As we cover abuse in the Episcopal Church and other denominations, there’s an almost universal element to every case. That element is DARVO, which is shorthand for “deny and reverse victim/offender.”
Our first experience with DARVO
Candidly, most here at Anglican Watch didn’t even know what the term meant until we saw perjuring priest Bob Malm use the tactic against Anglican Watch editor Eric Bonetti.
In that situation, Malm bullied Bonetti and his family. Then, when Bonetti fought back, Malm claimed Bonetti was “threatening him,” “making good on threats already made,” and that he was a “domestic terrorist.”
Because Malm is a priest, many believed him. Many do to this day.
While behind the scenes, Malm is vile, vicious, and vindictive, not to mention dishonest; when confronted about his behavior, Malm appears genuine and innocent.
Another aspect of DARVO is that the abuser invariably manipulates perceptions about their victim, usually by claiming that they have a mental illness.
In Malm’s case, he claimed that Bonetti is “dysfunctional.”
Similarly, we see this behavior with Episcopal priest Daniel McClain, who has repeatedly and falsely told countless friends and parishioners that his wife has a mental illness — a spectacularly inappropriate thing to share with parishioners and evidence of how distorted McClain’s thinking has become.
And we see this with Aaron Solomon, who falsely claims that his wife Angie is suicidal and disturbed.
So, why do creepsters like Malm, McClain, and Solomon use this lie?
They do it for several reasons.
The big reason is so they can justify their other weird claims. Thus, statements they make that would otherwise not pass the laugh-in-your-face test become acceptable.
The second reason is horrifying, which is that abusers often project their sociopathic tendencies onto their victims. After all, we may look at someone like McClain and conclude he’s batsnot cray, but if he can convince you his wife is even further out there, he looks good by comparison.
The third reason abusers deploy these claims is they are trying to pull in allies and narcissistic supply. Whether it’s recruiting new flying monkeys, sympathy, or general support, abusers are masters at making people feel bad for their pitiful state as they purportedly deal with such whacky people.
The bit about allies is essential because abusers invariably pull others into their orbit.
How do they do this?
The strategies abusers deploy are varied, but they range from telling you how much they did for their victim to excess charm to asking for your advice.
Many times, abusers will shift tactics. For example, they may try to intimidate opponents. When this doesn’t work, they’ll change to innuendo, to flattery, and so on.
Abusers use this network of allies for a variety of purposes. Sometimes, it’s spying on their victim. Other times, it’s to help intimidate or further traumatize their victim. And many times, they will use this network to create a parallel reality.
Here’s how the parallel reality game works.
An abuser may start by telling his wife, “Everyone at church is TERRIFIED of Eric.”
Simultaneously, he’ll tell everyone at church, “You need to know–my wife is TERRIFIED of Eric.”
Of course, when the two meet in the middle, the confirmation bias kicks in, and both wife and parishioners say, “Wow, just proves he was right!”
This network of allies also has another purpose, which is to help gaslight and provoke the victim.
Sometimes, the conduct will be passive-aggressive antics, like ignoring the victim.
In other cases, it will be stuff like Grace Christian Academy’s refusing to return items stolen from Grant Solomon’s funeral. In this case, the school’s claim it’s been trying to get the items back for three years is used to confuse and distract people while discrediting Grant’s mother and sister.
Abusers carefully calculate these boundary violations and emotional abuse. They do this in the hope that the victim will snap, at which point they’ll say, “See, I told you she was unstable.”
And, by keeping the abuse at a constant, low-level torrent, what often causes the abuse victim to snap is something that, taken on its own, appears innocuous. But taken as a whole, the behavior is profoundly abusive, causing immense suffering to the victim.
In Aaron Solomon’s case, we see this at play. Whole swathes of Nashville, including law enforcement, see no need to take Grant Solomon’s death seriously. Nor are they willing to address Aaron’s abuse of his former wife, Angie, or his sexual abuse of his daughter, Gracie.
This situation illustrates the power of DARVO to cause suffering and produce unjust results. Indeed, as we have seen, even our judicial system can be swayed by the sociopathic behavior of an abuser.
So, how does a victim break free from the tsunami of abuse in DARVO?
Often, the answer is that an outside person who’s experienced similar abuse comes along. While the average person in the street may not recognize the profound evil at work, someone who’s been on the receiving end will quickly spot this situation.
One easy way to know if DARVO is at work is to watch for indicators of sociopathic behavior. For example, you may hear people say, “He wants not just to win, but to crush his opponents.” (Dan McClain, here’s looking at you.)
The late Danni Moss also had a great piece that helps identify persons likely to engage in DARVO. We archive that piece here and commend it to anyone examining issues of abuse.
Those of us who’ve been on the receiving end of a DARVO campaign can help by working together to put our collective foot down hard when we see someone suffering in this situation.
Yes, it can be a brutal row to hoe when we have to go against the conventional wisdom and say, “No, and we’re not putting up with your [nonsense],” to a bully who is deploying DARVO. And it takes a thick hide and robust psyche to stand up to the ensuing onslaught that comes from the abuser.
At the same time, focusing on the humorous side of things can help.
For example, Dan McClain tells people that a former Episcopal priest publishes Anglican Watch. While we do have a priest on our team, editor Eric Bonetti assures all involved that he never was, nor ever will be, a priest. So, McClain can lie and make stuff up all he wants, but that is a facially laughable claim.
Besides, not even the Episcopal Church would want Bonetti as a priest.
Kidding aside, this sort of fabrication illustrates how those engaging in DARVO will gaslight their victims, making up outrageous lies in the process.
In the meantime, we hope that persons of integrity will put aside their pre-conceived notions and ask root-cause questions about these cases:
- Why doesn’t Tennessee law enforcement investigate when it is clear that Grant Solomon’s truck did not drag him to his death?
- How is it appropriate for Dan McClain to tell us his wife has a mental illness?
- How is it okay for Bob Malm to tell the courts that Eric Bonetti is a “domestic terrorist?” Or to try to drag Bonetti’s mother into court from her deathbed?
As we join together in asking these tough questions and thinking for ourselves, we can begin to say no to bullies and abusers and their evil tactics, including DARVO.