Attorney Michael Avenatti, known for representing female accusers of men in power such as Stormy Daniels and Kavanaugh accuser Julie Swetnick, has himself been accused, arrested, and charged with domestic violence. You might be asking yourself why you should even remotely care about that, and you’d have a valid point. Avenatti’s denial of those accusations, however, can be broken down and analyzed for deception and motivation using principles of Statement Analysis that you can also use in active listening to potential and current group members during your vetting phase. In short, Avenatti can show you some of the red flags you should be considering while observing and conversing with your prospects.
Setting Up for Analysis
The first thing to do in any analysis is to set aside any preconceived notions, personal feelings about the subject, or feelings about the accusations. It doesn’t matter if it’s a stranger or someone you know; the goal is to find truth, and go where it leads. Often that direction ends up being one you don’t want to go; you might find yourself wanting to rationalize or explain away the red flags you see, or even add them if you want to find something negative. That’s not analysis. What we are trying to do is allow the subject to tell us the truth. We believe what the subject says, without translating or interpreting.
Each of us has a subjective dictionary, and our brains choose in a fraction of a second — almost subconsciously — the exact word to choose in a given situation. So we can trust that what the subject wrote down or told us is exactly what they wanted to say — or at least, what their brain wanted to say, even if they wish to change it or clarify it afterward. It’s our job to hear it, exactly as it is said, and let their own words literally do the talking. Let’s take a look at Avenatti’s statement.
First of all, I want to thank the hard working men and women of the LAPD for their professionalism and their work today. They had no option given the allegations.
There are several major things to note here. By starting with “first of all,” he is using numbers. This denotes that he has organized his statement into numerical points, spent some time thinking about it, and is using a systematic, logical approach. This is not an emotional utterance; it’s a planned statement that he likely worked on for a bit to get the wording right.
Secondly, he thanks the law enforcement agency who arrested him, and specifically mentions “men and women.” He is attempting to ingratiate himself with the police. This is our first marker of sensitivity and possible guilt. Innocent people do not thank the police when they’re arrested and hauled off to jail for things they didn’t do. His use of “men and women” specifically delineates gender, which means he is also attempting to ingratiate himself with women by recognizing them as cops too. This is an indicator of a manipulative personality and the first hint of contempt for women.
Secondly, I have never struck a woman, never will I strike a woman.
He continues the logical numeric progression, but now we have his attempt at a denial — and it’s unreliable. “I have never” is not the same as “I did not,” and it is intentionally vague so that it may avoid addressing the specific charge. Also note: he is trying to claim “I have never” (past up to this accusation), and “never will I” (future). See how that works? He does not address this current time, this current accusation. There is a gaping hole in his timeline, where these allegations neatly fit.
If someone does not say something in a statement, we cannot say it for them. Has he addressed the specific charge/allegation with ownership (the pronoun “I”), and the past tense, definitive words “did not” or “didn’t”? No. So far, he has not denied the thing he is accused of.
Also note the use of subjective dictionary. What’s his definition of “strike”? If it’s anything like Bill Clinton’s definition of “sexual relations” we have a bit of a deception problem. Saying he has “never struck a woman” means nothing, because we are not talking about random female. We are talking about a very specific woman, who has a name and a story and people who love her. She has an identity. His use of “a woman” not only avoids talking about her specifically, but it strips her of that identity. She is not worth talking about. She is not worth mentioning specifically because she does not matter. She is not included in “a woman.” This is another indicator of contempt, not just for the alleged victim, but for women in general. It’s also another indicator of possible guilt.
I have been an advocate for women’s rights my entire career and I will continue to be an advocate. I am not going to be intimidated stopping what I am doing.
Suddenly Avenatti lets you know that HE is the victim here. HE is the persecuted one. Watch closely, however: does being an “advocate for women’s rights” somehow mean you are incapable of ever assaulting them? We also see the framing again; he has been an advocate “my entire career” and will “continue to be” one, but there’s that gaping hole again. What about right now? What about the specific allegation from the specific day against a specific female? Never mind that.
He also insinuates that someone accused him in order to “stop” him and “intimidate” him, but he never says who. This is an example of letting the reader’s mind do the work. By not naming a villain, the reader can choose their own. It’s somewhat like a psychic saying, “You will meet someone very interesting today.” Some people might hear that and think they’ll meet their soulmate. Others might think back later to the veteran they met with a service dog and got to talk to for a moment. Still others might think about the homeless guy who was defecating on the sidewalk as they walked by and sarcastically consider him an “interesting character.” Each person will interpret Avenatti’s statement differently, and that’s what he’s counting on. This way, the reader chooses the villain and he doesn’t have to specify — because he doesn’t actually have one. This is another indicator of manipulative personality and willingness to be misunderstood if it is advantageous to him.
I am a father to two beautiful smart daughters. I would never disrespect them by touching a woman inappropriately or striking a woman,. I am looking forward to a full investigation at which point I am confident that I will be fully exonerated.
He doesn’t “have” daughters; he’s “a father to” them. He does not even claim them as being HIS daughters, and instead puts distance there. Then he says they are “beautiful” and “smart.” What’s first? The beauty. “Smart” gets thrown in there as an afterthought; it’s more ingratiating. He’s also attempting to convince people that he’s a great guy. We see this a lot in abusive parents; they tell you all about what great parents they are. The problem is, great parents don’t need to tell you they’re great parents — and they’re usually pretty worried they’re not.
Also…why is Avenatti denying “touching a woman inappropriately”? That phrase is used in conjunction with sexual misconduct. Why is he denying something he was not accused of? I would look at his history; he may have a past doing exactly that. The brain knows what it knows, and it finds a way to come out. We know that he isn’t referring to physical assault because he mentions that part AFTER the sexual component. They’re two different things in his mind — and that means we can’t assume they’re the same; he’s already told us in his own words that they’re two different things.
Lastly, “I am confident that I will be fully exonerated” is not the same as “I didn’t do it.” He never once says “I did not hit the alleged victim.” He does not say “I did not strike the alleged victim.” He does not say, “I didn’t assault her.” He did, however, according to reports, repeatedly yell, “She hit me first! This is b—–t!”
Is Avenatti being deceptive? Absolutely. He has indicators for a manipulative personality, a perpetual victim mentality, and exhibits a deep-seated contempt for women. Sounds like the exact guy you’d want in your group, right? Hardly. The question then becomes: how is it so easy to see here, but so hard to see in our daily lives?
Putting It Into Practice for Vetting
Okay, you may be thinking. All of this is awesome and whatnot, but how does it fit into what you’re doing out in your communities, trying to figure out who to approach for your group? Let’s pull the lessons we’ve learned down into a vetting context.
When someone is constantly complimenting you, appealing to your ego, acting like the little pup to your bulldog, it’s ingratiation. It’s a manipulative tactic, meant to get your guard down by massaging your ego and making you feel good about yourself. There are generally two reasons for this — the person doing it is willfully attempting to manipulate you, or they are doing it almost subconsciously out of their own personal insecurity. They want you to like them and want your approval. The former signals a possible trap; the latter signals emotional weakness. You don’t want either of those in your group. They may be an infiltrator, but they may also just be a weak person who needs to “find their identity” in the group.
This doesn’t mean that you automatically distance from anyone who says you’re good at something. Just be aware that when something is a pattern, when it makes you feel slightly uncomfortable or awkward, when you start to feel like they’re a “fan,” it could be a problem. It could also signal a distraction tactic, and I’ve seen people put up with behaviors they should not have because the person seemed to fawn over them so much in between screw-ups. Listen to your gut, and check your ego.
It’s easy to pick up contempt indicators in language if you know what you’re looking for. Is your prospect constantly referring to his spouse as “the wife” or maybe “the ball and chain”? Think about your conversations with your prospect. How does he talk about his wife? If it’s a female prospect, how does she talk about her husband? Is he portrayed sitcom-style, where he’s a bumbling idiot who requires his family to always ‘save’ him from some situation he got himself into? Are even the kids smarter than he is, according to her? Is she emasculating him? All of these things are indicators of contempt. Think about expected vs. unexpected language. If a couple has a good marriage (and you’re looking for that as an indicator of stability), they’re not going to tear each other down. They’re not going to denigrate each other to people, or constantly portray their spouse as incompetent, worthless, stupid, etc. to other people. In a stable, solid marriage, you’ll see them encouraging each other, speaking positively about their strengths and literally making each other look good to others. That’s what you want to see. That doesn’t mean they never have disagreements or issues, but it means they handle them in-house with each other, instead of hinting or even outright talking about them to everyone else in a way that cuts down their partner.
You see this a lot when it comes to military service. Someone might say they were “with” a unit during their time in service. The listener may very well assume that means they were, themselves, a member of that unit. But were they? Often they weren’t; they can’t say they were IN the unit because they were merely attached to it, worked with it in a peripheral way, maybe interfaced with that unit in a different capacity. They may have been assigned to the unit but never “bought in” to the unit culture, or perhaps associate the unit with a negative experience such as discipline. There is a difference in sensitivity between saying “I was in X unit” and “I was with X unit.” Not all sensitivity indicators are instantly bad for you and your group — they do, however, warrant a closer look.
I once knew a guy who said he was “with” a unit “for a while.” In actuality, he was in a completely different unit but had trained “with” them in one exercise. Be on the lookout for information that is left out; it’s often info that would literally change your perception of the situation if you knew it, and they’re leaving it out on purpose in the hopes that you fill in the blanks with your own assumptions. Not only does it allow them to be deceptive while telling the truth after a fashion, but it also gives them wiggle room if they’re caught later. “I never said I was IN the unit, I said I was WITH them for a while, and I was — I trained with them at that one exercise. YOU assumed I meant something else…”
That missing information isn’t always bad; someone who got their high school diploma in a correspondence course or only has a GED, for instance, might leave that out in a discussion about education. They may just say they “finished high school” because they’re worried about how the listener will view them if they knew the whole thing. The point is that it’s sensitive, and it’s your job to find out why.
You may also see this tactic with people who wish to exaggerate their knowledge. Someone might say they are a “retired law enforcement officer,” using that as an appeal to authority on a related subject (where the authority is them, of course), and upon further investigation, you find that yes, they’re retired all right. They also were a school resource officer — a bit removed from the Criminal Minds-type shoot-em-up bad guy fantasy they hoped you would assume about them.
Keep in mind that there are also people who will flat out fabricate their service, claim they attended schools that have no record of their presence, claim positions they never held, or even lie about their MOS. It’s bad enough to keep someone around who leaves out critical information; do you really want to be associated with someone who’s flat out lying to you?
An entire book can be written about how Statement Analysis works, and how the various principles teach us how to actively listen to the speaker’s words instead of applying our own viewpoint and assumptions to them. In fact, entire books have been. Understanding how language works, and how we give away ourselves in that language, is critical to the vetting process. We don’t have to constantly be part of the crowd that wonders how they got snookered by the criminal, the undercover agent, the sociopath in our group. We can learn how to catch them before they get in — and protect ourselves from them to begin with by making our groups a low-profile or even no-profile target.
If you’d like to learn more, I’m doing a webinar class on the vetting process during which there is a section on SA. While the December 1 class is full, I’m willing to do a second date if there’s more interest. Email me at email@example.com if you’d like to be notified of a new class date.