We now know from news reports that the mob that attacked and infiltrated the Capitol was a motley amalgamation, a collection of white supremacists, alt-right militia members, Christian extremists, white nationalists, Proud Boys fascists, neo-Nazis, QAnon ranters, moms and pops and grandmas and grandpas who all love Trump, young and not-so-young adrenaline junkies, and, as always, some lookie-loos. Perhaps sprinkled in among the thousands milling around the building were a few disgruntled workers angry about their loss of jobs or inability to feed their families. We never hear from them.
Regardless of background and motives, these were all insurrectionists, bent on overturning an election that they claimed, following their dear leader, had been stolen by Democrats. Following orders from the leader is easy for cult members — in this case, participants in Trump’s cult of personality or in QAnon’s cult of no-personality, since Q remains anonymous. Of course, the two cults merge, since Trump is QAnon’s hero, if not messiah.
The cult-like behavior brings forth cult-talk from such experts as Rick Alan Ross, author of Cults Inside Out, who tells us how to free members from QAnon. The principal method for doing so seems to be to hold an intervention, familiar to those who have family members with addiction issues. Interventions are processes organized by and involving friends and family to reorient someone’s thoughts, feelings, and actions away from the kooky, unreal, and dangerous and back into facts, truth, and reality. Interventions are by definition small and intimate, devoting attention to a single individual.
Because of the focus on one person, interventions might not be a suitable method for trying to extract persons from a mass movement. Imagine using interventions in Germany in 1935 to free Germans from the spell of the Nazi Party.
Indeed, I think that looking to free people from Trump and QAnon is the wrong way to approach the problem. At the very least, turning thousands, if not millions, of people away from the lunacy of QAnon conspiracies and from the bottomless lies of Trump will require multitudinous pockets of interventions involving copious time, space, and funds.
So, then, how do we reorient our friends, neighbors, and family members away from the endless conspiracies and lies spewed by Trump, his enablers, and QAnonists? Having someone within the inner circle, even Ivanka herself, wouldn’t be enough. Cult members will simply say that she had been turned by the “deep state,” those bent on overthrowing and now undercutting Trump and Q. Ivanka would no longer be part of “the plan” to seize our government, destroy our democracy, enshrine Trump as ruler, and thereby save the “real America.”
So, too, would any beloved cultural, political, or religious figure, speaking out on behalf of science, evidence, facts, and democracy, be dismissed as “turned” by the deep state. Tom Hanks and Oprah Winfrey are already, according to QAnon, volunteers in the Clinton-led Satanic army of child murderers and blood drinkers. Pope Francis? Allegedly he is the Paraclete of Christ, but really, cultists will say, he’s the stooge of the Devil.
Well, what will work? Perhaps we follow George Costanza and “do the opposite.” We don’t focus on converting cultists from their loony reality. We don’t try to convince them through reason or pleas to remember where they came from and who they were. We don’t scold, cajole, or hector. We don’t model ideal behavior or reinforce logic and common sense. We thwart our instinct to save our sister, our neighbor, our friend. We let them be.
Instead, we give them an example of something better. We let Joe Biden show that he is the president for all people; we encourage the Democrats to pass COVID relief, a new infrastructure bill, expanded Obamacare with a public option, and an immediate $15 minimum wage.
We don’t point fingers or say, “See! There’s no deep state taking the country down!” We simply allow the passage of such legislation to take effect. Through programs and policies that actually help people get on their feet and stay on them, the cultists will see improvements in their neighbors’ lives, their family-members’ lives, and their own lives. Slowly, cultists will back away from the lunatic conspiracies; over time, they will find that Trumpist lies have little appeal. Eventually, they might even come to laugh at the strangeness that overtook them.
Not all will escape, but actual improvement in people’s daily lives, improvement in their prospects, could swing the cultists back to reality. That depends on Democrats themselves pulling away from the fantasy that Republicans want to solve problems and want policies that work to help Americans. Right now, the Republican Party isn’t a partner in repairing America. They are adrift, floating in a sea of bombast, tripe, and lies, hostage not to the cults, but to power. After the insurrectionists infiltrated the Capitol and after five persons died in the conflict, 147 Republicans still voted to overturn the election, a cynical or delusional move based on 77 days of repeated Republican lies about a stolen election.
Democrats must wake up to that and really serve the American people. They can do so by simply following through on the policies that they have espoused and promoted.
Cultist conversion, then, is a by-product of doing what Democrats have already promised to do for the American people. Their mission is to stick to those promises, regardless of Republican distractions and intransigence.
By fulfilling their mission, Democrats can save our country by restoring our democracy, and through that process they may also restore sanity to many of the Trump/QAnon cultists.