New Religious Movements & Trumpism


Why does terrorism happen, and what are the immediate and long-term impacts?

This is the essential question our PLP class was pondering over the last few weeks. We studied important acts of terror throughout history, and began exploring the reasons behind these actions. Throughout this unit I focussed largely on the perspective of the terrorist, why they felt compelled to do what they did, what lead to it, and how politics play into this. Then, once we finished studying terrorism we moved onto a related subject (which will be the topic of this post), New Religious Movements.

But, what is a New Religious Movement?

The term ‘New Religious Movement’ is an alternative to the more well-known term ‘cult’. As, overtime the label of ‘cult’ has gained very negative connotations sociologists don’t believe that it represents all who fall under this category, and have therefore moved to a more general, unprejudiced term.

While studying new religious movements as a class we have used Jonestown as a case study. Through this I came to understand the similarities between studying terrorism and new religious movements; you can’t properly understand them until you know how to define them, and you recognize the perspective of the ones involved.

How to Define a Cult in 6 Criteria:
  1. A personal crossroads
  2. The soft sell
  3. A new reality
  4. The charismatic and narcissistic leader
  5. The enemy
  6. Peer pressure

For this blog post we’ve been tasked with picking a group with extreme beliefs and to then display how it satisfies the academic definition of a ‘New Religious Movement’.  I’ve chosen Trumpism as it’s a group that has headstrong ideals and a leader worshipped by many.

Why Trumpism Could be Considered a New Religious Movement:

1. A Personal Crossroads
  • In order for a new religious movement to accumulate members there needs to be a demographic — otherwise no one would join. The message of the group needs to resonate with a certain kind of person, or provide an answer to a question being widely asked. Someone who is at a personal crossroads, looking for meaning or a place to belong is very susceptible to being manipulated by a charismatic leader of a new religious movement.

The demographic of Trumpism is people who have headstrong conservative views, who are prone to groupthink due to living in remote rural areas, who are lacking higher education and have already developed a common enemy (Liberals). This kind of person happens to occupy a giant percentage of the United States’ population, and Donald Trump masterfully assumed the form of exactly what they were looking for in a President.

As Donald Trump stated himself, “I love the poorly educated”.

2. The Soft Sell
  • For a new religious movement to gain momentum in its beginnings and continually acquire new members as time goes on, they need to make it seem pleasant. This could take the form of flattery, gifts, invitations, or empty promises. In the beginning people often don’t even recognize that it’s a cult, as it seems to simply be a kind community.

Donald Trump made many empty promises in his time campaigning and in office. He quelled his supporters irrational fears of immigrants in the USA by promising to build a ‘highly effective’ wall between the USA and Mexico, which ended up being nothing but a drain of tax-payer money and made no affect on illegal immigration. He played into his supporters views on climate change, by publicly making it known that he believed it to be a hoax.

“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” — Donald Trump

And he made the biggest empty promise of all, that he’d ‘Make America Great Again’. America was certainly not great by the time he left office, though his supporters didn’t mind that.

3. New Reality
  • In order to keep the members subdued, new religious movement leaders often limit the group’s access to alternate forms of news or media. It’s a delicate thing to keep a community completely contained, so when attempting to do so there can’t be anything to throw anyone off track.

A single politician and his team of course can’t control millions of people’s accessibility to media, but what they can do is dominate the news cycle, as well as a station. Fox News, a right-wing news channel, is one that reports on exactly what republicans want to see, and talk exactly the way republicans like. Trump, being republican, completely influenced Fox News over 5 years. With his outrageous statements, blatant lies, and inappropriate actions there was never a day where you would look at the News and not see Donald Trump’s face. He manipulates the media masterfully to be constantly in the public eye and always involved.

4. Charismatic (Narcissistic) Leader
  • A new religious movement always needs a charismatic leader to guide the group forward. This leader appears to be everything the followers would want: supports their ideas, speaks their language, makes them feel like they’re part of something bigger. Though this power they hold over their followers leads to authoritarianism, demands of respect and devotion, and the followers being so devoted to the leader that they’ll do anything they ask.

Trump supporters find their leader to be a funny, smart man who says exactly what they’re thinking — otherwise he wouldn’t have been elected President. He knows how to connect with people on things they care about in a way that benefits him.

When Trump lost the 2020 election, he didn’t gracefully step down and hand his spot to the new President Biden. He claimed the election was rigged, and said it enough times that his supporters began to repeat it. Even though there was no evidence to point to the election being stolen, the simple fact that he repeated himself over and over again, was enough to make his supporters believe it were true and go to battle for him.

This is a leader who thinks very highly of himself, and is willing to say anything to get what he wants.

5. The Enemy
  • In order to keep members invested in the mission and enduring tough circumstances, there has to be incentive — there has to be an ‘other’. That ‘other’ may even be the outside world itself, the leader might convince the followers that the world outside of the family is more dangerous and scary than life in the new religious movement.

There is a very clear enemy that’s been forged for the Republicans of the US, and that’s the Liberals. The right-wing media constantly perpetuates the narrative that Left-wing people are corrupting their family values, ruining the free market, looting, inventing new genders, and in the end if the Liberals win, their world will crumble due to the marxist agenda. This is not the case, everyone’s political ideology is on a spectrum, and politics aren’t black and white. Though, that’s what this group of people believe because the media, and their leader has told them so.

6. Peer Pressure
  • Often in new religious movements, members do experience bad things or are subjected to making difficult decisions — this is where the peer pressure becomes important. If members had the ability to free-think, many would realize that they don’t want to be there anymore. But, if they’re bound by the expectations of their leader, the other followers, and a possible god or overlord watching them, they will continue to endure the bad circumstances.

In the communities where Trumpism is dominant, there is very little openness to other opinions or other perspectives. In the small towns in Louisiana or Wyoming almost everyone is a Trump supporter — there’s no other option if you want to be socially accepted. Children are raised to be Republicans, and young people in these communities are being influenced heavily toward supporting Trump and conservative ideals.

Trumpism is a solid example of how an extreme belief or group could land under the definition of a ‘New Religious Movement’. Trumpism has a charismatic and narcissistic leader, an obvious demographic, members who are devoted to a fault, a common enemy, deliberate manipulation, and peer pressure within their community.