As I write this, an eye looks back at me from my computer. I used to cover my laptop camera with a piece of electrical tape, until the edges curled and I pulled it off. It is not that I no longer fear being watched, rather I’ve succumbed to its inevitability. I’ve made myself a public figure by engaging with social media, I’ve willingly submitted my biometrics in order to skip long lines at the airport, I use the GPS app on my phone, I track my steps with a FitBit. I have made myself a surveilled individual, all in the name of entertainment and convenience. As far as large government entities are concerned, I know there is nothing they don’t already know about me, or couldn’t access with almost no effort at all.
Yet, the realities of our surveillant culture are largely abhorrent to me, and inspires my most contradictory relationship to date. There is not a single day that passes where I do not feel the immense weight of being seen by others, by cameras, perhaps worst, by myself. My obsession with being watched is paralleled only by my obsession with watching. Most days I’ll spend hours watching other people live their lives on YouTube. I watch all kinds of videos—B-Grade documentaries about people with strange obsessions, grocery hauls, people who’ve joined cults, people who’ve left cults, men who have multiple wives, religious zealots, people cutting bars of soap with box knives, people enthralled by something larger than themselves. I invent all kinds of theories about why I watch my little videos. In the end, it doesn’t really matter. I watch them because they are strange, because there is something oddly comforting about the excess of videos one can watch online, because the act of watching someone else live their life makes me feel less alone. Whatever the reason, this watching is my most consistent proclivity to date, and it is how I’ve come to learn about Gangstalking, an experience that is also marked by relentless watching.
Gangstalking is an organized phenomenon in which victims, who call themselves Targeted Individuals believe they are being watched, followed, and manipulated by a network of everyday citizens, turned operatives. Most commonly, Targeted Individuals believe that their stalkers are sanctioned by government entities like the CIA, FBI, or local politicians. Other powerful bodies sometimes include orthodox religious organizations, cultural clubs, or activist groups.The fact that the perpetrators are comprised of everyday citizens makes the horror that gangstalking victims experience an unavoidable nightmare.
I watch a video of a man named Richard talking about his experiences with gangstalking. “The gangstalking experience started for me, when I began to see these black SUVs and other police vehicles driving slowly down the street,” he says. “They never approached me, never tried to talk to me, they just drove by. Then I started noticing seven or eight helicopters a day hovering above my apartment…and it keeps happening, and it keeps happening.” As he speaks, he raps his knuckles on his kitchen table. “That’s when I realized that something was going on.” The camera cuts to footage recorded by Richard. A brilliant blue sky bleeds through the gentle rattle of tree leaves, and a helicopter moves across the frame, “There it is! There it is!” Richard says, the excitement in his voice is audible.
The video returns to Richard at his table. “If you were to ask me what gangstalking is, I would tell you that it’s a way to slowly kill people using their own decisions, to drive you to the point of insanity. That is what being watched does to you,” he says. “The real question is why? “Why would someone want to do this to me? These weird and petty things . . .” Almost always there is no obvious reason the Targeted Individual would be targeted. These everyday citizens are stalked by other everyday citizens. Targeted Individuals live in a constant state of paranoia, of hyper-visibility, and yet there is nothing particularly eminent about them, no notion of celebrity to speak of. Their fear is simply expanding, and it makes them larger than themselves, while at the same time, impossibly small.
I often attempt to intellectualize my watching. I take false comfort in the belief that if I can observe something, I can understand it, and if I can understand it, I have power over it. I theorize that my own obsession with watching other people’s lives unfold on screen is really an attempt at understanding others and myself, maybe even an exercise in empathy. Yet, it feels likelier that, if it is anything more than a preoccupation, it is simply an attempt to turn the gaze outwards, a small reprieve from the hyper-awareness of my own being watched.
The first gangstalking video I watch is called “Targeted Individual Gang Stalking White Ford Pick Ups The Cloud.” The camera moves from the perspective of a woman who is afraid. We walk from the front door of her home, onto a lawn so green and manicured it almost looks fake. The camera pans over the houses across the street, three white houses in a cul de sac, indistinguishable from one another. Three white work trucks are parked in a line on the street. The camera rocks back and forth with the woman’s gait as she approaches the edge of her lawn, and she begins to whisper to us. “It’s ISIS . . . ISIS operates in the house across the street. Do you see those white trucks? Those are ISIS operatives working inside of that home.”
A man leaves the house across the street, gets into one of the white trucks and drives away. The woman holding the camera is nearly breathless, as she narrates. “Okay,” she says, “A man is getting into the truck, but I think there are still men inside the house…I think there are tunnels underground that must lead all over. Some sort of ISIS compound.” The man across the street is nondescript, he looks like a construction worker, or someone’s dad on the way to pick up kids from soccer practice. He gets into his truck and drives away. At the same time, the woman’s husband pulls a sedan out of the driveway. “Oh, where’s he going?” the woman asks, “Is he getting the car washed? Is he going somewhere else to get the car washed? Not doing it at home?” We watch as the husband rounds the cul de sac, not once turning to look at the camera, almost as if he does not see us at all. When the video is over, I watch it again.
For weeks I watch YouTube videos of T.Is each night. I lay in bed and watch shakycam footage of strangers walking their dogs, as a voiceover narrates the scene: “7:58 a.m. This couple was here with their dog two days ago, and they’re walking the same path as before. They aren’t looking at me, but they want me to know I’m being watched if that makes sense.” The camera angles down on the couple from a hill beside the path, and we never once see the narrator. The couple ambles along as their dog weaves ahead sniffing each rock and tree trunk. The camera cuts to a photo of a police car parked on a side street, “This police car, license plate LLE 456 was parked here yesterday. A definite sign that there are perps around, likely the cop car is intended to intensify my fear.” I read through the video comments. There are few dissenting voices, instead the group not only confirms the stalking, but amplifies its meaning. “The dogs might be robots,” one commenter suggests, another says: “It’s just CSI (Crime Stoppers International) Spread the word. Repeat, the gangstalkers are Crime Stoppers. THEY ARE A CULT.” Some commenters link to their own gangstalking footage, urging other victims to follow them, “Bless u for posting. Stay strong, we will win. Please subscribe to my page,” one woman writes. Not a single commenter touches on the irony of the counter stalking this Targeted Individual is engaged in.
I watch Targeted Individuals document their days with zoomed in photos of anonymous vehicles, jet trails, recordings of an inaudible psychotronic noise only they can hear. I watch with dis-ease and fervor. I don’t exactly understand why the videos captivate me so much, except that they are so unsettling I can’t look away, or maybe because the fear these individuals feel does not seem so impossible. For weeks after watching the testimonials, I notice a particular kind of van pop up on my street, or in the parking lots of businesses I frequent. A maroon Astrovan, with flat paneled sides where back windows would normally be. I begin to feel worried, feel watched, in the proximity of this recurring vehicle. At a stop sign, a man in a maroon Astrovan looks at me through the passenger window. The feeling of his gaze on me lingers like humidity even after the light turns green and we drive our separate ways.
There are logical explanations for the phenomenon of seeing patterns where you never considered them before. Freud’s theory of Apophenia seems the most likely diagnosis. Apophenia, he writes is the: “…unmotivated seeing of connections accompanied by a specific feeling of abnormal meaningfulness.” Kristeva, too, in her chapter of Powers of Horror entitled “Something to be Scared Of,” writes about the connection between fear and over signification of objects: “This obsessional rumination—which ceaselessly elaborates signs . . . Fear, therefore, in a first sense, could be the upsetting of a bio-drive balance. ” Fear, in other words is a brain stuck in overdrive, churning stimuli constantly, weaving patterns with no reprieve.
Patternmaking is the fixation of the isolated. I know this because I’ve done it myself. Several years ago, in the middle of the night during a Minnesota snowstorm, two men knocked on the door of the apartment I shared with my girlfriend and my roommate, Cooper. Thinking it was the downstairs neighbors, Cooper opened the door. On the other side of the door was a gun and two strange men who wanted to harm us for reasons we will never know. Cooper was able to fight the men long enough for my girlfriend and I to barricade ourselves in our room and call the police. The men left before the police arrived, and in the end everyone survived, Cooper with a head wound, and all of us with a fear that would settle deeply into our bodies.
For months after the home invasion, I worried obsessively that I had been targeted, that the men had been watching my movements for weeks before the incident. The idea that I could have been targeted was the most sinister aspect of the attack, as frightening if not more frightening than the violence itself. The belief that I might have been targeted for no reason other than that I was physically vulnerable as a small queer woman made me feel unsafe everywhere. That I would never know why the men chose my house, out of all the houses on the block, would make it almost impossible for me to move on.
I became horribly afraid of everything. I began to feel as though my body was failing. I worried ceaselessly that I was suffering from a serious illness. My body ached because of my fear, and when I worked up the courage to talk to a doctor, she was unsympathetic to my very real pain that stemmed from my imaginary illnesses. I spent hours researching horrible diseases I believed would kill me, observing myself in front of mirrors, groping at my body for lumps, and pushing on my stomach until it was sore.
The fear that consumed my body also manifested itself in the world around me. I became most paranoid while driving. If a vehicle tailed me for more than a few blocks I would drive through alleyways to lose them, or into gas station parking lots, or to the nearest police station, though I didn’t trust the police either. When the cars drove off, and the realization that I was not being followed in the first place set in, I became terrified at the possibility that I was losing my grip with reality. I was always able to connect my fear to my trauma, but understanding a fear does not exactly absolve you from that fear. The horror that strangers could come to my home at night and commit violence for no reason at all made other nonsensical horror seem somehow much more likely to happen to me.
I started taking an antidepressant and seeing a therapist, though in the end it was time that lessened the fear, not pathology. But the urge to make connections, to understand the world and its relation to the self is perhaps the most human desire, and the foundation of critical theory. When I learn about Targeted Individuals, I think first of Foucault. Foucault introduced thinkers to his theory of panopticism, the metaphorical watchtower which exists in each of us, fueled by the collective desire to prove ourselves as anything but delinquent. As anti-delinquent. Turning us into relentless monitors. The panopticon operates in tandem with his theory of “the microphysics of power,” which suggests that power does not exist in any one authoritative force, rather it is relational, and because it is present in our social interactions, it is embedded into our own conscious, and dictates, to no small degree, our sense of self. In our paranoia of delinquency, we begin to police one another, each of us becoming vigilantes of sorts, surveilling one another, and of course, most stringently ourselves.
When Foucault imagines a world of peak carcerality, it is a constant, and community oriented punishment, one in which each person becomes a supervisor. It is a power without bounds, an ever expansive source of control, “an interrogation without end, an investigation that would be extended without limit to a meticulous and ever more analytical observation,” he writes. It is not unlike the nightmare of gangstalking.
Theory, though is meant to assuage the onlookers and less so the sufferers. The reality of an experience only counts for so much when you are paralyzed by constant fear, when you suddenly see the eyes of the world trained on you. In other words, you might see a maroon Astrovan, and then another one, and another one, and believe it to be a conspiratorial event. You might feel a rush of anxiety for several minutes after the events, might lose sight of what makes you justifiably paranoid rather than pathologically unwell.
After all, while it is unlikely that millions of everyday people are being targeted by a network of government operatives, the reality is arguably worse. It isn’t as though average citizens are not being watched in hundreds of different ways each day, it is just that this watching doesn’t make them targeted, doesn’t make them special. It only makes them another casualty of our hyper-surveillant culture. Any skeptic that doubts the unfettered ability of the American government to supervise its own citizens needs only to be reminded of the Patriot Act, which following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, authorized wire-tapping, and the collection of internet correspondence of American citizens, essentially lifting any protections on privacy, and granting the U.S. government permission to spy on everyday citizens under the guise of national security. Where then, does the paranoia of surveillance end and the reality of constant surveillance begin?
I read an article entitled “FIGHT BACK: collecting evidence, naming names,” on a blog run by a Targeted Individual. The blogpost details several steps a Targeted Individual might take to survive constant stalking. The blog entry encourages Targeted Individuals to 1. Take photographs of their perpetrators, and 2. If possible, to name names. The only way to counter the stalking requires some measure of mutual stalking, just as in countersurveillance, a surveilled individual must participate to no small degree in surveillance culture.
There is power in the act of documentation, and an obsession with tangible proof. A photograph bears witness to the act the victim feels so threatened by. The blog goes on to say: “Nothing beats a photograph or several hundred of them- except taking names! Likely, your stalker works somewhere, where they are paid to do what they do. This form of domestic terrorism becomes easy to document, once you have a name, and then two, and then three, and so on.” Because gangstalking operatives are believed to be sanctioned by government officials, or large, organized operations, some degree of vigilante justice is required in fighting back. Whether this be through self-isolation, or combat violence, is seemingly left up to the disposition of the individual.
When I move across the country to attend grad school, I decide to live alone. I find an apartment and do all the things one is supposed to do in a new place. I decorate, I say hello to my neighbors, I get a library card, I take walks around the neighborhood so as to feel like I really live here. I count the cameras I see as I walk from the corner store to my apartment just down the block. I spot three security cameras affixed to mobile homes, a large police camera parked at a busy intersection, two strapped to a traffic pole, and a sign that reads “NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH: If I don’t call the police, my neighbors will,” with an illustration of a man with eyes like an owl’s. In the half mile walk, I count eleven cameras total, and these are just the ones that are visible. If it feels as though I’m being watched, it’s because I am.
I’ve never lived alone before and I begin to feel anxious in my new home at night. The absence of another in my space makes me oddly aware of my ability to be seen. The large sliding doors to my porch feel less like an invitation to look out than they do a nakedness I can’t clothe. I know that the presence of a surveillance camera is false security, and yet, I buy one. I cannot afford a real security camera though, so I buy a dummy camera online. I remove the white plastic toy camera from the box, put batteries in it which illuminate a red light. I screw it into the wood paneling above my front door so its eye looks down on anyone approaching my front steps. It looks so fake I cannot imagine it will do any good, and yet, each night I sleep better knowing it is there. The littlest noises still send hot spikes into my cheeks and up the back of my neck. I have difficulty sleeping, a blanket mistrust of all men who live near me, and extreme fear at the sound of a knock on the door. Worst of all, I am lonely.
When I’ve watched all the gangstalking videos I can find, I switch up my search terms. I type in “targeted individual loneliness,” and I watch the first result, a home video of a man named Dave from a group called Minnesota’s Targeted. He sits in front of the camera, his walls are all blank except for a dark sheet tacked over his window. “It’s about isolation, that’s their ultimate goal, you see. So, I’m just sitting here at home . . . alone, drinking a few beers, how I like to do most Fridays and Saturdays, and I wanted to make a video about isolation,” he says, his voice a little unsteady. What follows is a litany of loved ones he no longer trusts. His brothers, who he hasn’t seen in two years, not because they are perpetrators of his stalking, but because they validate it with their use of technology, and with their constant invalidation of his targeted experiences. “I guess they’re just busy with their own lives, they have wives, families…heck they are even grandfathers.” Dave hasn’t had a girlfriend in years, the complications of dating as a Targeted Individual are just too great. “It wouldn’t be right to expose someone else to this life, Dave says.” The paranoia or the stalking, however you choose to view it, feels contagious.
Foucault reminds us that power is relational, power exists not as a figurehead, but within us. It is difficult to imagine what kind of power Dave holds, even more difficult to imagine what power one could garner from being in relationship with him. “These guys will try to ruin your life, will try to keep you isolated,” he says, “I miss interacting with people . . . in-person interaction, the isolation . . . it’s getting to me. If I met a woman, I know they would turn her into a perp in a heartbeat. I don’t know . . . every day is another day alone.” The video ends after fifteen minutes, and Dave goes back to another night alone. Having a few beers, thinking about those he’s lost to the world he lives in.
- Beechling, Victoria. “1YouTube,6.12.10 Gangstalking Diary–The Dog Walkers.” uploaded by Victoria A Beechling, 23 Oct 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLVzXoF6XqQ.
- FIGHT BACK, “Researching Organized Gangstalking,” https://researchorganizedgangstalking.wordpress.com/fight-back-how-to-build-evidence-of-organized-gang-stalking-for-a-civil-lawsuit/.
- Foucalt, Michel. Discipline and Punish. Vintage Books, 2017.
- Hubscher, Sandra L. “Apophenia: Definition and Analysis.” Digital Bits Skeptic. Digital Bits Network, LLC. 4 Nov 2007.
- “Targeted Individual Gang Stalking White Ford Pick Up Trucks Community Harassment The Cloud,” YouTube, 2016.
- Targeted Minnesota, “Targeted Individuals/Isolation!” YouTube, July 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A1_nXj6PUYY
Alyse Burnside is a writer living in Las Vegas, Nevada. She is currently a Creative Nonfiction MFA Candidate at the University of Las Vegas, Nevada, where she is working on a collection of essays about surveillance culture, the seduction and fear of seeing and being seen, loneliness, and anxiety. She is also working on a memoir about her grandmother, who worked as a typist at Area 51 before becoming a spiritualist healer and channel to an ancient Lemurian shaman. You can get in touch with her here: alyseburnside.com | or on Twitter: @comicsanstorm.