Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona has spent more than a week defending an anime video he tweeted that depicts him killing New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. He says she “is representative of the plague of illegal immigration.”
The video contains altered scenes from the Japanese anime series “Attack on Titan” — in which humans live behind border walls that protect them from evil colossi — alongside images of immigrants and Border Patrol. Gosar appears as the hero assassinating a giant with Ocasio-Cortez’s face. He also leaps wielding swords at an image of President Biden.
On Wednesday, the House voted 223 to 207 to censure and strip Gosar of committee assignments. Most Republicans defended him, with only two Republicans — Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger — voting with Democrats. Gosar doubled down, calling the video a symbolic depiction of “a policy battle regarding amnesty.” As an open sympathizer of white nationalists, he has been playing victim on far-right news outlets, saying he was just “trying to reach out to the newer generation that likes these anime, these cartoons.”
But Gosar is no victim. His video — and his party’s refusal to rebuke it — reflects a new GOP that is Trumpier than Trump. It embodies the ugliness at the heart of the radicalized Republican Party, which cannot bring itself to condemn white male violence, but rather condones and even cultivates it.
Gosar’s video portrays immigrants as an apocalyptic threat, a delusional narrative that is behind multiple acts of white terrorism such as the 2019 El Paso massacre. “This is exactly what creates the violence that is aimed at vulnerable communities the way that my community was targeted,” Rep. Veronica Escobar, a Texas Democrat, told me.
Gosar’s insistence that the video — which he deleted after Twitter put a warning label on it — wasn’t a threat and is meant to be “entertaining” parrots the playbook of far-right extremists like his friend Nick Fuentes, who deflects criticism of his vile and violent rhetoric with: “Just kidding. Just a joke.”
But the video is not a joke and its message is crystal clear. “It’s legitimating political violence explicitly by saying America is under mortal threat,” Jason Stanley, a Yale University philosophy professor and author of “How Fascism Works,” told me. “He places killing AOC in a framework that legitimates killing her. She’s an enemy officer of an invading army. And white America is what’s being invaded.”
Threats of violence toward women in U.S. politics have become more common since Trump normalized virulent misogyny with his “grab them by the pussy” comment, name-calling women “horseface,” “fat” and “ugly,” and flirting with the suggestion that “Second Amendment people” kill Hillary Clinton. In 2018, he defended an aide accused of domestic violence. He has since endorsed two Senate candidates and a congressional candidate accused of violence toward women, and has himself been accused of rape and assault.
But even Trump condemned a video that depicted him murdering news media and political opponents. Gosar’s doubling down is next-level degenerate.
The normalization of violence toward female politicians is meant to scare them out of politics — particularly women of color like Ocasio-Cortez, a top object of obsession for white supremacists and leading Republicans who characterize her as foreign although she’s a Bronx-born Puerto Rican.
“The ultimate goal of this is to eliminate these women from political life,” said Lucina Di Meco, an expert in gendered disinformation and online abuse against women in politics and a co-founder of ShePersisted. “To silence them, to make it so unappealing and so dangerous for them and their families to be active politically that they will want to retreat.”
One study by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue shows female Democrats receive 10 times more abuse on Facebook than male Democrats, while Republican women receive twice as much abuse on the platform as Republican men; lawmakers of color are disproportionately targeted. “These aren’t funny memes or fun and games,” Rashawn Ray, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and sociology professor at the University of Maryland, told me. “They actually have implications for how people are treated in everyday life.”
Ocasio-Cortez has spoken out about how hate rhetoric used against her by right-wing groups typically triggers an avalanche of death threats. And that hate can spill into action, as evidenced by the Jan. 6 insurrection — an ultimate expression of GOP-courted white male rage. About 93% of the Capitol rioters were white and 86% were men.
But propaganda like Gosar’s isn’t just harmful to targets like Ocasio-Cortez. Brendesha Tynes, an education and psychology professor at the University of Southern California, has researched how viewing videos of caged migrant children and of police killings correlates with depression and PTSD symptoms in youths of color. She likened Gosar’s video to such traumatic events for communities of color. “It’s a form of terror,” she told me.
Democrats in the House took the threat seriously. On Tuesday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters: “We cannot have members joking about murdering each other, as well as threatening the president of the United States.” And on Wednesday before the vote, Ocasio-Cortez singled out House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy for defending Gosar, asking: “What is so hard about saying that this is wrong?”
Fundamentally, it’s about what gets normalized. Jackson Katz, creator of the documentary “The Man Card: White Male Identity Politics from Nixon to Trump,” says politicians who model violent masculinity are displaying fragility.
“A lot of these men are pathetically insecure,” he told me. But, he adds, “they’re able to perform a certain kind of cartoonish power that a percentage of the population takes seriously.”
Katz says it’s important to denounce such rhetoric and actions so they don’t become acceptable. Giving them a pass, as the GOP keeps doing, is a sure way to have our democracy decay into a dystopia resembling depraved right-wing fantasies.
Jean Guerrero is an opinion columnist at the Los Angeles Times.