What made average Americans – those who would describe themselves as deeply patriotic – travel to Washington, D.C. for a political rally, only to seek to overturn the 2020 election and take part in a riot at the United States Capitol Building? According to one former supporter of Donald Trump, she was “brainwashed.”
Pamela Hemphill, a 70-year-old grandmother now battling cancer, said she was under the spell of the “Trump cult.” She attended the January 6 rally after her brother paid for the trip as a Christmas present, and had even announced in advance on Facebook that she didn’t expect it to be a peaceful protest. She wrote, “It’s not going to be a FUN Trump rally that is planned for January 6th, it’s a WAR!”
Hemphill was among those who illegally entered the U.S. Capitol Building. She has said she regrets those actions.
“You don’t see it as a cult when you’re in it,” she told The Daily Beast. “You don’t recognize it.”
It was eight months after the riot that FBI agents arrived at Hemphill’s home, and she has since maintained they were just doing their job. She ended up pleading guilty to invading the Capitol and was sentenced to 60 days in prison. After being released from prison, Hemphill said she believed she had been brainwashed by Trump, and she recently shared her story with CNN.
She is not alone in those who have claimed they felt like they were members of a cult.
Jacob Anthony Angeli Chansley – now infamously known as the “QAnon Shaman” – has also claimed he was “groomed” by MAGA propaganda, and even offered to testify before Congress during the former president’s second impeachment hearing.
Others have expressed similar sentiments.
“I kind of sound like an idiot now saying it, but my faith was in him,” said Anthony Antonio, another former supporter of Trump’s, who blames cable news and social media for pushing the narrative that the election was stolen. “I think they did a great job of convincing people.”
The Big Lie?
Autocracy expert Ruth Ben-Ghiat has sought to explain why people continue to be drawn to Trump – who held a massive rally in South Carolina just last weekend – even as others have begun to suggest that they were wrong to support him. Ben-Ghiat told Politico.com last year that it is due to the “big lie” that the election was stolen.
“The genius of the ‘big lie’ was not only that it sparked a movement that ended up with January 6 to physically allow him to stay in office. But psychologically the ‘big lie’ was very important because it prevented his propagandized followers from having to reckon with the fact that he lost. And it maintains him as their hero, as their winner, as the invincible Trump, but also as the wronged Trump, the victim,” she explained.
It also maintained Trump’s personality cult versus seeing him as just another president who was voted out of office, Ben-Ghiat added.
Last month, Hemphill – the self-proclaimed “ex-MAGA Granny” recently fired back at the man she formerly supported.
The former president responded to Truth Social post last month in which a user wrote, “AMERICAN JUSTICE: 69-year-old Grandma with Cancer given more prison time for walking inside US Capitol than Hunter Biden for sharing classified documents with foreign regimes and multi-million dollar bribery schemes,” while Trump added, “HORRIBLE!”
Hemphill responded on Twitter, writing, “Please @realDonaldTrump don’t be using me for anything, I’m not a victim of Jan6, I pleaded guilty because I was guilty! #StopTheSpin.”
That tweet was met with a firestorm of criticism – including those who suggested it was from a fake account, or continued to ask why Hunter Biden was given a sweetheart deal to avoid jail time. Critics of Trump would maintain those individuals are still in a cult.
Of course, it must be argued too that those who hate Trump with such passion are in their own cult – unable to see any failings of the current administration. Both camps sadly refuse to hear the other side, but this only speaks to the state of America and likely for its future.
Author Experience and Expertise
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.