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Self-Defense Ruse

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Orange: Violence doesn't solve anything.
Hamburger: You were the one shooting me with a gun!
Orange: Self-defense.

Killing in Self-Defense is not a pleasant business, but sometimes it has to be done. This is for cases when one character kills another under the guise of self-defence, but it really isn't. It's a smaller and more localized version of a False Flag Operation.

This is a trope that has the distinction of being done by both the heroes and villains. If the hero does this, it will usually be to an Asshole Victim and a form of Framing the Guilty Party: the person was an abuser or an attacker, but they just weren't attacking the hero at that present moment. If a villain does this, it will be a way of getting away with murder and may be achieved because The Bad Guys Are Cops or thanks to an Amoral Attorney. Frequently part of a Wounded Gazelle Gambit and/or a Deceased Fall-Guy Gambit, but doesn't have to be.

Compare Adaptational Self-Defense, when a character is depicted as having (or not having) good reason to kill someone across adaptations.

The use of this trope in fiction also falls frequently under Artistic Licence – Law. Self-defence is a very real defence, but in most places, it has stringent cases where it can or cannot be applied. For example, the use of violence must be proportionate, and the danger must be imminent. Often media will ignore this distinction altogether, because viewers know that self-defence is a ''thing'', so it doesn't matter if it isn't correctly applied. Perhaps the police are too useless or corrupt to investigate properly or, in some cases, care.

Nevertheless, this is Truth in Television. It's common for a Corrupt Cop or regime to deploy this tactic to silence protestors and/or to cover up misconduct. However, no real-life examples please, as this is too controversial.

As a Death Trope, all spoilers will be unmarked.


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    Anime and Manga 

     Comic Books 
  • Invoked in The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye. When Megatron renounces the Decepticon cause and is allowed to co-captain the Lost Light in its journey to find the Knights of Cybertron, a cabal of Autobots who're against his appointment get the unstable Whirl (who has a grudge against Megatron) to ambush him shortly after the Lost Light gets underway. They hope that Megatron will react violently to the assault, giving them a reason to either kill him or at least kick him off the ship, or even that Whirl will just straight-up kill him (though there isn't much chance of that). To their disappointment, Megatron quickly defeats Whirl with only minimal force and releases him with a stern warning. note 

     Film - Live-Action 
  • The Tagline for Enough is "Self defense isn't murder". When Slim decides she's tired of running from her abusive misogynistic husband, she breaks into his home, initiates a fight, and plants falsified items and letters that would help her claim that her murder of him was all in self-defense.
  • In the film Eye for an Eye, after a violent rapist is let Off on a Technicality, the Mama Bear of the young woman he raped and killed is approached by a group that teaches people how to commit vigilante executions and make them look like self-defense. The rest of the film revolves around the mother goading the man to come get her so she can commit said "self-defense".
  • The Hateful Eight: Major Warren taunts General Smithers (claiming to have raped Smithers' son then left him to die naked in the snow) until Smithers goes for his gun, allowing Warren to shoot Smithers in "self-defense".
  • Ice Station Zebra. The Mole plans to invoke this trope, telling an American officer to beat him with a crowbar so he can be shot in 'self-defense'. The officer is incredulous that he would go along with this plan, but the mole points out that he's the type to die fighting. Instead of reaching for the crowbar, the officer attacks him directly, eventually gaining the upper hand until he's shot dead by the hero under the assumption that he is The Mole.
  • I See You:
    • After she learns that he's a child killer (from breaking into and living in his house), Greg knocks Mindy unconscious and takes her back to his house. He then forces her to stand up so that it looks like she was walking towards him and shoots her.
    • He also brags that he's going to do this with Alec, but is stopped because Alec shoots him first - and then his partner comes in and shoots Alec. However, luckily, he survives.
  • Karen: When Karen seemingly shoots Imani dead, she and Mike scheme to cover it up by claiming she went for Mike's gun and they killed her in self-defense. They don't get the chance to sell their story, though.
  • In L.A. Confidential, Bud White tracks down Sylvester Fitch, one of the men involved in the abduction and rape of Inez Soto. White enters Fitch's house and shoots him dead while he is sitting in his underwear, eating cereal and watching television. White then uses a second gun to fire a round into the door frame and places the gun in Fitch's hand to make it look like White killed him in self-defence. Exley lampshades the implausibility of the plan:
    Exley: A naked guy with a gun? You expect anyone to believe that?
  • Lone Star (1996): Charlie Wade, a racist and corrupt sheriff, did this routinely. Whenever he encountered a black or Mexican man with a gun, whether or not that man was committing a crime, he would point his own gun at the other man and order him to hand over his gun. As soon as the other man's hand touched the gun Wade would shoot him and claim self-defense.
  • Ransom: As Jimmy Shaker's kidnapping scheme begins to fall apart, his accomplices Clark and Miles decide Screw This, I'm Outta Here, at which Jimmy pulls a masterful change in plans: he radios a possible kidnap situation to his station, shouts "Put down the gun!" at Clark (who, realizing they're being double-crossed, tries desperately to drive off), then shoots both of them before planting a gun in Miles's hand. Ironically, seconds later Shaker's girlfriend puts a bullet in his shoulder, and he's forced to kill her in self-defense for real.
  • Scream:
    • Scream (1996):
      • Billy and Stu's plan was to kill Sidney and her father, Neil, and claim that he had gone insane and killed everyone in a Deceased Fall-Guy Gambit. Presumably this relied on nobody being able to notice that Neil had been tied up in Stu's house for a day and that the murders were actually committed by two people.
      • It's also implied briefly towards the end that this is Billy's ultimate plan. As he stabbed Stu too deep with the knife (which Stu notices), it's possible that Billy planned to survive and admit to killing Stu in order to make sure he went down for the murders that he and Billy committed together. This would have raised the issue of how Stu could kill so many people in so short a time, on the brink of being in two places at once.
    • Scream 3: Roman's final plan is to pin the Ghostface murders on Sidney and make it look like he killed her in self-defense.
    • Scream 4: Jill reveals that her plan was to claim she had killed Charlie and Trevor in self-defence. Only Charlie was actually Ghostface; he and Jill framed Trevor. All this in spite of the fact that Jill shot Trevor, who was tied up, in the dick before killing him. Played with, though, in that while Jill's plan didn't work, it mostly fell apart because she said too much to Gale, rather than there being anything noticeably wrong with her plan.
  • Dirty Cop Alonzo pulls this trope in Training Day when he and his team of crooked cops kill his long-time drug-dealing friend Roger and take his money. Alonzo plants a gun at the scene and shoots one of his men to make it seem like Roger's death was a case of self-defense in reporting, then splits the money between his men while leaving with the rest.
  • Veronica Mars: Well-to-do Celeste Kane is cornered and harassed by a group of bikers before Weevil (a former criminal who has turned his life around) arrives and chases them off. Celeste pulls a pistol and shoots Weevil (non-fatally) in her panic. This is then covered up for her by the corrupt Sheriff, who plants a weapon on him. Sadly, this event causes Weevil to go back to crime.
  • The entire plan of Wild Things began when Kelly van Ryan accuses Sam of rape. Though he was in on it too. In a variant as revealed in The Stinger Ray also pulled it off. Using the false self-defense excuse to cover his murder of Kelly. He avoids any prosecution for murder, but his bosses are suspicious enough that they fire him.

  • Girls Don't Hit:
    • Joss pretended she was defending herself against the man who'd raped and murdered her friend/lover Crystal, though she actually lured him into attacking her deliberately, then killed him. She realizes she's in trouble when the police see through it, but Myles arrives, recognizing her potential as a killer and makes it go away (helped by the fact the cops sympathize with it, laws aside).
    • This is later used by Shannon to murder Joss, planting a gun in her hand so it's apparently justified.
  • Reconstructed in Gone Girl. Amy falsely claims that Desi kidnapped and raped her and that she stabbed him with a steak knife after it fell into her hands by accident. However, several people guess that this is not the case and point out the obvious flaws in Amy's story, while Amy herself has gone to meticulous and cold-blooded planning to make it look this way, such as repeatedly penetrating herself with a wine bottle to give herself convincing injuries.
  • I'm Not Done With You Yet: Thalia kills Antoine and then claims that he attempted to rape her. Jane genuinely believes that it was self-defense, which catches up with her when she gets interrogated about it ten years later.
  • Just Revenge: A local drunk person discovered that Katrina Liatus was hiding a Jew and threatened to tell the authorities if she didn't let him rape her. She let him in as if to accept his demand, killed him, and claimed that he had threatened to kill her
  • Strike The Zither: When Sikou Hai plans a coup on Ren's behalf, Zephyr realizes that appearing to betray a family member might jeopardize Ren's public favor. So she manipulates Sikou Dun into attacking Sikou Hai first, to make it seem like Ren's soldiers are only reacting to his aggression.

     Live-Action TV 
  • An episode of Bull deals with a Gold Digger, who has apparently shot her husband after he stabbed her several times. Except the opener clearly shows her stabbing herself before pulling out the gun and shooting him after he refuses to renegotiate her prenup (she wanted all of his billions, instead of settling for mere millions). It takes Bull a single conversation to figure out the truth. The damning evidence turns out to be her knowledge of anatomy (meaning she knew how to stab herself in a way that looks bad but is survivable) and latex gloves in her shredder with her own blood on them. She could've easily gotten away with it, had she not been so greedy, as the company execs were willing to buy her shares out for $500 million.
  • Columbo: In "Negative Reaction", a photographer played by Dick Van Dyke murdered his wife and made it look like a kidnapping gone bad. He then killed an ex-con and framed him for the kidnapping, claiming the ransom exchange had gone bad and he had to kill the "kidnapper" in self-defense.
  • Cold Case: The trope is played with in the episode "Justice" when the investigators look into the case of a Jerk Jock killed in 1982 and they discover that the man was a serial rapist so horrible that the many women he assaulted banded together, got a gun, and confronted him with full intent to kill him in revenge. The women decided he was Not Worth Killing when he figuratively wet himself at seeing the gun, but he was confronted a minute after they left by the brother of one of the girls, who shot the jock dead after he made clear he only acted scared for the girls to leave and he wasn't going to change his ways. The investigators find the jock as such a clear case of an Asshole Victim that they, right in the middle of the interrogation, coach the brother into how to claim it was self-defense so he will walk away clean.
  • The CSI: New York episode "Open and Shut" has a woman apparently killing a schizophrenic limo driver in self-defence after he murders her husband (after she had him fired for spouting conspiracy theories while driving him to the airport)note . In reality, she lured him to her hotel room with the possibility of helping him get his job back, having just murdered her husband and changed clothes. She serves as a foil (going so far as to give a "Not So Different" Remark) to Stella, who had to kill her ex-boyfriend in (genuine) self-defence in the previous season (and was feeling sympathetic to her situation before learning the truth).
  • Desperate Housewives: In Season 4, Wayne, Katherine's abusive husband, brutally beats and nearly kills Adam and plans to take Dylan away after tracking them down. However, Katherine manages to get the gun from him and handcuffs him. When he brags that he'll escape the charges and poison Dylan against Katherine, Katherine shoots him. Her fellow housewives back her up about his abuse (which they, until now, hadn't been aware of) and she escapes any charges.
  • Law & Order: In "Point of View", a woman shoots her date near an alley, and the arresting officers ask her why. "He was going to rape me." She's still charged with Murder 2, sparking friction in the District Attorney's office about a woman's right to self-defense. The case is made worse when the victim is identified as the star witness in a Federal trial to put away a notorious mob kingpin. It turns out the woman had made a Deal with the Devil: in exchange for the kingpin's thugs whacking her abusive husband, the woman would silence the snitch.
  • Monk:
    • In Mr. Monk and the Billionaire Mugger, the bizarre crime of a billionaire trying to mug somebody in an alley and getting killed in self-defense turns out to be this trope; the "mugging victim" was an old friend of the billionaire who solicited his help in staging a fake mugging, ostensibly so he could look like a hero in front of his girlfriend (they had done the same thing with the roles reversed back in college). What the billionaire didn't realize was that his friend had brought a gun and was actually planning to murder him the entire time.
    • In Mr. Monk's Favorite Show, a Former Child Star receiving ominous threats turned out to have been sending them to herself, to make it look like somebody wanted her dead. This was all set up for when she later met in private with a man who knew too much about a fraudulent award of hers, so she could silence him for good and make it look like she was defending herself from her murderous stalker.
  • In the season 6 pilot of NCIS, Agent Lee kills Agent Langer under the claim that he was a mole who tried to kill her; in reality, she's the mole and killed him because he found out.
  • Scandal: "The Lawn Chair" revolves around the fatal shooting of a black teen at the hands of a white police officer. The officer claims he shot the boy because he pulled a knife on him but Olivia's team discovers video evidence of him planting a knife on the boy after shooting him because he mistook the boy's phone for a weapon.
  • Slasher: In "The Executioner", Dylan holds the killer, Cam, down while Sarah stabs him multiple times in the stomach and across the body while he's begging her not to kill him. She then slashes his throat and escapes any punishment because she claims it was self-defence.
  • In the final season of The Shield, Duck's arc revolves around Lloyd, a teenage boy who shot a classmate who was trying to rob him and then claims self-defense. Duck believes from the off that Lloyd is a sociopath who plotted the robbery with his classmate in order to set up the murder. He's unable to prove it, though.
  • Silent Witness: In the episode "Redhill" following the progress of the team's investigation into a murder at Redhill Prison the crooked guard Daniel Kessler realises that gangster he's been smuggling drugs into the prison for is now a threat to him. Thus he goes to meet him by bringing a younger and more innocent guard with him, then slits the other guard's throat with a shiv, tosses it on the ground, and starts attacking the gangster with his baton forcing the man to grab the shiv to defend himself. He then bludgeons him to death, making it look like the gangster murdered the other guard and attacked him, forcing him to kill him in self-defence.
  • S.W.A.T. (2017): When Jim Street was a child, his mother deliberately provoked his abusive father so she could kill him and claim self-defense. She ended up going to prison after Buck Spivey was able to get young Jim to tell the truth about what happened.
  • The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window: The killer, psychopathic Enfant Terrible Emma, attempts to murder Anna and play it off as self-defense. It backfires when Anna ''actually'' kills her in self-defense.

     Video Games 

     Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons: Invoked in the episode "Cape Feare", where Chief Wiggum helps the Simpsons being threatened by Sideshow Bob by setting up an alarm and claiming that once a man is inside their home, anything they do is "nice and legal" note . Homer immediately calls Ned Flanders over, eager to pummel him and claim self-defense, until Wiggum points out that it doesn't work if they invite the person over.
  • South Park: In the episode "Volcano", the boys are taken on a hunting trip by Stan's uncle Jimbo, who explains that they can get around restrictions protecting endangered species simply by shouting "It's coming right for us!" before shooting the animal.


Video Example(s):


Admiral Buenamigo

Admiral Buenamigo reveals he did some very illegal and dangerous stuff to make a name for himself as admiral. Freeman actually lampshades this, insisting that he isn't a "bad-faith admiral up to no good" and is better than this. He bluntly says that he isn't, then turns the Aledo on the Cerritos to silence them, ignoring Rutherford's warning about how unstable the A.I. is, which ends up costing his life.

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Main / InsaneAdmiral

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