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Tue 14 July 2020
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Kseniya Kirillova speaks to cult expert Steven Hassan, who has been helping people exit destructive cults since 1976 having once been a member of the ‘Moonies’, about the US President’s supporter base

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US President Donald Trump appears to have the traits of a leader of a destructive cult and his influence on the most zealous of his followers is comparable to one with religious overtones, according to an expert and author on the subject.

Mental health professional Steven Hassan, the author of the book The Cult of Trump, was one of the first to describe the methods of mind control in destructive groups in his 1988 book, Combating Cult Mind Control.

He told Byline Times that the US President displays the features of a typical cult leader – malignant narcissism; egocentrism; a tendency to believe in his own greatness and to exaggerate his talents and achievements; constant fantasies of his own success power, and attractiveness; excessive self-admiration combined with a lack of empathy; envy, a tendency to sadism; anti-social behaviour and lying. 

“Of course, self-admiration is a feature of many politicians and public figures,” he says. “But there is an even more dangerous kind of narcissism, one defined by a darker and more destructive pattern. It is fittingly called ‘malignant narcissism’ and arises when narcissism combines with other psychopathological traits. According to researchers, political leaders such as Hitler, Vladimir Putin, and Kim Jong-un exhibit malignant narcissism.”

The Moonies also supported President Nixon in the same way, assuring that God chose him to counter communism.

Steven Hassan

At one time, Hassan himself was a member of the ‘Unification Church’, founded by Korean preacher Sun Myung Moon. After leaving the organisation, he thought hard about his experience and developed the ‘BITE’ model of mind control used in cults. According to him, it consists of establishing control over the behaviour, information, thought and emotions of adherents so that they become completely immersed in the doctrine of the organisation and are isolated from alternatives.

Hassan admits that in a large and still free country, unlike in dictatorships, it is impossible to fully control people’s minds. Nevertheless, he believes Trump has leverage that allows him to influence the thinking of at least certain groups of his most active followers. 

“Much of Trump’s support, both in his base and in the upper echelons, comes from the Republican Party, the Christian right, libertarian groups, the National Rifle Association (NRA), the alt-right and white supremacy groups,” he told Byline Times. “These movements and organisations already have an ideology and structure, as well as long-established channels of influence on their followers, which includes their own media. They may see in Trump a useful tool for enacting their own political agendas.”

According to Hassan, other groups exhibiting the traits of cults include those advocating anti-abortion and anti-homosexuality ideas and adherents of the theory of social Darwinism.

“I don’t think Trump is that smart to find an approach to all these categories of people by himself, but it’s likely that he’s been cultivated for a long time as a suitable leader who could win the sympathy of these groups,” Hassan says. “At one time the Moonies also supported President Nixon in the same way, assuring that God chose him to counter communism. In the same way today, many Trump followers believe that God chose him to ‘restore faith in America’. Honouring Trump is like a religious experience for some of these people.”

Using the internet to play on people’s emotions – which has been mastered by Trump and those around him – also plays a big role in attracting supporters. 

“Humans are intensely social, and cults play upon this, often creating an instant sense of community through techniques such as love bombing; group prayer, singing and chanting; and staged and dramatic group experiences, such as those that occur at political rallies,” Hassan told Byline Times. “Regarding information control, Trump uses other tactics: discouraging access to non-cult or critical sources of information. Clearly Trump’s branding of the ‘liberal media’ as ‘fake news’ or ‘the enemy of the people’ hits these nails right on the head.”

The expert notes that some supported Trump for pragmatic reasons such as economic expectations or the belief that he would ‘clean up the swamp of Washington DC’. Since then, some of them have become disillusioned, but most actually fell under Trump’s spell of propaganda and conspiracy – even intentionally looking for information that could justify their choice in their own eyes.

On Moscow’s influence on US politics, Hassan highlights several factors.

He is convinced that, as many commentators have observed, the KGB turned its attention to Trump at the time of his first visit to Russia in 1987, when he could have become the subject of ‘development’ by the Russian special services, like any prominent foreigner.

However, the long-term ties of the American President with Russian business circles, and even the possible existence of compromising evidence on him in Russian special services, do not exhaust the channels of Moscow’s influence on American politics, according to Hassan. 

“Russia has ties to the NRA,” he says. “Russian propaganda actively promotes an idea that there will be civil war in the US one day and the Government may try to take away your freedoms. People are told they are going to need to have assault rifles to protect themselves.

“In addition, many American conspirators, primarily active opponents of George Soros, have ties with Russia. It also seems suspicious to me that QAnon believers think Russia is benign, our friend and information that Russia was involved with the [2016 US Presidential] Election was a hoax – even though there’s all statistical data and official indictment. And do not forget the connections of many people from the Trump team with the Russian oligarchs.”

Russian propaganda actively promotes an idea that there will be civil war in the US one day and the Government may try to take away your freedoms. People are told they are going to need to have assault rifles to protect themselves.

Steven Hassan

In addition, the expert is confident that the American President sincerely admires his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, which also makes him vulnerable to manipulation by the experienced former KGB officer. 

“Trump had an authoritarian father who taught him to think of humans as predators or prey, and fear is the best tool for power,” Hassan told Byline Times. “Therefore, he really admires Putin as an image of a successful predator with absolute power. He admires North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for the same reason. Trump cannot imagine himself as prey and by building friendships with Alpha-predators like Putin or Kim, he believes he himself is one of the predators of the world’s forest.”

At the same time, Hassan notes that it is difficult to assess the scale of Russian influence in the US since Moscow often prefers to act ‘under the false flag’ while trying to infiltrate the business sphere, Congress and even the American intelligence community. 

“This is exactly how the Moonies acted in South Korea and in the US at one time,” he says. “They infiltrated the anti-communist movement during the Vietnam War, tried to promote their people in Congressmen and Senators’ offices. Russia acts in exactly the same way and that’s why we cannot fully assess the extent of its influence.”


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