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In its simplest form, a Badger game proceeds thus: X, a man married to Y, engages in an extramarital affair with W (another woman). During a tryst, Z (another man) discovers them in the act. Z, posing as W's husband or brother, demands money from X to keep the affair secret. Unknown to X, W and Z are conspiring together against X.
Variants of the con involve luring the mark with homosexual acts, underage children, child pornography, bizarre sexual fetishes, or other activities carrying legal penalties or social stigma. There are several variations of the con; in the most typical form an attractive woman approaches a man, preferably a lonely, married man of some financial means from out of town, and entices him to a private place with the intent of maneuvering him into a compromising position, usually sexual. Afterward an accomplice blackmails the victim with photographs or similar evidence.
Another form involves accusations of professional misconduct. In an example of this form of the con, a "sick" woman would visit a physician, describing symptoms that required her to disrobe for the examination, require the doctor to examine the genitals, or ensure similar scrutiny from the doctor. During the examination an "outraged husband" or "outraged father" would enter the room and accuse the doctor of deviant misconduct. The "sick" woman, who is of course part of the con, takes the side of her accomplice and threatens the doctor with criminal charges or a lawsuit. This form of the badger game was first widely publicized in an article in the August 25, 1930, edition of Time magazine.
Non-sexual versions of this con also exist, particularly among ethnic or religious groups with strong social taboos. For example inducing a Mormon to gamble or drink alcohol in violation of his religious vows, and then demanding money to keep the indulgence secret and thus preserve his reputation.
Etymology and background
There are two competing explanations for the origin of the term badger game. One explanation is that the term originated in the practice of badger baiting. Another says that it derives its name from the state of Wisconsin (the Badger State), where the con allegedly either originated or was popularized.
This con has been around since at least the early biblical era: see Abram and Sarah in the stories of Pharaoh's harem and Abimelech for a version of the confidence trick.
Sometimes the accomplice will simply burst into the room during the act, claiming to be the woman's husband, father, brother, etc., and "demand justice". The con was particularly effective in the 19th and earlier 20th century when the social repercussions of adultery were much greater. A famous person known to have been victimized by the scheme was the first United States Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, whose adulterous affair with Maria Reynolds was used by her husband to extort money and information from him.
The badger game has been featured as a plot device in numerous books, movies and television shows.
- "Medicine: Badgered Doctors". TIME. XVI (8). Aug 25, 1930.
- Samuel Woolley Taylor (1976). The Kingdom or Nothing: the Life of John Taylor, Militant Mormon. MacMillan, p 199
- Charles Kelly and Hoffman Birney (1934). Holy Murder: The Story of Porter Rockwell. Minton & Balch, p. 208