Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Bevan Hurley

‘Someone is influencing Ginni’: How the wife of a Supreme Court justice became part of the ‘Trump cult’

Rex Features

As former Moonie-turned-cult-expert Steven Hassan watched the Capitol Riots unfolding last January, there was a familiar face among the thousands of MAGA supporters clamouring to overturn the 2020 election result.

Hyung Jin ‘Sean’ Moon, head of the far-right, AR-15-worshiping Rod of Iron Ministries and son of Moonie founder Sun Myung Moon, had joined Proud Boys and Oath Keepers to protest in front of the US Capitol. The group has been widely described as a cult.

The Rod of Iron Ministries posted a clip to its Instagram page showing Sean Moon wiping tear gas from his eyes while blaming the violence on Antifa.

The clip had particular resonance for Dr Hassan: he was among a group of 350 Moonies who, on the orders of Sun Myung Moon, prayed and fasted for 72 hours on the steps of the US Capitol to protest Richard Nixon’s Watergate impeachment in 1974.

“I thought ‘if I wasn’t de-programmed I could have been there, I could have been arrested for this’,” Dr Hassan told The Independent.

“That’s how far gone I was.”

Dr Hassan left the Moonies in 1976 aged 22, became a whistleblower in congressional hearings, and has since helped deprogamme thousands of other former cult members while becoming an expert and author in the influence tactics used by authoritarian leaders.

While hosting an event for former cult members in Kansas City in 1986, he met a 29-year-old Ginni Thomas, then known by her maiden name Ginni Lamp, who spoke about wanting to “expose Lifespring”, a controversial group that practised “intensive self examination”, and disbanded in the 1990s.

It was eight years on from the infamous Jonestown massacre, where more than 900 followers of preacher Jim Jones were murdered or died by suicide under his instructions at a remote settlement in Guyana. Ms Thomas and others were pushing Congress to create an annual Cult Awareness Week to shine a spotlight on these groups’ destructive practices.

Dr Hassan posted footage of the meeting to Twitter last week, where it has since racked up more than 1.6 million views.

Ginni Thomas talks about leaving the Lifespring ‘cult’ in 1986 (Twitter/StevenHassan)

In the footage, Ms Thomas discusses the need for cult survivors to “reconnect” with their spiritual needs.

“When you come away from a cult, you have to find a balance in your life as far as getting involved with fighting the cult or exposing it,” Ms Thomas says.

“And I think I’m really trying and struggling with the balance between that. I want to expose Lifespring, I want to keep other people from going through that experience,” she added.

“But I also don’t want to go overboard in that regard so that I can reconnect with my own needs in a spiritual way, which I still haven’t done.”

In an interview with The Washington Post in 1987, Ms Thomas spoke about taking part in a “stripper” exercise, which involved Lifespring members getting undressed while taking turns to make fun of anyone who was overweight.

Former members say Lifespring, which trained as many as 400,000 people in the US, employed “deceptive and indirect techniques of persuasion and control”.

Ms Thomas has previously spoken about how Lifespring leaders separated her from her family and friends, and being forced into hiding as she sought to leave the group in the mid-1980s.

In March, Ms Thomas was revealed to have tried to pressure former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to overturn the 2020 presidential elections in favour of Donald Trump.

She spoke about attending the Stop the Steal rally on 6 January, but in an interview said she left early as she was cold.

On 10 June, the Washington Post reported that Ms Thomas’s efforts to sway electors in Arizona went far further than had previously been known.

According to The Post, Ms Thomas sent near-identical emails to 29 Republican state lawmakers on 9 November urging them to ignore Mr Biden’s victory and instead select their own presidential electors.

She reportedly told them they had the “power to fight back against fraud” and “stand strong in the face of political and media pressure”. The choice was “yours and yours alone”, Ms Thomas wrote.

Steven Hassan says some MAGA supporters may be questioning their views after hearing the evidence of the January 6th House committee hearings (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The day before the lawmakers were due to cast their votes, Ms Thomas wrote again to 23 Arizona lawmakers to press them to “consider what will happen to the nation we all love if you don’t stand up and lead”, The Post reported.

The Independent has attempted to contact Ms Thomas several times for comment.

Ms Thomas had long been known as a prominent conservative activist, but the text messages she sent to Mr Meadows appeared to reveal her as believing the effort to overturn the election was a battle of good versus evil, regardless of who had won the most votes.

“Ginni used to be anti-cult and pro-freedom, and the fact she was sending those messages seemed very culty,” Dr Hassan told The Independent.

“I think someone is unduly influencing Ginni Thomas to believe those things.”

After the 1986 meeting, Ms Thomas continued to be active in cult awareness networks for years, and Dr Hassan met her again at another survivors meeting in 1992.

Steven Hassan left the Moonies aged 22, and has since become a leading expert on cults and mind control (Supplied)

Dr Hassan says that once a person has been indoctrinated into an authoritarian group, they are much more susceptible to falling prey to one again.

“When somebody leaves a cult because they realise that group is bad, but haven’t understood the psychological processes they were subjected to, and been able to digest them and undo them, then it’s difficult for them to truly change.”

He said there seemed to be something missing in Ms Thomas’s rehabilitation out of the cult.

Dr Hassan’s 2019 book The Cult of Trump found strong parallels between the former president’s tactics and notorious leaders like Jim Jones, David Koresh and L Ron Hubbard.

The lying, the need for absolute loyalty, the us vs them and framing of the next election as an apocalyptic battle bore all the hallmarks of a destructive cult. What has changed since the era of the Moonies, Lifespring, the Jonestown massacre and Waco is technology: the internet, smartphones, social media, and AI.

Or as Dr Hassan puts it, the tools of “psychological warfare”.

Jim Jones, leader of the Peoples Temple cult, who ordered the deaths of more than 900 followers in 1978 (AP/words by Adam Lusher)

“And then the pandemic made us all isolate where people were spending even more time online, and our minds can be bent,” he said.

“This is the feature of being human, we can learn wrong things and believe that they’re true.

“In the mind of someone in a mind control cult they can’t imagine leaving and being happy and fulfilled.”

Ms Thomas has spoken of having a staunchly Christian conservative upbringing in Nebraska.

Ginni and Clarence Thomas were married in 1987, the year after she was filmed discussing her departure from Lifespring. She supported her husband through his bruising Supreme Court confirmation hearings in 1991 when he was credibly accused of sexual harassment by Anita Hill.

Clarence Thomas forged a reputation as a staunchly ideological Supreme Court justice, often staking out positions on abortion, voting rights and healthcare far to the right of his colleagues.

At the same time, Ginni Thomas would often lobby and advise conservative groups who were bringing cases before the court through her firm, Liberty Consulting.

Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas (AP)

Justice Thomas was also the sole dissenting vote in the court’s January decision that rejected Mr Trump’s bid to withhold documents from the 6 January panel.

They have referred to each other as “best friends”, and said they share every aspect of each other’s lives.

Dr Hassan says it’s almost impossible to believe that Justice Thomas doesn’t share her beliefs that the election was stolen.

“I think that based on their history, they were always enmeshed,” he said.

“There are people who are puppeteers of Trump, and then there are different cults that are his base. It seems to me that Clarence and Ginni are part of this religious Christian-right group.”

He thinks there is sufficient evidence for an impeachment hearing for Justice Thomas, a call echoed by legal scholars and Democrats.

Dr Hassan said the public hearings held by the January 6 House Committee hearings present an opportunity to pierce the bubbles of some who have been indoctrinated into the ‘Cult of Trump’.

The committee claimed that Mr Trump’s presidential campaign raised $250 million from supporters by telling them the money would be used to fight voter fraud, but the campaign knew those claims of fraud were bogus and instead diverted the money to his own political organisation.

He said it was important to be non-judgmental and allow space for those who might be questioning their support for the former president, and that no one – including Ginni Thomas – was beyond saving.

“I’m not willing to write her off, and I don’t like to hear people call her crazy or stupid either,” he told The Independent.

Dr Hassan said there were many factors that went into someone being at risk of falling prey to cultish leanings, including their upbringing, age, social and information networks.

Dr Hassan says laws surrounding cults are woefully out of date, and it was time to put in place a legal framework to combat “uninformed consent”.

He wants to see congressional hearings with panels made up of social psychologists, attorneys and Christian ministers to debate the problem.

“It would be a way to create a public dialogue internationally to say this technology on how to manipulate minds exists, and we need regulation, we need to hold bad actors accountable.

“The pimps, the traffickers who are grooming people and making them slaves, they need to be put in jail.”

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.