I was once a member of a cult. I’m not talking about a cult following, where people are way into something, like the cult of surfing or the cult of bodybuilding. I never traveled around the country to see Grateful Dead concerts or attend Sci-fi conventions dressed in costume. I don’t mean that kind of cult.
I mean the kind of cult that has beliefs or practices regarded by other people who are not in the cult as being either weird or sinister, or both. The kind of cult where you wonder, what the heck are these people thinking? How could anyone buy into this craziness? Yeah, I was once a member of that kind of cult.
During my years as a cult member, I experienced, on a very personal level, how involvement in a cult can affect someone’s point of view, perceptions and ultimately, their personality. Having been in a cult, myself, for over 25 years, followed by many years of study of other cults, I believe I have pretty clear insight into the true nature of cults – why they exist, who joins them, and what kind of people lead them.
I want to tell you about a new cult that, in the last two years, has grown to become one of the largest and, potentially, one of the most dangerous cults on Earth. How large? There are millions of members. How dangerous? Dangerous enough to have already negatively impacted you and virtually everyone you know.
Want to know what it is? Sure you do, and I’m going to tell you in just a moment. But first, I want to tell you what it’s like to be in a cult and about the effects on its members of being in a cult. I want you to really understand the nature of cults so that when I tell you about this new cult, you will be able to judge for yourself whether this is a real cult and a real threat.
What All Cults Have in Common
At a fundamental level, despite different outward appearances, all cults have much more in common than they have differences. There are religious cults, self-help cults, financial, and political cults, but at their core, all of them are:
- Exclusive: Cult members believe that they are the only ones who know the truth about something important.
- Action-oriented: Cult members feel that they know the truth, they have a goal related to that truth, and are focused on taking actions to implement that goal.
- Authoritarian: Every cult has a cult leader. Unquestioned obedience and loyalty to that leader is expected of the cult members.
Joining a Cult
Why would anyone decide to join a cult? Short answer — because the cult has something beneficial to offer. I can tell you from personal experience that not everything about a particular cult is bad, and not everyone who joins a cult is a nut. Most people who join a cult are ordinary or even extraordinary people who feel that there is something the cult has to offer that is going to improve their lives. They are often right; their life is improved, sometimes dramatically improved.
Here are some examples of how people’s lives can be improved:
- They were unhappy; now they’re happier.
- They had an addiction; now they’re not affected by it.
- They wanted to help other people; now they are helping other people.
- They were unfulfilled spiritually; now they are fulfilled.
- They were lonely; now they have friends.
- They didn’t have a real purpose in life; now they do.
- They felt relatively powerless; now they are part of a group that empowers them.
- They wanted to improve the world; now they believe they have a way to do this.
For any of these reasons, it would be completely sane and logical for someone to decide to join a cult. And the more reasons someone has for joining, the more likely they will want to remain in the cult despite some aspects of the cult that the new member doesn’t at first necessarily understand or agree with.
Unfortunately, along with the benefits of cult membership will come liabilities. When someone first joins a cult, they are generally unaware of these liabilities. They learn about them only gradually, sometimes over months or even years.
What’s It Like Inside a Cult?
15 Characteristics of Cults and Cult Members
- Cult members are told (and come to believe) that the fact that they are in the cult demonstrates that they are superior to other people.
- Cult members are kept isolated from outside influences, either mentally, physically, or both. This helps to create an environment that fosters their new belief system.
- Cult members are told (and come to believe) that they are part of a team that is going to make the world a better place.
- Cult members are told (and come to believe) that the world as they know it is in danger or about to fall apart.
- Cult members are told (and come to believe) that the cult can save the world from whatever it is that the cult claims is wrong.
- There is an us versus them, friend or foe, mentality within the cult. Issues are black or white, no room for grey.
- Cult members are discouraged from looking at information other than by sources that agree with the cult leader. This means that any source that conflicts in any way with the cult’s ideas is held in disrepute by the cult leaders and members.
- Critical thinking is discouraged.
- Instead, cult members are encouraged to accept illogical facts on faith.
- This results in cult members becoming increasingly capable of believing things that they originally would never have believed.
- Cult members become susceptible to conspiracy theories.
- Cult members are told (and believe) that people who criticize the cult in any way, are either stupid, unenlightened, evil and/or dangerous.
- Cult members believe that anyone attempting to convince them to leave their cult is trying to harm them and the cult, and is an enemy (even family and friends who love them).
- Cult members are told (and come to believe) that the cult has enemies — often many enemies — who want to destroy the cult leader and the cult.
- Cult members don’t believe that they are in a cult. Instead, they are members of a dedicated group of people working to make the world better.
Why are cults like this?
In many ways the “personality” of a cult is a reflection of the cult leader’s personality. Cults always have a leader; and the reason that all cults have much in common is that the personalities of cult leaders have much in common.
Characteristics of Cult Leaders
Cult leaders set themselves up as infallible and superior to all others. They are self-appointed saviors who constantly brag about themselves and their accomplishments while belittling others.
They are braggarts, liars, and attention seekers. They typically love to have their cult members talking and thinking about them all the time. I mean, every single day, preferably every hour. They have little concern about others except how well someone can serve their purposes. Their idea of a “friend” is someone who can help them. An enemy is anyone who disagrees with them or gets in their way. Everyone else is unimportant.
Cult leaders can’t stand criticism of any kind and will compulsively attack whoever or whatever they decide has made them “look bad.” They have little moral restraint and often commit hidden and sometimes not so hidden crimes. And one other thing worth mentioning –- many cult leaders tend to have issues with sex. Either they shun sex completely, or they have a lot of sex with a lot of people, and often with minors.
The American Psychiatric Association has a name for this type of personality. It’s called Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). The symptoms of NPD are:
- Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment from others
- Fixated on fantasies of power, success, intelligence, attractiveness, etc.
- Self-perception of being unique, superior and associated with high-status people and institutions
- Needing constant admiration from others
- Sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others
- Exploitative of others to achieve personal gain
- Unwilling to empathize with others’ feelings, wishes, or needs
- Intensely envious of others and the belief that others are equally envious of them
- Pompous and arrogant demeanor
You may wonder why any cult member would want to associate themselves with such an obviously messed-up person. The simple answer is that, despite their obvious character flaws, they have CHARISMA. Lots and lots of charisma. Cult leaders are expert at “reading” the people they are with and knowing how to act and what to say in order to be convincing in their role as a charismatic cult leader.
Consequently, cult members don’t typically view their leader’s anti-social characteristics as negative personality flaws. In fact, they often admire their leader for them. A cult leader is typically thought of by followers as a confident and strong-willed person who can take charge. In reality, they are just psychologically damaged people who, if they weren’t cult leaders, would be considered obnoxious jerks.
It’s not easy to become a cult leader.
According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, 6.2% of the U.S. population has NPD, but only a small fraction of these people have everything it takes to become a cult leader. If you want to be the leader of a cult, you’ll need more than NPD. You’ll need all five of the following: A High Drive to Succeed + Intelligence + Charisma + A Message People Respond To + NPD.
Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, and Nelson Mandela had all these characteristics except the last, NPD. So while they became great leaders, they didn’t become cult leaders. Nor did they want to. Their goal was not to be admired or to control the lives of others; it was to lead people toward greater freedom and equality.
On the other hand, Jim Jones, Charles Manson, and Adolf Hitler did have all of these characteristics, including NPD, and so they became cult leaders. Despite what their followers originally believed, the goal of these leaders was never the betterment of others. Their goal was to have as many people as possible admire them and to be under their control.
The Most Dangerous Cult in America
OK, now I’m going to tell you about the cult leader whom I consider the most dangerous cult leader in America today. This person has 100% of both the characteristics of a cult leader that I described above, as well as every symptom of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). This person is Donald Trump.
That’s right, Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States, is a cult leader. I want to be very clear on this point. When I say that Donald Trump is a cult leader, I don’t mean that he is a populist politician with a cult-like following. No, I mean that Donald Trump is literally a cult leader with millions of followers.
If you have any doubt about this, please note that he has both 100% of the characteristics of a cult leader that I described above, as well as every symptom of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). In just two years, in a perfect storm of media frenzy, Internet madness, and political chaos, Trump not only managed to create a cult of millions of people, he got them to make him one of the most powerful people on Earth.
And what of his followers? Are they really, honest-to-God cult followers? Well, certainly not everyone who voted for Trump is a cult follower. Of the over 62 million American citizens who voted for Trump, some were die-hard Republicans, some were cynical politicians, some really, really disliked Hillary Clinton, and some were just angry, disenfranchised Americans desperately seeking a change for the better in their lives. It’s hard to know exactly how many Trump voters were simply Trump supporters and how many were and are now Trump cult followers, but they number in the millions.
Sure, they don’t dress in white robes, or gather to sing songs on the White House lawn at night, or keep candles burning to celebrate Trump’s greatness. Nevertheless, Trump has managed to capture their hearts and minds in such a way that they now share the most fundamental thing that all cult followers have in common — a willingness to abandon their own independent thinking and adopt the ideas of their chosen leader, no matter how preposterous, outrageous, or dangerous these ideas may be.
If you look at the 15 Characteristics of Cults and Cult Members listed above, and if you know any die-hard Trump supporters, do they not reflect every one of these characteristics? And if they do, then I would suggest to you that they are more than a Trump supporter, they are, in fact, a member of the Cult of Trump.
It’s important to acknowledge that a large percentage of the millions of people who voted for him are really and truly disciples of Trump in exactly the same way that cult members in other cults are disciples of their cult leader. Because of this:
- They will continue to believe whatever he tells them;
- They will do what he asks them to do; and
- They will resist any and all efforts to change their minds.
Why is the Cult of Trump so dangerous?
In my opinion Donald Trump is, at best, an unethical businessman, if not an outright criminal. He ran an ugly presidential campaign based on false information, racism, sexism, misogyny, white nationalism, and religious intolerance. And, he is now President.
As I write this, Trump has been in office for a little over 100 days. With his Narcissistic Personality Disorder issues, his lack of concern for environmental, educational, and social issues, his contempt for democratic principles and his ignorance of international relations, his daily actions have demonstrated that he is an obvious threat to everyone in our country and the world. But this is not obvious to his followers.
It is not an exaggeration to say that with Trump in the White House, our very American identity and tradition of equality, tolerance, personal freedom, and civil liberty are under attack. And it is obvious that there is no chance that we will change the point of view of Trump or of many of the like-minded senior officials whom he has surrounded himself with. And unfortunately, most Republican Senators and Representatives continue to support and protect him for their own self-serving reasons.
We can vote. But, as has been already well-demonstrated, Trump followers will also vote, even against their own self-interest. Unless something changes their minds they will continue to support and protect their leader.
What can you do to change the minds of Trump Cult followers?
The bad news — not much and not easily. Here’s a great demonstration of why.
The good news — you don’t need to change their minds. Time and life experience will gradually change their minds for them. Trump followers originally joined the Cult of Trump for reasons that were very important to them. As time goes by, Trump followers will observe that they still have the same problems that they believed Trump would solve for them. At some point, disillusioned Trump followers will have had enough and will gradually pull away from Trump and his ideas.
In the meantime if you want to protect yourself against the dangers of Trump, vote, encourage everyone you know to vote, and empower yourself and others to get familiar with the 10 ways to take on Trump.
My Cult Experience
Here’s an interesting thing – while I was in the cult most people would never have guessed that I was in a cult. I dressed like everyone else, owned my own business and home, and had (and still have) a fantastic wife and a couple of great kids. Anyone looking at my life from the outside would conclude that I was living the American Dream. Well, and here comes the part where I’m supposed to say, but on the inside… but, no, I really was living a happy life. But if I was in a cult, how could this be?
In the past few years, I have read countless stories on Internet forums by people who were in the same cult as I was, recounting how their lives were ruined by this cult; how they lost their money, their friends, their families, their health, their self-respect, even their minds. Pretty much anything of a spiritual, emotional, physical, or financial nature that someone can lose, somebody (or many people) lost it because they got involved with this cult. And I have personally seen every one of these things happen to people I know who were once (or in a few cases, still are) a member of this cult. But not me.
Why not me? The short answer is that while I was a cult member for years, I wasn’t a very good cult member. Yes, I donated money, attended classes, and engaged in spiritual activities like everyone else, but unlike most of the hard-core members, I could never fully buy into the idea that the cult leader was a source of unquestioned wisdom. And because I couldn’t — or wouldn’t — I was able to benefit from the positive aspects of the cult without suffering from the negatives.
I stayed in the cult I was involved with — even after figuring out that the cult leader was a damaged individual — for as long as I felt I was benefitting from some of the things that the cult had to offer. But there came a time when I was no longer getting any benefits, so I left.
Ironically, one life skill I gained by being in a cult was the ability to understand the true nature of cults and cult leaders, which I have tried to share with you here.
Are You a Member of a Cult?
Of course you’re not, right? Unless you are. Here’s a 10 question cult membership test:
- Is there a religious or political leader that you admire very much?
- Have you thought about this person while reading this article?
- Do you pretty much agree with everything this person says, even if you hadn’t personally thought about it until they said it?
- Do you tend to get annoyed with, or even dislike, people who disagree with or criticize this person?
- Is there a lot of controversy surrounding this person?
- If you learn anything bad about this person, do you assume, without checking other reliable sources, that this is false information made up by the leader’s enemies?
- Has this person expressed contempt for most other sources of information, other than their own?
- Have you ever seen anything this person says turn out not to be true?
- If so, do you still tend to believe the things they say without personally checking the facts for yourself?
- Are you beginning to get annoyed with these questions?
If you answered YES to most or all of these questions, there’s a good chance that this person is a cult leader and that you are a member of their cult. Which is OK, if you want to stay in the cult. You may not have thought of yourself as a cult member, but if you are ”following” a person like this, then they are almost certainly a cult leader and to a greater or lesser degree, you’re a member of their cult.
I stayed in a cult while I was benefiting. I recommend the same for you If you are in a cult, whether the Cult of Trump or any other cult. Stay involved as long as you feel you are getting a benefit, but do it with your eyes open. Acknowledge that you are in a cult, and judge your cult and your cult leader not by what is said, but by what the cult is actually doing.
And not to worry — the simple truth is that if you don’t want to be in somebody’s cult, you can leave whenever you want. You don’t need permission from the cult leader or anyone else. You don’t even need to say anything to anyone. Just stop believing everything your cult leader says, start thinking for yourself, and redirect your activities to things in your life that you find more enjoyable and beneficial.
Here’s some more information about what cults are and are not
Here’s some information about how to leave a cult