Oct 16

“The Cult of Trump” by Steven Hassan

Like [Jim] Jones and other cult leaders, Trump exhibits features of what psychologist Erich Fromm called “malignant narcissism”—bombastic grandiosity, a bottomless need for praise, lack of empathy, pathological lying, apparent sadism, and paranoia. In short, he fits the stereotypical psychological profile of a cult leader. Author of The Cult of Trump Steven Hassan, in The Daily Beast

Why do so many still bow to Trump despite so much evidence he’s an incompetent and malicious president? Steven Hassan, an expert on cultism, addresses this in his new book called The Cult of Trump: A Leading Cult Expert Explains How the President Uses Mind Control. 

From the publisher’s description:

…(M)ind-control and licensed mental health expert Steven Hassan draws parallels between our current president and people like Jim Jones, David Koresh, Ron Hubbard and Sun Myung Moon, arguing that this presidency is in many ways like a destructive cult. He specifically details the ways in which people are influenced through an array of social psychology methods and how they become fiercely loyal and obedient. Hassan was a former’ Moonie’ himself, and he draws on his forty years of personal and professional experience studying hypnosis and destructive cults, working as a deprogrammer, and a strategic communications interventionist. He emphasizes why it’s crucial that we recognize ways to identify and protect ourselves and our loved ones.

In a recent article (The Daily Beast) Hassan refers to the cult leaders’ “playbook” and lists some of the mind-control strategies employed by Trump:

These include his grandiose claims, his practice of sowing confusion, his demand for absolute loyalty, his tendency to lie and create alternative ‘facts’ and realities, his shunning and belittling of critics and ex-believers, and his cultivating of an ‘us versus them’  mindset.
Of all these tactics, the ‘us versus them’ mindset is probably one of  the most effective. From the moment you are recruited into a cult, you are made to feel special, part of an ‘inside’ group in opposition to unenlightened, unbelieving, dangerous ‘outsiders.’

Kirkus Reviews adds to this: “…Hassan makes it clear that he is a master of certain rhetorical devices that do not require much intelligence but speak to much practice: the repetition of words and phrases (e.g., ‘I’m a very stable genius, very smart’) that, through ‘a primarily unconscious and memory-based process,’ lead the listener to think that they must be coming from more than one source and are therefore true, ‘crowding out analytical thinking and causing the mind to retreat into a kind of trance.'”

How to convince people they’ve fallen prey to such cultism? For one thing, oppositional attitudes don’t help the “deprogramming” process. From the Daily Beast piece: “…(A)ttacking their beliefs is doomed to fail. To help them recover their critical faculties, it is essential to develop  a warm and positive relationship before teaching them about how mind control works. I often do that by showing how it operates in other groups, like the Jonestown cult or Scientology…Ultimately, the goal is to educate and inspire people to regain their capacity for critical thinking, and to free their own minds.”

Hassan’s book has received praise from various mental health professionals, including psychiatrist Thomas G. Gutheil, Harvard Medical School:

…Hassan opens a wide-ranging, thoughtful and well-researched analysis of some of the most puzzling aspects of the current presidency, including the remarkable passivity of fellow Republicans, the gross pandering of many members of the press, the curious avoidance of clear labels that could and should be applied  by the media. Quibbles and speculations about diagnosis do not play central roles. Instead, the current administration is best understood through cult analogies, including factors such as total authoritarianism and intolerance of any questioning or deviation from the ‘playbook.’ This is both a clarifying and a terrifying book. Highly recommended.

Nov 06

Is Someone You Love a Cult Member?

Is someone you love a cult member?

Each of the following writers is an intelligent, analytical thinker—and each has been one in his/her earlier years: Steven Hassan was involved with the Moonies; Janja Lalich and Alexandra Stein, in separate instances, attached themselves to political movements later exposed as cults. All three are now experts on cult control.

I. Steven Hassan‘s 1989 Combating Cult Mind Control has been one of the most widely touted books about cults. Every cult member is subjected to forms of mind control:

Mind control is the process by which individual or collective freedom of choice and action is compromised by agents or agencies that modify or distort perception, motivation, affect, cognition and/or behavioral outcomes. It is neither magical nor mystical, but a process that involves a set of basic social psychological principles. Conformity, compliance, persuasion, dissonance, reactance, guilt and fear arousal, modeling and identification are some of the staple social influence ingredients well studied in psychological experiments and field studies…

In Hassan’s more recent (2012) Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults, and Beliefs he “provides an up-to-the-minute guide to the reality of ‘undue influence’—the preferred term for mind control—in the post 9/11 era.” As defined on his website, “Undue influence is any act of persuasion that overcomes the free will and judgment of another person.  People can be unduly influenced by deception, flattery, trickery, coercion, hypnosis, and other techniques…”

II. Take Back Your Life: Recovering from Cults and Abusive Relationships (2006) by Janja Lalich.

Malia Wollan, New York Times Magazine, recently reported Lalich’s advice regarding “How to Get Someone Out of a Cult.” Excerpts about connecting with a cult member:

‘Do everything you can to stay in touch,’ says Janja Lalich, a sociology professor and consultant who studies cults and coercive influence and control…

Don’t try to forcibly remove someone, even if you’re gravely concerned…Today’s preferred method is ‘exit counseling,’ and it requires persuasion by therapists, lawyers, friends and family members.

Try to get one-on-one time, and if you do, don’t use it to harp. Instead, ask questions and make sure you’ve already collected anti-cult evidence like news articles or memoirs…

Give some thought to working with a team of friends or family to set up a good-cop, bad-cop dynamic in which one of you is more forceful and another is warmer and more willing to listen. Make sure the inductee knows there is a safe and nonjudgmental place to come home to…

III. Alexandra Stein is the author of Terror, Love and Brainwashing: Attachment in Cults and Totalitarian Systems (2016).   

Former cult member Stein explains cult leadership (Aeon):

Not all leaders want to get rich, gain sexual favours, or grab political power. But all want utter control over others. Money, sex, free labour or loyal combatants are all fringe benefits, and certainly most leaders take advantage of these, some in a big way. But absolute control over their relationships is the key.

These leaders rule over isolating, steeply hierarchical and closed structures, some with front groups serving as transmission belts to the outside world. This isolating structure is the second characteristic of a totalist group. As the organisation grows, it develops concentric, onion-like layers with the leader in the centre providing the driving movement. There might be several layers – from the leader, to the lieutenants, to the elite inner circle, to other varying levels of membership, down to mere fellow-travellers or sympathisers.