Creator and cult professional talks Fiji, diving, and future grand plans

As a junior in school, Newton-based Steven Hassan was recruited into the Unification Movement (also known as the Unification Church), whose followers were known as “Moonies”. His experiences from this period and subsequent studies of mind control and destructive authoritarian power have made him one of the country’s foremost cult experts. The licensed mental health advisor, who has a PhD and is a frequent guest on national news broadcasts to speak about cults, addressed President Trump and his supporters in his hardcover book The Cult of Trump, published last year and in October as a paperback. “The book on Malignant Narcissism has a chapter. I give examples of how Trump’s behavior compares to Jim Jones’ [who led a mass suicide of his Peoples Temple followers in Jonestown, Guyana, in 1978];; [L. Ron] Hubbard [the founder of the Church of Scientology];; and [Sun Myung] Moon, who was the head of my cult, ”said Hassan. “I’m talking about cults on the continuum, from benign OK cults that you’ve given your consent to to unhealthy, destructive, and authoritarian types.” The 66-year-old Hassan hopes his book will reduce the political polarization in the country. “It’s not just a diagnosis book, it’s also a recipe book. This is where you can find out what the problem is so we can fix it, ”he said. “There’s a chapter on how to help people get out of the Trump cult and what we need to do in the future to prevent this from ever happening again.” The Queens, NY, native who lives in Newton with his wife, freelance science writer and artist Misia Landau; Son Matthew, 18; and 1 year old Cavapoo, Sophie, is an avid scuba diver who can’t wait to experience his next underwater adventure. We met Hassan to talk about anything to do with travel.

Favorite vacation destination? My favorite so far has been when my wife Misia and son Matthew went scuba diving in Fiji. We stayed at Taveuni Island Resort & Spa. I have been diving since I was 40 and find the experience a spiritual experience that keeps me relaxed and in awe. Each destination is a new journey into a new world. Fiji has always been a fantasy travel destination and when my son got certified [as a scuba diver] There he made his first open water dives.

Favorite food or drink on vacation? While the advice is not to drink a lot while diving, I always like a vodka and cranberry or a vodka martini with a twist.

Where do you want to go but you don’t have it? I would love to dive to the Great Barrier Reef – what’s left of it that’s alive – and I’d also love to go to Cocos Island as well as Palau, New Guinea. Oh and South Africa [to] Cage diving with great white sharks. The main problem is time and money and I want to go with my family and their dates.

Something that you cannot leave home without when traveling? I hate to say it, but my smartphone. … A sun hat would be a second must.

Corridor or window? Aisle seat always. I have to stand and stretch my legs and when I have to go to the bathroom I hate disturbing others.

Favorite memory of childhood travel? Do a Cross Country AYH [American Youth Hostel] Bike tour of the US at the age of 16 with a small group of others – and a 21 year old [who was] responsible for us. It was really my first time touring America and it was pedaling 80 miles a day; so exhausting. We had tents and backpacks so we mostly slept in campsites and it was just beautiful and hell of a challenge to do. In Colorado we were harassed by some rednecks who disliked hippie-looking kids on backpacked bikes.

Guilty pleasure while traveling? Spend a lot of money on good food. We are also happy to hire personal tour guides.

Best travel tip? Bring breathable, washable clothing and underwear, and a variety of shoes and slippers.

JULIET PENNINGTON

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