On Monday, the Washington Post published an op-ed by columnist Brian Klaas whereby he expresses the near futility of attempting to “deprogram” millions of Trump supporters, claiming that many have “gone far enough down the rabbit hole of conspiratorial thinking.”
The essay, titled “‘Why is it so hard to deprogram Trumpian conspiracy theorists?” depicts millions of Trump supporters as so devoted to “dangerous lunacy” that nearly all hope is lost of bringing them “back to reality.”
Referring to President Trump as “a conspiracy theorist in chief” who “injected the toxin of baseless conspiratorial thinking straight into America’s political bloodstream,” the essay claims that while only hundreds stormed the Capitol, “there are millions of Americans who share their views.”
“So, do we have any hope of deprogramming the millions of Americans who are devoted to dangerous lunacy?” asks Klaas. “Don’t hold your breath,” he declares.
The essay then claims that the findings of psychologists and political scientists indicate that “it can be nearly impossible” to recover people deeply involved in conspiratorial thinking.
Another factor that makes the attempt to “deprogram” more difficult, the essay explains, is the social aspect.
“Modern conspiracy movements such as QAnon, are thriving in church groups and yoga classes,” Klaas states. “They’re social. And that means that deprogramming is that much harder.”
“Today, with the rise of social media, one can be alone but feel part of a group — and some of those groups are glued together by unhinged beliefs,” Klaas adds.
The essay then describes “deluded” Trump supporters as less conspicuous than expected, deeming the attempt to ”accurately diagnose” those who have “taken the poison” more difficult.
“Bringing the deluded people who populate Trump’s political base back to reality will be difficult,” Klaas writes.
“But to find the right antidote, we need to at least accurately diagnose who has taken the poison,” he adds.” And that means acknowledging that those who sympathize with the Capitol insurrectionists are not far-off lunatics. Some, most likely, are your neighbors.”
However, despite any success in “diagnosing” which citizens have “taken the poison,” the essay expresses little hope of change.
“Given the staying power of conspiratorial thinking, they aren’t likely to change their minds anytime soon,” he concludes.
On Tuesday, Klaas appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe to argue that a “coalition of reality” is needed to combat conspiracy theories.
Reiterating the difficulties involved in “deprogramming,” Klaas stated that “some people are not going to be fixed and some people will not be brought out of the rabbit hole that they’ve gone down for the last four years.”
Turning to political leaders, Klaas lashed out at Republicans for “peddling conspiracy theories” and demanded they be held accountable.
“Political leaders have a huge responsibility in doing this,” he stated. “Republicans need to stop peddling conspiracy theories.”
“[W]e need to have a coalition of reality in our politics and Republican leaders need to be held accountable for not inhabiting that real space that we all should live in,” he added.
The notion of “deprogramming” Trump supporters has been fiercely promoted by those on the left in recent days following the November presidential elections and the storming of the U.S. Capitol this month.
In a recent video promoted by the left, citizens are called upon to become cyber detectives to monitor and report fellow citizen Trump-supporters to authorities.
The threat addressed is described as emanating from “radical” conservatives who live among us. The clip states:
The greatest threat facing America today comes from within: radical extreme conservatives, also known as domestic terrorists. They’re hidden among us, disguised behind regular jobs.
They are your children’s teachers. They work at supermarkets, malls, doctor’s offices, and many are police officers and soldiers.
The video has received over four million views since.
On Thursday, Vanity Fair published an interview with cult expert Steven Hassan detailing how to go about “deprogramming” Trump supporters, while arguing for a “massive education” effort involving the participation of schools, mental health professionals, law enforcement, media, politicians, and intelligence agencies.
Last week, Hassan appeared on CNN and stated that “all of America needs deprogramming” due to the negative influence of President Trump.
On Monday, Hassan published an infographic with steps to take to “free your loved ones” from Trump’s “cult.”
Last week, Washington Post columnist and MSNBC contributor Eugene Robinson referred to Trump’s supporters as “members of a cult” that need to be “reprogrammed.”
“There are millions of Americans, almost all white, almost all Republicans, who somehow need to be deprogrammed,” Robinson stated. “It’s as if they are members of a cult, the Trumpist cult, and they have to be deprogrammed.”
Follow Joshua Klein on Twitter @JoshuaKlein.