Author explains science behind cult behavior, applies it to Trump supporters

Gage Skidmore / Flickr trump supporters speaking...
Gage Skidmore / Flickr

On Wednesday, CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta got into a heated exchange with white supremacist in chief Donald Trump. During that exchange, one of the low-level complicit supremacists attempted to grab Acosta’s microphone out of his hand while he was still speaking. All of this was captured on one million cameras at one of the very few press conferences Donald Trump has had since becoming president.

A few hours later, it was announced that Acosta’s access to the White House had been suspended. Trump had effectively censored an entire news outlet because he was embarrassed that he could not handle a couple of very serious questions. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, emerging from whatever blood-letting rituals she practices these days to assuage the burning feeling in her soul, said that Acosta had in essence assaulted the woman that was grabbing for the microphone. In true Trump administration fashion, the official White House’s official Twitter account tweeted out a video of the incident as edited and put together by InfoWars.

You do not need to even see the footage to know that the White House’s explanation of events is a lie. It’s wrong. It’s misleading. Writer Amanda Marcotte published a Twitter thread breaking down an important distinction here. Trump supporters saying that Acosta did something wrong are lying. They know they are lying. This isn’t a difference of opinion or willful ignorance; it’s a collective gaslighting that shows their allegiance to all things Trump.

One, it signals tribal loyalty. Being willing to say blatantly false things shows you put tribe over truth, and that is a critical loyalty test, as anyone who has studied cults can tell you.

Two, they’re trolling. “Triggering the libs” is the meats and potatoes of their political ideology these days (read my book, Troll Nation). Telling blatant lies and watching liberals make themselves crazy insisting on “facts” and “evidence” makes them laugh in delight.

Three, they are trying to push the idea that violence against women isn’t a real problem, but something people only pretend to care about to score points.

How better to seed that idea than only pretending to care to score points?

Fourth, it’s about reestablishing Trump’s narrative that the media are the “enemy” to be defeated instead of a Fourth Estate necessary to keep democracy healthy. This helps, in turn, fuel the already strong message that democracy is wrong and authoritarianism is right.

Fifth, it’s a straight up distraction. Trump wants everyone “debating” a completely obvious video, instead of talking about how he’s trying to conceal what is almost certainly very serious crimes by interfering with the Mueller investigation.

You will notice conservatives filing these mentions with insistence that they do, too, believe Acosta did something wrong.

They are, to the last of them, lying.

She explains that she blocks them because they are a cult. This is something our very own Faith Gardner has written about: the Republican Party’s evolution into a cult. Marcotte has written about cults as well, and synthesizes some of her knowledge in the thread.

I see the hill some are willing to die on is “no, I swear, the conservatives I know really believe this stupid lie!” To this, I have a couple of rebuttals.

One, it doesn’t matter if you are dealing with a liar or someone who has turned himself into a deluded idiot. Either way, they are someone who has decided that truth must be sacrificed for loyalty to Trump and should be abandoned, as they are incapable of reasoned discourse.

Two, I will bet they don’t actually believe what you think they do.

She points to an article she wrote for Salon before that fateful day in November 2016. In the article, Marcotte discussed what science knows about cultish behavior. In the case of Trump supporters, they were likely to tell people they knew were liberal that they believed President Barack Obama was born in Kenya, but when pushed to answer something they considered a quiz of their actual knowledge, they admitted he was from the United States.

In the end, Marcotte makes a salient point about conservative friends that continue to play devil’s advocate in conversations about reality: “Why are you friends with lying assholes anyway?” Good point.


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