CNN's Brian Stelter gave air time Sunday to a guest who claimed President Donald Trump is leading a "destructive cult" and is using mind control to make "loyal and dependent and obedient followers."
Stelter prefaced his "Reliable Sources" segment by saying the word "cult" has been in the news of late in reference to Trump, his supporters, and the Republican Party.
With that he turned to Steven Hassan, an author and self-proclaimed "cult expert" — it's his Twitter handle, after all — who left the Unification Church in the 1970s and has written a new book titled, "The Cult of Trump."
What did Hassan say?
Hassan said he defined a "destructive cult as an authoritarian pyramid-structured group with someone at the top who claims to have total power and total wisdom that uses the deception and control of behavior, information, thoughts, and emotions to make people loyal and dependent and obedient followers."
As you might guess, Hassan told Stelter that "Trump's organization and followership" is a "destructive cult" — as opposed to "an ethical, healthy cult, where you're free to think and free to leave."
Stelter didn't ask Hassan to provide an example of an "ethical, healthy cult," and Hassan didn't offer one.
In Trump's "cult," Hassan said "people are being fed propaganda, and they're not being encouraged to think for themselves. They're not being encouraged to really explore and look at the details and arrive at their own conclusion. Much of what they're hearing is emotionally driven, loaded words, thought-stopping and thought-terminating-type clichés like 'fake news' or 'build the wall' or 'make America great again.'"
Stelter asked his guest how he can prove Trump uses "mind control," and Hassan ran down his short list.
"So, we can start with the pathological lying, which is characteristic of destructive cult leaders," he told Stelter. "Saying things in a very confident way that have nothing to do with facts or truthfulness. The blaming others and never taking responsibility for his own failures and faults. Shunning and kicking out anyone who raises questions or concerns about his own behavior. His use of fearmongering, 'immigration is a horrible thing.'"
Again, no pushback from Stelter — although he did toss Hassan a great big softball, saying how "frightening" it is "to hear a cult expert say that you see all of these signs right now today in American politics."
"But wake up," Hassan replied. "This is what's happening, and our democracy is at stake here. Freedom of the press is absolutely vital for a healthy country. And anyone like [Trump] that says the press is the enemy of the people, that's what [Scientology founder L. Ron] Hubbard would say. That's what [Unification Church founder Sun Myung] Moon said. That's what [conspiracy theorist Lyndon] LaRouche said. Why? Because they're demagogues."
Stelter asked Hassan "what's the first step of deprogramming" out of the Trump cult — and his guest said "contact with people that are outside the bubble. Cult leaders want to isolate their people ... they want family and friends to just disappear rather than keep engaged."
Then Stelter suggested the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday could be an "opportunity" for loved ones to draw out those trapped inside the Trump cult. Hassan agreed.
"Exactly," he told the host, adding that deprogrammers can say, "We're family. We're friends, let's talk."