Is Trump's use of the term 'witch hunt' offensive?

NEW YORK — Donald Trump is known for saying what he thinks. Whether at a news conference or on Twitter, the president has defied convention during his first two years in office. In the process, Trump’s rewritten the rules and norms attached to the job.

In an effort to maintain score on exactly who and what Trump has taken aim at since deciding to run for the White House in 2015, The New York Times has maintained an updated tally since he officially became a candidate. The result is an A to Z guide that includes everyone from Syrian leader Bashir al-Assad to former New York Daily News owner Mort Zuckerman.

Some other people, places and things that have become Trump targets in recent years have included:

Former FBI Director James Comey



NBC News

North Korea


Paris Climate Accords

Oprah Winfrey

In recent weeks, Trump has even called Senate Minority Leader “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer” and his own former secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, “dumb as a rock.”

And on, and on and on.

Missing from this ever-growing tally are witches. Yes, witches.

In a world where some say political correctness knows no bounds, Trump’s repeated references to the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller as a “witch hunt” has angered people who actually practice witchcraft. The investigation into whether Trump colluded with Russia to win the 2016 presidential election remains ongoing. His guilt in the matter is up for debate. Witches, however, say what’s not under debate is the use of the term “witch hunt.”

“It conjures up for me the burning of 10,000, mostly women, in England and surrounding areas who were accused as witches — right out of the Inquisition playbook,” Ann Hardman, a Kentucky high priestess in the Fellowship of Isis, told the Louisville Courier Journal.

Trump has tweeted the term more than 60 times — 22 since Thanksgiving alone — complaining that the Mueller probe has unfairly targeted him and his administration.

There’s more to witchcraft than the Harry Potter books and movies. For some pagans, warlocks, witches and those who identify as Wiccans, the term “witch hunt” alludes to a time in Europe and the United States when people were killed on the suspicion of practicing witchcraft. The famous Salem witch trials, for example, produced a series of hearings where men and women were accused of witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts — centered around what is today the town of Danvers — between February 1692 and May 1693.

Some 200 people were accused, 19 of whom — 14 women and five men — were found guilty and hanged. It marked the deadliest witch hunt in the history of the United States. As a result, the term “witch hunt” to describe an unfair investigation comes from those very trials.

To combat the widespread hysteria, the Massachusetts General Court eventually annulled the guilty verdicts, declared the original trials unlawful and granted indemnities to their families.

Despite an effort to make amends, bitterness lingered and the now-infamous trials became forever a part of our nation’s history.


The Daily Beast, just last month, was the first publication to highlight the phenomenon of Trump’s offensive language towards witches. Its serious take included this line: “Witches are not a constituency with which politicians normally concern themselves. And there’s little sense in the community that Trump actually cares about what they truly think. But for those who practice witchcraft, the president’s words bring up a painful period in history, when men and women were accused of being witches and murdered, both in the American colonies and in Europe.”

It was also the subject of a light-hearted CNN piece, where correspondent Jeanne Moos — known for her funny takes on a variety of subjects — interviewed real witches interspersed with clips of the Wicked Witch of the West from the iconic 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz.

Even the news cable networks took time out from debating immigration, border security and the resulting partial government shutdown to talk about the matter. On Fox News Channel, conservative commentator Mark Steyn mocked the controversy and questioned whether the people complaining were even real witches able to channel the occult.

“These people are not exactly witches,” he said. “They can’t do anything.”

Wicca, and the belief in witchcraft, is defined as a spiritual system that encourages an understanding of the nature by affirming the divinity in all living things. In 2014, the Pew Research Center found that 0.4% of Americans — around 1 to 1.5 million people — identify as Wicca or Pagan, which suggests continued growth to a decade ago when the number was about 340,000 practitioners in 2008.

Use of the term isn’t the first time Trump has run afoul of witches. During the contentious Senate hearings to confirm the president’s then-Supreme Court nominee (now justice) Brett Kavanaugh, a group of witches in New York City claimed to have placed a hex on the devout Catholic jurist accused of sexually assaulting a teenager while he was in high school. In response, Catholics across the country responded by praying for Kavanaugh’s spiritual protection. 

As for Trump’s often offensive language, not every witch is offended by his use of “witch hunt.”

“No, I do not find it insulting,” said Carole Linda Gonzalez, a practicing witch. “It's a term used to describe the persecution of a witch or for group holding unorthodox or unpopular views. [It’s a] standard English term.”