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- In an interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Thursday night, former Giuliani associate Lev Parnas said working for Trump was "cult-like." An expert on cults said he's right.
- Steve Hassan, author of "The Cult of Trump" and a former cultist himself, told Insider that aspects of Trump's circle meet the definitions of a cult.
- Trump's own personality traits — like feeling beyond reproach, twisting the truth, and ignoring dissent — track to those of other cult leaders, he said.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Rudy Giuliani's associate Lev Parnas and President Donald Trump's ex-lawyer lawyer Michael Cohen described working for the president as like being in a cult.
An author on cults, who used to be in one himself, says they're right.
Steve Hassan, a cult expert and author of a book called "The Cult of Trump," spoke to Insider about the ways in which Trump and his circle behave share characteristics with cults.
"What's interesting and shocking to me is to hear Lev Parnas describe [Trump] as a cult leader and such, and I'm curious how he arrived to that insight," Hassan said, referring to an MSNBC interview Parnas gave.
—Washington Examiner (@dcexaminer) January 17, 2020
"I knew that Trump fit the stereotypical profile of all cult leaders, which is essentially malignant narcissism, which is the narcissism — plus the psychopathic elements of feeling above the law, the pathological lying, paranoia, the jealousy, the harassment," he added.
The cult comparison has also been used by Michael Cohen, Trump's one-time lawyer. A friend of Cohen's told The New York Times last February that Cohen "would describe it as being something akin to a cult" andnhe "got sucked into it."
Hassan said Trump is a 'stereotypical cult leader'
"First of all, cult leaders think they're above everybody else, above the law, and then everything exists for their adulation," Hassan said.
"Cult leaders think nothing of using people like pawns to get their way, and it doesn't matter if there are people on the staff saying this is a bad idea, which apparently Bolton did," Hassan said. In December The New York Times reported that former national security adviser John Bolton tried to convince Trump to release military aid to Ukraine.
"His will matters more than any rationality and the potential consequence," Hassan continued.
He said cult leaders also have a tendency to cast out anyone who disagrees with them. He says this can be seen in the record high turnover of staff in the Trump White House.
According to Time magazine, Trump burned through more officials in two and a half years than presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George W Bush and George HW Bush did in their whole first terms.
You know it's a cult when you can't leave for free
Hassan himself was a cult member — one of the so-called "Moonies," a religious movement that originated in South Korea. Hassan said he joined in his youth and remained in the cult until 1976, just before his 22nd birthday.
He contrasted mendacious cult activity — like the Moonies, or being part of Trump's circle — with healthy cult activity, like really liking a sports team.
In a healthy cult, Hassan said, "you're free to leave, you can talk to whoever you want to talk to, you can read whatever you want to read. There's no penalty if you say: 'I don't want to do this anymore.'"
By contrast, he said, unhealthy cults focus on deception, hate, and fear. In his recent interview with MSNBCs Rachel Maddow, Parnas discussed at length how he was afraid of Trump and did not want to cross him.
Hassan also noted that some groups have a kind of uniform they encourage people to wear, akin to the "Make America Great Again" hats worn by Trump supporters.
Disinformation is another cult hallmark, Hassan said
Hassan said cult leaders also make liberal use of disinformation — a tactic which Trump has embraced with vigor, from exaggerating crowd sizes to redrawing hurricane maps, often with the goal of demonstrating that a false claim he made is actually true.
In the final two weeks of 2019 alone, CNN pointed out 90 false claims said by the president.
Hassan said this helps in "sowing conflict, with one of the gains [being] to delegitimize the leadership and institutions of that particular society."
He pointed to the appointments of noted skeptics Scott Pruitt and Betsy DeVos to lead the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Education respectively, as another example of delegitimizing institutions.
You don't have to be stupid to be in a cult
Drawing on his experience as a former cult member who gave it up in the 1970s, Hassan says that indoctrination can happen to anyone.
"Intelligent, educated people can be true believers, and I've met many, including myself."
He added that redemption is ultimately possible. "They can get better and realize what they were believing was all wrong and that they have been subjected to an systematic indoctrination program," Hassan said.
- Read more:
- How Trump exposed, exploited, and embodied the cult of billionaire 'big philanthropy'
- Giuliani associate Lev Parnas trolled Trump by threatening to release a new photo of them together every time the president claims not to know him
- A protester who called for Americans to 'eat the babies' to fight climate change at AOC's town hall was revealed as a member of a pro-Trump fringe group
Read the original article on Business Insider