Whereas a Strawman is a dumbed-down effigy of a real enemy or similar, a Windmill is not a real target at all. There is no real threat, and it might not even be capable of returning the animosity. The windmill doesn’t even have to exist to be efficient; much less does it have to consist of actual human beings. On the contrary: If they don't exist, then they can't deny the vicious accusations you raise against them.
There are at least three kinds of characters who are likely to lead the charge in a battle against windmills, but for very different reasons:
- Windmill Crusader, who believes their windmills to be actual threats. In the Ur-example, this is the belief that literal windmills actually are gigantic hostile humanoids. However, it’s normally meant metaphorically.
- The Manipulative Bastard who pretends that the windmill is a real threat. They do this to scare people into giving them power, to trick people into rewarding them for “keeping them safe” from something from which they don’t need protection, or to divert people’s attention from their own foul schemes.
- Any fanatic who needs excuses to make their beliefs socially relevant. This may be an overlap between the first two alternatives since the fanatic is likely to honestly believe everything that doesn’t fit their narrow worldview to be actual threats as well as being hypocritical enough to lie and tell themself that it’s the only way to make people see the truth.
Compare Gravity Is Only a Theory and Dead Unicorn Trope. Contrast No Mere Windmill for something that is not a windmill but gets mistaken for one. Compare and contrast The Scapegoat, which is a character who gets wrongly blamed for a real problem, while a windmill gets blamed for a problem that isn't real in itself — but might be used to explain away a real problem. Also compare and contrast Witch Hunt. May overlap with Appeal to Obscurity if a Windmill Political uses the absence of windmills as "proof" that their efforts against them have been successful.
- The creation of a Windmill Political is integral to the plot of Watchmen.
- In the Bone comic series, Phoney Bone does the Manipulative Bastard version of this: he convinces the people of Barrelhaven that they need to be protected from the (actually harmless) dragons, and capitalizes on his new role as the Dragon Slayer to win a bet.
- Parodied in Asterix in Spain, when one man the Gauls talk to charges, weapons ready, whenever windmills are mentioned.
- While also playing it straight sometimes, Dilbert is famous for a deconstruction of this trope: Dogbert openly advises people to pick a harmless person and make him seem like a threat. Then destroy him, and have people reward you for saving you from the "threat". (The deconstruction part is that Dogbert is completely open and public with his cynicism, thus defeating the purpose.)
- In Ernie (also known as Piranha Club), Uncle Sid makes a lot of money selling insurance against black holes. (And no, the comic doesn't feature space travel or immortality, merely regular people living on Earth.)
- In Pearls Before Swine, the cynical Rat invokes this trope by campaigning against rainbows.
- The Memories segment "Cannon Fodder" shows a society whose sole apparent motivation for life and development is to attack an unseen enemy using cannons.
- Downfall is one of the many works that take this view on the concept of a global Jewish conspiracy: It was a total windmill crackpot hoax and delusion, but Hitler and his followers honestly believed in it—making them Windmill Crusaders.
- Paul in The Last Temptation of Christ is briefly portrayed as the misguided kind of Windmill Crusader. However, he is quickly deconstructed as a Straw Hypocrite who simply doesn’t care if the gospel he preaches is true or not.
- Canadian Bacon is all about this with the U.S. Government declaring war on Canada to distract from the sinking economy. The "war" only exists on paper, but the protagonists decide to launch a small invasion anyway.
- A boy walks past his neighbor's house and sees his neighbor spraying chemicals on his lawn. The boy asks his neighbor what the chemical is, and the neighbor replies, "Dinosaur-killing spray." The boy says, "But dinosaurs don't exist; they haven't existed for sixty-five million years." The neighbor retorts, "Well, then, the spray worked, didn't it?"
- "Why do you use so much garlic in cooking?" "To keep vampires away." "I've never seen any vampires in the neighborhood." "Well, there you are!"
- Another common variant on the above: "What do you do for a living?" "I'm a [insert monster here] Killer." "But [monster]s aren't real." "Have you ever seen one?" "No." "You're welcome."
- Don Quixote is the Trope Namer as well as the Ur-Example. The main character mistakes literal windmills for giants. Even when he is a deluded fanboy and not a politician, this trope really applies to Don Quixote. In Part I Chapter I, Don Quixote praises the giant Morgante, because he is the only good giant he has encountered in his chivalry books. All other giants are evil because "the giant breed which is always arrogant and ill-conditioned" Therefore, for a Knight, is perfectly honorable to attack giants without provocation, kill them all, and rob them of their possessions. The fact that Don Quixote in Part I, Chapter VIII, gets caught in one of the windmill sails could be interpreted by the reader as a funny event, a tragic failure, or the deserved fate of a slightly sociopathic Heroic Wannabe.
At this point they came in sight of thirty forty windmills that there are on plain, and as soon as Don Quixote saw them he said to his squire, "Fortune is arranging matters for us better than we could have shaped our desires ourselves, for look there, friend Sancho Panza, where thirty or more monstrous giants present themselves, all of whom I mean to engage in battle and slay, and with whose spoils we shall begin to make our fortunes; for this is righteous warfare, and it is God's good service to sweep so evil a breed from off the face of the earth."
- In the YA novel The King Of Dragons, the hero's father is a severe PTSD case of Windmill Crusader. His PTSD from military service causes him to believe that the government is out to get him and that terrible things will happen if he and his son are found by the authorities, so he gives the boy Survival Training from Hell. At the end of the book, the father is recovering, and tells his son, "I mistook molehills for mountains, but I taught you how to climb mountains."
- Harry Potter:
- In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry and Dumbledore are assumed by the Ministry of Magic to be using this trope regarding Voldemort's return. As a result, this trope is ironically used against them in response.
- In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Cloud Cuckoolander Luna Lovegood's windmills include Aurors, whom she believes intend "to bring down the Ministry of Magic from within using a combination of Dark Magic and gum disease".
- In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, this trope is used in a more Nazi-like way against Muggle-borns by the Voldemort-controlled Ministry, by saying that Muggle-borns somehow stole their magical abilities and wands from other wizards. Mutations? Squib ancestors? Muggle lies.
- In Animal Farm, Farmer Jones, his spies, and eventually Snowball are all accused of being the source of all the farm's problems, long after Jones has apparently left the farm for good. The literal windmill, however, is not.
- Nineteen Eighty-Four:
- Emmanuel Goldstein and the Brotherhood are known as La Résistance against the Party, but O'Brien suggests that they were invented to keep more control over the population and to identify dissidents.
- On the other hand, the same is true of Big Brother.
Winston: Does he exist as you and I exist?
O'Brien: You do not exist.
- More than that, Oceania is perpetually at war with one of two other superpowers, and the populace is taught to hate and scorn whatever enemy they're currently opposing. Since the war never ends, it's implied the three nations have a gentleman's agreement of sorts to keep from fully beating each other, purely to keep the populace in line, or possibly that they are the same (Goldstein's book claims all of their ideologies boil down to identical principles) and only pretend that separate factions exist fighting each other.
- In A Feast for Crows, Cersei Lannister becomes convinced that her new daughter-in-law Margaery and her family are plotting against her. Ironically, her attempts to destroy Margaery backfire spectacularly, resulting in her being imprisoned by the very same forces that she tried to sic on Margaery.
- In the BIONICLE novel Island of Doom, the villainous Piraka, use a Type 2 example in order to convince the Matoran that they're really the good guys, by using their powers to create a fake monster which they then "defeat."
- The Stormlight Archive: King Elhokar's father/predecessor Gavilar is assassinated at the beginning of the story, and as a result, the already anxious Elhokar becomes a total paranoiac, utterly convinced that some vaguely-defined assassins are out to kill him and destroy Alethkar. His paranoia and madness eventually becomes so pronounced that he carries out an Assassination Attempt on himself during a hunt by cutting his own leather saddle girth simply to make everybody start taking his fears seriously.
- In the Mini Series Remake of The Prisoner, Number 2 convinces the Village that black holes appearing everywhere are because people do not have enough pigs to provide stability, and encourages villagers to buy more pigs.
- Babylon 5:
- A heroic example. In a fourth season episode, Sheridan creates an imaginary threat in the form of mysterious aliens who are invisible to all but the White Star fleet. He does this by ordering a White Star ship to attack some asteroids, has Ivanova truthfully state on her news program that nothing at all happened in a particular region of space that day. All this serves to amp the alien ambassadors' normal paranoia up, causing them to leap to the conclusion that the White Stars are fighting an enemy that their less advanced sensors can't detect. Note that this isn't done to gain personal power, but rather to get the alien races to allow the White Star fleet to patrol their respective territories (and thus protect them from real threats), something they would never do normally because the aforementioned paranoia could cause them to assume ulterior motives.
- A more typical malevolent example also existed in the show, in that the Clark regime used various alien conspiracy theories as justification for their increasingly tyrannical policies.
- A Spitting Image sketch has the United States declaring war on broccoli because George H. W. Bush said he hates broccoli (and because the U.S. government was desperate to have some, any kind of enemy they could unite the American people against). Interestingly, Bush himself is portrayed as the Only Sane Man, objecting to the stupidity of it all. Then the whole thing is subverted when a broccoli suicide bomber smuggles itself into the white house.
- In Paranoia:
- The Commies started out this way; they'd disappeared long before Alpha Complex was built, but The Computer mistook civil defense files from 1957 as being up to date. Then some citizens became so fed up with The Computer that they decided to become the thing It hated most, even knowing nothing else about it.
- The International Workers of the World were founded by Troubleshooters who had been sent to infiltrate them after several previous groups of Troubleshooters had been summarily executed for failing to find proof of the non-existent group. The Wobblies continue to be run entirely by Troubleshooters sent to infiltrate the organization.
- In Star Control, the Spathi live in fear of the Ultimate Evil. A race of beings so sneaky, they always stay just outside detection range of the Spathi's best scanners. This is clearly proof of their sinister intent. Considering the Orz are their closest neighbors, they might actually be correct.
- 90% of the bad stuff Loghain Mac Tir does over the course of Dragon Age: Origins he mentally justifies to himself as Shooting the Dog to protect Ferelden from an Orlesian invasion. While some people in Orlais would like to reconquer Ferelden and King Cailen is considering marrying their Empress to peacefully unite the countries, the vast majority of Orlesians don't seem to actually care anymore, unlike the giant horde of Darkspawn that is right on Loghain's doorstep and intends to destroy the entire nation.
- In this strip of Dana Simpson's I Drew This, as shown in the page pic, some random moron firmly believes that broccoli is part of an evil plot to put a lawn gnome in the White House. Somebody disagrees, but a third party decides that since both positions have been presented with a straight face they must be treated as equally valid.
- In Kevin & Kell, a group of predators try to disguise the fact that they're controlling a Rabbit Council candidate by convincing rabbits that the real threat is rabbits whose ears point in the opposite direction.
- Congressman Arthur Bennett of But I'm a Cat Person tries to paint himself as tough on the threat posed by Beings. It's complicated by the fact that only about a hundred Beings exist in the world, and they're all incapable of harming humans. No wonder the only scary incidents he can point to are the ones he himself secretly caused.
- Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal discusses here how windmills can get out of hand.
- Al Gore's portrayal in South Park, in which he insists on the terrible threat Manbearpig (half man, half bear, half pig) poses to mankind — a biting satire, of course, of the real Gore and his activism against Global Warming. To this day, you can't mention him to anyone under thirty without hearing "MANBEARPIG" in response.
- In the game South Park: The Stick of Truth, you ultimately have to fight him after he finally goes off the deep end and thinks you are Manbearpig after spamming your Facebook with no answer. After you defeat him and his entire three-man Secret Service team, he ultimately returns having taken on the guise of Manbearpig in a bid to finally take you down.
- In "Time to Get Cereal" turns out that Manbearpig IS real and is responsible for a series of grisly murders in the town. The adults are, predictably, too idiotic to acknowledge this, opting to blame everything but the creature for the deaths. The boys realize that Al Gore was right and tried to get his help only to get rebuked time and time again due to the mockery from all those years ago. When Gore finally accepts the apologies, he contacts Satan via ritual who reveals that Manbearpig is a demon that someone from the town summoned. When the boys tried to warn the population about this, they instead get arrested and blamed for everything. The next episode shows that Manbearpig is a demon that torments humanity via a deal made by the previous generation and that it will only go away for good if people decide to give up soy sauce and Red Dead Redemption II. They don't and Manbearpig is allowed to come back in five years.
- From The Simpsons:
Lisa: By your logic, I could claim this rock keeps tigers away.Homer: How does it work?Lisa: It doesn't work. It's just a stupid rock. But I don't see any tigers around. Do you?(Beat)Homer: Lisa, I want to buy your rock.
- Futurama: The robot elders of Chapek 9 admit they were using humans as a scapegoat to distract the other robots from Chapek 9's more serious problems, like their crippling lugnut shortage, or the corrupt government of incompetent robot elders.