scapegoat

A scapegoat is some person or group who gets blamed for the wrongdoings, misdeeds, or crimes of others.

The term comes originally from the Bible, in a story from Leviticus where a Jewish chief priest symbolically laid the sins of the people on a goat before releasing it into the wilderness. The goat psychologically cleansed the bad deeds of the population, serving as a convenient mechanism for group healing.

The modern scapegoat

In contemporary times the scapegoat metaphor is used to describe situations where a guilty party gets away scot-free by loudly and vociferously blaming an innocent “enemy” instead. This can be on a small scale like a workplace or a family, but it can also be on a larger scale within society — labelling entire groups or racial identities as “enemies” fictitiously and thus, dangerously.

Scapegoats have a close cousin in the political realm, in the “Us vs. Them” core dynamic of fascism. Fascism essentially pretends that only Outsiders are dangerous, because it gives anxious people the illusion of safety. This ideology increases the followers’ dependency on the in-group, to the point of hero worship or even cult worship.