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By playing the part of a predator, Russell Brand convinced us he couldn’t be one

In his defence of himself against multiple allegations of sexual abuse, Brand would have us believe it’s not just his reputation but reality itself that is at stake

Last July, on his YouTube and Rumble shows Stay Free, Russell Brand interviewed the far-right governor of Florida Ron DeSantis. It is a crossover moment in which two kinds of gaslighting, the political and the sexual, flow perfectly into each other.

A fawning Brand gave DeSantis free rein. The would-be Republican nominee for next year’s US presidential election took the opportunity to explain that we did not see what we thought we saw on January 6th, 2021, when a mob invaded the US Capitol to try to prevent the certification of Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump.

“These are people that were there to attend a rally and then they were there to protest,” DeSantis told Brand. “Now it devolved ... into a riot. But the idea that this was a plan to somehow overthrow the government of the United States is not true, and it’s something that the media had spun up just to try to basically get as much mileage out of it and use it for partisan and for political aims.”

You didn’t see what you saw. What happened didn’t happen. It’s all created by the media. There are no objective truths, only partisan and political constructs.


Fast forward to Friday last, and Brand is addressing his huge audience on the platforms where, as he says at the start of his speech, “we critique, attack, and undermine the news in all its corruption”. The line was the same as the one he had allowed DeSantis to spin in July: it is all a plot by the mainstream media.

Brand used a rhetorical trick that Trump is particularly fond of: saying something outlandish while attributing it as “some people say” or “some people think”. In Brand’s case, the attribution is to his own fans, who, he claims, have been warning him to “watch out Russell, they’re coming for you, you’re getting too close to the truth”.

Who are “they”? Not really the women who have come forward to recount to Channel 4 and the Sunday Times allegations of awful experiences with Brand – which he pre-emptively denied. They have no autonomous reality – they are mere puppets whose strings are being pulled by the dark conspirators who control the world, the same ones who try to fool us into believing in the Covid pandemic and climate chaos.

Gaslighting is the technique of reality distortion in which an abuser (typically male) manipulates a victim (typically female) into disbelieving her own experiences. One of the classic signs is “insisting that an event or behaviour you witnessed never happened and that you’re remembering it wrong”.

Rapists and domestic abusers have used this technique for a very long time. But it has seeped out into contemporary politics. That classic sign of gaslighting now flashes all over far-right political discourse.

The aim, as Brand openly boasts, is to “undermine the news”. Just as victims of personal and intimate assaults must be convinced that they are “remembering it wrong”, the same trick can now be pulled in relation to public events witnessed live by hundreds of millions of people.

The knack lies in the ability to turn everything upside down. Things that would previously have been hidden are displayed quite openly, while everything that can be seen openly is really an illusion created by the hidden “they”.

The first part of this trick is the chutzpah of hiding in plain sight. Brand shows that he could not possibly be a secret sexual predator by playing the part of one so flagrantly.

This ploy works because it draws on and exploits common sense. We assume that someone who is up to no good must want to pretend otherwise. Therefore, the logic goes, someone who seems so obviously nefarious (and remember that Brand actually played Dr Nefario in Despicable Me) must in fact be innocent. It takes both nerve and skill to pull this off, but Brand is a highly accomplished actor and performer who has plenty of both.

He is also immensely famous and, as Trump put it when boasting about his serial sexual predation, “when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”

The second part of the trick is where it enters the political world. In order to “undermine the news” and convince your followers that, in spite of all appearances to the contrary, you are innocent of everything, you have to generate a world view: the global conspiracy.

Its shape comes from the old tropes of anti-Semitic paranoia, but the Elders of Zion can appear in many guises, among them “the mainstream media”. Exactly who “they” are and how they operate is always fuzzy. But that is less important than the insistence that, as Brand put it on Friday, their attacks are “concerted” and “co-ordinated”.

There is some place where “they” all get together and decide which enemy is getting too close to the truth and must be brought down. The plot is all the scarier because we cannot quite see what it is.

It’s this crossover that makes Brand’s case so much bigger than the individual allegations against him, dreadful as they are. Brand’s defence is more than the personal rebuttal to which he is entitled.

It is a counter-offensive against the values on which rational discourse depends: evidence, truth, objective reality. Brand is not just saying that he did not rape and abuse women. He is saying that there is no cognitive universe in which such allegations could be true because reality itself is manufactured by dark forces.

He knows he is pushing buttons that are already fully wired up. The irony of Brand’s claims that he is being victimised by the mainstream is that the conspiracy-theory gaslighting he depends on is now itself completely mainstream. It is the inside dope, the creed of multibillionaire media moguls such as Elon Musk and major political parties such as the Republicans in the US.

Seeing is disbelieving. Experience is fantasy. Memory is false. Evidence is fake. Testimony is performance. The accuser must be accused. The perpetrator is the victim.