Inside the Numerous, Shrouded Links Between NXIVM and Scientology

By Bowen Xiao
Bowen Xiao
Bowen Xiao
Bowen Xiao is a New York-based reporter at The Epoch Times. He covers national security, human trafficking and U.S. politics.
June 26, 2019 Updated: July 10, 2019

NEW YORK—Keith Raniere, the former leader of purported self-help organization NXIVM “borrowed heavily” from the teachings of Scientology, copied a number of its internal methodologies, and, in some instances, plagiarized word-for-word its unique terminology for his own exalted classes.

The parallels between both organizations are many—from employing similar indoctrination and deception tactics, to going after members-turned-critics, to even using the same legal defense. Multiple interviews conducted by The Epoch Times—including one with a former Scientology member who also had taken NXVIM classes—confirmed many of them.

The similarities surfaced after The Epoch Times previously reported about the parallels between the NXIVM case and a new lawsuit launched last week against the Church of Scientology International (CSI) and its leader, David Miscavige. Both cases detail allegations of abuses from human trafficking to child abuse. Some say the new suit is unlikely to amount to anything, citing Scientology’s vast financial resources and history of settling out of court.

Raniere was charged with multiple crimes, including  racketeering, forced labour, sex trafficking and child abuse images, and  found guilty on all counts by a federal jury on June 19.

Methodology and Terminology

Before Raniere founded NXIVM in 1998, he had studied the teachings of CSI’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard, according to NXIVM ex-publicist-turned-whistleblower Frank Parlato.

Raniere did not borrow the whole theology of CSI, but he took a lot of its concepts, Parlato told The Epoch Times. He said Raniere was interested in CSI’s methods of gathering the personal information of its students and had admired Hubbard’s ability to make money, saying Hubbard was a “major influence” of his.

“Keith borrowed some of the language, like using the terms ‘parasites’ and ‘suppressors,’ right from the Scientology playbook,” Parlato said. “The terms have the exact same meaning.” 

“I think if Hubbard and his people had found out how much Raniere had taken, they would have sued him.”

Parlato added that a friend of his who worked with NXIVM told him that Raniere often referenced Scientology. 

Epoch Times Photo
Frank Parlato, NXIVM’s ex-publicist and whistleblower, outside the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York on May 7, 2019. (Bowen Xiao/The Epoch Times)

A “suppressive” person is an official CSI term. According to their website, it means an “Anti-Social” person who “seeks to upset, continuously undermine, spread bad news about and denigrate betterment activities and groups.” Raniere used the term in a similar manner at NXIVM, labeling so-called “enemies” of the group with it.

A former member of Scientology of over 10 years told The Epoch Times that it wasn’t just similarities she witnessed when she attended NXIVM’s classes at its Albany, New York, headquarters.

She recounted how Nancy Salzman, co-founder of NXIVM, taught a whole class about the term on the fourth or fifth day of so-called “intensive” sessions, which could last around a week and cost between $2,000 and $10,000.

“The thing that made me certain it was stolen is [NXIVM] used the exact same terminology,” she said. “They didn’t even try to hide it. It was very surprising.” 

The woman, who requested anonymity, joined Scientology as an adult in 1968, sticking with it for more than 10 years before leaving, citing what she described as financial abuse and corruption. Many years later, around 2011, she tried a NXIVM course.

“I went to the members and I told them this [term] came from Scientology, and they told me, ‘No, it didn’t. It came from Keith, and all of Keith’s discoveries are original.’ As a matter of fact, Nancy did an absolutely wonderful job explaining the concept … but they were lying about where they got it,” she said.

“In Scientology, if they wanted to ostracize somebody in the group, they would say that is a ‘suppressive’ person, and NXIVM did the same thing. They used the word very loosely, instead of really finding out if the person was as bad as they would say they were.”  

She believed Salzman and another NXIVM member she spoke with genuinely thought Raniere had coined the phrases.

It was obvious to her that Raniere had studied some CSI material, as she listed a number of other terms he took from Scientology, including its use of “cause” and “effect,” with one meaning being control in life, and the other, being passive.

“When I was there in Albany taking the class, I was constantly hearing people use the same words that I was used to hearing in Scientology. … They used the same language all the time,” she said. “Sometimes, I would do a double-take and think I was back in Scientology.”

The former CSI member said one of the reasons she didn’t join NXIVM stemmed from a “bad feeling” she developed after members tried to recruit her into “private training.” This, she realized, later on, was likely an invitation to become a “slave”—whom prosecutors said were forced to have sex with Raniere and perform other tasks.

Parlato described a methodology Raniere had taken from Scientology called an “E-Meter,” a tool used by the group to allegedly help devotees, in which they would discuss their past while their hand was connected to an electric lie-detector device. He said Raniere used the same concept.

“He called it an exploration of meaning, or EM, the same initials [as the CSI term,] except without the meter, without the actual device,” Parlato said. “In Scientology, like with NXIVM, it’s been claimed that it was really a way to find out dirty and deep secrets of their clients.”

Parlato said the groups had similar tracks for rising through the ranks. In Scientology, students talk about “getting clear,” meaning that they have reached a certain state. In NXIVM, it was becoming “unified,” or getting rid of one’s “disintegrations” and becoming “integrated.” 

He said both forms of advancement usually followed a “massive confession,” given to a fellow Scientologist with a recording device, or to a high-ranking NXIVM member who would require it as “collateral.” 

“So the end result of this is, they get everything—your whole secrets, your whole past. And that can be used against a person,” Parlato said. “You might not think of it as blackmail-worthy material, but it can become [this way] in your mind. … It would require you to remain with the group or obey the group.”

Fear Tactics and Retaliation

Both groups are known to retaliate against former members, according to Cathleen Mann, a court-qualified expert witness who has testified in more than 40 separate cult cases. She told The Epoch Times that these groups also go after their critics.

Prosecutors in the NXIVM case detailed how Sara and Clare Bronfman, heiresses to billion-dollar Canadian liquor company Seagram, gave away tens of millions of dollars to bankroll Raniere, in part to pay for lawyers to defend the group against critics and for filing their own suits. Clare Bronfman, a co-defendant, pleaded guilty in April.

Meanwhile, the plaintiff in last week’s lawsuit against CSI accused it of publishing a “hate website” to smear her and that group members allegedly stalked and harassed her after she appeared in a documentary criticizing the religion. 

From the end of 2015 through the beginning of 2016, NXIVM had “indicted,” with the backing of the Bronfmans, multiple members who had left the group, including Joe O’Hara, Toni Natalie, Barbara Bouchey, and Parlato, who was never a member but had worked as a consultant for the group.

“Scientology has been known to send ex-members a bill requesting money for services,” Mann said. “People have to sign a contract that if they leave … they would be billed for the time spent training. That’s pretty frightening to a lot of people … that somebody is going to take a loan out on their house, for example.”

Mann said such tactics were usually rare in smaller cults, which tend to use “a lot of fear, a lot of retaliation,” she said. “The vast majority of smaller cults don’t have time to retaliate. It’s unusual the extent to which [CSI is] trying to control their public image.

“There are a lot of ex-Scientology members out there and the vast majority of them, we don’t hear from.” 

Parlato said one personal experience related to Scientology had stuck with him. A friend of his who was an active Scientologist had been publishing articles in one of his publications.

“One time, I wrote a piece that was critical of Scientology,” he said. “[My friend] was in absolute terror that they were going to do something to her. … She was freaking out and she begged me to take the story down, and I did it because she was my friend.”

He said the fear in her voice let him know everything he needed to know about Scientology. She was the head of a Scientology center.

Scientology founder Hubbard, who died in 1986 at age 74, wrote in a number of his books about his strategy for going after critics. In the 1959 book “Manual of Justice,” Hubbard wrote: “People attack Scientology, I never forget it, always even the score. People attack auditors, or staff, or organizations, or me. I never forget until the slate is clear.”

Recruiting Influentials

Both NXIVM and CSI are notable for attempting to recruit celebrities and other influentials. In NXIVM, this strategy was apparent in the work of high-ranking member Allison Mack, the former “Smallville” actress and co-defendant in the case who has since pleaded guilty.

NXIVM also tried to garner political influence, as a senior member testified in May that members had taken part in an illegal campaign contribution scheme to “curry favor with the Clintons,” The Epoch Times previously reported.

Celebrities in Scientology were treated much differently than other members, Mann said.

Last year, lawyers for Mack cited a 2009 case against Scientology for their own defense against charges of forced labor, local reports said. They argued Mack wasn’t guilty if Scientology wasn’t found guilty for the same charge.

Court documents stated Mack’s threats of releasing collateral, including nude photos of members of DOS—a secret group within NXIVM—didn’t amount to “serious harm.”

Her attorneys referenced a 2009 case, in which a couple unsuccessfully attempted to sue CSI for forced labor.

DOS allegedly recruited members on the condition that they would give up personal, often embarrassing, information about themselves as “collateral.” Once inside, members were then regularly required to provide additional collateral to ensure that they kept the group’s activities secret.

There have been allegations of wrongdoing against Scientology for decades. Representatives didn’t respond to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.

Numerous Parallels

Mann said the similarities between both organizations ran further than just the terminology and retaliatory tactics.

She described how both had similar internal ranking systems and were “money-focused.” The deception, she said, came from the top and trickled down the levels in both groups. 

Mark Vicente, a former NXIVM member who served on its executive board, provided an inside look into the company’s ranking system—dubbed the “strike-path”—in his testimony. Beginning members were given a white sash to wear around their necks before they could move up in the company by recruiting more participants and enrolling in more classes themselves.

“They [both] have levels of membership, levels of knowledge. When people enter the group, they have one version of what they think it is, and then they rise up a level and it turns out to be something different,” Mann explained. 

“The way they present themselves to new members or the way they present themselves to outsiders, like the media, is different than the way they present themselves to each other,” she added. 

The mission statements of CSI and NXIVM were also similar, Mann said, both emphasizing ethics to some degree. She said the main difference was Scientology’s non-profit status as a religion, something that NXIVM didn’t have.

Mann said the people at the top of the organizations received more money than lower-ranking members or students.

“They [both] do some of the same things like teaching new members they are going to save the world, those kinds of lofty ideas,” she said.

The former Scientology member said she didn’t realize both Scientology and NXIVM were cults until many years later.

“I never thought Scientology was a cult even when I left; I just thought it became corrupted and I left because of that,” she explained.

“It took me many years before I was able to understand it was a cult. But when I saw the same thing in NXIVM, I knew it immediately because I already learned that.” 

Bowen Xiao
Bowen Xiao
Bowen Xiao is a New York-based reporter at The Epoch Times. He covers national security, human trafficking and U.S. politics.