Are you, unwittingly, a member of a cult? A cult is a group of people having beliefs or practices regarded by the majority of the population as strange, irrational or very dangerous.

Historically, there have been thousands of cults. Three prominent types are political, religious and new age.

Political cults are fueled by belief in changing society by overthrowing the perceived enemy who's now in control. The leader professes to be all-knowing and all-powerful. Groups tend to operate as cells, and often members of the group are armed and ready to engage in violent activities. Sometimes these groups meet in secret with coded language and handshakes. Members consider themselves an elite cadre ready to go to battle as in Charlottesville, Virginia or the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. Practices include paramilitary training, instilled paranoia and hours of indoctrination.,

Nazism was essentially a cult headed by the spell-binding Adolf Hitler that produced the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust. And today, we have the deplorable neo-Nazi cults and the loony QAnon cult, with its tens of thousands of gullible followers.

Religious cults are marked by belief in a supernatural being, sometimes combined with an apocalyptic view. Some faith-based cults preach an end-time apocalypse that will occur at any time with a battle between the forces of good (the elected) and the forces of evil, led by Satan. It demands unquestioning obedience and teaches that male headship is required and is the will of the deity. The hierarchy has the deity at the top, followed by church leaders, males, females and then children. Being separate from non-believers is required while new converts are encouraged to pull away from extended family members and old friends, except in trying to convert them.

The charismatic leader reinterprets Scripture and claims to be a prophet. Often members are encouraged to spend a great deal of time proselytizing. Practices and influence techniques include chanting, praying, lengthy study sessions, faith healing, mission work or many hours witnessing. Tithing is expected and sometimes greater contributions are encouraged through the concept of a "prosperity gospel."

Sin, fear, guilt and shame are preached constantly, along with condemning homosexuality, same gender marriage and abortion that "will tear apart our society." If any of the believers have doubts and consider leaving the fold, it can be the most disruptive upheaval they ever experience. They will lose friends, experience disfellowship and be shunned by these "loving" believers. The rupture can split spouses, alienate parents and destroy homes. Clearly, this is psychological abuse, and these people, unfortunately, think they are doing their deity's desires.

New age cults are founded on belief that you can know the future, or find a quick fix to your problems. Often the leaders present themselves as an ultra-spiritual being, mystical or a channeler. Members rely on new age paraphernalia, such as crystals, astrology, runes, shamanic devices, holistic medicine, herbs, spirit beings, or Tarot cards. Practices include: magic tricks, altered states, channeling, UFO sightings, faith healing, mediums, spiritual entities, the paranormal or claiming to speak with or through ascended masters.

Do we have a cult of Trump?

Consider that questioning, doubt and dissent are discouraged or even punished by dismissal. Trump dictates how members should think, act and feel. He is the ultimate authoritarian and his opinion must be accepted without question; any opposing opinion is called "fake news." Republican politicians are afraid to oppose him for fear of defeat in the next election.

He distrusts democracy and tried to undermine the lawful 2020 election. He and his cohorts are actively trying to suppress the votes of minorities, and are seeking other ways to subvert the 2022 and 2024 elections. He panders to people with extreme right wing political and religious views to gain their support.

Trump has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which creates a climate of conflict within the wider society. He implies that his supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means he deems necessary, and considers himself not accountable to any authorities. This may result in members participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered unethical or unlawful before becoming a follower, eg. the Jan. 6 insurrection.

All these are characteristics of a cult.