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Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters

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"If crimefighters fight crime and firefighters fight fires, what do freedom fighters fight?"

The word "terrorist" doesn't have a single, universally-accepted definition. The most commonly accepted definition is "a person who uses violence to achieve a political end," but that label is enormously problematic; by that definition, any people who engage in a war could be accurately described as terrorists.note 

Thus in fiction, as in Real Life, the line between combating villainy and committing villainy can get pretty blurry. A ragtag band of plucky rebels fighting against an evil Empire might see themselves as freedom fighters, but their actions will look an awful lot like terrorism even to the people who agree with what they're doing, especially if the rebels are required to use the same kind of methods, or even worse ones, as their enemies in order to succeed, especially if some of them really are bad people who just want an excuse to commit atrocities. It's possible that Both Sides Have a Point, making it a case of Grey-and-Gray Morality… or even Evil Versus Evil. On the other hand, it may be a lie that they tell themselves that they may believe, or, less favorably, know better than to believe even as they keep using it to justify irredeemable actions that go well over any sort of line of justifiability.

While "terrorist" and "freedom fighter" are both relatively modern terms, and the idea that "terrorists" are necessarily the bad guys only appears after World War II, the basic argument of whether unofficial or unlicensed combatants have the same legal protections as officially sanctioned soldiers have actually been around for a while. During the age of Wooden Ships and Iron Men, people would have been familiar with the idea that "Your Pirates Are Our Privateers." Originally, the term "terrorist" was embraced by the real-life Bomb-Throwing Anarchists, who used those bombs to destroy property and did everything they could to not kill people because "I'm a terrorist, not a murderer". The past really is a foreign country.

To be fair while relative, there are some general distinctions. A terrorist usually aims to harm civilians to prove a point while rebellions tend to resort to violence if necessary (with some being entirely peaceful) & try to only fight in self-defense. Terrorists rarely take prisoners of war except as bargaining chips or slave labor and they tend to move goal-posts once they take charge or become just as bad as their precursors in a Full-Circle Revolution. Freedom fighters generally take prisoners of war (though how they are treated varies) and have steady plans for a better society that can be practiced for an improved civilization.

See also You Rebel Scum! and Occupiers Out of Our Country. Tends to happen when dealing with a Villain with Good Publicity, a Hero with Bad Publicity, and A Hero to His Hometown. Related to Well Intentioned Extremists and is a subtrope of La Résistance. Likely to overlap with The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized. May result in Moral Myopia if the supporters of La Résistance accept and excuse actions from La Résistance that they condemn The Empire for doing. Which label gets applied long after the fact will most likely depend on which side won and how. Compare The Horseshoe Effect. If the hero (and, by extension, the audience) is genuinely misled about who are the good and bad guys, and he finds out later on that he sided with the wrong side, it's a Reverse Relationship Reveal.

Sister trope to Negatives as a Positive.

No Real Life Examples, Please!. Subjectivity is precisely the point of this trope, not to mention the grief that ensues from such a discussion.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Code Geass, Lelouch grapples with this issue. A large portion of La Résistance that existed before Lelouch entered the scene as Zero were pretty squarely on the wrong side of this - in the first episode, a news broadcast is shown about a terrorist bombing that killed 8 Britannians and 51 "others". While the immediately noticeable thing is how unfair it is that the 8 Britannians are given so much more regard than the other victims, there's also the fact that these "freedom fighters" killed 51 Innocent Bystanders from their own people. Lelouch debuts his Black Knights with the rescue of a group of Britannian civilian hostages from one of these sorts of groups, promising to defend the weak from those who would abuse power, "whether they be Britannians or Elevens". Furthermore, he sees that bombings like the one shown in the first episode are petty, and do nothing to accomplish the goal of freedom. However, as he goes along, he finds it hard to follow his own code of not involving civilians (see stages 11-14) - and he's surrounded by people who tell him he shouldn't bother. His immense guilt over the infamous Diabolus ex Machina situation in the end of season one has him labelling himself a terrorist after that. But the series does explore this issue and search for the place where "resisting the empire" no longer justifies sacrificing civilians.
    • The side manga Oz the Reflection reveals the existence of Peace Mark, a worldwide terrorist faction that hates The Empire just as much as Zero does.
  • This happens in multiple Gundam series, such as the AEUG and Karaba of Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, and the League Militaire of Victory Gundam.
    • Mobile Suit Gundam 00's first season averts this, as Celestial Being don't claim to be La Résistance. Season 2, however, has Celestial Being allied with Katharon, a Karaba-Expy organization that fits the trope better.
    • Mobile Suit Gundam Wing's five protagonists of Operation: Meteor were sent by Colonists against the oppressive Oz of Earth. Many of their attacks felt like terrorist movements until we learned what they were targeting was in fact very specific. Granted some collateral damage.
    • Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury features Dawn of Fold who from the Spacian point of view are ruthless terrorists willing to kill students at a school. But we also see the Earthian point of view of them as heroic underdogs holding back more numerous and better armed corporate forces so refugees can escape.
  • In Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, the third and fourth World Wars have left Japan with a large population of refugees (probably Chinese and Korean), who live in camps made of ruined and abandoned cities enclosed by fences and guarded by the military. Forced to live in poverty and without any place to go, many of them resolve to take hostages, assassinate political officials, and perform suicide bombings to force the government to give them a new home. In the second season, one of the two main antagonists is a Japanese man who becomes one of the rebels' greatest leaders and is considered a hero for the refugees, but the country's top terrorist by the government. Given that Ghost in the Shell deals heavily with conspiracies, things are a lot more complicated, though.
    • Then there are the Individual Eleven who claim to represent the will of the mainstream Japanese populace, and pursue "refugee liberation" (read: "kick them out of the country!"), who also commit terrorist acts in the name of their cause. In the first episode of the second season, the Major in turn compares the Section 9 to a terrorist organization since they're a secret armed group that lacks governmental recognition or supervision—they do get the said recognition later in the same episode, though.note 
  • Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic has several examples due to the socio-political theme of the story. The Fog troupe a rebel group in Balbad are led by the hero himself at some point. They wish to overthrow the oppressive king but the true leader is ready to commit acts that endanger civilians.
    • Then we have Al Thamen, that is an actual world (read universe) scale terrorist organization. Their goal is pure freedom since they want to overthrow destiny itself. The problem is that the very way to do so involves creating wars and causing the deaths of billions...
  • The title characters of The Seven Deadly Sins are considered as criminals before and after they were framed. However, a number of them are good people at heart. When a princess decides to seek them out to save her kingdom, they become this trope.
  • One Piece plays with this concept a bit. The main characters are pirates who don't do pirate-like things, instead taking out other pirates and corrupt organizations/local governments, but this hasn't stopped them from being labeled as highly dangerous pirates by the world government (it doesn't help that some enjoy being called pirates) and heavily feared by most citizens, although the citizens they've helped out seem really grateful and forever in their debt. The fact that a few of them were already on the run from the world government for political reasons (they knew something the world government didn't want the public to know) doesn't help.
    • Then there's the Revolutionaries, who directly challenge the World Government, and within six years, have gained from strength to strength, to the point that its leader is considered "The Worst Criminal In The World". Most of what we know about them has been mentioned by other characters, and we have not seen much on the organisation as a whole, what its aim is, or even the aftermath of their actions. However, individual members of them seem to be decent enough folk.
  • Guilty Crown features La Résistance "Funeral Parlor," and the government GHQ. So far we're on Funeral Parlor's side, but they're pretty ruthless in their methods… and then they get replaced by Shu's Kingdom of the Void.
  • In the Area 88 manga, Mickey meets Rishar Vashtal, Saki's brother and a leader among Asran's anti-government forces. Rishar explains the anti-government forces' reasons for engaging in the civil war, showing that both sides of the conflict have legitimate aims. Mickey feels conflicted after meeting Rishar but remains loyal to Area 88.
    Mickey: I didn't want to hear his problems. It'll be harder for me to fight now.
  • In RideBack, The GGF (or GGP, as in the anime) shows fractures after overcoming superpower forces as terrorists themselves, becoming a believed-benevolent world military enforcer. A splinter group of GGP ex-pats becomes a terrorist force against their old comrades.
  • Shimoneta's OP explains that pornographic material has been legally banned nationwide in Japan for the last 16 years. Anyone caught with such material faces stiff penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment. So Ayame adopts a secret identity ('Blue Snow') to spread awareness about porn, proper sex education, and for the simple right to tell dirty jokes. To the Japanese government and the media, she's the "ero terrorist" leader of SOX, but, to the students at Tokioka Academy and the rest of the country, she's their heroine.
  • The Place Promised in Our Early Days: Ulita consider themselves a liberation front fighting to free Hokkaido from Union control and reunite Japan, but many others see them as terrorists.
  • Attack on Titan applies this to both sides of the Marley vs. Eldia conflict. Reiner, Bertolt, and Annie (the Armored, Colossal and Female Titans) were sent by the Marley government to attack Paradis Island and retrieve the Founding Titan from within its walls. Naturally, they (and the Kingdom of Marley) are seen as the enemy by the main characters, even if they were just following orders and had no say in the matter. It turns out that the Paradis Eldians are considered evil by the rest of the world, with Marley trying to completely wipe them out. The Eldians, and even most of the Marleyans consider the Warrior Trio as Heroes dedicated to purging the demons of the world, whereas Annie and Bertolt are respected as martyrs, and Reiner is particularly respected himself a lot. Even the Beast Titan, architect of the Castle Utgard attack and the War in Shiganshina, has a powerful say in the Marley Government. Eren is now being called a threat to humanity and a destroyer of peace, and is only viewed as a "hero" (if he even is that) by the people living on Paradis that know about him and the Survey Corps (even that's doubtful when Eren deposed the Survey Corps using his brother and new allies). It's very much a case of Grey-and-Gray Morality.
  • Scar in Fullmetal Alchemist downplays this trope. Ed and most Amestrians call him a serial killer in no uncertain terms, but he is also one of the last survivors of a genocide perpetrated by the Amestrian government, and he is specifically targeting the soldiers who did the majority of the killing. However, he also tries to kill Edward Elric, who is a state alchemist, but far too young to have served during the genocide, and even other Ishvalans accuse him of only acting for revenge.

    Comic Books 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The basic view of the world in Season 9, with Slayers being seen as terrorists persecuting vampires who are now beloved. Simone does not help; her appearance in the first issue even invokes that she is a domestic terrorist.
  • Secret Wars (1984): In an argument with Captain America over his lack of support for mutant rights, Wolverine, veteran of far more battles than Captain America, responded to an accusation of terrorism with "Terrorists! That's what the big army calls the little army!"
  • In DMZ, the terms terrorist and insurgent get thrown around pretty casually, and are frequently directed to innocent bystanders who just want to get on with their lives without taking either side in the USA's second civil war. Naturally, this also happens in a more textbook fashion with regards to the rebelling faction of said Civil War.
  • Freedom Fighters uses this as a recurring theme with the team usually viewed in a negative light. Their earliest stories featured them as the only heroes in a world controlled by Nazi rule, which makes this trope very obvious. More recently they are antagonists of the black-ops government organization S.H.A.D.E. which leads to Uncle Sam, the living embodiment and spirit of the United States, being declared a threat to national security and put on their most wanted list.
    • The "Freedom Fighters" of Earth-10 are flat out said in The Multiversity Guidebook #1 to be terrorists. Their actions in Mastermen #1 show this in full, especially after they received help from Herr Doktor Sivana.
  • In G.I. Joe: Reloaded, Cobra Commander is adamant that he is not a terrorist and that his actions are for the greater good.
  • This is a prominent theme in Savage, with the title character considered a heroic freedom fighter by the British, but a brutal terrorist by the occupying Volgans.
  • Though not a terrorist as such (since he had government backing during his heyday), the KGBeast is portrayed in this manner in Aquaman and the Others. Upon hearing his name, freelance spy The Operative and Soviet-engineered super-cosmonaut Vostok offer near-opposite different descriptions and opinions of him and his actions.
  • Judge Dredd deconstructs the whole "Freedom Fighters" angle. Mega-City One is an authoritarian police state while the terrorists trying to overthrow it are democrats. While the Judges are hideously oppressive, extreme groups like Total War aren't really depicted as being in the right either.
  • The Ultimates: For the US and the Ultimates, the Liberators are terrorists, simple as that. The Liberators themselves, however, view themselves as La Résistance fighting against The Empire.
  • V for Vendetta: This is essentially the point of V's character, as his actions and portrayal are so morally complex that the question of whether he's a "good" freedom fighter or "bad" terrorist is almost necessarily a matter of perspective. On the one hand, his crusade against Norsefire is completely sympathetic, as the party has turned Britain into a brutal fascist dictatorship which they rule with an iron fist. However, he conducts his revolution with complete ruthlessness and relies almost exclusively on extreme violence, which occasionally endangers the people he claims to be fighting for. He ultimately takes it a step further and straight-up tortures Evey to ensure her loyalty to his cause. Indeed, V himself doesn't seem to know which side of the line he falls on, as he calls himself terrorist despite being fully committed to bringing down Norsefire for the greater good.

    Fan Works 
  • A Young Girl's Guerrilla War: The Britannian victory over Japan and the destruction of most of the Japanese conventional forces has forced many of the country’s remaining combatants and civilian resistance forces to engage the Britannians in an unconventional guerrilla war. The willingness of many resistance members to attack Honorary Britannians as valid targets regardless of the body count makes the various resistance groups sharply divisive even within the country.
  • In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Star Trek: The Next Generation crossover story Legend, Buffy is rescued from cryogenic sleep by the crew of the Enterprise, who view her as an early 21st Century terrorist leader and a war criminal because of Buffy's activities during the Eugenics Wars. Of course, what she was really doing was rebelling against Khan Noonian Singh, but you know what they say about who writes the history books.
  • The Conversion Bureau stories explore this with both the Human Liberation Front (HLF) and Ponification for Earth's Rebirth (PER), and is subject to a lot of Depending on the Writer:
    • The HLF: La Résistance bravely fighting against the xenocidal ponies? Or speciesist Right Wing Militia Fanatics bent on slaughtering every non-human?
    • The PER: Saviors of a fallen humanity? Or Quislings who've thrown away their humanity in exchange for "paradise"? Or Knight Templars who believe everyone should be ponified, regardless of whether they like it or not?
  • In Dauntless (Allora Gale), the various groups opposing Brittanian occupation of Japan run the gamut. Lelouch adjusts his methods of dealing with them accordingly.
    • The small resistance force whose members include Kallen, Ohgi, Tamaki, and the late Naoto is also the most idealistic one. Lelouch is perfectly willing to grant them amnesty, providing they don't cause any more trouble since he wants to recruit Kallen.
    • The JLF are also pretty idealistic and honorable, though they are willing to do harsher things for their cause. Lelouch is willing to let them go into exile in China since he wants to use them at a later date. He makes an exception for the JLF member who ordered an attack on civilians, including Lelouch's former schoolmates and sister Euphemia. Lelouch considers that man to be nothing more than a cowardly terrorist, and he demands the man's head.
    • The Kenshiki Faction is the worst of the lot. A group of zealots led by a foreigner-hating bigot and an Entitled Bastard who are willing to kill hundreds of civilians, even their fellow Japanese, to get their way. They attack a hospital and kill everyone inside as a distraction for an assassination attempt on Lelouch, and they later blow up a school just to get at Euphemia. The above resistance groups abhor their methods—Kallen is enraged by what the Kenshiki did to her school and the JLF refuse to take the pragmatic route of coordinating their attacks with the Kenshiki's in a pincer move since they don't want to be associated with the Kenshiki. Even an arms dealer hates them. Lelouch classifies the Kenshiki as terrorists that must be exterminated with extreme prejudice.
  • In Sailor Moon canon, the Black Moon Clan and their ancestors were terrorists who invaded Crystal Tokyo and destroyed it. In I'm Here to Help, the group is portrayed as a bunch of noble freedom fighters trying to overthrow a corrupt government. Given that the narrator of the fic is the last living and free member of the group who is pretty clearly insane, it's difficult to say which interpretation is more accurate. That survive is alluded to invoking a number of questionably moral actions himself, including destroying buildings and causing the deaths of civilians, which he claims is done in the name of trying to save said civilians.
  • The War of the Masters:
    • "Past Continuous" has a variation with an anti-government protest. Kanril Eleya (Bajoran) views the Nationalist-led demonstration outside the Bajoran Militia station as a peaceful, if very raucous, protest. Poor Tayben Berat (Cardassian) had to enter the station passing right in front of what he considers a full-blown riot and got hit in the head with a piece of fruit.
    • Used again with the Bajorans in Create Your Own Fate, as the Occupation still exerts a strong influence over current Bajoran society. The Bajorans in The 'Verse are hardly unified in support of the Federation: Eleya notes that they have a fairly strong pro-secession movement, and she herself is sympathetic to the breakaway Moab Confederacy (to a point: she opposes many of their post-independence actions, including restricting the right to vote and the use of Child Soldiers). At the same time, while Eleya is somewhat notorious in Starfleet for having fought the Klingons with IEDs on Gamma Hromi IV during the war, she openly refers to the Circle as terrorists, describing them as "the unholy trinity: religious extremists, ultranationalists, and bigots". Meanwhile, Sheri's long-deceased biological father was a member of the Kohn-Ma and fled to Moab with his lover to escape the authorities; she herself is aware of it but seems to have no opinion.
  • A Certain Unknown Level 0: MINUS is basically a mixture of Skill-Out and, then unknown to the creator, Deadlock. Similar to Skill-Out they were a group created by Level 0s who felt they were being oppressed by the higher level espers and Academy City as a whole for not having any abilities and latched on to the legend of the Unknown Level 0 as symbol of being able to defeat the Level 5s along with Shiage. Like Deadlock, they are not just made up Level 0s, with even Level 4s being part of the group. It should be noted that they are treated as a serious threat to Academy City with Anti-Skill and Judgement performing multiple raids on their hideouts.
  • Violence in the Library: Luke Skywalker, as a Rebel and Jedi, isn't exactly wanted in the titular library; one of the librarians reports him to Darth Vader, and his daughter isn't happy to find out that she's been aiding a Rebel.
  • The Unabridged Memoirs of Darth Plagueis the Wise has the Rim Liberation Front, a group which declares its intent is to free the Rim territories from the authoritarian rule of the Core-dominated Republic and the galactic Mega Corps. As far as the Senate and the Jedi are concerned, they're rebels and terrorists, an opinion aided by the fact that they are willing to do absolutely anything to win and then stay in power.
  • Deconstructed in Zelda and the Manacle of Cahla: The Sky Pirates of the Sirocco loot and sabotage the Hyrulean Empire's forces because they are war orphans whose homelands were conquered, but being more "terrorist" than "freedom fighter" just makes them into hunted criminals. Zelda's influence teaches the crew there's a difference between fighting against something and fighting for something, so they start using more civilized methods of defiance, like spreading their message to the public.
  • In Faded Blue, Steven has no idea why the Crystal Gems started a war. When he asks, Blue Pearl doesn't even attempt to give an answer, so he assumes they were just power-hungry and were evil for the sake of it.
  • The Sons of Johto are this in the Harry Potter: Pokémon Master series. To half of the world but especially Kanto and Avalon they are butchers who slaughtered hundreds if not thousands, killed half of the Elite 4 of Kanto, and blew up the Pokemon League. To Johto and their allies (Kalos and Unova mainly and later Harry himself), they were freedom fighters who decided it didn't pay to play nice with dictators and decided to go for An Eye For An Eye in order to save Johto from an oppressive regime that covered up murder.
  • In Hail to the Jewels in the Lotus, the Tenno are reviled as "Betrayers" and terrorists by the Grineer and the Corpus, but they're heroes to the colonies caught in the crossfire between the two factions. The Tenno themselves choose only to secure their freedom and that of others from the remnants of the Orokin Empire.
    "For some, the Tenno were a beacon of hope. For others, they were harbingers of destruction. Nobility alone did not pay for the resources necessary for existence, nor could mercenary work fully honor the legacy they’d wrested from the grasping, golden fingers of the Orokin.
    Never again would they stoop to the beck and command of another.
    From now on, the Tenno forged their own path.
    What that meant was up to others to judge."
  • In Prison Island Break, Sonic the Hedgehog thinks of himself as a freedom fighter. He's the mascot of some sort of party that's opposing the current government and he's in prison for it. The author hasn't even clarified whether the government Sonic opposes is a democracy or not, and has suggested that his party should be thought of in terms of the IRA.
  • The Victors Project: Naturally, the Capitol and their allies view the District freedom fighters as this. Some (such as elements of the District 1 freedom fighters) are pretty wild and violent. District 5 rebel leader Miles Donovan is viewed as a terrorist after the fact by "pompous articles and interviews" from the Capitol for his cyberattacks cutting out the power to hospitals, and causing traffic collisions by hacking traffic lights (although the narrative seems to give Donovan credit for doing something at a time most o the District was trying to Opt Out of things).
  • The King Nobody Wanted: The Ninepenny Kings are reviled by those in power in both Westeros and Essos, but many others recall them fondly, especially in Essos. The Silvertongue's name is a rallying cry for the dissatisfied in Tyrosh, and the people of Myr strenuously resist any attempt to remove their statue of Maelys Blackfyre.
    The Old Mother's Eldest Daughter: When my mother asked [Maelys] why he had allied with us, taken up the cause of those thought all but lost, he told her, in that sweet, soft voice he had, that he'd found lost causes were the only ones worth fighting for. They were very much alike, he and my mother. They did not live for themselves. They lived for others. I can still see them, walking about, her so small, him so big, both smiling, both enjoying each other's company. But they've both been dead for so long. And sometimes, it is hard for me to call them to my mind. Them and all the others. Men have put new images up, lying images, and I must try very hard to remember my own dear mother. Sweet good Maelys, and his loyal apple knight. Dashing Liomond, bold Nine Eyes, doughty Xobar, grand and sad Silvertongue, and poor, poor Tom Sand. Samarro and the Dauntless used to visit when they could... they... came for mother's funeral, along with their daughter, but he has sought the Doom in the manner of his people, and she... has her own concerns now. Still sends some supplies up river when she can. That woman is not one to forget her friends, and that is her triumph and that is her tragedy.
  • Aunt Salem: The Salemists see themselves as just fighters while Atlas regards them as a national security threat. In canon, Tock was a minion of Salem sent to kill Maria Calavera, who ended up blinding her. From the Cult of Salem's perspective, Saint Tock gave her life facing down the Silver-Eyed Bandit to protect a community of believers. It isn't clear how much of their story is true.
  • The Network in Cross Ange The Knight Of Hilda is a group of Mana users who have learned the truth about both Norma and the world, and seek to protect them from being exploited. As expected, the rest of humanity views them as a gang of degenerate terrorists. To their credit, the members of the Network, including the protagonist Rio, don't try to overly justify their actions and do take steps to minimize collateral damage, only using lethal force against armed combatants.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Documentary The Sorrow and the Pity deals with how French people during the four years of Nazi occupation had decidedly mixed feelings about La Résistance. A theater owner in Clermont describes the partisans who threw grenades at a column of German soldiers as "terrorists." This was Truth in Television: the Nazis and their puppets described all partisans in every occupied region as terrorists.
  • In V for Vendetta, V is labeled a terrorist by the fascistic government of Great Britain he is trying to overthrow, and even calls himself a terrorist in the original comic. The question the comic is asking is essentially "is a good cause corrupted when reprehensible methods are used to achieve it?" Even the author, Alan Moore, an outspoken proponent of anarchy, says that the anarchistic V is not supposed to be a clear-cut, definite hero, and Moore's main issue with the movie was that the film painted V as unquestionably being a freedom fighter and the hero of the story.
  • The Zionite Rebels in The Matrix are active terrorists who go so far as to advise new recruits that every living human still within the Matrix is a potential enemy, since the bad guys could teleport in by taking over the bodies of any still living bystanders, despite the fact that they are nominally fighting for the exclusive benefit of these humans.
  • In Total Recall (1990) when we first see the rebel group on Mars, they're depicted as Bomb-Throwing Anarchists responsible for regular acts of death and destruction on Mars. Once we get there, we see that the rebels are actually the good guys fighting against the oppressive Dictator, Vilos Cohaagen. That is, if it's actually happening.
  • Land of the Blind has La Résistance fighting a mad dictator, but using brutal tactics themselves and becoming even worse in power.
  • From the Shaw Brothers period film, The Rescue (1971): The Ming patriots eager to rescue Minister Wen, a hero of the revolution, are branded "rebels" and "criminals" by the Mongol Emperor.
  • The Beast of War has a similar plot, though slightly more realistic. "Sorry, sir. Not much of a war. No Stalingrad. How is it that we're the Nazis this time? How is it? I tried to be a good soldier. But you can't be a good soldier in a rotten war, sir."
  • In Che, Steven Soderbergh's two-part series about the real-life Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Che (played by Benicio del Toro) is mostly shown as a freedom fighter in Part 1. In Part 2, his revolutionary movement doesn't catch on and he's seen as a terrorist.
  • Defied in Die Another Day. When Bond is told one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, he states 'Zao (the man he's hunting) has no interest in other people's freedom.'
  • In National Treasure, Benjamin Gates, when at a gala in the nation's capital, makes a toast to treason, pointing out that that's what all the founding fathers would have been charged with if the Revolution had failed. Benjamin Franklin acknowledged this, famously saying "We must all hang together or assuredly we shall all hang separately."
  • Bane in The Dark Knight Rises lampshaded this:
    We come here not as conquerors, but as liberators.
    • However it is subverted; they really are terrorists (who plan to blow up the entire city), their claims are just to encourage anarchy, and their liberation amounts to letting mob rule take over, as long as it doesn't interfere with them and their plans.
  • Also lampshaded by The Mandarin during one of his broadcasts in Iron Man 3:
    Some people call me a terrorist… I consider myself a teacher.
  • Discussed in Muppet Treasure Island by Long John Silver during the "I Am" Song "Professional Pirate," who notes that whether a pirate is considered a hero or villain depends on who tells the tale, offering the English and the Spanish's differing opinions on Sir Francis Drake. (Remember "Your pirates are our privateers" from above.)
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier has this as the main plot as Cap is framed for supposedly killing Nick Fury and branded a criminal as such. It became quite literal at the end when it's found out HYDRA is behind everything and manipulating events from within S.H.I.E.L.D so they can Take Over the World.
  • In D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation, the Ku Klux Klan are shown as freedom fighters who are fighting corrupt and tyrannical Reconstructionists.
  • Discussed in Clerks, which famously debates the plight of all the contractors and construction workers who may have died in the destruction of the incomplete Death Star in Return of the Jedi. Averted in the Star Wars films themselves, the Trope Namers for No Endor Holocaust, which scrupulously leave any and all consideration of moral compromise on the part of the Rebels in the realm of Fridge Logic and the occasional Expanded Universe work.
  • In Suffragette the women's rights activists are treated like common criminals by the police, beaten up without reason, and not even granted the privileges of political prisoners. The government officials who deny women voting rights even try to convince the suffragists that they are the evil ones.
  • Star Wars already has a number of examples listed farther down the page through the expanded universe but Rogue One brought this trope into the official Disney canon. While the Rebels are still portrayed as the unequivocal heroes of the story, they're heroes who sometimes need to get their hands dirty. Saw Gererra and his band of extremists are the most outstanding examples. The Rebels are shown using assassination and similar tactics which aren't in the earlier movies, for instance — deuteragonist Cassian Andor is introduced interviewing a contact, whom he then murders to protect his cover when a stormtrooper column approaches — while Saw's group outright endangers civilians by attacking Imperial troops in crowded streets. Even the rebels using Blackmail to press Jyn Erso into their service, making her a target to the Empire, is morally dark gray at absolute best.
  • In the Name of the Father: Joe defends his actions to Giuseppe by saying that it was a military target he had bombed, a soldier's pub. Of course, a lot of other people went there besides soldiers. Giuseppe doesn't accept this idea for a minute in any case.
  • Max Manus. After a Resistance raid goes wrong, Max reads in The Quisling newspaper about three terrorists shot dead. In response, Gregers indicates the underground newspaper he's typing.
    Gregers: There's two sides to every story.
    Gregers: Then it's up to us, I guess.
  • Central to The Battle of Algiers, a dramatization of the Algerian War of Independence. The Algerians are fighting to regain their country from the brutal and racist French colonists who inflict massive collateral damage in attempting to suppress them and have no qualms about using Cold-Blooded Torture. The Algerian resistance, the FLN, are also quite blatantly terrorists, retaliating against French attacks by bombing civilian centers and killing dozens of innocents, including children. The film is wall-to-wall Black-and-Gray Morality.
  • 13 Minutes: The Nazis consider Elser a murderer and terrorist. Most viewers will find it hard to not sympathize though since his target was Hitler (though bystanders were killed and injured as well, admittedly).
  • The Count of Monte Cristo (2002): When Villefort senior is accused by his son of treason for receiving a letter from Napoleon to help him escape his exile, he retorts that it's all just a matter of dates. "When the Emperor returns, perhaps it is you they will call traitor."
  • In Good Morning, Vietnam, Adrian Cronauer is trying to come to terms with the fact that the Vietnamese kid he'd befriended and who had saved his life by getting him out of the local bar shortly before the Vietcong blew it up is actually the Vietcong operative responsible for the bombing, who'd he'd been responsible for getting into the bar in the first place. He furiously calls Tuan out for turning out to be his enemy when he thought they were friends, only for Tuan to tearfully call out the Americans for invading Vietnam and slaughtering Vietnamese, including his family and neighbours, because they don't even regard the Vietnamese as human.
    Adrian Cronauer: Listen... I gave you my friendship... and my trust! And now they tell me that my best friend is the goddamn enemy!
    Tuan: [in tears] ENEMY? What is enemy? You killing my own people so many miles from your home. We not the enemy! You the enemy!
    Cronauer: You used me to kill two people! Two people DIED in that fucking bar!
    Tuan: Big fucking deal! My mother is dead. And my older brother, who be 29 years old, he dead! Shot by Americans! My neighbor, dead! His wife, dead. WHY? Because we're not human to them! We're only little Vietnamese... and I'm stupid enough to save your bullshit life at An Lac.
  • In My Country: Some of the black anti-apartheid fighters were shown to be pretty ruthless as well, planting a landmine which ended up killing a white child, while torturing and murdering a white policeman who they captured much like the Afrikaners did to them. A black man who Langston meets who'd previously been an informant also gets murdered for it by them right in front of him. Still, they are definitely on the right side, and Langston sympathizes with them although he's still appalled naturally by witnessing the murder. De Jager and most Afrikaner cops insist on calling them "terrorists", though Langston refers to them as "guerrillas".
  • How To Blow Up A Pipeline: Discussed by the group the night before blowing up the pipeline. They know this will be called terrorism, and some are fine with the term. Xochitl notes that many people fighting in the name of good causes were also called this before their struggle caught on later, and that many past very revered actions also could qualify (such as the Boston Tea Party).

  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Captain Nemo is an early example: he adopts the Ocean as his new homeland and finances the Cretan rebellion because he hates despots. However, the Nautilus permits him to destroy any of the Empire's ships with total impunity (no Nation could chase him in the bottom of the sea). His superior technology means that even the military is as helpless as ordinary civilians.
  • In Blacklisted by Gena Showalter, this trope is explored with drugs. It's more like "Your Illegal Drug Dealers are our Pharmacists". In a future America, aliens are commonplace, but most of them have to take a drug to breathe. This drug, however, is illegal. The main character's love interest sells them and is hunted by the government.
  • The issue comes up in some Dale Brown books:
    • The thin line between special operations and terrorism is a key theme of Shadows of Steel.
    • In Warrior Class, the Turkish general visiting Nellis AFB denounces Kurds as evildoers, to which American Colonel Rebecca Furness notes that the American public would find (public knowledge of) bombing Kurds distasteful. Not too much later, the German and Russian foreign ministers discuss how Muslim "terrorists" creating havoc for both their peoples, who aren't squeaky clean themselves, are abetted by American funding.
  • In Jerry Pournelle's CoDominium series, the resistance is often far worse than the Empire.
  • The Discworld Companion, also by Terry Pratchett, notes that the subtle distinction between gods and demons on the Discworld is 'like that between terrorists and freedom fighters'.
  • Forever Gate: The Users are known as terrorists because they advocate for a collar-free society. Their leader is proud of the fact that they've never killed a single human in their activities, which include leaving bombs in public areas.
  • One of the draws of the Alternate History classic For Want of a Nail is how the In-Universe author views the American Revolution in a society where it failed, as he is obviously more critical of them.
  • The non-fiction work Going Nucular discusses politics in language, and pretty much shows how this trope is Newer Than They Think. The author notes how just as the French Revolution's government called themselves the "Reign of Terror" in the sense of being a "holy terror" that defeated their evil enemies, lots of resistance groups of the Bomb-Throwing Anarchists type were quite happy to call themselves terrorists since it didn't carry the implication of being the bad guys. Pretty much the last to self-identify as terrorist were the Irgun in Israel's war of independence.
  • Good Omens contains this exchange, between an angel and a demon:
    Aziraphale: Maybe some terrorist—?
    Crowley: Not one of ours.
    Aziraphale: Or ours. Although ours are freedom fighters, of course.
    • To further drive the point home, when they compare their respective lists of terrorists/freedom fighters in their employ, half of them turn out to 'work' for both sides. Although it's also a plot point that both are so out of touch with the actual organizations that neither one noticed that one of those groups, the Witchfinder Army, consisted of one pensioner who spends all his time complaining about "southerners".
  • Not surprisingly, in Grent's Fall Osbert Grent's supporters and Henry Darro's supporters have widely different views on the two leaders.
  • Harry Potter's actions in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows are characterized by Voldemort's regime as "criminal and terroristic".
  • Honor Harrington:
    • The Audubon Ballroom is the galaxy's most notorious band of terrorists, or freedom fighters, depending on how you feel about the Manpower Corporation and genetic slavery.
    • And of course, there are few things as brutally violent as Havenite grassroots political movements. Eventually, it becomes apparent that the leading cause of death in Nouveau Paris is having an interest in politics (or being in a megastructure in close proximity to them).
    • A whole host of groups show up in the later novels, mostly single-world movements in the Talbott Cluster violently skeptical of coming under the Manticoran imperial umbrella or looking to overthrow client governments of the Solarian League. They ranged from a group that primarily focused on damaging property (to the point where, by the time they were finally convinced to lay down their arms, they hadn't killed or even seriously injured anybody) to groups that deliberately bomb crowded civilian areas, and then have secondary bombs planted for the purpose of killing the first responders.
  • In Humane Tyranny, those in the Population Reduction Agency don't know much about the rebel alliance, but when speculating, they refer to them as terrorists, and law enforcement agencies might share similar views, at least officially. But considering that the rebels are trying to stop the government from killing one innocent person a night, they would not see themselves as such and neither would most civilians.
  • In the InCryptid novels, the Covenant of St. George sees themselves as crusaders protecting the world from cryptids. Sapient cryptids, and the Healy-Price family that makes up the main cast, regard them as a pack of genocidal terrorists out to murder anything they consider to have not been on Noah's Ark (which they don't exactly have a manifest from), including non-human sentients who can make perfectly decent neighbors if you don't try to kill them for no real reason. Granted, some cryptid species are dangerous and need to be dealt with (or at least isolated from human settlements), so the Covenant could be heroic if they weren't so indiscriminate about their targets.
  • The Varden in the Inheritance Cycle are a very good example of this trope. They make it very clear they consider themselves freedom fighters, and the empire as harmful, but the Empire's supporters (and pre-villainization Murtagh) occasionally call them out for their less than stellar behavior, so obviously some people think of them as terrorists.
  • In Alexander Yang's Midnight World series Vampire Hunters are branded as terrorists—because the world is ruled by vampires.
  • In The Mirage, the American Resistance Movements are mostly seen as this. While the UAS views them as nothing better than terrorists, their management style eventualy drives most Americans to conclude that even the extreme Texas-Backed Sons of Liberty are better than the Satelite Government in D.C.. As such theese groups are mostly viewed as Terrorists in the wider world (outside of Europe, especialy Britain and Germany) but are adored in all of North America (aside from, ironically, Texas, which only supports them due to fear of an Arabic Invasion and prefers to keep the UAS occupied on the coastline).
  • In Pale, a late-arriving character in the series is Crooked Rook, a member of the Oni faction of Others. Though Oni originated in Japan, they are a global ideology-Rook herself is from somewhere in Europe and operates in Canada. The Oni object to the tendency of human practitioners to classify Others into categories to better bind them, and seek to alter themselves to resist classification. Many practitioners hold that the Oni Wars set back practitioner-Other relations by making it difficult to deal with Others without an element of uncertainty about their classification (different Other types require fundamentally different approaches, and getting it wrong can be lethal) while Rook sees herself as a fighter for freedom but admits to the danger of a Full-Circle Revolution where the Inherent in the System nature of supernatural oppression persists and all that changes is the people in charge.
  • In the later chapters of The Poisonwood Bible, this frequently comes up in arguments between the pro-colonialist Rachel, and her sister Leah, who is married to a (mostly non-violent) freedom fighter.
  • In Nineteen Eighty-Four when he thinks he is joining the Brotherhood resistance group Winston Smith vows to do anything, even throw acid in the face of a child, to advance the cause of rebellion. O'Brien later plays his words back to him to mock his belief that he is a noble freedom fighter.
  • In Safehold, there's Helm Cleaver, which is certainly treated as a terrorist group by Zion. Truth to be told, looking at their methods — assassination, blowing up churches, leaving messages on places of murder — it's hard not to draw parallels between them and real-life terrorists. The main reason they're sympathetic is that their target, the Church under Zhaspahr Clyntahn, has started an unjustified world war to annihilate two nations purely because they irritate the Grand Inquisitor on general principle, including suicide bombings, the assassination of his own allies so he can blame the deaths on his enemies, setting off massive riots that result in the rape, murder and/or starvation of millions, and having prisoners of war (and his political opponents) publicly tortured to death.
  • In The Shadowspawn, the vampires' human helpers consider the Brotherhood to be little better than terrorists, since the latter consider them traitors to humanity, and very expendable in their war against their masters.
  • As befitting the series, A Song of Ice and Fire has a few examples. The Brotherhood Without Banners, for instance, began as an army meant to bring Gregor Clegane to justice for raping and pillaging the Riverlands. Then the one who set them to their task fell out of power, while those to whom Clegane owes allegiance gained it and promptly declared them outlaws. The Brotherhood then shifts goals to protecting the peasantry at large, which puts them at odds with those in power, who desire the aforementioned Rape, Pillage, and Burn to continue indiscriminately. After the war is over, several nobles are noted to be utterly clueless about why the smallfolk protect and collaborate with the Brotherhood, rarely or never acknowledging the horrendous crimes afflicted against the defenseless lower classes.
    • The Sons of the Harpy are a reversed example, in that, from the perspective of the POV characters, they are seen in a completely negative light. However, taking into account that their city has been attacked and taken over by an Outside-Context Problem, who executed over a hundred of their ruling class and is now attempting to impose radical reforms based on completely foreign values, the group's goals become, if not justified (they are, after all, murdering innocent people and attempting to reinstate a government based almost entirely around slavery), then at least a bit more understandable. Exemplified when a boy comes before Daenerys asking for justice for his family, who were raped and murdered by their slaves; having pardoned all crimes by both sides, she must deny it and mentions that he will almost certainly join the Sons of the Harpy for the sake of a (from his point of view) fairly just cause.
  • In the Star Wars Legends novel Sacrifice, Luke Skywalker's own son acknowledges a lot of innocent people died when the Death Star(s) exploded. Luke himself noted that it had more than a million people on board, not counting the droids. Let's not even go into the prisoners being held on that battle station when it blew (Leia was a prisoner there, and Luke and Han had Chewbacca pose as a prisoner). This is also acknowledged by Luke himself in the Jedi Academy Trilogy, as well as in the standalone novel Death Star which follows some of the contractors and other people doing ordinary jobs like barkeeping that happen to be on a planet-killing space station. Numerous other books also allude in passing to the rebels not being universally on the heroic side of this trope; Face Loran's backstory in Wraith Squadron, for example, has him being kidnapped and marked for execution by one such group when he was a child simply because he starred in a series of Imperial propaganda films. His kidnappers were extremists the Rebel Alliance expelled. Another X-Wing book, The Krytos Trap, features an Imperial intelligence agent who uses random bombings of civilians as a tactic while reflecting the rebels had never done this, however, so even their extremists apparently drew the line there.
  • A Symphony of Eternity has the various Maran resistance groups that fight against the Empire, and although they've had a recent string of successes they've also inflicted a lot of damage on the civilian population, making their capital Maramanakama a not so very pleasant place to live.
  • The Returnist movement in This Immortal. On the one hand, their aim was to regain Earth's autonomy and rebuild the planet, on the other hand, to keep the Vegans from building vacation resorts on Earth, they were not above using nukes. It is why Madagascar became utterly uninhabitable.
  • In The Tomorrow Series, Ellie and her friends are considered terrorists by the enemy… and in a lot of ways, like not wearing uniforms or having a clear chain-of-command, they do fit the bill remarkably well.
    • Note that among the things they do are some peaceful protests and boycotts, but also kidnapping hostages, murder, torture, betraying their allies, and summary execution.
  • Interesting variation: Elphaba in Wicked is a terrorist. The word never comes up, but the issue is similar. Your Wicked Witches Are Our Freedom Fighters?
  • Winds of the Forelands brings up the issue in that the lower-ranking rebels consider themselves freedom fighters. Their leader is genocidal, so the counterinsurgents can keep A Lighter Shade of Grey and avoid having to address the Fantastic Racism that led to the rebellion.
  • Wraith Knight: The Army of Free Peasants and the all Fir Bolg Golden Horn straddle this line. Both of them have legitimate grievances with the former being oppressed workers held under the aristocracy for millennia while the latter have been subject to extreme fantastic racism. Both have demands that they're willing to kill indiscriminately to achieve. Jacob Riverson, the protagonist, is having none of it.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Andor: In "Announcement" the ISB refers to the Rebel raid on Aldhani as a "terror attack", and the Rebels generally as "terrorists".
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003):
    • The issue is directly referenced by name in Season One, during the election dispute between Laura Roslin and Tom Zarek, a notable radical who had served twenty years in prison for blowing up a building during an insurgency on Sagittaron before the war, and thus is regarded in legal terms as a terrorist. A Roslin supporter sitting at a bar makes a comment regarding Tom Zarek as a terrorist only to have a Tom Zarek supporter sitting nearby immediately correct the man that Tom Zarek is a freedom fighter. The argument soon evolves into a brawl, but this view is shared by Zarek's supporters as well as Zarek himself, and his ability to market himself as a heroic, populist figure sways nearly half of the fleet. Dualla, who's also from Sagittaron, is disgusted by the support he gets, feeling there's no justification for what he did, not even their world's freedom.
      Pilot: So who's this Tom Zarek?
      Billy: He's a freedom fighter. He's a prisoner of conscience.
      Dualla: He's a butcher.
    • In Season 3 during the Cylon occupation of New Caprica, Colonel Tigh flatly states "Which side are we on? We're on the side of the demons, Chief. We're evil men in the gardens of paradise, sent by the forces of death to spread devastation and destruction wherever we go. I'm surprised you didn't know that." when confronted by Chief Tyrol over the use of suicide bombers and terrorism against the Cylons and the humans who work for them. Although, he could just be being sarcastic after Tyrol expresses outrage over the use of suicide bombers against the Cylons (who can resurrect), which Tigh seems to justify under I Did What I Had to Do.
  • The Beauty Queen Of Jerusalem: Ephraim and his Irgun comrades see themselves as Fighting for a Homeland, but they're also willing to commit acts of terror to get there, including against other Jews. The British occupiers unambiguously see them as terrorists.
  • Blake's 7: The "heroes" were labeled terrorists by the Federation; Blake mostly just blew up military bases and the one time he got close to the Moral Event Horizon someone else got there first.
  • Continuum: The villains belong to Liber8, a bloodthirsty terrorist group who have no qualms about killing innocent people to achieve their political goals… which just so happen to be overthrowing an oppressive dictatorship in order to restore the Bill of Rights to a corporate-controlled America. Seriously… these murderous thugs are perfectly willing to slaughter thousands of people in a bombing if it means that freedom is returned to the people. And remember… the hero of this story, Kiera Cameron, is trying to stop these rampaging, democracy-advocating, freedom-loving, liberal-minded monsters.
    • In interviews on the show's DVD collections, the actors playing Liber8 openly cite the trope as how they play the parts, that the characters never see themselves as the bad guys and Rachel Nichols (who plays Kiera) explains how hard it is to keep Kiera the "hero" when she knows she's in the wrong.
    • This trope is even called out by name in "Time's Up":
    Kellogg: One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.
  • Game of Thrones: Balon likes to think of his rebellion nine years ago as an attempt to free the Iron Islands from the tyranny of mainland rule. Most non-Ironborn aren't very convinced about this, since the main form of "oppression" was to keep his people from indulging in looting and plundering their neighbors.
  • Sons of Anarchy: Much like in Real Life, the IRA get this treatment. Law enforcement and the Sons themselves (including the Belfast charter that the IRA uses as muscle) view the IRA as just another crime syndicate. However, the IRA members generally see themselves as noble warriors of freedom, except for a few, like second-tier leader Jimmy O, who views the IRA as a way to line their pockets and don't give a damn about "The Cause".
  • Tokyo Trial: Said almost word-for-word by Judge Pal of India, who has come to serve in the post-World War II Japanese war crimes trial, but who thinks little of the whole enterprise and sympathizes with the Japanese against Western imperialists. He tells Judge Röling that the "so-called terrorists", resisting the Dutch in the Dutch East Indies, really "are freedom fighters who want to reclaim their country."
  • Heroes: In the episode "Five Years Gone", Hiro and Ando are shocked to find that Future Hiro has been labeled a terrorist by the government.
  • Leverage: In one episode, a group of militiamen claim to be "anti-government freedom fighters", which gives them the right to kill two IRS agents as enemy combatants. Later they are revealed to be making a bomb to blow up a civilian target.
    Elliot: See that's the difference between a real soldier and this little Halloween outfit you've got going on. You'd kill to protect your rights. A real soldier? He'd die protecting somebody else's.
  • JAG: The second season episode "Trinity", featuring the IRA, characterized them as rugged yet heroic freedom fighters, with the main characters aiding them for a while (in fairness it was to recover the infant child of a US service member stationed in the UK and an active IRA member based in Northern Ireland) and the episode amazingly goes so far as to portray a suicide bombing by an IRA man against the British as a Heroic Sacrifice. This episode was broadcast before the Good Friday Agreement when The Troubles were still ongoing. It naturally thus goes out of its way to demonize the main RUC detective as a Dirty Cop, or even worse… However, the episode did not portray the British as evil per se, as one exchange between Harm and Mac near the back at Heathrow Airport suggests that the British authorities will deal with the Dirty Cop.
    Mac: The Brits picked up Hutchinson in Londonderry. Have him on a suicide watch.
    Harm: Well, they wanna make sure he gets to trial.
  • Merlin has the magic-users in a very good show of the trope. While they commit many crimes, they are just fighting for their right to exist. Even the ones that are were Well Intentioned Extremists long before they were villains.
  • In Orphan Black, Siobhan Sadler aka Mrs. S is framed as an almost entirely heroic fighter against oppression despite being strongly implied to be a former member of the Provisional IRA.
  • Revolution: In episode 2, Monroe calls a rebel he's torturing a "terrorist". He has a point because episode 5 had rebels Ken Hutchinson and Nora Clayton try to blow up a train with militia officers… and a civilian named Danny in it. Things broke down between the two when Nora tried to abort the attempt, and Ken insisted on continuing it, which resulted in him stabbing her non-fatally in the gut. Then again, the Monroe Republic did try to systematically exterminate all the rebels in episode 11, so the rebels definitely have freedom to fight for. Not to mention that the first season finale reveals in a flashback that a rebel bombed the restaurant Miles and Monroe were in, injuring Miles, and Monroe, acting on his borderline erotic fixation for Miles, murdered the rebel and his entire family in an ill-conceived attempt to make an example out of them.
  • Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: When accused of acting like some kind of terrorist organization, Sarah flat-out states "We are some kind of terrorist organization."
  • Stargate SG-1: In the episode "2010", the team's efforts to change the timeline into one where humanity doesn't go extinct is called a "terrorist attack".
  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, there's a lot of terrorism going on:
    • The Bajoran freedom fighters in the backstory of Deep Space Nine used whatever means necessary to free their home planet from Cardassian rule, though it seems that suicide bombings were not standard procedure. They also freely referred to themselves as terrorists. There's a point when Kira finds the Cardassian file on herself, and she's actually upset that they only looked at her personally as a minor nuisance. In "The Darkness and the Light", Kira outright screams her defense of these methods (at least when it comes to Occupiers Out of Our Country) to a Cardassian who's taking revenge on members of her former resistance/terrorist cell (who maimed him in a bombing) after he makes a point of noting that he'd only been a civilian worker, rather than a soldier, during the occupation on Bajor:
      "None of you belonged on Bajor. It wasn't your world. For fifty years you raped our planet, and you killed our people. You lived on our land and you took the food out of our mouths, and I don't care whether you held a phaser in your hand or you ironed shirts for a living. You were all guilty and you were all legitimate targets!"
    • The same can be said of the Maquis and their tactics against the Cardassians.
    • Dukat attempts to invoke this trope. He was always a villain to the Bajorans, and when he aligned himself with the Dominion he became a villain to the entire Alpha Quadrant. Dukat said, "one man's villain is another man's hero." Notably, Dukat only thinks this trope applies to him. Cardassian history will undoubtedly remember him as the fool who allowed the Dominion to conquer Cardassia without firing a single shot.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • The episode "The High Ground" deals with the "you say terrorists, we say freedom fighters" issue. The Ansata separatists are trying to overthrow their Rutian oppressors "by any means necessary", including suicide bombers (while the government they're fighting makes use of indefinite detention, and in the past, simply killed people). During this episode, Data notes the "historical fact"note  that Ireland was reunified in 2024 after a successful terrorist campaign (which is why this episode wasn't broadcast in its entirety in either Britain or the Republic of Ireland until years after).
    • Invoked by a Romulan defector who was considered a war criminal for leading the massacre of several Federation outposts. When Captain Picard throws this accusation in his face, he replies thus:
      "What you call massacres...were called the Norkan Campaigns on my world, Captain. One world's butcher is another world's hero. Perhaps I am neither one."
  • Colony: The CTA refers to all rebels as "terrorists". Of course, to them and also their supporters the rebels are freedom fighters. While on the one hand, the Resistance can be brutal, they largely target the CTA government officials and soldiers. Red Hand, on the other hand, attacks anyone who collaborates and even uses suicide bombings, therefore putting them more firmly in the "terrorist" category.
  • Guerrilla: The Black Army Faction view themselves as freedom fighters, but of course are called terrorists. While on the one hand, they fight a racist, corrupt system, their methods also include assassinations, bank robberies, bombings, and prison breaks.
  • The Handmaid's Tale: The Gilead regime refers to all the resistance members as "terrorists". However mostly we haven't seen them really use any terrorist tactics, and the regime is the one that does. One exception occurred with the suicide bombing against a meeting of Commanders, which actually kills more Handmaids than them since most weren't able to get away from the blast in time.
  • The Expanse: The Outer Planets Alliance, a confederation of many separatist groups from the Belt, is considered a terrorist organization by the UN Government and the Martian Congressional Republic.
  • Crossing Lines: One suspect claims to Dorn that his people would call him a hero, while in The Hague he's a terrorist. However, Dorn rejects this, retorting that he's just a criminal.
  • Good Omens (2019): Crowley (a demon) decides to call up his personal terrorist cell for help finding the antichrist, and Aziraphale (an angel) decides to call up his personal freedom fighters for the same purpose. They both call the Witchfinder's Army.
  • The Mandalorian: Since the series takes place from the point of view of a Mandalorian, the culture gets a lot more emphasis on its community and looking out for each other than their military mindset. The grayness of military conflict (as well as a Proud Warrior Race Guy's role in it) is discussed in subtle yet notable ways.
    • One main example involves the main character himself. In the flashback in the final episode of season 1, we find out that as a child, Din Djarin encountered Death Watch, a Mandalorian terrorist group that killed their own people in an effort to go back to their old warrior ways, and ended up selling their planet to a Sith and plunging the Mandalorians into a civil war right as the Empire was gaining power. But all Din knows is that they rescued him from certain death as his village was being destroyed in the Clone Wars.
    • In Season 2, Migs Mayfeld (portrayed in a rare dramatic turn by Bill Burr) describes this trope in his own amoral, jaded former Imperial perspective:
      Mayfeld: [S]omewhere someone in this galaxy is ruling and others are being ruled. I mean, look at your race. Do you think all those people that died in wars fought by Mandalorians actually had a choice? So how are they any different than the Empire? If you were born on Mandalore, you believe one thing, if you're born on Alderaan, you believe somethin' else. But guess what? Neither one of 'em exist anymore. ... Everybody's got their lines they don't cross until things get messy. As far as I'm concerned, if you can make it through your day and still sleep at night, you're doin' better than most.
    • Despite Mayfield's apparent cynicism, it turns out that he left the Imperial Remnant due to moral concerns (they got his men killed while slaughtering civilians), and he's the one who screws up the mission by killing an officer who proclaims that they will continue to do so. The unstated lesson is that while everyone has their own reasons for doing things, eventually you have to draw a line in the sand. The only people left in the Remnant are either the criminally ignorant or the maliciously vile.
  • Noughts & Crosses: The Liberation Militia fight to end the racist oppression of Albion but do so using tactics like bombing hospitals. Many Noughts view them as heroes, but naturally they're called terrorists by the government.
  • In Yes, Minister cynical civil servant Sir Humphrey remarks that the letters "JB" are a sort of colonial honour, denoting that the native leader who took over a country after the end of Empire was Jailed by the British.
    "After all, Prime Minister, yesterday's terrorist is today's Head of State."
    • A similar concept shows up in the concept of "irregular adjectives". For example "I hold private press briefings, you leak information, he is being charged with violating the Official Secrets Act."
  • A French Village: The Germans call all resistance fighters terrorists. Most are never actually shown to engage in what people would usually call terrorism, and even assassinating Germans is likely sympathetic for many too. However, even if their cause is just, resistance fighters can still be quite brutal.
  • Derry Girls: While the main cast rarely discuss the conflict, when a member of a Republican paramilitary is found hiding in the family car trunk during a trip to the Republic of Ireland, Grandpa Joe McCool pulls seniority in the family and insists that they help him cross the border. Joe is also implied to have met Sinn Fein (and alleged IRA) leader Gerry Adams.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • The Shield are entirely this, claiming that they attack other wrestlers who had done nothing to them, saying that they had done something they didn't like. But all we see them do is beat them up until they're no longer able to stand. This was basically confirmed when working with Triple H and Randy Orton… until April of 2014, where they (well, two of them, anyway) finally turn against The Authority and make a Heel–Face Turn.

    Tabletop Game 
  • In Rocket Age the 31st Seal is a terrorist organisation that uses suicide bombers, gunmen, and other forms of violence against Earthlings across Mars. However, considering that Earthlings are in fact an invading force they have a lot of support from the average Martian.
    • The Interplanetary Comintern, an organisation founded by Leon Trotsky before his death wishes to spread communism to the oppressed of the solar system. Thing is it's been hijacked by Stalin.
  • Comes up a lot in BattleTech, where not every recently conquered planet's defenders are content to let it stay that way and interstellar governments happily foment unrest on each other's planets as a matter of course. Perhaps one of the most shining examples is shown in the novel Bred for War, where a clearly terrorist movement has taken over the planet Zurich in the name of "freedom"… and the local main viewpoint character forms his own small counter-movement and uses decidedly terrorist methods of his own to fight them. (Ultimately justified when it turns out that Noble Thayer a.k.a. "The Dancing Joker" is just a cover identity of the assassin who killed Melissa Steiner-Davion with a bomb two books earlier and originally had come to Zurich simply to lie low after escaping captivity.)
    • Another shining example would be Stefan Amaris. In the Inner Sphere, Amaris is remembered as the man responsible for destroying the Star League and ending humanity's Golden Age, and it is agreed that while Adolf Hitler was a pretty nasty dude, his one bright spot was that he wasn't Stefan Amaris. In the Periphery, people tend to have less rosy memories of the Star League, and general consensus is that given how the Star League treated the Periphery as a cash cow for the Inner Sphere at best and engaged in outright genocide on Periphery worlds at worst, it was only a matter of time before someone like Amaris showed up, and while Amaris was a nasty piece of work, he didn't really give worse than the Periphery had already taken from the Star League.
  • Hunter: The Reckoning: The more zealous Hunters/Imbued are entirely willing to cause collateral damage and use terrorist tactics to slay supernaturals. The Unfettered who are defending humanity from the predations of monsters and must resort to Combat Pragmatism to stand a chance against foes superior in almost every way, or psychopaths who murder indiscriminately regardless of their target's morality at the urging of voices in their heads? The more infamous ones are often outright treated as terrorists In-Universe by their governments.

  • Discussed in-depth in Marat/Sade.
  • In 1776, Ben Franklin observes, "Treason is a charge invented by winners as an excuse for hanging the losers." This quote has been wrongly attributed to Franklin himself, but it was invented for the play (and later movie). Later, Dickinson characterizes New England as a hotbed of irrational, violent radicals.
    John Adams: I have better things to do than sit around listening to you quote yourself.
    Benjamin Franklin: But John, that was a new one!
    • Franklin opines on another occasion: "Rebellion is always legal in the first person, as in our rebellion! It is only in the third person, their rebellion, that it becomes illegal."
  • Wicked: The Wizard expounds on this idea in "Wonderful":
    A man's called a traitor, or liberator;
    A rich man's a thief or philanthropist.
    Is one a crusader, or ruthless invader?
    It's all in which label is able to persist.
    There are precious few at ease with moral ambiguities,
    So we act as though they don't exist!

    Video Games 
  • The Anti-Nationalism Influence United faction in Ace Online is this to a T. For its supporters, it's the Last, Best Hope for Humanity Decaians, Philonites, and Vatalluses. To the reigning Bygeniou City United, they're pesky terrorists. Both sides regularly commit Kick the Dog moments with one of the pre-set character avatars' history hinting to the ones done by the ANI faction.
  • Arc the Lad: During the first two episodes, the Powers That Be are eager to present Arc and his companions as some sort of magically powered polytheistic Al Quaeda. Considering Arc and co.'s deeds during Arc 2 (blowing up landmarks built in the middle of a densely populated metropolis with little regard for the collateral damages, blowing up religious buildings preaching against them, even slaughtering kidnapped orphans, some of them genocide survivors…) most people in the world believe them.
  • In Belph's Good End from Area X, he and Elcia go on to terrorize the ORZ Corporate—aka what amounts to the government of their world—and be a general nuisance to them. As far as the ORZ Corporate's concerned, they're terrorists; on the other hand, the public hates the ORZ Corporate, and so cheers for the duo as heroes.
  • BattleTech discusses this trope after your 'Mech crew liberates political prisoners from a Hellhole Prison. Your employer's chief adviser points out that the Big Bad's Propaganda Machine will quickly paint it as the rebels freeing thousands of cutthroats after slaughtering noble military members, so his job is to make sure the truth gets out there as well.
  • Bioshock Infinite: The Vox Populi, a working-class resistance led by Daisy Fitzroy, have extremely legitimate grievances against Comstock and the other Founders that form the ruling class of Columbia and run their society by the worst excesses of Gilded-Age America. However, once the revolution starts and the Vox fights their way into the upper-class neighborhoods, they begin gleefully murdering civilians begging for their lives, showing that the abuse they've endured has barbarized them so much that all they want now is blind revenge. Muddying the waters even further is the reveal from Burial At Sea that shows at least some of Fitzroy's worst excesses were committed at the behest of the Lucretes as part of their plan to erase all alternate versions of Comstock from the multiverse, which required teaching Elizabeth the necessity of killing.
  • In Brink! La Résistance are fighting against the Founders who they think are hoarding resources and not doing enough for the people. Their enemies, Security, are just regular police trying to keep the peace who see Resistance as troublemakers. It's not helped by a lot of Unreliable Narrator.
  • The Al-Qalata faction of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019) style themselves as freedom fighters trying to liberate Urzikstan from occupying Russians but everyone, including people actually trying to free Urzikstan the right way (the Urzikstan Liberation Front), just see them as remorseless savages because they act without mercy and also attack targets outside Urzikstan (the Russians themselves label all Urzikstanis as terrorists, including civilians who haven't harmed anyone). This trope also gets turned on its head partway through the story when Farah's ULF forces also get labeled as terrorists by the United States when Farah's brother Hadir reveals he was responsible for stealing a stock of nerve agent and uses it against the Russians, causing the US to pull all support for the ULF even though the ULF as a whole did nothing wrong. The trope gets even more complicated in Multiplayer mode when it's implied that the ULF has turned to Russia, or at least its Chimera PMC, against the reborn Al-Qatala and the Ultranationalists who backed them.
  • A point passes in Chrono Trigger after which you cannot enter Guardia Castle in the year 1000 AD. Due to the corrupt Chancellor's actions, the government in that year classifies your party as "terrorists". The same party whose goal is to eliminate an evil extraterrestrial being whose presence dooms the world.
  • Invoked in City of Heroes: Scirocco is described as "the sort of person who called himself a freedom fighter instead of a terrorist".
    • The Resistance in Praetoria was portrayed as both Terrorists and Freedom Fighters.
    • The Warden faction would send you to fight bad guys and rescue sympathetic journalists, focusing on freeing the people from tyranny. On the other hand, the Crusader faction focused on tearing down Praetoria's tyrannical regime, sending you to destroy water treatment plants to end the public's mass brainwashing or to blow up hospitals to kill key political figures.
  • Command & Conquer: Tiberium Wars:
    • the Brotherhood of Nod, the canonical villains, achieve a status like this due to being able to take advantage of the spread of Tiberium causing a global collapse of society during Tiberian Sun. In many Yellow Zones, the Brotherhood are a source of order and relief from all the effects of Tiberium, inspired by promises of Divination and later on Ascension. The Brotherhood takes full advantage of this, lambasting GDI for "abandoning" the Yellow Zones despite the fact that the Brotherhood makes it a priority to destroy GDI's attempts to help the Yellow Zones.
    • The trope also goes in reverse: in the aforementioned Nod-controlled zones, GDI are often painted as terrorists who abandoned the majority of the world as detailed above. Nevertheless, the Blue Zones and those Yellow Zones that GDI can begin the restoration process for look up to GDI as a hope for the future. It is worth noting that canonically, not only has GDI never targeted civilians deliberately (in contrast to the Brotherhood who have whole missions dedicated to the concept) but still tries to help those who need it no matter how many times Nod attacks their aid convoys. This came up as early as the first game; one Nod mission is a False Flag Operation where you attack civilian settlements with captured GDI equipment, and GDI has its funding cut during the investigation of that and other news stories (some completely fabricated by Nod-controlled outlets).
  • In Cosmic Star Heroine, the terrorist group Astrea style themselves as a resistance group against the API's oppression. They're actually all brainwashed to some degree by their leader Arete, who was herself brainwashed a long time ago by the real Big Bad Eternity. Lauren in particular is horrified, realizing that she was brainwashed into joining Astrea as opposed to doing so of her own free will.
  • Cyberpunk2077: Over half a century later, there is still a great deal of discussion concerning which side of the divide Johnny Silverhand falls on. His detractors will happily call him a quixotic lunatic who was willing to nuke a city center and kill tens of thousands of people to make a point. His supporters will point out that his methods were extreme, but really the only way to hit something as big and powerful as the Arasaka corporation in any meaningful way. Both sides agree that Silverhand did not affect any relevant change.
  • Upheld in Deus Ex, where the NSF, Luminous Path Triad, Silhouette, and various other groups fight the global law enforcement organization the player works for, which is the military arm of an Ancient Conspiracy manipulating crises to take over the world. They're certainly terrorists, thugs, and often common criminals to boot, but they do genuinely want freedom, at least from the other guy.
    • This trope also ended up biting Majestic 12 in the ass: they created the Daedalus AI with the purpose of cracking down on any group that could oppose their rule, which included all terrorist groups. Once the AI was switched on, it quickly came to the conclusion that Majestic 12 itself fit the definition of a terrorist group and turned against them.
  • Discussed in Dragalia Lost. When Euden makes his intentions clear that he seeks to establish a sanctuary kingdom for those fleeing the Dyrenell Empire, said empire's Token Good Teammate points out the inherent moral dilemma of this goal—he's building this new nation on Dyrenell territory. And since the Dyrenell Empire has neither the responsibility nor desire to cede any of its lands, his new nation can only survive through forcible annexation of existing lands and villages and is thus inherently a declaration of war. Euden reconciles this by only targeting towns and villages already in active rebellion against the empire for liberation, but he nonetheless develops a reputation as a seditious terrorist.
  • One interpretation of the actions of Anders at the end of Dragon Age II. Anders, a mage in direct opposition to what he views as the oppression of his kind at the hands of the Templars, blows up the Kirkwall Chantry with its clerics and staff still inside, also damaging the surrounding city and provoking an all-out war between mages and Templars. His actions and motivations remain hotly debated by both characters and fans, framing him as either a demonically possessed, unstable, and manipulative terrorist, or as the only one willing to take the extreme steps needed to avoid drawing out a worsening conflict.
  • Dyztopia: Post-Human RPG:
    • Zetacorp labels Akira a terrorist for killing Barbados after the latter destroyed Pon Pon Village on President Zazz's orders. Later, Zetacorp frames Akira and the Vulcanite Resistance for destroying Vulcanite's power plant to turn public opinion against them. Ironically, Akira and their allies are surprisingly clean even by the standards of rebel protagonists in most fiction.
    • However, in the Evil Runi route, Gemini uses the party's cause as a cover to slaughter enemies that they could have otherwise spared or recruited, making her an unambiguous terrorist.
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim:
    • For the Civil War factions, supporters of the Stormcloaks, Nord secessionists, see them as heroes fighting for a Skyrim free of the declining Empire who came out of the Great War looking weak and dishonorable for accepting the humiliating terms of the White-Gold Concordat with the Thalmor-led Aldmeri Dominion, which included a ban on Talos worship, a beloved deity and cultural hero to the Nords. The Stormcloaks believe a united Skyrim, free of the Empire's crippling bureaucracy and weak leadership, stands a better chance against the Dominion. Supporters of the Empire instead see the Stormcloaks as short-sighted traitors and dissidents, putting Honor Before Reason. (Yes, the terms of the Concordant are lousy, but the Empire doesn't really bother to enforce the ban on Talos worship and it bought the Empire time to recover for the inevitable second Great War.) Additionally, they feel the Stormcloaks cross the Fantastic Racism line with their "Skyrim is for the Nords" rhetoric and Humanity Is Superior beliefs. Further, no "true" Nord would abandon a long-time ally like the Empire (which was founded by Talos) just because the going has gotten tough. To Imperial supporters, a united Skyrim backing the Empire has the best chance to defeat the Dominion.
      • Likewise depending on whether you ask an Imperial or a Stormcloak, Ulfric is either a vicious, power-hungry extremist who abused the Thu'um and murdered his High King, or a valiant hero defending the Nord way of life and deserving of the crown which he won in a lawful challenge. The issue is that Ulfric invoked an ancient Nord custom where any Jarl may win the crown from the sitting High King in a Duel to the Death - Ulfric's challenge and the outcome are seen as legitimate in the traditionalist eastern "Old Holds", whereas in the more civilised and "Imperialised" holds of west Skyrim do not.
    • The Forsworn, a group of Reachmen who claim to be fighting for the freedom of the Reach, are also subject to this. The Reachmen have long resisted any outsiders who attempt to claim the Reach, seeing themselves as fighting for the independence of their ancestral homeland. To those they fight against, primarily the Nords and Imperials historically, they are savages who resort to civilian slaughter and Rape, Pillage, and Burn tactics.
  • In EVE Online, the Amarr use "terrorist" to characterize Minmatar who liberate slaves by force, or even simply attack Amarr military forces. The former definition includes a large section of the Minmatar roleplaying community, particularly the Ushra'Khan alliance. The latter includes virtually any player allied to the Republic, as well as the Republic Fleet itself. Needless to say, the Minmatar consider these same people to be freedom fighters, or simply soldiers.
  • EXTRAPOWER: Giant Fist: Barracuda, the terrorist organization hiding out in the caves within Marva Forest. They are refered to as a dangerous armed group by the player teams. Mr Barrack's interest in researching the bracelet is to use it as a weapon against an unspecified government. And the game files even refer to the hardened combatants under him as Terrorists. But they are painted as one of the more sympathetic factions in the game, granted access to Marva Forest by the otherwise xenophobic Duba tribe after Barracuda defended the forest from arson, and seeks a weapon to use against the government because he knows that an upcoming policy is going to further hurt the poor.
  • In Final Fantasy VII, Avalanche is labeled a terrorist group. They're the heroes. Not that hard to understand, as your first objective in the game is a bombing mission on a power reactor, with the group planning to bomb the others. Toward the end of the game, you even get called out on it.
  • Final Fantasy XII has this exchange between Ghis and Ashe on their views of the resistance movement.
    Ghis: No different than any mean member of the insurgence.
    Ashe: The Resistance!
  • Final Fantasy XIV: To the people they're helping, the Warrior of Light is a compassionate and dauntless hero whose efforts are essential to the liberation and restoration of nations subjugated by the Garlean Empire. To the Garleans, they're a butcher and a monster whose name is whispered in the same hushed tones as Gaius van Baelsar's in Eorzea. The Garlean perspective isn't unreasonable, given that the Warrior kills scores of men and women, performs destructive acts of sabotage, and is willing to raid the camps of enemy healers while fighting on behalf of the Eorzean Alliance, Dalmasca, and Bozja.
  • Final Fantasy Type-0 has the Milites Empire. Marshal Cid Aulstyne explicitly intends to conquer all four Crystal-States of Orience, controls the White Tiger Crystal rather than serve it (as the other four nations do their Crystals), developed a device that negates the blessings of opposing Crystals, drops an Ultima Bomb on the Lorican Alliance, and is partially responsible Tempus Finis. However, conversation with Militesi soldiers during a short-lived ceasefire reveals that the White Tiger Crystal (the blessing of which is acting as a power source for the Empire) is dying out, hence why they seek the other nations' crystals; Aulstyne is implied to be acting at the request of a former White Tiger l'Cie, and his responsibility for Tempus is because he misunderstood how to avert it.
  • Taken to a literal degree in Freedom Fighters (2003), where the eponymous freedom fighters are referred to as terrorist on the Soviet-controlled television network. Lamentably, in spite of this, Black-and-White Morality is in full effect in the course of the game itself.
  • Freelancer has The Order, which is first presented as a shady group of terrorists, then as a group of heroic freedom fighters.
    • Their whole purpose is to protect the Sirius sector from Nomad invasion and destruction.
  • The Halo series has this in the form of the Insurrection, which wants the Outer Colonies of humanity's fledgling interstellar empire to be independent of the government on Earth. While they at first did this through peaceful protest, when that yielded no results they turned to violence and armed rebellion, and most of the goodwill people in the Inner Colonies had towards them went down the drain.
  • Homefront follows your adventures as part of the resistance against the KPA (the armies of a United Korea). One of your men, Conners is just this side of Ax-Crazy but even he balks at the efforts of another group of resistance fighters who behave like the KKK.
  • The Iron Grip series has a pretty typical version of this, with the La Résistance groups being no less violent or morally ambiguous than the enemy they're fighting.
  • Lie of Caelum: Mareige claims she and her fellow Underground Bandits are justified in committing terrorism, since they believe Souen society is corrupt, racist, and classist. To that end, they're working with a mysterious backer to use Frames against the Souen government.
  • Luminous Plume: Emilia reveals that Jade was one of the survivors of Praelia's massacre of the city of Farul. He and his fellow Farulians built the Harbingers of Calamity in order to retaliate against Praelia, but the Praelians being ravaged by the Calamities see them as terrorists.
  • The Matrix Online took this idea and ran with it, establishing the new conflict as solely for control of the Matrix, because everyone needs it. Morpheus was unwilling to admit it and staged terrorist attacks with the end goal of crashing the entire thing; he was left to do it largely alone, with even Zion distancing itself from him.
  • Master Detective Archives: Rain Code: In Chapter 3, the case's culprit, Icardi, or at least his Mystery Phantom, uses this trope as an argument of justification regarding him flooding Kanai Ward, claiming he was doing it for the Resistance. He really wasn't, obviously, as he was only using it for a bank heist and needed the safes to float.
  • Epsilon of Mega Man X: Command Mission sees himself as the freedom fighter and a pioneer for Reploid evolution while the Maverick Hunters deem him a terrorist for his hostile takeover of Gigantis Island. Oh, and having a big missile for extra negotiating power too.
  • In the Metal Gear series, Solid Snake and Otacon's Philanthropy is an illegal combatant organization at its very best, and it might have been a plain terrorist organization if they had let civilians appear in the game.
    • The eponymous Sons of Liberty from Metal Gear Solid 2 call themselves freedom fighters. They certainly are terrorists too. Same for FOXHOUND.
    • Philanthropy started as a UN organization; they presumably kept that backing because Snake is very, very good at what he does and it's not hard to imagine that their attacks were executed without any casualties. Snake points out at the beginning of the second game that Philanthropy is recognized, but still "fringe", in that if they get caught, they're not allowed to claim that they were working for the UN. However, Snake is framed for sinking the USS Discovery and killing the US Marines on board (though the official story is that he sank a tanker of crude oil), and that gets Philanthropy kicked to the curb by the UN and turns them into an illegal terrorist organization. Snake was on the Discovery only to get evidence that the US military was developing a new Metal Gear, which would blow the lid off the US government's claims to the contrary, but the whole plot was a set up to incriminate Snake as a terroristnote  and set up a development facility to start production on Arsenal Gear.
      • On the other hand, Solid Snake himself does not deny that he is a terrorist as well when Raiden pointed out that what he and Philanthropy are doing is more comparable to that than grassroots resistance, meaning they may have done some much less innocent stuff to get rid of Metal Gear in the past. Now, the Patriots are an interesting variation: Although they rule the country and are also implied to be the very essence of American ideology, they also frequently stage terrorist attacks on their own soil and frame an "official" terrorist group for committing them.note  Metal Gear Solid 4 also implies that it was actually the Patriots who rammed Arsenal Gear into Manhattan, presumably due to GW being corrupted.
  • In Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus, the villains label Abe as a terrorist multiple times. Ironically, their accusations are actually accurate, as Abe's actions result in a lot of casualties and property damage, and he gets multiple companies shut down. His actions are only justified because the villains are mass murdering, slave-taking lunatics, and getting the good ending in the games requires rescuing and getting the innocents out of the facilities before shutting them down.
  • Played with in Persona 5. The Phantom Thieves are a group who "steal" the hearts of deranged individuals to get them to confess their crimes of their own accord in an attempt to get the downtrodden masses to stand up for themselves. The big story beats typically involve stealing the hearts of people with a lot of power and influence in society, up to and including the favorite candidate in the ongoing election for Prime Minister of Japan. The story repeatedly calls into question the morality of the Phantom Theives' actions, since using magical brainwashing to incite a revolution is pretty messed up when you think about it. Unfortunately, it falls flat since basically all of their targets are cartoonishly evil.
  • PlanetSide gives us the New Conglomerate faction. Freedom is the NC's motto, but the Terran Republic (and possibly the Vanu Sovereignty too) view them as nothing more than rebels and terrorists. Due to Grey-and-Gray Morality, they're probably both.
  • In Rebel Inc., some of the local population will support insurgents. That number can be mitigated by raising support for your policies.
  • The Freedom faction in S.T.A.L.K.E.R.. They fight for free access to the Zone (in all fairness, they only fight Duty, bandits, and the military, the latter two of which fight everyone), believing it could help advance humanity, while their rival faction, Duty, view them as a bunch of terrorists who want the Zone to expand.
  • StarCraft:
    • In the original StarCraft, the player is rescued by and subsequently joins Mengsk's "Sons of Korhal," portrayed by the Confederacy as terrorists. In later missions, you will engage in what can only be described as acts of terrorism against your own kind, and Mengsk is eventually proven to be out to make himself Evil Overlord. Later on in the storyline, Tassadar and Jim Raynor are portrayed this way by just about everyone else.
    • Jim Raynor is called this by the media in StarCraft II. Doesn't matter what heroic deed he performs, good ol' Donny Vermillion will spin it to sound like Jim and Raynor's Raiders stomped in and ate everyone's children. Did we mention the media is basically run by Mengsk and the Dominion?
      Jim Raynor: You're all heart, Donny.
  • Star Trek Online:
    • The Romulan Republic, an offshoot of the Romulan Star Empire, wants to create a peaceful, democratic system away from the tyranny, deceit, and horrific actions of the Empire and the Tal Shiar. Since that does not bode well for the Tal Shiar (and the Iconians) and their plans to subjugate the Romulans and Remans that escaped the destruction of their homeworlds, the Empire does its best to paint them as terrorists trying to destabilize the peace, accusing them of kidnapping citizens on various colonies (kidnappings that the Tal Shiar are doing with their Elachi allies). The Federation, in particular, are constantly called out by the Empire for siding with the "terrorists", but this is more guilt-slinging and trying to force the Federation to back down from siding with them. Ultimately, it's the Empire that falls apart and the Republic that rises up.
    • Also used in the Temporal Cold War arc. While the Krenim, Sphere Builders, and Terran Empire are more after world domination or personal revenge in their opposition to the Temporal Accords, which govern time travel and outlaw its use as a weapon, the Na'kuhl oppose the Accords and fight its backers because their homeworld pre-Accords suffered Apocalypse How at the hands of time travelers and the committee that wrote the Accords and decided which timeline was "correct" refused to let them fix this incursion (ostensibly because the Na'kuhl homeworld's destruction was one of the key events leading to the Accords' creation in the first place). The Player Character can express sympathy for this viewpoint, or not, when they time-travel to the signing of the Accords in the 28th century, then during subsequent missions the Na'kuhl launch various malicious temporal incursions (including attempting to assassinate the President of the Federation) in hopes of creating a timeline sans Accords or Temporal Defense Initiative.
  • Star Wars:
    • There's Star Wars: TIE Fighter, where you are a star fighter pilot in service to the Empire, which is presented as the guardian of order, and the Rebels are portrayed as terrorists (though Vader still scares everyone and you don't actually fight Rebels that much). In fact, most of the early missions consist of legitimate work like scanning freighters for contraband and defending military installations from attack. The Opening Scroll and cutscene in TIE Fighter specifically refer to "Rebel terrorists" and "Rebel insurgents."
    • All of the Star Wars flight sims, and their companion comics and novels, play with this trope in regard to capital ship names. Those stories told from the Rebel perspective are likely to include Alliance ships named after ideals—"Independence," "Liberty," "Freedom" — while enemy ships have names with definite negative connotations—"Inquisitor," for example, or even "Eviscerator." If, however, the protagonists fly for the Empire, suddenly all the Star Destroyers have names like "Protector" or "Stalwart", while the ships of their Rebel opponents have non-evocative names like "Gopher" or "Yander".
    • In Star Wars: The Old Republic, this occurs most prominently in the Trooper and Agent stories. Due to the "Cold War" between the Empire and Republic, proxy wars are fought with both sides aiding bomb-happy terrorists to fight the other side on their occupied worlds. The Consular even picks one of these terrorists up as a companion. He's a hardened Cold Sniper who sees no problem with bombing (Imperial) civilian targets or shooting people who worked for the Empire under duress; Imps die, he's happy. The Bounty Hunter and Smuggler can end up being this trope as well; the Hunter gets legally branded a terrorist after the Empire disavows a mercenary job you did for them (the Mandalorians are in your corner but it's Not Helping Your Case), while the Smuggler is an outright pirate with the minimal fig leaf of a Privateer license (and that's the light side version).
  • In the second half of Sunrider Mask of Arcadius, the Space Pirate Cosette Cosmos begins launching acts of sabotage on Solar Alliance vessels stationed over her home planet Ongess, demanding that the Alliance leave. Admiral Grey, who is using Ongess as a staging ground to push further into the PACT-controlled Neutral Rim and whose subordinates are performing relief efforts for the planet’s impoverished population, condemns her actions as those of a terrorist. The people of Ongess, who are tired of being exploited by foreign powers for their rare Ongessite fuel reserves and believe that the Alliance will just be more of the same, laud Cosette as a freedom fighter.
  • UX in the first arc of Super Robot Wars UX becomes this, combined with "Hero with Bad Publicity", despite them being the heroes. It doesn't help that some of the villains in the governments are ready to sell Earth to the invaders.
  • Played with in Supreme Commander: In a three-sided war between the militaristic UEF, religious Aeon, and anarchist Cybrans, everyone gets called "oppressors," "fanatics," and "terrorists." The strange thing is that this propaganda turns out to be true for the other two sides, while the one you pick is holding the Sanity Ball throughout. This goes as far as having the same characters be honorable and just when they're on your side, and psychopathic maniacs when they fight against you. For example, when you play for the Aeon, the Princess is genuinely concerned about enemy civilian population and instructs her commanders to avoid needless casualties, whereas in the UEF campaign she clearly tries to brainwash you and her commanders do the standard Evil Trash Talk about cleansing the entire galaxy of unbelievers.
  • Played straight in Tachyon: The Fringe, where whichever side you join treats the other as evil. GalSpan openly calls the Bora "terrorists," while the Bora consider themselves to be freedom fighters. Both are true. The Bora fight GalSpan for trying to kick them out of their homes, but they use guerilla tactics to achieve their goal. Of course, they are never shown openly attacking civilian targets, as opposed to GalSpan who blow up hospitals just to avoid a drop in stock prices.
    • The manual states that Bora started out as political dissidents who refused to accept the new One World Order after the end of the war in the Solar System and chose to leave through the first one-way mega-gate. Many years later, they are re-discovered in an area that is full of resource-rich asteroids. GalSpan invokes a Loophole Abuse by legally purchasing the rights to Bora space from the Sol system government (because, apparently, Sol owns all of space), something the Bora (being dissidents) never bothered to do. It's no coincidence that the Bora campaign is the more difficult one while (in most players' opinion) being the morally right one.
  • Tales of Destiny: In the first game, it was pretty clear (before Motive Decay kicked in) Miktran saw the Er'thers as terrorists who destroyed his civilization. Except the Er'thers were trying to free themselves from slavery and just happened to win the Aether Wars. The sequel shows that if the Aetherians had won, they would have razed the planet's surface, killing millions, and left the survivors to starve or freeze to death.
  • Tales of Phantasia actually mentions the trope almost word for word in some translations and adaptations! For those who don't know, Dhaos is only on Midgard to save his own people since his people need Mana to survive, while Midgardians don't. So the party and player views Dhaos as a terrorist and your group of five (or six) as the Freedom Fighters, yet by killing Dhaos, the party realizes that they doomed his people, making them the terrorists, while Dhaos was the Freedom Fighter. But it's implied Dhaos became a mana seed anyways.
  • The Renegades in Tales of Symphonia are a good example of La Résistance being made up of Well Intentioned Extremists—they start out the game by killing a bunch of innocent bystanders and attempting to kill the female lead to prevent her being used in the Big Bad's schemes. They consistently have their own goals and methods throughout the game; sometimes these goals coincide with the party's, and sometimes they're opposed.
  • The Witcher has the Scoia'tael, non-human guerilla brigades who attack human settlements and activities to protest racism, discrimination, and having been made second-class citizens. The Scoia'tael have very legitimate goals, ideals, and grievances. However, their tendencies towards arson and looting, and perfect willingness to kill any human anywhere, anytime, have made them widely hated, even among the non-humans they are supposedly fighting for.
  • In XCOM 2, XCOM and La Résistance are fighting to free Vichy Earth from the aliens and their puppet state ADVENT Administration. They get denounced as terrorists for this, with Concealment getting broken if a soldier moves too close to an ADVENT-aligned citizen. Regardless of how you play the game, the regular citizens, who have no major reasons to distrust the benevolence of ADVENT, only see your soldiers come in, shoot up the place and kill some police officers: they have no reason to disbelieve the ADVENT claims that XCOM is only in it to sow chaos, as they have no idea of either group's (ADVENT and XCOM) major objectives. Those that don't believe ADVENT are already part of the Resistance, living outside the major city centers. A major part of the end game is showing everyone the truth behind ADVENT's programs, and by association proving XCOM's legitimacy.note 

    Web Animation 
  • The White Fang organization of RWBY. Some, such as Blake, see them as merely fighting for Faunus equality, if misguidedly, while others, like Weiss, have felt the effects of their more dangerous actions and see them as terrorists and even genocidal. It should be noted that their original leader, Ghira, founded them as a peaceful protest group, but the current leader Sienna decided a more "hands-on" approach was necessary and they became terrorists. Blake, having personal experience with the matter, admits that the White Fang of now is much different from the one of the past. They jump off the slippery slope when Adam betrays Sienna and becomes leader, because he's so petty and spiteful that he leads them into attacking his personal enemies.
  • Red vs. Blue has this in season 12, with the civil war between the Rebels and the Federal Army on the planet Chorus. Noticeably, both sides are actually pretty good deep down and several ceasefires and peace treaties have been attempted, but every time they get close someone on one side crashes it (usually with explosions) and they go back to fighting. That's because the mercenaries both sides hired are working for a third party to keep the war going and eventually kill them all so they can get the alien technology on the planet unopposed. Once the Reds and Blues reveal this, the two sides join up to fight the true enemy.
  • It is not explored in great detail, but this trope is definitely in play with Iraqi terrorist/freedom fighter Oran in Broken Saints. He has been raised to believe that rebellion against the Western invaders is his duty, although he frequently has periods of doubt, where his devout religiosity makes him question his violent methods. Because of this self-doubt, the plot kind of leaves him alone about the matter after a couple of chapters, and treats him like a traditional Anti-Hero. It is also worth noting that we never hear specifics of what horrible things Oran may or may not have done in "service to his country".

  • Arthur, King of Time and Space: "If my terrorist is your freedom fighter, I hope the next thing he wants to be free of isn't you."
  • Clockwork: The terrorists responsible for the "bombings" in Mercia. They openly surrender to Mercian authorities in the name of the Arcadian kingdom.
  • In Dragon Mango, Square One's government is currently fighting an anti-government movement in the lower levels of the city-state. Square One officially classifies them as a terrorist uprising, but the revolutionaries have very good reasons to rebel. Square One's lower class is overcrowded, endangered by radiation leaks, and stuck eating garbage, not because these problems are impossible to solve, but because the Square One government doesn't care. Even worse, Square One harbors some very dark secrets. The scientific innovations that keep the city alive were plagiarised from 32 colonies of innocent gnomes they use as enslaved lab rats. The secret that ignites the city into open war is the discovery that the city is Powered by a Forsaken Child, mutating victims with chaos magic and imprisoning them in People Jars to harvest energy. Nevertheless, the Square One government is a Villain with Good Publicity and has an army of well-intentioned dupes that have been brainwashed into believing that they are fighting anti-government murderers.
  • In The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!, Fructose Riboflavin tries using this as a defense at his trial. It doesn't go over very well.
  • Project 0: The Saboteurs: hero to some, menace to others.
  • Quantum Vibe has the Space Pirate Jesus Hernandez raids Mercorp ships to fund a revolution on Io, and holds trials for the crews and passengers, with "penalties" that include airlocking or cutting off tongues.
  • In Sluggy Freelance, in the story "That Which Redeems", demons invade an alternative dimension populated by ridiculously Perfect Pacifist People. Torg and a handful of others try to form a resistance movement. Since the demons move from conquest of arms to more subtle tactics and propaganda (while still tormenting and killing the humans because, well, they're demons), and because the locals are willing to accept anything no matter how ridiculous if it seems to reduce the appearance of conflict, and they abhor the least bit of violence as much as the worst of it, the resistance is labeled in the media as "a bunch of pro-violence bozos working against the demonic visions of peace."
  • FUG from Tower of God, a fanatical religious crime syndicate hell-bent on killing Jahad and abolishing his ruling system. They go about it in such murderous ways that many in the Tower fear them, even though they do have a point somewhere: the current system is unfair and harmful to many. Even main characters Twenty-Fifth Bam and Ja Wangnan as well as Reasonable Authority Figure Lero-Ro see that.
  • Unsounded: Alderode treats the March as horrific treasonous terrorists for opposing the country's v rule. Even people simply caught distrubuting pamplets promoting such things as not treating plat girls as things to be bred are in for a trip to be publicly tortured and executed, or sterilized and turned into a slave. The government of course lies about their actions as well, for instance claiming Quigley was a crazy rebel who killed government officials and ran off to sell stolen government property to Cresce, when his wife was the revolutionary and inventor and he killed government officials to steal back her work and avenge her. He also refused to hand it over to Cresce.

    Web Originals 
  • The Harry Potter ARG "Magic is Might" has this set up, with the Order of the Phoenix being labeled "The Rebellion" by the Voldemort-controlled Ministry of Magic.

    Western Animation 
  • Jet's Freedom Fighters in Avatar: The Last Airbender, while well-intentioned, are clearly shown to be terrorists, very willing to kill innocent people to achieve their goals. Another variation shows up in the second season, with the resistance of a recently fallen city of Omashu. Their introduction is composed of executing an assassination on the Fire Nation governor's family. But remember they are good guys.
    • The Equalists in the Sequel Series, The Legend of Korra. They see themselves as fighting back against benders who have been oppressing them, but they undercut their own moral authority by indiscriminately bombing Republic City and by targeting, of all groups, the last four airbenders (three of whom are children). On the other hand, they try not to kill anyone, seeking only to depower the benders.
    • Also the Red Lotus. They see themselves as freeing the world from corrupt leaders and oppression, and they temporarily convince the citizens of Ba Sing Se of that. Pretty much everyone else sees their acts are extremely ruthless anarchistic violence, and after their coup, the entire Earth Kingdom descended into total chaos and then was conquered by a tyrant, eradicating any sympathy the rest of the world might have had.
  • From American Dad!, "Failure is not a Factory-Installed Option":
    Bullock: You gave away state secrets to a terrorist!?
    Stan: (sheepishly) Freedom fighter?
  • In Challenge of the GoBots, when Fi-Tor is captured by the heroes, he appears rather noble, and clearly believes in his own side's cause. When he tries to destroy the transport ship carrying him away for interrogation, which would kill both him and the crew manning it, the heroes call him a maniac. He responds, "You mean 'patriot!'"
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars:
    • In the Season 2 Mandalore trilogy, the Separatists and the Death Watch are explicitly counting on this trope: Death Watch commits terrorist bombings on the planet, to make it appear that the Mandalorian government can't handle the situation on its own, so the Republic would send clone troops to keep peace. This however would turn the terrorists into heroes in the eyes of the public, destabilizing the pacifist government, and resulting in the rebirth of the Mandalorian warrior culture.
    • Later in Season 5, this trope is Obi-Wan's main reason to object against Anakin's plan to train a group of rebels on Onderon. For some irony, one of those rebels is a younger Saw Gerrera, who would later go on to form one of the more brutal rebel groups fighting against the Galactic Empire.
  • A more popular portrayal of the Transformers lately is with Cybertron as a stagnant, caste-based society. The Decepticons are to some extent fighting for freedom and a new, fair order. Unfortunately thanks to Megatron, it all got out of hand with many joining simply for the pleasure of opportunities for sadism and destruction.
  • In Rick and Morty, Rick and many of his friends are labelled as terrorists by the galactic federation. Exactly which crimes got him on their radar isn't specified, but they're somewhat spoiled for choice. Rick simply put it to his family "They think they control the galaxy, I disagree." His friend Bird Person outright calls some of their actions "atrocities", although he doesn't elaborate. Rick eventually surrenders himself to the federation after he sees what his actions are doing to his family...then he destroys the federation from the inside.
  • In Steven Universe, Jasper's motivation implies this. She seeks revenge on Rose Quartz for killing their superior- Pink Diamond- during the Earth rebellion. Rose and Pearl launching guerrilla warfare on Blue Diamond's court and Bismuth's Sociopathic Soldier habits support this idea.
  • The eponymous "Freedom Fighters" of Sonic the Hedgehog (SatAM) are unquestionably fighting for a good cause since Dr. Robotnik overthrew the benevolent Mobius government via a coup that no one but himself was backing, but because they are fighting a tyrannical empire that has eyes everywhere, they must resort to sabotage and other methods of guerrilla warfare that would likely be labeled a terroristic act by an outsider. At least all their targets are mechanical so no living creature is being hurt and contrasted against Robotnik indiscriminately capturing and enslaving Mobians as transformed machines.


Video Example(s):


Generals and Terrorists

Finn justifies his terrorism by comparing himself to George Washington

How well does it match the trope?

5 (13 votes)

Example of:

Main / YourTerroristsAreOurFreedomFighters

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