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SYFY WIRE Politics

Hey Rudy Giuliani, here's a quick explanation of what witch hunts actually are

By Sara Century

Behold! In a world of hot takes and misinformed rants by politicians, some statements can still stand out for their sheer absurdity. To that end, have we got a treat for you. It's rare, even for Twitter, to experience the intersection of wrongness that was given to us January 2, 2019 via yet another Rudolph William Louis Giuliani masterpiece. Even more befuddling than the fact that people actually follow him on Twitter at all is this bizarre postmodernist piece of work bestowed upon us by one of the English language’s most prominent disaster artists. 

Perhaps it won’t come as much a shock that an ally of the current administration would be wrong about something either accidentally or on purpose and would tweet about it first and ask Google never. Fortunately, as a part of our ongoing quest to convince elderly white male politicians to keep the names of witches out of their mouths, we here at FANGRRLS have both the time and, one hopes, the patience to guide you through the ins and the outs of this mess of a tweet.

To begin with, the name of Robert Mueller is misspelled. I don’t feel like I need to belabor the point because there’s also no spaces between commas and letters and, well, so many other problems here, but it does bear mention that one of the most repeated names of American politics of the last year is spelled incorrectly. Only a month ago, Giuliani wrote another tweet in which he accidentally hyperlinked to a site someone immediately bought and posted an anti-Trump message upon. Giuliani proceeded to accuse Twitter of sabotaging him when the mistake was unquestionably caused by his own lack of fondness for the space key, which rears its head once more here.

Then, of course, there’s the main event, what brings us all here today — this guy has no idea what witches are, what witch hunts are, and what it is exactly that witches might find offensive in the comparison of a rich and powerful man being brought under investigation for very valid reasons to an infamous series of historical tragedies caused by men in power making unsubstantiated claims.

The nearest available dictionary refers to witches as women thought to hold magical abilities, with its secondary definition being “an ugly or unpleasant woman.” This definition itself could stand some serious working out, but even more detailed descriptions in encyclopedias or internet sources like Wikipedia agree that witches and the practice of witchcraft can be difficult to fully define or trace. This could possibly have something to do with the fact that witches have historically been subject to a great deal of persecution by people who hold some level of societal power making damaging and unsubstantiated claims about them which often led to a great deal of unpleasantness, for instance, what is widely referred to as a witch hunt.

Many rich and powerful white men have been using the term recently in relation to an array of things that are definitely not witch hunts. For instance, Tamara Burke’s #MeToo hashtag and subsequent movement asking abusers to be held accountable for their actions is constantly called a witch hunt against men. People asking senators to reconsider their votes to put alleged predator Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court were called witch hunts. Generally, men in power and their allies are apt to utilize the term when they are calmly pressed for information about their own actions. Despite the fact that there are indeed abusers of all genders, men seem to take a specific defensive stance against such suggestions of personal responsibility, and many prominent figures in film, television, and publishing have gone on to refer to the mere suggestion that this occurs as “a witch hunt.”

It bears repeating that there is no logical way to draw any kind of a comparison between an actual witch hunt and what is commonly referred to as a witch hunt by members of the Republican Party or various other conservatives. Flipping language and attempting to pose as the oppressed party when you hold all the power is the insidious act of an abuser, and it will gather little commiseration from real witches who are, generally speaking, too smart for that trick.

Paganism, witchcraft, occultism, and the many, many facets thereof, have been practiced universally across the world. Before the advent of Christianity and its need to centralize a single deity above all others, most if not all religions were polytheistic and required ritual, celebration, and even small sacrifices to express their beliefs. As Christianity became the prominent religion in Europe, an epic backlash against polytheism took place. Deranged moralism took hold of members of royalty and religious figures alike, leading to the scapegoating of those who continued to practice what would be considered pagan rituals rather than for instance attending church and the myriad bizarre practices that in itself would entail in the mid-1400s. The gruesome nature and sheer brutality of the European witch hunts have few parallels throughout history, which itself has no shortage of gruesome and brutal acts by political and religious figures.

Witch hunts did not stop there, however. Over the centuries, there have been witch hunts on most continents. The primary motivation behind these witch hunts remained the same across the board — accusations against people generally considered outsiders, the majority of whom are historically believed to have been women, in order to create a scapegoat for general misfortunes. All of this tends to lead to widespread hysteria and a lot of innocent people being mass murdered in extreme and usually highly public ways. Often, men who envied a woman’s property or possessions were known to accuse a woman of witchcraft in order to claim her belongings as their own.


The witch hunt that Giuliani specifically cited in his tweet was that of the infamous Salem Witch Trials, during which a mass hysteria and staunch Christian fundamentalism alongside a deeply unhealthy dose of rampant misogyny prevalent for the time period led to no less than 24 people to die: four of the accused died in prison awaiting trial, 19 were hanged, and one was tortured to death. Not only were the deaths unreasonable and cruel, but the persecution was also based in religious fear rather than actual facts, and the trials are known as being biased and one-sided, informed by highly unlikely eyewitness accounts from people that across the board stood to gain from the deaths of those that were targeted. Again, none of this even remotely resembles Mueller’s investigation of Donald Trump.

The irony of powerful men evoking the phrase “witch hunt” to express their own discomfort at the threat of being held even partially responsible for allegations of illegal activities that number into the dozens is staggering. While some men have historically fallen victim to persecution during various witch hunts, and indeed even the notoriously misogynistic Salem Witch Trials brought down their share of male figures as well, the execution of others based on their religious beliefs is a far cry from a legal investigation, and Trump and his legal team is even further distanced from being able to use it to describe themselves when so much of their platform during the campaign into the presidency has focused on discrediting women.

The people who primarily refer to Mueller’s investigation of Trump as a witch hunt are… generally just Trump himself. There are certainly not many outside of the GOP and their followers who would draw this comparison, which is in no way substantiated by facts and is most definitely an exaggeration meant to cater public favor, which has proved to be quite an elusive thing for the current administration. For the people in power to victimize themselves by bending and commandeering the language through which oppressed people express their own suffering is a previously incorrect approach at best and outright Orwellian at worst.

As for today, as ever, witches and most of the rest of us are under much greater threat than men like Giuliani or Trump will ever be. In the words of Dakota Bracciale via Time, “Because what this is is basically just textbook gaslighting, this is the abuser, the aggressor dressing themselves up in the language that is used to refer to the victims of their aggression.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

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