US Collective Gaslighting Will Be Defeated

In the opening delivery of her new column, VA's Andreína Chávez tackles the role of Western propaganda in justifying crimes from Venezuela to Palestine.
Andreína column gaslighting
The corporate media has resorted to "gaslighting" in order to push imperialist agendas, as Andreína Chávez explains. (Venezuelanalysis)

In the 1940s, a Hollywood movie called “Gaslight” left us a few lessons on how psychological terrorism and manipulation work. In this black-and-white thriller, an unscrupulous man convinces his young wife she is crazy through a campaign of false accusations and fabricated problems. 

Quite literally, the husband spends the movie secretly hiding objects and dimming the gaslights in the house, then accusing the wife of being forgetful and imagining things, thus diminishing her self-worth and distorting her sense of reality. The goal was to get rid of her while maintaining his image of a good, caring husband, a hero who only tried to save her.

Usually, we the audience would be just as bewildered as the wife about her sudden insanity, but in this film we are forced to watch her self-blaming journey from the point of view of the manipulator, leaving us with a mix of helplessness, sadness, anger and terror.

It is easy to sympathize with the wife. We’ve all had our lights dimmed at some point in our lives, whether we realize it or not. Unfortunately, this is not limited to interpersonal relations, it can also happen in political contexts with entire countries being subjected to psychological abuse. There’s no better example of what a gaslighter is than the United States—the world’s biggest narcissist and bully.

This old Hollywood film being the origin of the term “gaslighting” is actually quite fitting given that the US government relies heavily on its massive entertainment industry and corporate media to peddle its propaganda and manipulate the world into believing it stands for democracy and human rights. All this while wreaking havoc in the Global South through wars, coups, blockades, and sanctions, killing thousands and sinking countries into humanitarian crises.

From Palestine to Venezuela, we’ve all been terrorized by Western aggression and had our voices silenced by the Western propaganda machine, the same one that has been “othering” Palestinians as terrorists and those who stand by them as terrorism supporters in order to justify Israel’s broad daylight genocide in the Gaza Strip. 

Just like in the movie “Gaslight,” we’ve been privy to this terrifying manipulation thanks to the Palestinian people showing us through social media the reality on the ground: the children, women and men maimed, slaughtered, burned and murdered. Images that stand in stark contrast with media lies and the dehumanizing speeches of the perpetrators.

The gaslighting machine tells us to do mental gymnastics and suppress our humanity to ignore the carnage in Gaza, because Hamas, Hamas, Hamas… but they have failed.

I often struggle to find the right words to express the pain I feel in the face of these injustices and the frustration I feel with how they try to manipulate us, but young Egyptian podcaster Rahma Zein’s passionate speech to CNN reporter Clarissa Ward on October 21 perfectly summed up how collective gaslighting works:

“I understand you are an employee, you speak for your government!” —an anguished Zein told Ward during a pro-Palestine protest at the Egypt-Gaza border— “You own the narrative, you own the United Nations, you own Hollywood, you own all these mouthpieces!” 

She also hit the nail on the head when she furiously asked the CNN crew “Where is your condemnation?” in reference to Western media bending reality by forcing the world to condemn and focus on Hamas’s October 7 attack while ignoring 75 years of Israeli settler-colonialism, massacres, apartheid and concentration camps in Palestine. 

Let us not forget that it was Clarissa Ward and her colleagues who doubled down on the unverified story of 40 Israeli babies beheaded by Hamas, spreading the news like wildfire. Then US President Joe Biden told reporters he “saw” pictures of the decapitated children, only for the White House to quietly backtrack later. Same with the raping and torturing stories and Hamas fighters hiding in hospitals and schools that never had any evidence. These fabrications set the stage for the ensuing genocide in Gaza.

When the narrative was slipping through the media establishment’s fingers, social media platforms proceeded to flag down pro-Palestine accounts and take down content, and when that also wasn’t enough Israel shut down Gaza’s communication services, its only link to the outside world. A genocide without horrified eyes watching.

This is how the imperialist media propaganda works. Operators jump through hoops to warp reality and fabricate a more convenient one, tech giants make it easier, and then politicians use these lies to justify their actions. Some months later Hollywood produces movies or documentaries to perpetuate their narrative. The gaslighting comes full circle.

Although I could never compare the US-led aggression against Venezuela in the past 25 years to what the Palestinian people have suffered since the 1948 Nakba, my mind has not stopped drawing parallels to the way we’ve both been terrorized into surrendering our rights to self-determination and gaslit into blaming ourselves for the pain we’ve been through.

Most peoples across the Global South, from South Africa to Vietnam, will also see obvious similarities amidst centuries of Western imperialism. That is why we identify and express our solidarity with the Palestinian cause. 

The US’ unwavering support for Israel’s land theft, ethnic cleansing and genocide against Palestine is based on its interest in maintaining a nuclear-armed ally in the Middle East, an effervescently anti-US imperialist region filled with strategic resources. Similarly, the US-led regime change operations against Venezuela, most recently through sanctions, are based on retaking control over the country’s vast oil resources and shutting down the political project that the people chose: socialism.

The US empire requires devastation to steal other countries’ resources and for there to be no viable alternative to their system of dominating and subjugating the Global South. This is why the bourgeois media is always telling us that “all Palestinians have to do is condemn Hamas and choose peace.” Our equivalent was “Venezuelans need to get rid of its government and ditch socialism so they can have freedom and socio-economic development.”

The peace they propose is for Palestinians to die quietly and without any resistance to their oppressors and renounce to their indigenous rights to the land. The freedom they propose for Venezuela is to accept a US-aligned government, whether by vote or force, and to surrender its resources and territorial sovereignty to Western corporations.

What they always omit is that Venezuela’s socialist project reduced poverty, eliminated illiteracy, provided free education (from daycare to university) to everyone, and built hundreds of new schools and hospitals. It was also a deeply anti-imperialist process that expelled arrogant corporations and forced those who stayed to abide by the laws.

The imperialist media machine tries to gaslight us into believing that Western countries want to protect Palestinian lives and that they are magnanimous for allowing meagre amounts of humanitarian aid to enter Gaza. They even say things like “We are putting mechanisms in place so Hamas doesn’t take the supplies.” What they don’t say is that Israel carried out its bombing campaign while cutting off water, fuel and electricity. All done with US blessing.

The propaganda tells us that successive US administrations have imposed sanctions against Venezuela to protect the people from corrupt politicians who would steal the revenues from oil sales. But it’s not just the oil industry that they sanctioned, but everything from food and medicine imports to the banking sector and humanitarian programs. Besides the crippling sanctions, Washington has sent millions of dollars to finance right wing groups to carry out violent protests, coups, military invasion attempts and the list goes on.

The gaslighting doesn’t stop there. The media and its government bosses want to convince us that Washington has temporarily lifted some sanctions against Venezuela as compensation for being “good kids” and sitting down at a table to reach electoral deals with their puppets, the US-controlled opposition. The reality is that these licenses are tailor-made for US and European companies to cash in while putting all sorts of obstacles for Venezuela to gain any benefits. 

What they’ll never tell you is that Palestinians and Venezuelans shouldn’t have to negotiate their political, economic and territorial sovereignty in the first place, especially not with their oppressors. In the wake of Gaza’s horrible genocide, these are truths that are becoming more and more evident for people around the world.

The reason is simple: the truth always comes through and no billion-dollar propaganda operation can stop it. The truth does not need to be fed to people through coercion, repetition and biased reporting. The truth resonates and makes us feel collective empathy, collective anger and collective grief. This is how we defeat collective gaslighting.

Hugo Chávez was right when he said the “truth is subversive.”

Andreína Chávez Alava was born in Maracaibo and studied journalism at the University of Zulia, graduating in 2012. She immediately started working as a writer and producer at a local radio station while also taking part in local and international solidarity struggles.

In 2014 she joined TeleSUR, where in six years she rose through the ranks to become editor-in-chief, overseeing news, analysis and multimedia content. Currently based in Caracas, she joined Venezuelanalysis in March 2021 as a writer and social media manager and is a member of Venezuelan artist collective Utopix. Her main interests are popular and feminist struggles.