By Blake Maddux
When someone recommended to Steven Hassan that he write a volume called The Cult of Trump, “it just seemed like the most important book I could write, frankly.”
The New York native who “grew up 1.3 miles from Trump” became a member of Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church at age 19 in the early 1970s. Freed from its clutches (“deprogrammed”) in 1976, Hassan committed himself to counseling those who have suffered similarly, be it on the smallest micro (“one-on-one cult relationship where somebody is controlling and dominating someone else”), the largest macro (“Dictatorships function as mind-control cults”), or anywhere in between. This led first to his founding of Ex-Moon Inc. in 1979 and the Freedom of Mind Resource Center in 1999.
If you remain convinced that Hassan simply doesn’t like Trump and is trying to make him look as sinister as possible, then you need look no further than the words of people who have worked for and known Trump for years.
In the introduction to Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House, former Trump aide and season one Apprentice contestant Omarosa Manigault Newman wrote, within the space of two pages, that “loyalty to him is an absolute and unyielding necessity, akin to followers’ devotion to a cult leader” and “Treating someone with love and kindness after abuse is a classic cult tactic.” The last two sentences of the book are, “I’ve escaped from the cult of Trumpworld. I’m free.”
In August, Anthony Scaramucci – who worked for Trump in several capacities between May 2016 and July 2017 – compared the president to Rev. Jim Jones, the leader of the cult whose more than 900 members committed mass suicide in 1978. Earlier this week, he again described Trump and his supporters as comprising a cult.
Hassan has written three previous books. One about Trump was not among his ideas for the fourth. However, he explained in a recent interview with The Arts Fuse that, when someone recommended that he write a volume called The Cult of Trump, “it just seemed like the most important book I could write, frankly.”
Newton resident Hassan will be speaking, reading, and taking questions at Belmont Books on Tuesday, November 19 at 7 p.m.
The Arts Fuse: Why did you decide that what you saw as the cult-like quality of Trump and his supporters was worthy of book-length treatment?
Steven Hassan: I’ve always stayed away from politics as a therapist. I have a lot of Republican clients who hire me to help their children or their wives or husbands involved with cult groups. But when I met my book agent, the first words out of his mouth were, “I really think you need to do a book called The Cult of Trump.” I immediately laughed and then I said, “You know, I’ve been thinking about Trump, and he really does have the stereotypical profile of cult leaders.” But I was nervous to do this. I’m in a doctoral program, I want to be an expert witness, I’m going to be alienating myself from like a third of the country. But he said, “Who better than you who could do an analysis and say what fits and what doesn’t fit and give your professional opinion on it?” And I must say that when I started writing the book, I did a ton of research and just learned so much that I hadn’t known that just bears out the cult hypothesis even more.
AF: What behavior by the president’s advocates do you perceive as indicative of indoctrination?
SH: The cabinet meeting that I write about in the book, where everybody took turns saying how great Trump was, I thought was extremely culty. It reminded me of meetings that I had with Moon, my former cult leader, frankly. A CPAC meeting that Trump spoke at last January or February where he was supposed to talk for 45 minutes and he talked for over two hours and nobody got up and left the room. When I was in the cult, you weren’t allowed to get up and leave the room. Even if you had to pee. You needed to just hold it.
AF: Do you believe that there are those who are willing to go to the dangerous extremes that members of other cults have out of devotion to their leader?
SH: I’m afraid I do, although I would predict it’s not a large percentage of the 60 million proclaimed Trump believers. Part of the problem is he’s been acting as if he’s above the law, and this is another feature of destructive cults. The members think that they are doing God’s will or they think that they’re superior to everyone else, therefore the rule of law shouldn’t have to apply to them. In the Moon cult, I was with Sun Myung Moon after a leadership meeting, and he did this impromptu talk about how when we take over America, we’ll amend the Constitution and make it a capital offense for people to have sex outside of the Unification Church-assigned weddings. And, as a good Moonie, I thought, “Good idea, Father.” Why? Because I was taught to believe that whatever he said was what God wanted and that we would actually help people take away their physical bodies so they wouldn’t sin anymore. And I’m afraid I do think that there are some people – probably several million – who believe that God is using Trump and think that if they were told to take up assault rifles and go take over a TV station or something that they might do it.
AF: What have defenders of Trump who have read or heard of this book said about you via social media?
SH: They think I’m in the cult of George Soros or I’m brainwashed by liberal media or I’m a “libtard.” They like to troll me and say mean things about me and do ad hominem attacks. That’s all standard operating cult procedure with anyone that is a threat to their leader, doctrine, or group.
AF: Has anyone who has worked for Trump or knows him personally commented?
SH: I did hear from Anthony Scaramucci, who has been on CNN and Newsweek, etc., saying that it’s a cult of Trump and that he’s just like Jim Jones and David Koresh and that we need to deprogram the GOP. When I heard from him, he said, “Oh, I read your book. You nailed it.” “It should be required reading” was what he said in a tweet to me. We had a conversation on Friday [November 8], and I’m looking forward to talking with him. We’re trying to get together in person to discuss what can be done.
AF: In the introduction, you write that Trump “has done nothing to dispel the notion … that God has chosen him to be their leader.” What did you think when Trump looked to the sky and said, “I am the chosen one!” on August 21?
SH: (laughs) The book was finished in April, so that was before he said it. Everything that’s happened since has confirmed all of what I’ve said and more. I did not know that there would be a Netflix series on the Family (Arts Fuse review), which I wrote about in chapter seven, which Mike Pence is a member of. Paula White, who is one of these New Apostolic Reformation [discussed in chapters seven and eight] ministers, is now in the White House. Everyone who’s ever worked with Trump or knows Trump describes him as an amoral person who is really not interested in anything but what’s going to make him feel better about himself or make him money. One has to then assume that all these ministers are thinking, “We can use Trump for our political gain.”
Blake Maddux is a freelance journalist who regularly contributes to the Arts Fuse, the Somerville Times, and the Beverly Citizen. He has also written for DigBoston, the ARTery, Lynn Happens, the Providence Journal, The Onion’s A.V. Club, and the Columbus Dispatch. A native Ohioan, he moved to Boston in 2002 and currently lives with his wife and one-year-old twins–Elliot Samuel and Xander Jackson–in Salem, Massachusetts.