When Steven Hassan speaks of cults and how to “deprogram” cultists, I suppose we should listen. The man is widely recognized as one of the world’s leading authorities on cults. He speaks and writes authoritatively not only because he’s spent years studying cults from an academic standpoint, but also because, decades ago, he had to be deprogrammed from his slavish involvement in the Moonie cult.
Mr. Hassan knows, perhaps better than anyone else, what defines a cult, what defines a cult member, what life inside a cult is like, and how to help a cult member see the truth and escape a cult.
So, yes, we—I—should pay attention when Mr. Hassan says, “To extricate someone from a cult such as Trump’s, you should also ask the person to think about people who have lied to them or people who took advantage of them. Ask them to reflect on an experience where someone hired them and then refused to pay them. Would they want to work for someone like that again? Would they trust someone like that again?”
The problem I found with Hassan’s advice is that I’d already tried it and had no success. As I’ve written before, many of my friends and relatives are loyal Trump cultists, and nothing I’ve said to them—including the type of reflection Hassan suggests—has had any positive effect. Indeed, every attempt I make toward reasoning with them only bolsters their loyalty to their hero. One of my Trumpist relatives will happily discuss any topic with me—except Donald Trump. She knows my opposition to her cult leader, so the moment I speak of him, our conversation ends. And she’s the least dedicated of my many Trump-devoted friends and relatives.
The Trump cult is like no other cult in American history. It is unmatched in the depth of its adherents’ devotion, and unequaled in its influence on the nation’s decision making. Other cultists, such as Jim Jones, David Koresh, and Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, controlled the lives—and deaths—of hundreds; Donald Trump controls the lives of millions directly, and hundreds of millions indirectly. The impulsive, daft decisions made by Trump—and heralded by his cultists—bear the authority to affect the life of every American, and even beyond that, of every person on the planet.
Donald Trump controls the lives of millions directly, and hundreds of millions indirectly.
And because Trump’s supporters’ devotion to him is cult level, nothing will dissuade that devotion. We’ve seen that absolute loyalty on numerous occasions. Many former administration staffers—including Cabinet members—have warned of Trump’s dangerously unstable personality. Rather than be alarmed by such warnings, his cult followers then turn on those “deep-state” traitors. Video and audio recordings have plainly revealed Trump’s many blatant lies and horrendous errors. Rather than registering any concerns over such lies and blunders, his cult followers turn against the “fake news” media, who, they assume, must be lying. Historians and Constitutional scholars have chronicled this president’s many violations of historic governmental standards and constitutional decrees. Rather than objecting to such abuses, his cult followers applaud his dismantling of the status quo.
I’d love to be able to sit down with my Trumpist friends and, in a calm and rational manner, “Ask them to reflect on an experience where someone hired them and then refused to pay them,” as Steven Hassan suggested. Sure, they’d agree that such behavior is wrong. But I know how they’d react if I were to then try to equate such behavior with the actions and character of their messiah. End of discussion. Please leave.
Not long ago, Jill Dennison asked me how we can reach my fellow evangelicals who have fallen into the Trump cult and help them escape. My answer was that I had no answer. The truth is that I think it’s simply too late for almost all of them. They made their choice and nothing will persuade them to repent. Now, we are at war, politically and culturally. Victory must be won through ballots. Please do everything you can to ensure that, November 3, all your sane, non-Trumpist relatives, friends, and acquaintances vote to remove Trump–and his lackeys in Congress. And for those so inclined, please pray it ends with ballots rather than bullets. Some cultists know no bounds in preserving their foolish faith.