Gaslight: The film that spawned the term "gaslighting."

Gaslight: The film that spawned the term “gaslighting.”

So the planet has made yet another circuit around the sun, and the old year has slunk away, to be replaced by the new year of 2023. Traditionally, the end of an old year and the start of a new one have been been the time when people reflect a bit on what occurred during the previous 12 months and considered what could happen during the next, and we at SBM tend to be no different in that respect. Last year at this time, my last post of the year was entitled As 2021 shambles to a close, the misuse of VAERS by antivaxxers continues apace, to be followed two weeks later—I took the Christmas holiday off—by a more general post, Everything old is new again. The depressing thing that I just realized is that I could very easily have simply repurposed both old posts, changing the years and updating some of the examples used, and they would have been perfectly appropriate for this new year too. In fact, as depressing as it sounds, I could just revise and update Everything old is new again every year if I wanted to, and it would remain just as relevant, likely for however long I have left on this earth and long beyond, assuming that someone took up the banner and kept updating it after my demise. But where’s the fun in that? Or the education? Or at least some minor bit of novelty?

“Gaslighting”: A new old narrative from antivaxxers

With that background, what “inspired” me (if you can call it that) to write this post was something I saw on Joe Mercola’s website on New Years’ Eve as I was contemplating potential topics for today’s post. It was an article entitled The Year of the Gaslighter, a reprint of a post by someone named C. J. Hopkins published a couple of weeks earlier on his own website, Consent Factory, Inc., under the same title. I’ll link to that version here, because Mercola’s links die after 48 hours, so that he can more easily monetize them on his Substack and also because it turns out that Hopkins published another related article in October, The Gaslighting of the Masses.

C.J. Hopkins' book

I think I know where Mr. Hopkins is going with this “gaslighting” narrative.

If you’re unfamiliar with what “gaslighting” is, it’s a term that was coined based on the title of the 1944 American film Gaslight, which was based on the 1938 British theatre play Gas Light by Patrick Hamilton, although the term didn’t become widely used to describe the phenomenon to which Hopkins refers in his article until the last decade or so. Indeed, “gaslighting” was named the 2022 Word of the Year by Merriam-Webster based on its skyrocketing usage. Unfortunately, a significant fraction of that usage appears to have come from those opposed to public health, if my reading of conspiracy websites and social media content is any indication.

In the film, the husband, played by Charles Boyer, emotionally manipulates his wife (played by Ingrid Bergman) to make her doubt her own grasp of reality and even sanity, so that he could steal from her. In the film, the husband isolates his wife and uses various trickery and emotionally abusive techniques to make her question reality. The title of the film refers to one example of the husband’s deception, gaslight illumination of the couple’s house that seems to dim and flicker whenever the husband leaves his wife alone at home. When she asks him, “Why do the lights keep flickering?” he responds that he doesn’t know what she’s talking about and insists that the lights are not flickering, that it’s just her imagination. Although the term “gaslighting” was little used before the 21st century, since its wider adoption in more recent years its meaning has broadened beyond emotional abuse designed to make a person question her memory and reality. It now also refers to the use of misinformation propaganda to produce a false picture of the past in order to manipulate a population. Just look at how Merriam-Webster described it:

But in recent years, we have seen the meaning of gaslighting refer also to something simpler and broader: “the act or practice of grossly misleading someone, especially for a personal advantage.” In this use, the word is at home with other terms relating to modern forms of deception and manipulation, such as fake news, deepfake, and artificial intelligence.

The idea of a deliberate conspiracy to mislead has made gaslighting useful in describing lies that are part of a larger plan. Unlike lying, which tends to be between individuals, and fraud, which tends to involve organizations, gaslighting applies in both personal and political contexts. It’s at home in formal and technical writing as well as in colloquial use…

It is clearly the broader meaning to which Hopkins refers, citing these definitions in his October post on the subject:

One of the most basic and effective techniques that cults, totalitarian systems, and individuals with fascistic personalities use to disorient and control people’s minds is “gaslighting.” You’re probably familiar with the term. If not, here are a few definitions:

“the manipulation of another person into doubting their perceptions, experiences, or understanding of events.” American Psychological Association

“an insidious form of manipulation and psychological control. Victims of gaslighting are deliberately and systematically fed false information that leads them to question what they know to be true, often about themselves. They may end up doubting their memory, their perception, and even their sanity.” Psychology Today

“a form of psychological manipulation in which the abuser attempts to sow self-doubt and confusion in their victim’s mind. Typically, gaslighters are seeking to gain power and control over the other person, by distorting reality and forcing them to question their own judgment and intuition.” Newport Institute

The main goal of gaslighting is to confuse, coerce, and emotionally manipulate your victim into abandoning their own perception of reality and accepting whatever new “reality” you impose on them. Ultimately, you want to completely destroy their ability to trust their own perception, emotions, reasoning, and memory of historical events, and render them utterly dependent on you to tell them what is real and what “really” happened, and so on, and how they should be feeling about it.

While Hopkins is (mostly) correct about the definition of gaslighting, his use of the term demonstrates how, with conspiracy theorists, it’s all about projection, accusing your critics of what you (and/or your allies) are in fact doing.

“Gaslighting” has, of course, become a favorite go-to word among antivaxxers and COVID-19 minimizers, as well. Just a search of the website of that premier astroturf COVID-19 minimizing “think tank,” the Brownstone Institute, for the term “gaslighting” brings up over 20 articles, like this one from October, claiming that we are being “gaslighted” by governments about “lockdowns,” which are described as far more draconian than they in fact were. A search of my favorite antivax and quackery conspiracy site, Natural News, produced a number of post-2019 uses of the word (and a fair number from before), from everything from COVID-19, vaccines, lockdowns, and even the conspiracy theory that the 2020 election was “stolen.” There are even a couple of articles that very much resemble Hopkins’ articles, such as Gaslighting: How leftist psychopaths demonize and demoralize their opposition and The gaslighting of the American mind, both another excellent example of projection. Unsurprisingly, Mercola features a number of articles using the word as well. Indeed, just yesterday COVID-19 minimizer and antivaxxer Dr. Peter McCullough, known for having declared COVID-19 vaccines a “holocaust” and tool of “depopulation” a year and a half ago,” happily noticed that Merriam-Webster had named “gaslighting” its 2022 Word of the Year.

Knowing that the claim that “they” are trying to “gaslight” you was a major staple of 2022 messaging from COVID-19 minimizers, antimaskers, “lockdown” opponents, and antivaxxers, let’s look at the use of “gaslighting” by COVID-19 misinformation spreaders. Again, it’s all about projection.

Projection, thy name is…antivaxxers

After posting some definitions of “gaslighting,” Hopkins went all-in down the conspiracy narrative about COVID-19 in his October post:

Since the Spring of 2020, we have been subjected to official gaslighting on an unprecedented scale. In a sense, the “Apocalyptic Pandemic” PSYOP has been one big extended gaslighting campaign (comprising countless individual instances of gaslighting) inflicted on the masses throughout the world. The events of this past week were just another example.

Basically, what happened was, a Pfizer executive confirmed to the European Parliament last Monday that Pfizer did not know whether its Covid “vaccine” prevented transmission of the virus before it was promoted as doing exactly that and forced on the masses in December of 2020. People saw the video of the executive admitting this, or heard about it, and got upset. They tweeted and Facebooked and posted videos of Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, Bill Gates, the Director of the CDC, official propagandists like Rachel Maddow, and various other “experts” and “authorities” blatantly lying to the public, promising people that getting “vaccinated” would “prevent transmission,” “protect other people from infection,” “stop the virus in its tracks,” and so on, which totally baseless assertions (i.e., lies) were the justification for the systematic segregation and persecution of “the Unvaccinated,” and the fomenting of mass fanatical hatred of anyone challenging the official “vaccine” narrative, and the official New Normal ideology, which hatred persists to this very day.

The New Normal propaganda apparatus (i.e., the corporate media, health “experts,” et al.) responded to the story predictably. They ignored it, hoping it would just go away. When it didn’t, they rolled out the “fact-checkers” (i.e., gaslighters).

This accusation of gaslighting is, in itself, gaslighting, and the accusation that fact checkers are gaslighters is the sort of projection that I’m talking about. If you don’t believe me, remember that antivaxxers have been trotting out the claim that the Pfizer randomized clinical trial (RCT) of its vaccine carried out in 2020 didn’t show that the vaccine prevented transmission, even though it was clearly stated that such was not the purpose of the trial. Rather, the goal of the trial was to demonstrate that the vaccine decreased severe disease and death. It’s not a coincidence that Hopkins’ first post was published in October, as it was in October that the undead claim that the Pfizer RCT didn’t show that the vaccine prevented transmission was exhumed from its grave to argue that the vaccine doesn’t prevent transmission at all. I wrote about it around the same time Hopkins published his article.

I also summarized a series of studies that demonstrate that the mRNA vaccines do indeed prevent transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, but that they were less effective at preventing transmission of the Delta and Omicron variants. I also pointed out that good evidence exists that mRNA-based vaccines against COVID-19 can prevent transmission among children and even in high-risk situations, such as among the residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Additional evidence suggests that the VET fell for the Delta variants. For Omicron variants, particularly the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, there is less evidence published given that the variant took off a year ago and it takes many months to do these kind of epidemiological studies, but there is still a growing body of evidence (for example, this) that Omicron variants can evade prior immune responses from vaccines and from infection with previous SARS-CoV-2 variants, but that does not mean that the vaccines “don’t prevent transmission,” but rather that they still do prevent transmission, just not nearly as effectively as they did for the original strain against which they were designed to protect.

That’s just one example. In fact, that disinformation gaslighting began almost immediately in 2020 and continues to this day. Our very own Dr. Jonathan Howard, who was at the epicenter of one of the first and largest early US COVID-19 outbreaks in New York City wrote it, asking: Was New York’s Spring 2020 COVID Wave an Illusion? His article was in response to an article published by Brownstone Institute flack Dr. Jessica Hockett, an educational psychologist, falsely claiming that “New York City’s hospital emergency departments were not at a breaking point in spring 2020. In fact, they were relatively empty and saw a 50% drop in visits.” She used “five observations” to mislead her audience to believe her claim, all ably refuted by Dr. Howard in his article and by Dr. Eric Burnett, an internist at Columbia University, in an epic Twitter thread.

I’ll just cite two of Dr. Burnett’s refutations in order to give you a taste of Dr. Hockett’s gaslighting:

You might remember that this is very similar to the gaslighting that occurred almost as soon as the virus hit and hospitals canceled non-emergency procedures and went on emergency pandemic footing. COVID-19 minimizers claimed that hospitals were “empty” because they had discharged every patient who could be discharged and were dealing primarily with COVID-19 patients. You might even remember some influencers wandering through hospitals and emergency rooms taking smartphone videos to falsely give a picture of “empty” emergency rooms and hospitals.

Here’s another example in the same vein:

Seriously, this reminds me of the whole “died with COVID not of COVID” lie.

You get the idea. Dr. Hockett’s article was pure gaslighting, even as she accused “them” (e.g., the government and public health officials of “gaslighting”). There are more examples than I can list.

“The year of the gaslighter”

None of the clear projection that I document above stops Hopkins from starting his most recent article off thusly (excuse the profanity, as I’m directly quoting):

Well, it has been quite a year, 2022. I’m officially dubbing it “The Year of the Gaslighter.” I was going to dub it “The Year of the Mother of All Mindfucking Global-Capitalist Gaslighters,” but that seemed like a mouthful, so I’m opting for brevity.

Seriously, if there were an Olympics of Gaslighting, GloboCap (i.e., the global corporatocracy) would take the gold in every event. At this point, the majority of the global masses have been successfully gaslighted into a semi-conscious, quasi-cyclothymic state in which they oscillate, on a moment-by-moment basis, between robotic obedience and impotent rage,” you know, the people “walking around in their masks and prophylactic face shields and injecting themselves with experimental “vaccines” for reasons they no longer even pretend to be able to articulate without gibbering like imbeciles are genuflecting at the feet of an oligarch huckster who they believe has come to deliver them from Wokeness.” Those who are not still walking around in their masks and prophylactic face shields and injecting themselves with experimental “vaccines” for reasons they no longer even pretend to be able to articulate without gibbering like imbeciles are genuflecting at the feet of an oligarch huckster who they believe has come to deliver them from Wokeness.

If you were GloboCap, and in the process of imposing your new official ideology on the entire planet in a kind of global Gleichschaltung op, and otherwise establishing your “New Normal Reich,” and you needed the masses confused and compliant, you couldn’t ask for much more from your Gaslighting Division!

That bit about being “delivered from ‘Wokeness'” is clearly referring to Elon Musk, whom Hopkins dubs the Emperor Elonicus and who is apparently is insufficiently skeptical to Hopkins, even though he’s basically dismantled Twitter’s efforts to combat COVID-19 misinformation and let the worst antivaxxers and COVID-19 disinformation peddlers back on the platform.)

Does any of this sound familiar? It’s exactly the sort of language that Mike Adams likes to use to describe those who accept science-based narratives and treatments in medicine. It’s a profoundly flattering idea to conspiracy theorists, as it portrays them as far more aware, intelligent, and clever than all the “masses” in a “a semi-conscious, quasi-cyclothymic state in which they oscillate, on a moment-by-moment basis, between robotic obedience and impotent rage.” They are not sheeple. They are the ones who have the hidden knowlege. You can have that hidden knowledge and become like them if you just listen to their conspiracy narratives about Gleichschaltung, a favorite term invoked by a number of Godwin-loving conspiracy theorists in which they compare to what the Nazis did under their policy of Gleichschaltung, which means “coordination” or “synchronization.” Under Gleichschaltung, German political, social, and cultural life were rearranged to serve Nazi goals. Put simply, it’s the German term that Adolf Hitler and the Nazis used to refer to the Nazification of German society following Hitler’s becoming Chancellor in January 1933. (Conspiracy theorists do love their Godwins, like this and, of course, “Nuremberg 2.0.”)

Which brings us to the projection:

The gaslighting got underway in January, when the corporate media, health authorities, and other major organs of the New Normal Reich started suddenly “discovering” that the official Covid narrative was “inaccurate,” or, you know, a bunch of lies.

A series of limited hangouts ensued.

Suddenly, it appeared that the “Covid case” and “Covid death” statistics were inaccurate, or inflated, or had been fabricated. The “vaccines” didn’t work. They were killing people. Lockdowns had been a “serious mistake.” And so on. Duplicitous politicians, pusillanimous public-health authorities, perfidious pundits, and assorted other professional sycophants and lying weasels were shocked to discover they had inadvertently been part of the most insidious PSYOP that had ever been perpetrated on the masses in the history of insidious mass-PSYOPs.

The Last Days of the Covidian Cult were upon us! The Corporatocracy had overplayed their hand, and underestimated their opposition, and they knew it.

It’s worth noting the sort of “evidence” that the gaslighter C. J. Hopkins uses to accuse “Them” of gaslighting. The claim that COVID statistics had been accurate, inflated, or fabricated links to a video of a January 2022 interview at CNN between Jake Tapper and CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta in which it was stated that 40% of patients in hospitals diagnosed with COVID-19 had been admitted for something else and didn’t have serious illness from COVID-19. I have to be honest here. both came across as pretty clueless, not understanding how diagnoses are not always straightforward, as was pointed out by a number of people on Twitter:

And:

Again, using ambiguity in diagnoses to claim that COVID-19 case counts are overcounted is a gaslighting tactic. So is a New York Times article from December 2021 that about studies suggesting that most vaccines in existence the time would not do a good job preventing infection with Omicron variants but still offer significant protection against severe illness and that mRNA vaccines did offer some protection against infection but noting that “what you lose first is protection against asymptomatic mild infection, what you retain much better is protection against severe disease and death” and:

People with breakthrough cases may experience only asymptomatic infection or mild illness, but they can pass the virus to unvaccinated people, who could fall more severely ill, and become a source of new variants.

That’s actually what we saw in 2022, not that the “vaccines didn’t work.” Hopkins is gaslighting by omitting important context, which he continued to do. For example, the link to the claim that vaccines are killing people was a single anecdotal report of a British presenter who died of a blood clot after the AstraZeneca vaccine, a rare association primarily observed in women that was detected for this vaccine very early and led to its temporary withdrawal from use, as we discussed in April 2021, while also noting that the benefits of vaccination still outweighed the risks. Similarly, his link to the claim that “lockdowns were a mistake” is to an article describing an interview with David Frost, who did indeed express the opinion that lockdowns had been a “serious mistake.” I can only respond to this with a bit of sarcasm about how I always prefer to get my public health takes from a politician than from actual public health scientists, while noting that I’m old enough to have briefly done a double take, remembering another David Frost (now deceased) who wasn’t a political hack but rather a storied British television host and journalist.

Then, of course, Hopkins engages in that favorite of favorite crank gaslighting tactic, portraying science as religion, preferably a cult, even using a favorite COVID-19 minimizer/denier term, the “Covidian cult,” a term used by Brownstone Institute “scientific advisor” Martin Kulldorff himself and by Jay Bhattacharya and him when they likened Anthony Fauci and public health officials to a “covidian high priesthood.”

I could go on and on citing example after example of COVID-19 misinformation and disinformation peddlers like Hopkins and various Brownstone flacks accusing governments, the medical establishment, and public health organizations of “gaslighting” about the pandemic, but will spare you. It’s pure projection.

The title of my post was phrased in the form of the question, which might lead one to wonder whether Betteridge’s Law of Headlines applies. The answer is both yes and no beause the answer to the question is both yes and no. Yes, 2022 was indeed the “year of the gaslighter” with respect to COVID-19 (although, unfortunately, so were 2021 and 2020). However, the answer is simultaneously “no” in that these years weren’t the “years of the gaslighter” in the way that propagandists claiming to be satirists (like C.J. Hopkins) claim that 2022 was. Rather, 2020-2022 were the “years of the gaslighter” with respect to the pandemic because disinformation peddlers like Hopkins made them so—resoundingly and increasingly so as the years rolled on. Sadly, 2023 doesn’t look as though it will be any different. The gaslighting is worse than ever and looks as though it will only grow in intensity and quantity.

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Posted by David Gorski

Dr. Gorski's full information can be found here, along with information for patients. David H. Gorski, MD, PhD, FACS is a surgical oncologist at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute specializing in breast cancer surgery, where he also serves as the American College of Surgeons Committee on Cancer Liaison Physician as well as an Associate Professor of Surgery and member of the faculty of the Graduate Program in Cancer Biology at Wayne State University. If you are a potential patient and found this page through a Google search, please check out Dr. Gorski's biographical information, disclaimers regarding his writings, and notice to patients here.