As Donald Trump runs for president in the 2024 election, he’s been indicted four times on state and federal criminal violations, totaling 91 charges. Those indictments include the most recent RICO charges brought against Trump and 18 co-defendants in Georgia, Special Counsel Jack Smith’s federal charges for conspiring to subvert American democracy, the Mar-a-Lago classified documents case, and the adult film star hush money case in New York. Most of these cases will likely go to trial next year. In May, a jury found Trump to be liable for sexual abuse and defamation, awarding the writer E. Jean Carroll $5 million in damages.
Yet despite being mired in unprecedented legal trouble, and a proven record of dishonesty unparalleled among U.S. presidents, this twice impeached former president remains the frontrunner to capture the 2024 Republican party nomination. An August CBS News–YouGov survey found that Trump voters trust him more than they trust their own friends and family, conservative media or even religious leaders.
Millions of people across the U.S. are mystified as to why Trump continues to command the loyalty of the vast majority of Republican voters. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Steven Hassan, a cult survivor, mental health professional and author of “The Cult of Trump,” who draws parallels between Trump and people like Jim Jones, David Koresh, Ron Hubbard, and Sun Myung Moon, maintaining that Trump exploits and manipulates his followers’ prejudices and fears. Here Hassan talks about how many Trump supporters are indoctrinated and his concern that these supporters will once again respond with violence if he loses the 2024 election.
STEVE HASSAN: I don’t believe Donald Trump is a mastermind. He’s certainly a malignant narcissist, which is the stereotypical profile of all cult leaders, and not just the lack of empathy and the grandiosity and the need for attention and praise, but thinking they’re above the law and the pathological lying, the sadistic element, paranoid, violence, threats of violence, harassing.
We know he’s got that. But I really believe he’s being manipulated by very powerful forces that have a strong presence on the Internet through social media platforms where over 5,000 data points, we now understand, has been gathered on every voting American. And with AI, people are in this indoctrination bubble, believing that Donald Trump is an agent of God, at least 40 million Americans, I believe, believe that.
And not that he’s a saint or he’s a good man. But the Democrats are worse. The Democrats are all satanic and pedophiles and traffickers. That’s what people are programmed to believe. And it’s the fear of the other that is keeping people in the bubble. And also, we have a lot of very bad actors in Congress and in the Senate and on TV and other media outlets that are continuing to keep that bubble going in people’s minds.
So there’s a lot a big reasons to understand how people are impervious to facts and to reality testing. However, what my career of 47 years now tells me is that people, even though they say that they are devout Trump followers, they still have doubts. They’re just suppressed. And that if we were smart, we would be educating everyone about what is due influence, ethical influence and what’s undue influence, and teaching people how to interact with people who are believers in a way that’s respectful, curious and asking good questions as opposed to calling them names, calling them stupid, and just using the cult word as a pejorative.
I want people to understand there’s hope to turn this around, but it’s not going to happen without everyone understanding how much undue influence is being leveled at us. And in particular, as I mentioned — through the digital media, because people are on their cell phones eight hours a day or more, or media sources — where they’re trusting people who have demonstrated that they’re untrustworthy.
SCOTT HARRIS: One of the most frightening things in our politics today from where I’m sitting is the penchant for political violence that we see within the Republican party. We’ve seen the normalization of death threats and stochastic domestic terrorist attacks targeting the very same groups that Trump and the Republican party regularly demonize, not only with their rhetoric but with their policies.
And these groups, of course, targeted have been blacks, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, drag queens, teachers, Asians, Jews, election workers and intellectuals as a whole. We’ve talked to Ruth Ben-Ghiat about these issues as well. But what is your level of concern about violence here as we enter this 2024 presidential campaign and what happens if this whole Trump MAGA movement collapses?
STEVEN HASSAN: Unfortunately, as I predicted, if Trump didn’t win the 2020 election, there would be violence. I wrote that in the “Cult of Trump” book in 2019. Trump’s going to take a lot of people with him, unfortunately, and he’s more likely to direct people to mass violence than to just fade away and say, “Well, I gave it my best shot.”
So I’m seriously worried. And all I can say is buying guns, more guns is not the answer. But on the other hand, I hope the government has been working on contingency plans for what to do if armed militias like the Oath Keepers, for example, the Proud Boys, start roaming streets with AR-15s. And I think that’s why the judges have given such long sentences to do their best to send a message that this is not tolerated, that you’re going to be in jail for a very long time if you want to instigate an insurrection.
Listen to Scott Harris’ in-depth interview with Steven Hassan (26:01) and see more articles and opinion pieces in the Related Links section of this page.
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