Columnist Olivia Rasmussen compares traditional cult characteristics to the behavior of Donald Trump and certain members of his following.

Digital collage designed by Olivia Rasmussen through the use of Creative Commons imagery.

It’s been roughly one month since the Capitol insurrection, which was planned and executed by some of Donald Trump’s crazed following, but society is quickly moving past the barbaric rampage without looking at the warning signs of how average Americans can be radicalized on a cult-like level.

The Capitol attack came as a shocker to some people, even complicit Republicans who previously knew what kinds of crowds their ideologies attracted. The reckless attempt to overthrow democracy poses the question — how do average people fall into the patterns of extreme cult-like behavior for a treacherous politician?

First, let’s review the people and groups that were spotted during the Capitol siege: neo-Nazis, white nationalists/supremacists, militias, conspiracy theorists and religious groups. The failed coup is being portrayed as a “one-off situation” caused only by extremists, but was it really? Let’s continue the list: current and former military personnel, police officers, the Blue Lives Matter crowd that ironically murdered a Capitol officer and everyday people who look like our neighbors and family members. 

Vox says, “It’s tempting to dismiss the insurrectionists as uneducated or representative of the ultra-fringe parts of society. But reports have surfaced of typical middle-class or sometimes elite Americans at the riots — police officers, elected officials, real estate agents and CEOS. … This sobering realization only reiterates that the insurrection was the doing of everyday Americans.”

Cult expert Steven Hassan tells Vanity Fair that Trump “has all the characteristics of a cult leader, and his followers the qualities of a cult, from the all-consuming devotion to a single malignant narcissist to the daily consumption of ‘alternative facts’ to immunize them against cognitive dissonance (aka reality).” 

It’s assumed that most of Trump’s obsessed base probably does not believe that they’re part of a cult. I’d like to list out a few suggested warning signs from the Cult Education Institute and reflect on Trump and a portion of his followers' behaviors: 

Absolute authoritarianism without meaningful accountability, the group/leader is the exclusive means of knowing ‘truth’ or receiving validation," "no other process of discovery is really acceptable or credible” and “anything the group/leader does can be justified no matter how harsh or harmful.” These three cult warning signs are consistent with Trump. Even if there are literal facts stacked up against him, including video evidence at that, he and some of his base do not believe it unless it’s tailored to their agenda. The Washington Post reports that Trump made “30,573 false or misleading claims” during his presidency. Lastly, Trump said it himself that he could “shoot somebody” and he wouldn’t lose any of his supporters. His dangerous rhetoric fits the rhetoric of his base, which explains the blundering justifications for any and all of his actions.

Unreasonable fear about the outside world, such as impending catastrophe, evil conspiracies and persecutions.” This portion is crystal clear with the gleaming support Trump has among conspiracy theorists. According to research done by USA Today, conspiracy group QAnon “baselessly claims that there is a ‘deep state’ apparatus run by political elites, business leaders and Hollywood celebrities who are also pedophiles and actively working against Trump.” This group has been credited for helping with organizing the Capitol coup and radicalizing Trump supporters

Extreme obsessiveness regarding the group/leader resulting in the exclusion of almost every practical consideration," “a seeming inability to think independently or analyze situations without group/leader involvement” and “hyperactivity centered on the group/leader agenda, which seems to supersede any personal goals or individual interests.”

The obsessiveness with Trump from his supporters is reiterated in the ways that they’re fanatically repping various forms of merchandise with his name, face and his “Make America Great Again” slogan on it. There’s even merchandise that equates Trump to Jesus. This full-fledged allegiance and utter codependency from his base has been compared to Islamic extremists. This image shows a side-by-side of a parade of trucks flying Trump flags and a parade of trucks flying ISIS flags to seemingly point out the ways in which groups fueled by guns, hate, violence and religion could be comparable.

Lastly, and most shockingly, is the obedience to a crooked politician like Trump who quite obviously does not have the backs of his supporters. After the Capitol attack, some supporters reported feeling “duped” because Trump did not come to the rescue like they assumed he would.

These comparisons are unsettling. Hassan suggests that out of the 74 million people who voted for Trump, “the real hard-core mind-control cultist” population is “10 to 30 million” and that “if we do a massive effort to educate folks, we can get the majority of people out of this, and hopefully inoculated from any other authoritarian cults that may come along.”

olivia rasmussen profile pic

Olivia Rasmussen is a senior in public relations. 

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(11) comments

Noah Kopischke

I was expecting this article to be full of baseless claims, but I was wrong. I never would have thought of Trump's devout followers as being cult-like, but this article makes some very good comparisons. I don't know that I would call Trump and his followers a cult, as I usually think of a cult as a group that physically lives together and the authority is more direct and personal, but the similarities are quite unsettling. Now, I think that the vast majority of those who voted for Trump are not this way, but there are some who are, maybe more than I would like to admit. (I am a conservative who did not vote for Trump)

Facts and Logic

Oh goodie! Can you do the same comparisons for Blacks Lives Matter next? Or how about ANTIFA? Or how about "The Squad"? Or Barack Obabma's following? Or how about the Leftist movement as a whole?

My point is this - every movement, every leader, every organization has its radicals. I understand it is very tempting to paint the entire movement with a negative brush (especially if you disagree with it) but there does need to be a sense of fairness when doing it. Are there people who radically support and almost worship Donald Trump? I'm sure there are. But at the same time, there are just as many worshipping the other movements I listed above. You can find evidence to back the three points listed in the article for almost any movement. Devotion to a certain politician is not unique to the radicals in a single party or movement. If you make these comparisons on one side, it is simply good faith to show it on the other.

Nobody likes to admit their side has radicals - it's hard and it is uncomfortable. However, if you are completely honest you must look in your own side's 'mirror' and believe what you see there - nuts and all. It is completely unfair to label the other side cult-like without doing the same exercise on your own side.

Just for a little example - https://www.huffpost.com/entry/barack-obama-jesus-cross-painting-the-truth-controversial_n_2199073

Jack Hansen

Question: why did the Republican Party permit the cult of Trump to take over the Republican Party? Is it because the cult of Trump actually is the anthropormorphic icon of the essence of the Republican Party?

The damage to Republicans everywhere goes far beyond Trump's second impeachment trial or whatever its verdict may be.

Republican seditious, treasonous domestic terrorists stormed The Capitol Building after being encouraged to do so by Republican seditious, treasonous, domestic terrorist President Trump who said, among other things and just minutes before inviting their insurrection at, and their storming of, The Capitol: "We FIGHT LIKE HELL, and if you don't FIGHT LIKE HELL, you're not going to have a country left."

200 Republican seditious, treasonous domestic terrorists have been arrested so far, and the number will rise and rise. The DOJ now will be adding "RICO" crimes against the Proud Boys which will cause other as yet unindicted members of the Proud Boys to be indicted in the future under the very broad reach and the very deep depth of the RICO statute as well as under "18 USC. Ch. 115: Treadon, Sedition and Subversive Activities" to overthrow the Government of the United States of America.

RICO also will be used against the 3 %ers, the Oath Keepers, the Ohio State Regular Militia, the Texas Freedom Force, the Woodland Wild Dogs and the other groups of Nazis, antisemites, white supremacists and racist, seditious, treasonous domestic terrorists who supported Republican seditious, Teasonous domestic terrorist Trump when he told them to "FIGHT LIKE HELL" to stop the vote of the Electoral College of the Government of the United States of America just hours before the vote finally was completed after, and in spite of, their insurrection at, and their storming of the Capitol. Canada has declared the Proud Boys to be a Terrorist Organization. Expect the same by the United States after the RICO indictments against the Proud Boys and the future RICO indictments against the other Republican seditious, Teasonous domestic terrorist groups involved with the insurrection at, and the storming of, The Capitol.

The damaging impact on Republicans everywhere from the particular event that triggered the second impeachment trial will last years and years after the trial. That event is and shall continue to be a political virus affecting only Republicans and for which there is no vaccine; a virus that shall mutate with every new Republican criminal indictment, every new Republican criminal trial, every new Republican conviction and every new Republican imprisonment; a virus whose cause is a political poison that already is known by and shall be known by American voters in the future; a virus to which American voters shall not expose themselves; and a virus against which American voters already know and shall continue to know how to protect themselves.

Facts and Logic

While we're quoting President Donald Trump's speech, let's remember this sentence. "I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to PEACEFULLY and PATRIOTICALLY make your voices heard"

Oh, and let's look at some other instances of politicians using 'incendiary rhetoric':

President Joe Biden: "We're facing a BATTLE for the soul of this nation."

President Barack Obama: "Don't just get involved. FIGHT for your seat at the table. Better yet, FIGHT for a seat at the head of the table."

Rep. Ilhan Omar: "It's our time to FIGHT for the America we know we can have."

Sen. Elizabeth Warren: "The game is rigged. We can whimper, we can whine, or we can FIGHT BACK. Me? I'm FIGHTING back."

My point? It's easy to look back at a speech that was given and cherry-pick out rhetoric that could have helped raise the temperature of the moment. However, we can't hold those people responsible for what a fringe few did. As I've shown above, politicians use rhetoric all the time that encourage people to "fight" or "battle" for a certain thing or idea. That DOES NOT make them responsible for what those people do unless they are specifically calling for violence - which President Trump did NOT do.

As President Biden would say, "Come on, man!"

But hey, what would I know? I'm just a 'Republican seditionous, treasonous, domestic terrorist" - at least according to you. Wait, doesn't that sound like incendiary rhetoric? Hmmm...

Jack Hansen

See the video at



David Jackson

The only thing better than the gaslighting from the leftist cult member Olivia Rasmussen is the foaming at the mouth commentary from the quintessential leftist cult member in the comments from Hack Hansen.

Jack Hansen

Oh, I have upset you, David Jackson. Here, read some of the following conspiracy theories of Republican Congress-person Taylor-Greene who is supported by her other Republican congress-persons, who is supported by the Republican Party and who is the new and future poster Republican child that is and shall be a gift that keeps on giving to Republicans and to Democrats - lol. With friends like Qanon, the Republican Party needs no other enemies. I am sure that her Qanon quackery will calm down someone like you.... ..... .


Jack Hansen

Oh, I have upset you, David Jackson. 😲🤭😏🤗

Here, read some of the following Republican "Truth and Logic" conspiracy theories of Republican Congress-person Taylor-Greene who is supported by other Republican Senators and Congress-persons, who is supported nationally by the Republican Party and who is the new and future national Republican poster child that is and shall be a gift that keeps on giving to Republicans throughout the country - and to Democrats throughout the country - 🤣🤣🤣🤣 .

With a national face and friend like Qanon, the Republican Party needs no other enemy. I am sure that her Qanon quackery will calm down someone like you.


Jack Hansen

Fox News, the greatest friend of Republicans, writes this about Republicans. Who needs enemies? Lol! See: https://fox11online.com/news/connect-to-congress/trump-fumes-gop-senators-baffled-by-legal-teams-debut

Jack Hansen

Oh, I have upset some fake

commentators. Here, read

the following article and

some of the following

Republican "Truth and Logic"

conspiracy theories of Republican

Congress-person Taylor-Greene

who is supported by other

Republican Senators and

Congress-persons, who is

supported nationally by the

Republican Party and who is

the new and shall be the future

national Republican poster child

that is and shall be a gift that

keeps on giving to Republicans

throughout the country - and to

Democrats throughout the country.

With the Capitol building storming

by Republican seditious, treasonous

domestic terrorists and a national

face and friend like Qanon, the

Republican Party needs no other

enemies... ...


Jack Hansen


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