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The Cult of Trump Is the New Westboro Baptist Church

Johnny Townsend: When I belonged to a cult, I said and did and believed obnoxious things. But I finally broke free. America can do the same.
Westboro Baptist Church

Orange is the New Black. Man buns are the new mullet.

And the Cult of Trump is the new Westboro Baptist Church.

When I hear Trump supporters jeering Biden as he pays respects to his dead wife and daughter, when I see them giddily burning Black Lives Matter banners, when I see folks with MAGA hats rallying in the rain waving signs that proclaim the virus is a hoax, I realize Trump devotees haven’t just turned worship of the man into a cult, they’ve turned it into one barely distinguishable from the hateful antics and rhetoric of the Westboro Baptist Church.

Though I’ve only just come to this realization, it should have been obvious the moment Trump mocked a disabled reporter on live TV and his followers considered him the new winner of Last Comic Standing.

When I belonged to a cult, I said and did and believed obnoxious things. But I finally broke free. America can do the same.

They’re like Westboro members waving signs that say “God Hates Fags” or “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” or “God Sent the Shooters” and “Thank God for 9/11.”

Westboro members so firmly believe in their message of hate that they even carry signs declaring “God Is Your Enemy.”

But Westboro is mostly a tiny, fringe cult with little real power. If we step that up to the next level, we get a Jonestown cult.

Jackie Speier, the California congresswoman who survived an attack by Jim Jones supporters, said that when she was first asked if this cult of Donald Trump seemed to her anything like that of Jim Jones, she was horrified at the suggestion. But as she watched the cult develop, she concluded that the two cults are, in fact, quite similar.

Comparisons to either cult are disturbing, but we all know that the danger posed by this cult is several orders of magnitude greater, mostly because society as a whole saw Fred Phelps and Jim Jones as fringe crackpots while the cult of Trump has become thoroughly normalized. It would be a difference along the lines of the Manson Family vs. the Cossacks.

As a devout Mormon, I belonged to a global community that normalized several cult-like behaviors, whether it was chanting in the temple while wearing green aprons and bakers’ hats or devoting two years of my life as a missionary sworn to avoid watching television or reading newspapers or ever being without my assigned “companion.”

In one meeting in Rome, every missionary was required to bear his or her “testimony.” If someone refused, we were all forced to wait…and wait…and wait…until the rebellious missionary gave in.

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“I know the Church is true.” It showed a lack of faith to say “believe.”

After returning to America, I remained deeply involved in my religious community. As a Mormon in New Orleans, I was part of an extremely small group, and yet Mormonism was my entire life.

And when I dared to declare openly that I was gay, I was excommunicated and shunned. Friends I’d known for years refused to speak to me, would cross the chapel to avoid shaking my hand.

They deemed their behavior normal, even praiseworthy, as they congratulated each other on keeping themselves pure by avoiding contact with me.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was a mainstream religion and yet still operated in many ways as a cult. I’d been highly regarded one day, a leader in the Elders Quorum and the Single Adult group, and the next day, I was an apostate. Just as a Republican hero like Governor Kemp of Georgia can be called a traitor because he wouldn’t manipulate the election results to favor Trump.

Once anyone, Mormon or not, speaks out against a Mormon teaching, he or she is instantly labeled an anti-Mormon. Anything they say, no matter how grounded in fact, instantly becomes a lie. It’s normal in that community.

As it is now for almost half the country taking part in a cult just as cruel and detached from reality. Trump is the only source of absolute truth. He is the Prophet.

When I was a Mormon, I laughed when people told me I belonged to a cult.

But I learned that the difference between a cult and a religion is normalization. And it’s the same difference when we’re talking about politics.

The Cult of Trump is destroying the Republican Party. And it’s destroying America.

The solution isn’t to become more desperately delusional.

When I belonged to a cult, I said and did and believed obnoxious things. But I finally broke free. America can do the same.

Johnny Townsend

And when Trump supporters start making the effort to accept reality, let’s help by refusing to treat them the way they treated us and each other.

Johnny Townsend