6 Tips for Deprogramming Trump followers (and Clinton’s? and Others….)

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by Neil Godfrey

Cult deprogramming might sound extreme so first a wise word I wish I had taken on board some time ago:

Bear in mind the difference between an actual cult and a cult following.

There’s a big difference between Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, and Jim Jones, and Charlie Manson, and David Koresh, Shoko Asahara.

It was not a wise choice of words when I described many of Acharya S’s followers as “cult-like” in their thinking. My words were construed to mean that I was saying they themselves constituted a cult despite my efforts to explain otherwise. But in reality that was only one of my many sins in their view and I am not sure following the points below would have made any difference at all to the animosity they continue to have towards me. Still, not following the points below is an absolute guarantee that one’s efforts to “deprogram” a person with “cultish” type thinking will fail.

The points and the quotations are all taken from David Feguson‘s article, Cult Deprogrammer: Here’s How to Stage an Intervention for Your Trump-Supporting Friend on Alternet. The article addresses Trump followers but I’ve added a tilt towards HRC in my own title. That was my attempt to make the following points more general. They apply the best of times to any communication attempting to persuade someone to think differently.

How does one approach someone who comes across as “stubbornly resistant to facts” and blind to an “idol’s” hypocrisy?

  • Approach the person with respect

It is important to frame your intervention as an act of caring and support. Otherwise, the person will feel that they have been ambushed, and they will go on the defensive.

There is no place for smugness or condescension. Get rid of any false stereotypes about “brainwashing” or “stupidity”.

“The idea that just stupid people fall for this is just simply not true. I’ve deprogrammed five medical doctors. It can happen to anyone,” said [Rick Alan] Ross [of the nonprofit Cult Education Institute].

Learn and understand the person’s feelings and concerns. How well do they understand the impact of their views upon their loved ones?

  • Sharing information is what it’s about

Don’t act the therapist; don’t act the counselor. Prepare to share new information. Ask the person

what they know about the group and its leader. Does the leader have a criminal history? Has the leader been sued by former members for things like personal injury? Does the leader have assets like real estate holdings or investments derived from the group that you’re not aware of? Are there former members with similar grievances that you’re not aware of?”

  • Introduce divergent views

Cult members are typically accustomed to only receiving information that has been vetted and approved by a field of like-minded believers. As much as you can, try to introduce them to information from outside their ideological bubble.

Be savvy about what sources you suggest, however. The person of concern probably has firm convictions about the bias of other sources.

  • Avoid loaded language

Slogans and mantras shut down critical thinking.

Cult followers habituate themselves to stop listening to any arguments opposed to their views. Neutral language is essential.

  • Appeal to authority

Point to the alternative views of other persons the “cult follower” respects.

  • Untangle myths

It’s helpful to show, in the leader’s own words, how they’ve been misleading or said things that are disingenuous or even lies. That begins to shake the faith of a true believer.

That could well mean having to do some real homework to be sure you have the facts and evidence you need. A lazy denunciation with only vague references to supposed “facts” is pointless and can backfire.


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Neil Godfrey

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8 thoughts on “6 Tips for Deprogramming Trump followers (and Clinton’s? and Others….)”

  1. Hmm, I didn’t read what you wrote about Acharya S that brought on the firing squad. I wasn’t a group follower, but admired her work. There was something intrinsically right about it. One day some months back I needed to hunt down some information about Apollos and came upon her website, again. I was saddened to find she was losing her battle with cancer. She died a few days later. I was in shock. It felt like a hole in my heart. People make snap judgments about people. Their conclusions can be true but aren’t always true. She worked tirelessly for her cause exploring societal structure, patriarchy, god worship and belief in savior souls from age to age, and how these age-old patterns are regenerated over thousands of years. Her work did impact my life and will continue to. I feel the pressure on me to discredit her for lack of ‘recognized’ credentials, but won’t do it. Having credentials isn’t always necessary. Having knowledge of how things work is.

    1. Credentials are not necessarily important. And I don’t have a problem with an author’s personal beliefs as long as they do not intrude into their writings in a way that robs them of sound argument. Acharya S did seem to me to suffer from some significant flaws that were removed in later writings, apparently under the influence or with the assistance of Robert M. Price. Some of the criticism of even her later work by the biblical scholars Maurice Casey and Bart Ehrman was snobbish and dishonest. One of the many posts I have long wanted to do here is to write a defence of what she wrote against these condescending elites.

      1. I agree and I am so happy to hear you say “condescending elites” in regarding how she was treated. As I said, I was not a follower of hers because I didn’t and still don’t think mythicism is the whole answer. I am embarrassed to say that I don’t even know how early she came onto the scene of the mythicist movement, whether she was a ground breaker, or least among some of the first, and others followed? Part of the problem for her was that her early writings were more of a running journal of realizations, some correct and some not. As she matured, she corrected or honed her findings. But she didn’t care, she just wanted to get her ideas out to the public and didn’t wait, as much more cautious writers do. I hope you do take the time to write something in her defense.

  2. Alas, when I tried all six items to deprogram some of my friends who support Trump, the consistent answer I get back is: “That’s The POINT!” Trump’s abrasive personality, his lies and denial of responsibility, his thoughtlessness and superficiality, his ignorance, his racism, his lack of experience, his complete CLUELESSNESS as to what it takes to run a campaign, let alone a country – “That’s the Point!” His supporters want the whole system to go down and be rebuilt differently.

    1. i’m sure no-one means all supporters of any leader are cultish in their behaviour. Cultish behaviour or a cult following of a popular personality is not the same as a serious cult. But if the hat fits wear it.

  3. I don’t think you have a clue what is going in the Trump movement. Sure the cultists represent a fraction, but there are much larger forces driving it. Voters backing Trump are surprisingly logical and coherent in their reasoning.

    I suggest you read Charles Murray’s Trump’s America to get an understanding of the forces behind his surprising electoral strength. These are not cultist, but a large number of real people.

    Second, you should become familiar with the decline in representative government, and the rise of unelected regulatory commissions (similar to the EU situation) which is a major force in the decline of congress’ ability to actually influence governance. This impacts the sense of the government only listening to elites on the left and business interests, ignoring the common person, and that elected officials are useless. Christopher DeMuth discusses the matter here on the Weekly Standard podcast

    I’m watching my party blow itself up because of this man, and saddened. I know this movement up close and personal and I can tell from your article you are viewing it from a distance. The correct way to combat it is to go after it’s root causes. Leaders will appear and movements will appear when the conditions are right. It’s why I have long thought Eric Hoffer’s True Believer should be required reading in Poly Sci.

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