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MAGA: The Cult of Trump—A Dangerous Merger of Violence and Religious Zeal

Brian Daitzman examines the dangerous cult-like MAGA movement, its links to violence, and messianic adulation of Trump drawing parallels to Jim Jones and his doomed following.
Published:March 14, 2024

By Brian Daitzman

The MAGA (Make America Great Again) movement, often associated with former U.S. President Donald Trump, raises significant concerns when examined through the lens of cult dynamics.

The normalization of Trump by popular culture and the media, coupled with the violence encouraged in his name, reveals the disturbing evolution of MAGA from a political movement to something more akin to a religious cult, with Trump positioned as a demigod at its helm.

This analysis does not use the term “cult” lightly but seeks to highlight parallels that underscore the movement’s potential for danger, arguably exceeding that of infamous cults like that led by Jim Jones in the 1970s. Jones, the charismatic cult leader, is known for commanding his followers, some at gunpoint, to commit mass suicide by imbibing cyanide-laced Flavor-Aid (commonly misidentified as Kool-Aid). More than 900 of Jones’ followers died in a Guyanese jungle after following the cult leader to their deaths.

Trump's followers exhibited a comparable level of perilous loyalty during the peak of the COVID lethal pandemic before vaccines were available. They attended his rallies without wearing masks, defying public health guidelines. Trump, vocal about his irritation with masks, turned the refusal to wear them into a symbol of allegiance to his movement. Scientists estimate that at least 700 deaths can be directly attributed to these rallies, which in some respects mirrored caravans of death.

Cult-like Characteristics and Dangerous Parallels

The MAGA movement exhibits key cult characteristics: a charismatic leader, a distinct ideology that often diverges sharply from mainstream or factual understandings, and an intense communal loyalty that rejects external criticism. This loyalty extends to the point of shunning members who leave the movement under acrimonious circumstances, mirroring the punitive measures of traditional cults against dissenters.

The Cult of Personality and Eschatological Rhetoric

Trump’s appeal transcends political leadership, assuming a quasi-religious stature among his most devoted followers. He is seen not merely as a leader but as an intermediary between the divine and his base, especially prominent among Christian Evangelicals.

This demographic, inclined towards supernatural explanations, finds resonance in Trump’s eschatological language, framing him as a figure of cosmic significance. This perception is bolstered by Trump’s demand for unwavering loyalty, akin to that expected by a jealous deity, further blurring the lines between political allegiance and religious devotion.

Consequences of Cultish Beliefs

The hazards of such cult-like allegiance became strikingly evident through various incidents. Trump's dissemination of COVID-19 misinformation significantly endangered his followers, underscoring the risks of valuing a leader's supposed infallibility above factual evidence. The culmination of these risks was starkly observed in the attempted insurrection on January 6, 2021, when Trump's adherents besieged the U.S. Capitol. 

Participants in the January 6 assault wore religious symbols and were driven by conspiracy theories, notably QAnon. This event transcended a mere political protest, embodying a profound conviction in Trump's purported sacred mission. It resulted in a violent confrontation at the Capitol, with attackers aiming to inflict harm or even kill prominent figures, including the former Vice President.

The MAGA movement’s transformation into a phenomenon with religious cult overtones presents unprecedented dangers.

Donald Trump’s normalization in media and popular culture, alongside the violent actions perpetrated in his name, highlights a movement that goes beyond political fervor to embody characteristics of a dangerous, fatalistic religious cult.