Fake News: Brian Stelter Did NOT Say Trump Is A Destructive Cult Leader

Fact Check

  • by: Alan Duke
Fake News: Brian Stelter Did NOT Say Trump Is A Destructive Cult Leader

Did CNN host Brian Stelter say that President Donald Trump is a "destructive cult leader"? No, that's not true: A psychologist who studies cults made the comment while being interviewed by Stelter on CNN's "Reliable Sources" program. Stelter did not repeat it, but questioned the guest about how he could justify and prove the statement.

The story originated from an article published by "The Liberty Eagle" on November 25, 2019 titled "Brian Stelter Says Trump Is A Destructive Cult Leader" (archived here) which opened:

CNN's Brian Stelter ended his Sunday show with a segment claiming that President Donald Trump is a "destructive cult leader" who is "using mind control."

Stelter began the segment by claiming that "the word 'Cult' has been popping up more and more," using Anthony Scaramucci, who has been acting like a jilted lover, as an example.

Stelter's guest was Steven Hassan, author of The Cult of Trump, who was a member of the Unification Church cult of the '70s, Newsbusters noted in their report. The bizarre author claimed that President Trump is a "destructive cult" leader, not a "healthy cult" leader.

"You say the President is using mind control, but how is that provable," Stelter asked his guest with a straight face.

Users on social media only saw this title, description and thumbnail:

Brian Stelter Says Trump Is A Destructive Cult Leader

https://twitter.com/NickFondacaro/status/1198651340140040195 CNN's Brian Stelter ended his Sunday show with a segment claiming that President Donald Trump is a "destructive cult leader" who is "using mind control." Stelter began the segment by claiming that "the word 'Cult' has

Stelter, who covers the media for CNN, concluded his November 24, 2019, show with an exploration on why some commentators have been characterizing Trump as a cult leader. Stelter never shared his personal opinion in the show, but he did ask pointed questions of the author of a book that makes the claim. This is the segment's description:

Steven Hassan, a cult expert with firsthand experience escaping the Unification Church, says Trump's cultivation of his base is cult-like. Brian Stelter questions the claims in Hassan's new book, "The Cult of Trump," and Hassan stresses the importance of "contact outside the bubble."

The transcript of the segment is down below, and here is the full video:

BRIAN STELTER: The world cult has been popping up more. Think about two weeks ago on this program, Anthony Scaramucci talked about his claim that Trump supporters are in a cult. Just last week Dan Rather said he thinks support for Trump seems increasingly cultish. And this weekend in The Washington Post, Trump critic and Republican Strategist John Weaver said the GOP is not a party anymore in the traditional sense, it's a cult.

But none of them are mental health experts, Steven Hassan is. He's out with a brand-new book called the Cult of Trump. He has first-hand experience escaping the Unification Church back in the 70s. And he's decided to write this book because believes there's something seriously wrong with our politics.


STEVEN HASSAN, MENTAL HEALTH COUNSELOR: So I define a destructive cult as an authoritarian pyramid structured group with someone at the top who claims to have total power and total wisdom that uses deception and control of behavior, information, thoughts, and emotions to make people loyal, and dependent, and obedient followers.

So for me, the issue between an ethical healthy cult where you're free to think and free to leave versus a destructive cult, I'm referring to Trump's organization and followership as a destructive cult where people are being fed propaganda and they're not being encouraged to think for themselves and not be encouraged to really explore and look at the details and arrive at their own conclusion.

Much of what they're hearing is emotionally driven loaded words, thoughts stopping and thought-terminating type cliches like fake news, or build the wall, or make America great again.

STELTER: You say the president is using mind control. But how is it provable?

HASSAN: So look, we can start with the pathological lying which is characteristic of destructive cult leaders saying things in a very confident way that have nothing to do with facts or truthfulness, the blaming others and never taking responsibility for his own failures and faults shunning and kicking out anyone who raises questions or concerns about his own behavior. His use of fear-mongering, immigration is a horrible thing.

STELTER: It is frightening to hear a cult expert say that you see all these signs right now today in American politics.

HASSAN: But wake up, this is what's happening and our democracy is a stake here. Freedom of the press is absolutely vital for a healthy, healthy country. And anyone like him that says the press is the enemy of the people, that's what Hubbard would say. That's what Moon said. That's what LaRouche said. Why, because they're demagogues.

STELTER: So finally, the first step, if you say this is a cult, what's the first step of deprogramming?

HASSAN: The first step with anyone who's a true believer is contact with people that are outside the bubble. Cult leaders want to isolate their people they want -- they want family and friends to just disappear rather than keep engaged. Hey, did you read this article? What do you think of it? You know, I'll watch one of your shows, watch one of my shows.

In other words, appealing to the person's true self, their authentic self that wants to be a good person, that want -- that believes in America and democracy and truth.

STELTER: For the people who are dreading Thanksgiving, you're saying it's an opportunity to get together.

HASSAN: Exactly. Let's -- we're family, we're friends. Let's talk and you know, truth will out, truth will stand up to scrutiny.

NewsGuard, a company that uses trained journalist to rank the reliability of websites, describes thelibertyeagle.com as:

A conservative news site that reposts content from other sites without attribution and publishes conspiracy theories.

According to NewsGuard the site does not maintain basic standards of accuracy and accountability. Read their full assessment here.

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  Alan Duke

Editor-in-Chief Alan Duke co-founded Lead Stories after ending a 26-year career with CNN, where he mainly covered entertainment, current affairs and politics. Duke closely covered domestic terrorism cases for CNN, including the Oklahoma City federal building bombing, the UNABOMBER and search for Southeast bomber Eric Robert Rudolph. CNN moved Duke to Los Angeles in 2009 to cover the entertainment beat. Duke also co-hosted a daily podcast with former HLN host Nancy Grace, "Crime Stories with Nancy Grace" and hosted the podcast series "Stan Lee's World: His Real Life Battle with Heroes & Villains." You'll also see Duke in many news documentaries, including on the Reelz channel, CNN and HLN.

Read more about or contact Alan Duke

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