I understand where you are coming from completely. I am a software engineer who started off as a hobbyist and I had a bear of a time convincing recruiters and HR departments to give me my first chance. It sounds like the barriers you are running into after not doing dev work for a while are quite similar. With that in mind, my advice:
I have education and work experience in IT, specifically in web development. I have been programming and writing markup for 15 years. I have worked professionally as a web developer, and utilized those skills in my personal life.
What I'm about to say might sound silly or superficial, but it has been born out in my experience during my past ten years in the workforce. I've found that companies that describe their developers as "IT" and that put items like "writing markup" in their job descriptions tend to be more traditional, less flexible operations. IT also tends to be a cost center within a non-tech organization, whereas development tends to be "where the magic happens" in a tech-focused company. Having been on both sides of that divide (four years in QA/programming in an IT role, the rest in non-IT programming), I'd encourage you to aim for the latter sort of role if possible. In my anecdotal experience, IT cares a lot more about the certifications you have and how good of a candidate you are on paper (e.g. do you have any gaps in employment?) whereas software shops seem to care much more about "can you solve this whiteboard problem/take home programming assignment" which I think would work in your favor. This is somewhat tangential to the rest of the answer but still worth your consideration!
I took a break from the IT industry for the last 2 years because I just needed a break. I have recently started trying to get back into the workforce again.
It helps to have something to show or a story to tell about your break. If the break was, "I was just burned out on programming" I totally get that, but you'll want to have a positive spin to put on it when it comes up in interviews. It'd be nice to just be able to be straightforward in your reasons for this but I think a little personal marketing here would improve your odds. Have you had the chance to work on anything interesting these past two years, or travel, or maybe follow a non-programming passion?
Late last year, the CEO of a local company found me on LinkedIn and urged me to apply. I met with the CEO and the head programmer over the phone. The head programmer made it sound like I didn't stand a chance, because I hadn't used a specific programming language (C#) since college.
If you also took time off from personal software projects, it'd be good to pick that back up now instead of after you return to the workforce. When I was trying to make the jump from hobbyist to professional, side projects provided evidence to bolster hiring managers' confidence that I wouldn't just crash and burn on day one.
Here's an example I created (much later) as I was trying to learn a new language (Rust). It's an amateurish Tetris written in a language I had not mastered. Even given that it is less than professional grade, being able to point to work I've successfully completed in a language that was new to me has helped me make my own case. Demonstrating your C# proficiency in a side project would de-risk the hire from the company's perspective.
While I was a little insulted by this condescending remark, I didn't respond and just let it be. But I really wanted to put him in his place. Programming is like riding a bike or tying your shoes. It's not something you just "forget" to do.
I sympathize with you here. Still, the synchronous request/response apps I was building on top of Django in 2012 bear very little resemblance to the single page apps people are building these days on top of generic Rest APIs. So much logic has moved into the frontend. You still know how to ride the wheeled vehicle you learned to ride, but the kids these days are riding unicycles. You don't need to use the latest and greatest to build useful interfaces, but I have found that hiring reqs have a bias for newer frameworks. You should at least familiarize yourself with them so you can make well-reasoned arguments for when they are or aren't appropriate.
Any good programmer can rely on countless resources and documentation if they forget a command or a method. If you know one language, picking up another isn't hard.
True and false. I've had jobs where I contributed code in Java and C#, but Python is my bread and butter and I can confidently say that though I accomplished the tasks I needed to accomplish in those other languages, I did so without familiarity with language idiom and my code certainly had "an accent" that gave me away as a non-native speaker.
Fast forward to today, I talked to a recruiter about another open position. He alluded to the idea that his client may not like that I haven't worked professionally with web development in a while. I let that be as well, but I'm still going to try for the position.
How do I deal with employers or recruiters like this? Is it worth rebutting such a "witch hunt"?
By being extra good! You're not experiencing a witch hunt; you're experiencing the doubts of people who are unfamiliar with your work and your capabilities. This is heightened because performing well in your current role is taken as strong evidence of competency (as I found when trying to get a job as a hobbyist without that track record). It's amazing how much this sort of proof matters; in 2011 I couldn't pay someone to let me program for them but after a year of experience with the job title programmer (during which I was not a very good programmer even), I started getting recruiters reaching out weekly or even daily.
You've got to give interviewers a warm and fuzzy feeling about your ability to accomplish the task they need completed. You can do this by refreshing your skills, sharpening your interview technique, and showing them work you've recently done. If you've not done work recently, now's as good a time as any to jump into a side project that will dust off your programming skills AND give you a finished project you can discuss with interviewers.