 [[IDidWhatIHadToDo what they 'have to do']] to save people from a [[WindmillPolitical threat that doesn’t exist]].

The TropeNamer 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 StrawHypocrite: While he might be a HeteronormativeCrusader or PrinciplesZealot, he is not a dishonest person who will try to trick people into a struggle against windmills [[UtopiaJustifiesTheMeans 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 [[CloudCuckoolander crazy]], maybe someone gave him [[RedHerring misinformation]] that he didn't check up enough, maybe he's [[NotWhatItLooksLike interpreting something incorrectly]], or maybe he [[BeliefMakesYouStupid blindly believes]] some religious or ideological dogma.

Fighting a threat that [[NoMereWindmill 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 {{windmill}}s.

Might suffer from BlackAndWhiteInsanity or AggressiveCategorism, and is likely to do ActivistFundamentalistAntics.

Compare ConspiracyTheorist and ZombieAdvocate. Contrast LordErrorProne for someone who makes a lot of little mistakes rather than one huge fundamental misconception.

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!Examples:

[[foldercontrol]]

[[folder:Anime and Manga]]
* ''Anime/MartianSuccessorNadesico'': A major theme, especially the latter half of the series. Amusingly, one could say that Gai Daigouji basically ''is'' Literature/DonQuixote, only this time some of the windmills really ''[[NoMereWindmill are]]'' [[HumongousMecha giants]]. [[KilledOffForReal Naturally, he doesn't last very long]].
* ''Manga/RanmaOneHalf'': Tatewaki Kuno carries elements in this, mainly when he attacks Ranma, believing that he has enslaved Akane and the "[[GirlishPigtails 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 [[spoiler:try to rape her]] (the "windmill"). By the time the story rolls around, she has a severe fear of men because of this [[spoiler: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 Manga/AngelDensetsu 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.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Comic Books]]
* ''ComicBook/BitchyButch'': 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 [[HeteronormativeCrusader the religious right]] in every shadow.
* ''ComicStrip/{{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 ''Comicbook/{{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.
* ''QuantumAndWoody'': 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 [[spoiler: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.)
[[/folder]]

[[folder: Fan Fic]]
* In [[Fanfic/TheDresdenFillies The Dresden Fillies: False Masks]], the [[AncientConspiracy Order Triune]] truly believe that Harry Dresden/Blackstone is Obsidian, an evil overlord from the distant past who had ResurrectiveImmortality. 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:
** Harry is Obsidian? Wrong!
** Obsidian is [[spoiler: Novel Notion? Wrong!]]
** Obsidian [[spoiler: was any of those stallions they killed? Wrong!]]
** Obsidian [[spoiler: ever came BackFromTheDead at all? '''WRONG'''!]]
*** [[spoiler: Turns out [[TheExtremistWasRight they got that last one correct]] after all. Problem is, it ''still'' wasn't Harry.]]
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Films -- Animated]]
* In ''Disney/{{Bolt}}'', the title character initially believes that the [[ShowWithinAShow TV show he stars in]] is real and that his owner has been abducted by its MadScientist villain ([[RightHandCat whose minions]] [[CatsAreMean are cats]], naturally). In reality the movie has [[NoAntagonist no real villain]] at all.
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[[folder:Films -- Live-Action]]
* ''Film/TheyMightBeGiants'' is named after Quixote's idea about the windmills, as the protagonist (who believes himself to be SherlockHolmes) hunts down a possibly-imaginary Professor Moriarty.
* In ''Film/{{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 [[WhatMeasureIsANonHuman 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 ''Film/ABeautifulMind'', the protagonist is the RealLife Nobel Prize winner John Nash, hired by the US government in their struggle against terrorism. What neither Nash nor his closest superiors know [[spoiler: 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.]]
* ''Film/TheLastTemptationOfChrist''
** 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 StrawHypocrite who simply doesn’t care if the [[WindmillPolitical gospel he preaches]] is true or not.
* ''{{Defendor}}'': Played with, and ''maybe'' [[NoMereWindmill averted]].
* ''WhereEaglesDare'': 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 ''Film/{{Serenity}}''. He'll do anything to create an Alliance without sin, mistaking himself for being a SoulsavingCrusader... until Mal and crew give him a [[AwfulTruth front-row seat]] to [[GoneHorriblyWrong what such a thing looks like]].
* ''Film/GodBlessAmerica'': 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 TurnedAgainstTheirMasters, [[CassandraTruth just like the main character's organization has been warning against?]] [[SpoileredRotten Well, no]]. The robots really are up to something, but it's nothing that anyone has to be afraid of.
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[[folder:Literature]]
* ''Literature/DonQuixote'': Quixote is the TropeNamer as well as an extreme example. The protagonist really got reality wrong on a very basic level.
* 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 TrainingFromHell. 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 ''Literature/GoingBovine'', 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 ''Literature/HarryPotterAndTheGobletOfFire,'' 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 ''TheDresdenFiles'', 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 ''Literature/TheSevenPercentSolution''. 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.
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[[folder:Live-Action TV]]
* ''Series/BuffyTheVampireSlayer'': While Buffy has TheCuckoolanderWasRight as an inherent trait, the episode “Normal Again” subverts this when Buffy is [[ThroughTheEyesOfMadness 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 ''Series/{{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 [[ASinisterClue left-handed people]], and propose that we should "ban left marriage". (It's a parody of [[HeteronormativeCrusader homophobes]], of course.)
* ''Series/{{Grotesco}} 2'': In this Swedish comedy show, some religious leaders take their homophobia a few steps beyond HeteronormativeCrusader 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.
* ''Series/DegrassiTheNextGeneration'' 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.
* ''Series/AmericaUnearthed'' has host Creator/ScottWolter as a fringe history Don Quixote.
* A major source of humor and conflict in ''Series/ParksAndRecreations'' 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 [[DumbassHasAPoint 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.
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[[folder:Tabletop Games]]
* In ''TabletopGame/{{Paranoia}}'', [[TheComputerIsYourFriend The Computer]] became [[TitleDrop paranoid]] about [[RedScare the Commies]] (who had disappeared long before Alpha Complex was built) when an early [[AIIsACrapshoot malfunction]] caused it to mistake 1957 civil defense files as being up to date. Some disgruntled citizens soon re-formed the Commies ([[FutureImperfect as best they could figure them out]]) ''[[ForbiddenFruit because]]'' The Computer was paranoid about them, after which their role varied from NoMereWindmill to [[StrawCharacter Strawman Political]] to TheScapegoat (for [[TerroristsWithoutACause 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.
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[[folder:Video Games]]
* ''VideoGame/DragonAgeOrigins'': [[SmugSnake Loghain]] believes that the [[LegionsOfHell 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) [[IDidWhatIHadToDo are]] [[UtopiaJustifiesTheMeans still]] [[KnightTemplar the]] [[LawfulStupid primary]] [[WindmillPolitical concern]] [[JumpingOffTheSlipperySlope for the]] [[MoralEventHorizon defense]] [[MyCountryRightOrWrong 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 [[NoMereWindmill the Darkspawn threat is quite real]].
** In ''VideoGame/DragonAgeII'' 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 [[spoiler: marry the King of Ferelden before his death]] in ''Origins''. So Loghain was on the ball about that, but being ProperlyParanoid doesn't mean you're right about everything.
** WordOfGod and notes found in the "Return To Ostagar" DLC confirm that yes, [[spoiler:Cailan was planning on leaving his wife - Loghain's daughter - for the Empress of Orlais]] and yes, [[spoiler: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 WorldOfWarcraft's Un'goro Crater, will take the player's character on a long quest to defeat the [[DinosaursAreDragons "evil dragons"]] in the area, rescue the "purse" of a "fair maiden"[[note]] a [[DudeLooksLikeALady male Blood Elf]][[/note]] who dropped a box of unknown contents from the hot spring, a second fair maiden from a high place[[note]]'''by throwing her off a cliff'''[[/note]], and rescued a third maiden from a "foul beast."[[note]] by killing her parrot companion.[[/note]] Finally, he takes you to something that is actually dangerous: kill an Azeroth-equivalent TyrannosaurusRex....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.
* N from ''VideoGame/PokemonBlackAndWhite'' truly believes he's rescuing Pokemon from people, but only because [[spoiler: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 ''VideoGame/FinalFantasyIII.'' They believe they're the real Light Warriors.
* [[spoiler: Captain Martin Walker]] of ''VideoGame/SpecOpsTheLine'' 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. [[spoiler: 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 [[spoiler: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 [[spoiler:that mirrors those held by Walker.]]
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Webcomics]]
* In ''Webcomic/TheOrderOfTheStick'', Miko starts out as a regular KnightTemplar 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 [[AlwaysLawfulGood paladin]] powers. [[spoiler:She ends up making a misguided HeroicSacrifice that saves the BigBad from justice and condemns her people to AFateWorseThanDeath.]]
* Referenced in [[http://www.xkcd.com/556/ this]] Webcomic/{{xkcd}} comic.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Western Animation]]
* In ''WesternAnimation/TheSimpsons'' 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.
* ''WesternAnimation/SouthPark'' 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 their candy) 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*'' [[ItsAllAboutMe Riiight, and that's what superheroes do.]]
** Several times, AlGore is seen crusading against the imaginary monster "[=ManBearPig=]", a stand-in for Gore's real-life crusade against global warming.
* ''WesternAnimation/MyLittlePonyFriendshipIsMagic'' 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 [[spoiler: 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 ''WesternAnimation/LooneyTunes'' 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 ''WesternAnimation/CodenameKidsNextDoor''. He plays this Trope straight sometimes; other times, it turns out he's pursuing NoMereWindmill.
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