Though American Horror Story doesn't tackle real life situations in the same way its sister show American Crime Story does, every season still blends reality and fiction, playing on real world fears in a highly dramatized way. The characters and situations are largely made up, but real people and events do provide plenty of inspiration. And more than any season that came before it, Season 7 is grounded firmly in the present and deals with events that are still unfolding in the real world. So is AHS: Cult based on a true story?
The short answer is no, though there are still real moments that went into its creation. The jumping off point of the entire season was the 2016 election and the resultant spiral many Americans went into after Donald Trump was elected president over Hillary Clinton. Despite the fact that the election may have triggered the events of the season and influenced how the characters feel, it's still only inspiration. None of the characters are based on real people and the storylines that will play out over the season are purely the writers' imagination.
But the election isn't the only real event that has been woven into AHS: Cult's fictional landscape.
While Evan Peters is primarily playing the fictional cult leader Kai, he will also be playing some real cult leaders who have risen to relative power over the years, including Charles Manson, Jim Jones, David Koresh, and Andy Warhol. Lena Dunham will be playing a real person too: Valerie Solanas, the woman who shot Andy Warhol. In an interview with Variety, showrunner Ryan Murphy said that he was interested in exploring "the cult of personality" that has led to certain people gaining obsessed followings. AHS: Cult will be tackling that theme in both real and fictional settings.
The ominous clowns that dominate Season 7 also come from a real place. Throughout 2016 there were unexplained sightings of clowns lurking by forests and schools. Similarly, the characters of Cult deal with an intensely creepy group of clowns who seem to be waiting around every corner. More violence may result from the clowns on AHS, but the inspiration definitely seems to be there.
This is in line with previous seasons of the show. Though the vampires of Hotel were fictional, James Patrick March took a note from actual serial killer H. H. Holmes; Murder House wasn't real, but still saw appearances from real crime victims like the Black Dahlia. American Horror Story has always combined truth and fiction, and Season 7 is no different.