As became immediately clear to those who listened to the latest recording of Mel Gibson ranting at his ex-girlfriend, Oksana Grigorieva, Gibson is most terrifying not when he’s revealing phobias or deep-seeded bigotry, but when he’s just being mean.
He himself seems to know it. Several minutes into the tirade, the Oscar-winning filmmaker roars: “This is MEAN! Get it? You get it now what mean is?”
"The domestic batterer always takes the stance that it's this particular woman’s behavior that has caused him to become violent," said author Lundy Bancroft. “That’s all over the place in this tape."
Yes. We do. The eight-minute-long recording is Gibson at his most unhinged and pathologically evil—an unrelenting storm of hatred and degradation that, from a domestic violence point of view, perfectly encapsulates why he is an abuser in the most classic sense, and a very dangerous man.
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Ironically, it’s not the incriminating admissions—Gibson says he hit Grigorieva because she “deserved it”—or dangerous threats—he says his ex needs a “f------ bat to the side of the head”—that make this recording so scary. Some of the most disturbing moments are when Gibson is not saying anything at all, but simply panting into the phone. The sound of his heavy breath is animalistic and wild, and it’s then that he seems most capable of carrying out all of his horrific threats, such as burying the mother of his child “in the rose garden.” Even his use of the word “mean,” with all its childish associations, is all the more menacingly depraved coming from a 54-year-old man.
But while lay listeners are shivering from the insidious and somewhat indescribable quality of the tape, domestic violence experts are finding very concrete signs in the recording that Gibson fits the definition of an abuser to a T.
“The domestic batterer always takes the stance that it’s this particular woman’s behavior that has caused him to become violent,” said Lundy Bancroft, author of the book Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. “That’s all over the place in this tape.”
(Gibson did the same in the previously released tape, in which he condemned Grigorieva for dressing too provocatively.)
“Another thing that’s so common about domestic violence is a very pervasive hatred of women,” Bancroft continued. “I don’t throw that term around, but this is a case where his approach—he uses the most disgusting, anti-female language possible… I hate to say the terms, but ‘c---,’ ‘bitch,’ ‘whore.’ And he does it over and over and over again, trying to persuade her that he’s treated her well.
“It’s absolutely classic behavior. Because he’s threatening to physically hurt her. Because he doesn’t listen to anything she says. Because he does all the talking. Because of the disgusting sexual comments. Because he’s accusing her of all the things that are so obviously present in his behavior, what you might call projection. Like, ‘You have no f------ soul.’ Yet he is behaving in such a soulless fashion throughout the tape.”
Mary Murphy, a former judge on So You Think You Can Dance, who has spoken out about having been in a marriage in which she was physically battered and raped, said that what struck her about the tape was “the sense of entitlement.”
“That someone can say something or do something in the home that makes them feel like you deserved it,” Murphy said. “That you had it coming to you.
“My ex-husband had that the first time the police showed up during the first fight we ever had. The police came because the neighbors had called, they thought a homicide was about to happen, because I was screaming bloody murder and fighting back. And when the police came to the door, my husband answered and said, ‘What do you want?’ When they said, ‘Where is she?,’ he said, ‘She’s my wife!’
“I could hear him, that sense of entitlement, and my heart sank. It was like, ‘You have no business here, she’s my wife, I pretty much own her, get out of here.’ They looked at me and asked me if I was OK, and the look in my husband’s eyes, it was like the devil looking at me. They were saying, ‘If you say anything, I will kill you.’ So I said, ‘I’m fine,’ and turned around, my clothes were shredded, there were bruises on my body, and I went back into the other room.”
Denise Brown, whose sister, Nicole Brown Simpson, was abused by husband O.J. Simpson, was also alarmed by news of the tape, though she was travelling abroad and could not listen to it online. After reading some of the transcript, however, she wrote in an email: “Death threats of any kind are to be taken seriously. Alcohol is just an excuse abusers use for their abusive behavior… When someone goes to that dark place, it only takes a second for them to snap.
“If one makes those types of threats, take them very, very seriously. ‘If they hit you once, they will hit you again, and if they threaten to kill you, eventually one day they will.’”
Nicole LaPorte is the senior West Coast reporter for The Daily Beast and the author of The Men Who Would Be King: An Almost Epic Tale of Moguls, Movies, and a Company Called DreamWorks.