Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or group sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their own memory, perception or judgement. Those conducting the gaslighting use denial, misdirection, contradiction and misinformation to delegitimize other’s beliefs. It is recognized in psychological analysis, especially in the definition of abusers. The term comes from a 1938 stage play called Gas Light which was turned into a 1940 movie and, most famously, a 1944 movie called Gaslight starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer where a man tries to convince his wife that she is going insane so that he can have her committed and he can retain her murdered aunt’s wealth. The term relates to his turning down their home’s gas lights while insisting that they are fully bright, among other things to make her feel detached from reality.
The United States is being gaslighted by most of the Republican Party, especially those in Congress. They are trying to gaslight us about the Big Lie of the 2020 election, about the attempted coup on 6 January 2021, and are using these lies to propel Republican controlled state legislatures into passing laws limiting voting opportunities and engaging in voter suppression.
For one example, listen to Republican Senator Ron Johnson (WI) question whether it was an “armed” insurrection which he did on a local radio station in Wisconsin. “That didn’t seem like an armed insurrection to me. When you hear the word ‘armed’ don’t you think of firearms? How many firearms were confiscated? How many shots were fired?” (Numerous firearms and explosives were known to law enforcement to have been at the capitol in the hands of the rioters, more were confiscated later, and detailed plans have been uncovered for the use of firearms by those storming the capitol.) Or perhaps this bit of misdirection by him on 7 February in a Fox News interview? “I have always believed the Russian hoax was a diversionary operation from the corruption occurring certainly within the FBI and potentially some of our intelligence agencies. You kind of have to ask the question, what is this impeachment all about? We know that 45 Republican senators believe its unconstitutional. Is this another diversionary operation? Is this meant to deflect away from potentially what the Speaker knew and when she knew it? I don’t know. But I’m suspicious.” (Senator Johnson is joined by the lead seditionists Senators Josh Hawley (MO) and Ted Cruz (TX) in trying to blame Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi for the attempted coup at the capitol.)
Since that was not enough, Senator Johnson went further during the Senate hearings on 23 February investigating the attack on the capitol. He claimed that the “great majority” of the rioters had a “jovial, friendly, earnest demeanor.” In his portrayal, the rioters were festive and the demonstration was “jovial.” The rightful focus of an investigation should be on those that perpetrated the violence. You know, the “plainclothes militants, agent provocateurs, fake Trump protesters, and disciplined uniformed column of attackers.” He later added, “Basically it was like a picnic here that day until they [meaning antifa] got involved.”
For the record, on Tuesday 2 March FBI Director Christopher Wray clearly stated in his testimony that the insurrectionists did not have any (any!) members that were “antifa,” or “anarchist violent extremists,” or any other left-wing participation. He did say that the primary instigators of the attack were white supremacists or members of right wing militias. Of the roughly 270 rioters arrested so far, 33 belonged to right wing militia groups, 82 were friends and associates of organized right wing groups and the rest did not belong to any organized group. Director Wray testified that this latter group was his biggest concern as they do not fit into any “chain-of-command” type organizations and are likely to be “lone wolfs” ready to conduct violent acts based on their having been influenced and radicalized by right wing extremism on the internet and through social media. The Director said that combatting domestic terrorism is currently the FBI’s number one priority and that they are investigating about 2,000 cases right now.
There is no “what aboutism” to this. There is no both sides. Those that try and and compare the Black Lives Matter (BLM) demonstrations to the attack on the Capitol are trying to change the subject. There is no comparison. The attack by right wing extremists on the Capitol was intended to overthrow the government and to undermine a free and fair election in order to hand the presidency to a wannabe autocrat. I will state unequivocally that any criminal behavior taking place during any protest, BLM or otherwise, should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. And it is. Actions by any BLM groups or others associated with the otherwise peaceful protests does not in any way justify what happened at the Capitol in January. And yet, Republican Senators are trying to say that it does.
At this week’s hearings Senator Cruz asserted that “in the past year we have seen massive rioting and violence as extremists, many of them leftists extremists, took to the streets across the country.” After clearly speaking about the BLM demonstrations, without using the name, he asked Director Wray what the FBI is doing “to counter this ongoing pattern of domestic terrorism.” Of course! According to Senator Cruz the real terrorists are not those attempting to over throw the government and kill the Vice President and Speaker of the House. It is those terrible black people and those that support them.
In spite of all the evidence, politicians, media personalities, activists, and others on the right are trying to rewrite history to turn the violent insurrection at the Capitol into “no big deal.” As chronicled in the Washington Post, it is a concerted effort to blame leftists and to absolve the ex-president (a.k.a the former guy) of any blame. In a tried and true tactic, many of them are actually blaming the Speaker for the attack. Representative Ken Buck (CO) said that Democrats are trying to create the impression that “there’s a bunch of people running around in the woods with Army fatigues on the weekends, and they’re going to take over this country, and that’s just nonsense.” Others criticize the fences and National Guard troops still at the Capitol as some kind of trick by Democrats to create the illusion of danger. They think it is part of a political effort to exaggerate the threat from right wing extremists dubbing the Capitol “Fort Pelosi.” Some even contend that the circumstances surrounding the death of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick are fishy and that it is being used by the Democrats to further their anti-Republican agenda.
Senator Cruz, of course, is one of the eight Republican Senators that joined 139 Republican Representatives to vote against certifying the results of the Electoral College, even after the Capitol had been sacked by supporters of the now ex-president. (You can find their names here.) This is the biggest gaslight of all. Most of those Republicans still refuse to recognize that Joseph R. Biden Jr. is the duly elected 46th President of the United States. Those 147 Republicans, and the Gaslighter-in-Chief continue to perpetuate the Big Lie that the 2020 election was rigged, stolen, or otherwise fixed to put Mr. Biden in the White House. This has real consequences. Mr. Cruz, Mr. Hawley, and everyone else that keeps pushing this devastating lie is actively and willfully undermining our democracy. They are using a circular argument. They have actively pushed this lie, directly leading to the insurrection in January. They then turn around, after having convinced their constituents that their votes did not count, even in the face of all factual evidence to the contrary, and say, “gosh” my constituents want to know what is going on, therefore I must act to fix the problem.
Those fixes involve voter suppression and disenfranchisement for millions of Americans. Republicans cannot win at the polls based on their ideas and policies, so they are working as hard as they can in state legislatures to pass laws that will keep many people from voting — most of whom usually vote for Democrats. Want an example? In Arizona they are considering a law that designates the state legislature as the final authority on deciding who the state’s Electoral College electors will be. No matter the vote count. No matter if the Governor and Secretary of State certify the results. No matter if the loser fails to win a single case in the courts. A simple majority of the legislature can substitute their own slate of electors at any time up to the day of the inauguration of the president. Indeed, why should we even let people vote?
Gaslighting has real consequences.
There is a distinct moral void taking hold in our country. Don’t like the consequences? Pretend that nothing happened. Don’t like the facts? Create your own alternative facts. Can’t win elections? Change the rules so that only your folks can vote. There is no shame. There is no taking responsibility for one’s own actions. Do you worship a man rather than fulfill your oath to the Constitution? No problem. Just vilify everyone that doesn’t worship at the feet of the golden don. (If you missed it, here is a picture of the Republican Party version of the Biblical golden calf at CPAC in Florida.)
The danger to our Republic remains. As long as the majority of Republicans at all levels of government keep the Big Lie alive, we are under threat. Call out the gaslighters when you seem them. Keep the facts out there. Advertise what the FBI Director testified to concerning the threat. Remind people that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) puts out warnings about domestic terrorism from right wing white extremists. We are in a cold Civil War. We need to work to keep it from going hot.