The Psychiatrization of Gangstalking

Is mainstream discourse around gangstalking the psychiatrization of a form of mobbing and surveillance to shift the blame from the perpetrators to the victim? Gangstalking is a phenomenon where a group of people, in a coordinated and covert manner, target an individual for harassment. In a recent Quillete podcast, with the help of host Jonathan Kay, psychiatrist Andrew Lustig portrays gangstalking as a conspiracist internet subculture.

I do not argue in this blog there are no instances in which individuals falsely believe others are ganging up on them or that they are being surveilled. Individuals often attribute meaning to seeming patterns occurring around them. Individuals may develop delusions and paranoia. But there are also instances in which individuals become aware that others have ganged up on them or that they are being watched.

There are cases of workplace mobbing in which the goal is to gaslight the target in order to destabilize her consciousness and disrupt her mood in order to drive her from her job. There are also cases of Internet mobbing, where a gang forms and orchestrates a bullying or gaslighting campaign. Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse in which an individual or group makes a person question his perception of reality, recollections, or sanity. Cancel culture sometimes comes with these features.

As an undergraduate in the early 1990s, an abnormal psychology professor described to the class a case from his clinical practice of a construction worker who, in his descriptions of mobbing, sounded delusional. Why would his coworkers want to do this to him? The lengths to which his coworkers would go to torment him seemed implausible. Maybe it was childish pranking exaggerated by his mind. The client was so sure this was happening to him the psychologist drove to one of the worksites and surveilled the scene. The client was not delusional. He was being mobbed. The professor told the class that getting to the bottom of a client’s situation sometimes involves checking out claims the client makes to see whether there is some truth to the claims. Other clinicians would very likely have diagnosed the man with a mental illness and medicated him.

Gaslighting, bullying, mobbing, gangstalking—these are real phenomena. A person’s emotional and psychological response to being bullied or gangstalked may be indistinguishable from “symptoms” cataloged by the diagnostic manuals of psychiatry. This is a revealing truth. Psychiatrists may falsely assume a world in which gangstalking could only be a delusional state of the mind in the targeted person, who suffers from a persecution complex, schizophrenia, etc. This redefinition of the problem, the professional denial of an actual phenomenon, serves ideological and political ends.

The psychiatric profession may even claim, exuding the authority of a licensed medial practitioner in an allegedly objective field of clinical practice, one guided by the Diagnostic Statistical Manual, that those who argue that gangstalking is, at least in some situations, real, are themselves delusional. It is worth keeping in mind this historical analog: Those who challenged the witchfynder during the Inquisition and rejected the validity of the Malleus Maleficarum were themselves suspected of demon possession or of practicing witchcraft. If their resistance assumed a sophisticated form, they were designated heretics.

* * *

The psychological state paranoia, from the Greek παράνοια, is synonymous with the concept of madness. This equivalency is useful for maintaining control over people and situations. When something occurs that most observers regard as accidental or coincidental, the person who believes—with good reason—that what is happening is intentional, often appears to suffer from mental illness.

Unless the cause referenced is some supernatural thing (in which case, because such things are impossible, mental illness may be suspected), the rational thing for others to do, if one is interested in the question (which he must be or he would not be attending to it) would be to confirm or disconfirm the claim being made. Otherwise, dismissing claims out of hand as “paranoid” is a method of denying the truth behind a claim without making any effort to disprove it (usually because investigating it would prove it to be, at least in part, warranted).

That a person fears her government on grounds that it spies on people or disappears them does not make him paranoid. Indeed, based on what we know and are willing admit to ourselves, it makes him sane. Indeed, what may qualify as mental illness is the belief that government spying, kidnapping, torture, and assassination either do not occur, do not extend to US citizens, or that, as long as they don’t include US citizens, then they’re okay. Although these are desired beliefs from the perspective of power, they are all instances of delusional thinking for reasonably well-educated people.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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