Donald Trump: a political cult leader?

Speeches by Donald Trump and Jim Jones:
A contrastive analysis of their argumentative strategies

(Editor’s note: The paper was submitted as a Mémoire de Master in 2023 at the Université of Lille in France.)


  1. Introduction, background and aims
  2. Literature review
  3. Methodology and corpus
  4. Analysis of the line of argumentation in speeches by Donald Trump and Jim Jones
  5. The use of lies in Trump’s and Jones’ discourse
  6. Conclusion
  7. Annex
  8. Bibliography

1. Introduction

1.1 Donald Trump and the 2020 presidential election

Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States, has told a record number of lies during his time in office, according to The Washington Post database[1]. Presidential lying is a recurring tool used to convince the public and discredit opponents, but Trump’s dishonesty has been regarded as pure selfishness (Sinnreich, 2020).

On January 6th, 2021, Donald Trump’s final presidential rally known as “stop the steal” ended with an unprecedent attack on democracy. What was supposed to be a farewell to his Trumpist[2] supporters turned into a speech condemning the results of the 2020 presidential election he just lost. “Trumpist” is a term used to qualify Trump’s faithful supporters[3]. As his own son Eric Trump said: “There’s no Republican Party. It’s actually the Trump Party”[4]. Even before the results of the November 3, 2020 presidential election were announced, Trump refused to concede defeat to Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate and continuously questioned the legitimacy of the voting process. In zealous speeches to his supporters, Trump falsely claimed that the Democrats stole the election and poured out his disgust at the American institutions that supposedly participated in this conspiracy scheme. On January 6th, 2021, hours before Congress certified the election results, Trump presented this allegedly stolen election was presented as a threat to American democracy and an insult to American citizens, and asserted that it was within their rights to cancel the certification of the election results that were to take place. Trump’s words calling for patriotism were the spark the Trumpists needed to strike. Driven by this supposed legitimacy and spurred on by the zeal of its leader, the mob of supporters, marched on the Capitol, the seat of legislative power, and attempted to restore the stolen election and place Trump as president at any cost. The far-right militias, as evidenced by several extremist symbols (Kessler, 2021) such as the Confederate flag, or the orange hat characteristic of The Proud Boys, loyal supporters of Trump, were heavily armed and ready to change the course of events. This attack was widely viewed as an attempted coup and was “the most significant assault on the Capitol since the War of 1812,” according to Appeals Court Judge Patricia Millett (Kessler, 2021). It left five deaths and scores injured, and four police officers committed suicide as a result of trauma in the seven months following the attack (Kessler, 2021).

1.2 Donald Trump and cults

Many people, including politicians, have tried to understand how this attack could have happened. Then-U.S representative Jackie Speier described Trumpists as a cult-like group, blindly obeying Trump, its leader.[5] The term “cult” is used to define “a group united by devotion to a tendency or a figure” (Hassan, 2019: 12). Dependence on and devotion to the leader are at the core of cults, as the leader is the main source of knowledge. Speier knew the weight of the term she used. In November 1978, Speier, a legislative aide to Congressman Leo Ryan, joined him, several reporters and others on a trip to Guyana to investigate the Jonestown cult (also known as Peoples Temple), led by the infamous Jim Jones, after several complaints of abuse were filed. Speier survived five gunshots after an ambush orchestrated by Jim Jones. Ryan, the main target, died after being shot upwards of twenty times (Marker, 2019). Therefore, Speier had a good insight when she stated in The Guardian that “Jim Jones was a religious cult leader, Donald Trump is a political cult leader”[6]. Two days after the storming of the Capitol, she claimed on CNN that both Trump and Jones were “merchants of deceit making people not look at facts, not think independently and sowed a story for them that was indeed destructive”[7]. According to her, the Trumpists may not know that they are part of a cult, but they do exhibit “cult-like behavior”.

She is not the only person to associate Trump and the Republican Party with cults. Steven Hassan, former member of the Unification Church cult, wrote in 2019 a book The Cult of Trump. Manigault (2018), a former White House staffer, wrote in her book Unhinged, “I’ve escaped from a cult of Trump-world. I’m free.”

Other politicians also drew parallels between Trump and cults. Democrat representative Jamie Raskin said “[The Republican party] is operating much more like a religious and political cult, under the control of one man” (Hounshell, 2022). Even Republican politicians such as Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker spoke up against his party leadership and compare it to a “cultish thing” (Giaritelli, 2018). Hill’s (2020) article gathers articles that also compare Trump to cult leaders.

These comparisons should not be so simply dismissed, especially when Trump is compared to Jim Jones, responsible for the biggest mass suicide in history[8]. On November 18th, 1978, after a final recorded speech now known as “The Death Tape”, Jones directed more than 900 of his followers, a third of them children, to commit suicide. The cult drank a flavored fruit drink poisoned with cyanide. The now-infamous metaphoric expression “Drinking the Kool-Aid” is used to express a “complex concept, that of loyalty to a leader or a cause to the extremes of one’s own demise”(Barbour, 2013). Jones defined this action as a “revolutionary suicide”, an act of protest against the government.

The incessant lies of these two leaders – Trump and Jones – conditioned their followers to perform a self-destructive action, without them realizing that their lives were endangered by the leader they worship. Thus, they are often compared to each other especially because both used “Big Lie” propaganda technique[9]. This term, made infamous by Adolf Hitler (1925), describes the acceptance of a massively distorted truth, made possible by the constant repetition of an absurd lie. As allegedly said by Joseph Goebbels, the head of Nazi Germany’s Ministry of Propaganda: “A big lie once told remains a lie, but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth” (Hassan, 2019: 38). This type of lie aims to deceive and is primarily used as a propaganda technique to convey a vision of a polarized world. The presence of conspiratorial elements helps to demonize the enemy created. As Arceneaux and Truex (2022: 3) point out, “Big lies told by elites can thus engender millions of smaller lies at the individual level, as citizens are forced to present themselves a certain way out of fear”. Big Lies are therefore reserved to widespread lies with heavy consequences. The Dreyfus Affair, the Trojan Horse, and even Donald Trump and the 2020 Election are considered as Big Lies (Hoyt & McGrath, 2022). If Trump indeed used linguistic strategies similar to those used by Jones and convinced his followers to take over the Capitol with similar techniques, people should be aware that it is not only democracy that is threatened if Trump is re-elected president in 2024. Under his leadership and influence, the Trumpists will honor their allegiance to Trump and obey his most dangerous demands (Ohanian, 2018).

1.3 Aims, research questions and structure

Focusing on the event of January 6th, 2021, my research attempts to find out whether statements comparing Trump to cult leaders and presenting him as a political cult leader are legitimate from a linguistic point of view. By comparing Trump’s manipulative argumentation to that of Jim Jones, the religious cult leader he is often compared to, I will examine if Speier’s claim is confirmed by the manipulative linguistical strategies that are used in the two leaders’ speeches. To do so, I focus on the speeches leading up to the insurrection of the Capitol and the speeches leading up to the mass suicide of 1978. I investigate whether the selected three manipulative features that have been considered typical of the discourse of cult leaders – namely being perceived as a protector, creating a polarized world and inciting followers to action – have been used and implemented in similar way.

There are two main research questions listed below, each of which is associated with their research hypotheses:

  • RQ1: To what extent can Donald Trump’s argumentation leading to the attack of the Capitol be considered sectarian?
    • Hypothesis 1: Trump used the same linguistic strategies as cult leader Jim Jones to present himself to his followers as their savior.
    • Hypothesis 2: Trump used the same linguistic strategies as Jim Jones to shape an alternative version of the world.
    • Hypothesis 3: Trump uses the same linguistic strategies as Jim Jones to assert that there is only one solution that can solve the situation in which America finds itself and to urge his followers to implement it.
  • RQ2: To what extent are the alternative worldviews of Donald Trump and Jim Jones similarly implemented to manipulate their followers?
    • Hypothesis 1: Their argumentations are deceptive due to the high frequency of illegitimate lies.
    • Hypothesis 2: Their language is hyperbolic and intended to dramatize the situation.
    • Hypothesis 3: Some inadequate words are purposely used to convey a false meaning inadequate to reality and alter the followers’ view.

My findings show that Donald Trump can indeed be considered a political cult leader. Comparing the types of arguments and lies most frequently used by Trump and Jones to portray themselves as protectors, present their followers with a fabricated polarized world, and finally incite them to take action against their supposed enemy, shows many overlaps. Overall, their four most frequently used types of arguments (Chapter 4) and lies (Chapter 5) for each of the three manipulative strategies listed above are nearly identical, even if some of their own distinctions can still be observed. The qualitative analysis shows that, although the two leaders belong to different eras and have their own objective related to their own group, they used similar linguistic means in their speeches to manipulate their followers. Speier’s statement – “Jim Jones was a religious cult leader, Donald Trump is a political cult leader” – and others comparing him to cult leaders can therefore be taken as true based on the argumentations leading up to the two selected events.

The dissertation is structured as follows: Chapter 4 compares the different types of arguments used by Trump and Jones in their discourse to manipulate their followers and implement the three manipulative strategies typical of cult leaders’ discourses. Chapter 5 compares the types of lies used by Trump and Jones to achieve these same goals. At the end of this dissertation, it will be possible to see whether the argumentation of cult leaders taking Jim Jones as their representative can be seen as Trump’s blueprint for manipulating his supporters after his defeat in the presidential election.

2. Literature review

2.1 The study of cults

Few studies have been conducted on cults even though they have been around for some time. The majority of cult studies focuses on their psychological and sociological aspects, and not very much in their language.

The term cult is defined in different ways. The Webster’s dictionary[10] first defines a cult as “a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious”. Its second definition – “a great devotion to a person, idea, object or work” – drops the religious aspect as the definition given by Steven Hassan (2019: 12). This second definition, which emphasizes unity around something, better reflects the meaning of a modern cult. Hassan, author of Combatting Cult Mind Control (1990), has provided new reliable information on the use of deceptive strategies in cults, being himself a former member of the Unification Church, a cult organization. In his book, one of the major works on cults, Hassan makes a distinction between normal cults and destructive cults that “violate the rights of its members and damage them through the abusive techniques of unethical mind control” (1990: 37). Hassan argues that mind control is one of the most effective techniques used by cult leaders to manipulate members. He emphasizes that brainwashing should not be used as a synonym for mind control. Brainwashing is a coercive process in which people are aware that “they are in the hands of an enemy” (Hassan, 1990: 55), whereas mind control requires little or no physical abuse and uses mainly deception and manipulation These two techniques are based on implicit, secret processes that do not allow people to be aware of what they are being subjected to.

To clearly enumerate the many manipulative strategies that can be combined for mind control, Hassan created the BITE model (Hassan, 2021). This acronym stands for four rhetoric components: Behaviour, Information, Thought and Emotional control used for mind control. Annabelle Mooney’s thesis Terms of uses and abuse: the recruiting rhetoric of cults (2001) also discusses these four components Both works argue that cult leaders alter the physical reality of their audience, mainly by presenting themselves as a superior entity, systematically lying and creating a polarized world in which their group represents the good side and their enemy, the evil one. These three strategies help the leaders to support their ideology with a moral base and to secure the devotion and obedience of their followers, united against a common enemy. Emotions are thus at the heart of manipulation. As Hassan said, “If a person’s emotions are successfully brought under the group’s control, his thoughts and behaviour will follow” (1990: 65).

These strategies were verified by a study conducted by Molly Malouf (1996), in which she compared the use of deceptive strategies in the discourse of Jim Jones and Sun Myung Moon, leader of the Unification Church. Pratkanis and Aronson (2001: 190) devoted a chapter entitled “How to become a cult leader”, in which they present ”proven effective” techniques of persuasion used by cult leaders to create and maintain their cult. These techniques overlap with those discussed in earlier works, which confirms that they can form the blueprint for what is called cult discourse.

2.2 What is a lie ?

The Cambridge dictionary defines manipulation as “controlling someone or something to your own advantage, often unfairly or dishonestly”[11]. Thus, deception defined as “the act of hiding the truth, especially to get an advantage”[12] can be used for this end.  Both notions of lying and misleading seem similar, but linguists have given several conflicting definitions of these terms. The standard definition of lying can be summarized as follows: “making a believed-false statement to another person with the intention that that other person believes that statement to be true” (Mahon, 2008: 3). However, two issues have been raised regarding this objective view of lying.

First, the question of explicitness was examined. Saul (2012) and Stokke (2013) define a lie as explicit false content stated. Saul goes further and makes a distinction between lying and misleading. Lying (a) requires that what is said, the explicit content, be false; whereas misleading (b) results from a false implicature or an implicated false proposition based on a true statement. The explicit content is thus often true, but what is implicated is not. Therefore misleading occurs when speakers infer a disbelieved content but do not say it explicitly (Stokke, 2016).

  1. X is sorting their wardrobe and put what they wants to throw away into suitcases. Y asks: “Are you going on a trip?”

(a) I am going to see my aunt.

(b) I want some change. (as in dress style and not fresh air as falsely implicated)

Dynel (2011) also argues that lies only concerns what is said explicitly and describes implicitly communicated false content as “deception without lying”. This distinction between lying and misleading is therefore often supported, but Dynel hypothesizes that flouting the Maxim of Quality (Grice, 1975) such as irony, hyperbole and metaphor is likely to be considered as lie since the explicit content uttered is false. Meibauer (2011) on the other hand argues that false implicatures can be lies as implicatures “are intended by the speaker and are intended to be derived by the hearer … then it is of course possible to lie by intentionally using false implicatures”.

Asher and Lascarides’s study (2013) tested this distinction between lying and misleading based on the basis of what is explicitly said. In their study, participants were asked to judge bald-faced lies and proviso lies respectively, defined as statements known to be false by the speaker and the hearer, and lies accompanied by non-verbal communication such as a wink or a gesture to indicate that the speaker does not necessarily believe their statement to be true and therefore does not intend to completely deceive the hearer (Weissman & Terkourafi, 2019). The vast majority of participants judged these to be genuine lies, even if hints of the falsity of the statement were made. Therefore, this study verified the idea that statements are considered lies by people when what is explicitly said is false.

Second, researchers have questioned whether falsity – that is to say whether the real-life result of a false statement – must be false for this statement to be considered a lie. Turri and Turri (2015) conducted a study in which they argued for a subjective view of lying. Unlike the objective view of lying, which requires both the explicit content and its real-life result to be false, this subjective view requires only that the statement made be believed to be false. Consequently, if this statement proves to be true in real life, its status as a lie remains unchanged as it was first believed to be false when it was uttered.

2.3 Typologies of lies

Lying is a common practice, which is why lies can differ from each other. A typology was introduced by Mearsheimer in his book Why Leaders Lie (2013). Mearsheimer listed seven different types of lies told by leaders, in this case presidents. These categories are themselves placed in the main division according to whether they are justifiable or illegitimate. Five types of lies can be considered as justifiable in his view, because they are not told out of pure selfishness but for the good and protection of the country. First, fearmongering lies, cover-ups lies and liberal lies are told to protect and preserve the country’s reputation abroad and within its territory. Then, inner-state lies are used to deceive other countries, once more for the good of the nation. Lastly, nationalist mythmaking alter the country’s past in order to create “a powerful sense of group identity among the broader population” (2013: 60).  Mearsheimer considers these types of lies to be legitimate and therefore forgivable because, despite the deception they convey, their main purpose is not to harm people but uplift them. This conclusion is based solely on Mearsheimer’s evaluation.

Two types of lies, social imperialism and ignoble cover-ups, are considered illegitimate because they have “no redeeming social value” (2013: 63). These lies are told by leaders for the strict purpose of promoting their own benefits, whether it is their ideology or their own economic interests. The general welfare of the country is no longer a priority. Thus, Mearsheimer’s typology of lies makes a clear distinction between lies designed to serve the public and thus not directly harm people, and lies designed to serve selfish interests and thus unwarranted results.

Other studies such as Canterero (2018) and Bryant (2008) also propose a typology of lies based on the same distinction: whether lies benefit the liar and whether their motivation is beneficial or protective.

One specific lie can be considered destructive and extremely dangerous: the Big Lie. As previously mentioned, a Big Lie is “a deliberate gross distortion of the truth”[13] that still appears believable because of the large number of time it has been repeated.

Donald Trump’s lies

My dissertation compares Donald Trump’s argumentation and use of lies to that of cult leader Jim Jones. As discussed earlier, the creation of an alternative reality by cult leaders was made possible primarily through the use of lies, but this technique can be used by anyone, including people of higher status such as presidents. Presidential lying is not new, and the use of lies by presidents in their communication has been studied on numerous occasions. Presidents may lie for various reasons: to prevent embarrassment, for national security (Pfiffner, 1999) or to strengthen the country’s identity (Mearsheimer, 2013). According to Mearsheimer, these lies should only be told for the interests of the country and should never threaten the security of it, which is the president’s priority. However, Donald Trump has been the focus of many works on this subject due to his record number of lies told. Indeed, The Fact Checker’s database of the false or misleading claims made by President Trump while in office[14] made available by The Washington Post gathers fact-checked statements allegedly told by the former president between 2017 and 2021 and documented more than 30,000 statements. It should be emphasised that discerning honest mistakes and intentional lies requires a degree of judgement and therefore cannot be one hundred per cent certain. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker explained that “it is difficult to document whether the president knows he is not telling the truth” (Kessler, 2018). Yet the sheer volume on news articles and studies might suggest that Donald Trump is in fact lying more than average.

The most important aspect that separates Trump from other presidents is his constant use of social media to communicate. During his time in office and the 2020 election process, Twitter was his main communication tool and allowed him to reach and misinform a large audience worldwide. Thus, a large number  of studies examined his use of lies on Twitter.

In her study, Sophie Sceats (2021) used The Fact Checker’s database of the false or misleading claims made by President Trump while in office to analyse a corpus of fact-checked lies by Donald Trump on Twitter in the six months leading up to the Capitol insurrection. This framework allows her to see what types of lies led to the attack. In order to do this, she used Mearsheimer’s typology presented in section 2.3. Of the lies studied, none could be classified as justifiable and were instead classified as unjustifiable, that is to say to serve Trump’s own interests and without legitimate reasons. The main conclusion of her study is that 99% of the tweets analysed can be classified as social imperialism lie. Almost all of his tweets were aimed at delegitimizing all those who represented opponents or obstacles to his goals and ideology by villainizing them while glorifying his achievements. His audience were thus misinformed, and a polarized worldview in which they could recognize a clear enemy, who was supposedly threatening them, was presented to them as facts.

This misinformation seems to have been successful, as proven by a study conducted by Arceneaux and Truex (2022). They sought to measure the effectiveness of these lies by analysing the perception of the 2020 presidential election results, whether people still lack confidence in those results. The survey was conducted using online questionnaires of various types. The results were categorised by three political positions: results for Republicans, Democrats and Independents/Other. One of the striking findings is that after the election results, only 40% of Republicans acknowledged Joe Biden as the winner, but rather stick with Trump’s false narrative. When asked, “Would you believe Joe Biden won the election if…”, 45,2% of  Republican participants respond “Donald Trump concedes the election to Joe Biden”. The second most frequent response was “[if] the Supreme Court rules that Joe Biden won more votes than Donald Trump” with 42,9%. These results show that Republicans value and trust Donald Trump’s words more than the official decision of their country’s highest legal institution, which may be characteristic of cult-like behaviour.

3. Methodology and corpus

In my attempt to determine whether Donald Trump can be considered a political cult leader, I focus on how he manipulated his followers to attack the Capitol on January 6th, 2021. I consider this attack to be a self-destructive action, as Trump endangered Trumpists by inciting this attack, from which nothing good could have come. I analyze two key speeches leading up to this attack: one made on November 4th, 2020 (1106 words) and one on December 2nd, 2020 (6039 words). Both speeches are about alleged voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, Trump’s Big Lie. The short time between these speeches and the attack is akin to a buildup, since this fraud was Trump’s main argument for attacking the Capitol. In addition, the January 6th, 2021 speech (10,937 words), which led to the Capitol attack, was also analyzed. The transcripts of the three speeches were found on the Rev website[15], which gathers transcriptions of many speeches.

To analyze Jones’ manipulative argumentation, I use FBI transcripts of sermons, available on found on the Jonestown cult archive website, Alternative Consideration of Jonestown & Peoples Temple, a project of the San Diego State University Library. 971 authentic audiotapes collected by the FBI and their transcripts, prepared by researchers, scholars and the FBI, are available alongside articles and books by researchers, formers members of the cult or scholars. This large collection of audiotapes, which cannot be filtered by topic, made the selection process difficult. Knowing that Jones is keen of digressions and discusses various topics in his speeches, I took the help of an article[16] from the website to select the speeches. This article gathers tapes used by Jones to introduce his followers (who were mainly black) to the King Alfred Plan, a government plan that Jones claimed was to send black people to concentration camps. (This is a reference to the novel The Man Who Cried I Am (1967), in which author John Williams describes a government plan to place black people in concentration camps to suppress their uprising. This plan is therefore primarily fictional, but there have been rumors about its veracity.[17]) This plan is considered as the Big Lie used by Jones to change his followers’ worldview and push them to commit suicide, a self-destructive action. The tapes listed in this article are therefore useful for my dissertation, but more tapes could have been added up. The final selection consists of The Death Tape (6538 words), the final speech before the mass suicide, and nine other tapes, spread over several years to preserve this buildup process. They have been filtered manually to eliminate numerous digressions. Only those parts relating to the cult’s relationship with society in connection with the King Alfred Plan have been retained, those dealing with religion, communism, medicine and other topics have been discarded.

My dissertation focuses on the types of arguments and lies used to illustrate three manipulative linguistic strategies typical of cult leaders’ discourse. Many typical characteristics of cult leaders have been listed, as in Hassan’s BITE model (Hassan, 2021), but the three selected characteristics relate directly to language and not to psychological traits or physical actions perpetrated by cult leaders like others. These three strategies, namely leaders who present themselves as protectors, create a polarized world, and incite their followers to action, have been considered essential to shape a cult. They all appear in articles and books whose main focus is on cult leaders, such as in Malouf’s (1996: 42) thesis, and Montell’s (2021) and Hassan’s (2019: 3) books. They are also part of Pratkanis and Aronson’s (2001: 192) “seven mundane but nonetheless proven-effective tactics for creating and maintaining a cult”, and are presented as fundamental techniques for manipulating cult members in two books written by a news reporter (Reiterman, 1982) and a religious studies professor (Chidester, 1991).

For this dissertation, I follow the methodology used in Macagno’s (2022) paper, which builds on some of his previous articles (2009, 2014). Chapter 4 analyzes the types of arguments used by Trump and Jones to implement the three manipulative strategies introduced earlier. There are many types of arguments. Aristotle listed 23 in Rhetoric, which is considered a fairly exhaustive list (Plantin, 2017: 63) but still serves as the basis for other typologies such as Toulmin (1984). For my typology, I used the Codebook for Argument Analysis[18], which lists 13 different types, also present in the other two typologies. These 13 types bring together the essential strategies of argumentation and seem to be consistent with Trump’s and Jones’ type of argumentation. I added one type, arguments from authority, which for me was necessary since both men are primarily leaders and have sometimes used this inherent authority to impose themselves.

Trump’s speeches were linked to the election process, so no filtering was required. On the contrary, Jones’ speeches needed to be manually filtered to retain the parts related to the followers’ relationship with society and the King Alfred Plan. Then, I checked whether each argument could be used for one of the three manipulative strategies. To categorize the arguments, I used lexical and grammatical criteria that correspond to what I called “hints” (Table 1). These “hints” are features that have been assessed as representative of each type on the basis of the types descriptions in the Codebook of Argument Analysis.

To assess an argument as “presumptively acceptable” or “manipulative” (Macagno, 2022), I checked whether each argument was relevant to the purpose of the dialogue, whether it could be supported by evidence, and whether the conclusion followed the premises. If not, the argument was considered a lie. After this initial categorization, the arguments assessed as lies were further categorized according to their type, in accordance with the Codebook for Fallacy[19] and its descriptions of each type of lies. The methodology will be further discussed in section 5.1 and 5.2.

4. Analysis of the line of argumentation in speeches by Donald Trump and Jim Jones

4.1 Goals of the argumentations

My aim is to find out whether Donald Trump’s argumentation leading up to the Capitol attack is similar to that of cult leaders, using Jim Jones as a representative. In order to answer this question,  I selected three features that have been argued to be typical of the discourse of cult leader (Pratkanis & Aronson, 2001; Hassan, 2019; Montell, 2021; Malouf, 1996). These three features were selected because they are directly related to language and are also “proven-effective” (Pratkanis & Aronson, 2001: 192). They are also often discussed in Reiterman (1982) and Chidester (1991).

First, in order to ensure the loyalty of their members and manipulate them, cult leaders like to present themselves as their protectors. In this fabricated role, they are allowed to be perceived as good, fair and harmless leaders whose sole goal is to protect others. Any negative thoughts their members have about them will be overshadowed by this illusion. To avoid suspicion, some cult leaders go so far as to present themselves as divine. Most of the destructive cults known to date are religious cults, such as the Branch Davidian and the Heaven’s Gate cults, both of which – like Peoples Temple – ended in tragedy (Montell, 2021). By claiming they have divine powers and/or have been sent by God, leaders reinforce the admiration and devotion of their followers, who see them as saviors and therefore intrinsically good. Secondly, to remain in their role as protectors, cult leaders present their followers with a polarized world, in which there is no middle ground: either you belong to the cult and are therefore on the right side, or you are the evil enemy oppressing them. This second strategy allows for the third, which is to push their followers into action, which often ends tragically as the above-mentioned cults have shown[20]. It can be difficult for cult leaders to convince their followers to act against this invented enemy. Despite their loyalty, members may still be doubtful or afraid to act against an enemy that has always been portrayed to them in a malicious way. It is in these situations that deceptive and manipulative argumentations come into play. Trump and Jones were able to convince their followers to take self-destructive action, on the basis of a range of arguments that serve these three manipulative linguistic strategies.

4.2 General profile of the manipulators

As explained in section 4.1, the discourse of cult leaders is characterized by three manipulative linguistic strategies, that is to present leaders a protector, the world as polarized and to convince cult members to take action. In this section, I will give an overview (Table 1) of the most frequent types of arguments used by Trump and Jones in order to illustrate these three strategies. Throughout this dissertation, I will provide examples, but I will also quote material from examples that do not feature in the list of examples, but that are mentioned in the speeches.

Ad hominem 33  (12.4%) 53 (19.3%) Personal attacks, accusations, lexical field of violence
Victimization 48  (18%) 16  (5.8%) Lexical field of martyrdom and unfairness, passive voice
Authority 19  (7.1%) 16  (5.8%) Imperative, modal must
Practical reasoning 20  (7.5%) 18  (6.5%) If X then Y with a focus on how to reach the goal: X
Consequences 4  (1.5%) 11  (4%) If X then Y with a focus on the action
Values 15  (5.6%) 10  (3.7%) Personal value judgment
Commitment 49  (18.4%) 40  (14.5%) Promises, determination, willingness to act
Sign 2  (0.8%) 4  (1.5%) Indicator presumptively associated with a cause in the present
Popular opinion 7  (2.7%) 10  (3.7%) Common knowledge presumed to be accepted
Expert opinion 7  (2.7%) 35  (12.7%) Reported speech, quotes
Cause-effect 23  (8.6%) 15  (5.5%) Prediction of a future event from an observed cause
Best explanation 25  (9.4%) 40  (14.5%) Doubtful explanation of a past event
Analogy 5  (1.9%) 5  (1.8%) Generalization
Classification 9  (3.4%) 2  (0.7%) I am X
TOTAL 266 275 ///

Table 1 : Trump’ and Jones’ overall types of arguments

Jones’ and Trump’s used similar arguments. Overlaps can be observed on the four main types of arguments used by both leaders. Both frequently use commitment arguments. Commitment arguments are intended to build devotion among followers and ensure that they are focused on a single goal[21]: enacting the self-destructive action. This type of argument accounts for 18.4% of Jones’ arguments and 14.5% of Trump’s. Best explanation arguments are also frequently used by the leaders, 9.4% for Jones and 14.5% for Trump. This type of argument is typically used in conspiracy theories and is intended to provide an explanation for a phenomenon that apparently has none[22]. Therefore, this fabricated explanation is purely based on the speaker’s interpretation of a mysterious phenomenon which fits the personality of cult leaders.

Ad hominem arguments consist of explicit attacks on enemies that undermine their point of view and also imply that the opposing group is a victim. This type of argument is the most frequent in Trump’s argumentation (19.3%) and the third most used (12.4%) in Jones’.  However, one of the main differences between the use of this argument by two leaders is that Jones, in particular, combines it with victimization arguments. Trump does not do this as frequently. This second most frequent argument is used to emphasize the victim status of his followers, who thus are implicitly presented as victims of discrimination and oppression. By combining these two arguments, Jones aims to strongly emphasize his victim status (eg. 17, 18).

Trump, in contrast, makes a point of discrediting his opponents by using ad hominem arguments (eg.21) combined with expert opinion arguments (eg.9). As such, this association allows him to attack his enemies and back up his claims with external sources. By constantly quoting others in his speeches, his supporters are unable to check the facts and are instead exposed to what appears to have been confirmed by others. Trump can therefore use other people’s words to support his ideas while minimizing his responsibility if someone were to argue his words, which are presented as reported. This categorization of arguments provides overall evidence that Trump and Jones used similar argumentations to manipulate their followers.

But do they also used the same types of arguments to implement the three deceptive language strategies mentioned in section 4.1? In the following sections, I will address each of these strategies and compare the frequency of the different types of arguments used.

4.3 Leaders as protectors of the people

First, do Trump and Jones use the same types of arguments to portray themselves as protectors and thus convince their followers that they are in good hands?

The most frequent type of argument used to this end by both leaders is the commitment argument, which accounts for 30.4% of Jones’ argumentation and 21.4% of Trump’s (Table 2). These arguments are highly frequent in Jones’ argumentation, accounting for almost half of its overall number. Commitment arguments provide a connection between a projected action and a commitment or a promise to carry it out.

  1. Jones: I’ve got to take care of you. I’ve pledged to take of you from the cradle to the great transition, and I have done so.
  2. Jones: I’ll pay whatever I have to pay to save you, I’ll pay it all. Pay the last measure of my devotion.
  3. Trump: As President, I have no higher duty than to defend the laws and the Constitution of the United States.

In this way, leaders show their determination to fight for what they believe in and give a boost to their positive face. The use of pledge, devotion perfectly illustrates this dedication: Jones promises to take care of his members now and in the future (1) and to dedicate himself to their protection (2). The no + comparative construction (no higher duty than) also shows the importance of their role: Trump’s main objective is to defend his citizens’ fundamental rights. These arguments allow them to present themselves as good and moral leaders, whose sole goal is to protect their people from any threats. The use of the future tense I’ll and the modal expression I’ve got to, marker of a strong necessity, proves their dedication in the present moment but also in the future. Example 4:  throughout the endless ages of time is another example that expresses a solemn promise to be present in the future. The four nouns expressing “eternal” duration combined give an impression of permanence.

  1. Jones: I represent Divine Principle, Divine Socialism, total equality […] I will not pass away, but I shall stand throughout the endless ages of time.


Ad hominem 4  (5.8%) 2  (3.6%) 33 53
Victimization 5  (7.2%) 2  (3.6%) 48 16
Authority 6  (8.7%) 8  (14.3%) 19 16
Practical reasoning 5  (7.2%) 2  (3.6%) 20 18
Consequences 2  (2.9%) 5  (9%) 4 11
Values 3  (4.4%) 0  (0%) 15 10
Commitment 21  (30.4%) 12  (214%) 49 40
Sign 2  (2.9%) 0  (0%) 2 4
Popular opinion 3  (4.4%) 3  (5.3%) 7 10
Expert opinion 3  (4.4%) 11  (19.6%) 7 35
Cause-effect 3  (4.4%) 3  (5.3%) 23 15
Best explanation 4  (5.8%) 5  (9%) 25 40
Analogy 1  (1.4%) 3  (5.3%) 5 5
Classification 7  (10.1%) 0  (0%) 9 2
TOTAL 69 56 266 275

 Table 2 : Leaders as protectors of the people

As mentioned earlier, cult leaders tend to push even further and present themselves as a savior or a divinity without whom life has no meaning. To do this, Trump and Jones used a different type of arguments that is, for both, the second most used for this purpose. To present himself as a savior, Jones used classification arguments (10.1%), thus three-quarters of their overall number. This type of argument is never used by Trump. These arguments allow Jones to explicitly attribute characteristics to himself:

  1. I can tell you the answer now, because I’m a prophet.
  2. I am a savior. Not the creator, don’t confuse me, I’m the savior. There are many saviors come up out of Zion, I am a savior come up out of Zion

Jones uses religion to present himself as savior, as a prophet, and a Messiah. Here Jones attributes divine characteristics to himself and claims to be sent and therefore blessed by God. He also presents himself as the best friend you’ll ever have, which emphasizes trust. This self-presentation is effective in convincing his followers that they are indeed united behind their savior, who is inherently good and willing to sacrifice and die for all. Notice the hyperbolic language every one of you (7) and the repetition and parallelism: I can’t/ I cannot, lived for all/died for all (8).

  1. I’m ready to die for every one of you.
  2. I can’t live that way. I cannot live that way. I’ve lived for all and I’ve died for all.

Trump also presents himself as a savior, but in a less explicit way. Always consistent with his slogan “Make America Great Again”, which, according to him, is only possible through his person, Trump presents himself as the savior of the United States and relies on patriotic values. First of all, he makes sure to give a boost to his positive face, not on the basis of his own judgement, but on the basis of what expert opinions or external sources (19.6%, so four times more than in Jones’ argumentation) have allegedly said:

  1. A friend of mine, who’s very smart, said, “You’ve probably seen more than anybody else. You probably the cleanest person in this country.”
  2. Many very smart people have congratulated me on all we’ve done: the biggest tax cuts in history, regulation cuts, the biggest in history. We rebuilt our military. We took care of our vets like never before, Space Force, and so much more.
  3. He said the other day, “Yes, I disagree with [the] president but he’s been a great president.” OK. Thank you very much.

Thus, Trump is able to show off all that he has accomplished to that moment without fear of being perceived as pretentious. Positive words such as great (11) occurs several times in this type of argument. Superlatives describing his accomplishments are also used, often with a hyperbolic adverbial clause: cleanest person in the country, biggest tax cuts in history (9, 10), repeated twice for emphasis. He even achieves unbelievable things, which proves once more how impressive he is (10, 12). Trump also makes sure to present the person he is quoting in the best way to show that very smart (9) people are complimenting him. This technique is used to add importance to their words, since they are intellectuals. He is careful not to only quote people close to him, but also people who disagree (11) with him in order to pretend that he is not biased. Presented this way, Trump can be seen as a savior appreciated by all and determined to protect (13) the country and its values with the support of the American people (14):

  1. Under my lead, the Republicans won almost every state house in the United States, which they weren’t expected to do.
  2. That is why I am determined to protect our election system, which is now under coordinated assault and siege.
  3. With the resolve and support of the American people, we will restore honesty and integrity to our elections. We will restore trust in our system of government.

This analysis proves that Jones and Trump indeed used the same types of arguments to be perceived as important figures, protectors of the people, and saviors. By using hyperbolic language, they ensure that they are perceived as transcendent and therefore inherently moral.

4.4 Us vs. Them dichotomy

In this section, I will examine the different types of arguments used to illustrate the second manipulative linguistic strategy present in their speeches (Table 3).

Ad hominem 23  (23.5%) 36  (29.5%) 33 53
Victimization 22  (22.5%) 10  (8.2%) 48 16
Authority 6  (6.1%) 4  (3.2%) 19 16
Practical reasoning 4  (4.1%) 3  (2.5%) 20 18
Consequences 1  (1%) 3  (2.5%) 4 11
Values 6  (6.1%) 8  (6.5%) 15 10
Commitment 10  (10.2%) 9  (7.4%) 49 40
Sign 0  (0%) 3  (2.5%) 2 4
Popular opinion 1  (1%) 3  (2.5%) 7 10
Expert opinion 2  (2%) 16  (13.1%) 7 35
Cause-effect 8  ( 8.2%) 6  (4.9%) 23 15
Best explanation 11  (11.3%) 19  (15.6%) 25 40
Analogy 2  (2%) 0  (0%) 5 5
Classification 2  (2%) 2  (1.6%) 9 2
TOTAL 98 122 266 275

 Table 3 : Us vs. them dichotomy

To create a strong and loyal group, the two leaders present their supporters with a polarized world in which one is either with them or against them. This illusion serves to reinforce the unity of the group, fighting a common enemy.

To portray the outgroup, their enemy, both leaders make heavy use of ad hominem arguments, 29.5% for Trump (thus nearly three-quarters of their overall number), which consist of negative language and attacks; they emphasize how cruel the enemy can be. Jones particularly emphasizes this cruelty, claiming that the dirty rotten system, his main enemy, has already invaded their privacy and is now ready to torture and kill everyone, including children and seniors, and erase the “black race” as shown by the following examples:

  1. When they start parachuting out of the air, they’ll shoot some of our innocent babies.
  2. You can have opportunity, but if their children are left we’re gonna have them butchered. We give them our children, then our children will suffer forever.

He asserts that the government is a corrupt spiritual wickedness that wants to restore slavery (17) and destroy the black race (18). The notion of martyrdom is conveyed through various lexical fields. First, the lexical field of violence is heavily used for this purpose. Nouns describing visual chaos such as destruction, chains, annihilation, torture, and hell, and verbs describing violent actions such stab, kill, knife, hang, and die are also used. In addition, certainty is emphasized in these examples to assure followers that what he is saying will happen: get ready, will be.

  1. Get ready for identification marks to be put on your body and identification number, even if necessary tattooed.
  2. It will be the total annihilation of the black race.

In Jones’ mind, the government, which is compared to a cancer [that has] spread to the brain and snakes, the biblical embodiment of evil, planned to put every black person, whom they consider beasts (17), in concentration camps or to kill them. He claimed that, if the government implemented the King Alfred Plan, black people will not be a person anymore but a number, thus emphasizing dehumanization. These are direct references to the living conditions of Jews placed in concentration camps from 1933 to 1945 by Nazi Germany[23].

Jones particularly uses children as one of his main arguments in his victimization arguments, his second mostly used type (22.5%, nearly half of their overall number) to indicate how cruel the government is, claiming that they were terribly betrayed by the government that was now ready to butcher their children, make them suffer forever (16), and turn them into mincemeat (19). Once again, a hyperbole across the goddamn world (19) is used to dramatize the situation. Note the metaphor of human as meat with butcher  (16) and mincemeat (19).

  1. So much money went out to the CIA to murder our black babies across the goddamn world, children that I don’t want to see made mincemeat of.

Similarly to Jones, for Trump, ad hominem arguments are the most frequent for this purpose, accounting for 29.5% (nearly three-quarters of their overall number), thus almost twice more than the second most frequently used argument type (best explanations with 15.6%). Trump’s main enemy, is the Democratic Party, which supposedly stole the presidential election (20, 21). According to him, this sad group of people allowed fraud and abuse to occur in a scale never seen before. This direct accusation coupled with the hyperbole never seen beforedemonizes them in the eyes of his followers and makes them public enemy number one because they are willingly hurting the country (23).

  1. All of us here today do not want to see our election victory stolen by emboldened radical left Democrats, which is what they’re doing, and stolen by the fake news media.
  2. In Wisconsin, corrupt Democrat run cities deployed more than 500 illegal unmanned, unsecured drop boxes, which collected a minimum of 91,000 unlawful votes.

The media, a loyal helper of the government, is also part of this fraud and does not inform the people in a factual way. For Trump, they suppress (22) information, lie and do not show reality. He compares this situation to the status of the media in communist countries. He uses values argument when he calls them fake news (20), which explicitly discredits them.

  1. We don’t have a free and fair press. Our media is not free. It’s not fair. It suppresses It suppresses speech, and it’s become the enemy of the people. It’s become the enemy of the people. It’s the biggest problem we have in this country.
  2. Let them rule the right way, but it almost seems that they’re all going out of their way to hurt all of us, and to hurt our country.

With victimization arguments, he portrays friendly and innocent Trump voters as victims. First they are constantly misinformed by a corrupt and biased media, and secondly their election was stolen. Sign arguments (24) add to their victimization and show that an indicator was present to prove the authenticity of the situation, here the winning of the election.

  1. We were getting ready for a big celebration. We were winning everything, and all of a sudden it was just called off.

Here, Trump pretends to know how his supporters feel once again, by allegedly quoting the popular opinion(13.1%, nearly half of the overall number). The popular opinion, thus generalization (everyone, pollster), are used to support his words without mentioning names:

  1. Pollsters that are fair, and honest said, “We can’t understand a thing like this. It’s never happened before. You led the country to victory, and you were the only one that was lost. It’s not possible.”
  2. Everyone is saying, ”Wow, the evidence is overwhelming”.

Ad hominem arguments of the two leaders can sometimes be confused with best explanation arguments (27) since they are related to conspiracy theories therefore what both leaders accused their enemy of: the theft of the election and the King Alfred Plan.

  1. Democrats even went to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to block observers from receiving access. There is only one possible reason that the corrupt Democrat political machine would oppose transparency during the vote counting. It’s because they know they are hiding illegal activity. It’s very simple.

Both leaders try to find a solution to these situations, which is impossible as in both cases, the situation is false and part of their disillusionment. Here, this argument is an accusation: they are hiding illegal activity, and could therefore be considered an ad hominem argument. However its main purpose seems to be to provide an explanation: there is only one possible reason, for the undesirable outcome of the election, which is why it has been categorized as a best explanation argument.

It has been shown that the polarization of the world and the representation of these supposed enemies are part of the leaders’ manipulative illusion. Both leaders’ arguments are designed to unite the cult against a common enemy and reinforces their hatred of it, to later convince them to take action.

In the final section, I will address the third manipulative linguistic strategy that is common to both Jones’ and Trump’s speeches, namely their call for action.

  • A call for action

The manipulative plot of the two leaders leads to this final step: the implementation of the self-destructive action. First, they employ various techniques to be perceived as protectors and saviors, and then they divide the world to portray a good side and an evil side. Now that this foundation is embedded in the minds of their followers, they can easily manipulate them to act against their evil enemy in order to stop them and do justice for themselves.

Both leaders convinced their followers that there was only one way to end this unfair situation, and that action was needed. As they delivered their final speech, both leaders knew that they had already lost: Trump had officially lost the election, and Jones had been forced to release some of his most previously-dedicated followers to the enemy in the form of Rep. Ryan. However, still consistent with their frenzied behavior, they organized one last shot at glory: Trump convinced the Trumpists to attack the Capitol and Jones his followers to commit revolutionary suicide. If they were to fall, their followers will fall with them.

As usual, the main argument type Jones uses to this purpose is victimization arguments (21.2%, nearly half of their overall number), thus used almost five times more than Trump (4.1%) (Table 4). By pointed out how difficult and hopeless their lives are, Jones convinced his followers to end that suffering and commit suicide. According to him, as they are already doomed to die (28) (30), they might as well choose their own death because it is too late (29) for them to find another solution.

Ad hominem 6  (6.1%) 15  (15.5%) 33 53
Victimization 21  (21.2%) 4  (4.1%) 48 16
Authority 7  (7.1%) 4  (4.1%) 19 16
Practical reasoning 11  (11.1%) 13  (13.4%) 20 18
Consequences 1  (1%) 3  (3.1%) 4 11
Values 6  (6.1%) 2 (2.1%) 15 10
Commitment 18  (18.2%) 19  (19.6%) 49 40
Sign 0  (0%) 1  (1%) 2 4
Popular opinion 3  (3%) 4  (4.1%) 7 10
Expert opinion 2  (2%) 8  (8.2%) 7 35
Cause-effect 12  ( 12.1%) 6  (6.2%) 23 15
Best explanation 10  (10.1%) 16  (16.5%) 25 40
Analogy 1  (1%) 2  (2.1%) 5 5
Classification 1  (1%) 0  (0%) 9 2
TOTAL 99 97 266 275

Table 4 : A call for action

Pessimism (28) is thus the main emotion conveyed here. Jones used commitment arguments (18.2%), his second most used argument type, to promise that their fate is truly sealed. Repetitions (30) and accumulations (29) add emotional weight to his words and can have a more effective impact on followers. The latter seem to have no other choice but to commit suicide.

  1. It’s just not worth living like this … not worth living like this.
  2. I can’t control these people. They’re out there. They’ve gone with the guns and it’s too late.
  3. And there’s no way, no way we can survive.

Both cause to effect arguments (12.1%, used twice more than Trump) and practical reasoning arguments (11.1%) reinforce this inevitability. Very similar, these arguments both focus on the future. The former predicts a future event from an observed cause: here the invasion of the Guyana military in response to Jones’ order to kill the congressman (31), while the latter explains the best way to achieve a goal, here the best way to break free from the oppressors (32).

  1. But you can’t steal people’s children. You can’t take off with people’s children without expecting a violent reaction.
  2. If we want a future, we lose our life, and if we lose our life, we will find our life.

To convince his supporters, Trump appealed to patriotic values and tried to awaken their love for their country. Since a major offence to the American people and their Constitution was committed by the Democrats, an idea conveyed by best explanation arguments (16.5%, thus nearly half of their overall number), Trump tried to push his followers to take action and preserve the pride of their country. Taking over the Capitol, the symbol of legislative power, is his way of trying to overturn the election. Thus, commitment arguments are his top choice for this purpose (19.6%), alongside practical reasoning arguments (13.4%) as determination and commitment are needed.  Both argument types represent nearly half of their overall number.

Trump also promises to restore his country’s pride with the help of his followers. The parallelism this is aboutassociated to the accumulation fought, bled and died adds emotional weight to his words and triggers a need to honor the past and those who sacrificed for this country.

  1. This is about restoring faith and confidence in American elections. This is about our democracy and the sacred rights that generations of Americans have fought, bled, and died to secure. Nothing is more urgent or more important.

Once again, Trump used expert opinions (8.2%) to back up his claims. A major difference with Jones is that Trump, even as a last resort, continued to explicitly attack his opponents with ad hominem arguments (15.5%), which are almost three times as frequent as in Jones’ argumentation. To the very end, Trump stressed the Democrats’ responsibility for the fraudulent election and further demonized them by asserting and repeating twice that they wanted to indoctrinate children (34). Using children triggers even more emotions and could have been the final spark that lit the match that burned down Capitol Hill.

  1. They also want to indoctrinate your children in school by teaching them things that aren’t so. They want to indoctrinate your children. It’s all part of the comprehensive assault on our democracy and the American people to finally standing up and saying no.

The conclusion to Chapter 4 is that both leaders used nearly the same types of arguments to be perceived as protectors, build a polarized world and call for action. Jones’ argumentation seems more defensive, emphasizing the group’s victim status, while Trump is more offensive, attacking his opponents and quoting the words of others to support his claims. All their arguments aimed at highlighting the trustworthiness of the leaders and demonizing their enemies in order to unify the cult against them.

Chapter 5 will analyze whether these two argumentations are based on facts and, if not, whether both leaders use the same types of lies to manipulate their followers.

5. The use of lies in Trump’s and Jones’ discourse

5.1 Lie assessment

To create their alternative world, both leaders used similar arguments, but are they really based on facts? One of the characteristics of cult leaders is their ability to present their own version of the world to their followers, and thus repeatedly use lies to “brainwash” (Hassan, 1990) them. Both leaders demonstrate this deceptive behavior as evidenced by Hill’s (2016) quote, “Jones told blatant, horrifying lies to portray a situation far worse than reality”, and The Washington Post[24] database of over 30,000 lies told by Trump.

First of all, the classification of each argument into one of the three manipulative strategies in Chapter 4 remains the same in Chapter 5. Each argument was categorized as either manipulative lies or presumably acceptable in an Excel sheet. I categorized arguments as presumably acceptable (35) and not true, because it was sometimes impossible to check their veracity with the context but no proof could be found to show their falsity either. Trump’s quotes were particularly difficult to assess because no name were given. I decided to categorize them as manipulative lies because they seem to suspiciously accentuate the intellect of the people quoted and thus boost Trump’s image.

  1. I said to somebody, I was going to take a few days and relax after our big electoral victory. Ten o’clock, it was over.
  2. America is headed for concentration camps, headed for hell.

Secondly, different definitions of lying has been discussed in section 2.2. The great majority of the arguments were evaluated as lies on the basis of their explicit content (36) since leaders bluntly state what they want to communicate leaving no space for imagination. I was then able to check whether the arguments were consistent with reality or whether they were baseless arguments created on the spot. When this was not possible, I checked whether they seemed legitimate for the situation and whether they were being used maliciously, such as accusations without evidence or legitimate reasons, used to boost the leader’s image. Lexical content was also used for the assessment, such as hyperbole and the use of excessive language (eg.41), which do not offer a reflection of reality. Assessing the manipulative lies was a difficult process, as subjectivity also influences the evaluation of linguistic and contextual evidence. Moreover, the types often intertwine and slight nuances help to distinguish them, as we will see in the following sections.

5.2 Lie categorization

For the categorization, I did not use Mearsheimer’s typology discussed in section 2.3 because the types did not fit the aims of the leaders’ argumentations. Instead, I used the typology used in Macagno’s study (2022).[25]These nine types of lie have clear characteristics that allow a detailed classification and fit the goals of the argumentations. Table 5 briefly presents them with an example, but all will be examined in detail in the following sections.


Straw man To misrepresent one’s words to attack them or support a specific viewpoint They knew they couldn’t win so they said, “Let’s go to court.”
False dilemma To propose only two alternatives while more are available or one is already set If we want a future, we lose our life
Ignoring qualifications To draw a conclusion from a causal relation but overlooking important aspects or to uncommonly interpret an occurrence or to quote a third party Pollsters that are fair, and honest said, “We can’t understand a thing like this. It’s never happened before. You led the country to victory, and you were the only one that was lost. It’s not possible.”
Question begging To use a word/sentence without evidence or contrary to reality I know that I am God the Messiah
Post hoc To draw a conclusion from false causes or the reoccurrence or cooccurrence of facts For years, Democrats have gotten away with election fraud
Hasty generalization To draw a generalization from a few cases We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election. We did win this election.
Slippery slope To show that a course of action has unacceptable negative consequences America is headed for concentration camps, headed for hell
Persuasive definition To modify the meaning of a word That’s what death is, sleep
Quasi-definition To modify the emotive effect of a word It’s just not worth living like this

 Table 5 : The nine types of lies explained

These nine types are lies based on what is explicitly said, but depending on each occurrence a handful were false implicatures.

5.3 General deceptive profile of the leaders

Of all of their arguments analyzed, nearly 90% can be considered manipulative lies (Table 6). The question now is whether they used the same types of lies to be perceived as protectors, to build a polarized world, and to prompt action.

Overall, Jones and Trump use similar types of lies, overlaps can be observed in the four most frequent types of lies (Table 7). Post hoc lies and question begging are the first two most frequent lies used. Post hoc lies rank first in Jones’ argumentation (24.4%) and second in Trump’s (23.7%), while question begging rank first in Trump’s argumentation (28.8%) and second in Jones’ (19.7%).

JONES 238 28 266
89.4% 10.6% 100%
TRUMP 236 39 275
85.8% 14.2% 100

 Table 6 : Quality of Jones’ and Trump’s arguments

Post hoc lies are commonly used in conspiracy theories and depict a “conclusion drawn from an a false cause” or a “generalization drawn from the cooccurrence of facts” (Macagno, 2022). Post hoc lies are often used in best explanation arguments, which provide an explanation for a phenomenon that has none. Question beggingconsist of using a term or sentence that is inappropriate to reality, and thus implicating a false meaning. Each word carries a shared meaning, so when it is misused, what is conveyed becomes false. By defining what happened during the presidential election as a massive fraud, a thief and an assault, Trump used question begging.

Straw man 0  (0%) 8  (3.4%)
False dilemma 17  (7.1%) 9  (3.8%)
Ignoring qualifications 24  (10.1%) 36  (15.3%)
Question begging 47  (19.7%) 68  (28.8%)
Post hoc 58  (24.4%) 56  (23.7%)
Hasty generalization 10  (4.2%) 17  (7.2%)
Slippery slope 44  (18.5%) 26  (11%)
Persuasive definition 25  (10.5%) 1  (0.4%)
Quasi-definition 13  (5.5%) 15  (6.4%)
TOTAL 238 236

 Table 7 : Trump’s and Jones’ types of lies

Slippery slopealso appears as one of the most four frequent types of lies used by both leaders. This type of lie evokes the inevitable consequences of an alleged cause. Exaggerating these consequences scares people into taking action to avoid them. A specific feature of Jones’ profile is his use of persuasive definitions, which accounts for 10.5%, and less than 1% for Trump. This type of lies is primarily used to redefine the term “revolutionary suicide”, originally coined by Huey P. Newton, co-founder and leader of the Black Panther Party in the 1960s. This term will be analyzed in section 5.6.

As previously noted, Trump likes to quote people’s words to present himself as a good person. However, the high frequency of ignoring qualifications (15.3%), which involve drawing a conclusion from a causal relation but overlooking important aspects, or distorting a person’s point of view or statement (51), proves that these quotes were in fact not as genuine as Trump claimed. Their “liar profiles” share common characteristics, but did the leaders also use similar lies for the three manipulative strategies that were discussed in section 4.1? In other words, in the sections that follow, I will investigate which kind of lies are used by Jones and Trump in order to be perceived as protectors (section 5.4), to shape an alternative world (section 5.5) and to prompt to action (section 5.6).

5.4 Lying to be perceived as a protector

In this section, I will examine the different types of lies used by Jones and Trump to be perceived as protectors (Table 8).

Straw man 0  (0%) 2  (4.5%) 0 8
False dilemma 4  (6.8%) 2  (4.5%) 17 9
Ignoring qualifications 6  (10.2%) 12  (27.4%) 24 36
Question begging 14  (23.7%) 13  (29.5%) 47 68
Post hoc 16  (27.1%) 13  (29.5%) 58 56
Hasty generalization 1  (1.7%) 1  (2.3%) 10 17
Slippery slope 13  (22%) 0  (0%) 44 26
Persuasive definition 3  (5.1%) 0  (0%) 25 1
Quasi-definition 2  (3.4%) 1  (2.3%) 13 15
TOTAL 59 44 238 236

Table 8 : Lies used to be perceived as a protector

I will focus on the types of lies that constitutes the two most frequent lies used by Jones and Trump and the third most frequent lie that differs for both leader, ignoring qualification for Trump and slippery slope for Jones.

The two most frequent lies used by both leaders to be perceived as protectors are post hoc lies and question begging, accounting for 27.1% and 23.7% for Jones and 29.5% for. These two types of lies often complement each other. With a question begging (36), Jones presents himself as the Messiah without evidence, thus he wrongfully conveys meaning of transcendence and goodness. Then, using post hoc lies, Jones describes himself as God’s creation based on causes that are unrealistic and cannot be proven (37). The extraordinary actions he performed and the fact that he survived major injuries necessarily make him God’s creation. He also presents himself as a savior (38), because he came out of Zion, God’s holy place, as did many others, who also proved to be saviors. In these cases, Jones draws a conclusion from false causes or based on the reoccurrence of a pattern that has no evidence to describe himself as divine. Note the change from an indefinite to a definite determiner, which emphasizes his importance and proves that he is not a random savior but the only savior.

  1. I know that I am God the Messiah.
  2. I’ve walked on the water, I’ve gone through fire, I’ve been shot down, I’ve been knifed. No man can do these things. No devil can do these things. All good things come from God.
  3. I am a savior. Not the creator don’t confuse me, I’m the savior. There are many saviors come up out ofZion, I am a savior come up out of Zion.

Trump uses a similar technique to highlight what he has achieved for Americans. For him, the fact that many Republicans were elected, an unexpected success, was due to his interjection into the process. He uses a metaphor to describe one of those candidates, who was doing poorly and went like a rocket ship once he endorsed him. He is careful to repeat and rephrase these successes to highlight them.

  1. Many of the Republicans, I helped them get in. I helped them get elected. I helped Mitch [McConnell] get elected. I helped I could name 24 of them, let’s say.
  2. Under my lead, the Republicans won almost every state house in the United States, which they weren’t expected to do.
  3. The tremendous success we had in the House of Representatives, and the tremendous success we’ve had so far in the Senate, unexpected success all over the country, and right here in Washington.

These three examples convey the same idea, but are presented differently. The first two are post hoc lies used to show that Trump’s presence was essential in these successes. I helped them (39), repeated four times, is rephrased by under my lead (40), both insisting of the importance of his role. The reoccurrence of his help supposedly would prove his essential role, but some claimed that the Republican Party’s efforts to promote minority candidates were in fact decisive[26], not his presence. Then, Trump uses a question begging (41) with the repetition of tremendous success associated with the hyperbole all over the country, which convey a false meaning. Here the use of tremendous success is misused because the meaning of tremendous: massive is not appropriate to the unfolding of the legislative pre-results. As of December 2020, the Republicans had only 53 seats[27] in the Senate and 232 seats in the House of Representatives, which is far from a tremendous success, all over the country. Trump is able to convince his followers that they were indeed winning the congressional elections, and therefore that it was strange that they were losing the presidential election. Moreover, he seems to think that he has a special gift, since he knew why he was losing the election when no one else did, except those responsible for his loss.

Example 42 is a question begging since he chooses to use the word illegal voters based on no background evidence. The parallel construction they knew/I knew emphasizes his person. Putting nobody else did in between creates a sort of visual opposition with those who knew the truth on both sides: the Democrats and Trump, and the rest who did not know the truth in between. This example illustrates the difficulty of differentiating post hoc lies and question begging. It could have been assessed as a question begging, since it draws a conclusion based on what can be called “false causes”. However, I have evaluated these causes not as “false” but as unfounded since they provide no information to justify the use of illegal voters.

  1. They knew why, nobody else did. I knew why. They were illegal voters.

Then, to reinforce his god-like status, Jones uses slippery slope (22%), a type of lie that Trump does not use for this purpose. In keeping with his version of the world, in which the government would place black people in concentration camps, he makes sure to depict a chaotic world. Slippery slope lies depict a sealed fate, negative emotions and despair, as in the following examples. The term itself is a metaphor illustrating a downfall and hopelessness.

  1. I have to tell you, that the universe would not run without me.
  2. I came to save you from jails, torture, concentration camps, a nuclear war which your skin will roll off your back.

These examples are slippery slopes because they present the course of events as leading inevitably to a tragic end. Slippery slopes often contain words with strong negative connotations such as hell, torture, and excessive language. As such, they distort or exaggerate reality to frighten people into doing whatever it takes to avoid this tragic fate. Jones uses these examples to present his followers with a hopeless world in which his presence is needed to restore order. His presence is essential not to the world, but to the universe (43), used as hyperbole here to prove his importance beyond planet Earth. In example 44, the use of an accumulation of violent settings allows Jones to present concrete images to his followers. With the last part of the sentence, a sort of “visual sentence”, he uses a description that allow his followers to imagine concretely the action that they will undergo: your skin will roll off your back. Thus formulated, this sentence leaves no room for an alternative course of action. His intervention is therefore necessary.

The third most frequent type of lie used by Trump is ignoring qualification, at 27.4%. He uses this type of lie twice as often as Jones. Example 45 was assessed as such because Trump quotes a third party, not to attack them (as straw man do) but to boost his image. However, with no name nor evidence given, this quote is likely to be manipulative especially with the emphasis put on his friend’s intellect.

  1. A friend of mine, who’s very smart, said, “You’ve probably seen more than anybody else. You’ve probably been investigated more than anybody else. And for you to come out with a clean bill of health makes you probably the cleanest person in this country.”

The same situation occurs when he claims that the speaker of the house of a certain state thanked him after winning his seat. With the limited number of states, the omission of the person’s name seems intentional. Trump makes sure to prove to his followers that many people support him, but without naming anyone so that these alleged people could not refute these quotes.

Therefore, Trump and Jones primarily present themselves as protectors by using words that do not fit reality and by drawing conclusions based on false causes. In the next section, I will investigate if the same quantitative patterns can be observed when the leaders lie to shape an alternative world.

5.5 Lying to shape an alternative world

As discussed in section 3, the “us vs. them” dichotomy was used to present followers with an alternative world in which they are the moral group opposed to their immoral enemy. This step is necessary to implement the leaders’ Big Lie and to later convince their group to take action.

As Table 9 shows, the four most frequently used types of lie for this purpose are almost the same as those used to be perceived as savior. Jones’ most frequently used types of lie are post hoc lies (30.4%), question begging(25.8%), slippery slope lies (19.1%) and ignoring qualification lies (6.8%). Trump’s most frequently used types of lies are question begging (28.8%), post hoc lies (26.2%), ignoring qualification lies (12.6%), and hasty generalizationand slippery slope. The latter two types account for 10.8%.

In order to create an alternative world, question begging and post hoc lies are combined to falsely describe their enemies as dangerous and evil. With a post hoc lie (46), he accuses the government of experimenting on black people.

  1. They’re experimenting on us. In the prisons, 80% nearly 90%, of all in prison are black, brown, Mexican, Indian. Yet it’s very strange that less than 17% of the pop — that’s what we represent, 17% — strange. Why is it that 90% of us are in jails and only 17% of us live in the country?

This example was evaluated as a post hoc lie since it draws a conclusion (they are experimenting on us) based on the recurrence of the excess number of “people of color” in prisons compared to the percentage they represent in the population. Jones presupposes that they were in fact imprisoned to be experimented on. However, these figures are false, as shown by a study which found that white people constitutes more than 50% of prisoners in the 1970s.[28] The use of the rhetorical question at the end invites his supporters to reflect on these strange statistics, which he believed have only one explanation. Jones, thus seems to be using baseless statistics to demonize his enemy.

Straw man 0  (0%) 4  (3.6%) 0 8
False dilemma 2  (2.2%) 0  (0%) 17 9
Ignoring qualifications 6  (6.8%) 14  (12.6%) 24 36
Question begging 23 (25.8%) 32  (28.8%) 47 68
Post hoc 27  (30.4%) 29  (26.2%) 58 56
Hasty generalization 5  (5.6%) 12  (10.8%) 10 17
Slippery slope 17  (19.1%) 12  (10.8%) 44 26
Persuasive definition 5  (5.6%) 1  (0.9%) 25 1
Quasi-definition 4  (4.5%) 7  (6.3%) 13 15
TOTAL 89 111 238 236

Table 9 : Lies used to shape an alternative world

The question begging lies are also used to devilize the enemy, as in examples 47 and 48. Jones often claims without any evidence that the government, especially white people, had assaulted people and children.

  1. The president defies the law of the land he had murdered, he has killed, he has destroyed more people than any person in our history.
  2. The Germans started the war. They were all white. We got a Hitler in Brazil, ruling Brazil, a white Hitlerright now, a general [Ernesto Geisel]. We got a general in Chile that’s murdering people of color and all the working class, taking the breasts off women, cutting off the gonads of men. General Pinochet. We got murderers all over — white murderers — all over the world.

In example 47, Jones attacks President Jimmy Carter, who has allegedly murdered, killed, and destroyed more people than any person in our history. Here, he uses three verbs that are synonymous and that describe violent and immoral actions without any proof. The hyperbolic comparison more people than any person in our history is also unfounded, Jones is unable to know all the people of what he calls the “American history”. So he uses words without proof, whose meaning alters his followers’ view on the government. To portray white people as evil, he compares leaders who had committed horrific acts and who had murdered people of color to Hitler (48). This is a question begging lie since the accusations of murder are unfounded, as are the comparisons of white people to Hitler. By referring to Hitler, Jones associates ruling white people with the negativity and ruthlessness associated with Hitler. Jones’ followers therefore wrongfully believed that white people in power in the United States will reproduce Hitler’s actions and put people in concentration camps and gas chambers.

Trump uses question begging and post hoc to support his Big Lie, that the Democrats stole the election. He uses question begging when choosing negative words such as rigged, fraud, theft, illegitimate votes, to describe the situation. When nothing reprehensible has been found to overturn the election result, these malicious words used without evidence still convey the notion of illegality and spur Trumpists’ hatred against Democrats. Trump also claims that the Democrats were desperate, again a word used without evidence. The word supposedly illustrates the Democrats’ determination to do anything to succeed, including altering the votes, which back up Trump’s claims.

Trump also uses post hoc lies to reach this conclusion. In example 49, Trump claims that the reason he lost the election is that tens of thousands illegitimate votes were added. This was created by Trump since  not one vote of this large amount has been found. As for Jones (46), figures were used without proof to draw a conclusion supporting their Big Lie and dramatize the situation.

  1. The only way this can be explained is if tens of thousands of illegitimate votes were added to the tally. That’s the only way you could explain it.

Unlike Jones, Trump uses straw man (3.6%). Straw man are misquotes of one’s words to turn their words against them. Trump deliberately misquoted his opponents words to put them in bad light. He made sure to misquote Democrats (50) who allegedly lied to honest Trump voters by telling them they had already received their votes when they wanted to vote. This alleged quote is baseless; people would have talked about it if it were real; so it is more likely to be false. Moreover, the use of the term congratulation reveals an ironic tone that suggests falsity. With straw man, the Democrats’ “words” backfire and Trump does not need to say anything bad against them.

  1. “I’m sorry,” they were told, “I’m sorry. You’ve already voted by mail-in ballot. Congratulations. We received a ballot, so you can no longer vote.”

In Trump’s mind, he had already won the election before the results were revealed. This idea is translated by hasty generalizations (10.8%), which draws a generalization based on a few cases. In example 51, the fact that he won several states he did not expect to win, and not everything as stated, was enough to make him think that he would win the election. Biden actually broke Obama’s record of the highest popular votes by gaining over 81 million[29].

  1. And we were getting ready for a big celebration. We were winning everything. and all of a sudden it was just called off.

Finally, slippery slope arguments, 19.1% for Jones and 10.8% for Trump, are mainly used here to show that the outcome of these situations will be catastrophic, using words with tragic connotations. For Jones, the placement of black people in concentration camps by the dictatorship­-like government will amount to a racist genocide and their absolute annihilation. For Trump, this voter fraud will bring hell all over the country. Both examples exaggerate reality and frighten people, who see no positive outcome to these situations.

In conclusion, both leaders use lies to aggravate the already bad image they attribute to their enemy and to ground their Big Lie in their followers’ mind, in these cases, the election fraud and the annihilation of the black race.

Now let’s see how leaders lie to prompt their followers to take action and end this situation.

5.6 Lying to prompt action

To persuade his followers to commit suicide, Jones uses persuasive definitions (18.9%), which modify the meaning of a word. Table 10 shows that it is the most frequent type of lie, it is never used by Trump.

Straw man 0  (0%) 2  (2.5%) 0 8
False dilemma 11  (12.2%) 7  (8.6%) 17 9
Ignoring qualifications 12  (13.3%) 10  (12.4%) 24 36
Question begging 10 (11.1%) 23  (28.4%) 47 68
Post hoc 15  (16.7%) 14  (17.3%) 58 56
Hasty generalization 4  (4.4%) 4  (4.9%) 10 17
Slippery slope 14  (15.6%) 14  (17.3%) 44 26
Persuasive definition 17  (18.9%) 0  (0%) 25 1
Quasi-definition 7  (7.8%) 7  (8.6%) 13 15
TOTAL 90 81 238 236

Table 10 : Lies used to prompt action

As previously noted, Jones uses the term “revolutionary suicide” to describe the action he wants his followers to undertake. This term, first introduced by Huey P. Newton, co-founder of the Black Panther Party, originally refers to “an active resistance to oppression that would cause a certain death” (Viljanen, 2013) and was used to “connect with his black audience”

Jones completely changed this definition to talk about a real suicide. For him, a “revolutionary suicide” differs from a normal suicide because it is not self-destructive action but a symbolic one. Since he had promised peace to his followers but had not found it, he believed that peace would be found in death. To illustrate this idea, Jones uses metaphors to redefine death as illustrate these persuasive definitions:

  1. All they’re doing is taking a drink, take that, to go to sleep. That’s what death is, sleep.
  2. Adults, adults, adults, I call on you to stop this nonsense. I call on you to quit exciting your children when all they’re doing is going to a quiet rest.
  3. We win, we win when we go down.

First, he compares death to sleep. Death is not to be feared, it is a quiet rest. He continues this metaphor by stating don’t take our life from us, we laid it down. We got tired, which plays with the verb to lay as the actual position to sleep. In example 54, the up/down metaphor is reversed, with down referring to something positive: a win. The second metaphor used to describe death is that of stepping into another plane as the following example illustrates:

  1. Can some people assure these children of the relaxation of stepping over to the next plane?

Here, the next plane symbolizes a new beginning, something not to be feared. Suicide is thus simplify as a step. With these two metaphors, Jones redefines death and convinces his audience that suicide is not as violent as they think.

He also uses quasi-definitions, which alter the emotive meaning of words. In example 57, dying is abnormally presented as an action one will regret not doing. This redefinition of death coupled with slippery slopes (15.6%) and false dilemmas (12.2%) create a sense of urgency among his followers. Jones describes to them a fabricated chaotic world in which they must commit suicide to save themselves and their children from being butchered. Example 56 is a false dilemma, a lie since it give the illusion of free will when one option is presented as preferable. As this false dilemma (56) illustrates, death is paradoxically presented as the only way to have a future.

  1. If we want a future, we lose our life, and if we lose our life, we will find our life.
  2. Well, you will regret that this very day if you don’t die.

By redefining “revolutionary suicide” as a symbolic action, Jones portrays his cult as martyrs. This “revolutionary suicide” will presumably prove to the world that the government’s cruelty pushed over 900 persons to their deaths.

Trump does not redefined any word in his attempt to manipulate his followers but he, like Jones, uses false dilemmas (8.6%) coupled with slippery slope (17.3%) to spur them into action:

  1. And we fight. We fight like hell and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.
  2. You’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.

Both examples illustrate false dilemmas: either people fight hard like hell to save their country or they remain weak and are left with nothing. Here, Trump presents two solutions, one ending in glory and happiness, the other in shame and no country. One, based on nationalistic and patriotic values shared by his followers, seems preferable. These are lies since they stress that only two solutions are possible, however, other solutions are available but dismissed by the leaders.

Trump’s use of slippery slopes, which often contain hyperboles (60) serves to further exaggerate the threat and made his followers anxious and angry about the direction they country was heading. The threat presented as never seen before (60) convinces them to march to the Capitol and stop the assault on their country. Trump describes this march as more important than any of the things that we discussed (61), which give it legitimacy.

  1. This election is about great voter fraud, fraud that has never been seen like this before.
  2. The single greatest achievement in your presidency will be exactly what you’re doing right now: voter integrity for our nation. It’s more important than any of the things that we discussed.

In this chapter, I have argued that both leaders’ argumentations contain almost the same types of lies to be perceived as protectors, shape an alternative world and prompt their followers to action. These lies deceive their followers into a self-destructive action: attacking the Capitol and committing “revolutionary suicide”, falsely presented as the only solutions to their plight. They prove the manipulative aspect of Trump’s and Jones’ argumentations.

6. Conclusion

This dissertation attempted to verify whether statements comparing Donald Trump to Jim Jones were linguistically legitimate. By comparing Trump’s argumentation to that of cult leader Jim Jones, many similarities were revealed.

First, Trump’s argumentation can be considered sectarian, since it contains the three selected manipulative strategies typical of cult leaders’ discourse used for manipulation, in other words: being perceived as a protector, creating an alternative world, and prompting for action.

Secondly, it was shown that both leaders used the same types of arguments to implement these strategies. Commitment arguments were used to present themselves as determined to do everything to protect their people. Ad hominem were used to attack their opponents and portray them badly. Trump especially used them to portray Democrats as thieves and Jones to portray white government leaders as killers. Both leaders also used victimization arguments, especially Jones, who wanted to show how much black people suffered from the government. With this type of argument, Trump emphasized how the fraud orchestrated by the Democrats threatened the U.S Constitution. These two types of arguments were mainly used to oppose their moral group to the evil enemy. Finally, the two leaders used best explanation arguments to support their Big Lie. Having no evidence of what they claim – for Trump, it was voter fraud; for Jones, it was concentration camps for black people – they used this argument type to prove that the Democrats rigged the election results and that the government was ready to kill all blacks.

Trump’s and Jones’ most frequent types of argument overlap and are used to alter the reality of their audience by villainizing their opponent while boosting their own image.

Thirdly, Trump and Jones based their argumentation on lies. Post hoc lies and question begging are the most frequently used types of lies. Both leaders aimed to communicate false meanings and alter their followers’ view of the situation and of their opponents. By using words and making claims without supporting evidence, they offered a false picture of the situation, which is not based on facts but supports their Big Lie.

The two leaders still differ in the types of lies they used. Trump particularly likes to misquote his opponent, with straw man, so that their words backfire. But he also likes to quote others to boost his image, but without naming them to avoid denial. His use of hasty generalizations also proved that he genuinely believed he had won the election. Somehow this argument type helps to understand his accusations of fraud and his desire to seize the Capitol to overturn the results. Jones did not quote people, preferring false dichotomies to falsely present his followers two solution to what they were living: either they committed “revolutionary suicide” and found peace, or they lived and let the government kill them and their children, when other solutions were actually possible. To argue for the first solution, he used persuasive definitions to redefine “death” and present it as their salvation.

Finally, both leaders used slippery slope to exaggeratedly depict a world without positive outcome except the one they proposed. In doing so, they were able to prompt their followers into attacking the Capitol and committing “revolutionary suicide” to save themselves from any tragic end.

In conclusion, it is possible to say that Trump is a political cult leader as his argumentation leading up to the attack of the Capitol is really similar to that of cult leader Jim Jones. Both lied to their audience in coherence with their Big Lie. They did everything to reach their ultimate goal, which was to seize the Capitol to overturn the election results for Trump and to escape justice by committing suicide for Jones, and succeeded. Both justified the ends by their means.

This claim is only based on one specific event:  the attack of the Capitol, which I consider similar to the Jonestown massacre. Although  the death toll is not comparable, both actions were self-destructive and were made possible by Trump and Jones’ deceptive argumentations. Other cult leaders have also used these three manipulative strategies, but they may have implemented them differently. Consequently, the results of my dissertation, which focuses on a small number of speeches, apply only to these two specific situations. All three manipulative strategies may not be observable in all of Trump’s speeches. It would be interesting to see whether Trump will continue to use these proven effective manipulative strategies in his future speeches if he decides to run for president in 2024.

7. Annex

Leader Date Setting Type of document Link
November 4, 2020 The White House Late night remark on the unclear outcome of the election Donald Trump 2020 Election Night Speech Transcript | Rev
Donald Trump December 2, 2020 The White House 46mn unscheduled pre-recorded speech on the Election released on Facebook Donald Trump Speech on Election Fraud Claims Transcript December 2 | Rev
January 6, 2021 Near the White House Capitol Hill Speech Donald Trump Speech “Save America” Rally Transcript January 6 | Rev
May 31, 1978 Jonestown Tape Q197
April 12, 1978 Jonestown Tape Q637 Manually filtered
April 16, 1978 Jonestown Tape Q741
Jim Jones 1973 Jonestown Tape Q957
1973 Jonestown Tape Q962
1973 Jonestown Tape Q972
1977 Jonestown Tape Q987
/ Jonestown Tape Q990
1972 Jonestown Tape Q1059- 1 to 5
November 18, 1978 Jonestown The Death Tape Q042 Transcript, FBI Transcription – Alternative Considerations of Jonestown & Peoples Temple (

Annex 1 : Speeches analysed


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Britannica. Jonestown.

Bryant, E.M. (2008). Real Lies, White Lies and Gray Lies: Towards a Typology of Deception. Kaleidoscope: A Graduate Journal of Qualitative Communication Research 7.

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Chidester, D. (1991). Salvation and Suicide: Jim Jones, The Peoples Temple, and Jonestown. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

CNN. Lawmaker shot at Jonestown compares Trump to cult leader Jim Jones.

Fact checker (2021), “In four years, President Trump made 30,573 false or misleading claims,” Washington Post,

Giaritelli, A. (13 June 2018). Bob Corker: GOP is like a cult for Trump. Washington Examiner.

The Guardian (2020). Senate and House elections 2020: full results for Congress.

Hassan, S. (1990). Combatting Cult Mind Control. Canada: Book Center.

Hassan, S. (2019). The Cult of Trump: A Leading Cult Expert Explains How the President Uses Mind Control. New York: Free Press.

Hassan, S. (2021). The BITE model of Authoritarian control. Dissertation. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.12755.60965.

Hill, K. (2016). Jim Jones and Donald Trump: Same Kool-Aid, Different Vat. Alternative Considerations.

Hill, K. (2020). Jim Trump or Donald Jones? Choose Your Poison(er). Alternative Considerations.

Hitler, A. (1925). Mein Kampf. Germany: Eher-Verlag.

Hounshell, B., Asharinam L. (6 January 2022). Jamie Raskin’s Year of Tragedy and Trump. The New York Times.

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Kessler, G. (6 January 2021). The Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol: A Guide to what we now know. The Washington Post.

Kika, Thomas (15 October 2022). Eric Trump Declares There Is ‘No Longer’ a Republican Party. Newsweek.

The King Alfred Plan & Concentration Camps. Alternative Considerations.

The King Alfred Plan. Wikipedia.

Lewis, Sophie (7 December 2020). Joe Biden breaks Obama’s record for most votes ever cast for a U.S. presidential candidate. CBS News.

Macagno, F., Walton, D. (2009). What We Hide In Words: Emotive Words and Persuasive definitions. Journal of Pragmatics 42, 7, 197-2013.

Macagno, F. (2014). Manipulating emotions. Valued-based reasoning and emotive language. Argumentation and Advocacy 51, 2 (Fall 2014). 103-122.

Macagno, F. (2022). Argumentation profiles and the manipulation of common ground. The arguments of populist leaders on Twitter. Journal of Pragmatics 191, 67-82.

Mahon, J. E. (Fall  2008). The definition of lying and deception. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy.

Malouf, M.A. (1996). “The effort to be God”: a Study of the Rhetoric of Contemporary Cult Leadership.

Manigault, O. (2018). Unhinged : An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House. United States: Simon Schuster Audio.

Marker, J. (2019). “Undaunted“ Congresswoman Jackie Speier Recounts Jonestown Massacre Survival. National Archive News.

Mearsheimer, J. (2013). Why Leaders Lies. United Kingdom: Duckworth.

Meibauer, J. (2011). On lying: intentionality, implicature, and imprecision. In: I. Kecskes. Intercultural Pragmatics. Vol. 8 (Issue 2). Berlin/New York: De Gruyter. 277-292. “Big lie.” Merriam-Webster, “Cult.” Merriam-Webster,

Ohanian, N. (April 2018). Trump’s apologists have drunk the Kool-Aid. The Seattle Times.

Pfiffner, J. P. (1999). The Lies of Donald Trump : A Taxonomy. Presidential Leadership and the Trump Presidency.

Pilkington, Ed (11 February 2021). Congresswoman and Jonestown Survivor Jackie Speier: ‘Trump Is a Political Cult Leader.’ The Guardian.

Plantin, C. (2017). Types, typologies, arguments. Revue Tranel 65.

Pratkanis, A.R., Aronson, E. (2001). Age of Propaganda : The Everyday Use and Abuse of Propaganda. Fifth edition. W.H. Freeman.

Reiterman, T. (1982). Raven. New York: E.P. Dutton.

Saul, J. M. (2012). Lying, misleading, and what is said. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sceats, S. (2021). A Legacy of Lies: Examining Donald Trump’s Record-Breaking Dishonesty. Western Washington University.

Stokke, A. (2016). Lying and misleading in discourse. The Philosophical Review, 125(1), 83–134..

Stokke, A. (2013). Lying, deceiving, and misleading. Philosophy Compass, 8, 348–359.

Sinnreich, A., Davis, D.H. (2020). Beyond Fact-Checking : Lexical  Patterns as Lies Detectors in Donald Trump’s Tweets. International Journal of Communication. Vol. 14. 5237-5260.

Toulmin, S.E & als. (1984). Aristotle’s theory of rhetorical argumentation. Montréal: Bellarmin.

Turri, A., Turri, J. (2015). The truth about lying. Cognition 138, 161–168.

Urban Dictionary. Trumpist.

Viljanen, A. (2013) Defined by the Father: A discourse analytical case study of the last speech of Jim Jones. Alternative Considerations.

Waterman, Morgan (2016). Race, Segregation and Incarceration in the States, 1920-2010. Dartmouth University.

Weissman, B., Terkourafi, M. (2019). Are false implicature lies? An empirical investigation. Mind & language.Vol. 34 (2). 221-246.

Yates, B. (2008). The Many Meaning of Revolutionary Suicide. Alternative Considerations.


[1] Fact checker (2021), “In four years, President Trump made 30,573 false or misleading claims,” Washington Post,

[2] I use the term “Trumpist”, because these supporters are faithful to Trump first and not the Republican party.

[3] Urban Dictionary. Trumpist, definition 3.

[4] Kika, Thomas (15 October 2022). Eric Trump Declares There Is ‘No Longer’ a Republican Party. Newsweek.

[5] CNN. Lawmaker shot at Jonestown compares Trump to cult leader Jim Jones.

[6] Pilkington, Ed (11 February 2021). Congresswoman and Jonestown Survivor Jackie Speier: ‘Trump Is a Political Cult Leader.’ The Guardian.

[7] CNN.

[8] Britannica. Jonestown.

[9] CNN.

[10] “Cult.” Merriam-Webster,

[11] MANIPULATION | English meaning – Cambridge Dictionary

[12] DECEPTION | English meaning – Cambridge Dictionary

[13] “Big lie.” Merriam-Webster,

[14] Fact checker.

[15] Transcribe Speech to Text | Rev

[16] The King Alfred Plan & Concentration Camps. Alternative Considerations of Jonestown & Peoples Temple.

[17] The King Alfred Plan. Wikipedia.

[18] Codebook for argument analysis (

[19] Codebook for fallacy analysis (

[20] In 1993, during the Waco siege against the FBI, David Koresh and 82 Davidians (including 25 children) died when they refused to leave a burning building. On March, 22, 1997 when a comet passed by Earth, Marshall Applewhite and 38 of his members committed suicide after he convinced them that aliens would come alongside the comet, rescue them from Earth and place their souls in new bodies. Waco: American Apocalypse, Tiller Russell (2023), a Netflix documentary

[21] Codebook for argument analysis (

[22] Codebook for argument analysis (

[23] The Last Days (1998). James Moll.

[24] Fact checker.

[25] Codebook for fallacy analysis (

[26] Wikipedia. 2020 United States House of Representatives elections.

[27] The Guardian. Senate and House elections 2020: full results for Congress.

[28]Waterman, Morgan (2016). Race, Segregation and Incarceration in the States, 1920-2010. Dartmouth University.

[29] Lewis, Sophie (7 December 2020). Joe Biden breaks Obama’s record for most votes ever cast for a U.S. presidential candidate. CBS News.