Cult survivor explains how Trump 'weaponizes' the 'us vs. them' tactics of a 'cult leader'

Cult survivor explains how Trump 'weaponizes' the 'us vs. them' tactics of a 'cult leader'

Many critics of former President Donald Trump, from liberals and progressives to right-wing Never Trump conservatives, have described his authoritarian MAGA movement as a “cult.” And political pundits aren’t the only ones who have been making that argument; some former cult members are saying the same thing. One of them is Diane Benscoter, founder of the anti-cult and an ex-member of the Unification Church. During a Sunday, January 9 appearance on CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” Benscoter laid out some of the ways in which Trump conducts himself like a cult leader.

Benscoter, author of the 2013 book “Shoes of a Servant: My Unconditional Devotion to a Lie,” told host Brian Stelter, “I think that what’s really important to understand here is that there is a direct line between what we traditionally think of as the most important, dangerous aspects of a cult and what’s going on with the mass radicalization today in society. And you can draw that line between he attributes of a cult leader and the attributes of authoritarian leadership like Donald Trump. And also, you can draw a line between the tactics — and that’s the most important thing, the tactics — that are being used to take advantage of people’s vulnerabilities. How they hold them there is the same, and the exit strategy is also the same.”

Benscoter, now 65, was 17 when she joined the Unification Church in 1974 and became an unquestioning follower of the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon. The Oregon resident spent half a decade as a member of that cult before her family staged an intervention and got her out; now, she is a vehement critic of the Unification Church, and she sees parallels between the Unification Church and the far-right MAGA movement.

Benscoter worked as a deprogrammer in the past, but these days, her focus is on research and educating the public on how cults operate.

The founder, explaining why the MAGA movement functions like a cult, told Stelter, “People have these ideas of what a cult is, but again, if you point to the techniques, the tactics that are used, they are exactly the same. I think that people are vulnerable; we live in a time where it is hard to understand this world. Technology has made a huge change, much like the industrial revolution. And so, anytime when there is social unrest, I think people are more vulnerable.”

Benscoter continued, “And there’s fear and there’s anger about what’s going on in the world, and people want easy answers to life’s hard questions — and they get sucked in, and they get constantly fed by all these media sources that are feeding them the main messaging that cults do, which is us vs. them. Because if you can first divide them into us vs. them and you can make the other side evil and wrong — and you keep feeding that messaging — then eventually, what you can do is weaponize your side. And that’s what’s going on, and that’s why this is like the most frightening thing I have ever seen as I look through the lens of cults and radicalization.”

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