This anti-cult activist is devoting himself to ‘deprogramming’ Americans stuck in the ‘cult of Trump’

This anti-cult activist is devoting himself to ‘deprogramming’ Americans stuck in the ‘cult of Trump’
Steven Hassan in September 2019, Wikimedia Commons

Steven Hassan, an ex-member of the Unification Church who is now an anti-cult activist, has had a lot to say about Donald Trump’s presidency — arguing that the MAGA movement has become a cult and that Trump’s unquestioning devotees act like cult members. Hassan’s book, “The Cult of Trump: A Leading Cult Expert Explains How the President Uses Mind Control,” was published in October 2019. And ten months into Joe Biden’s presidency, the 67-year-old Hassan is still sounding the alarm about the cult-like behavior of Trump worshippers.

Journalist Rachael Allen took an in-depth look at Hassan’s anti-Trump work in an article published by Slate on June 1, pointing out that Hassan has been applying his anti-cult “methods to politics.”

“Since the January 6 insurrection, Hassan’s profile has risen dramatically,” Allen observes. “Publications like the Boston Globe, the L.A. Times and Vanity Fair have turned to him for articles about how to move past the ‘cult of Trump’ and rescue loved ones.”

Hassan, however, doesn’t consider all Trump supporters to be cult members. Some Republicans have voiced their support for Trump simply because it is politically expedient. Rather, Hassan has focused on a certain type of Trump supporter: those who blindly worship the ex-president and refuse to question him in any way.

“Building on the work of cult researchers and psychiatrists,” Allen writes, “Hassan has developed a model for evaluating whether people are unduly influenced, eliciting controversy along the way not just for his expansive definition of cult, but his use of scientifically debated terms like brainwashing. After the Capitol riot, his platform is bigger than ever. But applying the framework of cults to politics is a complicated maneuver — and some worry that, in its sensationalism, it risks dividing the nation even further.”

Hassan, Allen notes, has “argued that Trump exhibits the personality traits and behaviors of a cult leader” and “thinks Trump controls, for example, his followers’ behavior by shunning those who don’t promise absolute loyalty, short-circuiting critical thinking with phrases like ‘fake news,’ and instilling phobias such as fear of immigrants.”

Allen points out that Hassan doesn’t believe that all Trump supporters need deprogramming, only the ones who exhibit more extreme behavior.

“While he says he understands the dangers of overstating the influence of a group like QAnon,” Allen writes, “(Hassan) sees his own media appearances as a way of countering news stories that dismiss Trumpists as crazy…. Even with all his publicity, Hassan has had only a few paying clients reach out to him about a loved one swept away by Trump or QAnon, and only one has materialized into an actual conversation with the devotee: a man who approached him last year about his wife, an ardent QAnon supporter. Hassan spoke with the woman, and she agreed to stop going to QAnon websites and said that if Trump wasn’t reelected, she would leave the group.”

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