It needs to be noted that there have always been sectors of society that felt the need to believe that they were under siege by all manner of dark, sinister forces. There have also, long before Trump, been demagogues who played to such beliefs. Political historian Richard Hofstadter made that point in his famous 1964 article “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” But what’s out of the ordinary is that such demagogues have not normally gotten themselves elected president before. Trump was playing to the belief that Obama had a fake birth certificate back in 2012, and today he refers constantly to “the deep state,” which his devoted fans understand to be a dark well of unspeakable horrors in the bowels of the American government that they need a hero like Trump to rescue them from while draining the swamp, making America great again, and bringing back “Merry Christmas.”
But where there’s irrational fanaticism, those circles tend to be breeding grounds for subcultures whose members don’t find the larger movement to be nearly irrational or fanatical enough. They don’t word it that way, of course, but this article in the Washington Post (August 1, 2018) introduces us to such a group which, according to the article, is not just lurking invisibly in the shadows of the internet but rather was out in the open, quite visible, at Trump’s rally in Tampa.
I’m not sure whether to say they have a cultlike quality about them or to come right out and say that they are a cult. The latter is probably more accurate. While there’s no clearly identifiable leader, there’s every indication that some individual or cluster of individuals is centrally pulling the strings, feeding them the theology. And it is a theology, because they believe they’re soldiers for God, which makes everybody who disagrees with them agents of the Devil. And their patron saint is Trump, though undoubtedly he’s not irrational and fanatical enough for them.
There’s a particular psychology of individuals who are susceptible to believing that there’s a single absolute truth and a grand conspiracy that’s suppressed it. These are the people most susceptible to joining cults. Some cults are religious, others political. The prime example of a political cult, which has been around for decades, is the followers of Lyndon LaRouche. You’ll see them peddling their wares on New York sidewalks and college campuses from time to time–and the last I saw, they were wholeheartedly backing Trump. This “We Are Q” group appears to be both religious and political: they seem to believe that the struggle is spiritual.
They’re a fringe group, even by Trump-supporter standards. But all you have to do is look at the Salem witch trials of 1692 to see how dangerous people can be when they think that they have God’s absolute truth and that anyone who doesn’t share their own rigid doctrines and dogmas is working for the Devil.
Here’s a journal article from just a few years ago about people believing conspiracy theories: conspr14