In tonight’s season finale of Real Time with Bill Maher, the host invoked the case of New York-based sex cult Nxivm in suggesting a way to handle Donald Trump supporters who believe the election was stolen.
“The challenge for us is, how do you get people out of a cult?” Maher asked. “Especially when every time you present evidence of what is obvious reality, they take it as proof of you being in on a conspiracy to destroy them?” A recent poll found that 88% of Trump voters believe he won the election, he noted, and their conviction could cleave a large swath of America from the workings of democracy and society.
For a living example of how to rise to such an existential challenge, Maher saluted Catherine Oxenberg. The former Dynasty star’s dogged work to free her daughter, India, is depicted in two documentary series, HBO’s The Vow and Hulu’s Seduced: Inside the Nxivm Cult.
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Maher played a series of clips showing the unbridled admiration of followers of Nxivm leader Keith Raniere, who was sentenced to 120 years in prison last month, and Republican leaders lavishing praise on Trump. Maher found many points of comparison between Trump and Raniere, who gave himself the nickname Vanguard. “They had to have that one queen bee around them, who they deputized to recruit others into their sick games,” he quipped. “Vanguard had Smallville actress Alison Mack. Trump has Lindsay Graham.”
In trying to fight a “cult” that has grown tens of millions strong, he added, “you’re not just fighting the leaders, but all the enablers. They see you as an enemy. Truth is a threat to them. That’s why what Catherine Oxenberg did was so instructive. You’ve heard the expression, ‘Hate the sin, love the sinner.’ Well, she practiced, ‘Hate the cult, love the cultist.’ She didn’t scream at her daughter that she was stupid. She didn’t cut her off. She just kept trying to remind her of who she used to be.”
Especially as America heads into the holiday season and faces a new era in the new year, those on the other side of Trump should follow Oxenberg’s example, Maher said. With Trump — and his QAnon supporters — coming to terms with defeat, there is an opportunity to “lift the scales from their eyes,” Maher said. “But it’s not going to happen by mocking them or calling them stupid.”
Instead, Joe Biden backers should try to understand that Trump fans “have been through a lot. Their savior, their ‘strongest, manliest hunk of a leader who ever lived’ just got his ass kicked by the 2,000-Year-Old Man. Don’t gloat, don’t even try to argue, because arguing with cult people only makes it worse.”
Recalling the long history of religious and cult leaders who have made inaccurate prophecies, he cited preacher William Miller, who incorrectly predicted the second coming of Jesus and the end of the world in 1844. “When you stake your whole religion on one all-important prophecy that doesn’t come true, the logical reaction from followers should be, ‘Well, that was a bunch of bulls–t,'” Maher said. In reality, Miller’s followers doubled down, enshrining that date as The Great Disappointment.
After getting in his final digs at 2020 (speaking of great disappointments) — including a video message to his future, 100-year-old self recalling a year of audience-free shows in his back yard — Maher vowed to return on January 15.