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MAGA Isn't Just A Cult -- It Has Become A Murder Cult

The aftermath of the August 8, 2022 search of the Mar-a-Lago club, former President Donald Trump’s Florida home, isn’t the first showdown between the FBI and a cult leader.

The Following, a 2013 Fox Pictures series, played out in similar fashion. Three seasons was enough for the producers and it’s been nine years since our introduction to Joe Carroll, English professor-novelist-serial killer, so there’s a spoiler risk -- but not enough to prevent the comparison.

Carroll (played by actor James Purefoy) breaks out of prison and meets up with his “followers” — so named because they follow him and also stalk one of Carroll’s enemies. They're basically, disaffected outsiders, obsessed fans who are willing to commit any act of violence to clear Carroll’s path - which seems directed toward reuniting with his ex-wife, Claire Matthews (played by actress Natalie Zea) and his young son — as well as establishing dominion over everyone else and indoctrinating them into his church of latter-day psychos and first-degree homicide.

After two episodes, the audience’s trust in introduced characters is limited because no one knows if the new face is a member of the cult or not. Local sheriffs, housewives, nurses, medical students, correction officers, ex-military have all enrolled in Carroll’s Following.

The man who caught Carroll the first time, retired FBI Agent Ryan Harding (played by Kevin Bacon), comes out of retirement to hunt Carroll again, somewhat ineffectively since the first season needs to last 15 episodes.

The compelling part of the show is the pre-planned nature of these attacks. The Following is organized; they wait for signals from Carroll and execute his designs pretty deftly.

His appellate lawyer, whose fingers have been cut off to persuade her to represent Carroll again, reads a poem in a press conference to incite the abduction of his wife.

In another scene, one Follower raises both of his arms and his colleagues cut the lights and start slitting people’s throats.

When Carroll’s ex-wife, Claire Matthews (played by Natalie Zea) won’t engage with him, his acolytes start killing other women with the same name. One gets pushed out a high rise window. Another one gets spear gunned in her stomach in a diner booth.

Murder cultists work in concert to protect Carroll from the FBI and impress him with their slaughters, but as the show reveals some characters’ backstories, the audience learns that most have been killing all along; no one ever apprehended them. Their credo is: “In death there is life. In death there is love. In death there is everything.”

I watched it during my last year in prison and all the violence — the setting of unsuspecting people on fire, the slicing of security guards’ livers, the gouging of eyes — scared me more than usual. All I could think was: A few women in here don’t need any new ideas.

Since 2016, I’ve flashed back to various episodes. It’s often said that Trump supporters are a cult. That label needs to leap forward to reflect reality. MAGA is now a murder cult. It seems like no one’s come out and said this yet. There’s no firm definition of a murder cult. The phrase seems just to be a cult qualifier. The difference between a murder cult and a regular cult is their daily activities; murder cultists kill people while others work or chant or pray or study or get sexually abused by their leaders.

Rep.Jackie Speier (D-CA) came the closest to calling Trumpism what it is when she compared Trump to Jim Jones, the cult leader who led the mass suicide at Jonestown, Guyana. Speier would know: she was shot five times when she traveled in a congressional delegation to investigate Jonestown. She made the comparison during an appearance on Brian Selter’s Reliable Sources show on CNN last August.

The only difference between Jim Jones and Donald Trump is the fact that we now have social media, so all these people can find themselves in ways that they couldn’t find themselves before … both of them merchants of deceit,” Speier said.

A writer for The Federalist freaked out and accused Spier of defaming Trump in a 2021 article titled “CNN’s Brian Stelter Lets Congresswoman Compare Trump To Murder Cult Leader." Madeline Osburn’s indignant rejoinder is the first and only instance of putting Trump and ‘murder cult’ in the same sentence. She accurately pointed out that “Trump did not lead his supporters to feed 287 children a potion of Kool-Aid and cyanide, leaving them foaming at the mouth, convulsing, and then dead.” But Trump led his supporters to do other things to kill people, or at least die trying.

One Trumper is a literal murder cultist. “Blacks for Trump” founder Maurice Symonette, a.k.a. “Michael the Black Man,” the Black man positioned behind Trump at his rallies, was in a real-life murder cult following a man named Hulon Mitchell, Jr. who called himself Yahweh Ben Yahweh. Interestingly, Mitchell a.k.a. Yahweh was also a hotelier and real estate developer and lived in Florida. He exhorted his followers to slay at least 14 people, “white devils,” who were usually homeless people, unlucky well before they ran across one of Yahweh Ben Yahweh’s dispatched killers. There’s no allegation that Symonette was involved in any of the attacks.

In terms of murder, there’s the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol that ended six lives. And MAGA megafan Cesar Sayoc and his pipe bombs; luckily, no one died. The bombs planted at Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee could have taken out thousands of employees. One Trump supporter tried to cut the throat of a six year old Asian boy in a Texas Costco. A Penn State student threatened to put a bullet in an Indian student. Three men in Kansas plotted to bomb a building that housed many Somalis.

And there’s “Hang Mike Pence.” Because, at least on January 6, 2021, in Pence’s anticipated assassination, there was everything.

These are just a few examples. I suspect the death count from bloodthirsty Trump supporters was supposed to be higher. They’re not as competent as the Followers who have a writing room in West Hollywood to tie up the ends of their stories.

After the search of Mar-A-Lago, violent rhetoric surged again online. It could be tough talk or it could be terrorism, not to defend Trump but to indulge the violent, homicidal nature of some of his supporters.

About halfway through the first season, Claire asks her Follower, Charlie Mead (played by Tom Lipinski): "What is Joe doing? Why do you listen to him? What is this all about?”

“He’s teaching me to feel my life,” Charlie says.

It isn’t about the Deep State. It isn’t about stopping another witch hunt. It isn’t because of the search warrant executed at Mar-A-Lago. This is only about white supremacy because that it’s a simple way to identify targets for violence. How many of the Trump cultists are just murderers who found their justification in — and coalesced around —Donald J. Trump?


Chandra Bozelko did time in a maximum-security facility in Connecticut. While inside she became the first incarcerated person with a regular byline in a publication outside of the facility. Her “Prison Diaries" column ran in The New Haven Independent, and she later established a blog under the same name that earned several professional awards. Her columns now appear regularly in The National Memo.

​Graph Shows GOP Is A Death Cult That's Killing Off Its Base

As the Supreme Court reexamines the merits of Roe v Wade, it's incredibly ironic to see how the Republican Party still considers itself pro-life. The party's seemingly bizarre hostility towards single mothers, the working poor, and same-sex couples already totally invalidates their vociferous "pro-life" position. But once you factor in the pandemic, the party suddenly becomes a death cult spiraling out of control in its lust for anti-science misinformation and daft conspiracies. Republicans seem keen on espousing anything that opposes President Biden and Democrats, even if it proves deadly to their own≥

The notion that the GOP has become a death cult is easily supported by the graph below:

Image via Independent Media Institute


The graph shows a higher incidence of death among Republicans in the 2020 Presidential Election. But things look even bleaker when broken down by state.

States that voted for Donald Trump in 2020 have higher COVID-19 death rates than those that went for President Biden. According to data from Johns Hopkins University, the average death rate from state to state was about the same along party lines before vaccines were available. But since Feb. 1, states that went for Trump averaged 116 coronavirus deaths per 100,000 people, which is 52% higher than the average of 77 deaths per 100,000 people in Biden states. Not surprisingly, Oklahoma, Alabama, Florida, Kentucky and West Virginia--all won by Trump--had the worse per capita covid death rates.

What Does This All Mean And Why Would Republicans Want To Kill Off Their Base?

Even though nothing in this seemingly upside-down universe and toxic political landscape seems far-fetched or implausible anymore, it's difficult to fathom the Republican National Committee endorsing killing off its very own voting base as part of its 2022 midterms strategy. Complicating matters, however, and making all of this information even more difficult to digest is the fact that a large contingent of Trump supporters refuse the vaccine despite the fact that the former president is fully vaxxed and encourages his supporters to do so. In fact, former President Trump was just booed by supporters at an event with former Fox News personality Bill O'Reilly. So is this a mystery wrapped in an enigma?

Wilful ignorance, discrediting sound and unbiased science, and the complete and utter worship of misinformation were all hallmarks of the Trump Administration. With every unhinged, conspiracy-driven tweet and fact-free egotastic rally, former President Trump made wearing ignorance with pride as fashionable as a silly red hat. After all, it was Trump who claimed the worsening of the virus was a "fake news media conspiracy", ignored and discredited the science while promoting unproven therapies (bleach, anyone?), mocked mask-wearing, and encouraged his supporters to violate lockdowns from the very beginning. Trump even got covid himself, unsurprisingly.

In short, it's really no wonder that all the recklessness, loony conspiracies, and willingness to politicize a virus that cares nothing about party affiliation resulted in his sheeplike adherents dying off at levels far higher than Democrats.

Trump's 2024 Threat Is Serious-- But Ultimately He Will Lose

The big question isn't whether Donald Trump plans to run for president come 2024. Assuming that he's alive, relatively healthy, and not under criminal indictment, of course he will. He pretty much has to.

Never mind that at age 75, Trump looks like a stroke or coronary event waiting to happen. The show must go on. He needs all the cash he can raise. Otherwise, his lifelong grift could come to an ignominious, if not farcical end. Tax fraud convictions and spiraling bankruptcies would be the least of it.

And if he runs, Republicans will surely nominate him.

What's left of the party he's torn apart won't be able to help themselves. Formerly apostles of "small government" conservatism, the GOP has morphed into a quasi-authoritarian cult of personality.

And despite the staggering incompetence and low comedy that marked his 2020 "Stop the Steal" campaign, it's worth remembering that people laughed at Mussolini too. Charlie Chaplin's merciless satire of Hitler in The Great Dictator didn't appear until October 1940, a full year into World War II.

So it's definitely worthwhile heeding thoughtful warnings that next time an electoral coup might work. Although there's almost no chance that Trump could come anywhere close to winning a majority of American voters, GOP skulduggery could put him back in the White House. Assuming that a complacent majority allowed it to happen.

Longtime neoconservative author Robert Kagan, has recently published a thought-provoking Washington Post essay arguing that a constitutional crisis is already upon us. Kagan, who left the GOP in 2016, warns that "Most Americans — and all but a handful of politicians — have refused to take this possibility seriously enough to try to prevent it. As has so often been the case in other countries where fascist leaders arise, their would-be opponents are paralyzed in confusion and amazement at this charismatic authoritarian."

Certainly, Republicans are doing all they can to game the 2024 presidential election. Should they retake Congress in 2022, they'll do even more. So while it's possible that efforts to prevent minorities from voting could backfire—discouraging older white voters while energizing African-Americans—putting Republican state legislatures in charge of certifying elections is an ominous development.

Had that been so in 2020, Trump's comic opera coup attempt might have succeeded. Bob Woodward and Robert Costa's book Peril, detailed a six-part plan dreamed up by right-wing law professor John Eastman, who harangued the crowd along with Trump and Rudy Giuliani on January 6. The scheme required Vice President Mike Pence to invalidate electoral votes won by Joe Biden on the grounds that seven states had sent rival sets of electors to Congress.

"If Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election," Trump told the mob before promising to march with them to the Capitol and "fight like hell" to save the country.

"You can either go down in history as a patriot," Trump reportedly told Pence "or you can go down in history as a pussy."

Meow!

Never mind the constitutional absurdity—how can the Vice President decide an election in which he's himself a candidate?—Eastman's scam failed for the simplest of reasons: no states sent rival delegations to the Electoral College.

Indeed, had they done so, the likeliest outcome would have been that Speaker Pelosi would have dissolved the joint session of Congress, leading to her temporarily assuming the presidency as the next in succession.

Oops!

As usual, Trump had neglected to read the fine print. The fact is, he probably can't. But that's another issue altogether.

Kagan's point is that, next time, Trumpist legislatures will definitely send those rival delegations. Or worse. Some Republican-dominated bodies are even considering overriding their state's popular vote, if necessary, to re-install Trump.

Purged of dissenters like Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, today's Republicans have become what Kagan calls a "zombie party" in thrall to a cult of personality. "They view Trump as strong and defiant," he writes, "willing to take on the establishment, Democrats, RINOs, liberal media, antifa, the Squad, Big Tech, and the 'Mitch McConnell Republicans.'"

In other words, basically a list of cartoon enemies. If my own hostile reader emails are any guide, this is certainly true. To Trumpists, their rivals are fundamentally illegitimate. It's basically a pro-wrestling audience, excited by spectacle. To them, Trump's egomania is a feature, not a bug. He'll give no quarter to his enemies—and theirs.

"A Trump victory," Kagan concludes "is likely to mean at least the temporary suspension of American democracy as we have known it."

Which is exactly why it's not going to happen. Kagan is a learned and intelligent fellow, but he has a melodramatic imagination of his own. As a co-founder of the "Project for a New American Century," he pushed hard for remaking the world by invading Iraq.

His warnings are well-taken, but Kagan badly underestimates the determination of the democratic majority.

Trump's ‘Cult’ Is Driving Away Republican Legislators

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

Across the country, more and more lawmakers are leaving the Republican Party — and Donald Trump is largely to blame.

On Thursday, Arkansas state Sen. Jim Hendren announced his departure from the GOP, citing the violent January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, which left five people dead, as "the final straw."

"I've watched a systemic change at the core of our politics that emboldens our worst impulses, the most extreme thinking, disables policy-making, and hurts all of us. ... I watched the encouragement of the worst voices of racism, nationalism, and violence," Hendren said in a statement.

The Capitol riots, carried out by pro-Trump extremists, were famously spurred on by Trump himself, who had provoked a crowd of supporters to march on the building to "take back" the country, saying they would never do so with "weakness." Inside, lawmakers were voting to certify the 2020 Electoral College results for President Joe Biden, an effort marred by pushback from Republicans trying to undermine vote counts in predominantly Black regions of the country. The rioters eventually stormed their way inside, threatening to execute members of Congress, including then-Vice President Mike Pence, who was overseeing Senate business that day.

The Republican Party was already losing officials for years during the Trump administration, but the trickle has grown to a steady exodus since the November election, and particularly after the January 6 riot.

On Feb. 2, a well-known Oregon Republican, Knute Buehler, said he was leaving the party, telling local affiliate KGW, "I don't know what the Republican Party stands for," adding, "It's almost become a cult of personality."

A day prior, dozens of Republican officials who served in former President George W. Bush's administration left the party, citing frustration with lawmakers still loyal to Trump after the January 6 Capitol riot, Reuters reported. Jimmy Gurulé, a former Bush administration official, told the wire service, "The Republican Party as I knew it no longer exists. I'd call it the cult of Trump."

In Oklahoma in January, former congressman Mickey Edwards, 83, a lifelong Republican, said he would be leaving the party, telling local affiliate KFOR, "It's gone. I mean there is no Republican Party anymore that has values, principles, morals, anything."

"This has become a cult. It's no longer a political party. It's a cult," he added. "It's the kind of a cult that when the leader of the cult does anything, no matter what it is, or how awful it is, they [support them]," he said, specifically slamming Republicans who "voted to question the election results even after people came into the Capitol."

Shortly after the November election, Michigan state Rep. Paul Mitchell also announced on Twitter that he was "disaffiliating" from the party, noting that Trump's refusal to concede after losing to Biden was "unacceptable." Mitchell said he "fear[s] long-term harm to our democracy," after Republican leaders enabled Trump's baseless conspiracy theories about widespread voter fraud, which Trump's own officials later debunked.

The trend follows that of Republican voters, who are also leaving the party in droves. A February New York Times analysis found that nearly 140,000 Republicans in 25 states had quit the GOP in the month of January alone, with a surge following the Jan. 6 riots.

The Republican exodus signals a larger problem for GOP lawmakers caught in the precarious position of juggling those who disavow Trump, his fervent supporters, and those stuck in the middle.

Political analysts told Reuters that many Republicans who fled the party were from left-leaning counties in big cities, suggesting that moderate Republicans could be influencing their exodus. Their departure pushes the party further pro-Trump, the wire service noted.

"If these voters are leaving the party permanently, it's really bad news for Republicans," Stanford University political scientist Morris Fiorina told Reuters, adding that it will make it more challenging for Republicans to defeat Democrats in upcoming elections.

David Barker, professor of government at American University, echoed that sentiment, telling the American Independent Foundation that the split "means the GOP is going to be less competitive at the national level."

"As long as they remain in Trump's grip, they will lose presidential elections," Barker said. He added that the Republican Party risked severe political consequences unless it decided to "change course" quickly.

UCLA public policy professor Mark A. Peterson said in an email that the trend was a sure departure from the norm, but added that it was worth watching "what happens over time" to determine whether it was a longterm one.

He noted continued attention on Trump's failures in office might "reduce his hold on voters in the constituencies of the Republican officials who are currently trying to succeed [him]."

Many GOP officials are still standing by Trump, trying desperately not to alienate his lingering base.

A Monmouth University poll published on January 25 showed many Republican voters still support Trump, with 85 percent saying they didn't believe Trump's actions were worthy of conviction in his second impeachment trial for inciting an insurrection. (He was ultimately acquitted on Feb. 13.)

However, a majority of Americans approved of Trump's impeachment.

The complication for GOP lawmakers, then, appears to be the divide between Trump's popularity with his supporters and those fleeing the party post-election.

Barker acknowledged that "the party is splitting," but estimated that fewer than ten percent of Republican lawmakers overall were disavowing Trump — while at least three-quarters of GOP voters were sticking with him.

Jesse Lee, vice president of communications at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, gave a similar estimate, adding in an email that, "for the ten percent or so of Republicans who want to actually take their party back, they feel they have no place to go, and the sort of peer pressure is overwhelming."

"The problem the GOP faces is now is the problem they faced in 2018," he said. "They've become entirely dependent on the Trump base, but when he's not on the ballot, that base doesn't care to turn out nearly as much."

Of lawmakers' struggle to get out the vote without a Trump ticket, he added, "They are so beholden and so bereft of any other ideas or identity that they have nothing else to affirmatively motivate their side."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

The Trump Cult’s Kool-Aid Is Clorox On Ice

Rule One in every cult is to ignore everybody except Dear Leader. He alone can explain the worldwide conspiracy against himself and his acolytes. Alternate sources of information cannot be trusted. It's all Fake News, demonic lies from the pit of hell calculated to deceive.

Rule Two is that only Dear Leader can protect and save you.

So ignore all the hearses. Pay no attention to the so-called "fact" that the United States, with roughly four percent of the world's population, has 24 percent of the coronavirus pandemic's fatalities. 158,000 corpses? Those people were all going to die eventually anyway.

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Gullible, Stupid, Perhaps Dangerous: QAnon's True Believers

Whenever somebody assures me that everything happens for a reason, it's normally my practice to tiptoe quietly away.

People are only trying to be nice. The notion that every kind of personal misfortune—each terrible accident or harrowing diagnosis, every pious wide-receiver rehabbing a bad knee—are all part of God's plan to test our individual faith and resolve is most often a well-intentioned sentimental gesture.

Have faith, is all they're really saying. You're strong enough to handle it.

It's when people start getting specific about exactly what God's plan consists of and where fate and history are taking us that all that the trouble starts. Folly and madness invariably follow. Once they bring the unintelligible prophecies of the Book of Revelation into it, it's too often a one-way trip to Crazytown with no return ticket.

So it is with the burgeoning religio-political cult calling itself "QAnon," as described in an extraordinary piece of journalism in The Atlantic by Adrienne LaFrance. She correctly notes that "[t]he power of the internet was understood early on, but the full nature of that power—its ability to shatter any semblance of shared reality, undermining civil society and democratic governance in the process—was not."

Can I get an amen?

I would argue that the historically unprecedented capacity of Froot Loops and lone dementoes of every kind and description to wind each other up online constitutes as grave a threat to the republic as anything since the Confederate States of America. In his 1704 satire A Tale of a Tub, Jonathan Swift depicted the religious zealots of his day gathered in a big circle, each with a bellows inserted into the posterior of the fellow in front of him, first pumping each other full of hot air and then discharging it in each other's faces.

QAnon's exactly like that, except online.

Remember that sad sack from North Carolina who shot up a Washington, D.C. pizza joint in December 2016 because he'd convinced himself that Hillary Clinton was operating a child sex and torture ring in the basement of a building that didn't actually have a basement?

Well, it turns out that he was a prophet.

LaFrance quotes University of Miami political scientist Joseph Uscinski, who studies conspiracy theories. Whether of the left or right, what they all have in common, he says is "acceptance of the following propositions: Our lives are controlled by plots hatched in secret places. Although we ostensibly live in a democracy, a small group of people run everything, but we don't know who they are. When big events occur—pandemics, recessions, wars, terrorist attacks—it is because that secretive group is working against the rest of us."

In October 2017, somebody calling himself "Q," see, began posting cryptic comments on online sites where right-wing zealots gather. Posing as an intelligence professional embedded deep in the "deep state," he predicted the imminent arrest and conviction of Hillary Clinton in the aforementioned child molesting conspiracy.

Needless to say, this hasn't happened nor ever will. Also needless to say, however, millions of gullible nitwits obsessed with Hillary's multiple homicides began wetting themselves in anticipation. (It's occurred to me that the manufacturers of Depends adult diapers could be behind the whole thing.)

Supposedly, see, special counsel Robert Mueller and Boss Trump himself were secretly working together to destroy Hillary's evil cabal. Also participating is the late John F. Kennedy, Jr., who was either foully murdered by Hillary in 1999 or Q's secret identity. Initiates differ on this question.

Seriously, they do.

Others believe that Q is none other than Trump himself. I remain agnostic on the question. But either way, Q kept dropping online clues, and nothing kept happening. The cult grew steadily larger. Then came the worldwide Covid 19 pandemic, with its intimations of Apocalypse, and a whole new cast of international malefactors got added to the suspect list: George Soros, Bill Gates, Rep. Adam Schiff, and Dr. Anthony Fauci.

And now Joe Biden, recently accused of being a "child molester" by no less an authority than Donald Trump, Jr.

Two and a half years on, LaFrance summarizes, and the "QAnon belief system looks something like this: Q is an intelligence or military insider with proof that corrupt world leaders are secretly torturing children all over the world; the malefactors are embedded in the deep state; Donald Trump is working tirelessly to thwart them. ("These people need to ALL be ELIMINATED," Q wrote in one post.) The eventual destruction of the global cabal is imminent, Q prophesies, but can be accomplished only with the support of patriots who search for meaning in Q's clues. To believe Q requires rejecting mainstream institutions, ignoring government officials, battling apostates, and despising the press."

Well, I suppose everybody's got to have a hobby.

How seriously to take this particular threat to public sanity? Come November, we may find out.

The Cult Of Donald Trump

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet. 

As of this writing, Donald Trump is making his cabinet picks, which aside from conspiracy-monger Steve Bannon, look like the usual rightward Wall Street and D.C. insiders. The Trump regime seems so far like it will promote an uglier and more aggressive version of the standard Republican policies: deregulation, privatization and tax cuts for the wealthy. We can expect to see over the coming years the continued decline of the middle class, a shrinking social safety net, an acceleration of environmental catastrophe, unchecked corporate malfeasance, expanding federal deficits, and a deepening of the surveillance state. There will most likely be diversionary tactics in the form of more warfare abroad and the concomitant curtailing of civil liberties at home. Trump will likely fulfill many of his campaign promises, albeit in scaled-down versions. But don’t expect his followers to abandon him even if he reneges on many key commitments from his electric, nationalistic rallies.

The rallies explain Trump far more than his vague policy prescriptions. His followers view him as a sort of prophet of American triumphalism. The stadium becomes the evangelical circus tent of renewal and transformation: a purgation of America through ecstatic trampling of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities. The cult of personality around Trump and his family goes a long way towards explaining his popularity. His followers support him through a maneuver of sympathetic magic: by supporting this bombastic billionaire (a euphemistic phrase, but words fail the sheer scope of his ego), they hope to imbibe some of his Midas touch. Ethics and accountability be damned: his fawning admirers want a slice of the proverbial pie even if it comes at someone else’s expense. They are not bothered by Trump University or the Atlantic City bankruptcies—they just want a piece of the action.

The vast majority of Trump’s supporters will fare worse economically under his administration, but this is nothing new in the Republican electorate. What is different about Trump is that he is really more a cult leader than a traditional politician. The term “cult” carries with it associations with Jim Jones and poisoned Kool-Aid, Aum Shinrikyo and the subway attacks, the Moonies and their mass weddings. But the comparison goes beyond its shock value and usefully explains how Trump went from being a glorified carnival barker to the leader of the most powerful country in the world. Trump harnessed some of the fervor that is more typical of religious devotion than adherence to a political ideology, and that explains why he succeeded where Mitt Romney didn’t.

The Trump family has become to America what the Kim family is to North Korea. The Dear Leader will not be questioned. The Dear Leader becomes a symbol for the nation itself, a symbol for a state religion that captures minds and hearts even as stomachs rumble with hunger. Expect much pageantry under Trump. Expect even bigger portraits and even more fawning tributes. The trappings will be more important than the substance, the wrappings will be the whole present. Appearances will continue to matter more than reality, which will be contested and denied at every turn. The state religion will depict Trump as a savior figure, even as the body politic crumbles. In fact, as the collapse happens, Trump will be portrayed as the necessary antidote, the one immutable power in the midst of chaos.

The term “cult”—from the Latin, cultus, originally describing say, the devotion to a particular saint—is no longer used in the field of religious studies as it once was in Protestant Christian apologetics. Scholars like Dereck Daschke and W. Michael Ashcraft now prefer the more benign term, “new religious movement,” because it avoids editorializing or casting aspersion on the groups under study. The new terminology also avoids giving legitimacy to religions that just happen to be older and more prestigious. A New Religious Movement might have some of the tendencies formerly reserved for cults—tight control of the behavior of adherents, a central authority figure with absolute authority, techniques of “mind control,” etc.—but with the understanding that these groups usually moderate these tendencies as they become more mainstream, often after the death of the founder. Usually new religious movements have a decidedly utopian bent—promising a more just society for all people, although after a period of turbulent confrontation.

The Trump phenomenon fits into the picture of a new religious movement (or cult—the lines are not tightly drawn) in that it gives purpose and meaning to its adherents, it promises a period of peace and prosperity after a time of confrontation, and it portrays itself as an oppressed minority under the dominion of sinister outside forces. Evangelicalism, in particular, thrives upon the sense that its followers are victims of a godless society bent upon persecuting believers (see Christian Smith’s now classic Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving). Trump has been able to dispense with some of the pieties of evangelicalism while capitalizing on its victim stance. Trump followers are often aggressive and belligerent, and yet they still seem to be able to see themselves as victims of the biased media, corrupt politicians, and liberal elites. The fact that they won the election has not changed this dynamic, since it is a core part of their identity as persecuted true believers.

The disturbing part about the religious narrative now interacting with American politics is that the next logical phase in the evangelical story is one of an end-times cosmic battle. The Dear Leader/Savior Figure must now battle the Forces of Darkness, which, in this case, means that Trump must defeat liberal democracy or die trying. Now cult figures do not usually succeed in their objectives—they usually leave themselves some sort of “out clause.” For Jim Jones, the “out clause” was spectacular violence. For “Moses” David Berg of The Family International / Children of God, the “out clause” was simply to blame the Whore of Babylon (i.e. the rest of society) for the implosion of his “kingdom” under a wave of sexual abuse allegations. But Trump will have something these other cult leaders did not have: access to the full resources, both public and covert, of the United States Government.

For that reason, the Trump phenomenon is vanishingly unlikely to be a flash in the pan. Trump will pass his real estate empire and his political empire (and I would argue, his religious empire) down to his children. American oligarchy will become more and more like Russian kleptocracy. Constitutional niceties will be eroded. Dissidents will be jailed or slandered. Vast sums of money will disappear. And yet the pageantry of democracy will remain intact. Trump will still give speeches from the White House rose garden and the oval office. Those who wish to pretend that nothing is amiss will be given adequate materials, photo ops to supply their fantasies.

When toxic religion and toxic politics meet, the results cannot be pretty. A plurality of Americans have now joined a death cult of historic proportions, and the rest of us are being advised to “give Trump a chance” and “wait and see what happens.” The warning signs are more than enough to make this foolhardy advice. Those who are not on board the Trump train should do our best to work against the propaganda efforts of Breitbart, Infowars, RT, and Fox News. We should try to dissuade our friends and loved ones from “drinking the kool-aid” of believing in this fraudulent little man who serves only his own interests. A livable future only becomes possible if we resist his regime at every turn.

I think some of the hope here lies with conservatives themselves. Perhaps some of the more moderate voices in the Republican Party will stop kissing Trump’s ring and come to their senses. Perhaps the whole charade will come unraveled as we get further from Election Day and into the realities of governing. There will certainly be a plethora of scandals for those who need an excuse to leave the cult. Some evangelicals will label Trump as a false prophet and urge their co-religionists to “come to Jesus.” The photos from the Trump rallies remind me of a Billy Graham crusade, except with a message of hate instead of repentance. Maybe one day evangelicals will return to the example of figures like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who were willing to put their lives on the line to contest unchecked, idolatrous political power.

For the left, the recent (albeit temporary) victory on the part of the Standing Rock Sioux shows what can happen when people come together in nonviolent direct action. It is not time to “give Trump a chance” or “wait and see what happens.” We should assume that Trump plans to deport millions of people, move backward on climate change, roll back the rights of women, harass ethnic and religious minorities, restrict the rights of a free press, and, well, do the things that he promised to do on the apparently ongoing campaign trail. His agenda threatens democracy as we know it, and resisting Trump and his cronies in the white nationalist Republican Party is a humanitarian duty. Remaining silent will only worsen the situation: we must speak loudly and speak now.

David Dillard-Wright is a philosophy professor at the University of South Carolina Aiken. His work has appeared in Success, Better Homes and Gardens, Mindful.org, and numerous other outlets. 

IMAGE: U.S. President-elect Donald Trump arrives to speak during a “Thank You USA” tour rally in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S., December 9, 2016.  REUTERS/Mike Segar