On Sunday, January 10, 2021, I was invited to answer questions during an Ask Me Anything (AMA) for the subreddit group QAnonCasualties. This is a link to the entire thread: https://www.reddit.com/r/QAnonCasualties/comments/kukco0/ama_with_steven_hassan_phd/.
Below are most of the questions, along with my answers. This blog is longer than usual, but I felt it was important to include most of the questions and answers, since it is very timely and a great resource to have in one place.
To fully understand how to help friends and family that have been affected by QAnon, it is important to have a basic understanding of authoritarian control and destructive influence.
To start, please look at my Influence Continuum https://freedomofmind.com/influence-continuum/ and know that all cults are not destructive or authoritarian. Authoritarian beliefs are black and white, us vs. them, good vs. evil– very simplistic.
There appears to be a significant number of people who have been lured into QAnon who were people raised in authoritarian family systems or cults. There were a number of questions about the “authentic self” and how people raised in these environments can be helped. I suggested people, who wish to know more about my approach to helping, view a video of a talk I gave in Stockholm, Sweden a bunch of years ago at a cult conference. It was entitled: Steven Hassan’s talk on Helping Individuals Born in High-Demand Groups and Cults. Here is the link to my talk.
Also, I just completed my doctoral work and published a blog about my research https://freedomofmind.com/the-bite-model-of-authoritarian-control-undue-influence-thought-reform-brainwashing-mind-control-trafficking-and-the-law/ and the actual dissertation is now online for free. It is my hope is that it now provides a validated framework for the justice system to evaluate ethical vs unethical influence. HINT: lying is unethical. So lack of “informed consent” is a huge factor in helping people exit cults- what did they think they were getting into at the beginning? And if they could go back in time to before they got into a group of movement, with what they know now, they need to honestly ask themselves whether they would have ever joined?
Here is a direct link to the BITE model of Authoritarian Control applied to QAnon:
I leave you with a link to the media page for The Cult of Trump book. https://freedomofmind.com/the-cult-of-trump-media-page/
I hope this effort will bear good fruit for everyone. I thank the group for having me.
Questions & Answers
Do you advocate debating or not debating friends and family regarding the beliefs promoted by the QAnon conspiracy movement? Is there any point to engage considering Trump has now lost the election? If you do advocate debating close friends and family, how does one go about doing so without destroying relationships? I have historically taken a path of non-confrontation but I am reconsidering my approach especially in light of recent events.
Thank you very much for doing this AMA and considering my questions!
Hassan: Debating is counterproductive. Build rapport and trust. So, if it is a family and friend, I recommend educating yourself first. Then reach out and tell the person you respect them (love them) or whatever is appropriate and remind them of positive experiences you did together. Tell them that you wish to be closer to them and ask them what you can do.
Hello Dr. Hassan, thank you for your excellent books. Actually just read the Trump one and your earlier books played a major role in me leaving the ultra-Orthodox “Baal t’shuvah” Jewish world (I am a mod of r/exjew.)
One thing many people have commented on over the years is the propensity for some people to join multiple cult groups, leaving one only to join another or even belonging to multiple cult-like groups at once. In this environment, it seems like I’m seeing some people I’ve known over the years do similar things – at the behest of their rabbis, they are starting to move to social media that is isolationist and have misinformation, such as being Q leaning. Some people in the religious community I was in had converted from Very Q-esque Evangelical Christianity groups or eventually left for questionable new religious groups based on the same types of misinformation. I guess I was wondering if you had any insights on how society can get people away from these kinds of pockets of misinformation where they just kind of perpetually bounce between cultic groups.
Hassan: Thank you. Yes, I wrote about the Jewish Right in The Cult of Trump book, and indeed, there are authoritarian Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, etc. cults.
To answer your question, if someone is born in an authoritarian family and/or cult- especially if there is corporal punishment to program obedience, that abuse forms some very deep emotional patterns. Exiting, without specialized counseling where part of the therapy is psycho-educational about destructive cult brainwashing, makes people very susceptible to being attracted to another authoritarian cult. There is a pattern that if one of your parents is a narcissist, you might be attracted to marry a narcissist- unconsciously.
The effort is to heal. But I have seen sexual abuse victims join guru cults or Trump cult, as unconsciously the patterns of the abuser still hold power with some people. many people unfortunately, turn to drugs or alcohol, or avoid any commitments for fear of being harmed again. My work has been to help people be fully functional and utilize their talents.
So yesterday, someone suggested that I should check out this subreddit for advice on how to make a family member open their eyes and stop listening to all the Qanon cult nonsense that has been brainwashing this family member.
I wanted to wait until today when this AMA started to ask for advice. This family member is very close, they’re also extremely close minded. Attempting to have a civil argument with them about anything is near impossible. This family member has also been spreading qanon conspiracies to their relatives, and I’m afraid of the larger damage this may cause in the long run.
I apologize if I sound a little desperate for help, but I would really appreciate any help u/StevenHassanFOM or any fellow redditors could provide.
Hassan: Welcome. This is why I consented to give a Sunday to answering questions for this. There is hope but as it took time to recruit and indoctrinate your loved one, there is a project to help them wake up and then recover from their involvement.
You can make it easier for people to exit or harder. I say do everything you can do with love and respect. Don’t yell. Don’t call them stupid or call them names. Take a stance that you respect them, respect their intelligence (many “Trumpers” have graduate education, top jobs)–being deceived has nothing to do with intelligence.
Dr. Hassan, thanks so much for doing this. The online nature of this cult makes it quite unique compared to what we’ve known traditionally.
So one unique question we get is how to best deal with the person on a day-to-day basis. What general principles can you suggest, especially for when loved one constantly pick fights and want to discuss conspiracies and politics as nauseam?
Hassan: Yes! Have you read my book, The Cult of Trump yet? It really has been totally validated. I do not recommend handing a Trump believer the book.
I must confess that I am far more comfortable speaking that typing.
The cult member keeps trying to persuade you, it sounds like. So you need to set some rules or boundaries. For example, if someone sent you 20 links of things they want you to read/ watch. Tell them that you care about them and that truth matters. And that in the end, you still want to have a positive relationship with them, no matter what. Ask them to send one link and agree to read or watch if they promise to discuss with you. Ask them if they would be willing to reciprocate and be prepared to give them one link. Ask them what they think of it? Discuss. Learn how to listen and not just react or argue. Asking questions is the single most important technique but the way you ask needs to be curious and respectful, not angry or judgemental. I wrote a blog on freedomofmind.com about three must see documentaries to understand 21st century mind control cults. https://freedomofmind.com/social-media-cyber-warfare-data-mining-and-ai-used-to-target-manipulate-and-control-people/
How can therapists help clean up the aftermath of Q on mental health when (if) this all ends? I didn’t learn about anything like this in school.
Hassan: Great point. The DSM5 of the APA has 300.15 designation of brainwashing, thought reform coercive persuasion/ cults as a dissociative disorder. This makes sense to me. I have been teaching mental health professionals for decades now.
Here is a link to my Psychiatry Grand Rounds talk at Harvard Medical School in 2017. While it is aimed towards clinicians, most people will be able to understand my points. But training mental health professionals will be vital going forward. https://vimeo.com/236994306 and a review of my book in the Psychiatric Times.
After the DC Capitol raid, my Qperson has said that they don’t agree with the raid but don’t think Trump incited anything. While I think there’s a lot of cognitive dissonance going on and some unraveling, I still think my Qperson has been pushed even closer to Trump and QAnon.
What are some questions to ask to start a deradicalization process? And is it possible to have this type of contact with someone from far away (I live 2-3 hours away and they are a Covid denier).
My Qperson is not very open about talking about their beliefs. And they tend to push away questions or feelings. They have always been bound to the toxic masculinity of not showing emotions (emotions are weak). He truly believes Trump is the Messiah- and they thought this before QAnon may have even gotten to them.
It has been very difficult to want to even try to start a deradicalization process because I know he will shut it down fast or use fallacy reasoning to turn it around on me. And there’s been light emotional abuse. He is cold and he moves farther and farther away from family thinking he has this special knowledge and we are all sheep. Love feels conditional and cold. I think his friends believe the same conspiracy theories.
Is an appeal to emotion a good idea? Saying something like: “Your family needs you. Not these people. WE need you.” Or is that unhelpful? Would it be better to be blunt: “This should be a wakeup call” and then write about the links between fascism and QAnon?
Thank you for your time.
Hassan: I am really unable to type fast enough to answer complex questions without folks being willing to learn the basics about any destructive cult.
Stop trying to win the argument of who is right or wrong. take your ego out of this. Talk about your relationship and how you care about the person. Say things like, you aren’t sure- that gives them permission to question, too. If you insist you know the truth, that often makes people dig in deeper.
The biggest ally is the person’s authentic self- that is who will help them exit, not their cult identity- which is programmed.
One of the most important things to help anyone reevaluate their beliefs systems is to find a way to get them to take a “time out”- stop being online, watching certain news shows. sleep, exercise, listen to music, dance, have fun.
PAY ATTENTION. Is what you say and do empowering the person to feel closer to you? be open to listening or learning? or shutting them down and making them angry? First step in my Strategic Interaction Approach is rapport and Trust building. If you do not have this, stop everything else until you get back in positive connection.
Hey Steve, I’ve followed your commentary on NXIVM (I mod a forum at r/theNXIVMcase) and I’m glad you’re here to talk about QAnon.
I’d like to ask you about how often Q material gets brought up in the context of online discussions of truly serious scandals (including NXIVM, but also stuff like Epstein). I’ve seen it suck people in. It’s serious enough that when I created a forum on NXIVM, I had to explicitly ban Q people from the get-go.
My question is, is there any way to Q-proof the news so it does not just go into the gaping maw of these people, and is there any way of really shutting down that kind of discussion effectively short of banning people? Thanks.
Hassan: So, when you read The Cult of Trump (btw, you can get on audio from your library, as well as e-book or paperback) you will learn that there are authoritarian cults influencing Trump and whose followers are his base.
Russian intelligence agents, hired Americans as well as Americans suckked into the Q cult are out messaging- and yes bots too. It is cyber warfare of the psyops variety. We are in a war and getting educated is the first best thing to do. We will need millions of people to get educated to reach out to the millions of Trump cult believers.
I strongly recommend watching the VOW and Seduced- docs on NXIVM. Why? one of the main techniques to help a cult member is to use ANOTHER cult to educate- Raniere was convicted and sentenced to 120 years in jail for trafficking. I have a number of blogs on my website on NXIVM.
What would be your top piece of advice for those of us losing loved ones to this cult craziness and illogical thinking?
Hassan: Educate yourselves first about my Influence Continuum and BITE model of Authoritarian Control. Learn about other destructive cults. Know that mind control indoctrination is not permanent. There is hope, but in order to be effective, there are strategic rules to learn.
I would add that trying to reason, provide facts and WIN the argument will only backfire. Adopt a curious, concerned approach. You might need to focus on rapport and trust building first before anything. Apologize if you said harsh, mean, derogatory things.
Dr. Hassan, why do you think QAnon absorbs people so quickly and completely? Within days, someone can go from being apolitical or left-leaning to being full-on Q. This seems different from other cults, where it may take months or longer, and therefore to narrow the window where friends and family can intervene. Thanks for being here today!
Hassan: I have watched some of their recruitment videos- they are effective- if you do not understand propaganda, or you trust the people in the docs as experts- which they are not (for the most part). What is confusing for many is why would Flynn, Binney and other former high level intelligence officers be involved with QAnon? Why would people become traitors to America?
Well, if you are in an authoritarian cult like Opus Dei (Barr) and you believe the Pope is evil, and that the world is God vs Satan, and everyone who does not support your group is Satanic, and that the separation of Church and State which the Founding Fathers put into place, then you can justify lying and anything else, because the ends justify the means.
Regarding the speed someone can be brought into a hypnotic trance and programmed, it depends on the operator and the target- but it can be minutes. The good news is the waking up can be that fast too.
Dr Hassan, I am a huge admirer of your work and have followed you for many years. Thank you for doing this.
My question is: as someone who has been working on cult deprogramming for many decades, have you ever seen anything akin to what we are facing with Qanon at the moment? And are there historical parallels we can point to when trying to speak with Qult members that might help them see what they are a part of? Thank you!
Hassan: Thank you for your kind words. NO. I have never encountered anything like what we are seeing today. I believe it is because we are now addicted to a digital environment and devices. One really has to watch the 3 docs I mentioned earlier here.
One point I have not yet made today- the importance of customizing the generic advice I offer in all my books to be effective on the specific person you wish to positively influence. One needs to “step into” their mindset- knowing who they were before entering the cult and what was important to them. Also really listen to how they came to believe- if they say they watched a particular movie or went to a rally or whatever, the details matter a lot.
I make my living by people either hiring me to coach them on how to help a loved one or helping an ex-member recover. I am overwhelmed with work, as you can imagine. I hope people with money and resources approach me soon to develop programs to help correct what has happened. Training programs, social media platform changes, educational efforts through the media. I am optimistic that we can turn this nightmare into really reforming America. But the structural corruption, the infiltration by authoritarian cults into our government, intelligence agencies, police forces, media, justice system needs to be corrected. People with power and money, if they have integrity and conscience could do so much. Sometimes I think about Michael Bloomberg and him spending $1 billion dollars on Presidential run, if he put that money to more effective use.
Dr. Hassan thank you for your time. How do you see us taking and combating this in the future? My primary concern is the apparent dissolution of imperial fact. How do we protect academic and political institutions from this? Similar things are going on with climate change deniers. should we be holding media more accountable, or how do we restore faith in science and logic and fact?
Hassan: I wrote about 4th generation warfare in my book- I did a blog too and interviewed one of the top experts on this.
Facts matter. Truth matter. Real experts are experts because they have spoken a long time learning a topic (I have 44 years since leaving the cult).
We do not live in a post truth world. We live in the age of Influence. Learn to discern using the Influence Continuum and BITE model of Authoritarian Control.
Do you think that the QAnon cult/political movement is going to continue and, in a way, become emboldened after Trump leaves office? Or will have more of its followers move themselves to act out in more desperation?
Hassan: I wrote a blog for NBC news- I predict QAnon will mostly go away and probably take a bunch of their members into other nonsense. But most will exit- especially if the media wises up, we amplify the voices of former cult members (all former cult members). A bunch of folks are doing #iGotOut in the spirit of the #MeToo movement in an effort to create. larger off ramp for Cult of Trump believers.
We truly appreciate your time and effort, Dr. Hassan, in reaching out to us. I have read your blogs and books involving cults and watched your YouTube videos. Thank you for spreading the awareness.
Here are my questions: 1) Our mom has a take-charge personality, a natural-born leader who can be stubborn about things she believes in. She has likewise convinced many of her friends to believe in QAnon and continues to watch videos almost the whole day. What can we do to break this pattern? 2) Will it help if you suddenly make the QAnon member lose complete access to all her social media account? 3) Can you give examples of respectful, nonjudgmental questions that we can ask QAnon members? 4) We have an idea on the people who may be feeding our mom information about QAnon. Do you have a suggestion on how we can cut off their communication or lessen it at least? 5) What are your suggestions for a non-QAnon family member who has been made to join a QAnon echo chamber? What are helpful ways/strategies the non-QAnon person could do in that group to sow seeds of doubt to the members?
Hassan: Have you watched the doc the Social Dilemma with her? BTW, I always tell my clients to watch or read things I recommend first BEFORE sharing with cult members- so you are not surprised and to know whether or not it would be helpful.
It sounds like you are not approaching this incrementally. But yes, if you can persuade her to stop watching/doing social media for a week–go to the woods–that will help a lot. If you watch https://www.thebrainwashingofmydad.com/ Jen’s dad got ill and all his talk radio, FOX news, etc. was turned off and he became himself again.
It is impossible for me to do justice to all your questions. A future program involving video is what i need because 95% of communication is nonverbal.
Learning about social psychology and sharing this is great first steps. I have gotten into a series on the National Geographic channel called Brain Games. If your mom is smart and likes to be in charge, ask her to watch an episode with you. If you can get her interested, one learns how little humans use reasoning, or interact with reality- versus our internal models of reality.
Thank you for doing this. I just finished my master’s degree in counseling. I feel a bit of a calling to become trained to support friends and family members as well as those in a cult. Between the pandemic and the election, we have not only collective trauma as a nation, but also the trauma from the Q anon and Trump cults. Do you offer training and certification or do you know of any? I can read your books of course. More hands-on training with a clinical lens would be most beneficial. I live in AZ, so there is a huge need.
Hassan: We will need tens of thousands of therapists and citizens to learn how to help. I am not aware of a single program in the US (yet) that offers training and credentialing in working with mind control victims. There is a program in the UK- a single one. But it is not a hands-on thing- more theoretical.
I am hoping to post an online course to teach cult basics. when it is finished, I will do a blog about it on this site. Feel free to subscribe to a once a week email of my blog plus media I did that week, if you like.
Do you have any recommendations for recovering codependents who want to talk to QAnon-believing-loved-ones? I’m finding it really difficult to follow the advice from “Combating Mind Control” without suppressing/denying my own feelings of outrage that my loved ones have fallen for such nonsense. How can we help our loved ones become their authentic selves again without suppressing our own authentic selves in the process?
Probably the less complicated questions: my loved ones have always listened to Rush Limbaugh and they’ve had times they realized he’s lying and stopped listening to him, but they always go back. And now that they’re getting sucked into QAnon I wonder: did Limbaugh “pave the way” for QAnon? What would you like to see happen as far as mind control tactics on radio and TV goes? Is education about the BITE model the only way to combat this without “infringing on free speech”?
Hassan: Well, if you understand the process of how people get deceptively recruited into a destructive cult, then you will be less angry and outraged at them (for being harmed). Regarding codependency, the best advice is to get to good therapist who can help you build a healthy self. A healthy self does not NEED to depend on someone else. They can CHOOSE to be interdependent, but this comes from strength, not weakness.
Rush Limbaugh is indeed the way many people got sucked into the right-wing political stuff. When people drive long distances/ spend long periods in their vehicles- much of what comes through the radio goes straight into our unconscious. This is why advertising works- it is rarely fact that drives us to believe we need to buy something.
The Influence Continuum and BITE model help, but everyone needs to learn to be an educated consumer. You have to stop yourselves if you feel addicted to your social media or whatever. You should be in control of your B-I-T-E and make sure you stay grounded and balanced and choose reputable sources for information.
Is there any hope when a spouse of 33 years believes I am a “demon”, and that what is clearly live footage on tv is “not real”?
Hassan: If most of the 33 years was positive, then I am very hopeful! And regarding them thinking you are a demon, that was my Moonie mindset to anyone who spoke against Father Moon. BTW, Moon’s son, who has a gun church, brought a busload of Moonies to DC for Wednesday’s debacle.
Second question so I don’t mind if it’s not answered, but do you think having sites like Parler taken down and Q conspiracy Twitter accounts removed will ultimately help the followers move away from their way of thinking?
Hassan: Dave Troy, a tech research expert did the Dismantling QAnon TEDx thing. https://freedomofmind.com/dismantling-qanon-a-tedxmidatlantic-must-watch-program/ and the video is 90 minutes long but a must see. Dave Troy has researched Parler.
De-platforming is a mixed bag. I am glad they are doing it but it forces the cultists further into the shadows which is bad. Ideologically, I spoke out against Russia for banning Scientology and the Jehovah’s Witnesses because it makes the cult members feel persecuted and pushes them underground where it is harder to influence them.
Dr. Hassan, thank you so much for being here. You are an invaluable resource and I am a long admirer of your work. I have tried wording this as simply as possible & I understand if you cannot answer, I apologize, if this is confusing.
Does the anti-Marxist/Jewish Question core of the Q-conspiracy reflect that the nature of the disinformation is at least “inspired by” soviet propaganda in the 1920s/30s? (Like the white army in Russian civil war and the re-birth of the blood libel/”on the altar of the international”/ anti-Trotsky, anti-Marxist, JQ propaganda tactics) Seems like they are using those same divisionary tactics play-by-play. Not throwing shade at Russia, I know people are not their government. Is tying Marxism/socialism to evil and making it indefensible the ultimate goal of the people at the top of your pyramid? (Obviously not the random idiots that started 8chan but the more insidious people that have used the conspiracy to gain power.)
Hassan: Lyndon LaRouche was conspiracy political cult leader who went far left to far right- he was friends with Roger Stone and has been in bed with Russian intelligence – well he is dead now- but it was LaRouche who made up the anti-Soros conspiracy crap and yes these can be traced back to the Protocol of the Elders of Zion- a propaganda piece done by Russia.
I do wish to say categorically I am for human rights and against authoritarianism. This is far better frame to use going forward than right or left. Because there can be authoritarianism (and is) on the left, as there is on the right. The Christian Right in the Cult of Trump are anti-democratic and a threat to freedom. They must be shut down. I am for religious freedom but this does not mean if you call yourself a religion you get to lie to them to recruit them, enslave people and exploit them.
Dr. Hassan thank you for your time. What would you say on three subjects? When is it appropriate to cut off a friend or loved one caught in this, keeping in mind your advice to leave a door open? What would you say to those who have very hard feelings or hate towards QAnon people? What would you say to folk who claim that we, being against QAnon are ourselves in a cult?
Hassan: I absolutely do not think it is good to entirely cut friends and loved ones off. You can say you need a time out (for yourself) and will circle back. But you can share photos, videos, and other positive memories- talk sports, music, art other topics which are not controversial.
I highly recommend a book by Celeste Headlee called We Need to Talk. She did TED talks, too. I listened to her book on audible as she read it. The book has NOTHING to do with cults- but focuses on teaching people how to talk and mostly listen with curiosity rather than judgement.
To your final question: I do not believe all cults are bad or authoritarian. But i do believe we need to be open to new ideas to learn. I also believe we need critical thinking abilities and reality-testing strategies. Many people have seen stage hypnotists like Derren Brown. As I wrote in the Cult of Trump, hypnotic techniques and patterns are used by #Cult45 and his minions. Learn about hypnosis. BTW, there are trained mental health professionals who practice hypnotherapy. It is a powerful approach, but don’t go to coaches and non-credentialed people, as they can mess with your head.
Will prosecuting people involved in the Insurrection just give fuel to their fire by creating martyrs for their cause? How do you propose this is handled in a way that doesn’t give them more power?
Hassan: I believe it is 100% necessary to arrest and prosecute everyone- especially the Republican leadership supporting the BIG LIE that Trump won the election. The enablers need to be held responsible.
Hello, I have recently lost a close family member because of QAnon theories. He uses the point that it’s ok to have differing views and I need to allow others to have their own views and opinions.
I feel complicit allowing him to have a view and opinion so insanely wrong that it makes me feel like the crazy one. What is the best way to approach this when those views and opinions are so blatantly wrong and baseless?
Hassan: This brings up an important point. Usually, family and friends were aware of the person getting influenced and did not invest in helping them and now may feel guilty or complicit that their loved one is in danger.
Use those feelings to move you to constructive activity. Educate yourself, educate others. Build a team. Listen to ex-Q people and empower them; some may need some support and help. I strongly recommend americandignitypac.com. It was formed to make a documentary of ex-Trump followers. I was interviewed in it, as were some other professionals. (They need money to finish the documentary and get it to be seen by the masses.) If you know people who do PR and wish to help, amplify my messages and messages of other experts speaking out intelligently, too.
Do you think the current de-platforming will help people unwind out of this cult?
Hassan: Less contact with cult info is better. The danger is the people follow Trump on to other platforms which have no checks and balances. Please remember Putin has been waging psyops on us- they are called “Active Measures”.
Do you believe another, larger movement will emerge from QAnon?
Hassan: NO, I do not believe QAnon will get bigger, but so much depends on the Biden administration and other people of influence who wish to truly make America recover from the mess we are in.
The Trump administration and supporting parties have created a scalable model of cult manipulation that could mutate into a new thing be the prototype of mass manipulations in the future.
What are the new innovations of QAnon’s manipulation schemes that have never been seen before?
Do you think what is happening with QAnon will be reproduced or integrated in other extremist movements such as ISIS?
What are government policies that should be advocated to prevent that? Could these policies be enacted without infringing on personal liberties?
Hassan: Excellent questions all!
I did deep research into ISIS recruiting online in 2015, and I was at top security meeting to discuss how to counter them online. What I have learned since is amazing and frightening- if used by authoritarians- as it is being used. AI is a big part of this- Data collection (5000 point of information has been collected on every voting American). QAnon, last I hear, was in 80 countries but not everyone of these has Trump as the world savior.
Aside from Global climate crisis, unethical mind control technologies and techniques are our 2nd biggest priority- well after getting the pandemic stopped and entities in place for next pandemic.
My doctoral dissertation gives a framework, I believe, for all government policies. It is clear to me that the two poles of the Continuum are authoritarians who are corrupt malignant narcissists (for the most part) and democratic human rights devotees. This is a global fact. We KNOW Putin is a political cult leader and runs a dictatorship, but “Trumpers” have been programmed to believe Russia is benign- and only China is a danger. China is absolutely huge authoritarian danger. But we have to get America functioning again.
Lastly, a reminder it is illegal to scream fire in a crowded theatre- but only if there isn’t a fire. Free Speech has responsibilities- and lies should NOT be given equal time in the media to facts.
Like many others, I have friends & loved ones who have succumbed Trump, Q, etc. and now basically live in a completely false reality.
I understand the tactics of being respectful, asking questions, don’t try to “win” the argument, etc….but I find that no matter what, we always reach an impasse because of the massive distrust they have for other than what comes from Trump and his devotees. They have been indoctrinated to completely and automatically dismiss anything from me (because I’m not a Trump supporter) or any credible news source. Many of them don’t even have a fundamental understanding how the internet works, and how info (or false info) gets delivered to us.
Given this, how can we ever help them make the leap between the fantasy world and the real world?
Hassan: By de-platforming Trump, we have taken a positive first step; however, impeachment if it happens and if the Senate is able to vote to convict him soon, this will neutralize the story of how Trump will remain in power- because he will lose his government benefits and never be able to run again. I am not sure the Senate will get the chance to vote. I hear McConnell say he would not bring to vote before the 19th.
In case you haven’t noticed it- the big media giants have censored me and my colleagues. they have censored Bandy Lee, editor of the Dangerous Case of Donald Trump. Hopefully, the media moguls will stop the censorship and allow us to teach to the public. I do believe people reading the Cult of Trump book gives them an explanatory framework which is based in fact and offers a way forward.
Going back to January 6th, when you first started to see the footage coming in of the siege of the Capitol building, what were your thoughts when you first saw the QAnon Shaman? Have you seen this video?
I agree wholeheartedly that QAnon is an intentional alternative reality game. From my perspective, this improv actor decked out like Enkidu and obsessed with neuro-linguistic programming won the firsts level of The Storm.
How do I even begin to explain hypnotherapy, active imagination, Cybernetics, trance-formations and NLP to people who think magic is something that only exists in Walt Disney movies?
Hassan: Well, I just watched the 10-minute video and thank you for sharing with me. I think this is short enough to put on my calendar to do a critique of what he said and I guess this is the same guy arrested for invading the Capitol.
I have too much to comment on. However, people do need to know that even in Scientology, some of things in their doctrine are true. Regarding MkUltra, Operation Mockingbird, Paperclip, these are all documented and factual. My cult, I found out later, was used by the CIA / KCIA (South Korean) to brainwash South Korean dissidents in order to counter North Korean brainwashing programs. This is a fact I can demonstrate. the Moonies were brought to the US to recruit on college campuses (where I was recruited) to be anti-communist and counter the anti-Vietnam war protest movement. The own and operate the Washington Times newspaper and so much more…
Regarding NLP, MKultra records do say Milton Erickson was consulted. Erickson was a psychiatrist who pioneered a much more effective hypnosis approach, one that was put into a structure by Grinder and Bandler which they called NLP. I was trained in NLP in 1980/81 and I got disillusioned when I realized they were teaching an amoral system which could be easily abused to harm people. i wanted to learn hypnosis but was told I needed a Master’s degree in counseling to be taught Ericksonian hypnosis. So, in 1985 I got my first Master’s (I now have two) and became a mental health professional- dedicated to “do no harm” and to help people and not harm them.
Much of what the guy in the video said called be seen as projection- a technique the Cult of Trump uses all the time. The fact is Trump is a sex abuser and a known convicted trafficker, Jeffrey Epstein and Maxwell introduced him to Melania. I will be surprised if Trump does not pardon Maxwell before he is kicked out of office. I have co developed the first program for trafficking survivors to understand pimp mind control. Learn more by going to endingthegame.com.
NLP, hypnosis are techniques to manipulate people- the best way to protect yourself is to learn about it. It is not magical.
My Q-person spends a lot of time watching long videos. To me, they seem like they are brainwashing videos and are constructed in a particular way to draw a person in, lower their rational defenses and convince them of unproven things. It reminds me a little of Tony Robbins.
Do you know of any videos or articles that deconstruct the techniques these videos use?
Hassan: Long videos are indeed what gets people programmed, especially if the person is sleep deprived, or watching late at night, or watching stoned or drunk- this doesn’t help either.
If I had the time and help, I do believe examining the cult videos and recording an analysis while watching one, would probably be a very useful tool to help people exit. Ex-QAnon folks can be especially helpful to help call out the lies and disinformation. Have you watched the 90 min Dismantling QAnon TEDx I was involved in? Strongly recommend this.
I know when exiting the Moon cult, I went back and reread Master Speaks lectures, reread the cult book (the Divine Principle), the Bible, and talked to many theologians and asked questions.
I have a question that I have been struggling with for a long time. My brother (we’re both in our 20s) is a diehard, day-one Q follower. Over the past four years he’s gone from a “Bernie Bro” to an eschatological far-right nationalist and evangelical Christian. We grew up in a liberal, secular house, and he’s somehow managed to keep all of his beliefs secret from our parents and the rest of our family–because, although he’s fully down the rabbit hole, he still understands the blowback that “coming out” as a Q-follower would cause. Part of me wants to expose him to my parents so they can join my “fight” to bring him back to reality, but I also don’t want to potentially further strain his familial relations. He and I are barely on speaking terms at this point. Is it better for him to have blissfully unaware parents, or parents who actually understand what’s happening to him?
I kept his belief in Q a secret for years because I assumed it was just an embarrassing phase he would grow out of, but it’s ruining his life now and I fear for what might happen in the weeks and months to come.
Hassan: Hard for me to advise in just a couple of paragraphs but generically, start by educating yourself by reading the three books posted at the top of this AMA. Then think about who else you can approach to build a team. I recommend you approach a person you wish to discuss it with this way- first, say, “I wish to have a confidential conversation with you about X. Are you concerned too? If so, give me your word, that what we discuss will be kept just between us.” If the person agrees and your trust them, impress on them that you are concerned that X might find out and it will make the problem even more difficult. Eventually you will say the same to your parents- what you don’t want is them flying off the handle and confronting your brother- it will probably make things worse. Build a team. In the meanwhile, I have given a lot of advice about steps to take to build rapport with your brother- let him feel that you love him no matter what, and you want to build trust so he feels ok sharing his thoughts and feelings with you.
And Do NOT shame him or anyone who is starting to express doubts. Don’t say, I told you so, or How could you believe this crap? Be compassionate, patient and keep saying if something is true, it will stand up to scrutiny.
What do you feel about the subject of shame and how effective it is to combat the spreading of “lesser-popular” ideas? And how the perspective on shame being changed over the last couple of decades have perhaps affected the rise and attraction of conspiracy theories and sharing of conspiracy theories and alt-right ideologies?
Hassan: I believe that the nihilistic- “you create your own reality” and other forms of magical thinking is quite destructive- if people are not also thinking critically.
I started in previous post to talk about the scientific method- what I wish to add to that is that it is a community (worldwide) effort, not an individual thing. So, I did a quantitative study on my BITE model, but I expect there will be many people out to prove me wrong, or who come up with a better theory/method to explain the phenomenon. My commitment is to help people, not to validate my own theories. If something is true, it will be borne out. People have been reading my first book since 1988 and countless people have read it and exited a destructive cult–even when born into it. So, I know I captured the patterns, at least many of them, that matter.
But I am a 66-year-old who has never done video gaming. I credit Jim Stewartson- one of the original developers of Alternate reality gaming– to explain to me that this is the foundation of QAnon. He showed me hypnotic NL stuff inserted into Assassin’s Creed to get people indoctrinated into Cicada3301 which was the precursor to QAnon. There is so much more to learn.
I was wondering if people with strong tendencies to fall for conspiracies (flat earth, QAnon, etc.) are capable of self-reflection, and if so, what are the current statistics that suggest full recovery.
Hassan: The major first technique for mind controlling people is confusing them- overloading them with information is the most common method. Whenever there is economic uncertainty, people are more susceptible to have a narrative to explain how this happened. It helps us feel more secure and gives us hope.
As a mental health professional, I want to encourage everyone to be functional and to do this in pandemic times of social isolation, people are especially vulnerable. It is a coping mechanism to believe that COVID is not deadly- makes it easier to rationalize not wearing a mask etc.
There are no statistics that I am aware of regarding recovery, much less full recovery. There is so much research that needs to be done to show that mind control (undue influence) is a public health problem- that people have breakdowns, commit suicide, become addicts… so much needs to be done
How do you think the Qanon rioters who stormed the capitol will react after being accused of being ANTIFA? I’ve seen some photoshopped images where the rioters were placed in front of a green screen to make the riot appear fake. Will some of them snap out of it once they realize they have become victims of the conspiracy themselves?
Hassan: There are many things that can be done to help people wake up. Asking questions to people who went to DC to answer honestly. How many people did you see/meet, talk with who said they were Antifa? is it possible, the people accused of being antifa were actually Trump supporters or their paid agents?
What I’ve told the family member: “We love each other and that’s the foundation. Any news or ideas that we can’t personally verify together, let’s just see those as interesting theories we can share with each other but keep an open mind.”
Good idea or would you recommend differently?
Hassan: I like it. I would tweak it.
Look, I know you are very intelligent (educated or whatever is appropriate, but don’t overdo it) and that you have integrity. I know you would never knowingly believe anything that is fraudulent or do anything that would be hurtful, so let’s agree to start here. And if something is true it will stand up to scrutiny. But the burden of proof lies on the person (side) who has the most controversial/ extreme beliefs to prove it and not on us to disprove it. for example, someone has a cream and the claim is it cures breast cancer. While it would be great if the cream actually works, without double blinded, replicated studies, why spend large amounts of money on something based on a commercial or someone’s anecdotal evidence? The folks I have talked to about QAnon all still believe Trump will be in power after Jan 20th and have told me if he isn’t, they are done with QAnon. So, we will see.
Plus, the vast majority of news doesn’t affect our day to day lives, so it’s easy just ignore my family member’s ideas, but over time it gotten more engrained and illogical… Still, does it really matter?
Hassan: I believe in Freedom of Mind. This means, if you are an adult, you should control your own mind. Not someone else or some ideology. You should have an INTERNAL locus of control and not an EXTERNAL locus of control.
QAnon and Trump cult members repeated say things like, “do the research or “I have done the research” and you need to have them tell you what they mean precisely. Have they sought out critics and former members? Experts in related fields of study? or just researched by depending on the people who recruited and indoctrinated you?
Keep coming back to: If something is true, it will stand up to scrutiny. And that if they can prove it to you, you will believe it too.
Do you have any thoughts on nature vs nurture when it comes to susceptibility to a cult or psyop?
Hassan: Yes- It is the social influences and the lack of inoculation/ education that makes folks the most vulnerable.
My loved one has been taking everything Donald Trump says as the gospel truth, even when I cite articles that provide evidence to refute a claim. He is a very intelligent man, and to see him retweeting false information or believing blatant falsehoods is very concerning- he just told me today that the Pope and Italian government changed the Dominion systems.
My question is: How can I help my loved one to verify information before believing something that he used to find extreme?
Hassan: Alex Jones has done over 1000 propaganda stories from Russia- these got amplified by Breitbart, then Fox and others. Remember how he said Sandy Hook shootings were fake? made it a conspiracy?
Well, he was sued and forced under oath to admit he was wrong and he even said (in a deposition) that he was psychotic. Dominion voting machines has filed a billion-dollar lawsuit for lies being told about them; this will bring the truth forward.
It was all these lawsuits Trump’s people filed that got turned down that demonstrated there was NO Evidence of widespread voter fraud. Facts matter. But the issue, as I have repeatedly said is- the burden of proof is on them to prove there was fraud, not just say it.
How many people do you think are in this Qult right now? In the USA, and the around the world?
Hassan: I do not know but I believe it is probably in the millions, unfortunately. I saw Ron Suskind on MSNBC the other night and he predicted that after Biden’s inauguration, that most Trump devotees will fall away- i believe this too- especially if the Biden admin is smart and strategic. but he estimated 15 million people would do anything for Trump including acts of violence. That number is probably right- certainly not 70 million… but even 1 million people willing to die or kill is frightening. I should state categorically that I was prepared to kill or die on command without hesitation or doubt when in the cult. partly why I have dedicated my life work to exposing this phenomenon.
What emboldens a cult, and what weakens it? What are the most effective deradicalization measures aimed at individuals?
Hassan: The question is so broad- political cult of QAnon, I assume because there are so many other kinds of bad cults.
What emboldens is media amplification, enablers and other authority figures giving their weight to it- so when Pat Robertson said God wanted Trump to be President, people who trust him voted for Trump in 2016. When Robertson says, Trump is over and lost the election, the same person who was a Trump believer is likely to not follow him anymore.
What weakens Trump is investigative reporting and leaks from his own administration and especially people he appointed and trusted and now speaks out against him. Chris Krebs was the cybersecurity (Republican guy_ appointed by Trump who made sure the election was secure. When Trump did not like him saying this- he was fired- but Krebs still speaks out saying that Trump is telling the BIG LIE- that Trump won by a landslide- however there is NO Evidence (Barr said this too) that election was stolen or should have been won by Trump.
Regarding the most effective deradicalization approach aimed at individuals is explicated in my Freedom of Mind book. Creating a team of family, friends, ex-members and others to do an ethical influence campaign aimed at empowering the person to think for themselves. Far better than strangers are people who know the person’s authentic self and how they changed when radicalized. For example, in chapter 10 of the book, I teach a 3-step phobia cure intervention. But the best person at a good moment and context needs to do it. When the person is estranged from everyone, building rapport and trust always needs to comes first.
Hello Dr. Hassan. When I saw your name, I decided to pick up The Cult of Trump as an audio book, so far, I have thoroughly been enjoying it.
Are there any other authors or readings you recommend when it comes to looking into cults and manipulative behaviors and how to avoid them? Trump has proven his strategies to be effective: how concerned do you think we should be about other politicians, on either side of the aisle, attempting to recreate his success in the future? Additionally, I saw you would not recommend giving The Cult of Trump to a Trump supporter to read; are there any other books or readings you would say are good recommendations for people who may have fallen for Trump’s tactics?
I appreciate you taking your time to answer our questions.
Hassan: I am glad to hear you are enjoying listening to the audiobook. I read the book.
The overall strategy is finding what will work with the person you care about- and that is trial and error/ feedback. Does the person you care about like to read books? if not, what do they like? podcasts? videos? I have been putting out a ton of content over many years.
Have you all watched the FAMILY on Netflix? It is a cult that has infiltrated American politics for over 80 years. Watch it. then you might ask your loved one to watch it- it only gets to Trump the last episode or so. the idea is to use anything as a way to discuss and learn and share.
Does the person you care about think Scientology is a bad cult? Leah Remini’s series is on Netflix too. – I am aware that several QAnon people told me they don’t watch Netflix because Obama has a deal to produce things there but you can share other things- even offer to buy a subscription for a year… back to Scientology, or NXIVM there are so many good things out there now- especially former cult members material.
To help a loved one is it necessary to allow them to send you links to gain trust? I made a pretty big boundary with my sister-in-law to not send me things and it went downhill from there. We aren’t interacting but I am concerned how far she has gone down the rabbit hole. I would like to build trust again to help her get out of this.
Hassan: I recommend NOT shutting down communication which includes saying you do not wish to see anything. Seeing what they send you and discussing is a major positive thing to do. But I think most people act in an all or nothing way. Be balanced. Do not lose your center.
I recommend saying something like, I love you or I respect and care deeply about you- what can I do to restore some of the trust we used to have in each other? if it is said sincerely, be patient, and let them think. My clients always rush through things. give lots of silence- especially after you ask a good question. wait for an answer and if they deflect or change the subject, gently point this out and ask them for a response.
Do you think the fact that Q indoctrinates people by posing questions and inviting people to “do their own research” changes how best to “unprogram” these people, compared to traditional cults, where they listen solely to a religious leader?
Hassan: Most cults when someone is being recruited tells them to “not take anything on faith, and do your research, and please leave if you do not agree” but these are words for strategy not in reality. Most destructive cults tell their members, the door is there” but then what is meant is your life will fall apart, you will be possessed by demons, get cancer… there are 4 pages single spaced in Freedom of Mind of phobias I have encountered in destructive cults
Is it common for people who belong to cults like religions, to have parents that believe you are their property, and not an individual?
Hassan: I think so. Healthy parenting is developmentally appropriate- with the aim of empowering the child to fulfill their own unique talents and nature. So, healthy parents parent with an aim of the child becoming an individuated adult- who can think for themselves and not be obedient clones and just do what their parents tell them to do. I might add that women have been treated as property, abused exploited, misrepresented- this needs to change in a big way and is.
Is MAGA the largest cult you have ever encountered?
Hassan: Yes, I think so. Of course, I believe the Chinese govt has much more extreme control over far more people, but America is my country and as you will read in the Cult of Trump there are many cults that comprise the cult of trump. After the 20th of January, all the people in these cults will do whatever their leadership tells them to do, and if the leaders see Trump going to prison, or fleeing justice and moving to a country with no extradition, they are unlikely to remain devoted. Everyone is about to learn so much more about Russian involvement; however, the super hack done to our networks over the past several years might have erased a lot of the most incriminating evidence. Still there is human intelligence which will come forward, you will see.
Hi, Dr. Hassan, I am new to your work but will definitely be reading it! My Question: I would like to know your thoughts on the degree to which the US’s puritanical heritage with its especially hardline attitude toward sexuality (or even just our Judeo-Christian heritage in general) has led to a nationwide epidemic of sexual repression, how that might make people more susceptible to fears about grandiose sexual perversions such as we see driving QAnon, and what might be some solutions for our culture on this topic. I have my own background in a cult-like Christian group and since leaving it have welcomed back my inherent sexuality (I’m cis-het, but I was still repressed), which has gone hand in hand with growth creatively, spiritually, and a general sense of happiness and well-being. Now I’m trying to bring this further into the conversation, primarily through writing. Thank you.
Regarding religion, I was raised conservative Jewish, and after exiting the Moonies was totally confused what i believed and why. Over decades of exploration, I found an approach that really resonated with me deeply- and it was renewal Judaism- where it is Gay friendly, Women’s rights, non-dogmatic, observed the many rituals, holidays, practices, but people do it out of choice and not coercion. For me a big reason I decided that for me, I did not believe in Christianity was this focus on evil, sin and Satan and the teaching that the body was evil and such. I am for healthy balance of mind and body and spirit. I have many Christian friends and they have a very mature, responsible approach to their faith and do not believe everyone but their group is destined for hell or is spiritually inferior. I personally believe in God, but she (ha) is not an anthropomorphism (projection of human). There is so much of reality humans do not know or understand. it helps to stay humble and open to learning.
For sure we all have to focus on our planet’s survival and cooperation and collaboration between people who are free will always beat mind control clones of authoritarian cults
I am committed to navigating support of my loved one with this rapport/love/non-judgmental advice you’ve mentioned.
Often, when this sensitive topic of conspiracy theory / Q adjacent topics come up, my loved one will retreat to “I just don’t know.” and I can usually see their physiology shift, the wall goes up. For them, this doubt that it “just might be true” appears to be what keeps them linked in.
This is after significantly reducing screen time, reducing IRL contact (due both to COVID, and my request that we do not take our children to playdates that are overtly anti-mask) – both of these circumstances also fuel that resentment of “this is all happening to us” —
Any specific dialogical advice for when we get to “I just don’t know…maybe it could be true?” so that it doesn’t just become a conversation that dissolves and changes the focus, tone, intent of the moment?
Hassan: The Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is a big thing with humans. It is emotional, not rational.
When anyone says, I just don’t know- this is good first step. You can agree. And then discuss how we can know for sure if something is true or not, real or not. But the answer is almost always through use of frontal cortex and reasoning and analyzing data.
What I love about the scientific method is it deals with theories/ hypotheses and not TRUTH, as it assumes that if something is true that it is testable or provable. Humanity continues to evolve and our knowledge continues to grow. With all the cults and cases I have done over 40 years, every cult has its ideology and its founder/ leader and both can be subjected to careful, systematic analysis. The key to helping a cult member is not imposing your criteria on them, but getting them to become conscious of what their criteria was for getting involved- and what they would need to exit. often former members- especially ones close to the leader give ample evidence that the leader is not to be trusted.
Dismantling QAnon: A TEDxMidAtlantic Program (90 minutes with David Troy, Jim Stewartson, Desiree Kane and myself)