Posts Tagged ‘Alt-right’


Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure? front coverby Chaz Bufe, author of Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure?

Of late, critics often accuse Donald Trump and his followers of being a cult. The problem is that they seemingly never define what a cult is, never define the characteristics of a cult, and of course never see how well Trump & co. match such characteristics. It’s time to do so.

Before I began writing AA: Cult or Cure?, I spent well over a year on research, much of it involving religious and political cults. I discovered that all cults, whatever their nature — religious, political, commercial (e.g., multi-level marketing scams) — have many characteristics in common. By the end of my research, I had discovered 23 separate characteristics common in cults; some cults exhibit almost all of them.

(Robert Jay Lifton in his groundbreaking and influential Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism lists eight cult-like characteristics; while I included Lifton’s characteristics in the list I compiled, I strongly believe that his book would have been better if he had included more such characteristics — ones I believe are obvious.)

Let’s see how many of the 23 Trump and his followers exhibit:

1) Religious orientation. Are Trump and his followers religiously based? Yes.

Trump’s core followers are conservative evangelicals. He received the votes of 81% of them in the 2016 election, and that level of support remains virtually unchanged. As well, Trump — who’s about as religious, and has about as much knowledge of the Bible, as the average poodle — routinely panders to evangelicals, flattering them endlessly and doing his best to ram through anti-choice, anti-LGBT judges and repressive, religiously inspired laws.

2) Irrationality. Are Trump and his followers irrational, do they discourage skepticism and rational thinking? Emphatically yes.

Trump and his followers are characterized by their ignorance of and contempt for science and rationality. The examples of this are manifold, with climate-change denial being the most obvious and dangerous. Climate scientists — who arrived at their conclusions through massive, decades-long research and application of the scientific method to the data they’ve gathered — are virtually unanimous in the conclusions that climate change is due to human activity (especially the burning of fossil fuels) and that it’s a dire threat to humanity. Trump and his followers irrationally and dangerously deny this.

3) Dogmatism. Are Trump and his followers dogmatic? Yes in the case of Trump’s followers, no as regards Trump himself.

Trump’s most fervent followers, evangelicals, Bible literalists, are by definition dogmatists. They believe (or at least insist that they believe) that a 3,000-year-old book written by Iron Age slaveholders is inerrant, true in every respect. This leads them to insist on absurdities, such as that the Earth is only 6,000 years old; that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time (or that the devil placed fossils in the earth to mislead humans); that, for that matter, the devil actually exists; that the sun stood still; that a dead man arose after three days and walked out of his tomb . . . The list of dogmatic absurdities goes on and on. In contrast, Trump himself is an amoral opportunist with no apparent beliefs who will say and do anything as long as he thinks it’s in his self-interest to do so.

4) “Chosen People” mentality. Do Trump and his followers have such a mentality? Yes.

Trump’s evangelical supporters routinely and self-flatteringly refer to themselves using terms such as “God’s people,” “the elect,” and “the righteous.” They also consider themselves above other people, especially atheists and muslims, with a great many evangelicals (and other conservative religious folk) saying they would never vote for an atheist or muslim for public office. Trump himself is a very privileged rich kid with a massive sense of entitlement. He was a schoolyard bully as a child; he believes he has the right to grope women — and has bragged about that groping; and seems to abuse almost everyone unfortunate enough to come in contact with him. Only someone who thinks he’s better than other people, who thinks he’s entitled to do such odious things, would do them. One might also mention “American exceptionalism” here, a belief apparently held by almost all of Trump’s followers and, perhaps, by Trump himself.

5) Ideology above all else. Do Trump and his followers elevate their ideology over experience, observation, and logic? Yes, absolutely.

Again, the most obvious example is climate-change denial. But other examples abound, such as the insistence that grossly ineffective abstinence-only sex “education” is the only type that should be taught in public schools; that a few cells the size of a pinhead are, somehow, a “person” (apparently in the same manner that an acorn is an oak tree); that massive tax cuts for the top 1% are somehow good for the bottom 99%; and that America is the land of “equal opportunity” in the face of gross differences in wealth and income and equally gross differences in the quality of education for the rich and poor.

6) Separatism. Are Trump and his followers separatists? No.

We might be better off if they were. Instead of being separatists, they want to impose their beliefs on the rest of us through the coercive apparatus of the government.

7) Exclusivity. Do Trump and his followers present themselves as the exclusive holders of the truth. Yes.

Trump’s core evangelical followers, biblical literalists, by definition consider themselves the exclusive holders of the truth. (The same holds for his Mormon and conservative Catholic backers.) Trump, with his constant blather about “fake news,” insistence that he’s the only source of the truth and should always be believed (despite his near-constant and blatant lying), and his bald-faced statement to his followers, “don’t believe what you’re reading or seeing,” is equally if not more guilty of this.

8) Special knowledge. Do Trump and his followers claim to have special knowledge that will only be revealed to the initiated? No.

Not unless you count Trump’s for-profit “university” scam, and that would be a stretch.

9) Mind control. Do Trump and his followers employ mind-control techniques? No.

Even Trump’s most hardcore followers don’t employ mind-control techniques such as sleep deprivation, deliberate near-starvation, hypnotic chanting, and thought-stopping techniques (e.g., reciting a mantra over and over again to ward off unwanted thoughts).

10) Thought-stopping techniques. Do Trump and his followers employ thought-stopping language? Not really. 

The childhood religious indoctrination of Trump’s religious-believer backers (evangelicals, conservative Catholics, Mormons), in which children are routinely warned that doubt comes from the devil (and, from my childhood, that you should pray the rosary to ward off doubt), is as close as you’ll get to thought-stopping language in the Trump movement.

11) Manipulation through guilt. Does Trump manipulate his followers through guilt? No.

Rather, Trump manipulates his followers through fear, hate, bigotry, and scapegoating. His appalling attacks on Mexicans and his fear-mongering about an “invasion” of immigrants is only the most obvious example.

12) The cult of confession. Do Trump and his followers use confession for purification and to tie believers to the movement? No. 

The closest any of Trump’s followers come to this is the practice of conservative Catholics who use that “sacrament” for purification and to tie themselves to the church.

13) A charismatic leader. Is Trump a charismatic leader, and do his followers treat him as one? Clearly, yes. 

I’d use many other terms in place of “charismatic,” but the adoration of the Dear Leader by his glassy-eyed followers is all too obvious. The fact that by their own lights he’s moral garbage matters not a whit to them. Nor do his constant, obvious lies and boasting, frequent self-contradiction, bullying behavior, and shameful self-serving. All too many of Trump’s followers worship him no matter what.

14) Hierarchical, authoritarian structure. Do Trump and his followers belong to a hierarchical, authoritarian structure. Yes, several of them.

First and most obviously, the Republican Party, which has been on a decades-long crusade to restrict individual rights (notably reproductive and LGBT rights), and which has likewise been on a decades-long crusade to entrench itself in power via gerrymandering and voter suppression on a mass scale — that is to entrench itself in power by destroying what passes for American democracy. As well, Trump’s conservative Catholic and Mormon followers (and to a lesser degree the evangelicals) belong to clearly hierarchical, authoritarian — “thou shalt”; “thou shalt not” — religious structures.

15) Submission of the individual to the “will of God” or God’s appointed representatives. Do Trump and his followers insist on such submission? Yes.

Trump, hypocritically so. But all too many of his followers are sincere in wanting to use the coercive apparatus of the state to force everyone to submit to that “will” (as they define it).

16) Self-absorption. Are Trump and his followers self-absorbed? Yes.

Trump’s narcissism and self-absorption could hardly be more obvious. It’s almost equally so with his Republican Party, with its phony, preening nationalism, and its amoral, ends-justify-the-means mentality that pursues permanent entrenchment in power no matter how foul the means nor how much damage to the country. The current attempt to steamroll the installation of a blustering, bullying, highly partisan, alleged (have to get that alleged in there) sexual predator and apparent perjurer on the Supreme Court is only the latest instance of the Republican Party’s self-absorption.

17) Dual purposes. Does the Trump movement have dual purposes, are its real purposes other than those it presents to the publicYes, absolutely.

This is very obvious in very many ways. Trump — who received over $400 million from his dad — presents himself as the champion of the working man, yet he’s intent on squeezing money from the poor and working classes, and what’s left of the middle class, and transferring it to the top. He just gave the largest tax cut in history to (primarily) the top 1%; he opposes raising the federal minimum wage; he opposes labor unions; he and his minions in Congress have partially dismantled Obama’s (grossly inadequate) healthcare plan and have offered nothing to replace it; and he opposes extending Medicare to all Americans, thus ensuring that tens of thousands of poor and working class Americans die from medical neglect annually. His “family values” followers by and large support his vicious policy of ripping apart immigrant families at the border and throwing children into cages. And Trump and those same followers demand “religious freedom” which really means the “freedom” to discriminate against LGBT people in public accommodations. The hypocrisy of Trump and his followers, their “dual purposes,” is simply nauseating.

18) Economic exploitation. Does Trump economically exploit his followers? Yes.

Sometimes directly, as with Trump “University,” more often via government economic and taxation policies which work to the advantage of Trump and his billionaire buddies and against the rest of us.

19) Deceptive recruiting techniques. Do Trump and his Republican Party use deceptive recruiting techniques. Yes.

In addition to hypocritically presenting himself as the working man’s champion, “Cadet Bonespur” Trump presents himself as the embodiment of patriotism. But Trump’s “patriotism” is the exact opposite of real patriotism, which is trying to do what’s best for the country and following one’s own conscience, doing what’s right in the face of disdain and abuse. For Trump and his followers, patriotism seems to consist of making a fetish of the flag (instead of honoring what it supposedly stands for), robotically engaging in submission rituals at the start of baseball and football games, military worship, impugning the patriotism of those with opposing political views, bullying dissenters, and, of course, “patriotic” bumper stickers. One might also mention the deception of Trump and other Republicans in posing as guardians of morality when they themselves are moral sewers.

20) Possessiveness. Does the Trump movement go to great lengths to retain members? No.

Cults often go to great lengths to retain members, doing such things as threatening permanent disconnection of family members who leave the cult. Trump doesn’t do this nor does he advocate it.

21) A closed, all-encompassing environment. Has the Trump movement created such an environment? No.

Many cults (e.g., Rajhneeshees, Branch Davidians, People’s Temple, FLDS) set up isolated environments in which they control all aspects of members’ lives. The closest Trump’s followers come to this is having a single primary news source (Fox News for 60% of them) and being immersed in the Facebook echo chamber where they hear almost nothing but views they already agree with. But this is a far, far cry from Jonestown.

22) Millenarianism. Does Trump prophesy the end of the world? No.

The closest he comes is dire warnings about what will happen if the Republicans lose power. But some of his followers, hardcore evangelicals, do prophesy that the end is near and are actively trying to bring about Armageddon (through enthusiastic support of Israeli militarism and expansionism) so as to usher in “the rapture.” Still, Trump is definitely not a millenarian himself.

23) Violence, coercion, and harassment. Do Trump and his followers engage in or encourage these things? Yes.

Recall Trump’s remarks that some of the murderous neo-Nazis in Charlottesville were “very fine people.” Then recall his attacks on the press as “enemies of the people” and his encouragement of violence against protesters at his rallies. Then recall the huge uptick in racist violence by his alt-right/neo-Nazi supporters since he took office. Finally, let’s not forget that some of Trump’s “right to life” supporters routinely stalk, harass, threaten, and occasionally bomb or shoot abortion providers.

IN CONCLUSION

So, do Trump and his followers constitute a cult? Many of the cults I studied while researching AA: Cult or Cure? exhibit almost all of the above characteristics: the Moonies 22 out of the 23; the Church of Scientology and People’s Temple 21 of the 23; and Synanon 20 of the 23. In contrast, community-based Alcoholics Anonymous only exhibits 11 of the 23, “institutional” AA  (the 12-step treatment industry, which I dubbed “Cult Lite”) exhibits 16 of the 23, and the Trump movement exhibits 13 of the 23, so it’s not entirely accurate to say that the Trump movement is a full-blown cult, though it does have distinct cult-like tendencies. However, and disturbingly, almost all of the cult-like tendencies exhibited by Trump and his followers are also characteristic of fascist movements.


Over the last week, we’ve seen several violent clashes between Nazis and counterprotesters. (Nazis might call themselves “alt-right,” “white separatists,” etc. Rather than give any credence to such rebranding, we’re calling them what they are: Nazis.)

It’s necessary to resist these losers, these tools of the powers that be. Violent defense of self and others is perfectly justified to repel physical attack.

But physically attacking people who are merely exercising free speech, no matter how loathsome, is never justified.

Last night, I saw a video of antifa protesters physically attacking Nazi organizer Richard Spencer, who was standing before microphones answering reporters’ questions. I was horrified on several counts:

  • Either you believe in free speech or you don’t. The principle of free speech applies to even the most loathsome speech — especially to the most loathsome speech. Once you start making exceptions for speech you really hate, it’s a very slippery slope to banning speech that anyone really hates, in which case freedom of speech vanishes. (“Anyone” here applies to any individual, group, or organization with the physical power to intimidate or beat others into silence.)

Another antifa protestor provided exactly the justification you’d expect for the assault on free speech, labeling it “violent speech,” saying that it was too “dangerous” to be allowed. (Speech is speech. Violence — physical attack on people or animals — is violence. These two wildly different things are not the same, and mere conflation of the two is not a convincing argument that they are.)

This is a broken record, the same rationale cited by every thug and bully since time immemorial who wants to deny others the right to free speech.

To bolster their position, one half expects antifas to begin citing the ancient half-witticism by authoritarian jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. concerning “yelling fire in a crowded theater.” (Again, political speech is political speech; yelling fire isn’t — short of transubstantiation, it’s impossible to make the two identical.)

  • The antifa protestors physically attacking Spencer do not understand the most basic anarchist principle: The ends do not justify the means; rather, means determine ends. If you employ violent, authoritarian means, you’ll achieve violent authoritarian ends. In this case, the attacking antifas abrogated to themselves the right to determine what others can say. This is straight up authoritarianism.

Beyond that, there’s the simple matter of optics.

  • The video of the attack was shocking and repulsive. How in hell did those guilty of the assault expect people who witnessed the assault to react to it? “Good for you! A group of you beat up an unarmed man to prevent him from speaking! What a display of principles!”

As others have pointed out, such assaults give the moral high ground to the Nazis — the only moral high ground they can claim. Those who attacked Spencer achieved the near impossible: making a Nazi appear sympathetic.

In a related matter, I saw an interview with an antifa protestor blithely talking about deliberate property destruction during demonstrations. Yes, yes, yes, property is just property, vandalism and sabotage are not violence because they’re directed against things, not people or animals. Agreed.

But again, don’t they understand the optics?

When people see protesters smashing in the windows of, for instance, a Starbucks, it’s a fair bet that a good majority of them won’t say to themselves, “Another inspiring blow against global capitalism!” It seems more likely that they’ll say, “Why the tantrum? Why don’t they just grow up?”

An important matter here that no one seems to be talking about is that such property destruction is not a sign of strength; not a sign of good planning; not a sign of the organization necessary to the free, egalitarian reorganization of society.

Rather, wanton property destruction is a sign of weakness.

Real revolutionary change involves taking over existing structures (including physical structures) and transforming them, not wantonly trashing them — which is a sign that you’re letting off steam because you have no idea of how to get from here to there, no idea of how to get from this authoritarian, racist, sexist, exploitative society to the the society that you say you want.

Again — and it shouldn’t be necessary to say this — defending yourself and others from violent assault from fascists is completely justified.

But don’t confuse that with suppressing free speech.

Please realize that the ends do not justify the means. Means determine ends.


Anyone who reads this blog should be well aware that I have no great love for Islam — nor for any other religion — and I consider Islam a graver threat to human freedom than the other major religions combined.

Islam itself is bad enough, but the current administration is poking an Islamic hornets’ nest with a stick.

Its approach to Islamic peoples in the Middle East is extremely dangerous, as Donald Trump seems to be doing everything he can, via foreign policy, to encourage violence by radical Islamists, and seems to be doing everything he can to drive the young, impressionable, and desperate into the arms of violent extremists.

Trump is siding with the worst, most repressive regimes in the Middle East, most importantly Islamic extremist Saudi Arabia, but also the brutal military regime in Egypt, and the extreme right in Israel, which is turning Israel/Palestine into an apartheid state.

None of this plays well with the oppressed in those lands, nor with those in other countries who care about the oppression of their brothers and sisters.

Trump’s (and Obama’s, and Bush the Lesser’s, and Clinton’s, and their predecessors’) interventionist policies in the Middle East have created a situation that’s a festering sore, and that will remain one until the U.S. stops supporting oppression.

Just getting the hell out of the Middle East entirely would be a huge improvement on past and current U.S. policy. Even better, the U.S. could begin supporting democratic, secular elements in the region — shockingly enough, this is now happening in one very limited instance, with the Kurds fighting ISIS — and spending money on development aid.

But this is pure fantasy. I’d be more than happy with simple U.S. military withdrawal from the Middle East and the end of U.S. military and financial support for repressive regimes there. That alone would do more than all the bombs ever dropped to end Islamic radicalism.

To make matters worse, Trump also seems to be doing everything he can, via domestic policy, to promote radical Islam and violence by radical Islamists. While he supports repressive Islamist regimes abroad (our Saudi “allies” et al.), he’s targeting powerless, desperate refugees at home, and his hateful rhetoric inspires violence against them.

Again, this drives impressionable, angry Muslim teenagers and young adults into the arms of ISIS and other Islamic death cults.

It also isolates the Muslim community, producing an us-versus-them mentality. This is what Trump, his goose-stepping alt-right supporters, ISIS, and Al Qaeda want, but it is not what the rest of us should want.

Tolerance and communication will reduce Islamic extremism, isolation won’t.

If you want to fight Islamic extremism, don’t harass Muslims. It might make you feel better to harass them, but it’s cowardly and it’ll ultimately backfire. Leave them alone. If you want to drive them into the arms of the fundamentalists and the terrorists, you won’t find a better way to do it than to harass them on the street.

Think about it. How would you react to being harassed (or worse, physically attacked) simply because of your appearance? Your perceived religious beliefs? Would you be more sympathetic to your attackers or to those who present themselves as fighting your attackers?

How would you feel if someone attacked your family because of their appearance or perceived beliefs?

Harassment and physical attacks increase the isolation and fear level of Muslims in the U.S. — precisely the conditions under which extremism flourishes.

If we believe in religious freedom, let’s act like it. Treat people with respect no matter who they are or what their perceived beliefs.

And let’s exercise our freedom of speech. Islam (and Christianity and religious Judaism and Hinduism for that matter) cannot stand up to scrutiny and ridicule.

Give that to them in spades, subject those religions — but not their individual adherents — to scrutiny and ridicule at every opportunity. The best antidote to Islamic and Christian authoritarianism is freedom of speech and freedom of belief.

Our ideas are better than theirs. Let’s start acting like we believe it. Let them express their noxious beliefs: they won’t stand up to scrutiny.

Let’s start acting like we have respect for human rights and individual human beings.

And let’s start acting like we’re serious about defeating Islamic fundamentalism, and stop harassing Muslims.

 


Amidst the weeping, wailing, and grinding of molars over Donald Trump’s victory, there are some reasons for optimism. Yes, there’s a lot to fear, and Trump and his extreme right cohorts will do a lot of damage–notably to the environment and reproductive rights–but there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic:

  • Trump’s election has energized the left more than anything since Occupy Wall Street in 2011. There are demonstrations and myriad organizing efforts all across the country, and they don’t seem to be slowing down.
  • A Republican is inciting the left, and it’s probable that this time the Democrats, locally and nationally, won’t conspire with the FBI and corporate security firms to destroy a dissident movement — as they did in 2011/2012 when they were complicit in suppressing the Occupy movement. They’ll try to co-opt the emerging movement, but they probably won’t try to destroy it.
  • The corporate-lackey, identity-politics Democrats’ quadrennial good cop / bad cop blackmailing of the public didn’t work. They found the one candidate who could lose to Trump: a widely disliked corporatist synonymous with the status quo; they rigged the primary process to ensure her nomination, expecting that the Republican nominee would be so odious that they could cram their candidate down our throats. They were wrong. They’re now trying to divert attention from their culpability by blaming voters, pointing to “racism” and “misogyny” as the reasons for the electoral disaster they engineered. But a lot of people are finally wising up to their extortion tactics and realizing that the corporate Democrats are not the friends of working people.
  • As a result of the corporatists’ arrogance, bungling, and all-too-obvious ethical bankruptcy, there’s a real chance that “the democratic wing of the Democratic Party” will seize control of that party. I don’t think it’s likely to happen, but for the first time in decades there’s a real possibility that it will.
  • The Democrats might start opposing mass surveillance, erosion of civil liberties, and persecution of whistle blowers. Most of them abetted Obama in his assaults on whistle blowers and civil liberties, and his continuation of the mass surveillance begun under Bush. Now, they might show what passes for spine.
  • The alt-right is small and fractured. Current Klan membership is estimated at 5,000 to 8,ooo, and the largest neo-Nazi group in the country, the National Socialist Movement (NSM), has an estimated 400 members. In the 1920s, the Klan had at least 3,000,000 members and perhaps twice that. Taking population growth into account, that would equate to at least 9,000,000 members today. In the 1930s there was a plethora of openly fascist and pro-Nazi groups in the U.S. Just one of them, the German-American Bund, had at least 8,000 members, twenty times the membership of the NSM.
  • Alt-right members will continue to commit horrific hate crimes, but the alt-right is not a great national threat. Had the corporate Democrat won the presidential election, and predictably done next to nothing while public anger and hunger for change grew, it would have provided four more years for the alt-right to grow and metastasize.
  • We lived through eight years of Bush; we can live through four years of Trump.