This past Monday, November 18, 2019, was the 41st anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre where over 900 people were killed. Last year, I wrote a blog about this tragedy and how it forever changed me: Jonestown and the Mind Control Cult of Jim Jones: A Survivor’s Story. Most of the people who died were members of the People’s Temple, led by cult leader Jim Jones. When many think of this tragedy, brainwashing and mind control is the lesson to remember. People were programmed to do what Jones told them to do as they widely believed him to be God’s authority on earth.
With the help of John Collins, I wrote about Mind Control and Jonestown. Many different forms of mind control were used by Jim Jones but as you will read in the article, the BITE model is a very useful way to explicate them. His followers were mostly idealists who believed in love, God, and the possibility of making the world a better place. They were programmed to be obedient and loyal, to the point of committing suicide. Jim Jones was a malignant narcissist who exercised complete control. Dr. Philip Zimbardo has a journal article waiting to be published that I was privileged to review that cites the book, 1984 by George Orwell, which was like a manual Jones used to control his member’s minds.
Today, there are many leaders, political and religious, that exercise social influence over their followers including using many of the same types of mind control and propaganda used by Jim Jones. Another malignant narcissist cult leader is President Donald Trump. Many of his voters are idealists who also believe in love, God and the possibility of making the world a better place. Since 2016, some have changed their minds and no longer support Trump. A few of such ones are featured in this New York Times article: Democratic Ad Campaign Spotlights Trump Voters With Regrets.
When researching The Cult of Trump, I learned about military veteran David Weissman‘s journey away from being a MAGA troll (his words) to realizing that many of his deeply held beliefs were not based in fact but rather propaganda. Part of his fascinating story involved comedian Sarah Silverman who essentially did a strategic intervention with him online. I am relatively sure that Ms. Silverman has not read any of my books on how to speak with cult members but she did essentially what I recommend. Treat the cult member with respect and compassion. Avoid saying anything in a judging way or trying to convince the person they are wrong. Ask questions, enter into a real dialogue and have a reciprocal exchange. it all has to be done with care and a generous heart. No name-calling and one should never get triggered and if one does, that is the time not to speak or act but take a time out.
In this period of extreme polarization, I really hope more activists will follow Sarah Silverman’s example and engage folks who attack and malign if you have the time and energy to do so. I especially recommend starting with family and friends who may have become less present in your lives- Rebuild rapport and trust and focus on common ground.
Since joining the #BlueWave, David hosts a podcast and writes blogs about President Trump, with the aim of helping others wake up from Trump’s propaganda and influence. And this week, I had an enlightening interview with David Weissman.
During the interview, David talks about his background and how he was a Trump devotee and worked very hard online to promote the President’s point of view. He discusses his online exchange with Sarah Silverman and how she treated him with respect, listened, and asked questions, ultimately, resulting in him reevaluating how he felt about Trump.
We talk about how important it is to ask questions, present facts, and treat friends and family with respect, especially if we wish to reach them and correct any misinformation that has impacted their viewpoints.
Other Trump supporters have also followed in his shoes and left off from supporting him. Many voters were swept up and believed Trump and thought he would make a difference but after realizing he was a liar and not trustworthy, have changed their mind.
I hope you will take the time to watch as we have a lot to learn from David and his experiences. He goes into great detail about his mindset as a believer and critical thinking points that helped him change his mind (such as gun control and immigration). He discusses ways to reach other Trump supporters and shares what he is doing now to make a difference. (Please watch our interview below.)
Lastly, I talk about Robert Lifton’s Eight Criteria of Thought Reform and the Influence Continuum and discuss how these apply to devoted Trump supporters. Dr. Lifton has a brand new book out: Losing Reality: On Cults, Cultism, and the Mindset of Political and Religious Zealotry. It is high on my book list to review.
As David pointed out, he believed what he knew and thought was true. He allowed himself to do research, ask questions, and got new information that helped to change his mind.