Steven Hassan on Breaking Down The Cult of Trump

July 23, 2020

The names Jim Jones, L.Ron Hubbard, David Koresh, and Sun Myung Moon might come to mind when someone uses the term cult leader. Many have suggested that Donald Trump falls into the category. But does Trump himself truly qualify as a cult leader? Can Trump’s followers be correctly described as a cult?
In this episode of Point of Inquiry, Steven Hassan joins Jim Underdown as they dive into persuasive reasoning, the work of BJ Fogg’s persuasive marketing technology used widely on social media platforms, why cults are successful, the processes involved that lead people into joining a cult, and why the President of the United States can accurately be described as a cult leader.

Steven Hassan, is an expert on Undue Influence, brainwashing and unethical hypnosis and author of the best-selling book, Combating Cult Mind Control. He is a licensed mental health professional and cult expert. Steven helps people leave destructive cults after he was deprogrammed and left Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church. He is the founding director of the Freedom of Mind Resource Center. He developed the BITE and Influence Continuum models to assess what control methods an individual or group uses and where they fall on a continuum from not harmful to extremely harmful.

We are proud to announce that this episode of Point of Inquiry was sponsored by the Wadsworth-Sheng Fund. Our friends, Spike Wadsworth and Sherry Sheng, are committed to ensuring that as many people as possible have access to thought-provoking content that addresses the big questions in science, religion, politics, and culture. We are grateful for their support.

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This Week’s Music

“Idle Ways” by Blue Dot Sessions / CC BY-NC 4.0
“Bon Journée” by Chad Crouch / CC BY-NC 3.0
“Drifting” by Chad Crouch / CC BY-NC 3.0

I don’t believe, Jim, we’re in the age of post truth, which is what I keep hearing people say or alternative facts. I think we’re in the age of influence. And what people are missing is how to tell the difference between ethical influence and unethical influence. 

Welcome to another episode of Point of Inquiry. I’m Jim Underdown your host for today. Let’s start out with a question. 

What do Sun Myung Moon, L. Ron Hubbard, David Koresh, Jim Jones and Donald Trump have in common? If you said they were all born in Indiana, you would be wrong. Only Jim Jones was born in Indiana. No offense, though, all my. Who’s your friends? Well, the answer is they are all cult leaders. And if that sounds a little bit over the top, you should listen to today’s expert and find out how cults work, how their leaders operate, and why he thinks Donald Trump may be the biggest cult leader in America today. Our guest today is Stephen Hassin. Steve is a mental health professional who has been helping people leave destructive calls since 1976 after he himself was deprogrammed from Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church. Remember them? He is the author of four books, Combating Cult Mind Control, the number one bestselling Guide to Protection, Rescue and Recovery from destructive cults, releasing the bonds, empowering people to think for themselves, freedom of mind, helping loved ones leave, controlling people thoughts and beliefs. And the one we’re gonna be talking about today. The cult of Trump. A leading cult expert explains how the president uses mind control. Stephen is the founding director of the Freedom of Mind Resource Center outside of Boston. 

You might have seen him on Leha Romney’s Scientology in the aftermath. He’s done a TED talks. He’s been on CNN, NPR, 60 Minutes, Dateline and many others. He’s now pursuing a doctorate at Fielding University. Ladies and gentlemen, it is my great pleasure to have on Stephen Passan. 

They even asked and welcome to Point of Inquiry. Thank you so much for having me on, Jim. Yeah, I am a big fan of your work. We’ve crossed paths in directly a few times. Probably had some interaction with Tony Ortega, too. Yes. 

I’ve met Tony at an ISP gathering in Connecticut years ago and go to his Tony Ortega dot org site on Scientology pretty regularly. Yeah. 

So for those of you who don’t know what Aspy is, that’s suppressive person. That’s a Scientology term. I we’re both thespians, by the way. 

It’s a thank you for explaining the loaded language. Hubbard was a love to use loaded words that mean nothing to the normal person, but is pregnant with meaning for cult members. 

Yeah, you really. Scientology is so chock full of those terms. You. I need a glossary to read an email from one of them once in a while. 

Yeah, they have their own dictionary. And Hubbard developed something called Study Tech, which he said if you don’t agree with something that you’ve heard or get confused or spaced out, it’s because you pass the word you don’t really understand. So you have to go and look it up. So it’s a form of self indoctrination. For members in the cult watch. 

I mean, I’m a big proponent of that if, you know, if you’re reading a book or something. I usually have a dictionary next to me. It’s not a bad idea. 

But in his case, it’s so you can speak his language, not English. 

That’s exactly the point. He’s mirroring a legitimate, important, you know, learning technique, which is looking up words and expanding your vocabulary. In the case of mind control cults, learning another language is a thought control mechanism. 

And we will get deeply into that as we talk about your book, Cult of Trump and just your work and general with calls now you have some just to lay a little foundation here and you have some direct experience in your own life with cults. 

You want to talk about that a little bit for your listeners who don’t know me or know of my work. I am 66 years old. I’m a mental health professional. I’m actually in a doctoral program right now, which I’m hoping to finish this year. And I got interested in the whole field of cults because in 1970, for the same month that Patty Hearst was abducted by the Symbionese Liberation Army, I was psychologically abducted into the Moonies cult. And while I was a college student and wound up spending two and a half years as a devoted member and a leader in that cult, and it was through my family’s effort to and they helped to deprogram me after I had a near fatal van crash. So they found out where I was. And it was in that deprogramming that my mind started working again. And I realized, you know, moon wasn’t the messiah. We weren’t in the last days. We. Democracy was not satanic. It was an evil cult group. And I became fascinated with the whole topic of brainwashing and mind control and hypnosis. 

And so your family got you out. How did they physically have to pull you away from them? How did it work? 

Well, it was actually a very convenient, near fatal crash because I was in the hospital and my leg needed surgery and my other leg was all all messed up. Basically, I drove into the back of a tractor trailer truck at 80 miles an hour. So I was I was on crutches and away from the cold for weeks and sleeping and eating and not getting constantly indoctrinated. And I broke the rules and called my sister, who I was always very close with, who invited me to visit and talked about my nephew I had not met. And she convinced me to come visit her. So being a leader, I was able to convince my superior to there would be a good thing for the group if they let me go visit her. And that’s where I made her promise not to tell my family that I was coming to visit her. But she broke her word, told my my father. And that’s when they hired a team of deprogrammers. And so they didn’t need to physically abduct me. They took my crutches away when I was sitting on my sisters living room sofa. 

Wow. You don’t normally think of a car crash like that as being fortuitous, but it really was in your case. 

It really was. 

So let’s start with the basics. Mom, how are you defining a call? What is it called? 

So there are many definitions of cults. But my work is really about authoritarian cults or mind control cults or destructive cults. So the issue isn’t that you’re in some funky weirdo group. The issue is that you’ve been lied to and you’ve been mind controlled to an extreme where you are thinking the cult way of thinking. You’re using their language. You are, you know, basically have a pseudo identity that’s dependent and obedient. And I might add that there are religious cults, political cults, therapy cults, commercial cults, pimps, so-called leaders, traffickers, extremist cults that do violence, neo-Nazis, Islamist cults. So the issue really comes down to the idea of a violation of basic human rights and that people were inducted without truly informed consent and without capacity to really understand what was being done to them to to indoctrinate them into the system. 

Now, all these examples that you just mentioned are I mean, that they all think to have a certain negative connotation is is there such thing as a positive cult or none harmful cult? 

Absolutely. So, I mean, if you’re into anything like if you’re in to a sports team, if you’re intro music band, if you’re into, you know, knitting or poetry. I was a creative writing major in college. It’s like really become such a obsession or fixation where it’s taking up a lot of your time and energy, but you’re free to stop it at any point. You’re. You can talk to anyone you want and read whatever you want. And and you’re you’re not asked to violate your conscience or or raise money or recruit people into, you know, into it. So. So there are lots of, you know, benign, productive cults. The issue really for me is, again, about your ability to exercise control over your own mind and your own body. 

And that’s all there are certain characteristics of the negative, more authoritarian cults that make them nefarious. Lack of a better word. You talk about this byte model B i. T e. Do you want to talk about that a little bit? 

The bite model is a model that I developed after learning Robert J. Lifton as model Margaret Singer’s model, Lewis West. They are all mental health experts for the military. In the 50s, studying Chinese communist brainwashing. So they one of the first mental health professionals in America. That or describing or attempting to describe what is thought reform or what is brainwashing and the bite model. Essentially, it’s an acronym, the B of Bite’s stands for Behavior Control. The I stands for information control. The T stands for thought control. And the E stands for emotional control. And I basically took Leon Festinger as cognitive dissonance model, which says we have thoughts, feelings and behaviors, and as humans, we want to have consistency between those three things. So we kind of do a regulator are regulating kind of function between those three. I apply those three dimensions, added information control, and we came up with the byte model. So on my freedom of Mind dot com Web site, for example, or in my books, I spell out what are the factors in the byte model that are destructive. So, you know, regulating people’s physical environment, dictating who they can associate with, where they live, what they do, how they dress, what they eat. Manipulation or deprivation of sleep. I was sleeping three to four hours a night as a Mooney. Seven days a week. Financial exploitation. So there’s a long list under behavior control. And I’ll just mention a few from the other three dimensions. The information control. I’ve already mentioned that there’s lack of informed consent. So when you’re being recruited into a destructive cult, you’re either being lied to overtly. You’re you’re you’re you’re getting distorted descriptions of what the group is actually about are vital information’s being withheld from you. But going on that they once you’re involved, people are spying on each other and reporting you to authority figures, extensive use of propaganda material and rituals, a compartmentalization of beliefs, beliefs in the inside on and outsiders could vary tremendously. Use of confession of, you know, things that you did in your life that you’re not so proud of yourself that can be used to to manipulate and control you. But the biggest thing is they don’t want you to talk to critics or ex members or read critical information because it will cause you to think for yourself and leave the authoritarian cult. Yeah, well, I’m going to jump ahead and just say with Trump, when he says that the media is the enemy of the people or it’s all fake news unless it’s positive about him, he’s demonstrating information control this theme, you know, very overtly. In terms of thought control, it’s it’s the doctrine of the group is reality, it’s not a map teaching reality, it’s its members are come to believe that it is reality. Some groups will change your name. They they use this loaded terms, which we just chatted about, the Moonies. It was a cane, a mold problem or a Chapter two problem. But every cult has its own loaded language that that constricts critical thinking. I talk about hypnotic techniques used in thought control. I started studying hypnosis about four years after I got out of the cult and I realized how how much was was bypassing people’s consciousness in terms of the way the cult leader and the the indoctrination took place. I was taught to do thought stopping, which is a behavior modification technique where I was told that if anyone ever says anything negative against Moon, the divine principle, which was the theology of the group or the policies of the group, these are evil spirits trying to test me or invade me. So I was taught to to chant in my head. Glory to heaven. Peace on earth. Glory to having peace on earth. True parents. True parents. Crush Satan. Crush Satan. Crush Satan as a technique to shut off doubts. So when you’re when you’re in a mind control cult, the doctrine is reality. No other descriptions of realities or philosophies are viewed as legitimate. So you’re kind of stuck in this closed system of mind. 

It just it seems to take advantage of our natural human instincts anyway to stick with the group and to shut out anything negative about the group and other groups. Is that fair? 

Yeah, absolutely. There is so, so much of what is being done to mind control people comes out of our basic knowledge of human psychology that’s developed especially over the last hundred years and taking advantage of values, beliefs that you grew up with as a Moonie recruiter. I was taught to really hone in on what was going to be a resonance with the person I was trying to recruit. So, for example, I come from a Jewish upbringing, you know, people telling me about Jesus and Jesus. The sacrifice on the cross was not going to help me get recruited into the Moonies. So my recruiter, when they found out I was Jewish, they said, you know, don’t Jews have a concept of a Moesha off of a messiah? And the answer’s yes. And then they said, well, what do you know about that? And I said, nothing. So they were like, would you like to learn more about that? And, you know, just trying to find buttons to push to get my curiosity going. My motivation going. And Jim, I just want to mention emotional control to finish the bite model description. You know, when you’re in one of these groups, you’re made to feel so special and so chosen. You know, it’s it’s such an honor to be involved with the movement because it’s so important. So there’s a lot of ups and a lot of strokes that way. But for the most part, a mind control member is manipulated through guilt and fear, tons of guilt and tons of fear. And probably the universal mind control technique with all of these mind control cults is what I call phobia indoctrination, which is the the implantation of irrational fears that if you leave the group or even question the group, terrible things are going to happen to you. And so if you if I if I said if I asked you, Jim, do you know anyone with an elevator phobia or a dog phobia? And you said yes. Then I would proceed to say. Someone who is an elevator phobe, you can’t imagine riding in an elevator safely and comfortably, like all they can do is generate negative movies in their mind about either being trapped for eternity or or plummeting and crashing. So and explaining the difference between a legitimate fear where there’s actual danger as opposed to a phobia where you believe there’s danger, but there is none. 

And it turns out it’s one of the major techniques I use when I’m helping people get out of mind control cults is in fact, explaining the difference between our irrational fear with something is truly dangerous and a phobia and explaining how to cure a basic phobia. And then talking about how other groups, not the one the persons in that I’m trying to help at first, but another group that they would agree is a mind control cult. And talking about the phobias put it in those people’s minds. And then typically the person I’m trying to help goes, oh, yeah, it’s really terrible that Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, refuse blood transfusions because they believe that they’re going to lose their relationship with God if they have a blood transfusion. 

You know, for most people who aren’t in the Watchtower Society. The idea of dying, you know, from not getting a blood transfusion is ridiculous. Talk to a GHW about getting a blood transfusion and they would rather, you know, jump out of a window but remain faithful to their to their doctrine. 

So are calls locking into I mean, who’s who’s buying into the cult rap? Are they are they locking into people who. Have existing fears that they can capitalize on? 

Oh, it’s always easier if it is a recruiter. 

If I found out that you like I was a woman that I met who had been locked in a closet as a child by her mother. And it turned out there was a mouse or a rat in the closet. And this woman had an irrational fear of rats. And so to piggyback on that, already existing fear would be, to give you an example, would be to say something like, you know, if you if you go to hell. It’s like being trapped in with a million rats for eternity. Right. So it’s a very powerful technique. And the good news is it’s a very fast mental illness to cure. If you understand how to how to cure it. But and it’s not it’s not magic all. It’s it’s about using your critical faculties, first of all, to evaluate. Is there any scientific basis to this claim, for example? And and beyond that, it’s about creating a positive movie in your head. Like riding an elevator safely and comfortably, positive self talk and deep breathing or breathing normally. Because when someone is having a panic attack, they typically can only generate really fearful images in their head. They they have always the dogs like those elevators. And then they hold their breath or they they hyperventilate shallowly. And that triggers the brain’s, you know, a survival mechanism that there is something dangerous happening and it can keep very intelligent, educated people trapped for decades with a with a powerful phobia. 

And such a pop fear is such a powerful motivator. I. I picture people, too, as being sort of. No offense to you in your history, but naive, idealistic people who want to change the world. You see people in Scientology and like you said with the moon is, you know, you’re you’re following a messiah and you’re going to make the world a better place. 

So, I mean, it turns out that normally people are figuring out who they are. Somewhere, you know, between 16 and 30. So it’s a very good window to be recruited into a cult, especially if you’re still figuring out what do I want to do with my life for a career? You know, if you haven’t been that successful with finding a relationship that’s stable. That might be a vulnerability. It turns out that there are many situational variables that make people particularly susceptible to call it recruiters like death of a loved one or an illness or moving to a new city, state or country, losing a job, getting divorced or a breakup of a relationship. So it’s in these normal life cycle events that people are particularly susceptible. And so from my vantage point, I think the universal cure or is is education about cults and mind control and what to look out for and what what questions to ask. And, you know, because people that I work with, they’re for the most part, they’re very bright and educated from good families. But nobody told taught them about the sect, the cult recruiters, what their techniques and methods are or what or how to navigate that. If somebody at work is inviting you to a wonderful opportunity to make a million dollars or you meet a woman or you meet a guy who is you suddenly fall in love with and want to spend your life with, and you don’t do your homework and find out their backgrounds and their credentials and their relationship history cetera. So a little bit of education goes a long way, which is why I like to do podcasts like this in the hopes that people will listen and go. That’s what happened to me in high school or in college or that’s my best friend disappeared. Oh, that’s they they got recruited into a cult because they you typically know something’s up because there’s a radical personality change and either the person goes silent or secretive or starts trying to recruit you aggressively and obnoxiously. But most people are like, well, he’s an adult and he says he’s happy. It’s not my cup of tea or who am I to interrupt? And my position as a former member of a cult is like, if you care about somebody, engage with them and talk with them and share your knowledge with them. 

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The people who are ahead of these cults, whether consciously or not, are using some fairly sophisticated techniques to scoop people in, let’s let’s talk about the leaders of the cults a little bit. Yeah. Do they have some similar characteristics? 

Oh, yes, for sure. So when I when I wrote The Cult of Trump, I was asked to rate the cult of Trump by my agent. He had listened to an interview I did with Chauncy de Vega, where I talked about Trump having the stereotypical characteristics of cult leaders, which is malignant narcissism. And malignant narcissism is different than narcissism in that it has the anti-social are, which is you think you’re above the law. You’re a pathological liar. You threaten people and arrest people. You’re paranoid. You can’t trust anybody but the narcissist. The one of the biggest features of a narcissist is they they don’t have empathy. They can guess what you may be feeling, but it’s really difficult for them to step into a person’s shoes and feel, you know, have feelings about what they’re experiencing or going through. Of course, narcissists feel like they’re entitled. They need praise and admiration. They have fantasies of power, success or attractiveness. But everything’s about them. Everything’s about self-centered behavior. And everything is transactional in terms of how it’s going to help them in their life. And so in Chapter three of the cult of Trump, I compare Donald Trump with Jim Jones with Sun Myung Moon, my former cult leader, Ron Hubbard. David Koresh and a bunch of other cult leaders. And I would also add that that I think from most cult leaders, they are I would not characterize them as just con artists, because they they all seem to have a history where they were abused or raised in a mind control cult themselves. And in Chapter two of the Cult of Trump, I talk about about Donald Trump being raised by an authoritarian father, a cold mother being raised in the church of Norman Vincent Peale, which is prosperity. You know, believe it, 100 percent and God’s gonna manifest it. So he was taught to do thought stopping very early on. He was also sent to a military school and drilled there. And so there were there factors there that that that. And I should add, Fred, Trump apparently said to him in his now deceased brother over and over again. You are a killer. You are a king. You are a killer. You are a king. You are killer. You are you have a father. 

Doing that to your head messes you up. 

Yeah. It’s all Manchurian Candidate. 

You mentioning The Manchurian Candidate. I guess I want to just talk for a minute about M.K. Ultra, the CIA effort in the 50s, 60s and early 70s to develop mind control. They used LSD, hypnosis, electroshock, a bunch of other things in their quest to create a Manchurian Candidate. And what we’re experiencing now with a digital world, with smartphones that are directly wired to our fingers and our brains, people can now be remote control through their phones or the Internet. And and so I’m seeing a lot of people being recruited online and they never even meet their recruiter. 

They’re having notifications, you know, constantly, and their devices are going off like little Pavlovian bells to keep them attached and paying attention. 

Yes, exactly. In fact, one of the first behavioral scientists, B.J. Fogg at Stanford, came up with, you know, this behavior mod feature that Google and Facebook and everything else is been copying. And he on his Web site is done at least a few videos where he’s feeling very regretful and trying to warn people, you know, about being online and realizing that, you know, having real people in your life is far superior to, you know, people. You have no idea who is at the other end. 

From what I know of L. Ron Hubbard and maybe some of the others, they seem a game. You mentioned the narcissism, but they also seem insecure to me. Can you be a narcissist and be insecure at the same time? 

Oh, 100 percent. That’s that’s the essence of narcissism, is that the theory is, is that you didn’t get the attention, that consistent attention from a caregiver in the first few years of life. Where your needs were taken care of, to be fed, to be changed, to eat, to to have temperature control, etc., and so much of their self development is oriented to compensating. For what they should have felt organically being felt. Being loved, so everything is about insecurity with narcissists because they keep looking outside, too. To true believers to give them narcissistic supply instead of just feeling loved self-love and having people in your life that you know who respect you and care about you and love you and you don’t need to perform in order to gain their love. 

It feels so real with Trump where he just feeds on this adulation and demands it from the people around him. 

Exactly. And, you know, it’s it’s so strange because I’ve been doing this work for forty four years. But the world has now been exposed all the time to the personality profile of a cult leader in Donald Trump. So in a sense, it could be for all those who haven’t been taken in by him, a great window, a tool for the future to avoid getting involved with a malignant narcissist of any kind. 

But it seems like. I mean, from my small sense of what the rest of the world is saying about him and thinks about him, my friends who live in Europe and in other places thought of them as this buffoon. 

Is there something about America or why is America different? Why are so many millions of people under his spell in this country? 

I blame Mark Burnett heavily. Who did The Apprentice and who is involved with the New Apostolic Reformation, which is a network of true believers that are part of the base of Trump. They they they manufactured this persona of him as a successful business person, when in fact he’s an utter failure in almost every business he’s done. And so there are a whole bunch of people who are watching his show for 14 seasons. He had experts and social influence directing him in terms of meems and themes to capitalize on. And he was he was framed as the antidote to the corrupt Washington establishment. As an outsider and so much propaganda was developed against Clinton where people hated Hillary Clinton and would would vote for anyone else. And then, of course, we know from the Mueller report that the Russians were deeply involved in manipulating Americans to be a Facebook and Twitter and other social media platforms to either convince people to not vote or to stay home, to have conflict with other people. And that’s another piece that I wrote about in the cult of Trump, which is called Fourth Generation Warfare. Fourth generation warfare is psychological warfare that isn’t aimed at converting your enemies to your way of thinking. It’s it’s its goal is to confuse, disorient Noam, to delegitimize leadership, to delegitimize institutions, to ready people for authoritarian takeover. So why would Trump put someone in charge of the EPA who doesn’t believe in the EPA? 

Scott Ironmen and the press agency. Why would you put someone in charge of education who is a Christian extremist and doesn’t believe in public education to divorce? 

Right. Exactly. Who made her money on Amway would multilevel marketing empire. And so and then we have Mike Pence, who is in a cult group called The Family that Jeffrey Sharlet wrote two best selling books about. And there’s a Netflix series that’s a much watch, a must watch, in my opinion, to understand that there are these totalitarian authoritarian cults that are influencing Trump, but also who have their own daises, where they believe that Trump is God’s man or they believe that Trump is the key to libertarianism or to to promulgate a belief in global climate change hoax because they happen to own a lot of fossil fuels like the Koch brothers or the Koch industry, I should say, because one of the brothers died of Vladimir Putin with a lot of his wealth is in fossil fuels. If anyone is listening to this and is intrigued, I really urge you to do a deeper dove and learn more, because I don’t believe Jim or in the age of post truth, which is what I keep hearing people say or alternative facts. I think we’re in the age of influence. And what people are missing is how to tell the difference between ethical influence and unethical influence. And so if you see my influence continuum and look at the bite model, you have a framework for evaluating anybody or any group or any relationship. 

Even Bob gets a platform because he’s so full of outrageous soundbites and there’s a 24 hour news cycle. They just love to cover him and he gets a disproportionate amount of airtime. Right. 

Correct. So before he was even elected, it was estimated he got two billion dollars worth of free advertising because he knew how to create outrageous stories. 

That people would need to write about. Like, can you believe that Trump just said, we need a total Muslim ban. 

And then all the mainstream media outlets would be talking about Trump. And the one key theme to understand about the mind is that our attention is relatively narrow. We have an unconscious that is dealing with, you know, trillions of bits of information all the time, but it’s outside of our conscious awareness. But if you can control someone’s attention. Then you can control them and then we can get back to cell phones and notifications and all of the techniques that the tech is being is using to get people to on their platforms. And Skype is keeping them on the platforms so they can make more money selling ads, too. 

Yeah, and that and the the repetition and everything else that regular propagandists know works at some level is is in full gear. 

Yes. Repetition is huge. The big lie is huge. Gerbils is famous for a big lie because people go. It must be true because it’s so outrageous. It’s such a humungous lie. But the other thing that Trump does a lot with his mind control techniques is projection. So he projects onto his so-called enemies what he’s doing. So he’s going he’s doing he’s going to cheat in the election. Now he’s talking about, you know, the the future election in November is going to be rigged. 

Well, then that’s what he said about the last election, is it’s going to be real. He didn’t think he was going to win. Right. 

In fact, there are insiders who said that they didn’t he didn’t want to win. 

It was all about branding and upping his his value. 

Yeah, it’s it’s. It is amazing. Well, and had to the fact, like you mentioned, you say six six companies, all 90 percent of all the media in the United States. So if if at least one of those is directly on his side, that’s a big leg up itself. 

Right. So I did a whole chapter on the media and how the media has been corrupted and centralize. Of course, Pat Robertson has the largest Christian media conglomerate in the world. A big part of of the cult of Trump. Watch TBN. And I talk about, for example, Alex Jones taking our T stories. Russia today, propaganda stories, you know, doing shows on those phony stories, then Breitenbach picking it up and then Fox picking it up and over. Over the last few years, there’s been a shift out of mainstream normative journalistic approaches to, you know, not saying something unless you have two sources that are verified. And if someone corrects you and shows you the evidence that you’re wrong, saying, whoops, I got a wrong and not only withdrawing the story, but issuing an apology and publishing the correct information, FOX doesn’t do that. 

Those are standard good journalism techniques. That seems like a lot of that stuff is just gone completely out the window. 

Yeah. And I think that people need to reclaim their minds and their bodies and say, you know what, truth matters. And if something is legitimate, it will stand up to scrutiny. And the more outrageous claim is the more solid proof you need before you take it seriously. People are getting these phony videos, deep fake videos nowadays, and they’re sharing them and they’re not stopping and thinking who just sent this to me or who sent me this article. A lot of people share without even reading the articles. Or fact checking it going to political fact or Snopes or whatever. And I know I say slow down. Stay centered in your life with real people, not virtual interactions only. And yeah, the burden of proof is on anyone who makes crazy outrageous claims. 

I get a fair inquiry. Have been touting the old Carl Sagan, quote, Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. 

Yeah, I love Carl Sagan. And Steve Allen was was someone who I really loved as well. He wrote a book about about cults because his own son got into a cult for eleven years and he was one of the original skeptics, mainstream, you know, personality personalities that spoke up for critical thinking. Right. He wrote an analysis of the Bible. 

If I’m remembered correctly as well, he did, as did Thomas Jefferson. Yeah. 

You know, if stories are critical, stories are part of the human experience, but one needs to use that extra analytic ability to say, is there any reason to assume that this is true or is it just an interesting story? I can tell you that my research into ISIS, which I did my at the height was in 2015, used The Matrix movies as a foundation for recruiting and indoctrinating people, as well as a dozen other cults, religious cults that I work with. They would, you know. Did you see The Matrix? Yes, I did. Well, you know how the people thought they knew what reality was. But there was another reality that was really going on. That’s what’s happening now. And people would buy into that story. 

The next thing you know, they’re in the Moonies or they’re in the Boston Church of Christ or you’re in ISIS or you’re believing that the earth is flat because we’ve been lied to in this grand conspiracy. 

Yeah, I did. I read Mick West’s wonderful book, Escaping the RAB at All. And I love his methodology for talking to conspiracy believers. And it overlaps with what I found works best, which is a respectful, curious, inquisitive approach, saying, like, let’s look at these beliefs and we’re where you first learn them. And let’s look at the source of that. Those those articles or that video that and let’s analyze what they use as a basis for these claims. And it’s a reasonable, respectful interaction where you’re positioning yourself as you know, hey, I’m open. You know, if you want if you can convince me the earth is flat, I’m here. 

So this is the challenge now that we’re facing as I happen to agree with that. I mean, I’m I’m willing to have a conversation with a flat earth or someone who believes in psychic powers or God or anything else. But the country is so polarized and divided right now. 

That’s tough. You’ve painted a dire picture of the world. Is there any hope? How do we fight this kind of thinking? 

And you’re talking to a cult survivor. So, yes, there’s reason for hope. Because if I could wake up, anybody can, because I was a fanatic, Moonie. I mean, I grew up educated about the Holocaust, for example, and I was indoctrinated to believe that the Holocaust was necessary because the Jews didn’t accept Jesus. Wow. So there is reason for hope. People don’t like to be exploited or lied to. They they like to feel respected. They want to feel loved. And my biggest appeal to anyone listening to this podcast is to get out of the polarization thing where where people blame Trump believers and call them names say they’re stupid, they’re crazy, they’re fools, they’re idiots, etc.. That’s what people would say to me in the Moonies. That’s what people would tell Scientologists to like. How can you believe this crap? It’s so clear Hubbard was in that cult himself and thought that that’s not going to help people wake up. But befriending them or if you know them or their family members or friends actually having, you know, over time a series of interactions with them, where you’re warm, you’re respectful and you’re asking good questions and you’re open to. During their point of view, and if you learn good active listening skills and you repeat back to them what their belief is, they’ll know that you were listening. 

Yeah, exactly. Yeah. There is a part in the book where you talk about Sarah Silverman and her show. And I saw some of those those those scenes where, you know, she’s in somebodies trailer home and she’s having a conversation with some Trump supporters and she’s doing exactly that. She’s banned, very respectful and thrown a little humor in them. But she didn’t. She walked out of there not hating them or anything. And she had this dialog. And, you know, maybe there’s a little bit of an exchange going on in that way. 

Hundred percent. I loved what Sarah Silverman did in her show. And I wrote about in the Cult of Trump, her intervention with David Weisman, who is a Jewish veteran who attributes her as her klau. He woke up from the cult of Trump and why he’s now, you know, voting for Joe Biden, et cetera. I love you know, Huma is also a wonderful technique and tool. But the more important thing is just being real. Being. Being a human being. I came to learn when I was writing about Sarah for the cult of Trump that her sister’s a rabbi. Right. And in fact, our sister, the rabbi, said that Sarah’s a better rabbi than me. 

She goes out to the people that she disagrees with, to minister. 

So why do we have to. Does Trump have to leave office before this healing can begin? 

No, I I’m really hoping to encourage anyone who’s listening. If you had a family member or friend in Scientology that you’ve lost touch with or the Moonies or any number of Bible cults to reach out to them and say, I’m thinking about you. How are you? I miss you. Visits just like and build bridges. And the same with people who are in the cult of Trump to be in touch with them and say, look, you’re my friend. You’ll always be my friend. I don’t agree with the politics at the moment, but time will tell. You know, let’s let’s share. Give me something to read or give me something. I’ll watch and I’ll read it or watch it if you agree to talk with me about it. And if you’re open to me giving you something to read or to watch and get your opinion on it, this is how we’re going to get out of this polarization and find unity again, because it’s my thesis, my belief that even if Trump is not reelected, that these millions of Americans who’ve been indoctrinated are going to keep believing they’re going to be an automatic pilot believing the Illuminati or whatever else they were indoctrinated with. Q And on is continuing. We’re not realizing it might be Russian intelligence that they’re actually following or Chinese or Iranian or ISIS or North Korea. Now there’s a lot of people who would want America to fail, who want America to be in chaos, who want us to have civil war in the streets. And if you love America and you believe in democratic principles, start, you know. Changing your your frame and not eating those who’ve been taking them and look with compassion at them and find out out of the out or they believe what they believe. And it’s going to be the former members who are going to be most likely to be effective to help them wake up. So I saw an interview with Joe Walsh, for example, who voted for Trump and campaigned for Trump. And and he’s he’s woken up. He’s like, well, I’m going to campaign for anybody who can who can defeat Trump. Yeah. And it left left people like like him, like Rick Wilson and Anthony Scarrow, Moochie and George Conway, whose wife is Kellyanne Conway. They are doing the Lincoln Project and they’re speaking out about a you know, where Republicans are supposed to care about festival fiscal responsibility. 

People can change their minds and have a change of heart. 

Yeah. 

And I think ultimately the world’s gonna be a better place if we come back to what I think is the most important documents aside from our Constitution and such as is the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70 years old, that was signed on to by one hundred and ninety two countries. And if anyone is listening to this and you have never read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, read it, it’s really worthwhile because there are authoritarians who are trying to control their countries and are they’re called dictators, but they they fundamentally don’t want anyone to be an equal. They want people to be objects to make their lives happier and healthier and wealthier. 

Well, and that’s the thing with the Declaration of Human Rights, is it just it reminds people that most human beings want pretty much the same basic things. They want to be free. They want to work. They want to be safe. They want to be able to speak out and think and believe what they want. It’s not that complicated. 

Right. 

And if you if you really believe in that, i.e., for example, women who recruited me into the Moonies, they weren’t respecting my religious freedom when they lied to me and they said that they weren’t part of a religious group. You know, they were undercutting my religious freedom and my human rights by lying to me. And I think that we should not support groups with tax exempt status that are fundamentally violating human rights or using fraud. 

The book is called The Cult of Trump. It’s by Steven Hassin. Steven, thank you so much for being on point of inquiry. We appreciate all your work. 

Thank you for having me on, Jim. 

Thank you for listening. Point of Inquiry is a production of the Center for Inquiry TFI is a five one see three charitable nonprofit organization whose vision is a world in which evidence, science and compassion rather than superstition, pseudoscience or prejudice guide public policy. 

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