Cult De-programmer Steve Hassan’s BITE list fits Nxivm to a ‘T’

A reader, who uses the moniker, AnonyMaker, advises us to have a look at cult deprogrammer and mental health counselor Steve Hassan’s BITE model in analyzing Nxivm. Hassan has been helping families and cult members get their lives back for decades. He has worked with Nxivm members as well. AnonyMaker writes, “I’d suggest consideration of Steven […]

A reader, who uses the moniker, AnonyMaker, advises us to have a look at cult deprogrammer and mental health counselor Steve Hassan’s BITE model in analyzing Nxivm.

Hassan has been helping families and cult members get their lives back for decades. He has worked with Nxivm members as well.

AnonyMaker writes, “I’d suggest consideration of Steven Hassan’s BITE Model of Undue Influence and Cult Mind Control.  Many of the first steps of behavior control will sound quite familiar from NXIVM, Raniere’s inner circle and DOS.”

This is from Hassan’s Freedom Of The Mind resource center website:

“Many people think of mind control as an ambiguous, mystical process that cannot be defined in concrete terms. In reality, mind control refers to a specific set of methods and techniques, such as hypnosis or thought-stopping, that influence how a person thinks, feels, and acts.

“Based on research and theory by Robert Jay Lifton, Margaret Singer, Edgar Schein, Louis Jolyon West, and others who studied brainwashing in Maoist China as well as cognitive dissonance theory by Leon Festinger, Steven Hassan developed the BITE Model to describe the specific methods that cults use to recruit and maintain control over people. “BITE” stands for Behavior, Information, Thought, and Emotional control.”

The BITE Model
I. Behavior Control
II. Information Control
III. Thought Control
IV. Emotional Control

Behavior Control

  1.  Regulate individual’s physical reality
  2. Dictate where, how, and with whom the member lives and associates or isolates
  3. When, how and with whom the member has sex
  4. Control types of clothing and hairstyles
  5. Regulate diet – food and drink, hunger and/or fasting
  6. Manipulation and deprivation of sleep
  7. Financial exploitation, manipulation or dependence
  8. Restrict leisure, entertainment, vacation time
  9. Major time spent with group indoctrination and rituals and/or self indoctrination including the Internet
  10. Permission required for major decisions
  11. Thoughts, feelings, and activities (of self and others) reported to superiors
  12. Rewards and punishments used to modify behaviors, both positive and negative
  13. Discourage individualism, encourage group-think
  14. Impose rigid rules and regulations
  15. Instill dependency and obedience
  16. Threaten harm to family and friends
  17. Force individual to rape or be raped
  18. Instill dependency and obedience
  19. Encourage and engage in corporal punishment

Information Control

  1. Deception:
    1. Deliberately withhold information
    2. Distort information to make it more acceptable
    3. Systematically lie to the cult member
  2. Minimize or discourage access to non-cult sources of information, including:
    1. Internet, TV, radio, books, articles, newspapers, magazines, other media
    2. Critical information
    3. Former members
    4. Keep members busy so they don’t have time to think and investigate
    5. Control through cell phone with texting, calls, internet tracking
  3. Compartmentalize information into Outsider vs. Insider doctrines
    1. Ensure that information is not freely accessible
    2. Control information at different levels and missions within group
    3. Allow only leadership to decide who needs to know what and when
  4. Encourage spying on other members
    1. Impose a buddy system to monitor and control member
    2. Report deviant thoughts, feelings and actions to leadership
    3. Ensure that individual behavior is monitored by group
  5. Extensive use of cult-generated information and propaganda, including:
  6. Newsletters, magazines, journals, audiotapes, videotapes, YouTube, movies and other media
  7. Misquoting statements or using them out of context from non-cult sources
  8. Unethical use of confession
    1. Information about sins used to disrupt and/or dissolve identity boundaries
    2. Withholding forgiveness or absolution
    3. Manipulation of memory, possible false memories

Thought Control

  1. Require members to internalize the group’s doctrine as truth
    1. Adopting the group’s ‘map of reality’ as reality
    2. Instill black and white thinking
    3. Decide between good vs. evil
    4. Organize people into us vs. them (insiders vs. outsiders)
  2. Change person’s name and identity
  3. Use of loaded language and cliches which constrict knowledge, stop critical thoughts and reduce complexities into platitudinous buzz words
  4. Encourage only ‘good and proper’ thoughts
  5. Hypnotic techniques are used to alter mental states, undermine critical thinking and even to age regress the member
  6. Memories are manipulated and false memories are created
  7. Teaching thought-stopping techniques which shut down reality testing by stopping negative thoughts and allowing only positive thoughts, including:
    1. Denial, rationalization, justification, wishful thinking
    2. Chanting
    3. Meditating
    4. Praying
    5. Speaking in tongues
    6. Singing or humming
  8. Rejection of rational analysis, critical thinking, constructive criticism
  9. Forbid critical questions about leader, doctrine, or policy allowed
  10. Labeling alternative belief systems as illegitimate, evil, or not useful

Emotional Control

  1. Manipulate and narrow the range of feelings – some emotions and/or needs are deemed as evil, wrong or selfish
  2. Teach emotion-stopping techniques to block feelings of homesickness, anger, doubt
  3. Make the person feel that problems are always their own fault, never the leader’s or the group’s fault
  4. Promote feelings of guilt or unworthiness, such as
    1. Identity guilt
    2. You are not living up to your potential
    3. Your family is deficient
    4. Your past is suspect
    5. Your affiliations are unwise
    6. Your thoughts, feelings, actions are irrelevant or selfish
    7. Social guilt
    8. Historical guilt
  5. Instill fear, such as fear of:
    1. Thinking independently
    2. The outside world
    3. Enemies
    4. Losing one’s salvation
    5. Leaving or being shunned by the group
    6. Other’s disapproval
  6. Extremes of emotional highs and lows – love bombing and praise one moment and then declaring you are horrible sinner
    7. Ritualistic and sometimes public confession of sins
    8. Phobia indoctrination: inculcating irrational fears about leaving the group or questioning the leader’s authority

    1.  No happiness or fulfillment possible outside of the group
    2. Terrible consequences if you leave: hell, demon possession, incurable diseases, accidents, suicide, insanity, 10,000 reincarnations, etc.
    3. Shunning of those who leave; fear of being rejected by friends, peers, and family
    4. Never a legitimate reason to leave; those who leave are weak, undisciplined, unspiritual, worldly, brainwashed by family or counselor, or seduced by money, sex, or rock and roll
    5. Threats of harm to ex-member and family


Reading the above, it seems to me that Hassan’s BITE model is almost a play-by-play description of what Raniere intended to achieve.

Some of the points in BITE are eerily on point and perhaps Hassan, who has studied many cults, saw striking similarities between Nxivm and other cults. The devious and the wicked are strikingly similar all over the world.

Clearly, this is what Raniere designed and imposed on his followers. I am often struck at how he thought he could escape punishment because he had nothing in his name.

He had everyone else put everything in their name – dividing it up among his followers – so that he could keep control of Nxivm and its followers.

None of it worked out too well for the Vanguard.  He has the hardest charges and is likely to go away the longest.

His miscalculations were stupendous and I wonder if he still thinks he is the world’s smartest man.  If smartness can be measured by success – in whatever one intends to achieve – right now Keith is looking rather stupid.

Not just foolish, not just errant, not even just wicked or gross or mean or even insane – but stupid. Just plain stupid.

It’s been said before, but bears repeating: Viva Executive Success!

About the author

Frank Parlato


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  • Rick Ross cautions against using Hassan for cult interventions as I believe SH has had several formal complaints against him here in Boston. I don’t have the details handy but has the full story.

  • That defines just about every group or organization that one joins. Glad I’m not a joiner. Welcome to my cult

    • This is a good point, and it isn’t a black and white issue, there is a continuum of influence from 0 to 100%. The key isn’t so much the cultish factors, it’s whether the organization is intentionally lying to get others to join. All of the voodoo-like cult factors are mere distractions to more useful things to look for. Lying is the primary mark of a dangerous organization, it’s called fraud. Amway is an excellent example of this concept. Knowing the true motivations behind the lies reveals why the lies are told in the first place. It’s all about money and power.

    • Scott made a good point in another reply, that it’s a continuum. There are other lists or scales for evaluating high control groups and cults, that allow for some rating and ranking. Some groups or organizations are barely a 1 on a scale of 1 to 10, and others, like the DOS group within NEXIUM, are pegging the scale. One of the oldest and best-known is Bonewits’ Cult Danger Evaluation Frame, which there is now an Advanced version of.

      I actually occasionally pose the argument, that even a hermit is a cult of one in some ways – just look at the “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski in his Montana cabin, for instance….

    • I will quote Marx. Groucho Marx! “I would never join any club that would have me as a member.” Eh yuh.

    • Forced deprogramming is a thing of the past, and I certainly don’t agree with it. On the other hand, knowing a family that resorted to it long ago, I think it was also a product of the times; when there wasn’t as much understanding of what to be aware of, young people were almost literally being taken off the streets, sometimes disappearing without families even knowing where they’d gone. Can you imagine the desperation of a family who was told that their child had gotten in to a van to go off for a weekend (a typical ruse of groups at the time, that inquisitive and trusting 60s and 70s era kids fell for), and didn’t hear from them again, only to finally discover that the were in some communal living situation subject to food and sleep deprivation?

      I’m particularly impressed with Hassan’s thoughtful approach these days. Have you read any of his more recent work?

      Interestingly, Hassan studied NLP back when it was relatively new, and seemed like a potential tool for reaching and influencing people non-coercively; so he’s particularly familiar with the sort of techniques used in NXIVM.

      • I think this might interest you Anonymaker,

        In the early nineties there was an influx of Bosnian refugees into the UK. I had a couple of students who had been journalists in Bosnia and on being rescued by UN personnel and granted asylum found themselves transported in the first instance to a place called ‘The Curragh’ in the Irish Republic to be debriefed. The technique used was NLP they were there for approx 12 weeks.

        During a standard class on third conditional grammar [If you had read the map correctly, we would have been there by now] perfect tenses – the grammar that enables us to reflect, express gratitude, apportion blame – the grammar that helps us to link the past to the present and learn from it. These students made a request to absent themselves – turns out they had been instructed to avoid third conditional thinking, even in their L1, as possible stimulus for their PTSD. Is this NLP protocol?

        • Great anecdote, well wisher. That’s like cutting out a piece of their tongues to specifically deny third conditional language instruction to try to prevent them from having the language ability to ever blow the whistle. And we thought KAR and Nancy were sneaky.

          Was it, is it, effective? In combination with other gag tactics? I wonder if among the uneducated or young that might not alter thinking and reasoning ability as well?

      • Please stop your childish “gotcha” bs Schlock. The man (or woman) is here to accomplish something and help. If you annoy away another intelligent, humane, informed voice on here…so help me.

        Scott will go back before recorded history, when he can just make shit up, to find fault to try to “top dog” you and, more often, make an ass of himself.

        Of course, times and intervention methods have changed and there was even a time when KAR ET AL did resort to old fashioned kidnapping. They did it to Toni Natalie but that’s part of her story.

        Then, like other cults you say, KAR ET AL cultivated more refined and subtle ways to kidnap one’s mind and hold hostages even from afar. The “collateral” maybe even the “brands” speak to that, IMO.

        Sounds like intervention methods have evolved to counteract the entrapment techniques and NX’s were extreme, leading edge, VANGUARD if you will.

        personally, I wouldn’t have minded — would have paid, beg, borrowed or stolen — for someone to have rushed in and thrown a bag over Gina’s head and dragged her away. Wouldn’t wonder if Ally’s folks don’t some day soon feel the same way!

  • Thanks AnnoyMaker for sharing and many thanks to Frank for posting the Bite list.

    The BITE list is incredible interesting and so much like Maoist party and teaching doctrine.

    I am actually reading Mao the untold story its fascinating how much NXIVM’ framework is just like communist thought control.

  • Certainly, this is clear and informative! Perhaps anyone who reads it will be mindful of these aspects of the groups they join in the future or may be able to help someone who is tangled up in a cult right now. Cults are evil and destroy the lives of all those who join. Cults destroy families and friendships. I do hope KR gets the maximum punishment. Of course, the others also, but most especially him.

  • I’m glad that was of interest.

    Hassan was in a cult himself, and his somewhat sensationally titled book Combating Cult Mind Control, which tells the stories of others who were in different groups as well, is a very good, and very approachable, explanation of the dynamics of such groups.

    He originally started out as a deprogrammer, but has evolved over the years to taking a more nuanced approach to influencing people to reflect on and reconsider their involvement in high control groups or cults, particularly in situations where concerned family and friends have little opportunity to interact with the group member outside the milieu of the group. This addresses the sort of situation that Catherine Oxenberg found herself in with her daughter India, for instance, where just telling someone that they’re in a cult, and attempting aggressive interventions, are apt to fail.

    His more recent book Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults, and Beliefs is an excellent guide.

      • I’ve been curious to find out more about her story, though I haven’t had time to really look into it. It certainly doesn’t sound like she was following actual good advice, and definitely not the approach Hassan recommends.

        For instance, one of Hassan’s basic suggestions, applicable to many situations, is to try to get people to recall and reflect on what their values and aspirations were prior to involvement in a high control group or cult. The basic idea is to take someone who’s been subject to that sort of frog-in-the-pot conversion of their ideals, such as having gone from wanting to empower women, to branding them in preparation for receiving their guru’s supposedly magical ejaculate, and get them to step back and see how incongruent that in fact is – the way we of course see it, from afar. But who among us hasn’t gotten involved in something that we didn’t see for what it was, until we stepped back?

    • Thanks, Anony, I’m ordering those Hassan ROSS titles pronto. (Btw, is this the same famous Rick Ross, first NX fighter and defender of justice with Peter Skolnik — whom we love so well?)

      From what little I’ve read, I’m already astounded at how well Hassan’s BITE model fits KAR’s pattern even going way back. I can show you evidence of it being implemented on Gina (and attempted on me) from at least the mid-90’s, using the human pyramid, MLM, later, “master-slave” format — with Kristin Keefe acting as Gina’s master or coach and she, in turn, being trained to work these tricks on me — somewhat unwittingly at least as to the intent.

      There was a lot of deception as to KAR’s intent, btw, from the start that grew over time. He learned from the girls themselves that Miss America always wants world peace — so to speak.

      Btw, some of my BFF’s are gay.

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