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.
In case you missed it, the Confederate States of America (CSA) ceased to exist 155 years ago. It will not rise again. The current divisiveness over Confederate symbols, flags, and names for military bases makes no sense to me. As I have written in this space before, there was a time when I was a young boy that I bought into the culture of the “Lost Cause” — the idea of a chivalrous, valiant, and courageous battle of the southern states against the oppressors from the North. But, then I grew up. I learned history. I grasped what the Confederate States stood for. I was appalled that many of the military leaders of the CSA were West Point graduates who swore a solemn oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America and that they turned into traitors willing to destroy the country to which they pledged their allegiance. And, oh yeah, they were losers.
Even today one will hear arguments that the war was really about “States Rights” (the right to enslave other human beings), or to preserve a “way of life” (based on the enslavement of other human beings) or to keep their economy from being destroyed (an economy based on free labor from the enslavement of other human beings). It doesn’t take much to realize what all the code words mean.
Arguments that the majority of Confederate soldiers were not slave holders but were merely protecting their families and homes doesn’t hold water when you realize the psychology of those times. While they may not personally have enslaved other human beings, they knew that no matter how bad their life might be, someone else was worse off and could be looked down upon as sub-human, abused, and treated as property — which made their own lot in life more acceptable.
The Defense Authorization Act working its way through Congress contains an amendment to rename the ten U.S. Army bases named after Confederate generals and directs the Department of Defense to no longer name anything after anyone or any battle victory or any other landmark from the Confederacy. The Worst President Ever is threatening to veto the bill — putting in jeopardy the funding for our military currently fighting over seas — because of that provision. Ridiculous.
Let’s look at the facts. Of the ten bases, five were built and named during World War I, five during World War II. Each of the bases were named for a general from that state in an effort to smooth the way for annexation of land needed to build the bases to fight our wars. Local politics was mostly the reason for naming the bases, not some glorification of their military prowess or heroism. Indeed, several of those generals were among the worst in military history, wasting lives on ill-conceived and poorly executed battle plans. Losers.
And the monuments. Yes, let’s look at the Confederate monuments that are now slowly coming down. Of the roughly 740 monuments that remain, almost 700 of them were put up in the decades after 1900. Nearly 400 in 1900-1920 were established in cities and towns. The main source of those statues? A powerful and determined lobbying group we know as the United Daughters of the Confederacy were responsible for the vast majority of them. Ostensibly their cause was to honor their gallant fathers and grandfathers but they were so readily received because in post-Reconstruction America it was a clear signal to Black Americans that they may be free of their enslavement, but the rules and societal norms of the slave era had not changed. Imagine as the free son or daughter of a former slave going to the county court house seeking justice and outside the building is a monument to a Confederate soldier or to someone like John B. Gordon (for whom a fort in Georgia is named) who was later the leader of the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia. Intimidation was the goal and it clearly sent a signal that there was no justice under any law for Black Americans, regardless of what may be written in the statutes.
The Confederate battle flag came into popular use during the 1950’s and 60’s. For example, it was flown at the state capital in Georgia beginning in 1956 and over the capital in South Carolina in 1962. Coincidentally, one might suppose, with the beginning of the Civil Rights movement? (Thankfully, they were removed after the shooting in a Charleston church in 2015, but not without a political fight. Last week the Mississippi legislature voted to remove it from their state flag.) Just today Mr. Trump got on Twitter and chastised NASCAR officials for banning the flag from their race tracks. The U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps only recently banned the flag from all of its bases, ships, aircraft and property.
Cries that the removal of these symbols of treason and oppression are attempts to “rewrite history” fall on deaf ears in my case. The only rewriting is the canard that these symbols are somehow proud vestiges of America’s culture and founding principles and that they reflect the American spirit. The only American spirit that they reflect is that of white supremacy. When armed right wing militia groups demonstrate in Michigan or Oregon carrying Confederate flags, they are not celebrating their heritage. They are purposely carrying a symbol of their hate for the “others” — anyone who does not have the same color skin as they do.
Under the First Amendment anyone can fly any flag they care to fly. If some redneck thinks that a giant Confederate battle flag flapping from the back of his pickup truck somehow makes him more manly, have at it. To me it only shows a heaping pile of insecurity on his part. Or ignorance. Or discrimination. Or all of the above. However, no institution in the United States government should be a part of glorifying a shameful part of our history. In my opinion, no corporation, sports authority or any other public entity should support that cause either.
We cannot rewrite history. No one is trying to wipe out our past by advocating for the removal of these symbols. However, we do need to write a fuller history that incorporates all elements of that past. As the cliche goes, we need to include the good, the bad and the ugly and to put it all into context.
Arguments ensue and demagogues rabble rouse over the question of “where does it stop?” How far do we go in understanding the flaws and failures of those who went before us? Outside of the hate mongering and fear laced rhetoric, it is a difficult question. Who should we honor and how should we do that are legitimate questions that deserve consideration through community input, scholarly research, historical context and the realization that no one of us is perfect. Perhaps we differentiate between those that laid out fundamental principles toward which our nation continues to strive versus those that worked to hold back progress and to deny freedom for all.
It seems to me that it is a no-brainer as to where to start. There should be no tax payer supported monuments or other honors for those that forswore their oath to the Constitution, turned into traitors against the United States of America, and fought a war to enforce the enslavement of our fellow Americans.
After 155 years, enough is enough!
Here we go again. More mass shootings and more “thoughts and prayers.” As of this writing twenty-two people died in El Paso, Texas and nine in Dayton, Ohio with dozens more wounded and injured. This comes on the heels of a mass shooting at a Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California that left three dead and sixteen wounded. There is an epidemic of violence in our country that is aided and abetted by the cowardice of politicians to deal with the issue in any practical way.
No piece of federal legislation concerning guns has reached a president’s desk since the Federal Assault Weapons Ban in 1994 — and that law expired in 2004. More specifically, no law regulating the use of fire arms has passed since then. Two others, however, have been passed. In 2004 an Act was passed that allows current and former law enforcement officers to carry concealed fire arms in any jurisdiction. In 2005 an Act passed that prevents fire arm manufacturers and licensed dealers from being held liable when crimes are committed using their products. That’s it.
There is a more pressing issue to deal with right now, however.
The acts of these despicable individuals, of which more and more are occurring in all segments of our society, including churches and synagogues, are not really the work of lone wolfs as some would like to depict them. They are the acts of white supremacists that increasingly act in concert. Instead of being lone wolfs, they are more like wolf packs.
There is little difference between these white supremacists conversing with each other, supporting each other, giving ideas to each other, helping each other in on-line chat rooms and on the internet, especially 8chan, than 80 years ago when a bunch of white guys in sheets would congregate in the back room of a warehouse in a small town. It is the same, they just don’t have to travel any further than the lap top in their bedrooms to get their hateful ideas. The FBI and other reputable agencies tracking these trends know the threat and they know that it is increasingly likely that the members of these hate groups will take action. They are “heroes” to each other. One may debate as to whether their psychological profile leads certain types of individuals into joining these groups, but they are not “crazy” or clinically mentally ill. They are purposeful in their actions. They have plans. They have goals. They have the means to work towards achieving their ends.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said in Congressional testimony on July 23 this year that “homegrown violent extremists” are the biggest threat to the United States. He went on to say, “I will say the majority of domestic terrorism cases we’ve investigated are motivated by some version of what you might call white supremacist violence.”
I am concerned that we are on the way to another terrorist attack that will be the “new” attack of September 11, 2001, only this time it will be carried out by one or more young white guys. Think Timothy McVeigh and the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City in April 1995. 168 men, women and children died that day. Hundreds more were wounded. It is possible, and some believe probable, that something similar will happen again.
We need to call it what it is. These attacks are not the result of video games, or drugs, or not going to church or mental illness or anything else. Every country in the world deals with these same issues and they do not have the pervasive and never ending attacks on their fellow citizens that we do here in the United States.
These acts are increasingly the work of white nationalists who want to eliminate anyone in our country that they deem “impure” — in other words anyone that is not white and not Christian. (It would be laughable that they call themselves Christians if it wasn’t such a deadly issue.)
It is staring us right in the face. Call it what it is. Call out the president when he says that Hispanics are conducting an “invasion” of our country. Call out the president when he calls Mexicans “rapists” and “murderers.” And on, and on, and on he goes with spiteful, hateful rhetoric towards people of color. In a rally in Florida just this May he talked of the “invasion” from Mexico and then laughed along with the crowd when someone yelled “shoot them.”
Mr. Trump is not the one that pulled the trigger in El Paso or elsewhere. He didn’t order it. He does inspire these white nationalists when he uses hateful language that leads them to violence. His barely disguised racist language is a deliberate campaign strategy to rally his “base.” Shame on him. Shame on us all. We are better than this as a country.
More importantly, we need to take action as a country and tell the government to use the same tactics against domestic threats that we do to protect ourselves against foreign terrorists. The oath I took as a Navy officer says in part “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.” We have a clear and present danger from domestic terrorists.
The biggest threat to our security and safety walks among us.
Another mass shooting, this time in Christchurch New Zealand, left at least fifty people dead and many dozens wounded, proving yet again that white nationalism spreads hate and leads to the vilest of acts. Let’s call it what it is — terrorism. For some reason, when Muslim extremists attack a Western target, it is immediately condemned as an act of terrorism. But when a white man attacks two mosques and kills fifty Muslims, it is considered an isolated act of a mad man. While no one can be held accountable for these acts other than those that perpetrate these heinous crimes, let’s not fool ourselves that this is solely the random act of a nut job. He reportedly chose New Zealand precisely because it is arguably the safest country on earth. His attacks on two mosques where he ruthlessly gunned down children, women and men were not random. They were intended to send a message and to instill terror.
Western intelligence agencies work together world-wide to follow and thwart such acts by ISIS and al-Qaeda and other Muslim extremist groups. And well they should. But there is to date, no similar intelligence effort to follow and thwart acts by white nationalists. Make no mistake about it, the far right extremists work together via the dark web and other social media avenues to spread their ideology and to share ideas about how to carry out violence. As explained in a Washington Post article this weekend, white supremacists who are motivated by a right-wing political ideology committed more acts of violence in recent years than any other type of domestic extremist. It is time to recognize that these are not one time random events but rather that these extremists are connected in that they are motivated by and share the same websites, political views and understanding of world events. They feed off of each other. It is a movement, both here in the United States and increasingly in other Western nations around the world. They are connected in ways we may not truly understand. There was a reason this evil person left a 74 page manifesto and live streamed his attack on Facebook. He wanted to share with those like him and in a way, to brag about his ability to carry out with action what others only talk about.
Be aware of the language. Words matter and have meaning. Many experts start with the French writer Renaud Camus and his book “The Great Replacement” which is often referenced by the far right. Indeed, this shooter named his manifesto in homage to this book. In his book, Mr. Camus argues that whites in Europe are being replaced by immigrants from non-white countries and most of them are Muslims. He calls it “demographic colonization” and talks about a “counter revolt” to drive them away. Mr. Camus now has a second book along the same lines called “You Will Not Replace Us!” Remember that in 2017 the white supremacists in Charlottesville marched to the chant “Jews will not replace us!” Other words like “invasion” and depictions of non-white immigrants as criminals, and disease carriers and generally despicable non-human beings fills the pages of the writings and postings of these far right nationalists. They come from “shit hole” countries. They want to take away jobs. Sound familiar?
According to the ADL (formerly the Anti-Defamation League) in the United States from 2008 to 2017 there were 387 domestic extremist murders. Of those, they report that 71 percent of them were committed by right-wing extremists. 26 percent were by Islamic extremists and three percent were by left-wing extremists. Please don’t give me the “both sides” argument. It is time to be realistic about this danger to our citizens.
One might ask where the real “national emergency” is taking place. It may be that the real threat comes from those trying to “Make America White Again.”
We need to move beyond thinking of these incidents as isolated. They are not. Until our leadership realizes that this is a real and present danger these events will continue. When asked if he thought the rise of white nationalists around the world was a growing threat, Mr. Trump said, “I don’t really. I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems. It’s certainly a terrible thing.” To think as the president does about white nationalism is to either condone it, or it is the moral equivalent of having our collective heads in the sand. From Saturday morning to Sunday night, Mr. Trump put out 50 Tweets or retweets about everything from formulating the idea that the government should investigate Saturday Night Live for colluding with the Russians (?!) to attacking Senator John McCain. (Still.) Not one concerned the massacre in New Zealand.
Wake up USA.