By Paul Serran
The International Journal of Coercion, Abuse, and Manipulation (IJCAM) released, in June of 2021, a Special Edition: “Comparative Reflections on Scientology and NXIVM”.
In analyzing the recurring claims that NXIVM’s Keith Raniere was influenced by Ron L. Hubbard and his Scientology, Dr. Kent highlights the similarities and differences in the patterns of alleged coercion, abuse, and manipulation involving the two groups.
While doing so, the author ends up finding a deeper lien uniting these two ‘cult leaders’, by way of a dark psychological condition: malignant narcissism.
Not surprisingly, professor Kent’s study makes frequent resort to opinions and analysis by Frank Parlato, and to materials posted over the years on the Frank Report. In fact, a good deal of the comparison between the two alleged ‘cult-like organizations’ is based on a post published on the Frank Report by a poster who called himself ‘John P. Capitalist’, “who indicated that he was ‘a Wall Street money manager and IT specialist fascinated by irrationality in all its forms, and Scientology most of all'”.
According to professor Kent, both Toni Natalie and Heidi Hutchinson stated that Raniere had read Scientology materials.
Mark Vicente: “I actually heard [Raniere] talk negatively about Scientology”. Kent makes a point: “[Vicente’s] report that Raniere believed more in the effectiveness of his own techniques is to be expected” in the light of his narcissism.
“The differences between Scientology and NXIVM are, in some ways, quite significant,” he ponders in his IJCAM article. “They do not cancel, however, what appear to be significant similarities.”
Both organizations “promised transformative technologies for self-improvement but […] developed totalistic practices that trapped many members in systems of self- (and organizational-) harm”.
Below, we will briefly discuss some of the striking similarities between NXIVM and Scientology found by ‘Capitalist’, Professor Kent and others.
- Litigation — Kent notes that both groups used “scorched-earth litigation tactics against opponents”. Raniere’s suits may have cost as much as $50 million in legal fees.
Frank Report’s readers know all about the blatant pattern of judicial harassment displayed by NXIVM against Rick Ross, Sarah Edmondson, Toni Natalie, Frank Parlato, among so many others.
Ron Hubbard and his Scientology infamously got the FBI to investigate critical journalist, Paulette Cooper “on false bomb-threat allegations”.
“Frank Parlato”, continues Kent, “produced quotes from [Ron L.] Hubbard’s writings about how he wanted his organization to use litigation against perceived opponents”.
It involved “using lawsuits to harass and discourage rather than win; retaliating against people who ‘attack Scientology;’ and finding or manufacturing critics’ vulnerabilities for use in neutralizing them.”
Parlato also “provided a quote of several sentences in which Hubbard insisted that a commitment to Scientology was ‘for the duration of the universe,’ and that Scientologists would ‘rather have you dead than incapable.'”
Kent quotes Parlato’s conclusion: “After reading some of [Hubbard’s] quotes, I suspect Keith Raniere borrowed more than just terminology from Hubbard, but also his strategy for attacking attackers”.
- Fabricated Background: leaders of both organizations “inflated and fabricated aspects of their backgrounds and credentials”.
Readers of the Frank Report have regaled themselves often with the ridiculous claims Raniere has made, while professor Kent reminds us that there is otherwise court transcript evidence “showing that [Raniere] had received ‘an F in advanced ordinary differential equations, an F in theoretical physics, and an F in quantum mechanics,’ plus ‘a D in experimental physics'”.
“Hubbard, too, made fraudulent claims”, writes Kent, “that he was a physicist, a civil engineer, and a PhD, even lying about having a bachelor’s degree.”
In this point is where professor Stephen Kent gets to a deeper connection between the Hubbard and Raniere: “The parallel, however, of credentials-inflation probably does not indicate inspirational borrowing but rather suggests a shared personality disorder between the two founders” (italics are mine).
- Secrecy of the “Tech”. That is “the term that both Hubbard and Raniere applied to the techniques that they used in courses”. The article shows the equivalency of “Raniere’s efforts to protect their public circulation and the extensive efforts that Scientology took to keep its own secret doctrines and techniques off of the internet.”
The article notes what we have long known, that “all NXIVM participants had to sign a dizzying array of nondisclosure agreements”.
Other attempt at secrecy seemed to be the gathering of ‘collateral’ – what Mark Vicente called in court ‘blackmail material’.
“NXIVM leaders used collateral to ensure secrecy about course content, the nature and activities of an abusive female sorority called DOS […] and the sexual activities in which Raniere engaged with numerous women”.
- Obsession with “Ethics” – the Mission Statement from Executive Success Programs courses contains the pledge “to ethically control as much of the money, wealth and resources of the world as possible within my success plan”.
Espians, as readers of the Frank Report know so well, regarded their Vanguard as “the most ethical man in the world”.
Kent brings this illuminating excerpt of Mark Vicente’s statement at Raniere’s sentencing:
“He has belief that he is the next evolution of humankind. Beyond worldly ethics and morality. Far superior to this court. He thinks he breathes the rarified air of an awakened genius. But he is none of those things. He is a malicious, petty, evil and dangerously vengeful sociopath.”
The article reminds us that Scientology is a much larger and much older organization, going on since the 50’s, meaning that “the ethics system that Hubbard developed was less about enhancing his own status through direct interpersonal interactions but more about re-socializing members into the ethical systems that were at the foundation of his organization, including his desire to thrust Scientology into a position of world dominance.”
- Expansion from Core Self-Help Claims into Other Areas: Both Scientology and NXIVM eventually “developed programs that went beyond their original self-help intents.”
The anonymous Frank Report reader/poser who calls himself “John P. Capitalist” speculated that Hubbard and Raniere created their programs because: “1) the programs validated their ‘super-genius’ origin stories; 2) the programs attempted to create second generation cult members; and 3) the programs were recruitment tools for attracting new members.”
- Blatant Disregard for Basic Human Rights:
“Scientology has engaged in all sorts of quack research on the ‘tech’ of self-help,” Capitalist wrote, while “NXIVM was accused of conducting experiments in brain activity on several members without consent and without any sort of scientific basis”.
Hubbard “instructed Scientologists to isolate the psychotic, not speak to him or her, give the person-specific vitamins and minerals, and begin ‘auditing‘. The auditing case supervisor, whose only required training was Scientology, had the responsibility to decide when to release a supposed psychotic patient from isolation.”
Readers of the Report know how all about how NXIVM’s Dr. Brandon Porter conducted the infamous ‘fright study’ that led him to losing his license to practice medicine in New York.
Professor Kent notes that “a recent source identified [Raniere] as a malignant narcissist”, a person who would “seethe with revenge against people whom they feel have slighted, challenged, mocked, or rejected them.”
- Inner circle facilitators: the article in the IJCAM reminds us that “both Scientology and NXIVM have/had a group of exclusive supporters who facilitated their charismatic leaders’ visions and projects while attempting to protect them from internal and external hostile forces.”
In both organizations, “some inner circle facilitators changed their statuses to critics”.
- Wealthy Benefactors: “Both organizations received contributions from wealthy benefactors. Prosecutors in the Raniere case estimate that Clare Bronfman may have funded NXIVM, Raniere, his lawsuits, and his patents to the tune of at least $116 million.”
- Spying on Critics: Both organizations had surveillance and spied on critics. According to the government’s sentencing memorandum against Raniere:
“Raniere and his co-conspirators engaged in unlawful surveillance and investigation of his perceived enemies…. The targets of these efforts included federal judges overseeing litigation in which NXIVM was a party, high-ranking politicians, reporters who had published articles critical of Raniere or NXIVM, NXIVM’s own lawyers, legal adversaries and their families, an accountant (James Loperfido) who worked for an attorney who had previously done work for NXIVM, and Edgar Bronfman Sr., the father of Clare Bronfman “
If Clare Bronfman spied on her father, the second (and current) Scientology leader, David Miscavige, also put his own father, Ron Miscavige, a critic of Scientology, under surveillance. Kent quotes L. Helmar: “When it appeared (incorrectly) that Ron was having a heart attack, the private investigator phoned David, asking what to do. The son instructed the private investigator ‘to let his father die and to not intervene’”.
- Abortions: as Raniere was having sex with everyone in his inner circle, and did not use condoms, Toni Natalie wrote that “all of this unprotected sex led to numerous pregnancies, and these numerous pregnancies led to the same number of terminations.”
“A female member of his inner circle, Pam Cafritz,” states professor Kent, “handled the abortion arrangements”.
As for Scientology, the allegations involving members’ abortions date back at least to the late 1980s. “Assuming that the earlier accounts were reasonably accurate, they probably reflected ‘the attitude among […] leadership that children hinder adults from performing their vital assignments'”.
- Isolated Confinement: the article recounts how an aspect of Raniere’s trafficking conviction was the restraint of Daniela, in the words of prosecutors “for labor and services by confining her to a room for nearly two years on the threat of being sent to Mexico and withholding her birth certificate”.
In Scientology, accounts of confinement involve a larger number a people, over a period of years, in Scientology facilities all over the world.
“One wonders why both Hubbard and Raniere became so upset when people had age appropriate romantic feelings or sexual attractions.” Stephen Kent zeroes in on a central issue. “A possible explanation is that […] emotional bonds between members may compete and interfere with their members’ emotional (and practical) abilities to commit completely to those leaders or the organizations that they have created.”
“Eliminating emotional ‘competition’ was paramount for Hubbard and Raniere”, the article concludes, “because both leaders/founders possessed characteristics of malignant narcissists.”
- Malignant narcissism: “The retaliatory and aggressive policies that existed in both Scientology and NXIVM likely reflected the probable personality disorders of their founders.”
The article in the IJCAM arrives at the possibility that the “[c]haracteristics that the two founders shared — fabricated backgrounds, grandiosity, lack of empathy as demonstrated in human rights violations, entitlements around confining the uncooperative or troublesome, interfering with women’s reproductive rights — simply may reflect attitudes and behaviors that grow out of a shared personality disorder” (italics are mine).
A mark of the malignant narcissist is the constant need for “excessive admiration”. Be it Scientology’s “billion year contracts” or DOS’ pelvic fire-brands, they display the pathological necessity of “appropriate indicators of [the follower’s] commitment to [their] domination.”
Professor Kent’s article does not exhaust the subject, in fact points out otherwise that this is a fertile ground for further studies. The article is also yet another reminder that Frank Parlato and his Frank Report are not only the mandatory stop in the study of ‘all things NXIVM’, but also a strong reference in the fight against coercive, abusive and manipulative societies in our times.