Cult leaders often despise their followers

I was flipping the canals last Saturday night when I saw a Trump rally in Iowa. For almost a full year after the election, Trump repeated his baseless routine of voter fraud, giving the phrase “miracle loser” a new meaning. Question: If the election was rigged, how did the GOP fare so well? And after the record tells, why does Biden win with even more votes, including the Arizona cyber ninja absurdity? I felt sick at the cult crowd it ate. It felt like the madmen were “bringing the band back together” and preparing for 2024.

I’m not an expert on cults, but my high school friend Paul Morantz, an attorney who fought cults for nearly 40 years, is an authority on the matter. In 2012 Paul wrote an outstanding book called “Escape, My Lifelong War Against Cults”. It documented his struggles with the Manson family, the Symbionese Liberation Army, the popular temple of Jim Jones, and Scientology. In 1978, he became famous for one of his earliest cases that nearly ended his life.

It was just weeks after Morantz won a $ 300,000 verdict against Synanon, a seedy drug rehab facility that opened in Santa Monica in 1958. The founder, Charles Dederich, a recovered alcoholic turned cult leader, wanted revenge. He hired his violent Synanon “Imperial Marines” to put a 1.2 meter high rattlesnake in Paul’s mailbox.

They fiendishly removed the rattle of the snake. When Paul picked up his mail, he was bitten viciously. (He likely would have died if his neighbor hadn’t just completed a Red Cross training program to treat rattlesnake bites.)

The rattlesnake story lit up television across the country and internationally, when there were even hospital press conferences about Paul’s fragile condition. However, after intensive care, Paul slowly recovered. Unfortunately, complications from the rattlesnake venom reappeared decades later. All of a sudden, Paul’s life depended on receiving exhausting blood transfusions every two weeks. (Paul jokes that he has developed empathy for Dracula and never wears a black cloak during transfusions.)

Meanwhile, Dederich grew Synanon into a $ 30 million, not-for-profit, tax-exempt company that owns huge California real estate, 450 vehicles, planes, and boats. Chapters sprang up in San Francisco, Detroit, Tulare and Marin Counties, and even in Germany and Malaysia.

After years in court, Morantz was finally able to free Synanon from Santa Monica, whose cult members had violently threatened neighbors and businesses. In 1984, when the IRS lifted Dederich’s exempt status, Synanon went bankrupt. When a weak and wheelchair-bound Dederich made his last appearance in court, Morantz was indeed forgiven.

For decades, a sadistically angry Dederich intimidated his followers: “You were crazy when you came here, I can drive you crazy again.” In 1987 Dederich died, 83 and destitute, in a run-down caravan park in Visalia.

Speaking of sadistically angry, while Trump is still remarkably popular with his “grassroots”, he was recently booed by a Maga crowd when he recommended the Covid vaccine. Shocked, he quickly stepped back: “But you have your freedom.”

Yes, he urgently needs your donations, made sweeter by the fact that he can just stuff the dough in his pockets until his official candidacy for 2024. But he also thinks his magats are losers and lowlife.

Notoriously when he said, “I could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and I wouldn’t lose any votes,” he also said, “See what idiots my followers are?” During the January 6 uprising, Trump wasn’t bothered by the violence, but by the sloppy looks of his supporters. In fact, it is quite common for cult leaders to hate their followers for having to pretend they care.

In almost every case, Morantz regards cult leaders as essentially the same person, a narcissistic sociopath. Often times they were failures until they discovered a cause that turned them into a cult. Hitler longed to become an artist but was turned down when he applied for college. Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard was a failed science fiction writer, so he created a religion based on science fiction. Despite his father’s $ 400 million (now dollars), Trump was a failed businessman with six bankruptcies until he founded the Maga cult.

Another similarity among cult leaders is that they are often extremely suspicious of the second in command. This would explain why Trump watched the riot and heard shouts, “Hang Mike Pence!” he didn’t lift a finger to help him.

In the 2012 epilogue to his book, Morantz anticipated a constitutional crisis that could turn America into an anti-democratic, authoritarian government. When readers ask if he had Trump in mind. Paul jokes: “I never thought it was that bad.”

When I think back to Dederich’s downfall, if Trump were somehow penniless, would I be happy or would he have to end up in prison? My answer is both. A man can dream, can’t he.

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