Jussie Smollett and the Information Warfare of the Left
Have you sensed a pattern in the way stories like Jussie Smollett's hoax or the Covington kids' confrontation take over your social media? Do you read or listen to the news regularly, wondering in advance how each story can be spun? Is it increasingly frustrating to see facts distorted to bolster hate and fear? Have you been aware of pain you feel as you watched loved ones being fed lies by sources they trust?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you are the victim of emotional and philosophical warfare. There is a type of hostile tactic that's been given a new name: DARVO.
I reached out to Jeff Giesea, an entrepreneur and information warfare expert based in Washington, D.C. He describes DARVO as "a tactic of abusers when confronted where they deny, attack, and then shift blame. The term came from studies of emotional abuse and sexual trauma, but DARVO behavior shows up in many contexts." He also views it as "a form of psychological warfare."
DARVO is a behavioral response that perpetrators use when met with their own wrongdoing. It is an acronym for Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender. As Mr. Giesea puts it, "DARVO is a gaslighting tactic to shift blame."
While the area of academic study on this response has been focused on sexual abusers in intimate relationships, it does happen on a much broader scale. It is a tactic of manipulation so broad that most people in the developed world encounter it on a daily basis just by looking at their smartphones.
"I'm frankly seeing significant DARVO behavior from the media towards Trump supporters. When the media genuinely screw up, they often shift blame instead of taking responsibility," says Jeff Giesea.
Trump-supporters now find themselves in an abusive relationship with the "free press" and their own elected officials. Constant attacks on Trump and his base have become so normalized that any contradiction to that narrative seems only to fuel more attacks. That's because the social engineers need you to get upset. Once an idea has been propagated, and even if it's wrong or not even an argument, there's already been so much disruption in emotion and personal thought that it becomes easier and easier for the offender to successfully use DARVO.
Mainstream news has mastered this art by using sensationalized headlines, or pushing stories that should be critically examined, to engage an emotional response in the reader. This has the immediate effect of the target being less likely to use rationality and judgment while reading. While involved in emotional processing, the reader might have contradictory thoughts himself or attempt to process other confusing stimuli, such as opposing argument that seems logical, causing him to lose trust in his own mind.
You may have noticed it recently when the Jussie Smollett hoax finally unraveled, and media and pundits were forced to answer why they had so eagerly used an uncorroborated story to push their ideological agendas. The people who had first shown empathy for Smollett's story were not the least bit relieved that the actor they claimed to have love and support for hadn't been the victim of a hate crime.
Instead, many denied that the revelation could challenge their stereotypes about Trump's base and used it as an opportunity to justify more villainization of MAGA-supporters. They claimed that the "real victims" were the ones now silenced by "Trumpsters' giddiness" over being vindicated that they weren't really what they had been misaligned as.
Sen. Cory Booker was one of the first politicians to jump at Jussie's story and used it to push his anti-lynching legislation in the Senate. Even though no lynching occurred, even if Jussie had been telling the truth, Booker quickly related it to his own agenda anyway. When confronted by a reporter after the story of the hoax broke, Cory Booker immediately went into denial by saying "information is still coming out." Then he went on the attack by saying, "Bigoted and biased attacks are on the rise." This switched the roles of the actual victims of Jussie's crime, Trump-supporters, to victimizers, when he implied that the problem isn't hate crime hoaxes, but "right-wing terror attacks." Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender.
DARVO is not a new political strategy; charlatans have been using these maneuvers for millennia. Ancient Greeks knew them by the name Sophists, with the modern definition of sophistry being "using information to deceive." From Plato's noble lie to Machiavelli telling the prince he should be a "great pretender and dissembler," it is used because it historically works. But that does not make this form of informational warfare morally right.
The DARVO tactic has been used unremittingly by the Left, and Smollett's hoax response was only the latest attempt. When the Covington kids received a stream of hate-filled responses to a heavily edited condensed video, the media encouraged it with headlines like "The MAGA Teenager Who Harassed a Native American Veteran Is Still Unnamed, but We've Seen His Face Before." When the full context emerged, they did not re-evaluate their own response, but instead doubled down on their rhetoric, like this Emmy award-winning journalist who completed the DARVO circle by reversing Trump as the offender:
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has employed DARVO to attack critics of her boyfriend being listed on her staff and being granted a congressional email account. Genuine concerns were raised about her boyfriend's access to the government, but the way the freshman congressman handled it was to deny: "Congressional spouses get [this] access all the time." Then she attacked a person asking the question, calling it "nonsense." The Washington Post ran the story under the headline "Conservatives can't stop obsessing over Ocasio-Cortez. Their latest target: her boyfriend." — implying that those asking about an ethical violation were somehow in the wrong.
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) was recently condemned by most, including her own party, for anti-Jewish remarks, but when the president was asked his opinion and offered that she should be removed from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, she went full DARVO, responding to the president:
You have trafficked in hate your whole life — against Jews, Muslims, Indigenous, immigrants, black people and more. I learned from people impacted by my words. When will you?
The authors of a DARVO study tried to use Justice Kavanaugh and the Republicans as an example of the GOP engaging against accuser Blasey Ford, but in order for the technique to have been employed, Ford would have had to really be a victim first. But Kavanaugh was the victim as the Left actively tried to destroy his life with false attacks on his character, villainizing him, all while denying the blatant proof that Ford's accusations were completely unsubstantiated.
It's not just individual victims and perpetrators, either. Mainstream media have hired some highly trained manipulators to use DARVO tactics on all GOP platform issues. Gun control by villainizing the people who just want to protect themselves, emotionally equating the right to bear arms with a desire to kill schoolchildren. Now, similarly, citizens who support the border wall are finding that they're being condemned as morally corrupt for their political view. "Only racists want a wall." According to the Left, if you don't like the idea of infanticide being legal in New York State, then you're really just a misogynist who wants to oppress women.
This technique is used by social engineers who want you to react a certain way. By forcing people to question their own realities by introducing emotional arguments that don't connect to rational ones, they can harness individual self-doubt while disorienting and destabilizing opponents. When this is repeated constantly, the media can destroy some individuals' ability to make sound judgments to the point that they become submissive, just like actual abuse victims. This has the goal of making readers who are easier to emotionally charge for the next, probably uncorroborated, story that rolls across their newsfeed.
There is a narrative being written of Trump-supporters by liberal media and folks who just cannot handle a Trump presidency. They are redefining his supporters as racist bigots, uneducated rednecks, deplorables and Russian bots. This is done not because there's any empirical data that support this, but so Democrats can feel morally superior while they blame their 2016 loss to Trump on issues sheltered in ambiguity.
Jussie Smollett's political activism has been built on DARVO. He crafted his identity on social justice warriorhood and abusing people he did not agree with politically. However, he denied any evidence that would have shown him there is no correlation between racism and support for the president. He used music videos to displayed imaginary violence by Trump-supporters and profanity-laced tweets to attack the president and his base.
YouTube screen grab.
When the MAGA hat–wearing bigots never actually materialized, he was so desperate that he manufactured a crisis that would manipulate people into believing he was the victim of the people he had spent years abusing.
The good news is that you have defenses against this psychological warfare. You could confront the perpetrators with explanations of their own tactics, but remember: they want you sucked into their sociopathy. No contact is the preferred method for individual victims dealing with abusers and narcissists, but that's difficult to accomplish when the abuser is mainstream media. The one thing you can't do is expect that the media will correct themselves, even if it's just offering one line that fights their own imposed hysteria.
The best strategy is to choose not to engage. In the same manner that you would treat a borderline personality parent or narcissistic emotional abuser, do not engage. If you do not react to their attacks the way they believe and intend that you will, these manipulative maneuvers will have no more power.
Jeff Giesea suggests, "The most important thing is to recognize DARVO behavior when it happens. Catch your breath and realize, this is what's happening and you are not going crazy. Then evaluate what to do from there."
Most studies on DARVO suggest that education is key to overcoming the infliction these mental manipulation strategies cause. Since we cannot unlearn information, being able to understand and relay what DARVO is, the more we will be able to recognize when someone is attempting to use this informational deceit on us.
Author note: I would like to thank Jeff Giesea for first presenting the idea of DARVO as a response to the Smollett hoax and answering my questions. To the readers: Connect with me on Facebook and Twitter!