AAs former Moonie-turned-cult expert Steven Hassan watched the Capitol riots unfold last January, there was a familiar face among the thousands of MAGA supporters clamoring to overturn the election results of 2020.
Hyung Jin ‘Sean’ Moon, head of far-right Rod of Iron Ministries, AR-15 worshipers and son of Moonie founder Sun Myung Moon, had joined Proud Boys and Oath Keepers in protesting outside the US Capitol. The group has been widely described as a cult.
The Rod of Iron Ministries posted a clip on their Instagram page showing Sean Moon wiping tear gas from his eyes while blaming Antifa for the violence.
The clip had a special resonance for Dr. Hassan: he was part of a group of 350 Moonies who, on the orders of Sun Myung Moon, prayed and fasted for 72 hours on the steps of the United States Capitol to protest the Watergate impeachment of Richard Nixon in 1972.
“I thought ‘if I hadn’t been deprogrammed I could have been there, I could have been arrested for this,'” Dr Hassan said. The Independent.
“That’s how far I was gone.”
Dr Hassan left the Moonies in 1976 at the age of 22, became a whistleblower in congressional hearings and has since helped deprogamme thousands of other former cult members while becoming a expert and author of influence tactics used by authoritarian leaders.
While hosting an event for former cult members in Kansas City in 1986, he met 29-year-old Ginni Thomas, then known by her maiden name Ginni Lamp, who spoke of wanting to “expose Lifespring.” , a controversial self-help group. which practiced “intensive self-examination” and disbanded in the 1990s.
It was eight years after the infamous Jonestown massacre, where more than 900 supporters of preacher Jim Jones were murdered or died by suicide under his instructions in a remote settlement in Guyana. Ms. Thomas and others were pushing Congress to create an annual cult awareness week to highlight the destructive practices of these groups.
Dr Hassan posted footage of the meeting on Twitter last week, where it has since racked up more than 1.6 million views.
In the footage, Ms Thomas discusses the need for cult survivors to “reconnect” with their spiritual needs.
“When you leave a cult, you have to find a balance in your life in terms of fighting the cult or exposing it,” Ms Thomas says.
“And I think I’m really trying and struggling with the balance between that. I want to expose Lifespring, I want to prevent other people from having this experience,” she added.
“But I also don’t want to go overboard in that regard so that I can reconnect with my own needs in a spiritual way, which I still haven’t.”
In an interview with The Washington Post in 1987, Ms Thomas spoke of her participation in a “stripper” exercise, which involved Lifespring members stripping while taking turns mocking anyone who was overweight.
Former members say Lifespring, which has trained up to 400,000 people in the United States, used “deceptive and indirect techniques of persuasion and control.”
Ms Thomas has previously explained how Lifespring executives separated her from family and friends and were forced into hiding as she sought to leave the group in the mid-1980s.
Last month it was revealed that Ms Thomas had tried to pressure former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to cancel the 2020 presidential election in favor of Donald Trump.
She also attended the Stop the Steal rally on January 6, but in an interview said she left early because she was cold.
The Independent attempted to contact Ms. Thomas for comment.
Ms Thomas had long been known as a prominent Tory campaigner, but the text messages appeared to reveal her as believing the effort to annul the election was a battle of good versus evil, no matter who won the most votes. votes.
“Ginni was once anti-cult and pro-freedom, and the fact that she was sending these messages seemed very cultish,” Dr Hassan said. The Independent.
“I think someone is unduly influencing Ginni Thomas to believe these things.”
After the 1986 meeting, Ms. Thomas continued to be active in cult awareness networks for years, and Dr. Hassan met her again at another meeting of survivors in 1992.
Dr. Hassan says that once a person has been indoctrinated into an authoritarian group, they are much more likely to fall prey to it again.
“When someone leaves a sect because he realizes that this group is bad, but he has not understood the psychological processes to which he has been subjected, and he has not been able to digest them and undo them, it is difficult for him to really change.”
Dr. Hassan’s 2019 book The cult of Trump found strong parallels between the former president’s tactics and notorious leaders like Jim Jones, David Koresh and L Ron Hubbard.
The lie, the need for absolute loyalty, us versus them, and the framing of the upcoming election as an apocalyptic battle all bore the hallmarks of a destructive cult. What has changed since the days of the Moonies, Lifespring, the Jonestown Massacre, and Waco is technology: the internet, smartphones, social media, and AI.
Or, as Dr. Hassan puts it, the tools of “psychological warfare.”
“And then the pandemic isolated us all where people were spending even more time online, and our minds can be bent,” he said.
“It’s the characteristic of being human, we can learn bad things and believe them to be true.
“In the mind of someone in a mind control cult, they can’t imagine leaving and being happy and fulfilled.”
Ms. Thomas spoke of having a staunchly Christian conservative upbringing in Nebraska.
Ginni and Clarence Thomas married in 1987, the year after she was filmed discussing leaving Lifespring. She supported her husband during his murderous Supreme Court confirmation hearings in 1991, when he was credibly accused of sexual harassment by Anita Hill.
Clarence Thomas has earned a reputation as a staunchly ideological Supreme Court justice, often taking positions on abortion, voting rights and health care well to the right of his colleagues.
At the same time, Ginni Thomas often lobbied and advised conservative groups taking cases to court through her firm, Liberty Consulting.
Judge Thomas was also the only dissenting vote in the January court ruling that rejected Mr Trump’s offer to withhold documents from the January 6 panel.
They have called each other “best friends” and share all aspects of each other’s lives.
Dr Hassan says it is almost impossible to believe that Judge Thomas does not share his belief that the election was stolen.
“I think based on their history, they’ve always been tangled up,” he said.
“There are people who are Trump puppeteers, and then there are different cults who are his base. It seems to me that Clarence and Ginni are part of this right-wing Christian religious group.
He believes there is enough evidence for an impeachment hearing for Judge Thomas, a call echoed by legal scholars and Democrats.
Dr Hassan said there were many factors that put a person at risk of falling prey to sectarian leanings, including their education, age, social and information networks.
Dr Hassan says the laws surrounding cults were woefully outdated and it was time to put in place a legal framework to tackle ‘uninformed consent’.
He wants to see congressional hearings with panels made up of social psychologists, lawyers and Christian ministers to debate the issue.
“It would be a way to create an international public dialogue to say that this technology of how to manipulate minds exists, and we need regulation, we need to hold bad actors accountable.
“The pimps, the traffickers who groom people and turn them into slaves, they should be put in jail.”
The Independent Gt