Bill Maher ended the last episode of “Real Time” of 2020 with a new edition of “New Rules” that touched on a subject sure to be much talked about once Trump finally stops trying to steal the election he lost and admits that Joe Biden will become president: What to do about Trump’s supporters who, for now, seem intractably unwilling to accept what happened.
It’s an important question because, unfortunately, quite a lot of them believe a lot of very false things. For example, 70% of respondents to a recent poll insist that Biden only won because of widespread voter fraud. (To be absolutely clear, there is absolutely no evidence widespread fraud, and election officials across the political spectrum in every single state have consistently said so.)
But in his latest “New Rules,” Maher suggested taking a page from the NXIVM cult scandal and the story of how actress Catherine Oxenberg managed to save her daughter, India, from it, and “‘hate the cult, love the cultist.’”
Maher began by talking about the origin of the 7th Day Adventists, a Christian sect formed in the 1840s by Dr. William Miller, a fringe theologian who claimed he had figured out the exact date of the second coming of Jesus — Oct. 22, 1844. Since you’re reading this, you know that never happened but Maher’s point was that we know about this story because the 7th Day Adventists are still around to this day — they simply adapted their beliefs to account for what they call “the Great Disappointment” instead of concluding that the whole thing was a fraud.
“Well recently there’s been another large group of people who had a great disappointment,” Maher said as images of Trump supporters appeared onscreen, “and will not accept their loss. And the challenge for us is, how do you get people out of a cult? 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.”
“For the answer to that question,” Maher said, “we must turn to, and I’m sure many of you have already guessed who I’m going to say now, Catherine Oxenberg.”
Maher recapped how Oxenberg, featured in both the HBO documentary “The Vow” and Starz’s “Seduced,” managed to save her daughter from the NXIVM sex cult after several years and many heart breaks.
“NXIVM was led by a con man now serving 120 years named Keith Raniere, AKA ‘Vanguard.’ That’s the name he gave himself. Vanguard. And as I was watching this documentary, I couldn’t stop thinking that Raniere — I mean, Vanguard — reminded me of someone, but I couldn’t put my finger on who,” Maher joked. “For example, like most cult leaders, Vanguard had an extraordinary need to be surrounded by ass lickers telling him how great he was.”
Maher then played some of the infamous clips of NXIVM members lavishly praising Raniere.
“Hmm, who did that remind me of?” Maher sarcastically asked, before rolling a clip of the numerous, extremely cringe (and nationally embarrassing) press conferences during the Trump era in which Trump appointees and even career government employees have lavishly praised him. (Like this extremely hard to watch clip from early in Trump’s presidency.)
“Oh yeah, that guy. The one who is also always bragging about what a genius he is.”
“Well, get this: Vanguard’s followers believed he was the demonstrably single smartest person in the world. Because he told them. He told them he spoke in full sentences when he was one [years old],” Maher continued. “And also that he invented his own math. Just like Dr. William Miller. And both Trump’s and Vanguard’s status as cult leaders sprang from their creation myths as off-the-charts business savants.”
“When in reality, Vanguard’s consumer byline business was a pyramid scheme shut down by the state of New York, and about a successful as the three casinos Trump drove into bankruptcy in the 90s,” Maher said. “Oh, and they both started fake schools. And then there’s the fact that both men were such unrepentant sex creeps, they literally could not stop themselves from bragging about it.”
Maher then rolled two clips — first video of Raniere saying “If we conquer a woman, if we grab the thing we want to f—, whatever it is, and fuck it…and if we do whatever we want…and they like it,” followed by the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape.
“And like all cult leaders, they had to have that one queen bee around them who they deputize to recruit others into their sick games. Vanguard had ‘Smallville’ actress Allison Mack. Trump has Lindsey Graham,” Maher said after the clips ended. Then he got to his main point.
“And you know when you’re fighting a cult, you’re not just fighting the leaders, but all the enablers who 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 phrase ‘hate the sin, love the sinner.’ Well, she practiced ‘hate the cult, love the cultist,’” Maher said.
“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. I think we need to try that on Qanon. You know, the ones who believe that rich liberals are running a massive pedophile ring and eat babies and in some cases are really lizard people wearing a human mask. And they were as sure that Trump was going to win re-election as Dr. Miller’s followers were that the world was going to end in 1844,” he continued.
“They were told to trust the plan. That Trump would get a second term devoted to busting the Democratic sex trafficking ring. But now on message boards we can see they have doubt and despondency. One of them wrote: ‘My faith is shaken. I followed the plan. Trump lost. What now?’”
“What now? Opportunity to lift the scales from their eyes. But it’s not going to happen from mocking them or calling them stupid or making smart remarks like ‘if Kamala Harris really is a lizard person, why didn’t she eat that fly on Mike Pence’s head?’ Don’t do that. I’m saying don’t do that. Really. One more and then don’t do it,” Maher joked.
“Rather, if you have Trump relatives over for Thanksgiving, understand they have been through a traumatic event. Their savior, their strongest, smartest, manliest hunk of a leader who ever lived just got his ass kicked by the 2,000-year-old man. So don’t gloat, don’t even try to argue, because arguing with cult people only makes it worse,” Maher said.
Maher wrapped things up with a clip of Oxenberg saying “If there’s hope, it’s not in any of the words that were communicated. It’s in here,” referring to her heart.
“And so it is for me,” Maher concluded.
While we concede it sounds like sound advice, we’re forced to note some unfortunate correlating information: adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory, as attested to on a popular Reddit thread, more often than not appear to be unreachable. There are countless stories of people who tried, and failed to break through and were forced to sever ties with family or friends.. Read some of the anguished, heartbreaking stories of people lost to QAnon here.
That said, if you know someone who has been ensnared by a dangerous cult like QAnon, here are some resources. But one last thing: COVID-19 cases are rising dramatically, so we hope you are not having any of these conversations during Thanksgiving, unless it’s over Zoom.