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.
The edited transcript of the interview, titled “‘So Many Great, Educated, Functional People Were Brainwashed’: Can Trump’s Cult of Followers Be Deprogrammed?,” has Hassan, author of The Cult of Trump, describing his past as a former Moonie [member of the Unification Church] and his techniques for rehabilitating cult members.
“When I talk about the cult of Trump, I’m talking about a destructive authoritarian cult,” Hassan begins.
“As a mental health professional, we think of that as a dissociative disorder.”
Hassan then discusses “fourth-generation warfare” which he describes as “psychological warfare aimed at confusing, disorienting, numbing, delegitimizing leaders and institutions.”
“This has been practiced from without by our enemies, as well as from within by the Christian right, neo-Nazis, and other people with authoritarian goals,” he adds, before comparing Trump with prominent cult leaders.
“I compare Donald Trump with Jim Jones and L. Ron Hubbard of Scientology, as well as Sun Myung Moon, the leader of a cult that I was in for two and a half years,” he says.
Despite admitting to not being a licensed psychiatrist, Hassan attempts to provide a diagnosis of Trump.
“I would argue that cult leaders typically did not have a healthy childhood,” he states. “They have what’s called an insecure attachment disorder.”
Hassan then portrays Trump senior as an abusive “authoritarian.”
“In Trump’s case, we know his father was an authoritarian who used to tell him and his brother things like, ‘you are a killer, you are a king, you are a killer, you are a king,’ over and over again.”
“He was trained to do thought-stopping from his childhood, about any doubts, any negative thoughts,” he added.
Hassan also praises the suspension of Trump’s social media accounts, claiming the need to “protect” people.
“When people have asked me if it’s good that Trump was thrown off of Twitter and Facebook and YouTube, I answer emphatically yes,” he states. “Because we need to do what’s within our control to protect people from this constant reinforcement and indoctrination.”
Hassan also states his assessment that die-hard Trump-supporting cultists number in the tens of millions.
“I’m predicting that of the 74 million, in terms of the real hard-core mind-control cultist, I think we’re probably looking at 10 to 30 million,” he states, leading the interviewer to question just how to “deprogram” so many.
“How do we deprogram that many people?” the interviewer asks.
Presenting his “solution,” Hassan suggests the use of “massive education,” without clarifying just who determines what is appropriate for such a program and how it will take place.
“The solution, in my opinion, to this incredibly intense polarization that we’re experiencing, is a massive education about [the difference between] ethical influence and unethical influence,” he states, before pondering which form of “hypnosis” is ethical.
“What’s ethical hypnosis and what’s unethical hypnosis?” he asks.
Criticizing “biased” conservative media, Hassan then assigns blame to specific outlets.
“I would say that a lot of Trump’s supporters are very much looking at media from that biased sphere: Fox News, Breitbart News, etcetera,” he states.
Hassan then calls for “a massive effort to reach out, connect, and educate” people.
“We can get the majority of people out of this, and hopefully inoculated from any other authoritarian cults that may come along,” he states.
Speaking of “powerful agents” in deprogramming, Hassan lists family and friends as being ideal.
“Family and friends are the most powerful agents if they understand what works and what doesn’t work, what to do and what not to do,” he states. “But we need to do other massive things like preventive education in schools.”
Hassan then suggests various institutions be recruited to the initiative.
“We need to have a much more formalized education in schools,” Hassan adds. “We need to train mental health professionals. We need to train law enforcement. We need to teach media. We need to teach politicians.”
Calling on the intelligence agencies to make a public statement declaring that good people can be “radicalized” and “be made into killers,” Hassan suggests that these agencies also explain how it is done.
“If we don’t educate everybody about these techniques, the people who know the techniques are going to have an unfair advantage over all the people who don’t know the techniques,” he said.
When the interviewer asks about neighbors “with a Trump sign in their yard” and how to “go about deprogramming” such people, Hassan suggests utilizing friendly demeanor and discussing the harms of brainwashing.
“I would start with a smile and an offer to buy them a coffee,” Hassan replies.
“With Trumpers, what I’ve had the most success with is talking about Chinese Communist brainwashing, and about traffickers and pimps and how they use brainwashing on victims.”
Another technique Hassan presents is publicizing the voices of former Trump supporters.
“We need to amplify the voices of former Trumpers,” he states. “We need to get Christian ministers who actually believe in the Bible and actually believe in Jesus and Jesus’s message.”
Earlier this 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.”
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 earlier this month.
In a recent video being 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.
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.