Capitol Hill Comparisons: A Masterclass In Gaslighting


Courtesy of CNN

Capitol Hill Comparisons: A Masterclass In Gaslighting

Brendan Donoghue, Staff Writer

According to Oxford Languages, the definition of gaslighting is as follows: “manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.” In the wake of the disgraceful attempted insurrection against the United States Capitol and the Constitutional process of certifying the results of the Presidential election, many are trying to craft a new narrative in real-time- attempting to compare the attack at the Capitol with the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer of 2020, and that if those involved in the attack at the Capitol were not white the response by police would have been much more violent and aggressive. This narrative perfectly exemplifies a masterclass in gaslighting.

The morning after the breach of the Capitol, President-Elect Biden held a press conference in which he claimed that “no one can tell me, if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protesting yesterday, they wouldn’t have been treated differently.” In one sense, he is undoubtedly correct. After all, I do not foresee any fundraisers being organized to raise bail money to spring these insurrectionists from custody.

The President-Elect was not the only one promoting this narrative. Boston Celtics Forward Jaylen Brown, one of the most out-spoken NBA players on social issues, claimed after his game against the Miami Heat that “In one America, you get killed by sleeping in your car, selling cigarettes or playing in your backyard. In another America, you get to storm the Capitol, and no tear gas, no massive arrests, none of that.” Brown’s characterization of the response to the Capitol riots is simply untrue. Arris Foley of The Hill reported at 6:50 pm (nearly three hours before Brown’s comments) on January 6th that authorities used both smoke grenades and tear gas to clear the Capitol building of rioters. As of this writing, some 50 individuals have been arrested, with more arrests imminent. A simple Google search by the social media team at Bleacher Report would have clarified Brown’s misstatements, but that would have involved facts and evidence that may have detracted from the narrative. Instead, Brown’s comments were posted for all of Bleacher Reports’ 14.5 million followers to see and share, with the video receiving 452,456 likes as of this writing. 

Another preferred tactic of gas-lighters is false equivalencies. A quick scroll through social media will find a few common images that promote such false equivalencies. One picture is of rioters standing on the steps of the Capitol building on January 6th, the other is of National Guard troops standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on June 2nd. Apparently, this is supposed to demonstrate a difference in how law enforcement handles white and non-white protestors. Alternatively, Capitol Police mistakenly prepared for a protest, but were not prepared for a physical breach of the Capitol Building, whereas the National Guard were stationed at the Lincoln Memorial the day after rioters set fire to the basement of St. John’s Church and attempted to vandalize other monuments. If there were to be another “Stop the Steal” rally today, after the events that transpired at the Capitol on January 6th, does anyone honestly believe that the National Guard and DC police would not be stationed at every major federal building and monument in Washington DC? 

A woman who attempted to break into the House Chamber was shot and killed by police. Sixty police officers were injured in their attempts to hold off the rioters, 15 were hospitalized, and one has died. If you want to compare the response to two different protests, go for it. But please, for the sake of intellectual honesty, compare apples to apples and put to rest the lie that police “let” rioters storm the Capitol. Do not sacrifice the truth of an awful day for a convenient narrative. 

There are serious questions regarding the preparation, or lack thereof, of Capitol Police to handle the events of January 6th. All those questions need answering, protocol needs adjusting from here on out, and any necessary layoffs or political fallout should be swift and decisive. However, the attempts to gloss over factual information and draw false equivalencies in pursuit of a false narrative are not demonstrative of serious efforts to heal a nation or prevent further violence. It is gaslighting of the highest order and should be called out at every turn.