This is for when a character, or group of characters, intends to help another character, or group of characters, but because of what it seems like and the reputations of those who happen to be offering the help and any other circumstances, the very characters whom they are trying to help mistake it for intent to cause harm.
Not to be confused with Stab the Scorpion, as that's typically associated with giving the audience a misleading first impression as well. Can result in Made Out to Be a Jerkass. See also Stab the Scorpion.
Terrifying Rescuer is a subtrope.
- In Boarding School Juliet, some thugs from the Black Dogs ambush Juliet Percia of the opposing White Cats, blinding her with pepper spray and tearing open her shirt note to intimidate her. It is at this point that Romio Inuzuka (who is also a Black Dog, but significantly more honorable, and secretly in love with Percia) notices what's going on and intervenes, picking Percia up, and running. So when Percia's vision clears a few minutes later, what she sees is her hated rival on top of her while she's half-undressed.
- Kaguya-sama: Love Is War: When Kaguya tries to help Ishigami study so he won't be held back a year, he comes to the conclusion that she's trying to torture him, even when she gives him some cake as a reward for his hard work.
- Suske en Wiske: In the album "De Stemmenrover" (the voice thief), Lambik runs into a Japanese princess who is being attacked by bandits, and comes to her aid. While Lambik singlehandedly fights the bandits, the princess runs away. Lambik wins the fight but then sees another group of armed men coming his way. Assuming they are bandits as well, he defeats them too, only to learn afterwards that they were actually samurai sent by the princess to help him.
- Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness Act IV: In chapter 25, Jacqueline blows up Tsukune's house right in front of him just because she can, apparently killing Tsukune's mother inside as well. However, Gin managed to get her out in time; sadly, when the neighbors see the big werewolf carrying Kasumi, they automatically assume that he's trying to kidnap her. one even brings out a shotgun.
- The Rescuers Down Under has Marahute the eagle trapped under rope, who when Cody arrives to free her, and takes out a knife, Marahute seems to (temporarily) interpret this as an attempt to wound or kill her rather than to free her.
- In Lady and the Tramp, The Tramp kills a rat that got into the baby's room. During the fight however, the baby's crib gets knocked over. When Aunt Sarah comes in and sees the overturned crib, and not the rat's body, she assumes that the Tramp was after the baby, and turns him over to the pound to be euthanized.
- The Karate Kid Part II has Sato trapped under a long piece of wood during a storm, and when Miyagi walks over, Sato thinks the idea is to finish him off while he is trapped, only to find out that Miyagi just wanted to free Sato from the rubble.
- During Austin Powers in Goldmember, Austin returns to his hotel room to find Mini-Me grinning at him while holding up a letter opener. The audience knows that Mini-Me is here because he defected from Dr. Evil (the "help") and that he was just using the letter opener to open some mail, but Austin immediately reads it as an ambush (the "attack").
- In A Brother's Price something like this ensues when Cira offers Jerin her help. Unsurprisingly, as he had seen her working together with his kidnappers. She had been infiltrating them.
- In Battle Royale, Hiroki tries to help save his crush, but the minute he approaches her in the game she shoots him down, mistaking it for attack.
- In A Certain Justice by John Lescroat, Kevin Shea witnesses an drunken angry white mob lynching an innocent black man. He desperately tries to help the man by holding him up and passing him a knife to cut the noose. It doesn't work, and the photo that gets plastered on the news implies he was part of the lynch mob, trying to pull the man down to speed up the hanging.
- In the Wings of Fire series, MudWing dragons help their siblings hatch by breaking open their eggshells. Other dragons, though, think of this as an attack.
- Harry Potter:
- This is a common mistake made concerning Professor Snape's interaction with Harry Potter, particularly in the first book; due to Snape's harsh treatment of Harry, everyone quickly assumes that such actions as Snape staring at Harry's jerking broom muttering to himself are Snape jinxing the broom, but it is finally revealed that he was actually acting to protect Harry from Voldemort's forces in memory of the debt he owed Harry's father and his own affection for Harry's mother.
- In the fifth book, Harry and Dudley get attacked by Dementors who drain their happiness and energy. Harry fights them off and pulls Dudley to safety. But since Dementors are Invisible to Normals, Dudley did not understand what was happening and thought Harry was the one hurting him with his spells.
- In The Wheel of Time, some adherents of the Prophet assaults some riders, believing that the men were pursuing the women riding in front of them with hostile intent, when they were in fact friends and members of the same group, and were just riding behind them. However, even after the situation has been explained, the adherents do not apologize for attacking or even acknowledge that they were mistaken, claiming that they are still obliged to kill the male riders for threatening a woman.
- In the Sweet Valley High book Nowhere To Run, Emily Mayer's saves her baby half-sister from choking. Her father runs into the room afterwards and thanks to all the lies that his wife, her Wicked Stepmother, has been telling him throughout the book, assumes that she tried to hurt the baby and orders her out of the house.
- In Renegades, when the headquarters are attacked, Adrian runs in and sees Nightmare standing over Max's unconscious body. He naturally assumes she tried to kill him, while the chapter from her perspective already showed she was actually attempting to rescue him.
- NCIS: Minor recurring character Nikki Jardine had this as part of her backstory. When her brother, Eric, was in Iraq he was injured in an IED attack and when a friendly Iraqi man tried to save Eric's life, the man was shot by US Forces who mistook him for a terrorist. Nikki has tried to help the Iraqi's widow and children ever since in gratitude for his sacrifice.
- One Foot in the Grave: In the third episode of Series 1, Victor has just been hospitalised by some youthful muggers. Later on in the episode, his act of throwing away Mrs Warboys' hand grenade makes him fall over. Some young people, assuming he's had a heart attack, come and attempt CPR, but Victor thinks he's being punched in the chest and retaliates.
- Blue Bloods has an episode in which a homeless man with mental issues is arrested after a surveillance tape shows him tossing a teenage girl into a subway train, killing her. On closer inspection, it turns out that the girl was trying to commit suicide and the homeless man was trying to drag her away from the tracks when she manages to push away from him and into the train.
- In the Haven episode "Over My Head", a woman named Daphne is trapped in a crashed car and the tide is coming in. When Duke Crocker attempts to save her, Nathan Wuornos assumes he's going to kill her and almost shoots him before Audrey Parker stops him. When Duke draws a knife, Daphne screams and shields herself with her arms, but he uses it to cut her jammed seatbelt.
- One Life to Live: After Blair is set upon and mugged by two gang members, she is left lying unconscious on the ground. When another young man happens upon her and leans over her to see if she's okay, the cops come along and naturally assume that he is her attacker. Fortunately, Blair is able to clear his name once she recovers.
- When gang-rape leader Todd Manning attacks his victim Marty again, her friend Luna happens upon the scene and whacks him on the head with a pipe. Unfortunately, thanks to the rape case being well known among the townspeople, the cops assume Luna was acting as a vigilante rather than defending Marty.
- Third Watch. Sully and Davis spot a man being beaten in an alleyway and split up to trap the attackers. Sully slips and falls, dropping his gun. A well-meaning, completely innocent civilian happens along and asks if he's okay, reaching down to pick up the gun and hand it to him. At this point, Davis comes upon the scene, thinks that the man is going to shoot Sully and promptly empties his own gun into him. He's horrified to realize his mistake and feels even worse when he's cleared of any wrongdoing.
- On the Soap Opera Passions, local Jerkass Julian Crane (who is actually a Jerk with a Heart of Gold) is trapped in an elevator with local Mary Sue Whitney Russell. Julian tries to find a way out, only for glass to shatter and fall into the elevator. Whitney repeatedly screams at him to "Get back!", meaning for him to be careful (he's staying in place to protect her from the shards). Hearing this outside the elevator, her father TC, who loathes Julian, assumes that Julian is attacking her and proceeds to beat the crap out of him when the two finally get out.
- Played with in Aloe Blacc's video for "Hello World". It focuses on a number of people in hoodies who are acting suspicious- but are actually trying to help people.
- The song "Beep Beep" by The Playmates has the driver of a Cadillac mistaking a Nash Rambler's horn honking for being challenged to a drag race. When they reach speeds of 120 mph, the driver of the Nash Ramber catches up and rolls down his window to ask how to get his car out of second gear.
- John Mulaney has a bit about this (except that the person who he thinks is helping him thinks he's attacking them). He was waiting for a train in the New York City Subway at 2 am, when a woman starts walking away. He assumes that the woman heard the train on another platform and starts following her. They start walking faster and faster until she starts running and he runs after her. It's only then that he realizes that she thinks he's going to attack her and is trying to get away from him.
- In X3: Terran Conflict and X3: Albion Prelude, the player's space suit is equipped with a repair laser for patching up hull damage (otherwise you have to pay a shipyard to have it fixed, and that can be prohibitively expensive in the early game). Mechanically it works by going through shields and dealing negative hull damage. Thing is, the game still treats it as a weapon, so if you use it on ships you don't own they'll react as if they're being attacked, and Hilarity Ensues.
- In Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, Terra's penchant for saying "Unversed!" whenever said monsters show up gets him in trouble when he's trying to talk to Snow White. She mistakenly assumes that Terra is summoning the Unversed to attack her when actually he's trying to warn her that they're coming.
- Spider-Man Unlimited: In the first episode, Spider-Man has become an even bigger Hero with Bad Publicity than usual, being blamed for the apparent death of John Jameson. It's taken to the extent that when he saves someone from a burning building, the fire department promptly blast him with riot hoses and accuse him of being the one to start said fire, and when Spidey pushes one of the firemen out of the way of falling debris and ends up being buried under the rubble and presumed dead, said fireman later goes on TV, claiming that Spidey was actually trying to attack him, and the collapsing building saved his life.
- In The Ren & Stimpy Show episode "A Visit to Anthony", after the eponymous Anthony is beaten up by a bully, Ren and Stimpy try to help revive him, but his dad sees them and assumes they beat Anthony up.
- Ed, Edd n Eddy:
- In "Boys Will Be Eds", Rolf's goat attacks Jimmy for his sandwich. As Rolf tries to pry the goat off Jimmy, Sarah appears and automatically thinks that Rolf is attacking Jimmy before slamming her racket down over his head and beating him to a pulp.
- In the episode "If it Smells Like an Ed", the Eds discover Johnny hogtied. The Kids arrive shortly after and think their attempts at untying him are actually them tying him up themselves.
- Alice's first appearance on The Critic ends up this way. Jay passes by her and her daughter, Penny struggling to carry her groceries in the rain, when someone bumps into her causing her to drop them. Jay feels bad for them and goes over to offer to share his cab ride. When Alice sees him approaching, she douses him with pepper spray. Luckily, Jay is not fazed by it (he notes that it tastes like jalapeño), and Alice quickly apologizes when she realizes he's trying to help.
Alice: I hate being unfriendly, but this is New York.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "Lesson Zero", Twilight Sparkle finds Fluttershy giving a bear a massage, but it's so violent that Twilight thinks Fluttershy is beating up the bear. Admittedly, so does the audience.