Lev Parnas, during his interview with Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, described himself as waking up from a cult and Donald Trump like a “cult leader.” Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney for twelve years, expressed similar thoughts and feelings. Omarosa Manigault Newman, in her book Unhinged, described leaving the cult of Trumpworld. George Conway, Republican attorney and advisor to The Lincoln Project, has repeatedly described Trump as a mentally unfit narcissist and said his wife, Kellyanne Conway, was in a cult. Rick Wilson referred to the GOP as having been turned into a cult, lorded over by Trump. Wilson messaged me that he had read my book and said it was fantastic. Wilson has a new book out: Running Against the Devil: A Plot to Save America from Trump–And Democrats from Themselves. Anthony Scaramucci was one of the first brave Republicans to speak out about the Cult of Trump. He likened Trump to being like “Jim Jones,” that he thought the GOP needing deprogramming, and called my book “brilliant” and “required reading.” Of course, Brian Stelter of CNN’s Reliable Sources did a 35 minute podcast interview with me and then did a 4 minute segment on The Cult of Trump. This prompted a Tucker Carlson segment that then got spread like wildfire among right media sources like Breitbart, Rush Limbaugh and others.

On January 9th, 2020, Slate’s podcast by Virginia Heffernan called Trumpcast, interviewed me for this episode:  Why People Fall for Trump’s Political Cult: A cult expert weighs in on Trumpism. Then the following day @VirginiaHeffernan wrote a great Opinion column in the Los Angeles Times, Call Trumpism what it is: a cult. Virginia Heffernan then appeared on Brooke Baldwin’s CNN show explained about the substance of her column. Check out the transcript.

But in case you are new to this web site and my work, and wonder,  “What is meant by the term cult?” I have insight into this. You see, I myself was in a cult, in the 1970s–the Moonies.

As a mental health professional who was actually deprogrammed from a cult, I have spent more than forty years focused on the issue of brainwashing, mind control, and destructive cults. And, as such, I would like to weigh in and provide what I feel is essential information at this historical moment in time.

First of all, it is untrue that people in authoritarian cults are unintelligent, uneducated, weak, lost, or other negative adjectives. For the most part, this is a form of victim-blaming that makes the name-caller feel superior (like it could never happen to them). The truth is that we are all human and constantly subjected to influences. We are situationally vulnerable. And, we can all be deceived–especially by authority figures whom we traditionally trust, like the President of the United States. Or the Attorney General or Senators or Congresspeople. Or the media.

We are in a crisis of trust, and people are reporting feeling numb, confused and overwhelmed. This disorientation is what it feels like during mind control processes and why it is vital to anchor ourselves in facts and the rule of law. We need to trust in the integrity of leaders and institutions, such as the Constitution and our government. When leaders lie and betray their conscience and their constituents, all suffer. Donald Trump was impeached by the House, and the Senate, controlled by the Republicans obedient to Trump, appears to wish to rush through and find Trump not guilty. This is a historical moment.

I reject the claim that we live in a post-truth world or that there is anything like an “alternative fact.” There are lies, disinformation, and propaganda, but facts are testable and stand up to scrutiny! We live in the Age of Influence, and our knowledge of how to manipulate people and their behavior, information, thoughts, and emotions are the four overlapping components of the BITE model of Mind Control (that I have developed).

What is a Political Cult?

What is the difference between being in the Mafia, a gang, or a destructive political cult? In my opinion, the control of the BITE Model components is essentially the same except in terms of extremes, which can be seen on the Influence Continuum (a chart that demonstrates ethical influence versus unethical influence). The Mafia and gangs recruit people into them, but, mainly, people know what they are getting involved in.

Political cults can seem to be different than religious cults, in that the leader is typically not claiming to be the messiah outright, though many still view the leader as a kind of savior. The goal is state power and with it, great wealth and influence over masses of people and resources. Tremendous political and financial influence is required. Extensive use of social media as well as broadcast media to promote deception. What we currently are experiencing has never been seen in American history. Indoctrination is done incrementally and the closer you are drawn to the top of the pyramid, the more authoritarian control is exerted. With destructive cults, there is typically a leader who demands total obedience or loyalty: Mafia bosses, gang leaders, and even Donald Trump. (Trump even wrote a chapter in a book about how he delights in revenge on anyone he perceives to act in any way he does not like.)

With all mind-control cults, one is not allowed to express negative thoughts or feelings without expecting punishment or ostracism. Cult members always need to think in black-and-white, us-versus-them, good-versus-evil terms. Phobias programmed into cult member’s minds cause irrational fears that if they do not follow, terrible things will not only happen to them but to their family, community, country, or the world. Cult members engage in thought-stopping when shown anything that might cause them to doubt. Loaded language terms like “Fake News” or “Enemies of the People” describe any information that contradicts the cult leader, ideology, or practices.

The good news is that, in time, people can and do come to realize they were in a mind-control cult. I woke up in 1976 from the Moon cult, but I needed the help of my family, friends, and ex-Moonies who cared to intervene. People will come to understand, as I did, that the cult leader does not care about them at all, nor believes in integrity, honesty, or being trustworthy, that the cult leader will “throw them under the bus” rather than take any responsibility. People are usually ashamed and embarrassed, but if they make an effort to learn about social psychology and cults, they will survive and thrive. They will begin to reconnect with their old values and beliefs, particularly if they have family and friends who care about them.

My aim in writing The Cult of Trump was to provide a framework for helping people understand what is occurring right now in the United States of America. There are in fact many wealthy powerful cults operating with tax exemption status that is not deserved, like Scientology. There are, I believe, millions of Americans who are former members of these cult groups. There is reason to hope regarding our country’s democracy but, first, we must correctly diagnose the situation. The Cult of Trump and its leader must be held accountable for not being true to his oath of office.


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