THE GASLIGHTING OF AMERICA
antifa: the perfect scapegoat
Masterful liars need a boogeyman to deflect attention away from their deceit. This mind trick typically comes with a huge dose of projection: I’m not lying, YOU ARE! I’m not a horrible person doing horrible things, YOU ARE! Some of my supporters aren’t racist, violent lunatics, YOURS ARE!!
Enter antifa. The 2020 protests for racial justice that took place after the murder of George Floyd were largely peaceful. However, when violence and destruction did take place sporadically across America, many right-wingers — including the sitting U.S. attorney general, the U.S. president, multiple members of Congress, and conservative cable channels — were quick to blame the antifascism activist movement antifa, and that narrative spread like wildfire across social media.
It didn’t help that White supremacist groups were actually posing as antifa groups to stir the already boiling pot. For example, a White nationalist group named Identity Evropa started multiple Twitter accounts claiming to be national antifa organizations. These fake accounts repeatedly incited violence in the name of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Twitter finally shut down the accounts, but the damage was done. According to Zignal Labs — a media intelligence software service company — within two days of Identity Evropa’s bogus accounts releasing tweets intended to stoke violence, antifa had already been mentioned nearly 300,000 times. The day after that, antifa was mentioned almost 1.5 million times. That’s an increase of 1,200,000 million. In one day.
True to form, before the U.S. Capitol insurrection even ended on January 6th, right-wingers were back at it, saying (surprise, surprise) that antifa was the real monster wreaking havoc and — as Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) put it later that day, on the U.S. House floor no less — “masquerading as Trump supporters.”
During the riot, Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ) said, “This has all the hallmarks of antifa provocation,” and Representative Mo Brooks (R-AL) chimed in later that night, “There is some indication that fascist antifa elements were involved, that they embedded themselves in the Trump protests.” The My Pillow Guy wacko claimed that “there were probably some undercover antifa people that dressed as Trump people.”
Conservative radio talk show host Todd Herman, who happened to be the guest host on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show that day, referenced a tweet from yet another conservative radio guy Michael D. Brown that said: “Antifa or BLM or other insurgents could be doing it disguised as Trump supporters. Come on, man, have you never heard of psyops?”
Yes, we have Mr. Brown…have YOU?
Then, Herman said to Limbaugh’s millions and millions of listeners: “It’s probably not Trump supporters who would do that. Antifa, BLM, that’s what they do. Right?”
… although you certainly wouldn’t know it by looking at your Twitter feed that day. According to Zignal Labs, the blatantly false antifa narrative appeared 8,700 times throughout social media, cable television and Internet news outlets between 4pm and 5pm on January 6th alone. One tweet that said “remember, Antifa openly planned to dress as Trump supporters and cause chaos today” received 41,100 likes and shares.
On January 6th and 7th, the MAGA didn’t storm the Capitol, antifa did lie was mentioned 411,099 times on social media, cable news, and online “news” websites. It was by far the most widely spread falsehood regarding the Capitol riot.
The afternoon of the 6th, the conservative news outlet The Washington Times published a story saying that XRVision, a facial recognition company, had identified antifa members at the Capitol. However, XRVision quickly issued a statement that said the company’s software did not identify antifa members but did identify members of neo-Nazi organizations and at least one QAnon supporter.
The XRVision statement said, in part: “Our attorney is in contact with The Washington Times and has instructed them to ‘Cease and Desist’ from any claims regarding sourcing of XRVision analytics, to retract the current claims, and publish an apology.”
Even though The Washington Times removed the story less than 24-hours after it was posted, again the damage was already done. Before it was taken down, Rep. Matt Gaetz and conservative Fox television host Laura Ingraham, among many others, publicized the article, which eventually received 360,000 likes and shares on Facebook alone.
This right-wing gaslighting worked like a charm. In fact, a January 2021 poll conducted by the American Enterprise Institute — a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization — revealed that half of the Republicans they polled said that it was “mostly or completely accurate” to say that antifa “was mostly responsible for the violence that happened in the riots at the U.S. Capitol.”
This, even though within two days of the pro-Trump Capitol attack, the FBI made it clear that there was zero evidence to suggest antifa had anything to do with the destruction at the Capitol. Two months later, FBI Director Christopher Wray reiterated that fact when he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee: “We have not, to date, seen any evidence of anarchist violent extremists or people subscribing to antifa in connection with the 6th.”
When asked again if it were possible that antifa members were impersonating Trump supporters that day, Director Wray again said, “We have not seen evidence of that at this stage. We have not seen any evidence of that.”