Watching the beginning of “Charlie Says” (about the girls in Charlie Manson’s “family”) reminded me of a documentary I saw in high school. It was all about an anguished family’s efforts to deprogram their adult sibling/child from Reverend Moon’s cult.
I remember discussing what it meant to be a cult. Some good definitions or litmus tests:
- Members worship a living deity. (Reverend Moon claimed to be the reincarnation of Jesus. Manson claimed to have supernatural powers.)
- The cult does not tolerate outsiders questioning the faith or the deity. (I remember Moonies being shown having a good sense of humor about themselves, accepting ribbing. But if anyone told a joke about Reverend Moon, they were quickly angered.)
- A cult strictly controlled the information members received. (During initiation/indoctrination into the Moonies, outside news sources weren’t permitted, members were deprived of sleep and forced to transfer trust to the church.)
- A cult plied prospective members with rewards (Manson offered drugs and sex, while Moon offered a sympathetic ear and housing and potential spouses.)
- The cult attempts to alienate initiates from their family members, and anyone trusted by the initiate, claiming the family didn’t love the individual as much as the church did. (This one’s obvious.)
- At the zenith of indoctrination, when the members were hungry, tired, and afraid (or high), the cult overwhelmed initiates with a barrage of outrageous claims, most of which were false. The presence of an occasional truth wore the initiates down into gradually accepting more and more statements without challenging them.
The documentary I saw was excruciating. The family saw their member being torn away from them. I think they needed a court order to declare the member temporarily incapable of caring for themselves, so that they could “kidnap” and deprogram the kid. And it was pure anguish, watching the kid resist having his new worldview shattered. He fought attempts to rationally persuade him, because he hadn’t acquired the position through rational thought. He expressed hatred for his parents and his sister and his uncle…I think for weeks during the deprogramming exercise.
A valid question was: if he was happy in the cult, what right did they have to do this to him? [The viewing audience was reassured that, despite his claims otherwise, he was not happy in the cult, and was likely being abused in the cult.]
But what was most remarkable was how strongly the kid held on to the faith, even when it was plainly obvious it was wrong, was taking a (health) toll on him, when he was being offered a loving family. He fought and fought. And, if I recall, ran away to rejoin the cult at one point. And this was with professional deprogrammers doing the work, when they could isolate the kid away from the cult’s influence, physically.
Trumpism is a cult:
- Trump’s repeatedly claimed to be a stable genius, to do things nobody else can do, to understand things better than the experts (knows war strategy better than generals, epidemiology better than doctors, etc.)
- Criticize Donald Trump to a member of the MAGA cult. Watch how quickly they take things more personally than if you criticized them, directly. I’ve tested this a few times, recently. I’ve criticized Trump and his actions, not mentioning his acolytes, and members defend *themselves* against an attack that never came.
- Fox News is North-Korea “Dear Leader”-level propaganda about Trump, interspersed with real news.
- Tax cuts, stimulus checks, and even nonsensical claims to have provided a reward that was not provided (“You can say Merry Christmas again. That was nearly illegal before.”)
- The Trump GOP (well, it precedes him) has undermined the trust in our Republic’s institutions—people now believe that the SCOTUS isn’t a legal entity, but a competitive one. The entire judicial system is questioned. The educational system is challenged. Truthful journalism is tarnished, to better gain standing with propaganda.
- Trump’s “Falsehood Firehose” [Actually a Russian psy-ops technique] is well-documented.
So, I’m convinced MAGA is a cult.
However, I don’t know that there’s anything we can do about it—I think about how hard Manson’s girls defended him and kept the faith even while they were in prison. I think about how hard that one kid fought being deprogrammed. And that was with everyone around them helping to undo the brainwashing.
We have a popular Fox News undermining any attempts to take care of this.
We can keep up the criticism, never making it personal or vindictive. And we can hope that the Republic survives.