Dr. Scapegoat believes complicitor is a noun whose time has come!


It’s derived from the adjective complicit, which Merriam-Webster defines as “having to commit a crime or do wrong in some way.” That definition doesn’t capture much about the word for me and there are no synonyms which are worth their salt. I use the term scapegoaters to talk about individuals or groups who create scapegoats and that comes close except its way too conscious and directed. Complicitors hide in the shadows and twilight, hang back in groups and allow leaders, idea people and scapegoats to do the work they need.


Sometimes I think complicitors run the world. Here’s what I mean. We have lots of synonyms for scapegoats: black sheep, prodigal son, messiahs, victims, fall guys. But scapegoating theory tells us that scapegoats are created by groups; they  act ‘in our place’ and takes the heat. (In my South African TEDX talk available on this website I present a pictogram and a discussion detailing how that happens.) Scapegoaters are conscious of finding and creating victim and they do that either to harm the person or idea or to make something happen that they themselves don’t want to take responsibility for. Complicitors are simpler and more unconscious; they are ancient and ubiquitous, silent and invisible, frightened and cowardly, unknown even to themselves. ‘All we like sheep’ defines them  if one understands, as the bible does, that these ‘sheep’ are far from harmless.


The ‘Good German” who went along with the Nazi’s are complicitors.  So are the managers of companies who maintain racist/sexist hiring policies. They are the congressman who stay safe to keep their place, the politician who let others take the difficult stands on issues. They are the scientists who deny controversial data, the elders who don’t speak out on when they know all too well it is needed.     Find a scapegoat and you will find a thousand complicitors.


Complicitors are focused on their own self-interest. They rationalize that they are doing the best thing for everyone. They don’t rock the boat. They talk about loving values too much. They do not act preemptively and with courage when dangerous situations arise, hoping it will pass them by.  And it often does so they continue. They are good parents if everything is going well. But they are the last to speak out when there is trouble. They don’t blow the whistle on sexual abuse, on destructive pairings, on  bad choices.


Perhaps by giving them a name, complicitors will become more recognizable.  Perhaps by giving them a name, we will recognize the complicitor in ourselves.



  1. Sometimes complicitors are people who are afraid to speak out against the scapegoater because they fear becoming scapegoats themselves. Two examples: my younger sister was being groomed by my parents to be the family scapegoat and would have become that if I had not stepped in and redirected the parental viciousness to myself instead. Now this sister is a major complicitor in scapegoating me.
    Second example: My daughter entered a new school in the 3rd grade and found a scapegoating group attacking another new student. My daughter, as another newbie, joined in the scapegoating of the other new girl, apparently because she feared if she didn’t, she would become the scapegoat herself. The school refused to do anything – principal, counselor, and psychologist all felt they couldn’t intervene. I had to move my daughter to a different school to prevent her from becoming a major complicitor in the scapegoating.

  2. Oh wow thank you so much for this article!! I just loathe bystanders who don’t want to get involved-funny they want others to though.
    Courage is indeed linked to conscience. It’s not easy, not always wise to speak out, but boy does it ever matter sometimes, that someone did.

  3. The plural of Nazi is Nazis.

    Feel free to delete this comment when you correct the error.

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