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Witch Hunt

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How pitiful... manipulated by speculation, now
no longer human.

Pointy-Haired Boss: Look what one of our engineers said to a reporter!
Catbert: [reading newspaper] "Our technology is putrid, but we compensate by ignoring complaints."
Pointy Haired Boss: You know what would be more fun than fixing those problems?
Catbert: WITCH-HUNT!!!

There is a menace in our community. They may look like us, but they are not us. And they lurk among us, just waiting for their chance to do us harm. Anybody you know could be one of them: your neighbor, your coworker, your friend, even a member of your family. But don't be fooled— they're only pretending to be your loved one. In reality, they are a witch/vampire/werebeast/alien/child molester/Communist/devil worshipper/serial killer/male sexual predator/cannibal/gay man/racist/anarchist/conservative/Christian/shape-shifter! We must root out this menace and destroy them, no matter what steps we may have to take. After all, the safety of the community is far more important than such niceties as civil rights, the First Amendment, the presumption of innocence, and due process, right?

Welcome to the Witch Hunt.

A community believes that some of its members are secretly enemies in disguise, and attempts to find out which. Hysteria rises, often amplified by one or more people trying to take advantage of the fear to satisfy personal grudges, or advance themselves socially and/or politically. Inevitably, innocent people are accused and promptly Convicted by Public Opinion, if not literally convicted by a Kangaroo Court, often dying or having their lives ruined. All of which ultimately turns the community into All of the Other Reindeer, often including a Torches and Pitchforks scene, and when the target is actual "witches" can lead to the so-called witch getting burned at the stake.

A frequent "twist" is that the person doing the most to urge on the Witch Hunt is actually one of the enemy group, be it knowingly (in which case he'll be conducting it to get rid of his rivals, or to spread chaos among the populace, or just to divert suspicion away from himself, regardless of how well this last strategy holds up to Fridge Logic) or otherwise (Tomato in the Mirror). Of course, this twist relies on the enemy group actually existing in the first place.

While this trope really came into its own in The '50s as a metaphor for paranoia about Communists in the United States, today the Witch Hunt has become synonymous with any wild, unfounded hunt for a nebulous 'enemy', in which actual, fact-based evidence—should such even exist in the first place—is scarce or exaggerated. Indeed, when played straight, the entire point of this trope is that the supposed "enemy" is either completely nonexistent or nothing like the social menace it is mistakenly believed to be, and that the fear which leads a community to abandon its principles of justice is itself more dangerous than any enemy that might exploit those principles; a hunt against an actual covert enemy who is genuinely dangerous is generally different type of story.

Compare Ten Little Murder Victims, Van Helsing Hate Crimes, and Hero with Bad Publicity. An organized system of Training the Gift of Magic may be instituted to reduce the risk of witch hunts. Not to be confused with The Witch Hunter, who hunts actual witches; a Witch Hunt can be organized against any kind of enemy.

A No Recent Examples rule applies to Real Life examples of this trope. Real life examples shouldn't be added until 50 years after the witch hunt ended.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Remina, a scientist discovers a new planet and names it after his daughter Remina. The girl in question quickly becomes a celebrity (...for some reasons). But when the planet starts moving towards Earth at light-speed, eating other planets and stars on the way, some cultists use the panic generated to turn the whole world against her, saying that sacrificing her and anybody who would help her would stop planet Remina. At one point, one of the cultists is revealed to have a tongue similar to the planet's, but it's never developed or explained.
  • In Rebirth, it's more like "Vampire Hunt" for poor young Deshwitat L. Rudbich, a half-vampire with a vampiric father and a human mother. During the 17th century, he lived a normal childhood until Captain Maybus, leader of the Knight Templar Sacred Knights, stormed the Rudbich Castle. Falling into obscurity, the Captain targeted the family, who hadn't committed any crimes, as a target to re-establish himself. Forced to watch his mother beheaded and father burned in the morning sun, Deshwitat barely survives with the help of the captain's son, Kalutika (who would later become both his closest companion and then the Big Bad). After that, his life can be summed up as going From Bad to Worse.
  • The Invisible Storm in Yuri Kuma Arashi is a committee that could be joined by any human which systematically votes for people they suspect as "evil" and thus must be weeded out of the herd. This definition of "evil" includes, but is not limited to, those who they believe are bears, those who are too different from the group, and those who dare to oppose the decision of the Invisible Storm.
  • One Piece the World Government has it out for those that can read Polygyphs since it'll reveal the True History of the world. A secret they don't want getting out. Once they find out the island of Ohara has scholars doing this, they instantly have the island carpet-bombed and the sole survivor, Nico Robin, hunted down not shortly after.
  • Gamble Fish: Though the actual witch trials are only referred to, one of the gamblers collects judgement dice that were used to determine if someone was a witch, based on whether or not they had supernaturally bad luck, and uses them in a Deadly Game. Tom discovers that the dice are rigged with a special mechanism: hold the dice to a fire, and the internal load will melt and shift to a different side, which will then load the dice to whatever side the user chooses when it cools. The implications are obvious; when the dice were chosen, the judge could decide if the victim would live or die - which she uses to implicate Tom as a witch by forcing him into constant death traps on the game board.
  • The plot of A Witch's Love at the End of the World kicked off after literal witch hunts. After previously coexisting peacefully with humans for years, witches were persecuted and hunted down in witch hunts during the seventeenth century out of fear, typically fear of the spread of unknown illnesses. Iris died in one such witch hunt.
  • The backstory of Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury deals with Delling Rembran using the public's opinion on the GUND-Arm technology to put a ban on it and the resulting "Gundam"-type Mobile Suits that come from it, going so far as to having a colony working with the technology obliterated with it. Years later, when Suletta Mercury unleashes the full power of the Aerial Gundam, he starts up a trial and tries to force the Gundam to be destroyed because he said so.

    Comic Books 
  • A Skrull impersonating Captain America tried to spark one of these by claiming that the Skrulls had been far more successful in infiltrating American society than they actually had been. He knew that if Cap, the most trusted hero in the Marvel Universe, said it, people would think it was true and follow the Star-Spangled Avenger's advice to root out those who were different or suspicious-acting. He had good reason to think the plan would work, given the Marvel Universe's history of anti-mutant hysteria. Oddly, the X-Men books have hardly ever used the "mistaken identity" part of the trope, instead having the Witch Hunt focus on actual mutants who don't happen to have any dangerous or useful powers and are thus easy prey. Then there was the Secret Invasion event, where Skrulls had infiltrated Earth's superhero community. Though while there was rampant suspicion and paranoia, things rarely went further than that, and an actual Witch Hunt was averted for the most part.
  • Futurama: spoofed in the Time-Bender Trilogy, when Bender winds up in a version of Salem which is rabidly against robots, who are clearly responsible for the rash of spoiled crops, sour milk, and disaffected wives going around. Luckily for Bender, the Salemites are terrible at spotting robots and had to ask them for a list of weaknesses, which the robots provided. So humans are tested for robot-ness by seeing whether they're ticklish, feel no pain when their hair is cut, and whether they float in water.
    Samantha, a robot: Fortunately, most prejudiced people are morons.

    Fan Works 
  • In Lost Boy, Mildew knocks out Hiccup and brings him before a trial because he saw Hiccup nearly tame a Nadder that would have otherwise killed a defenseless Astrid. He even takes it a step further and says that he is the reason why the raid is particularly bad. He claims that touching dragons is a crime, only for everyone to point out that such a thing is not actually in Berk's laws and that Hiccup's intentions in protecting a member of the village only vindicates him.
  • In Sillyhat Productions' "Trial of the Black Witch", Virgilia presents Battler with a Sadistic Choice, declaring that he can free himself and most of his family from the games if he names somebody as the culprit... which will mean effectively sacrificing them, as well as slandering them by declaring them responsible for all the pain and suffering that took place on Rokkenjima. This is underscored by imagery of the potential suspects being tied to stakes, the golden butterflies fluttering around them in ways that evoke flames.
  • Whispered Tribulation: Aizawa's search for a mole supposedly working inside U.A. amounts to this, as he fixates on the innocent, quirkless Midoriya as his prime suspect. He and his cohorts prove more than willing to kidnap and viciously interrogate Izuku for the sake of their crusade; fortunately, Principal Nedzu intervenes on his behalf, pushing back against their extreme methods.

    Films — Animated 
  • ParaNorman features this in a flashback - with the twist that the accused witch was a pre-teen girl who could simply see and speak with the dead.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Front: The HUAC is conducting the real-life Red Scare attack on all alleged Communists or sympathizers.
  • The Hour of the Pig: One erupts as Jeannine, a woman in Abbeville, is accused of enchanting the rats to eat the crops. Despite the defense of her lawyer nearly succeeding, Jeannine is convicted and hanged.
  • In The Majestic, the main character is accused of being a communist, ruining his career and nearly driving him to commit suicide. He did attend meetings of a pro-Communist group in college, although that was because he was trying to impress a girl (who ended up naming him to the committee) and literally had no idea what the meetings were about. An investigator then looked through his script and declared it "Communist trash" because the villains are corrupt businessmen.
  • In No Way Out (1987), the Red Scare of the 1980s is used to set up the dramatic hunt for a supposed Soviet mole as the scapegoat for U.S. Secretary of Defense David Brice, who just murdered his two-timing mistress for cheating on him and needs a patsy for his crime. As it happens, Commander Farrell, the man hired to investigate, knows that he's the man Brice's mistress was cheating with and has therefore been hired to hunt himself. While he ends up exonerating himself of the murder, the Twist Ending reveals Farrell to actually be a Soviet mole.
  • The Sisterhood of Night centers heavily on the witch hunts that follow allegations that a secret society of teenage girls are performing Satanic rituals in the woods that involve physical and sexual abuse of girls they lure into their cult.
  • Witchfinder General, with Vincent Price as Matthew Hopkins, who abuses his position as the title character to force sexual favors from women, and get rid of anyone he doesn't like under the guise of hunting witches.
  • The VVitch follows a Puritan family in the middle of nowhere, as they become the target of Satanic supernatural activity. Gradually, the parents — especially the mother — start to suspect their eldest child Thomasin is a witch, and she in turn accuses her siblings Jonas and Mercy. We never find out for sure about Jonas and Mercy, but Thomasin eventually joins the witch coven because by the end, it's her only hope for survival.
  • Fear Street: In the 1666 flashbacks, the Puritan villagers conclude that a witch is behind their recent tragedies, and quickly devolve into this. They really are being cursed by a witch, but they're wrong about who it is; a mistake possibly helped by this mentality preventing them from thinking things through.
  • Uranus: This film set in 1945 France seems to be much about the witch hunt for people who are suspected of having been collaborateurs during German occupation. It discusses how it may be wrong to persecute them. Interestingly communists (who were an important part of the French Resistance) seem to be major actors in this case (as opposed to being the hunted ones).
  • Not Like Everyone Else: Brandi is subjected to one as a result of being a Goth who's demonized by other students who engage in malicious slander or rumor-mongering against her. It culminates with the accusation of her putting a curse on one teacher when he's rushed to the hospital (for appendicitis, they later learn). Her dad incredulously notes that, in the year 2000, his daughter's being accused of literal witchcraft.
  • Requiem (2021): Fear of witchcraft grips the village where the story is set in 1605, one woman there getting accused, convicted and quite soon burned as a result. Mary is then accused of witchcraft for supposedly having enchanted Evelyn, her lover, into being with her. She's burned at the stake.

  • Inverted in 1635: The Dreeson Incident. Here, the targets of the angry organized mobs are the witch-hunters, along with the anti-Semites. The usual excesses are mostly averted, as the mob has an actual (and accurate) list of names.
  • Born Wicked takes place in an Alternate Universe version of America that is ruled by the Brotherhood, a very conservative group of men. The Brotherhood is on an ongoing witch hunt, and the witch protagonists are permanently in danger of being found out and executed.

  • The Chaos Cycle: The town of Black Hollow has a nasty tendency to kill girls who venture out into the woods due to the town superstitiously viewing them as "possessed" or "unholy". They have also held actual Kangaroo Court trials where innocent women are put to death for being believed to be witches.
  • In Devon Monk's Dead Iron, LeFel resorts to this when magical means fail to control Mae.
  • Tiffany Aching, main character her own mini-series within the Discworld books, got started on the path to witchdom as a result of a small witch-hunt, in which her community took out their frustrations on a defenseless old widow and burned down her house, then shunned her until she starved to death. Tiffany largely became a real witch to prevent any such tragedy from happening again.
    • I Shall Wear Midnight, a later Tiffany Aching book, concerns the Cunning Man, who used to be an extravagantly zealous witch hunter and whose spirit has become essentially the Anthropomorphic Personification of a Witch Hunt.
    • Miss Tick is a witch who appears mainly in the Tiffany Aching books. In the Ramtops witches are, for the most part, highly respected if not always popular members of society, but Miss Tick travels extensively and often finds herself in places where witches are anathema. She's written books and disseminated stories on how to kill witches which tend to amount to "Feed them well, keep them overnight in a warm, dry place with a comfortable bed, then kill them in the morning by tying their hands and feet with this special knot and drowning them in a river." Miss Tick is an escape artist (and the particular knot specified is easy to untie) and always carries a breathing straw.
  • All of the Other Reindeer around Witch Mountain in Alexander Key's Escape to Witch Mountain join in the hunt for the kids - carrying guns, not Torches and Pitchforks. Father O'Day points out to them that they could very easily kill their own neighbours' kids in their desire to kill witches.
  • Robin Hobb's Farseer books include a specific form of magic, the Wit, which is basically animal-communion abilities and some empathy abilities rolled into one. Witted get all sorts of benefits from their magic, and it sounds as if it would be completely awesome to have... if it weren't for the fact that Witted are treated in much the same way as "real life" witches, blamed for using their magic in completely absurd (and impossible) ways. As it stands, even being suspected of being Witted is enough for a good old-fashioned lynching.
  • First Light: As part of the backstory, the Settlers who founded Gracehope were accused of witchcraft. This was the reason for creating the city.
  • Happens in Ellery Queen's novel The Glass Village, in which a mob goes after a tramp they believe murdered a local woman. The village was so certain he was guilty and would get off on a technicality if the state police took him into custody that they insisted the trial be held in the town. A judge conducts the trial but does everything "wrong" so that the man can later be freed on appeal. It turns out the tramp didn't commit the murder, which was revealed during the first trial.
  • In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel Ghostmaker, Gaunt's enemies Sturm and Gilbear tell the Inquisition of Brin Milo's knacks. Inquisitor Lilith investigates him to see if he's a psyker, Although she knows that his enemies have already tried to murder him and his regiment and are doing this to bring him down. She drags Gaunt in, to shoot Milo if the suspicions are founded. This will allow her to keep Sturm from using it as an excuse to turn the regiment over to the Inquisition, which very few would survive. (Fortunately, Milo escapes.)
  • Harry Potter:
    • Parodied in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, answering the Fridge Logic of many people who may think "If a witch was caught, wouldn't they use their powers to escape?" about such hunts; with the witches and wizards, using, well, magic. Harry reads up on history that says any Witch Hunts that genuinely caught a witch and tried to burn them at stake would be fruitless, as the magicians would just use a 'Flame-Freezing' charm to make the fire harmless and only cause gentle-tickling. An individual called Wendelin the Weird liked doing that so much that she let herself be caught 47 times in various alias and disguises, giving Too Kinky to Torture an interesting variation.
    • Mind you, some supplementary material indicates that on rare occasions Muggle witch-hunters did manage to be a threat, if only by luck; Nearly-Headless Nick's origin is that he was executed by them.
    • Also played straight by Barty Crouch Sr., who started massive witch trials during and after Voldemort's first reign. He prosecuted Ludo Bagman for inadvertently giving a Death Eater spy information, gave the order for Sirius Black to be sentenced without trial, and eventually sentenced his own son to life in prison. Note that only one of these three was actually guilty.
  • In Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, after Mowgli kills the tiger, the village hunter Buldeo tries to claim the corpse and Mowgli drives him off with the help of wolves. Buldeo believes him to be a witch and the village drives him off and then goes after his foster parents. Mowgli has to rescue them.
  • The Kim Newman short story "The McCarthy Witch Hunt" is set in a world where the McCarthyists are actually hunting real witches rather than communists, but everything else about them is the same. The plot of the story is two FBI agents hounding a suburban housewife named Samantha Stevens.
  • In L. Jagi Lamplighter's Prospero Lost, Theo and Miranda discuss the witch hunts; Theo says that many of them were witches, and when Miranda says that records show that many were innocent, she realizes that the Circle of Solomon would have ensured that the records showed them so.
  • In Silverfall Dove pointed out to one warlike dark elf why an infiltration plot of another drow faction must be stopped as quietly and quickly as possible:
    The humans you rightfully distrust will rise to arms in their fear and hatred to obliterate Scornubel, all drow they find, and anything else up and down the Sword Coast that they can call 'drow', or 'friend of drow'.
  • Sword of Truth: The Blood of the Fold, a group from Nicobarese that believes people with magic are evil, seeks to conduct these in the eponymous book. Whenever they face real magic users (as opposed to the muggles they've accused, or sympathizers) they're naturally screwed unless their leader hypocritically uses his sister (a sorceress) to even the odds.
  • In The Witch of Blackbird Pond, when a serious illness sweeps the town, angry residents begin looking for someone to blame as children start dying. They immediately go to fetch Hannah Tupper, whom the town has always whispered about being a witch. When Kit helps her escape, their anger and accusations turn on her.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003):
    • The military leaders chose not to reveal the existence of human-shaped Cylons for fear of having a Witch Hunt on their hands ("People would accuse their neighbors for not brushing their teeth). When they (later) finally decided to let the cat out of the bag, they set up an "independent tribunal" to initially root out the Cylon infiltrators, but it devolved into an inquisition trying to pin the blame on whoever they could. Adama showed how different he is than Picard; he did not outwit the chief investigator, he out-leadershiped her by having her security detail arrest her. Long term, this was a mixed success as any suggestion of neutral tribunals or judgements are undermined by the appearance that Adama has dismissed the last one when he didn't like it's results.
    • In "Collaborators", Tom Zarek set up a secret Kangaroo Court to try and execute Cylon collaborators specifically to avoid a public witch hunt and keep President Roslin from having to spend the rest of her term signing death warrants, but given the members of the group were all part of La Résistance it devolved into one anyway: Sam Anders quits when it becomes clear to him that the others are spacing people based on emotions rather than facts. After the group comes clean when they nearly kill the Resistance's own mole in the Baltar Administration, Roslin issues a fleetwide pardon and sets up a truth and reconciliation commission instead.
  • Bewitched: In one episode, Aunt Clara accidentally transports Samantha to Colonial Salem, where she suffers from Easy Amnesia, and Endora sends Darrin back through time to save her from a witch trial. Once Darren uses a talisman Endora provided him to restore Samantha's memory, Samantha informs the others that, while she herself was a witch, the others whom they convicted of witchcraft were innocent.
  • In the first-series Blackadder episode "The Witchsmeller Pursuivant", Prince Edmund is accused of witchcraft by the Witchsmeller and convicted on completely ridiculous "evidence". The ironic part is Edmund's mother is a witch: it was her actions that burned the Witchsmeller alive and freed Edmund.
  • Buffyverse:
    • In the Buffy episode "Gingerbread", Giles notes that a certain breed of demon prefers to turn humans against each other rather than attacking them directly, from Salem all the way back to Hansel & Gretel. One such demon convinces Buffy's own mother to lead a witch hunt that almost gets Buffy, Willow and their friend Amy burned at the stake.
    • An interesting example in the Angel episode, appropriately titled "Are You Now or Have You Ever Been?". After a man commits suicide, due to a demon who feeds on negative human emotion, the hotel manager and bellboy cover up the crime. Paranoia spreads, with the demon affecting people's minds, until Angel is hung by a lynch mob of ordinary hotel employees and guests who believed he killed the man. The person who fingered him, a young woman who did so to save herself from going to jail for theft, then spent the next 50 years feeding the demon with her guilt over Angel's "death".
  • Charmed:
    • One episode has the sisters transport to a Bad Future (a form of Mental Time Travel), where an ambitious man has managed to reveal the existence of the supernatural to the world and has started a nationwide witch hunt, gaining massive political support. They also execute witches by fire, but they do it in a modern way - with automated flamethrowers. The sisters manage to undo this by one of them not using a spell on a guy (the same guy who would start the witch hunt) for merely being annoying.
    • One season later in the Halloween Episode, the sisters get transported back to Colonial Virginia where as Phoebe puts it "the average lifetime of a witch is fifteen minutes". Their enemy - a dark practitioner - exploits this trope. The sisters are caught and hanged but are saved in the nick of time.
  • Doctor Who: In "The Witchfinders", landowner Becka Savage is leading one against the villagers of Bilehurst Cragg, claiming that the presence of Satan and witches working for him is responsible for everything bad that's been happening lately. She's actually trying to save her own skin, as she's been possessed by a hostile alien, which she believes to be Satan, and she's become desperate enough to believe that killing dozens of villagers on spurious claims of witchcraft might save her from the infection.
  • A literal one occurs in the Emerald City episode "They Came First", as the Wizard orders his Guard to round up every little girl in Emerald City in order to root out any witches among them.
  • For All Mankind has an alternate world where Apollo 23 explodes on the launchpad. The FBI becomes convinced this was the work of KGB spies to sabotage the space race. The technicians openly tell the agents in charge this was simply a freak mechanical failure but the FBI insists it was something else. They end up making the lives of everyone miserable, expose some personal secrets that wreck lives and careers, nearly cause chaos for Apollo 23...and for nothing as it turns out it was, in fact, just a freak accident.
  • In an episode of Law & Order an alternative medical practitioner's treatments result in the death of a little girl. When they accuse her of murder, her lawyer calls the prosecution a "witch hunt", to which McCoy replies, "And we've caught a witch!"
  • As noted in the Real Life section below, McCarthyism was running rampant in America in The '50s. Because the show reflects the mindsets of that time, it was a recurring theme on M*A*S*H.
  • Motherland: Fort Salem: The real Salem Witch Trials make up the point of divergence from our history in the show since actual witches existed that made a pact. What came to be known as the Salem Accords was later written into the U.S. Constitution. It ended the persecution of witches but mandated their conscription into the Army and carried over to present times.
  • In one episode of Quincy, M.E. a janitor dies in a fire, and the business owner is put on trial for insurance fraud because the details don't add up. The prosecutor brings up a familial connection between him and The Mafia, though the defendant insists he has nothing to do with the mob and has spent his whole career avoiding them; when the first grand jury refuses to indict, he sets up a second one. Quincy accuses the prosecutor of running a Kangaroo Court and is able to prove the fire was accidental (the janitor's cleaning chemicals leaked onto a radiator).
  • Sort of happened very badly in the second to last episode of the first season of Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Sabrina's class went on a Field Trip to a colonial town, and while there, took on the roles of various occupations as some sort of educational thing, though Sabrina lost hers. Just before they started, the tour guide told them that somebody had been given the role of 'witch,' and they would have to figure out who it was. Libby eventually accused Sabrina and put her on trial, but Sabrina used magic to make Libby look crazy and have everybody think she was the witch. Then in the end, the tour guide said that she had lied about there being a witch, in order to prove a point about how hysteria can spread so easily or something. Then at the very end of the episode, Sabrina found her role pack, and her role was in fact witch.
  • Salem deals with the Salem witch trials, so this trope obviously occurs. Though in this case, the witches are real and are manipulating the Puritans into killing each other in order to make the sacrifices necessary for the Grand Rite.
  • Subverted in a Saturday Night Live sketch depicting a Salem-era witch trial. The sketch makes the expected jokes about it being an obvious Kangaroo Court until the last minute when it turns out the defendant actually is a witch. He uses his magic to intimidate the court into finding him innocent.
  • In the Stargate Atlantis episode, "Suspicion", a series of frequent Wraith attacks during expeditions leads the Stargate team to suspect there is an informant to the Wraith among the Athosians living in the city. What follows is what the Athosians would consider a witch hunt with access restrictions and security interviews by the Terrans and they request to move out the moment when land is discovered on the planet. It turns out that there was no spy: Teyla was wearing a Wraith homing beacon that Commander Shepard inadvertently activated when he found it and gave it to her.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had elements of this inspired by the Voluntary Shapeshifting masters of the Dominion. The fact they keep up the blood screenings even though they know that the guy who came up with it was a changeling and it didn't work on him... Truth in Television, to a degree. Reference the concept of security theater.
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Drumhead", the Enterprise suffers the near-catastrophic failure of a critical engine part in the wake of uncovering a Klingon spy. Suspecting sabotage as well, and armed with reams of circumstantial evidence, The Federation investigator rapidly begins searching for scapegoats. In the end, it turns out that the part that failed was merely defective, not sabotaged. Unfortunately, the investigator refuses to accept the evidence as presented, going after a promising young crewman shortly before she self-destructs by way of a hateful, mindless tirade against a "suspect". A note for such villains, don't play political/diplomatic games with Jean-Luc Picard. After this, the visibly distraught investigator comes to her senses, realizes that her entire case has just collapsed because of her outburst, and follows up with a small 'I have nothing more to say'. Surely the best way to end a Witch Hunt.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959)'s episode "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" was a wonderful example: everyone was looking for the aliens among them who were responsible for the power outage, but the real aliens were watching from outside the town. They knew they just had to cut off the power, and the people would kill each other in their witch hunt. In the remake of that episode, It was a military experiment instead. The soldiers found the results disheartening to say the least.
  • The Twilight Zone (1985): In "A Message from Charity", Charity Payne is accused of being a witch after she tells her best friend Ursula Miller of the wonders of 1985 that she has seen through Peter Wood's eyes or that he has told her about such as cars, television, airplanes, men walking on The Moon and The American Revolution. The "evidence" against her is her family's well being the only one in Annes Town whose water is not tainted and Master Croft's ewe giving birth to a lamb with a Third Eye. While searching for references to Charity's trial in books on colonial Massachusetts, Peter finds a reference to Squire Jonas Hacker being posthumously convicted of the murder of two sailors in 1704. During her trial, Charity claims to possess second sight and describes the root cellar in which the bodies are hidden. Squire Hacker holds that her second sight is a gift from God and proclaims her innocent of witchcraft. However, Charity reluctantly breaks off contact with Peter to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.
  • The short-lived 1990s spy series Under Cover had The Mole hunt version, when belief that there's a Double Agent in the Government Agency of Fiction leads to everyone getting interrogated and paranoia setting in accordingly.
  • In Alice in Borderland, a few Hearts games (dealing with emotions and betrayal) qualify:
    • Season 1 ends with a Ten of Hearts game at the beach. After a girl is found fatally stabbed, the announcer declares her killer to be "the witch". The witch must be placed upon the bonfire outside within a time limit, or everyone present will be killed. Aguni and Niragi decide (each for their own separate reasons) to simply kill as many people as possible, reasoning that they'll find the witch sooner or later. Ultimately, Arisu and An work out the girl killed herself, and all they ever had to do was put her body on the pyre. In retrospect, the fact that the game was actually called 'Witch Hunt' should have been a clue.
    • Season 2 has the Jack of Hearts challenge. The players are locked in a prison with explosive collars around their necks. The collars display a suit of cards on the back, and every hour they must state what the suit is, with explosive results for a wrong answer. However, the players cannot look at their own collar, but must instead ask another player to tell them what the suit is. All they have to do is trust each other. However, one of them is the Jack of Hearts, whom they are working against and must identify and kill to win the game. The Jack actually does relatively little, instead letting the players' own paranoia rack up a huge body count.

  • The Metallica song "The Shortest Straw" is about witch hunts and blacklisting.
  • The Rush song "Witch Hunt", of course.
  • The music video for the Stargate remix of the Depeche Mode song ''Personal Jesus' has some villagers "dunk" a suspected witch.
  • "The Dead Can't Testify" by Billy Talent is about a suspect hanged for being different, possibly for being an atheist.
  • The Kavaliers had a song called "Get That Communist, Joe" which is sung from the POV of a character who is attempting to instigate a witch hunt against a romantic rival.
    He's filling my girl with propaganda
    And I'm scared she will meander
    Don't want to take a chance that he'll land her
    Get that communist, Joe
  • "Serenade Of Flames" by Serenity. An inquisitor tortures and burns a witch for healing a little girl.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the role-playing game Paranoia, the entire underground society the players inhabit is nothing but one gigantic witch-hunt for commie mutant traitors.
    • For added fun, the player characters are always mutant traitors. Being a commie is optional.
      • It gets worse: the society itself is communist, and everyone in it (not just the PCs) is a mutant. For added fun, the rules of the complex as they are means everyone is a traitor just for existing.
  • The back story to the Boston Sourcebook to Mage: the Awakening provides detailed and accurate information on the Salem Witch Trials (no burning the witch there) and notes that the genuine mages of Massachusetts held it to be a warning of how cautious they should be if they wanted power in the New World. At the time of the actual trials, the mages had little to do with the proceedings, since they were too busy summoning monsters to help them fight off cannibal mutants.
  • One of the complications for the returning Solars in Exalted is that the Immaculate Order has spent millennia painting them as demonic "Anathema" in their holy teachings. This label applies to Lunars and Abyssals as well, and seeing as a Deathlord sacked a major cultural center just a few years back, everyone's keeping their eyes open for possible Anathema. It really doesn't help that incautious spending on Essence leads to lighting up like a Christmas tree...
  • Happens a lot in Ravenloft, particularly in Tepest, where an Inquisition targets anyone whose actions might be influenced by the shadow fey, and in realms such as Paridon where the monsters impersonate humans.
    • Subverted, however, in more conventional Dungeons & Dragons settings. As noted in the Harry Potter example, real casters tend to be able to use their magic to avoid getting assaulted (Mass Charm Person, for example) or make killing them too costly to be worth it. Assuming the wizard in question doesn't simply vaporise your village for trying, there's a nasty spell called Contingency that can do anything from teleporting the wizard away the moment you set fire to the stake to causing a huge portal to open up and start spewing The Legions of Hell into your village upon his death to any combination thereof.
      • Except for Dark Sun; while they don't usually bother with the burning, the sentiment and its effects — root out and kill all arcane magic users — is the same. Justified because Magic is Evil in this setting, being powered by sucking the life out of the plants and earth around you.
  • In Shadowrun, Aztlan has it as bad as the real-life Soviet Union, complete with priests teaching children to report "subversive behavior" in their families.
  • Many Inquisitors in Warhammer 40,000 do this as their standard M.O., complete with Kangaroo Courts to try the accused en masse and the burning of the convicted alive. (Literal charges of witchcraft in such cases are common, but not mandatory. Accusations of heresy, mutation, corruption, or alien influence may also be leveled.) However, due to the well-documented effects of Chaos corruption, they can't afford to take any risk.


    Video Games 
  • In Vangers, this is the Beeboorats' hat.
  • In Baldur's Gate the Bhaalspawn usually aren't trusted or loved, even compared with "normal" treatment of tieflings (it figures). The Witch Hunt against them is not entirely unjustified, except that those witch hunters you meet don't ask any questions, and if they do they don't care at all what you say. And then it all ends in a massive war, as the last survivors come together with their armies to decide who will be the one.
  • A Waxworks (1992) level takes place in Victorian England where an angry mob is searching for Jack the Ripper. The player takes the role of his identical twin brother. Running into the mob only leads to one thing.
  • The Witcher: In the Crapsack World continent of The Witcher there were several officially mandated pogroms against non-humans such as elves and dwarves. In addition, there is Abigail who is a witch living in a village in the Outskirts. Despite buying her herbs and potions, this doesn't stop the villagers from forming an angry mob under the local priest and trying to lynch her. The protagonist can either save her so she leaves the village for good or let her die. Ironically, playing the game twice (killing the priest in one and the witch in the other) reveals that this is a witch hunt for BOTH accused and accuser. The entire town, as Geralt puts it, is a Wretched Hive pretending to be better than they are and lashing out at any scapegoats that they can, worsening their problems through sheer ignorance and denial of their crimes. On the other hand, Abigail is a full-fledged cultist who decided to get revenge on the town after they killed her dog for kicks, but her reanimated dog got out of control and killed ONLY the weak/innocent.
    • Turned Up to Eleven in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt as King Radovid begins a massive purge of sorceresses while he's fighting a continent-spanning war against The Empire. If you save the remaining sorceresses, the country will switch gears and hunt nonhuman races. Geralt comments that it's not so much about eliminating threats as it is the satisfaction in murdering people.
  • Monster Girl Quest! has Witch Hunt Village, with soldiers going around accusing people of witchcraft and then taking them to the lord's manor. Ironically, the mastermind is a mad witch and scientist herself, who uses the accused witches as experimental subjects.
  • In La Pucelle, the group finds themselves several years back in time, where the followers of their goddess are being hunted as witches.
  • Shortly after Shin Megami Tensei IV starts, it's revealed that a mysterious somebody called the Black Samurai has been delivering large loads of books to the lower caste of Casualries - books specifically gauged to provoke thought and social unrest. It later transpires the books transform humans into demons through the unleashed desires the books reveal. The entire kingdom ends up in a massive hunt as the Monastery assumes control and starts ordering increasingly amoral and self-serving commands.
  • The city of Labyrinthia in Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney periodically suffers attacks from witches, so they have taken as a habit to catch the first woman in the crime scene, blame her for the crime, throw her into a Kangaroo Court and burn her alive after a farce trial. The Ace Attorney side of the game is playing as Phoenix in these trials, and it's quite daunting. Ironically Phoenix gets more respect here than in a real courtroom. The second case in particular not only has him prove his client is innocent but also prove that the witch that was apparently responsible for this case and an older one is innocent as well. When it seems like she's going to be burned alive anyway, Phoenix pleads with the judge, and we later found out they just locked her up instead. Phoenix Wright managed to convince a witch hunt to spare the witch.
  • The backstory of Murdered: Soul Suspect includes the witch hunts of Salem as the game takes place there. The Serial Killer of the game turns out to be a real witch (Or at least a medium that made a Deal with the Devil).
  • In Fallout 4, fear of "synths" from the Institute kidnapping and replacing loved ones for nefarious purposes is rampant, such that loved ones will often turn their guns on one another based on the mere suspicion of being a synth. One of your companions, a loyal Brotherhood of Steel Paladin, is not even spared by his own kin when he is discovered to be a synth, even though he had his memories of being a synth wiped (although it doesn't help that the Brotherhood hates synths with the fury of a thousand nuclear warheads).
  • The story of Bloodborne draws on witch hunts with the setting of the game being a "nightly hunt" which may be figurative as the events of the game seem longer than one night. The first area, Yharnam, shows the hysteria and suspicion of the citizens-turned-hunters as they think you're a they turn into monsters themselves.
  • This is the name of one quest in Dragon's Dogma. It involves Selene, a mysterious young girl living by herself in the Witchwood. She has done so for quite a while and people are aware of a 'witch' (actually just an excellent herbalist) living in the woods, but never paid her much heed. This changes when the dragon returns, and a group of villagers come to the conclusion she must have summoned it somehow. Cue the Witch Hunt. If the player helps her out, she moves into the Player Character's house, where she'll be a lot safer.note 
  • The culture of Ishgard in Final Fantasy XIV conducts trials against people that they suspect of being a dragon. A common trial is to take the accused to a gorge aptly named Witchdrop and punt them into the pit below. If they die from the fall, they are declared innocent and are sent to the halls of their god. If the person is a dragon, they'll transform to escape and will be shot down by waiting archers in the distance. Ironically, Heavensward reveals that all Ishgardians are draconic to some degree. Those that transform into dragons have simply awakening the heritage that they had all along.
  • Hero King Quest: Peacemaker Prologue: In the Cerulean Land, any citizen who questions the government's policies are accused of witchcraft. Actual witchcraft practitioners have little choice but to seek asylum in the Dark Realm, which accepts humans as long as they swear loyalty to the Dark Mother.
  • In Knight's Contract, the witch hunts were instigated by a man who coveted the power seven witches held. To this end he spread the Black Death and blamed it on the witches, apprehending them when they tried to treat the Black Death's victims. The knight Heinrich was the executioner and the witch Gretchen was the last witch he killed. Her last act was to curse him with immortality.
  • Bravely Default II: In chapter 3, the local religion in control of Rimedhal is persecuting people suspected of being fairies. When a person is suspected of being a fairy, they are shoved off a tall cliff into the "Jaws of Judgment". The townspeople are reassured that if the person is not a fairy, then they will simply gain a good afterlife as they are judged favorably by the Lord of Dragons; but if they are a fairy, they will spread their hidden wings and fly off to save themselves, thus being exposed. Double subverted as fairies do exist but are mostly good, one of the outsiders trying to help the town is a fairy disguised as a human, and it turns out the actual threat is the chief inquisitor Helio, who is The Mole and started this witch hunt to soften Rimedhal up for invasion, and who is indirectly working for an actual evil fairy.

  • In Endstone, they come after Kyri, blaming her for everything going wrong.
  • In Not a Villain, the collapse of civilization is blamed on hackers, making them the object of paranoia and witch hunts.
  • Sister Claire witches are pronounced as a common enemy to nuns and are hunted down by them. A very hardcore hunter named Sister Abraham is especially dedicated to this to the point where if anyone who can potentially wield magic, she'll label them as a potential witch and quickly set on "purging" them. This came to a head before the story when Abby burned down the church orphanage where Olga and her brothers lived, brothers and all.
    • This becomes REALLY hypocritical, even more than the average witch hunt when it turns out that most Nuns in Aerth England use magic to power their "Nun-Fu". The bonus comics reveal that Olga is the only main character who does not believe that she's using magic and that mages were normal in Aerth England society until one with the power to heal the damned showed up and freaked the theocracy out.
  • Clockwork: Literally—humans who can use magic, being a danger to themselves and those around them, are aggressively hunted down by the government in a desperate attempt to wipe magic out for good. Mercia's government has garnered particular opposition from Arcadia for taking it upon themselves to police Arcadia's citizens as well, seizing any they suspect of magic for execution overseas.
  • Charby the Vampirate: Mye and Hex were tried for witchcraft by drowning. They died which meant they were innocent. The twins were then brought back to life as zombie slaves by a sadistic actual magic user.
  • Jackie Rose: A backstory that showcased Blackburn's origins reveal that the girl she possessed was charged for this simply because one of the villages suspected her because her father was the only one to bring in fish when the other fishermen weren't able to....yeah. Needless to say, when the demon took over her body, she showed exactly how scary a real witch was.

    Western Animation 
  • Sentinel Prime touches off one of these in the third season of Transformers: Animated, even making propaganda shorts warning that anyone could be a Decepticon. It's slightly justified since the last Decepticon spy was the freaking Head of Autobot Intelligence.
  • Scooby-Doo ended up being the victim of one himself, when investigating a witch case, Scooby had the unfortunate matter of wearing a witch costume (it was Halloween). Of course the supposed witch was human, but the town leader's justification being "now the witch has turned herself into a dog".
  • One episode of The Fairly OddParents! had Timmy going back in time to the colonial days of Dimmsdale to find out how it was founded. One of Crocker's ancestors, Alden Bitteroot, instigated a lot of these from a broom to ducks by prying on the fears of the town. Not surprisingly, Timmy exposes Alden as the real witch.
  • An episode of Danny Phantom had Danny and his friends going back in time to Salem during the witch hunts where Sam is accused of being a witch and nearly burned at the stake possibly due to her Gothic appearance and Vlad egging on the crowd.
  • The Simpsons: Springfield is in the midst of burning witches in the Treehouse of Horror segment "Easy Bake Coven". Marge pleads for this to stop, noting "This witch hunt is turning into a circus!" Then they accuse her. Since this is a a Treehouse of Horror episode, Marge is a witch.
  • In the South Park episode "Sons A Witches" the dads all dress up as witches and party together. One actually becomes a real witch and terrorizes the town. When the town closes off the park where they were having their parties, the other dads worry that it is turning into a "witch pursuit-thing".

    Real Life - Literal Witch Hunts 
  • Perhaps the most (in)famous actual witch hunt in the Americas was the Salem Witch Trials, which took place in and around the town of Salem, Massachusetts in 1692–93. Twenty people, most of them women, were executed on spurious evidence (another five died in prison); several dozen more were accused but exonerated or never brought to trial. The trial proceedings were criticized almost from the outset, and were forcibly shut down in 1693. As mentioned above, The Crucible uses this as a backdrop to covertly criticize McCarthyism.
  • Because The Spanish Inquisition had insisted that ordinary standards of evidence applied in witchcraft cases, they didn't have witch hunts as France or Germany did. The sole witch hunt was the Basque witch trials, which was more limited than most, with some judges expressing open skepticism of the charges. In the end, although some 5,000 were accused of witchcraft, only 15 were actually convicted and burned. The Spanish Inquisition therefore abandoned its prosecutions of witchcraft a century before Protestant governments.
  • A wave of witch panic went over Sweden in the years 1668-77 after a rumour started that witches were targeting children and abducting their souls in their sleep to offer them to the Devil. In one case, the Torsaaker trial, 71 people were beheaded and burned after Laurentius Hornaeus, a truly fanatical priest and witch hunter, had forced local children to testify against them.
  • The "Satanic Panic," which took place from the 1970s to the 1990s in the US and UK. Thanks to people like Mike Warnke publishing books like The Satan Seller (later discredited), people became convinced that massive numbers of Satanists were engaged in all sorts of nefarious activities, including but not limited to underground child pornography rings (using children left at daycare centers), sacrificing people, putting subliminal messages in everything to corrupt the youth, and trying to Take Over the World.

    Real Life - Figurative Witch Hunts 
  • The '50s-era Red Scare, spearheaded by Senator Joseph McCarthy, and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) ruined the lives of genuine political communists and the falsely-accused alike (overwhelmingly the latter). Today in America, "McCarthyism" is synonymous with political fear-mongering.
  • Communist authorities in the USSR. A new wave of this swept through the Eastern Bloc after WWII when the Soviet Union either installed puppet governments in or outright annexed a number of Eastern European countries. Millions of people were repressed, spied on, executed, or sent to internment camps on false accusations of being "fascists" and "bourgeouis".
  • The Hollywood Blacklist which grew out of McCarthyism and destroyed the careers of numerous actors, writers, and other creators, not all of them in Hollywood, despite the name.
  • At the same time, a related "Lavender Scare" occurred where known or suspected homosexuals were purged from government service, on the grounds that they could be blackmailed into spying by foreign agents (given the strong homophobia of the time which meant openly serving would be impossible) and were "not proper persons" to employ generally. Ironically, McCarthy's chief counsel Roy Cohn was widely rumored to be gay himself, with the famous Army-McCarthy hearings instigated after he couldn't succeed in getting a friend (allegedly also his lover) an exemption from military service. This brought down McCarthy when his bullying tactics were exposed to live audiences. Cohn denied to the end that he was gay, even while dying from AIDS-related disease.
  • In the First Red Scare of 1919-20, many anarchists and other radicals were deported from the US after a series of anarchist bombings against government officials and businesspeople.
  • The Landlord Purges during the rise of Maoist China, in which the government incited mobs to kill former landlords during the collectivization of agriculture. Later also the Cultural Revolution in which many intellectuals were publicly humiliated, purged from their positions, and put to work in the fields.
  • A modern one is the outgrowth of the Pedo Hunt obsession, especially in the United States. Anyone even accused will be instantly convicted in public opinion and their life ruined forever, even if they are completely exonerated or never actually charged with anything. It's become somewhat toothless in recent years due to overuse; several popular conspiracy theories (ripping pages from the Satanic Panic playbook) have used the accusation against basically everyone famous enough for them to know their names.
  • The Reign of Terror. Rabid French revolutionaries sought to weed out internal enemies and advance the revolution. Led by Maximilien Robespierre and George Danton, they executed real (and perceived) enemies of the revolution. Danton was accused of such crimes by Robespierre and beheaded. Eventually, Robespierre was killed by the guillotine for his crimes after he was accused of being an enemy to France. After the Jacobins fell, a White Terror broke out in 1795, with people who were opponents and or victims of them massacring their members across the country in revenge.
  • Many Western governments, politicians, and commentators criticize Russia's current plan of criminalizing the spread of "ideals and propaganda that encourages homosexuality" in the country as an excuse for the government to carry out massive witch hunts to root out the country's LGBT population. In fact, the laws are written so broadly that they can effectively be used against anyone, making them a good tool for Putin's authoritarian regime generally.
  • James Jesus Angleton of the CIA launched a lengthy hunt for a mole he believed to have infiltrated the CIA, which later had to pay compensation to several officers whose careers had been damaged as a result. His actions may have impeded future efforts to uncover genuine double-agents like Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen. Angleton is said to have influenced MI5 officer Peter Wright, who took part in an equally controversial hunt for the "fifth man" in the Cambridge Spy ring (still unknown, possibly John Cairncross).
  • People who have done or said racist things or support someone involved in politics who's been accused of racism often blame accusations on this trope, with their opposers claiming this "karma" for their actions.
  • The #MeToo movement, which was born out of the Weinstein Effect and destroyed the careers of some celebrities accused by the movement (in particular men), has been called this by those accused and the movement's detractors, accusing them of deliberately ignoring the presumption of innocence - that being "Innocent until proven guilty" - and trying to have those accused Convicted by Public Opinion instead of by a court of law. On the other hand, members and supporters of the movement itself have stated that calling the movement a witch hunt is a slanderous attempt to avoid accountability of the accused.
  • Arab–Israeli Conflict: Supporters of the pro-Palestinian movement have accused their opponents (supporters of the pro-Israeli movement) of inciting a political witch-hunt against them. This is because pro-Israeli activists frequently criticize pro-Palestinian activists for making actions or statements which they allege to be evidence of the pro-Palestinian side having antisemitic beliefs (not helping matters is that some legitimate antisemites have mingled with the pro-Palestinian side in the past), which the pro-Palestinian side vehemently denies and considers to be a slanderous campaign designed to silence all criticism of Israel. Within Israel, some accusations of this are made too, with Israelis opposed to the government policies on Palestinians asserting they are being persecuted for it. Naturally, they are called traitors by the government supporters. And in Palestine, Palestinians in favor of the two-state solution idea are labelled traitors by the extremist side of the pro-Palestinian movement.
  • Online debates about Fan Fic and fan art can degenerate into this, one of the reasons Why Fandom Can't Have Nice Things. Shipping in particular gets into Serious Business territory. Ship Alice and Bob? Well, you are homophobic because Bob clearly belongs with Charlie and Alice should be with Eve. Ship Bob and Charlie? Well, then you're racist because Those Two Guys are white and Alice is not. Ship Eve and Charlie (who despise each other in-universe)? Abuse apologist. Ship Bob and Eve? Bring on the Pedo Hunt because even though Eve is twenty, Bob is thirty and that's "problematic."


Video Example(s):


W(h)itch Way

The Tillermans play a board game called "Salem Witch Hunt", in which the players try to figure out which player is the witch. It gets out of hand when they go overboard.

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Main / WitchHunt

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