Episode 40: Cult Expert Dr. Steve Hassan

May 11 Episode 40: Cult Expert Dr. Steve Hassan

Leah and Mike welcome Dr. Hassan this week for a wide-ranging discussion about scientology and other cults, undue influence, hypnotism and methods of control. Steve is a former Moonie, who is now internationally recognized expert in the field of cults.

Listen Now
View Documents (8)
Combating Cult Mind Control

Steve’s seminal book

Realeasing the Bonds
Freedom of Mind
The Cult of Trump

Steve’s most recent book

The Influence Continuum
Jon Atack video on hypnotism
Steve's Dissertation
Steve's interview video

Steve interviews Larry Brennan and Nancy Many


  • Jamie Hansen says:

    I love Leah & Mike and all they are doing for educating people on Scientology and giving ex-Scientologists a voice. I’ve listened to every episode and watched the tv series on Netflix. I have noticed that many guests have found a way to interject their political views and even though I don’t agree, I respect them. Today, however, was a bit much. I don’t appreciate being told I am brainwashed and being compared to a cult because I believe differently. I am a Trump supporter. I am also respectful to those who are not. Most of the time they are not respectful to me. Dr. Hassan talked about taking turns discussing but also made it known his goal is to make Trump supporters see his way. How about we agree to disagree and leave it at that? No disrespect, comparing each other to cults and letting people believe what they want?

    • Kerin Owen says:

      I just listened to this episode and had the same exact thought. This Dr. Hassan is not nearly as objective as he thinks he is and comparing His classification system is flawed. I respect his story and his desire to learn from his past and help others overcome deprogramming but I think his political slant is just a result of repeated confirmation bias.
      I think I’m done with this series now. The strange political jabs are just hard to overlook at this point. I’m saying this of my own free will with no loss of self. I voted for Trump and I love you, Mike and Leah. Best wishes in your future endeavors.

  • Anonymous says:

    While I enjoyed your latest episode – with Dr. Hassan’s valuable insights and generally positive message of dialogue and tolerance – I am dismayed to hear extreme politics creep in unchallenged. Why deliberately alienate 74 million Republicans who might support you and your cause?

    Dr. Hassan is entitled to his opinion. But I would expect the hosts of a podcast about abusive cults to at least question whether it is a fair comparison to equate voting for a former US President with belonging to a cult that imprisons its own members in hard-labor camps, disappears people like Shelly Miscavige, and (allegedly) kills defectors’ dogs. I think this comparison trivializes your very real trauma; I don’t understand why you would let Dr. Hassan use it to score cheap political points.

    Nor do I understand how you could let this statement by Dr. Hassan pass by without examination:

    “Most people have cut off contact or minimized contact with their friends and family who’ve gotten into [the] cult of Trump” (1:12:30).

    This is the very definition of shunning, a practice of cults that you abhor. As Dr. Hassan acknowledged, Trump supporters are the victims of it, not the perpetrators.

    His message of reconciliation against this cruel social isolation tactic is welcomed by the many Trump supporters who have been cut off from family, friends, and even employment because of their political beliefs. However, I question whether a cross-party dialogue for the purpose of converting someone represents true tolerance or merely a political agenda.

    I love your show on Netflix and your podcast, and applaud your tireless quest for justice. I even have the Aftermath Foundation designated as my Amazon charity! I just hope you will remember that people from all walks of life and all points of view are on your side.

  • Sara says:

    Hi Leah, love and respect you, but your statements are lumping Qanon and all Trump supporters together. You have used them interchangeably, and I hope this was just you misspeaking. I am a Republican (not a conservative), and a Trump supporter, NOT a Qanon supporter. I don’t think he’s perfect, but I support his policies, his strength, and his desire to actually help the American people. Qanon is a cult, being a normal moderate Republican isn’t. I also think that saying liberals are in a cult is wrong. The information that is readily available from most media is very one sided, therefore opinions are very swayed. Cult no, suppressed and biased information being presented, yes.
    Respectfully, Sara

  • Debbie Osborn says:

    Dr. Hassan said something about (when dealing with a loved one still in the cult) remembering that the real person is in there. I can see how this is true of someone who was lured into a cult, but what about people like me, and like you, Leah and Mike, both raised in Scientology. I was born and raised in Mormonism. I left at age 32. I’m 64 now and still discovering who I am as I peel away the layers of cult like an onion. I am finding out who I am, or maybe I am inventing who I am as I peel those layers away. I have family members whose identities, like mine, were formed wholly within the paradigm of Mormonism. I know who they are – they are who I was three decades ago. I had no identity outside of the cult. How do you find that real person, when that real person has never been allowed to exist?

  • pat says:

    The issue is that Trump and his supporters did not do anything to push back against the misinformation put forward by QAnon adherents. They preferred to take advantage of this cult following to win an election. This culminated in an attempted coup at the US Capitol and 3 people dying (2 police officers). Trump sat in the Oval Office mesmerized by these events and had to be convinced by his family to address the insurrectionists and ask them to stand down. You may see strength, but others see a dangerous abuse of power that threatened our nation – a cult leader.

    Republicans shouldn’t need to resort to violence or a cult of personality to advocate for their views – a normal, moderate candidate could have won the election without issue. That’s what I’m trying to convince the Trump supporters I know of – to look for more mature candidates.

  • William Vojtech says:

    OK, this is a bit long, but here goes. I have followed Leah and Mike for quite some time. I’ve read Lifton’s book on thought reform.

    I find it interesting that some in the anti-cult movement seem to see Trump supporters as cultists, while completely missing the cultishness of the Woke Left. It reminds me of the old saying about a fish not knowing what water is.

    Are there Trump supporters who believe in Q-Anon conspiracy theories? Yes. Are the majority of Trump supporters Q-Anon believers? No. But most people on the Left seem to think all or most Trump supporters have drunk of the Q-Anon Kool-aid. And that’s just not the case.

    There are also Trump supporters that love to trigger Leftist, and they’ll spout off Q-Anon theories that they themselves don’t believe just to rattle a Leftist cage. It’s fun. I’ve done it a few times. But at this point, I find it’s counterproductive.

    I’m not sure why people are calling Q-Anon a cult. I must confess, I don’t know much about it. It’s not taken seriously in mainstream conservative circles. A bunch of whacky conspiracy theories, sure, but a cult? Doesn’t a cult need a leader? Who is their leader? I heard he’s a pig farmer in the Philippines who claims to be an ex CIA employee or something. What is their organizational structure? Duped fools babbling on the internet?

    When Trump was questioned about some fringe movements like Q-Anon and Proud Boys, he seemed genuinely ignorant about them. Not even on his radar scope. Calling him the leader of the Q-Anon cult is like calling some anonymous GI from WWII the leader of a cargo cult on some remote Pacific island.

    Frankly, it would not surprise me to find that the Q-Anon theories were deliberately put out there by anti-Trump forces who wanted to send his supporters down the rabbit hole, chasing shadows, rather than dealing with real issues. No, I’m not saying that’s what happened. I have no evidence. It just would not surprise me.

    And what about Blue Anon? It’s just about as wacky as Q-Anon. https://thepostmillennial.com/new-term-invented-blue-anon-to-describe-democrats-nutty-conspiracy-theories

    In 2016, I voted Libertarian, as I had been doing for years. I became disgusted with both major political parties decades ago. Between Trump and Clinton, I liked Trump better, mostly because he’d never held office, but I knew Clinton would get all of the electoral votes from my state, so my vote for the Libertarian candidate was a symbolic gesture… a raised middle finger to both major parties.

    In 2019, I voted for Trump because the Libertarian candidate supported BLM, a Marxist organization. I can’t support someone who supports Marxists.

    Did I think Trump was a 4-D chess player, here to save the world from communist lizard alien child molesters? No. I didn’t even think he was a Conservative Republican. But he started no new foreign wars. He tried to bring troops home, (while his generals lied to him about the number of troops coming home). He got Mid-East peace deals signed that career State Department officials said couldn’t be done till “the Palestinian Question” was solved. He allowed the states to handle the COVID-19 crisis as they saw fit, (that’s Federalism – he didn’t overstep his Constitutional bounds- if he did, THAT would have been totalitarian). He cut red tape for vaccine development, (that’s leadership). On top of that, prior to the pandemic, we had a strong economy. All of that was worth voting for, despite finding his tweets annoying and him personally repugnant. He was better than the meat puppet with dementia the Democrats were offering up.

    I found the Leftist calling Trump and anyone they disagreed with nazis more offensive than anything Trump did. I had an uncle who liberated death camps in WWII and others in the Czech resistance. I know what real nazis are.

    Remember, we have, for all intents and purposes, a two party system. So if you strongly disagree with one party, you will often find yourself holding your nose while voting for the other party’s stinker of a candidate.

    Time magazine published an article* about how the news media and social media coordinated and manipulated the information to swing the election to Biden. They called it “reinforcing democracy.” Talk about how cults mess with the language. It wasn’t an exposé, they were bragging about manipulating information that swung the election to Biden.

    There are still careful audits of the election going on in some states as I write this. And from what I’ve heard so far, they are finding “irregularities.” And some parties are refusing to comply with subpoenas.

    It’s undeniable that state election laws were changed by decree without properly doing it through a vote in the states legislatures. Current attempts to safeguard future elections are branded as racist, as if people of color can’t get IDs**.

    When I saw the massive enthusiasm for Trump – miles long car and boat parades, while Biden could barely fill a dozen socially distanced seats at a “rally”, I had to ask, “How believable is it that Biden got more votes than any presidential candidate in American history?”

    Did Biden really go from the most popular candidate ever to the super low approval rating he has now? It’s not like there have been any surprises or scandals in his first 100 some odd days. Did his voters expect some sort of miracle? Cure COVID with a wave of his hand? Resurrect failed businesses on Main Street? It makes me think maybe he wasn’t really that popular with voters at the polls.

    I don’t think it makes me a cultist to want a hand recount, and for every ballot to have an unbroken chain of custody.

    I heard of a poll that found 15% of Biden voters said they would not have voted for him had they heard about his son’s laptops before the election. Even if only legit votes were cast, that alone could have swung the election. Had the story not been suppressed on Facebook and Twitter, Trump might be in the White House.

    All of this gets me suspicious. Is it a smoking gun? No. Do I smell gunpowder? Yes, I do.

    We need to have confidence in our elections. When we don’t, we often don’t bother voting. If one side gets its confidence in the system shaken, it gives an unfair advantage to the other side.

    Yet if we have doubts about the election results, we’re “conspiracy theorists,” and some want to charge us with treason. But the Democrats went on for 4 years about Russian interference in the 2016 election. It was investigated inside and out. Not one shred of credible evidence was presented under oath***, but has any Democrat conceded that Trump legitimately won in 2016?

    Even if it is found that the election was stolen from Trump, I think we have to live with Biden till the next election. But finding evidence that it was stolen would be reason to make sure that safeguards are put in place to make sure future elections are more secure.

    Historians are pretty much in agreement that dead voters in Chicago helped get Kennedy elected and LBJ stole his own senate election. We survived that. We’ll survive this.

    I think a lot of people who are not in touch with the Conservative movement have a cartoonish idea of what it’s about. Here are some links to videos and books you might find enlightening:

    Serious and not so serious discussion of the issues of the day. This one includes an interview with Jordan Peterson:
    The Andrew Klavan Show:

    Serious discussion of the woke cult-The Woke Reformation:

    Some fun with the COVID arm of the Woke cult-Definitely not a cult:

    A great interview with a former Leftist radical:


    Have not read yet, but on my list:

    The Madness of Crowds:

    The Enemy Within:

    Irresistible Revolution:

    Cynical Theories:

    How to have Impossible Conversations:



    **https://youtu.be/l46WI7Sa9Hg Satire, in case you couldn’t tell. I’m not making fun of you. These days, it’s hard to tell if something is satire.


  • Cindy says:

    I suppose we had to know this would get political. But I’m writing because I really enjoyed this particular episode – Dr. Hassan’s voice and experience were sooo great to listen to. He isn’t just an escapee, apostate, blah blah blah, he has worked to help deprogram cult victims. His voice is so freaking soothing too – no wonder he can deprogram! But mainly I’ve been considering writing for a while, because I finally gave in to the force and binged – literally binged – your Aftermath shows, and when in withdrawal from those, moved right into the podcast. Again, binging. This whole thing is so fascinating to me! All along, I can’t help but feel some kinship, in a roundabout way: Fox news has eaten my parents’ brains. Specifically my mother’s. Now we go months if not years without speaking. And I am the good girl who calls on birthday and Mother’s day. They don’t call me. She sends me weird propaganda, writes political pro-gun rants in my young kids’ birthday cards, etc. I feel like if I don’t believe what she believes, I am not worthy. I am a good citizen, I take care of others as a family practice physician assistant, and am raising two (so far) good kids, and remain married to my kids’ father. What have I done wrong? Why is love conditional? I’m old enough to let it be what it is, to some degree, but in any case, I do feel some level of “cultiness” is going on and dividing families. And don’t get me wrong – I don’t bring it up, I don’t press her on it, I don’t expect her to vote or think like me – but why doesn’t that go both ways? It’s quite sad; but not nearly as sad as what you and other true cult victims have been through. Thanks for your programs and the insight it’s giving the greater public.
    Leah, you crack me up every freaking episode and Mike, you seem so sweet. Sorry your wife and daughter are so, well,…..anyway. That recording of everyone shouting at you made me physically ill. :-< Thanks for what you do, you guys.

  • Rae says:

    Thank you, Leah and Mike, for introducing me to Dr. Hassan. While not a victim of cult abuse, I am a survivor of a relationship with a domestic abuser. After seeing Dr. Hassan on Aftermath, I was curious about his work and soon absorbed much of his literature. Through his book Freedom of Mind, the chilling similarities between the tactics of a destructive cult and a domestic abuser are effortless to connect. Dr. Hassan’s approachable work allowed me to feel a deep empathy for victims of Scientology and religious cult abuse that was absent before. His expertise continues to be an invaluable reminder that those of us manipulated by any form of abuse, speak the same language just in different accents. We all are worth fighting for and have inherent value. From that reality, compassion strengthens.

    Dr. Hassan, thank you for your hard learned comfort and wisdom that helps us victims of abuse become survivors of abuse. You’re a life saver, literally.

  • MR says:

    Been listening to the podcast for a while now, watched “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath” on A&E, am a big fan. While many of the podcasts have been stellar, this one with Dr. Hassan hit me a little bit more than usual.

    FTR I was never in an actual cult, but when Dr. Hassan dropped the name of Daryl Davis, the moment he said his name I thought “where have I heard that name before”. Then when he described who Mr. Davis is, a black musician who forged a bond with white supremacists, specifically the KKK, and led quite a number out of it, I remembered that I saw him on a YouTube video I follow regularly that’s hosted by a “jagoff nightclub comedian in his garage” who is IMO one of the foremost left political thinkers and commentators of our time. I am hesitant to post his name only because out of respect for this website and Mr. Rinder’s and Mrs. Remini’s work I don’t want to come off as promoting someone else. Nevertheless, this host who is a leftist firebrand, had Mr. Davis on as a guest and spoke about how to build bridges and communicate with those that are labeled as our political enemies. When Davis spoke about what he did and how it transpired, the host actually was brought back to a time when he was a troubled youth and was nearly brought to tears. This is the power of building bridges.

    That all said, when Dr. Hassan was speaking of QAnon followers, Trump cultists, etc, there’s something we need to remember. As a white, mid-Gen Xer born and raised in the southeastern US, I can assure everyone that these people weren’t that way because of QAnon, or even of Trump himself. Their mentality, their values and beliefs, their warped “philosophy” existed in full force long prior to QAnon and Trump. While QAnon whipped their followers into believing all kinds of lies like Covid-19 was a hoax and that Joe Biden (who I’m no fan of whatsoever) stole the election from Trump (which led to the Capitol Riots), they also believed in other myths like climate change being a hoax. This long preceded QAnon and Trump. Going back several decades, generational southerners have long believed that white American slavery was actually benign and good for black slaves, and that these slaves were happy under it. My own mother (a boomer) still believes to this day that blacks had it better under white American slavery than they did in Africa. So my point in saying all this is that while QAnon is indeed a cult, all it is really is a match; the tinder has long been there. And while QAnon will dissipate at some point and go away, the mentality, values and beliefs will still be there; because they’ve always been there. So something much deeper has long been going on in the minds of whites who are generational confederates. Any analysis of why right-wing extremism continues to exist in America cannot focus only on QAnon or even Trump himself. It stems from America’s original sin: slavery.

    On another topic, has Mr. Rinder or Mrs. Remini considered having Rose McGowan on as a guest? Reason is she herself stated that she was born & raised in a cult (her father ran an Italian chapter of the Children of God), and considering her experiences with this, the MeToo movement and such has stated that the Democratic Party is a cult as well. I’ve listened to her explanation for this, it’s not outrageous. Considering what I’ve seen and heard from what’s called “BlueAnon” or “BlueMAGA”, there is a strange, cultish-like feel to some on the left with their wild beliefs as well. Coupling this phenomenon with QAnon and MAGA, we IMO have entered into what I’ve heard called Tribal Politics, or Political Secterianism, the latter of which was written about in this NY Times article:

    From my vantage point, it seems like Scientology is a microcosm of what’s going on in America, and has been for quite a while. It just took baffoons like Trump and Bush, and charlatans like Obama and Biden, to make us realize that many problems we have didn’t start with them.

    Thanks for all your hard work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *