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Small-Town Tyrant
aka: Corrupt Hick

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"I've seen enough movies to know the way it works down here. Your killer is either the corrupt sheriff, the corrupt mayor, or a crazy hillbilly."
Stroker, Stroker and Hoopnote 

The rural southern U.S. and Appalachia, and indeed, the rural north, east and west of England, are apparently full of small towns run by evil hicks of some sort. His control over the town may be political, economic, religious, or purely criminal, but in most cases it gradually expands to "all of the above".

One of the most obvious hallmarks of a town run by a Tyrant is the apparent lack of a judicial system, oftentimes because they're The Sheriff and take this role to mean Judge, Jury, and Executioner. It seems the Tyrant can just go around arresting whomever he wants for no reason without them ever getting a trial. If there's a courthouse in town, it's certainly not being used. (On the rare occasion there is a trial, it will have a Hanging Judge who will be on the payroll.) In all these respects, this trope is effectively a modern-day version of the Feudal Overlord of yore. The fact that he was probably elected due to his popularity will usually be ignored, though expect him to be a Corrupt Politician who buys his elections if this comes up.

He will almost certainly wear a hat, probably carry a gun, will probably chew tobacco and/or smoke cigars, is almost always white, and is virtually Always Male. Will typically have a uniquely Southern given name akin to Rufus or Clement. Good odds of being a Fat, Sweaty Southerner in a White Suit and/or a Half-Witted Hillbilly, and if he's the mayor of the town, he will most likely be an evil Mayor Pain. There is also a good chance that he is a Klansman.

If he's not a cop or involved in local politics, odds are that he's a businessman, especially a Cattle Baron or Railroad Baron in period settings, who doesn't want those irritating townsfolk getting in the way of his precious profits — that is, unless he literally owns the town. Hitting them in the pocketbook is an assured way to rile their goat, but in most stories (especially those that Homage classic shows) this will just lead to a brutal escalation culminating in a huge Final Battle that will put the tyrant in jail or the morgue.

His underlings will be either corrupt themselves or clueless — areas that tolerate these folks generally don't get reformed from the inside. If it's a horror story, he may be keeping a Madwoman in the Attic, as well as hiding much worse things from the public eye.

Walking the Earth shows, particularly those set in the modern day, run into a lot of these. And virtually every adventure series or cop show made in the 1970s, whether it be Cannon or The Six Million Dollar Man or Wonder Woman had at least one episode featuring this sort of character.

noreallife


Examples:

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    Comic Books 
  • Preacher:
    • Sheriff Hugo Root is a racist, alcoholic hick who regularly and brutally beat his son, and who was feared and loathed by his town. The first thing he says to his son after the latter's failed suicide attempt? "Shoulda put it in your mouth, you dumb little fuck."
    • Odin Quincannon in the Salvation arc has set himself up as the ruler of the titular town, and anyone who questions or interferes with this dies.
  • Benjamin Hickory of Copperhead, as owner of the town's primary industry, is accustomed to getting whatever he asks for from law enforcement and local government. He pays well both for doing what he asks and for doing things to those who don't do what he asks.
  • In Weird Western Tales #17, Jonah Hex clashes with Judge Hatchet; a Hanging Judge who rules her small town with a fist of iron, sending her three sons to poison the cattle and burn the crops of anyone who refuses to knuckle under to her authority.

    Fan Fiction 

    Films — Animated 
  • Rango: Mayor Tortoise John is the Big Bad of the film who deliberately cuts off his people's supply of water to force them into handing over their land for his own purposes.
  • Toy Story 3: Lotso runs Sunnyside with an iron fist. Since this is Toy Story the most "hick" he can display is the accent, but he's got "corrupt" to spare.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Breaker! Breaker!, Chuck Norris battles Judge Trimmings, a grandiose drunken cad who's appointed himself the mayor of Texas City, California, and is using the town's position as an out-of-the-way backwater to harass and extort truckers trying to use its country roads as a shortcut.
  • Sheriff Andrews in Even Lambs Have Teeth is in league with the sex traffickers, and gives the orders to have the girls murdered when the FBI starts sniffing around.
  • Goldstone: Maureen is the mayor of Goldstone and is in bed with the local mining corporation as they try to push through a crooked land deal. She will do anything, including murder, to make sure she gets her piece of the pie.
  • Sam Brewster, the Big Bad of Invitation to a Gunfighter, is a Morally Bankrupt Banker who has used the opportunity presented by the Civil War to steal land and sell it at a profit, gain a controlling interest in most of the businesses in town, and make himself mayor.
  • Maximum Overdrive: Bubba Hendershot runs a truck stop that mostly employs people on parole allowing him to force them to work more hours than he has to pay them for. If they refuse, then he can get his friend who is on the state patrol to arrest them and send them back to jail. Billy theorizes that Bubba also sells guns on the side when his gun cache is found.
  • Never Grow Old: Initially, Preacher Pike is the de facto ruler of Garlow: trying to turn it into his vision of paradise on Earth by banning alcohol, gambling, and whores. When Dutch Albert moves and starts turning the town into a Wretched Hive, he challenges Pike for the position of most powerful man in Garlow. Throughout, the Sheriff remains caught between the two of them.
  • Nothing but Trouble: Judge Alvin Valkenheiser — Valkenvania is basically his personal fiefdom (his mansion is even built like a castle, complete with moat). Plus his whole operation consists of having his deputized family members arrest criminals (both real and imagined) who journey through the town before executing them so they can loot their cars and other belongings.
  • Red Hill: Old Bill is the local police inspector, and he dispenses justice if, when, and how he sees fit. He also has distinct ideas of what the future of the town should be and reacts harshly to any critics of his vision.
  • Rise of the Scarecrows: Sheriff Howards has been stranding people in the town of Adams, Massachusetts to hand them off as victims for the Scary Scarecrows to kill. He's also determined to keep it a secret, disregarding claims regarding the scarecrows, and handing the protagonists off to them personally in the end.
  • Road House (1989): Brad Wesley's personal fortune and business savvy (he's apparently very talented at getting the town big-name retail franchises) has reinvigorated the economy of Jasper single-handed, and as a result, he has enough influence to run the place like a crime boss. All the local merchants have to regularly pay up to the "Jasper Improvement Society", the front organization for his protection racket, and are harassed by his hired muscle if they don't; until Dalton arrives and cleans up the Double Deuce, Wesley was also forcing Tilghman to employ both his nephew (who steals from the till) and one of his goons as a bartender and bouncer, respectively. Brad Wesley is so immensely powerful, in fact, that his men can destroy a car dealership with a monster truck in broad daylight, and not even have to worry about police intervention. The climax features the men of Jasper finally turning on him as one and riddling him with bullets before he can kill Dalton.
  • In Shoot-Out at Medicine Bend, shady businessman Eb Clark has been slowly taking over Medicine Bend. He controls the mayor and the sheriff, owns most of the major businesses, and runs a bandit gang that robs wagon trains leaving the town, forcing them to return to Medicine Bend to resupply from Clark's businesses.
  • Smokey and the Bandit: Sheriff Buford T. Justice is treated as one of these, even though it's really the Bandit who is breaking the law left and right. Justice himself isn't shown to be corrupt, he's just loud and bigoted to the point that nobody really cares about what happens to him.
  • Tank: Command Sergeant Major Zack Carey note  gets on the bad side of one of these, who ends up framing his son for drug possession and cheating him out of his retirement money. Garner's character, however, is a Command Sergeant Major in the Army — literally almost a Retired Badass- - and owns a fully restored, fully armed WWII Sherman tank. Hilarity Ensues.
  • The Tattered Dress: While Desert View has a prosecutor and a judge, Sheriff Hoak basically is the law, and runs things according to his own interests.
  • Texas Chainsaw 3D: Mayor Burt Hartman is willing to murder anyone related to the Sawyer clan regardless of whether they had anything to do with the killings.
  • Willy's Wonderland: Sheriff Lund is a cop from Nevada with a Southern accident, and she is responsible for the deaths of multiple innocent people by sacrificing them to the animatronics. Even after the Janitor successfully thrashes the animatronics, she still tries to sacrifice him to Willy, only to get butchered herself by Willy.
  • Miss Gulch in The Wizard of Oz is a rare female example — there's a reason she appears as the Wicked Witch in Dorothy's Dream Land. Admittedly, the worst we see her do is get the sheriff to order Dorothy's dog Toto killed, and even that was because Toto kept chasing Gulch's cat and eventually bit Gulch on the leg. But presumably, Gulch neglected to tell the sheriff that Toto only bit her because she attacked him with a rake, which is Disproportionate Retribution for a terrier chasing a cat. And even chasing a cat wouldn't reasonably make little Toto the "menace to the community" that Gulch tries to paint him as. At any rate, Auntie Em describes Miss Gulch this way in a defiant "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
    Auntie Em: Almira Gulch, just because you own half the county doesn't mean that you have the power to run the rest of us. For twenty-three years, I've been dying to tell you what I thought of you. And now...well, being a Christian woman, I can't say it.

    Literature 
  • Mayor Jim Bob Buchanon of the Arly Hanks mysteries is a piggish petty tyrant of sorts, at least to the meager extent possible in a skint-broke town with less than 800 people. He falls short where genuine evil is concerned, due to incompetence and a tendency to fall prey to real villains.
  • In Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, the judge accepts evidence he knows is complete hooey to be admitted into trial. The "evidence" exonerates a woman and a black man accused of killing a white man. The judge has a special hatred for said white man, which is why he throws the murder charge out and rules the white man's disappearance as "death by misadventure".
  • In the first Joe Pickett novel, Bud Barnum has been Sheriff of Twelve Sleeps County for 20 years. He gets involved in a scheme with a Corrupt Corporate Executive which Joe brings crashing down around his ears. This causes Barnum to lose the election and his position as sheriff in the next novel. Reduced from a man of influence to a nobody, he spends several books brooding and plotting revenge on Joe. His schemes eventually get him killed.
  • A small example, but it's pretty much stated that the reason Willie Rumson in One Fat Summer is able to get away with harassing the vacationing summer people in general, and Bobby in particular, is because his uncle is Sheriff and covers for him. Driven home when the man actually gives BOBBY a citation after Willie and his friends steal his first week's pay from Dr. Kahn. It is mentioned, though, that Sheriff Rumson can't do anything for his nephew in regard to an assault or murder charge, something Willie's friends apparently have to remind him of.
  • In Red Harvest, industrialist Elihu Wilsson used to be one of these for Personville. However, Wilsson made the mistake of hiring some gangsters from out of town to bust up a labor strike. The gangsters shut the strike down, sure enough, but rather than leaving when the job was done, they decided to set up shop in Personville themselves, dividing control of the town between Wilsson and the various gang bosses.
  • In River of Teeth, Travers rules the Harriet. Through various means involving business machinations and the occasional burned-down ranch, he has managed to secure the exclusive rights to own businesses on the Harriet. Though technically he has to follow federal law as much as everyone else, the Harriet is in such a remote location and has gained enough reputation as a lawless place that he basically does what he wants, including throwing cheating customers to the feral hippos and ordering around the rangers assigned to the Gate.
  • In SCP Foundation, Thomas Ronson was the despot of Cullen, Nebraska, which was designated SCP-3088 when any law he passed became physically impossible to break. Though starting with earnestly good intent, he soon abused this to ban guns, ban people from leaving, ban telecommunications with the outside, force the unemployed to work at a non-functional mills, and accidentally erase the town's population from existence by contradicting the rule that no one can flee.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Airwolf features one in "Sweet Britches". Using prisoners as fodder for hunters, he insults Caitlin, a female Texas Highway Patrol cop at this point in time (who wants a prisoner he's in fact killed), by calling her a "meter maid" and "sweet britches". Then he essentially encourages a group of men to gang-rape her, although where they got in that is not discussed, as a certain Black Helicopter arrives.
  • Alfred Hitchcock Presents features three in The Crooked Road: a Dirty Cop, a swindling mechanic, and a Hanging Judge all in cahoots to milk out-of-towners for every cent they can get.
  • American Gothic (1995): The premise was based on a Corrupt Hick sheriff running a town with enough subtle supernatural menace to lead most viewers to wonder if he's actually Satan.
  • In one episode of The Andy Griffith Show, a reporter thinks that Andy is one of these. Andy is talking about fishing, and she thinks that he's talking about lynching a black person.
  • Another familiy-friendly Corrupt Hick can be found in Gilmore Girls, Taylor Doose! He uses his influence as the town selectman to do what he thinks is the best for the town, and sometimes for his personal gain. While he also stays clear of violence, he misuses his position occasionally, like when he blocks renovation works on Lorelai's Inn only to blackmail her that she uses her influence on Luke, that he doesn't oppose the idea to put an ice cream truck in front of his diner.
  • Banshee has Kai Proctor, a local gangster who owns most major businesses in Banshee County, uses a mix of bribery and intimidation to control the rest, and freely maims or kills anyone they see as causing trouble in "my town".
  • The League of Gentlemen: Tubbs and Edward Tattsyrup, an implicitly incestuous couple of serial killers who ran the Local Shop.
  • Justified: The deeply corrupt nature and poor economy of Harlan County makes its various towns a haven for characters like these. Bo Crowder had most of the sheriff's department and judicial system in his back pocket during his heyday, and his son, Boyd, aims to do the same. The town of Bennett is even worse than the rest of Harlan, Mags Bennett and her sons rule the entire town through fear and tradition. There's a succession of crooked sheriffs, various town officials who are on the take, and a group of local elites, known as the Clover Hillers, who think that their social status gives them the right to run the county as they see fit. About the only good news is that they, and outsiders like the Dixie Mafia and Detroit Mob, end up forming competing factions, keeping each other somewhat in check.
  • In Once Upon a Time, Storybrooke, Maine is controlled by two: Regina Mills, its Ultimate Authority Mayor, and Mr. Gold, who owns the town (literally). It's not quite accurate to refer to either of these as "hicks", however, as they aren't uneducated or bumpkins; both are depicted as extremely intelligent, cultured characters (although Gold's original Rumpelstiltskin personality is depicted as a "country hick" to a degree in the recent origin episode). Also a bit of a subversion on two counts: The town was literally created to be such by Regina (the Evil Queen) using dark magic, yet despite this she slowly does a Heel–Face Turn and becomes one of the town's protectors. Additionally, while Mr. Gold experiences a Heel–Face Revolving Door, this is mostly due to him being a genuinely flawed and traumatized character who constantly ends up making mistakes he deeply regrets thanks to his dependence on dark magic, rather than out of wholehearted treachery or genuine malice.
  • JAG: In "Act of Terror", Percival Bertram is a Corrupt Corporate Executive looking and acting every bit of this trope who supports right-wing conservative politicians and brands himself as a super-patriot advocating that the U.S. should take gloves off with respect to terrorists to U.S. interests in the Middle East. However, the alleged super-patriot finances terrorism in the Middle East against U.S. interests (supposedly to create a self-fulfilling prophecy gaining his own business interests.)
  • Mr Gribble in Round the Twist is an Australian version of this, particularly when he becomes mayor of the tiny rural town of Port Niranda in seasons 3 and 4. As the main antagonist throughout the series, he spends most of his time bullying, bribing, and cheating his way towards what he wants.
  • Frontier Circus: "Patriarch of Purgatory" features a religious fanatic who is the mayor of the eponymous town and who runs a mine that uses a slave labour force of Chinese. He imprisons Ben and Tony in the mine after they get too close to the truth.
  • Midsomer Murders: In "The Night of the Stag", Samuel Quested is the mayor of Midsomer Abbas and the Faux Affably Evil landlord of The Stag pub. Quested is a traditionalist who seeks to keep Midsomer Abbas as isolated as possible from the rest of Midsomer; not only so as to not to lose any of the village’s rites and rituals, but also to allow him to maintain his stranglehold on power in the valley.
  • NCIS: A sheriff's deputy is a Corrupt Hick. He has such an intense fear/hatred of Arabs that he plants evidence of bomb-making in the garage of a young Arab man who has recently moved in, justifying it as a 'pre-emptive strike'.
  • The Peripheral (2022): Corbell Pickett is a car salesman turned drug baron who runs the small town of Clanton, North Carolina, with an iron fist. He's secure enough in his position to beat up his own men in public, and the local sheriff's department is stuffed with Dirty Cops who answer to his every whim.
  • On the Supernatural episode "The Prisoner", two Louisiana cops under the thumb of powerful and evil family the Stynes hassle Dean, even doing the trick of citing him for a busted tail light one of them just kicked in.
  • Hunter: While Hunter and McCall are escorting a prisoner through a small Midwestern town, a local girl is raped and beaten and the incident is blamed on the prisoner. In fact, the culprit is the Sheriff, who has been abusing his power and his position as the stepson of the richest man in town.
  • Matt Mitchum in Top of the Lake is a rural gangster and meth cooker who dominates the entire titular town with his sons as muscle, and has the cops in his pocket. Surprisingly, he isn't the Big Bad.
  • An SF version appears as B'Sogg, the villain of the Farscape episode "Home on the Remains". He's the malevolent local strongman of a space mining colony (with heavy Space Western overtones) and has a weird half-Southern-half-Jamaican accent.
  • Jefferson Davis "Boss" Hogg of The Dukes of Hazzard, of the Fat, Sweaty Southerner in a White Suit and Harmless Villain variants. He basically runs Hazzard County as his own little sandbox to run scams and get rich quick schemes out of. What he doesn't own in the county, he taxes as much as he can get away with. His minions in the Sherrif's department are corrupt (Sheriff Roscoe), clueless (Deputy Enos), or both (Deputy Cletus, Boss Hogg's nephew).

    Podcasts 
  • Unwell Podcast has Chester Warren, a small-town bureaucrat who serves as the nominal leader of the Delphic Order and possesses an absurd amount of jobs, which he uses to control the town in subtle ways, such as extorting the Fenwood House through an archaic law classifying it as a brothel.

    Theatre 
  • Tom Finley, Sr., better known to one and all as "Boss" Finley, in Tennessee Williams' Sweet Bird Of Youth. He got himself elected Governor of an unnamed Southern state, sold the offshore oil rights dirt cheap, became a partner in the oil company when he left office, then got the oilman elected as his pet Governor. Now he's running for Governor in his own right again, and not above having his opponents brutalized by thugs.

    Video Games 
  • In Far Cry 5, Joseph Seed and his siblings serve as a scaled-up version of this: the leaders of an Apocalypse Cult who amassed a great deal of land and influence throughought Hope County in rural Montana through charisma, brainwashing, bribery and plain old violence. Then, when law enforcement makes a disastrous attempt to arrest Joseph, his followers break out an arsenal of military-grade weaponry and forcibly take control of the entire county, brainwashing or killing any who resist.
  • In the original Forest of Drizzling Rain, the first Ogami-san ran Azakawa Village and would force the wives and children of convicted criminals into slavery, while hiding behind his image as a benevolent protector- the Kotori Obake was one such woman who ended up his victim. His remake counterpart, on the other hand, averts this due to being a mere stone mason.
  • Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent: Sheriff Bahg is the incredibly shifty sheriff of Scoggins, Minnesota, who insists that Nelson should stay out of the mystery behind Isaac Davner's disappearance. Unsurprisingly, he turns out to be a member of the gnome-worshipping puzzle cult and attempts to shoot Nelson when he discovers him in the cult's lodge.
  • Ward, a security guard from The Orion Conspiracy. He is openly racist, sexist, and whatever term you would like to apply. Just about everything that comes out of his mouth is an insult. Practically nobody likes him, and at least one character refers to him as a redneck and says that he is so dumb that insults will just fly right over his head. Bonus points for the fact that he hates the Irish main character Devlin McCormack because his first name is Malachi, an Irish first name.

    Western Animation 
  • On Captain Planet and the Planeteers, this role was filled by Hoggish Greedly (who was also a Corrupt Corporate Executive). Representing overconsumption of resources and greed, he was basically a combination of the "fat southern sheriff" stereotype and Screw the Rules, I Have Money!. Ironically he literally was only in it for the money, as opposed to general malice or sadism, and when his environmentalist father faked death to test him, and denied to let him have his will when his time came, Greedly went straight (provided he could still rake in green by going green, of course...).
  • Played with in Archer. When the team travels to West Virginia to meet Ray's brother Randy, they run afoul of a local sheriff who seemingly checks off every trait of a corrupt law officer, trying to kill Randy to steal his pot farm. It turns out he's actually a By-the-Book Cop honestly trying to bring Randy in for breaking the law.
  • The TaleSpin episode "Citizen Khan" has the Sea Duck stopped by a sheriff for flying over the town's airspace, and then sentenced to work in the mines by the same guy as judge. All while the town's Only Sane Woman protests that he doesn't actually hold either of these positions; it's just that nobody else does.


 
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Alternative Title(s): Corrupt Hick

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Seymour Redding

A southern mall security guard gone mad. Redding believes he's a sheriff and uses his badge as an excuse to start hanging innocent people like it's the Old West.

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