Most people think of cults as being a collection of suicidal weirdos led by a madman, who thinks he is Jesus. That’s understandable as they are the most colorful and therefore get the most attention. David Koresh and the Branch Davidians are the gold standard. Before him Charlie Manson was the guy Americans thought of whenever the subject of cults came up in conversation. The suicide cult is a regular feature of television police dramas for this reason.
The truth is cults don’t usually end in mass suicide. In fact, it is rare. Usually they run their course, eventually running out of steam and the adherents wander off to other things. People are natural believers and the more intense the inclination to believe, the more likely they are to sign onto mass movements, even wackadoodle nonsense like UFO cults and recycling campaigns. They go from one to another, looking for salvation, sometimes even signing onto a movement built on the negation of their prior cult.
Think of the nutty aunt who is always into some new age nonsense. Maybe she was into crystals and then it was a fake shaman that helped her discover her aura. Then it was off to volunteer for one social cause after another. We all know these sorts of people, yet we seldom think of them as members of a cult, but that’s what’s going on with them. Cults are just small, temporary mass movements.
The assumption is that cults always have a charismatic leader, but that is not the case. Scientology is a cult and it lacks this feature. Modern American liberalism latches onto temporary leaders like Barak Obama and now Bernie Sanders. The Obamasoxers of ten years ago are BernieBros today. Buckley Conservatives have been calling every GOP nominee “Reagan” since ’92. It’s a type of cargo cult where they think if they pretend their man is the Gipper, they will be transported back to the 80’s.
This brings us to the Cult of Never Trump, known on-line as #nevertrump and billeted at on-line sites like the Federalist, National Review On-line and The Blaze. Like every cult, the adherents are convinced beyond all reason that their cause is based in indisputable mathematical truths. These truths are so obvious, they repeat them with a regularity that resembles a chant. Every CoNT I’ve encountered says the exact same things, like they rehearse them.
This was something visitors to Maoist China and Stalinist Russia noticed about the bureaucrats. They always said the same things in response to questions. In most cases, it was simply pragmatic. The party stalwarts, the spear catchers for the cause, they chanted the party line with the enthusiasm of the fanatic. They did not just believe the party line, they were defined by it and defined by their adherence to it. They would die for it.
As an aside, I knew an Iranian that served in the Iran – Iraq War. He told me a story about how his unit came up to a minefield. The Revolutionary Guards in their unit ran into the field, sacrificing themselves to clear a path through the mines. For these men, their life was only useful in service to the cause. They had given themselves over completely to the cause and the proof of it was their willingness to die for it. Before they stepped on the mine, they were already dead to themselves.
The other thing every mass movement requires, particularly cults, is the bogeyman. To quote the go-to source on these things, Eric Hoffer, “Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil.” The Nazis had the Jews, the Stalinists had the Kulaks and now the CoNT has Donald Trump. The enemy is what comes to define the cult and gives it a reason to continue on, even when all the prophesies fail.
The interesting thing about the CoNT is that it started a lot like a UFO cult, rather than a mass political movement. Last summer, they dismissed Trump as a ridiculous showman and not a real candidate. Then he was a vanity candidate who would drop out by fall. Then he would be crushed in the debates. Then Iowa was going to be his demise. This has been a pattern right up to now. After each setback, the CoNT rejiggers the prophesy and comes up with a new date for when the Dirt Monster will be slain.
The gold standard on this type of cult is the study, When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study of a Modern Group That Predicted the Destruction of the World. The group they studied was a UFO cult led by a woman named Dorothy Martin. It eventually disbanded, but she went on to start other fringe spiritual movements. I’ll just note that she was initially involved with Scientology. Again, true believers tend to move from one mass movement, one cult, to another.
Like a UFO cult, the CoNT becomes hyperactive as the next big date arrives. For the last week they have been waging a campaign to prove that the Dirt Monster is Hitler, hoping to bring about the great reckoning this Tuesday. This will surely go on until Trump clinches the nomination in a month or two. What happens at that point is tough to tell. I doubt we see a mass suicide, like the People’s Temple, but they will have to contend with what experts call “dis-conformation.”
This is when the true believer is presented with irrefutable evidence that contradicts their belief. In the famous Dorothy Martin case, the Seekers explained that the aliens did not come and destroy humanity because the faith of the Seekers convinced the aliens to relent. My guess is the CoNT will come up with something similar, maybe claiming Trump has changed and their efforts to stop have reformed him and made him acceptable.
Others will never go along with this. Neo-conservatives like Max Boot and Bill Kristol can never reconcile themselves to Trump. These are Trotskyites, who have a vision of the world wholly incompatible with anything one can call conservative. The smart money says they head back over to the Left and find some way to reconcile themselves to their old friends on the
Either way, we are bedeviled with CoNT’s for a while longer, then it will be something else.