Garry Reed combined a professional technical writing career and a passion for all things libertarian to become The Libertarian Opinionizer.
Commentary by Your Libertarian Opinionizer
NOTE: “Cult” has many definitions. This definition is used for this article:
Cults are typically hierarchical, that use formal and informal practices to socialize members. Often, cults work similarly as pyramid schemes and grooms vulnerable people to join through coercion and peer pressure. (Emphasis added.)
The first Libertarian Party platform in 1972 proclaimed in its Statement of Principles “We, the members of the Libertarian Party, challenge the cult of the omnipotent state and defend the rights of the individual.”
Their concern was that government, and especially presidents, had slipped the bonds of the Constitution and had become far too powerful. Government, Libertarians declared, “has only one legitimate function, the protection of individual rights.” Yet year after year president after president has been accumulating more and more power in the form of dictatorial “executive orders” into their own hands, like a charismatic leader of a cult called “The State.”
We were warned about this twice when Gene Healy, then a Senior Editor and now Vice President of the libertarian Cato Institute, published his book The Cult of the Presidency: America's Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power in which he spared neither party’s presidents and followed it in 2012 with False Idol: Barack Obama and the Continuing Cult of the Presidency. Needless to say, the Presidential Cults have continued unabated.
A reviewer at The Independent Institute summarized The Cult of the Presidency this way: “Healy’s analysis provides an alarming view of how much power presidents exercise and how little the public seems to care.” But that of course has finally changed with President Trump. Not only has he been impeached twice but many have advocated going far beyond simple impeachment.
The day before Trump’s presidential term ended mental health counselor Steven Hassan stirred up a firestorm when he told CNN in January that "all of America needs deprogramming due to the negative influence of President Trump, especially rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol.”
The “deprogramming” mantra was immediately picked up and dutifully parroted by others in the Kool-Aid drinking Alt-Left authoritarian Democratic Socialism echo chamber of Democratic Party supporters.
So how did Trump’s supporters become cult members in desperate need of “deprogramming?” They became cult members because Leading Cult Expert Steven Hassan and others said so, and they must be deprogrammed because leading cult expert Steven Hassan and others said so.
Hassan said so in his 2019 book The Cult of Trump: A Leading Cult Expert Explains How the President Uses Mind Control.
So what are these mind control techniques? A Goodreads reviewer notes that “Hassan's preferred framework is the B.I.T.E. model, which categorizes cults in the ways they control Behavior, Information, Thoughts and Emotion.” These “controls” are voluminous. It took Reviewer Ross Blocher a 198-word paragraph just to summarize them. Here’s a summary of his summary:
Behavioral controls include rewards and punishment, discouragement of individualism, groupthink, rigid rules and regulations, punishment for disobedience…
Information controls include deception, deliberate withholding of information, distortion of information, systematic lying, extensive use of propaganda and misquotation…
Thought control is expressed in terms of black and white, good versus evil, insiders versus outsiders, loaded clichés and buzzwords, rejecting rational…
Emotional controls block anger or doubt, makes members blame themselves for problems, promotes feelings of guilt or unworthiness, instills fear, alternates praise and criticism…
That’s pretty damn good for a non-politician outsider like Trump because these descriptions of cult-like behaviors actually apply nearly across the board to every politician of every political persuasion who has ever reached the highest ranks of government.
Aren’t All Politicians Cult leaders?
Not to defend Trump but instead of focusing his book on the former President and his followers maybe Steven Hassan should have widened his view and written “The Cult of the Political Psychopath.” After all, these behaviors are also transparently typical of the progressive’s revered Godfather, Saul Alinsky, author of Rules for Radicals in which he declared that “All life is warfare” and “The Third Rule of the ethics of means and ends is that in war the end justifies almost any means.”
So where is Steven Hassan’s book The Cult of Alinsky in which he insists that the entire political liberal subculture of America needs to be deprogrammed from Saul Alinsky’s cultic control over their minds? Apparently he never wrote such a book.
But before we start demanding that anyone anywhere at any time ought to be deprogrammed it might be important to understand just what deprogramming really means.
Deprogram (transitive verb)
Release (someone) from apparent brainwashing, typically that of a religious cult, by the systematic reindoctrination of conventional values.—Oxford Dictionary
This is highly problematic. “Apparent” brainwashing? Apparent to whom? Who decides? And what exactly is brainwashing anyway? In our popular culture brainwashing means “If you believe something I don’t believe you’ve obviously been brainwashed.”
And then there’s that “reindoctrination of conventional values.” Indoctrination is a synonym for brainwashing, so “reindoctrination simply means “rebrainwashing.” And reindoctrination into whose conventional values? Yours? Mine? The Alt-Left Democratic Socialist’s?
All of this talk of cults and deprograming begets the question of who this Steven Hassan is and why he wants to deprogram, unbrainwash and reindoctrinate President Trump’s supporters.
Hassan identifies himself this way: “Steven A. Hassan, PhD, MA, M.Ed., LMHC, NCC is one of the foremost authorities on cults and mind control … He holds a Master's degree in counseling psychology from Cambridge College, is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and a Nationally Certified Counselor (NCC).” And goes on and on from there.
Deprogramming the Deprogrammer
But Hassan isn’t limited to book-learnin’ about cults. He was a Moonie. He tells his whole story in a 2012 Guardian article, “I was a Moonie cult leader,” and actually begins with “I consider myself to be an independent thinker” before becoming thoroughly brainwashed into Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church. He was a member for more than two years and even served as a cult leader himself.
If that’s an independent thinker it might be time to look up the definitions of “independent” and “thinker.” While he claims his stint as a cultist gives him deeper insight into cults the question remains: According to Hassan there are four types of cults and one of them is the political cult. But Hassan seems only to see cults on the political right. Why is that? Why does he clearly identify a Cult of Trump but apparently doesn’t see a Cult of Antifa or a Cult of BLM or a Cult of Democratic Socialism? Where is the Cult of Ocasio-Cortez or the cults of Pelosi or Schumer or Hillary or Obama?
But we know why of course. In the relentlessly metastasizing world of the bastardized ideology that can only be characterized as Corporatist-Democratic Socialist Zealotry doing so would prove injurious to his career, and possibly to his life and limb.
Ultimately Hassan isn’t about the cult of politics; he’s about the Cult of Political Partisanship. This is about the now-commonly acceptable and perversely spiteful Cult of Political Shaming.
Steven Hassan will never find any cults on the political left because if he did he would lose his book deals and be deplatformed by the big media corporatists and Culture Cancelled by the Social Justice Cult. He would have rocks thrown through his windows, his house looted and burned or taken over by squatters declaring it an Autonomous Zone.
At this point Hassan would likely try to declare libertarianism a cult. But libertarianism is by definition a philosophy of individualism. The idea of an “Individualist Cult” would be the ultimate contradiction since that would be contrary to Hassan’s descriptions of what makes a cult a cult (such as “discouragement of individualism”). That means libertarians really are independent thinkers who will never have any need to be “deprogrammed” by a former Moonie loony.
Yet Hassan is quoted as saying "all of America needs deprogramming due to the negative influence of President Trump, especially rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol.” If that’s the case why doesn’t all of America need deprogramming due to the negative influence of all those other cults, especially rioters and looters and arsonists who stormed private businesses, police headquarters and people’s homes?
Steven Hassan doesn’t seem to be a Cult Expert so much as he seems to be a Political Correctness Expert looking out for himself. So maybe it’s Hassan himself who needs to be deprogrammed from his own Cult of Me.
Libertarians Reject All Political Cults
Both political parties, re: cults, are despotic and coercive in their own way. Libertarians reject left-right partisan politics on the grounds that it’s obsolete thinking and irrelevant. Libertarians see the only meaningful divide in today’s America as an individualism versus authoritarianism divide. Both major political cults are authoritarian. Libertarians are individualists.
In fairness if Steven Hassan’s work has helped families rescue their loved ones from insidiously malicious brainwashing cults as many have testified that’s a good thing. But that doesn’t excuse him from the partisan branding of some politicians and their followers on one side of the great political divide as cults and cult members needing deprogramming while giving the likeminded sociopaths on the other side a pass.
He wrote a book called The Cult of Trump. He could write an encyclopedia called The Cult of Anti-Trump. What it may all come down to is that Hassan’s deep identification with the Liberal Left means that while he escaped the Moonie cult he’s still a cult leader; he’s just found himself a different cult.
So maybe libertarians should be saying, “Leading Cult Expert Steven Hassan, deprogram thyself.”
Meanwhile back at the Independent Institute the reviewer describes Gene Healy’s False Idol: Barack Obama and the Continuing Cult of the Presidency as “a highly compelling examination of both the Obama administration and our fixation on the fable of being led, comforted, and delivered by a presidential savior.” That’s because, the review continues, “we’ve embraced a warped notion of the presidency itself.”
The conclusion could as easily apply to President Trump as to President Obama and now to President Biden: “…even as the President’s popularity and effectiveness erode, his powers continue to expand, revealing how our political culture so deeply needs presidential salvation that even when faith in the office holder wanes, new powers are still delegated to the executive branch.”
This is why libertarians continue their fight against the false god of the Cult of the Omnipotent State.
References and Links
Examples of Secular Cults are identified as pseudo religions with QAnon consisting of a loose collection of conspiracy theorists on the right and the Woke Cult of dogmatic and puritanical Cancel Culturists on the left operating in alternative universes.
Psychology Today Goes Politically Correct by calling Trump and his followers a cult while giving Democrat presidents like Kennedy and Obama a pass with the praiseworthy narrative that they were great leaders with a “cult of personality.”
Libertarians believe that everyone has the right to live as they choose so long as they respect the equal rights of others. Libertarians work together voluntarily, not coercively. Cults condemn individualism. Therefore a “libertarian cult” is a contradiction.
Objectivist Cult? Some call Ayn Rand and her “Randroid” followers a cult but others reject that since her Objectivist philosophy has no cultlike leader or organized movement or group to join and because Objectivism requires people to think for themselves.