Guest View: What Makes NXIVM a Cult? 30 Questions to Answer


The following is a comment on another story that seems worthy of presenting as a separate post.

By An Inquiring Mind

I have noticed that when cult members wish to defend a cult and its leader and/or practices, they justify everything piecemeal.


  1. What is wrong with calorie counting?
  2. Is highly restricted food intake so bad?
  3. What is so wrong with a master/slave relationship?
  4. What is wrong with punitive measures like paddling?
  5. What is wrong with an arranged marriage?
  6. What is wrong with sashes?
  7. What is wrong with demanding celibacy?
  8. What is wrong with many female adults all having sex with the same man?
  9. What is wrong with blackmail?
  10. What is wrong with forbidding women to masturbate?
  11. What is wrong with a woman in a room for 2 years?
  12. What is wrong with close-up vulva photos weekly?
  13. What is wrong with 3 young sisters and one man?
  14. What is wrong with bowing to the leader’s photo?
  15. What is wrong with recruitment?
  16. Why not build a dungeon with a cage for slaves?
  17. Why shouldn’t everyone move to Albany at the grandmaster’s directive?
  18. What is wrong with shunning a person?
  19. What is wrong with paying exorbitant fees for classes and therapy that never ends?
  20. Why shouldn’t one man’s desires and orders go unquestioned?
  21. Why not stop talking to your family?
  22. Or quit your career?
  23. Why not do every single thing the leader wants or else?
  24. Why not do readiness drills and be sleep-deprived?
  25. Why not have a secret phone?
  26. What’s wrong with working for free?
  27. Why not devote your life to a cause you believe in?
  28. Why not break some laws if it’s “ethical”?
  29. What’s wrong with questioning everything you believe in?
  30. Why not spy on your enemies?

Some of those things listed are relatively benign. On. Their. Own.

It is the totality of a cult’s practices and the complete fealty to a leader that makes it a cult.

But cult members try to take each thread and make it seem bland and innocuous. In a stand-alone way.

When it is all of those restrictions and constrictive individual threads that together make up the noose that the cult has slipped over your neck to hang you.

Or to “bind your life” as Sarah Edmondson stated in her book title.

It is the total control over your life. The limiting of your world. The complete consumption of your time, energy and resources that makes it so destructive.

Not one isolated fact. Or practice.

Buying a gun. As a stand alone fact. Is fine.

Driving to an ex’s house. As a stand alone. Fine.

Shooting a gun. As a stand alone. Fine.

Those 3 actions together in a certain order and manner… Are not.

About the author

Guest View


Click here to post a comment

Please leave a comment: Your opinion is important to us! (Email & username are optional. To leave a name, click on the email icon)

  • And this list does not even include some of the most cult-y Nxium facts.

    For instance: The hunt for a virgin successor.

  • I completely agree that is the complete pattern that develops from each instance they are ignoring. I think part of that is the narrative that Keith and his inner circle worked so hard to circulate in advance of meeting him. Namely that Keith was one of the smartest men in the world, a scientist and philosopher, who was so moral that he completely renounced money and sex.

    That way when people saw behavior that would have allowed them to see what was really going on, it went against the narrative they already believed. People they trusted and wanted to be around kept insisting that if they noticed things didn’t seem quite right, it was only their faulty perceptions.

    How many ex-NXIVM people have said they found Keith creepy or unimpressive and then proceeded to explain why they discounted it. As time went on, for the people who stayed in and eventually moved to Albany, the focus on perfecting yourself kept them from looking at whether Keith and the inner circle were living up to their ideals. Anyone who criticized him had all their faults pointed out and their motives questioned while Keith never had to undergo the same critiques.

    The question I keep going back to for the people who are still committed to this is: If Keith is such an ethical person, would he lie about his qualifications, his relationships, his own child, his involvement in DOS, etc? If Keith is so enlightened that he can live by his principles no matter what, why not just tell the truth and endure the consequences the way all the people he claims to admire did? Why not be a martyr to the cause?

    And if you are not being completely honest about everything you participated in while claiming to be committed to the truth and willing to risk public ridicule for it, it’s time to acknowledge that you aren’t living up to your own moral commitments.

    • No name,

      Read your comment twice. Agree with everything you wrote.

      And then when you add this whole lifetime commitment bizarre construct underlying everything…

      Who keeps other people forever bound to serve them against their will, desire or self-interest? As a slave? By using blackmail?

      How is that ethical? And it colors the whole organisation and the leader as such coercive, clingy, obsessive, exploitative, creepy creeps.

      And the infamous brand. Not a symbol of an organization. Or a sorority. Or any entity. But a brand of a man’s initials. Deceitfully burned into flesh, after intentionally misleading women. Only women. Near the genitals. While the women were completely nude. And recorded. “For collateral”

      That bears zero resemblance to getting a fraternity brand on your arm and then moving on with your life. You are not living and working and committing the rest of your life to serving a master and readiness drills and porn on demand and sex with some old person you never knew was the leader etc. In a college fraternity.

      There is no logical comparison between those two scenarios. None. What so ever. Zip.. Nada. Zilch. But the Nxivm die hards still try to pull that one off.

      That kind of brand pretty universally connotes ownership. The branding of initials on cattle is a well-known practice. And horrifically actual slaves historically were also branded with a master’s initials. For the cult to deny knowledge of that significance is asinine.

      Oh. And also the most ethical man in the world responded to the naked group slave photo showing the brands as “all mine” devil emoji. Claiming ownership over the DOS women.

      So there’s that. Take Keith’s word on how the brand was meant. Not mine.

  • These are nice points and apply to a lot of public debate, not just defense of NXIVM. When the forest is very ugly, you talk about individual trees. In upcoming R. Kelly trial, for example, you will see it repeatedly. “What’s wrong with having many girlfriends? What’s wrong with being called Daddy? What’s wrong with girls deciding to spend time with Kelly instead of their parents?” On and on.

  • The primary difference between a cult and, say, religion is: you can leave a religion without penalty. You cannot leave a cult ( without penalty).

    • There are people who left Scientology that would disagree with the distinction you suggest exists.

      • And people who left Nxivm without penalty.

        There are mainstream religions with penalties for leaving. There’s even a term for it: apostasy. Aside from the obvious one, that you’re gonna go to Hell, there were here on Earth penalties. Like being burned as a heretic.

        Religions are cults. All the ones we happen to not believe in anyway 😈

    • Apostasy in Islam
      From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia



      From 11th century onwards, apostasy of Muslims from Islam was forbidden by Islamic law, earlier apostasy law was only applicable if a certain number of witnesses testify which for the most past was impossible.[118][119][120] Apostasy was punishable by death and also by civil liabilities such as seizure of property, children, annulment of marriage, loss of inheritance rights.[6] (A subsidiary law, also applied throughout the history of Islam, forbade non-Muslims from proselytizing Muslims to leave Islam and join another religion,[121][122][118][119][120] because it encouraged Muslims to commit a crime.)[50] Starting in the 19th century the legal code of many Muslim states no longer included apostasy as a capital crime, and to compensate some Islamic scholars called for vigilante justice of hisbah to execute the offenders (see Apostasy in Islam#Colonial era and after).

      In contemporary times the majority of Islamic jurists still regard apostasy as a crime deserving the death penalty, (according to Abdul Rashied Omar),[23] although “a growing body of Islamic jurists” oppose this,[Note 10] (according to Javaid Rehman)[10][6][33] as inconsistent with “freedom of religion” as expressed in the Quranic injunctions (Quran 88:21-88:22)[37] and Quran 2:256 (“there is no compulsion in religion”);[20] and a relic of the early Islamic community when apostasy was desertion or treason.[38]

      Still others support a “centrist or moderate position” of executing only those whose apostasy is “unambiguously provable” such as if two just muslim eyewitnesses testify; and/or reserving the death penalty for those who make their apostacy public. According to Christine Schirrmacher, “a majority of theologians” embrace this stance.[123]

      Who qualifies for judgement for the crime of apostasy
      Further information: Takfir § Exemptions_and_extenuating_circumstances
      As mentioned above, there are numerous doctrinal fine points outlined in fiqh manuals whose violation should render the violator an apostate, but there are also hurdles and exacting requirements that spare (self-proclaimed) Muslims conviction for apostasy in classical fiqh.

      One motive for caution is that it is an act of apostasy (in Shafi’i and other fiqh) for a Muslim to accuse or describe another innocent Muslim of being an unbeliever,[90] based on the hadith where Muhammad is reported to have said: “If a man says to his brother, ‘You are an infidel,’ then one of them is right.”[124][125]

      According to sharia, to be found guilty the accused must at the time of apostasizing be exercising free will, an adult, and of sound mind,[6] and have refused to repent when given a time period to do so (not all schools include this last requirement). The free will requirement excludes from judgement those who embraced Islam under conditions of duress and then went back to their old religion, or Muslims who converted to another religion involuntarily, either force or as concealment (Taqiyya or Kitman) out of fear of persecution or during war.[26][27] Also excluded are those who have mistreated a copy of a Quran or do not pray Salat out of ignorance and misunderstanding (provided they do not continue to do so after being warned not to).[7]

      Some of these requirements have served as “loopholes” to exonerate apostates (apostasy charges against Abdul Rahman, were dropped on the grounds he was “mentally unfit”).[126])

      Death penalty
      In classical fiqh
      Traditional Sunni and Shia Islamic fiqhs, or schools of jurisprudence (maḏāhib) agree on some issues—that male apostates should be executed, and that most but not all perpetrators should not be given a chance to repent (the excluded include those who practice magic (subhar), treacherous heretics (zanādiqa, and recidivists”).[6] They disagree on issues such as whether women can be executed,[127][128][129] whether apostasy is a violation of “the rights of God”,[6][130] whether apostates who were born Muslim may be spared if they repent,[6] whether conviction requires the accused be a practicing Muslim,[6] or whether it is enough to simply intend to commit apostasy rather than actually doing it.[6]

      Hanafi – recommends three days of imprisonment before execution, although the delay before killing the Muslim apostate is not mandatory. Apostasy is not a Hudood crime.[131] Unlike in other schools it is not obligatory to call on the apostate to repent.[6] Apostate men must be killed, while women must be held in solitary confinement and beaten every three days till they recant and return to Islam.[132] Penalty for Apostasy limited for those who cause Hirabah after leaving Islam, not for personal religion change.[133]
      Maliki – allows up to ten days for recantation, after which the apostate must be killed. Apostasy is a Hudood crime.[131] Both men and women apostates deserve death penalty according to the traditional view of Sunni Maliki fiqh.[129] Unlike other schools, the apostate must have a history of being “good” (i.e. practicing) Muslim.[6]
      Shafi’i – waiting period of three days is required to allow the Muslim apostate time to repent and return to Islam. Failing repentance, execution is the recommended punishment for both men and women.[129] Apostasy is not a Hudood crime.[131]
      Hanbali – waiting period not necessary, but may be granted. Apostasy is a Hudood crime.[131] Execution is traditional recommended punishment for both genders of Muslim apostates.[129]
      Ja’fari – Male apostates must be executed, while a female apostate must be held in solitary confinement till she repents and returns to Islam.[129][132] Apostasy is a Hudood crime.[131] The “mere intention of unbelief” without expression qualifies as apostasy.[6] Unlike the other schools, repentance will not save a defendant from execution unless they are “national apostates” who were not born Muslims but converted to Islam before apostasizing. “Innate” apostates, who grew up Muslims and remained Muslim after puberty and until converting to another religion, should be executed whether or not they return to Islam.[6][112]

      Vigilante application
      In contemporary situations where apostates, (or alleged apostates), have ended up being killed, it is usually not be through the formal criminal justice system, especially when “a country’s law does not punish apostasy.” It is not uncommon for “vigilante” Muslims to kill or attempt to kill apostates or alleged apostates (or force them to flee the country).[15] In at least one case, (the high profile execution of Mahmud Muhammad Taha), the victim was legally executed and the government made clear he was being executed for apostasy, but not the technical “legal basis” for his killing was another crime or crimes,[15] namely “heresy, opposing the application of Islamic law, disturbing public security, provoking opposition against the government, and re-establishing a banned political party.”[134] When post-modernist professor Nasr Abu Zayd was found to be an apostate by an Egyptian court, it meant only an involuntary divorce from his wife (who did not want to divorce), but it put the proverbial target on his back and he fled to Europe.[15][135]

      Civil liabilities
      In Islam, apostasy has traditionally had both criminal and civil penalties. In the late 19th century, when the use of criminal penalties for apostasy fell into disuse, civil penalties were still applied.[6] The punishment for the criminal penalties includes death or prison, while [6][136] In all madhhabs of Islam, the civil penalties include:

      (a) the property of the apostate is seized and distributed to his or her Muslim relatives;
      (b) his or her marriage annulled (faskh) (as in the case of Nasr Abu Zayd);
      (1) if they were not married at the time of apostasy they could not get married[137]
      (c) any children removed and considered ward of the Islamic state.[6]
      (d) In case the entire family has left Islam, or there are no surviving Muslim relatives recognized by Sharia, the apostate’s property is liquidated by the Islamic state (part of fay, الْفيء).
      (e) In case the apostate is not executed — such as in case of women apostates in Hanafi school — the person also loses all inheritance rights.[35][36][not specific enough to verify] Hanafi Sunni school of jurisprudence allows waiting till execution, before children and property are seized; other schools do not consider this wait as mandatory.[6]
      Social liabilities
      The conversion of a Muslim to another faith is often considered a “disgrace” and “scandal” as well as a sin,[138] so in addition to penal and civil penalties, loss of employment,[138] ostracism and proclamations by family members that they are “dead”, is not at all “unusual”.[139] For those who wish to remain in the Muslim community but who are considered unbelievers by other Muslims, there are also “serious forms of ostracism”. These include the refusal of other Muslims to pray together with or behind a person accused of kufr, the denial of the prayer for the dead and burial in a Muslim cemetery, boycott of whatever books they have written, etc.[140]

      • “From 11th century onwards, apostasy of Muslims from Islam was forbidden by Islamic law, earlier apostasy law was only applicable if a certain number of witnesses testify which for the most part was impossible.”

        In other words, like all religions, some people decided to interpret and/or change it several hundred years after the fact into something that never really existed when it first started out.

About the Author

Frank Parlato is an investigative journalist.

His work has been cited in hundreds of news outlets, like The New York Times, The Daily Mail, VICE News, CBS News, Fox News, New York Post, New York Daily News, Oxygen, Rolling Stone, People Magazine, The Sun, The Times of London, CBS Inside Edition, among many others in all five continents.

His work to expose and take down NXIVM is featured in books like “Captive” by Catherine Oxenberg, “Scarred” by Sarah Edmonson, “The Program” by Toni Natalie, and “NXIVM. La Secta Que Sedujo al Poder en México” by Juan Alberto Vasquez.

Parlato has been prominently featured on HBO’s docuseries “The Vow” and was the lead investigator and coordinating producer for Investigation Discovery’s “The Lost Women of NXIVM.” Parlato was also credited in the Starz docuseries "Seduced" for saving 'slave' women from being branded and escaping the sex-slave cult known as DOS.

Additionally, Parlato’s coverage of the group OneTaste, starting in 2018, helped spark an FBI investigation, which led to indictments of two of its leaders in 2023.

Parlato appeared on the Nancy Grace Show, Beyond the Headlines with Gretchen Carlson, Dr. Oz, American Greed, Dateline NBC, and NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, where Parlato conducted the first-ever interview with Keith Raniere after his arrest. This was ironic, as many credit Parlato as one of the primary architects of his arrest and the cratering of the cult he founded.

Parlato is a consulting producer and appears in TNT's The Heiress and the Sex Cult, which premiered on May 22, 2022. Most recently, he consulted and appeared on Tubi's "Branded and Brainwashed: Inside NXIVM," which aired January, 2023.

IMDb — Frank Parlato

Contact Frank with tips or for help.
Phone / Text: (305) 783-7083