A Windmill Political is a threat that doesn't exist, but some people believe it does or pretend that it does. There are lots of windmills, lots of people who (honestly or dishonestly) Cry Wolf. With so much nuttery and dishonesty going on, how is one to accept a real but really strange threat to be real?
Some threats are easy to mistake for windmills, but they turn out to be real threats.
There are four ways that this can come into play:
- Straight: The threat turns out to be exactly as foretold.
- Metaphorical: The claims about the threat were not literally true, but they described a real threat, although in a metaphorical way.
- From Bad to Worse: The outrageous claims turn out to be modest: The guy accused of fighting a windmill had actually not yet understood the full magnitude of the real threat it is worse than the dismissed warnings indicated.
- Deliberately Invoked: The people whom the supposed Windmill Crusader is trying to warn either are the threat themselves or are an even worse threat, and are (understandably) deliberately playing down the threat and/or dismissing the crusader as crazy in order to deflect attention away from themselves.
For something to be No Mere Windmill, it must first be dismissed as a windmill. Thus, the trope is often closely related to Only Sane Man, Ignored Expert, Doomsayer, Cassandra Truth, Subverted Suspicion Aesop, and/or You Have to Believe Me!. Depending on context, it may become a case of either The Cuckoolander Was Right or Strawman Has a Point. It may also become a case of Accidental Truth if someone invents a Windmill Crusade that just happens to resemble a genuine threat.
Contrast Elephant in the Living Room, where people actually do know that the problem is not a windmill, and Weirdness Censor, where "nothing to see here" becomes a Windmill Political in itself. See also Properly Paranoid. Then Let Me Be Evil is where a windmill turns into a giant.
Just as with the supertrope Windmill Political: No contemporary Real Life examples please, and no history examples except ones surrounded by a really thick consensus.
The presence of a work in this list means a hidden threat has become real. Odds are good that Here there be spoilers
- Chick Tracts: In this setting, Hell is a literal truth and the Devil is actively hovering over the Earth trying to siphon away as many souls as he can. Only the kewl superpowers that come with being a Christian can save you now. (That and Lil'Suzy.) In spite of fundamentalist Christianity being Captain Obvious truth in this setting, many still mistake the Devil for a mere windmill. These people invariably find out that he is indeed not.
- From Superman "Gentlemen, Krypton is doomed!". In whatever iteration it arises, Superman's father Jor-El predicts the doom of Krypton and is summarily ignored, inevitably the planet is destroyed about ten pages later.
- Type D example: The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror story "Immigration of the Body Snatchers" (obviously a send-up of the sci-fi classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)) has Homer trying to warn the authorities in an insane asylum in which he's been confined that "pod people" from outer space are taking over the bodies of everyone in Springfield, including Bart, Lisa, Maggie, and Marge. Everyone refuses to believe him except for psychiatrist Dr. Marvin Monroe, who finally admits that the threat is true...but that it's nothing to worry about because he is actually a three-eyed spy from the planet Venus (his doctor's headgear has been concealing his third eye) who has come to lead an invasion against both the pod people and Earthlings. Then one of the police officers who had arrested Homer suddenly strips off his skin to reveal that "he" is actually two Martians who have anticipated the Venusians' plot and are here to foil them. Then another policeman strips off his skin and exposes himself as "a robot ghost clone from the future" who is there to assassinate everybody. And so on, and so forth...
- In Empowered, the Superhomies make the mistake of ignoring Thugboy's warnings about Willy Pete, and go after him expecting an easy win and a quick PR boost. Turns out that if anything, Willy Pete was worse than Thugboy knew. He incinerated the squad sent to bring him in instantly before they even knew he was there, with only a single survivor escaping, and it just gets worse from there.
- Arrow: Rebirth: Tempest is a mixture of Type A and Type D. A great majority of the city are skeptical of the idea of such an organization which such wide-spanning influence exists, despite the Green Arrow's claims. Tommy even goes as far as to use it as proof that Oliver is mentally ill. However, a select few such as Oliver, Laurel, and Sara, along with the readers, know that Tempest is very much a real threat and worse than the Green Arrow has been implying so far. When Tempest is finally exposed, the world does not take it well.
- In The Day After Tomorrow, the bad weather is only bad weather. Its only bad weather, itll get better soon... or not. This is a Type C, where the main character gets ridiculed for a prognosis that is far less lethal than the situation they are really about to face.
- In WarGames, theres nothing wrong with the computer. Nope. Its just a hacker. Its all his fault. And since this disaster couldnt have been caused by some random kid, he must have been working with the Russians. No, it was the computer all along: A dangerous case of Garbage In, Garbage Out, ascending towards The Computer Is Your Friend. This is a Type B: The main character knows what Joshua is up to, but nobody believes him.
- In Defendor, the hero appears to be a lunatic going up against an imaginary supervillain called "Captain Industry". Defendor may or may not actually believe this, but in either case, the "Captains of Industry" is actually a metaphor for the very real threat of drug lords — the very villains whom Defendor has been fighting all along. This makes it a Type B example.
- In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, we are introduced to a crazy woman who is obviously a paranoid schizophrenic. She even believes that evil robots from the future are out to get her, imagine that. To the great surprise of everyone except the audience, it eventually turns out that the robots are real and Sarah is completely sane (although traumatized). She knows exactly what a terminator really is, a straight Type A of this trope.
- The 1971 George C. Scott film They Might Be Giants (after which the band you're probably more familiar with is named) bases its conflict on this trope. The protagonist believes himself to be Sherlock Holmes and is trying to convince his psychiatrist that not only is his claim true, but Moriarty is also at large in the city. Since the ending cuts out at the last second, it's open to interpretation whether they finally meet and confront Moriarty, or are run over by a train.
- In Red, this is Boggs' signature trope. Not long into the film, he's convinced they're being followed by a helicopter, and he pulls over a random middle-aged woman at the terminal and threatens her with a gun (the woman is terrified and completely unarmed). He's just a paranoid kook, right? However, that same helicopter shows up later and snipes at them, killing their informant, and the woman shows up with a rocket launcher.
- Also mentioned in Boggs's background. He was convinced that the government was experimenting on him.
Frank Moses: As it turns out, he really was being given a daily dose of LSD for eleven years.
- Also mentioned in Boggs's background. He was convinced that the government was experimenting on him.
- In Iron Sky, the flying saucer space Nazis are very real, but when a certain hobo tries to warn people about the threat they all just think he's crazy.
- In 12 Monkeys, an understandable instance occurs. Windmill Crusader James Cole has to try and prevent the near-extinction of mankind by lethal virus; however, the reason nobody listens to his warnings is that he claims to be from the future, and even Cole himself begins to question if people are right about him being insane.
- In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the Republic provides little aid to General Organa's Resistance because they believe the First Order doesn't pose a significant threat. Then the Starkiller fires and destroys the Republic's capital.
- In the fifth novel of Harry Potter (as well as the end of the fourth), people cling to the belief that Voldemort cannot have returned. Thus they let him grow in power undisturbed, while they accuse Harry of being a Windmill Crusader and Dumbledore of being a Manipulative Bastard using this Windmill Political for some shadowy political game.
- The Dragonriders in the early Dragonriders of Pern novels are widely considered to be a useless political relic that no longer serves any functional purpose. Thus, when Weyrleader F'lar starts warning them that the flesh-eating alien spores called Thread are about to start falling again, everyone laughs at him. And then, well, the flesh-eating alien spores called Thread start falling again.
- The Guardians of Selfhood in Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained have been claiming that an alien known as the Starflyer has infiltrated the human Commonwealth and is manipulating it to its own ends for a few hundred years. Most people dismissed the story as a convenient excuse for their acts of terrorism, until a deadly alien invasion. Suddenly the Guardians' claims start lining up with reality and a few people take them seriously. Turns out they are right.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire the Night's Watch is mostly seen as a joke, since, while they do defend the realm from wildling raiders, that's not really a job that requires a 900-foot wall of ice, multiple fortresses, and lifelong dedication forswearing all lands and family to do so. Their real purpose is supposed to be defending the realm from the Others, ice-based Omnicidal Maniac Humanoid Abominations who can raise the dead as wights, but knowledge of their existence has faded into legends and fairy tales. Unfortunately for Westeros, they're real, and they're coming back.
- The Children of the Forest and many of the abilities associated with them also suffer this, all demoted to fanciful fairytale and myth status, despite them all cropping liberally up in legends and folklore, if rather distorted and disguised. Yup, not imaginary, however reduced in numbers they are. Also, both them and human wargs, skinchangers, greendreamers, and greenseers with the use of their weirwood heart trees as booster signals? Still kicking and still impacting events... however much most of the Seven Kingdoms would like to deny it.
- Aeron Greyjoy, the unwashed, disheveled prophet of the Drowned God, is dead set in his belief that his brother Euron is an agent of his religion's equivalent of Satan, and that his coronation would spell doom for the Ironborn. However, due to his status as a half-mad fanatic with a lifelong grudge against Euron, and the fact that the Ironborn are considered such a tertiary part of the plot, even the readers are unlikely to believe that Euron is anywhere near as dangerous as Aeron claims. And they'd be right. He's much, much, much worse.
- In The Unfinished Tales and other peripheral sources, Saruman attempted to make Gandalf's insistence that the Necromancer of Mirkwood was, in fact, Sauron reestablishing his power a Windmill Crusade. Saruman very well knew that Gandalf was correct, but wanted the One Ring for himself and was stalling for time to try and find it first. It was only when he believed Sauron was too close to recovering the Ring that he dropped the charade and acknowledged the Necromancer was No Mere Windmill. This is shown quite nicely during the council scene at Rivendell in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
- A couple of books into the Codex Alera, the main characters are aware that the Vord are building footholds in the country in preparation for a massive invasion, but most of Alera's leadership is convinced they are a minor concern beside the many, many other races trying to kill them on their particular iteration of a Death World. In the next book, they learn that the Vord have utterly consumed the next continent and Alera is the last civilisation standing.
- The Degrassi: The Next Generation Zombie Apocalypse Halloween Special has a Type C with the genetically modified food in the cafeteria from season 2. Emma just thought they were trying to poison the kids, but it turns out it's a Fate Worse than Death.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
- Buffy's mother doesn't believe in vampires. Buffy stopped trying to explain the very real threat of vampires after her mother had her put in a mental hospital for believing such silly "delusions". But in this setting, the vampires are very real.
- Buffy's roommate from "Living Conditions" is, in fact, a demon despite everyone but Buffy saying that Buffy is just being neurotic.
- Game of Thrones: In "Mhysa", Stannis decides to abandon his campaign in the South to march on The Wall, using his army to shore up the defences of the Night's Watch. The reason is that he believes their missives that the White Walkers have returned and knows that if someone doesn't stop them, it doesn't matter who is sitting on the Iron Throne, they will die just like the rest of Westeros.
- The BBC TV series of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a man with a placard reading "The End of the World is Nigh" is among those seen panicking in the street when the Vogons arrive.
- The Goodies, with Tim wearing a "the end is nigh" placard and it's just an advertising gimmick for his chestnut stall. Of course, the world gets blown up "in an unprecedented show of international military cooperation" shortly thereafter.
- The pilot episode of Don Quick (which isn't listed in the Wikipedia entry) had a crashingly literal version of this. Visiting peaceable hippies who live inside clouds of toxic bubbles that protect them from their warlike neighbours, Don Quick dismisses their fears of the "giants" that appear on their doorstep: it's OK, they're only windmills! Actually, they're giant fans that blow the bubbles away and leave the hippies defenseless.
- Another Type D example from a The Far Side strip: A seemingly crazed man is standing on a soapbox on a bustling street corner, screaming to the pedestrians all around him that "[T]he vampires are everywhere! Listen to me! Everyone must beware! Vampires!" Everyone just ignores him— and with good reason, because two workingmen walking by carrying a large mirror betray that nobody on the streets except for the mad prophet is casting a reflection...
- In the "Ice Age" block of Magic: The Gathering, Sorine Relicbane was branded a heretic in Soldev — a city that caters to artificers — for his outspoken opinion that unearthing the artifacts of ancient times and making new ones was a bad idea. Then the Phyrexian war machines reactivated by an evil cult and the out of control steam beasts created by Arcum Dagsson demolished Soldev. The flavor text of both versions of Soldevi Heretic show Arcum realizing that Sorine was right all along and that Sorine himself wasn't happy about it.
- Warhammer 40,000: The existence of Ork kommandoz (Orks that use stealth instead of frontal Attack! Attack! Attack!, huge guns, and shouting) (not that they don't use them) has long been denied by higher echelons of Imperial Guard, choosing instead to execute the guardsmen who claim to have seen them for incompetence and treason... occasionally leading to those same leaders getting assassinated or blown up by the "nonexistent" kommandoz.
- The Skaven in Warhammer are this as well, since hardly anyone in the Empire even believes that they exist. This includes cities that were attacked by Skaven in the past. This is helped by a large-scale spell that makes people less likely to believe in them as well as Clan Eshin (Ninja Rats) doing all they can to steal and/or destroy evidence that would suggest the existence of Skaven. Consequently, any time someone mentions the Skaven, they are either labeled as being crazy or more likely, burned at the stake for speaking heresy, if they don't mysteriously disappear due to Eshin assassins.
- Mass Effect 2: The oft-repeated page quote comes from the Citadel Council, as they dismiss Shepard's claims that the Reapers are real, that they were responsible for the events of the first game, and that they are on the warpath. Only in the third game is Shepard finally vindicated, as the Reaper fleet attacks Earth.
- Based on the official evidence shown to the council, the alternative explanation of a well known ruthless racist having found an ancient abandoned spaceship and convinced a group of aliens that he is an agent of their gods to attack human colonies appears far more plausible. And far less terrifying. Despite the official story being "Geth Attack", it's clear that some elements of council space and beyond did believe the Reaper threat to exist and unofficial steps were taken to prepare against it.
- This trope is amusingly averted in the case of Legion if he survives the Suicide Mission to report the Reaper threat to his people. Much to Shepard's envy.
Shepard: So the geth believed your proof that the Reapers were coming back?Legion: Of course.Shepard: That must have been nice.
- Averted by the second game. While the Council's official stance is that Sovereign was a Geth construct, the Citadel Archives show they were aware it was more likely a Reaper. It just happens that Shepard's approach was to "warn everyone" causing widespread panic.
- Full Metal Panic! protagonist, Sōsuke Sagara in Super Robot Wars games is most of time treated as Wrong Genre Savvy Windmill Crusader who sees danger at every corner. Sometimes, however, he turns out to be right. Like in Super Robot Wars Judgment when he informs Yurika that a suspicious person has appeared - that suspicious person turns out to be Tekkaman Blade character, Balzac.
- Bioshock Infinite has a straight example in both the E3 demo and the finished game. Near the beginning, if the demo you hear a town crier warning that the Vox Populi are dangerous terrorists who want to plunder everything you have and murder you. Just as you're assuming that you've seen this old cliché before —it's obviously a trumped-up threat by the demonstrably evil establishment and the Vox Populi are really noble freedom fighters— you run into one of the Vox Populi spokesmen, who loudly proclaims that his group wants to plunder everything you have and murder you. In the game proper, there's far more build-up to the expected reveal that Vox are good guys, and the game even lets you believe they really are for a while. Then they turn on you, and you realize that they're actually bloodthirsty radicals looking to wipe out everyone in Columbia, all the way down to the innocent women and children.
- In Dragon Age: Origins, the Grey Wardens' reputation in Ferelden was already rather poor because of an ill-fated revolt led by a Warden in the past. While everyone acknowledges that the Darkspawn are real and are an invading force, quite a few also refuse to believe that it's a full-scale Blight. Which it is. Loghain betrays his king and the Wardens to their doom because he believes they're collaborating with Orlais and he believes Ferelden can handle the Darkspawn on their own. As the game progresses, he falls apart as he realizes that he might have underestimated the threat.
- In the backstory of Another Century's Episode 2, scientist Fidel Barkhorst tried to warn the UCE about the possibility of an alien invasion and asked for the funding to produce a defense initiative consisting of automated battle robots and a network of Kill Sats. The UCE leadership called him a paranoid kook and discredited Barkhorst, which resulted in his committing suicide. A few decades later he was proven correct when the Zentraedi arrived, though thankfully the combined forces of the heroes were enough to save the day.
- RuneScape has a quest where a man who works in a zoo suspects that the penguins are up to something and has you create a penguin disguise so you can infiltrate them. It seems at first like he is just paranoid, but when you actually go into the penguin enclosure in your disguise, you find out that the penguins can talk and are planning an invasion. He ends up getting fired from his job because he can't convince anyone else the penguins are evil.
- FreedomToons: "Leftism: Then vs Now". In 2008, Seamus' criticisms of what he thinks the effects of left-wing policies could be are derided by Julie as irrational fear-mongering but have all come true by 2016.
- In 2008, he doesn't care about gay marriage being legalized but thinks that Christian bakers should not be forced to provide services that conflict with their religion. In 2016, they're being sued for bigotry.
- In 2008, Julie says that terrorists should never be imprisoned without due process because presumption of innocence is paramount for a lawful civil society. In 2016, she wants to suspend civil liberties for people accused of rape and considers anyone who questions this a "rape apologist".
Julie: Honestly, why don't you ever trust me?
- One strip of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal kind of runs in circles around the idea, first coming in from one direction and then another.
- This xkcd strip similarly approaches the "windmill" idea (both literally and in the sense of the related tropes) from an odd angle, but probably goes best under this trope.
- This is a frequent theme in South Park; from Kyle's brother Ike being abducted by space aliens in the first episode to Kyle claiming in the movie that shooting Terrance and Philip would cause Satan and Saddam Hussein to Take Over the World.
- In one episode of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Twilight Sparkle appears to be jealous and/or paranoid of Shining Armor's marriage to Princess Cadence, repeatedly claiming something is wrong with her and eventually straight-up accusing her of being evil. As it turns out, that Cadence was an imposter who imprisoned the real Cadence.
- In the Codename: Kids Next Door episode "Operation: S.U.P.P.O.R.T.", Numbuh One thinks that Cree's training bra is "Battle Ready Armor" and that she's in league with the adults. While at first, it looks like he's being ridiculous (as even Numbuh Five, Cree's younger sister, tells him), it turns out at the end of the episode that he's exactly right (and apparently, Numbuh Five knew it, too, as Cree had procured information not from her, but from a dummy she had made), and Cree goes on to become one of the most dangerous villains in the series. Of course, later episodes show that they had many reasons to be wary of Cree from the start, given who she used to be.
- In the Teen Titans episode "Haunted", Robin is plagued by thoughts of evil villain Slade, and if he is still out there somewhere. Robin pushes his friends away, as his determination to find Slade is getting obsessive and the other titans have a hard time convincing him Slade is no longer an issue. At one point, Robin actually starts to see Slade moving around. It's just that, even while Robin catches up with him, no one else can see the villain. It gets so bad they actually have to restrain Robin later on. It turns out though... that imaginary enemies don't tend to do physical damage to their victim, and that Robin might actually be fighting something more than anyone else is assuming. It ultimately turns out to be a subversion: Robin is under the influence of a hallucinogenic drug, and the physical damage is partially self-inflicted, partially psychosomatic.
- The Venture Bros. episode "The Invisible Hand of Fate" flashes back to a time when the Guild of Calamitous Intent was not believed by the Office of Secret Intelligence to still exist. Col. Gathers and his protégé Brock Samson are investigating the Guild nonetheless, earning them the ridicule of their comrades. When Sgt. Hatred finally pulls the plug on them, he even says to Samson, "Your windmill chasing days are over, Sancho Panza." In the end, the trope is played straight for the O.S.I. in general but deliberately Invoked in the case of Sgt. Hatred: not only does the Guild exist, but Hatred is revealed at the episode's end to be a Guild mole.
- Most people believed that the claims that the Nazis were bent on the total conquest of Europe constituted a Windmill Political. (It didn't help that World War I era propaganda exaggerated Imperial Germany's ambitions and crimes.) People read Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf and didn't believe he was serious, or thought that even if he was, there was no way he'd go and try to make it a reality, or that even if he did, there was no way he could pull it off, or that even if he started pulling it off, they'd be able to control him and stop him then and there. We all know how it turned out in the end. This is also true for Winston Churchill's conviction that war with the Nazis was inevitable. Neville Chamberlain famously took the populist position on the issue, since public opinion was almost unanimously opposed to another large-scale European war, and together with French PM Deladier negotiated with Hitler to preserve peace in Europe... at first. By the middle of the 1930s, it was obvious that the Nazis weren't going to be satisfied until they controlled the whole continent, and behind the scenes, the focus had shifted to delaying the inevitable confrontation as long as possible while they made preparations; within weeks of Chamberlain making his infamous "there will be peace in our time" speech, Parliament passed legislation enabling significant expansion of the armed forces and laying the groundwork for the extensive civil defence preparations that saved many lives during the Blitz. Sadly, his mostly-undeserved reputation for Head-in-the-Sand Management persisted for decades after his death.
- For a time, The Mafia was so damn good at keeping its secrets that it was practically Common Knowledge that there was no such thing. Senate and FBI investigations into the matter were largely seen as a paranoid windmill crusade by politicians with nothing better to do. It wasn't until the Apalachin Meeting in 1957 (in which a curious New York state trooper stumbled upon a major meeting of the Mafia's bosses, and in turn, more than 60 were arrested) and the subsequent Valachi hearings (in which a low-level mafioso named Joe Valachi squeals on national television, in front of a Senate subcommittee, of a who's who in the Mafia and its inner workings), which revealed that not only did La Cosa Nostra exist, but it was actually much more powerful than assumed.