The Toil and Trouble with Trump’s Idea of a “Witch Hunt”

Rudy Giuliani confirmed suspicions this week that he is a baby-snatching, potion-brewing, broomstick-riding witch. Well, not exactly—but he did compare the ongoing impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump to the Salem witch trials in a tweet yesterday.

The “anonymous testimony” Giuliani referred to is actually news that House Democrats might permit the Ukraine whistleblower to testify from a remote location via a video hookup—and much like the Salem jurors themselves, Giuliani is jumping to conclusions. The National Post reports that Democrats overseeing the logistics of the testimony have also considered a staff-only session that would prevent lawmakers from attending and asking questions. Nothing is concrete, but that hasn’t stopped Republicans from becoming hysterical.

But what’s even more interesting about Giuliani’s attempt at a historical comparison here is his assumption that Salem trials were “sound.”

Twisted examples of permissible “evidence” in these trials included examining women’s bodies for “witch’s marks” and torturing the accused. In 1689, 80-year-old Giles Corey was pressed for pleading not guilty; over two days, the jury placed increasingly heavier stones upon his body to cajole a confession. Before the court of Oyer and Terminer was dissolved, spectral evidence—witness testimony that a person’s spirit or specter appeared to a witness in a dream and afflicted them—could also be used as evidence.

Margaret Scott, for example, was executed in 1692 due to spectral testimony of Mary Daniels. In a September 15, 1692 document, Daniels swore:

I was taken very ill again all over & felt a great pricking in ye soles of my feet, and after a while I saw apparently the shape of Margret Scott, who, as I was sitting in a chair by ye fire pulled me with ye chair, down backward to ye ground, and tormented and pinched me very much

The deposition of Mary Daniel against Margaret Scott, auctioned by Christie’s, June 2017.

Of course, the irony that Giuliani, a man who has openly vilified women, is equating himself with the majority women tried and executed during the Salem witch trials is an astonishing work of gaslighting. (This is the same man who said of Stormy Daniels: “Let me cross-examine you. Because the business you’re in entitles you to no degree of giving your credibility any weight.”)

Giuliani’s Salem comparison is also part of a greater Republican strategy of victimization. Take, for example, Trump’s tweet from later that evening.

In case it bears repeating: This is not a witch hunt. Just ask Robert Mueller, who testified to the House Intelligence Committee that his own investigation “was not a witch hunt” and “not a hoax.” Or take it from women, who were persecuted during legitimate ones.

Trump’s coven can try to re-write the narrative, and America history along with it, but they’re not fooling anyone.


Jonathan Chang is an editorial intern at Ms.