Escalating cult behavior

I have written before that many of the followers of Donald Trump seem to resemble members of cults. While these cult members seem to be easily persuaded to believe the most bizarre things and even to commit reckless and pointless acts of defiance such as invading and vandalizing the Capitol building on January 6th, they do not seem (at least so far) to exhibit the more extreme forms of cult behavior, such as being willing to take actions on the command of their leader that could lead to their own deaths. One the most extreme examples of such cult behavior was the Jonestown massacre in Guyana where in 1978 over 900 people died, many of them because they took cyanide poison on the command of their leader Jim Jones, that he ordered after his guards killed a visiting US congressman and four of his entourage.

Of course, we have seen some Trump supporters approach some level of dangerous cult thinking when they started adopting quack and dangerous remedies to prevent and treat covid (bleach, hydroxychloroquine, ivermectin) purely because Trump encouraged them to think they might be effective. But at least he wasn’t asking them to kill themselves as a test of their loyalty to him. If he did, I wonder whether any of them might actually do it? The very fact that I can pose such a question in seriousness is a sign of how far gone the situation has become.

But there are Trump-related cults that are offshoots of QAnon that are approaching this dangerous level of delusion. I refer to the people who gathered at the Dealey Plaza in Dallas and stayed there for quite some time because they believed that the late president Kennedy and his son would appear.

The wing of the QAnon conspiracy cult that believes John F. Kennedy Jr. faked his death and will return to the American political scene as Donald Trump’s running mate showed up earlier this month in Dallas after being told that both JFK Jr. and his assassinated father would make an appearance there—and then remained through Monday, the 58th anniversary of the late president’s murder. They had been told both men would appear.

At Dealey Plaza—the site of the 1963 national tragedy—a large crowd of them gathered on an overpass overlooking the spot with banners reading “Trump/JFK Jr 2024,” along with ordinary Trump banners and American flags. One of the participants told a local journalist: “It’s reversing the spell of what happened to JFK Senior.”

The gathering—comprised mostly of followers of a leading QAnon promoter named Michael Protzman, who persuaded a substantial group of about 100 people to remain in Dallas even after his Nov. 2 event at which the deceased Kennedys failed to appear—also was the apotheosis of the cultish nature of the QAnon phenomenon. Over the weekend, Protzman—who uses the moniker “Negative48″—had advised his followers, Jim Jones-like, in a video chat to get comfortable with the idea of dying, because only then will they learn the truth.

“Ultimately… we have to experience that physical death… let go… come out on the other side,” one of the chat participants said.

As Thomas Lecaque at The Bulwark observes, Protzman—like nearly all conspiracy theorists—embeds a deeply antisemitic core within his larger, mostly incoherent, narrative:

The Negative48 cult’s disquieting power lies in Protzman’s ability to persuade hundreds of people to come to Dallas, and for a substantial portion of them to take up communal living for a month in the hopes of witnessing “the Storm.”

“I think what you’re seeing here is really, undeniably a cult,” said Mike Rothschild, author of The Storm Is Upon Us, told the Dallas Morning News. “The moment when the leaders of a cultic group start talking about the need for physical death to reach utopia is the moment to get the authorities involved,” he tweeted.

I do not understand this obsession with the idea of people, especially famous ones, faking their own deaths. What would be the point? It can happen but usually the reason is insurance fraud or evading law enforcement or because they are in the witness protection program. Why would president Kennedy choose to do so? And he seems an unlikely person to support the agenda of Trump and QAnon so why have they put their faith in him as their future standard bearer?

Family members of this cult are really worried because the followers have been persuaded to do things like drink hydrogen peroxide solutions and take ‘bio pellets’ to ward off covid-19. From there it is not a big step to being willing to ingest something on the orders of the cult leader that could be fatal.


  1. flex says

    Sooooo, JFK would be 104 years old, and that doesn’t seem unreasonable to them? I guess compared to everything else, probably not. But sometimes it’s the little things which jar more on acceptance of big lies.

    Maybe they watched the movie Bubba Ho-Tep and thought it was a documentary?

  2. garnetstar says

    Faking one’s death usually doesn’t work: it’s just rather difficult to do convincingly and to sustain. But, why the fixation on the Kennedys? Surely they know that Kennedy was a democrat? That John Jr. never went into politics? At this point, both men are nothing but ideas, why such devotion?

    Then, as to comitting suicide for the cult: many seem to be willing to die of COVID for Trump. I think that may be more denial than those who actually drank cyanide, but they are willing to risk it by denying it. And, no matter how many deaths, it doesn’t change their minds: they’re willing to die.

  3. garnetstar says

    Leaders of cults who advocate or enfore suicide usually do it because they reached the point where can’t do anything else. They’ve promised the apocalyse to the followers, it isn’t happening, and in order to not fall in authority in the followers’ eyes, they determine to preserve their power for good by having everyone die at their command.

    This leader certainly seems to have reached that point, and intervention by authorities is certainly needed. Also because, of course, often end-of-times thought leads to violence against others first, as well. “Destroying the world to save it”, a book on apocalytpic cults by Robert Lifton.

  4. Dunc says

    But, why the fixation on the Kennedys? Surely they know that Kennedy was a democrat?

    At this stage, I really wouldn’t bet on it. I suspect they may be fixated on the Kennedys simply because they’ve heard of them.

  5. maryb says

    Cult leaders, like domestic abusers, gradually escalate the ridiculous claims and self destructive beliefs they get their followers to believe as a demonstration of their power. The more absurd and contradictory the belief, the more powerful the leader feels. So that explains why such an absurd thing as joining JFK, Jr with Trump is done.

    What amazes me is how willing the followers are to drop their brains and self protection instincts and give over their will to charlatans. They clearly have no more logical brain function left and are only thinking emotionally. But then all religion requires such unreasoning faith and history is littered with the disasters such behavior wreaks.

  6. says

    Look at the way the cult about that dead jewish guy spiralled out of control. There is no maximum bullshit level -- JFK would be 104 but those guys deified their fixation and expect him to come back any day.

    I wonder if the Romans would find QAnon to be a bit familiar.

  7. says

    Why would president Kennedy choose to do so?

    There seems to be some confusion here given this and comments suggesting JFK would be 104. As I understand it, it was JFK Jr. that they were expecting (and the quoted article supports this.) He’d only be 61. Yeah, they were gathered where JFK Sr. was murdered, so the confusion is understandable.

  8. lorn says

    JFK coming back at 104 … sure.

    It might help to remember that for many of these people movies and TV shows are, essentially, documentaries and something they can all agree upon as real. Look up the B-grade movie “Adrenochrome” to see one of the sets of memes referenced by Q. When they say “the storm” it is referencing one of the “Terminator” movie memes. “Red pill” refers to as scene in “The Matrix”.

    A high proportion of the references come from action movies with heroic rebels and patriots fighting against a more powerful force.

    Run down a list of sci-fi action movies over the last thirty years and most of them are touched upon as memes in some way. But wait … that’s not all… Throw in some Art Bell, David Icke (Lizard people), “V” , “V for Vendetta” …. and on and on it goes.

    There is no end. Or bottom.

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