Dr. Kwame Nantambu

Exposing the danger of cult leaders

By Dr Kwame Nantambu
December 24, 2021

As the US House of Representatives Select Committee continues to issue subpoenas to former president Donald John Trump's advisers and allies in regard to the endemic dynamics of the historic, violent insurrection on the nation's capital on January 6; plus the stark legal reality that on November 12, a federal grand jury "indicted" one of the former president's advisers, Steve Bannon, "on two counts of contempt of Congress".

As a sidebar, as of this writing, 32 "non-related sentences (have been) handed down so far" in cases filed by Justice Department prosecutors; ergo, it is a sine qua non to expose the gut danger of cult personality leaders: Jim Jones' "Jonestown massacre" in Guyana on November 18, 1978, v Donald John Trump's putatively inspired, violent insurrection on the nation's capital in Washington DC, USA, on January 6.

By way of historical background, it is vital to recall that in the 1970s, "charismatic leader" Jim Jones established the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project in Guyana and, in the process, he proselytised, promulgated and spread the religious Big Lie of "a socialist utopia" in Guyana, "a socialist paradise" and "a paradise of utopia" outside of the United States. He also portrayed Guyana as a "promised land".

Needless to say, his followers blindly believed and swallowed this religious Big Lie. However, as federal allegations came to the fore and mounted in 1978, Jim Jones engaged in a massive campaign of "grand conspiracy" by the US government against the Temple. It did not work.

Indeed, prior to the fatal "mass suicide" on November 18, 1978, cult leader Jim Jones urged his followers to drink "what they initially believed was poison as a test of loyalty to him". It worked. On November 18, 1978, the "Jonestown massacre" occurred that resulted in 918 deaths, including 300 children. They all died from cyanide poisoning, in blind support of Jim Jones' religious Big Lie. It must be noted that those Temple members who refused to drink the poison were ceremoniously shot and killed.

By way of comparative fast-forwarding to the scenario of cult personality leader former president Donald John Trump, one finds that a similar political Big Lie has been proselytised, promulgated and spread to the extent that the November 3, 2020, presidential election was "stolen" from him. And this political Big Lie has spread like wildfire without any scintilla of solid proof. Put another way, the bottom line is that the entrenched mindset of Trump's supporters is the Big Lie that the "ballot" was "stolen" from him.

On the other hand, "as a test of loyalty to him", it must be recorded that Trump's supporters resorted to the "bullet" option when they waged their extremely and horrifyingly violent insurrection, replete with deadly weapons, on the nation's capital on January 6. This historic event resulted in five deaths, more than 140 police officers injured, 81 capital police officers assaulted and 65 Washington DC police officers suffered injuries.

Truth be told: the political events since November 2020 have undoubtedly proven that the current GOP is no longer the paradigm/symbol of Abraham Lincoln. On the contrary, under the cult personality leadership of Donald John Trump, the GOP has now been transformed/moulded into a party of insurrection, sedition, domestic terrorism, divisiveness, chaos, massive voter repression laws, in conjunction with an obdurate magnetic affinity towards white superiority/white nationalism "by any means necessary".

In the final analysis, GOP members need to heed the poignant but apoca­lyptic admonition of former GOP speaker of the house Paul Ryan to the extent that: "If the conservative cause depends on the populist appeal of one personality or of second-rate imitations, then, we're not going anywhere" except to be relegated to the ash heap of American presidential politics, ad infinitum.

Or as Joe Navarro concludes in his provocative/timely article, titled "Dangerous cult leaders: clues to what makes for a pathological cult leader" (Psychology Today, August 25, 2012), "They demand perfect loyalty from followers, they overvalue themselves and devalue those around them. They are intolerant of criticism and above all, they do not like being questioned or challenged. And yet in spite of these less than charming traits, they have no trouble attracting those who were willing to overlook these features."

The salient fact of the matter is that the United States of America stands firm on the democratic principle of We the People and not on the divisive principle of Me, Myself and I.

Dr Kwame Nantambu is Professor Emeritus, Kent State University.

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