Deprogramming Members of the Cult of Trump

Richard Quadrino
5 min readJan 21, 2021

During the Capitol insurrection we all saw the full nature, scope, volume, depth, and sickness among the members of the cult of Trump. As explained below, there is indeed a mental health aspect to this crisis. Just as the mainstream media refused to openly talk about Trump’s mental illnesses — Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Sociopathy and his pathological addiction to revenge — there will likely be very little published on the mental health/brainwashing aspect of this crisis. Therefore, this article attempts to provide some thought-provoking discussion for further exploration of this complex problem.

To be sure, we know that the insurrectionists have been living in some sort of angry, strange and detached world of their own, but the nature and severity of their ills, the apparent delusions, and the extent to which they will act upon their emotions is now seen in stark relief. Are there any cures for this dangerous illness?

At the outset, before addressing possible solutions, we can hope that some of the less deranged individuals will simply lose their steam and fervor as they begin to realize that they were fed falsehoods and ginned up to pursue a fantasy, to no avail. One helpful dynamic — already — is a great reduction in the recycling of misinformation on Twitter because the tweeting and retweeting by Trump has disappeared. With this muzzling now permanently in place, there’s certainly been some noise reduction. On the heels of this positive development, we’re now seeing, at this early stage, unanticipated statements of capitulation and disappointment by the Proud Boys and others involved in the horrors of January 6th. For example, the New York Times reported on Inauguration Day:

“As Mr. Trump departed the White House on Wednesday, the Proud Boys, once among his staunchest supporters, have also started leaving his side. In dozens of conversations on social media sites like Gab and Telegram, members of the group have begun calling Mr. Trump a “shill” and “extraordinarily weak,” according to messages reviewed by The New York Times. They have also urged supporters to stop attending rallies and protests held for Mr. Trump or the Republican Party.”

“The shift raises questions about the strength of the support for Mr. Trump and suggests that pockets of his fan base are fracturing. Many of Mr. Trump’s fans still falsely believe he was deprived of office, but other far-right groups such as the Oath Keepers, America First and the Three Percenters have also started criticizing him in private Telegram channels, according to a review of messages.”

“Some Proud Boys now say in online posts that the group should “go dark” and retreat from political life by cutting its affiliation to any political party. They are encouraging one another to focus their energies on secessionist movements and local protests.”

If some of these groups merely advocate for secession (a dubious ambition in this context) and protest peacefully, perhaps some of the infectious danger will subside.

But what of the others? Those who have spewed nonsensical and dangerous utterings that have the flavor of unending war against anyone who disagrees with them? If they can be neutralized, perhaps those who follow them will also lose some steam.

If any of these individuals can be “reformed” and subsequently submit to media interviews — as have some Scientologists who have escaped the bonds of their cult — perhaps we can make some progress. In the documentary Going Clear, former Scientologists revealed, during in-depth interviews, how they were brainwashed. They bravely and openly expressed astonishment as to their prior cult-induced twisted thought patterns. Time will tell if their revelations reduce the number of new recruits to the “Church” of Scientology. And yes (sorry Scientologists) we can also learn from Patty Hearst’s media interviews, TV appearances, and the revelations in her book, Every Secret Thing.

So how can we “forcibly” deprogram some of these dangerous individuals? I’m not referring to the violent and discredited practices of bondage, bordering on torture, practiced by followers of Ted Patrick, believed by many to be the father of deprogramming cult members. Rather, the insurrectionists who are arrested and convicted can be forced to undergo cognitive behavioral therapy as a condition of probation or parole.

The practice of requiring convicted criminals to undergo mental health counseling is longstanding in our law, both on the state and federal levels. Section 3563 of 18 US Code (the federal criminal code) outlines the many typical conditions for the granting of probation, such as refraining from associating with convicted felons, possessing unlawful drugs, and committing any other crimes. But a judge can also mandate “psychiatric or psychological treatment” as a condition of probation.

The thought patterns and actions of these individuals could potentially be altered by some form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). Indeed, books have been written on the subject, such as Deprogramming Victims of Brainwashing and Cult-like Mind Control: Methods You Can Apply (2020) by the prolific author Dylan Clearfield (2020). Clearfield details techniques that have been used by the U.S. intelligence agencies to alter distorted states of mind to deprogram cult-like thoughts and behaviors.

Therefore, the most dangerous convicted antagonists and leaders of the insurrection can be subjected to psychiatric evaluation and treatment. Indeed the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services agency has guidelines for CBT and describes, in the implementation section of its guidelines:

“Cognitive behaviorism assumes that cognitions affect behavior, people can monitor and alter their cognitive activity, and changes in cognitions will lead to changes in behavior. Probation officers may recommend cognitive behavioral treatment for any defendant with dysfunctional thinking patterns that may lead to future criminal behavior.”

But what would the counseling look like? How effective could it be? These questions can be addressed by looking at some of the possible conditions that these individuals are suffering from. One possible diagnosis is Dissociative Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. The International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD), 10th Revision (2017) labels this illness under the umbrella of “Other dissociative and conversion disorders” [ICD-10-CM Diagnosis Code F44.89].

This condition is a variety of Dissociative Disorder where the patient does not meet the full criteria for the disorder but exhibits some of the signs and symptoms of this mental illness. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition (DSM IV), gives an example, among others, of the manifestation of this condition. The DSM IV indicates that “states of dissociation can occur in individuals who have been subjected to periods of prolonged and intense coercive persuasion (e.g., brainwashing, thought reform….).” When listening to the pronouncements of the insurrectionists, we can clearly observe that many of these individuals have likely been brainwashed and detached from reality. Of course, each of them would need to be fully evaluated by a psychiatrist or psychologist, but the public evidence certainly warrants full evaluation.

Let’s hope that the U.S. Attorneys who secure convictions of the insurrectionists will urge the courts to mandate the necessary mental health therapies.



Richard Quadrino

Richard is a law professor, trial lawyer and media critic in Washington, DC.