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What lessons from the Nxivm prosecution should Scientology watchers take?

[Dr Stephen Kent does it again]

Our community is, once again, helping academic researchers gain perspective on Scientology and on other abusive groups. The International Journal of Coercion, Abuse and Manipulation just published a special issue devoted to Scientology and Nxivm individually, and to drawing parallels between the two groups. This journal is a new publication of the International Cultic Studies Association, since it’s an “open access” journal, you can download the issue from the journal’s home page.

The lead article, by University of Alberta sociologist Stephen Kent, pulls numerous sources from The Underground Bunker universe. Kent referenced Tony’s book on Paulette Cooper, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely, plus more than a few of Tony’s Scientology news articles and a couple of posts that Tony did looking at Nxivm. Dr. Kent also refers to all the classic books, including Jon Atack’s A Piece of Blue Sky, Larry Wright’s Going Clear, Janet Reitman’s Inside Scientology, Ron Miscavige’s Ruthless, and Russell Miller’s Bare-Faced Messiah.

One particularly interesting point of discussion among those who follow both groups is just how much Scientology is embedded in Nxivm’s content. It is frequently mentioned that Nxivm talks about “suppressive persons” just like Scientology does. There are other places where Nxivm uses Scientology jargon with the same meaning. But those are very surface comparisons. In looking through the Scientology Service Completions database and doing a fairly thorough search, I was unable to find evidence that Nxivm founder Keith Raniere was ever a practicing Scientologist. In his paper, I think Dr. Kent has done enough digging to say definitively that Nxivm was only slightly influenced by Scientology “tech.” One former Nxivm confidant wrote in her expose that Raniere had read Dianetics in Nxivm’s early days. More recent court testimony from Mark Vicente, a Nxivm insider who turned whistleblower and prosecution witness, suggested that Raniere looked at Scientology with an eye only towards grabbing some concepts in a hurry to try and incorporate them into his body of dogma. He was hardly trying to create a Scientology splinter group like “Avatar.”

In my view, Raniere didn’t need or want much from Scientology, because his “tech” seemed to be much more like that of Large Group Awareness Training-style groups (think: Landmark Education). That business model could drive faster growth and thus more profit over the short term than Scientology’s incredibly complex course network, which can take decades to navigate. Raniere seems to have understood that creating lots of in-person courses with less complex material would allow him to support his multi-level marketing business model more effectively.

Dr. Kent’s analysis of the differences between Scientology and Nxivm centers on four points:


— Scientology’s religious exemption provides it with the shroud of protection afforded religious organizations in the US, outweighing the need to punish bad actors regardless of a group’s ostensible purpose. Nxivm was always a commercial organization and never sought charitable status; it was able to keep its profits simply by not paying taxes, a much more direct (if risky) approach.

— Nxivm was, to a great extent, morphing into founder Keith Raniere’s personal “babe farm,” while Hubbard was horribly neurotic about sex, as evidenced in the bizarre “Affirmations” document that Gerry Armstrong uncovered; that trait has suffused its way through the organization. That pervasive sexual repression secondarily enabled tons of sexual abuse that has been well documented, but Kent’s focus is the culture at the top of the respective organizations.

— Scientology was able to dodge civil suits and an FBI investigation for human trafficking because it skillfully played the religious angle, as Tony’s articles about the Headleys’ civil case and the FBI probe discussed extensively. The conviction of Raniere’s inner circle and the implosion of Nxivm were focused around criminal charges for human trafficking.

— Nxivm tried to use the failed human trafficking investigation and the dismissal of the Headleys’ lawsuit to undercut the government’s case against it. Multiple Nxivm defendants cited the Headley case, but none won with it (all defendants other than Raniere pled guilty before trial; only Raniere went to trial. The other defendants raised issues from Headley in pre-trial proceedings.)

When it came to comparing Nxivm and Scientology, not only did Dr. Kent draw from numerous posts of Tony’s, he also (apparently reaching for the bottom of the barrel of potential sources) quoted extensively from several blog posts I had done in 2018 comparing the two groups. In one article, I came up with six similarities between Nxivm and Scientology:

— Abusive litigation against enemies: Like Scientology, Nxivm often abused the legal system to silence opponents or ruin enemies financially. Despite its small size, Nxivm was able to punch above its weight in the lawsuit department, with billionaire heiresses funding more litigation per capita even than Scientology.

— Wildly exaggerated leader’s biography: We all know Hubbard’s pathetic lies about his early childhood and his WWII service record told in service of his claim to be the Smartest. Guy. Ever. Keith Raniere has nothing on Hubbard, with an equivalent string of nonsensical and easily debunked tall tales about his own background, including claiming the highest IQ ever recorded (in reality, he was a mediocre and undistinguished college student).

— Secrecy of the “tech:” Old guard critics remember just how dangerous it was for the initial Promethean heroes to publish Scientology “scriptures” such as the upper OT levels to the Internet back in the alt.religion.scientology era. Today, all sorts of Scientology documents are widely available on the net, more accessible to critics than to cult members. Nxivm was far better at keeping its “scriptures” secret than Scientology via non-disclosure agreements and intimidation: careful research will turn up almost no Nxivm course material even today, long after the organization has shut down and there’s no chance of retribution.

— An obsession with “ethics:” We all know about Scientology’s vicious “ethics” system, enforced by an extensive organization with broad punitive powers. Nxivm also focused on ethics, and on punishments for even minor rule violations. The demand to adhere to impossibly high ethical standards seems to be common across many high control groups, making members more submissive to the group leadership when failing to be able to live as the super-human being the group promises that you will become.

— An expansion from an initial focus on self-help into numerous other areas: On the Scientology side, Narconon, Criminon, Applied Scholastics and WISE all try to package Scientology “tech” into something more palatable to the unwary, so Scientology can worm its way into people’s lives and win more recruits. Nxivm had several similar initiatives; I wrote an entire article about “Rainbow Cultural Garden,” a school that would teach kids from infancy on up in a different language each day of the week, based on an even more nonsensical theory than the shallow nonsense at the heart of “study tech.”

— Blatant disregard for human rights while pretending to be all for them: I certainly don’t need to remind this group about Scientology’s human rights abuses, since many of you suffered them directly. Nxivm’s abuses were certainly just as great on a “per capita” basis as Scientology.

I listed a handful of similarities in no particular order because I was trying to make a larger point similar to what Dr. Kent made in this paper: Scientology is much harder to eradicate than Nxivm. My argument was essentially that just because there are similarities between the two organizations, one should not hope that Scientology will collapse as quickly as fast as Nxivm when founder Raniere was arrested.

Dr. Kent extended my list of similarities with six additional points:

— A cohesive inner circle of loyalists enabling the leader: Both Hubbard and Raniere had fanatically loyal close advisers who helped enforce the punitive structure of the organization and helped the respective leaders carry out numerous bad acts.


— Extensive spying operations on critics: Pound-for-pound, Nxivm proved the equal of Scientology in the spying and dirty tricks departments. Nxivm investigated the private finances of judges handling legal cases, law enforcement and others to uncover dirt that it might be able to use. While the entire inner circle and paid staff of Nxivm pales beside just the OSA component of Scientology, they were able to spy on and intimidate large numbers of opponents.

— Use of abortions to serve the cult’s interests.

— Isolation and confinement of troublesome members: We all think immediately of the Lisa McPherson case on the Scientology side. In Nxivm, the multi-year imprisonment of a female member who wouldn’t have sex with Raniere was a cornerstone of his trial.

— Malignant narcissism of founders: Dr. Kent points out that the main similarity between Hubbard and Raniere is their malignant narcissism, which drives them to create the fantasy world of their organization, to drive members to satisfy their insatiable needs.

In looking at differences as noted above, Dr. Kent focused on Scientology’s ability to exploit religious protection in the US, which the purely commercial Nxivm never did. True enough. But in my post, I focused on the relative organizational size: Scientology has perhaps 5,000 staff members today, versus only a few dozen full-time Nxivm staffers, creating lots of manpower for Scientology to undertake tasks that aid its survival.

Other Articles in the Issue

The second article in the issue, “Preventing Predatory Alienation by High-Control Groups,” by Prof. Robin Boyle-Laisure of St. John’s law school in Queens NY, talks about how the successful Nxivm prosecution may provide a template for authorities in the US to go after cults in the future, since most of the charges against Nxivm leader Keith Raniere were related to sex trafficking and running a criminal enterprise for same (which resulted in an enhanced sentence).

Boyle-Laisure points out that US law doesn’t specifically define “cult,” which would make it easier for law enforcement to act on such groups’ bad behavior in the way that laws provide specific tools to take down organized crime syndicates. However, cult actions can meet the definition of human trafficking, even if that trafficking is not for the same purposes as classical criminal organizations involved in those activities (prostitution, drug running, etc.).

The Nxivm prosecutors were able to convince a jury, who deliberated only briefly, that Raniere and Nxivm met the standards for conviction under trafficking laws. The fact that he had a collection of explicit photos of a 15-year-old girl he raped undoubtedly helped the jury make up its mind.

Importantly, Boyle-Laisure notes that recent changes to trafficking laws reduce the threshold needed to establish the “mental coercion” or “undue influence” needed to convict perpetrators. They also allow conviction on forced sex charges even in cases where no money explicitly changes hands, which certainly helps obtain convictions against groups using sex to control members.

Other articles analyze how Nxivm founder Raniere’s likely malignant narcissism personality disorder enabled him to be effective at coercing dozens of females (at least one underage) to have sex with him; look at the “tech” of Nxivm’s self-improvement programs, and review a book by a former Nxivm member about their escape from the group.

The last article provides an interesting look at the billion-year contract for Sea Org members. I think a lot of the comments in there are based on a reading of the documents only, and not based on interviews with ex Sea Org, who would provide commentary about what’s really going on. It might be interesting for one of the former Sea Org members in the Bunker community to look at this paper and comment in detail.

— John P



Leah Remini podcast: Brian Sheen

Says Mike: “I have known Brian since the days of the Apollo, when he was training to be the senior Case Supervisor for the Advanced Org in the UK. He had an experience with Flag that ended his involvement in Scientology and went on to get a PhD, but because his former wife and daughter were still in Scientology, never spoke out about Scientology. The story of how he came to be declared and his daughter disconnecting from him (she married into scientology’s wealthy elite, the son of the Atkinson-Bakers) is typically tragic but especially insane. Scientology literally created another enemy. His fight to get her back has been heroic and continues to this day.” Listen to the episode right here!


Source Code

“The Romans were very kind; the early Christian was very, very cruel. So now we find out the Romans were very cruel and the early Christians were very kind. But the records don’t bear this out. Now, as far as survival is concerned, if you want to survive, I guess, be cruel. I suppose that’s the most short-term method of survival. But it’s not any long-term method of survival. But being kind and being ineffective, of course, is a fast way to the electric chair; it is a fast way to insolvency; it’s a fast way to bankruptcy of all kinds and descriptions; it’s a fast way to the death chamber and the cemetery. And more important to us, it is a fast way to oblivion on the whole track, being very kind.” — L. Ron Hubbard, June 15, 1961


Avast, Ye Mateys

“We have an overnight trip to our next port and arrive at 0700 hrs. Wake ups to be done at 0615 hrs so that ALL Condition I are on post by 0700, not just my Org Officer and I. A rapid turnout is expected. As it usually takes us more than an hour to enter, dock, neat up lines and secure to breakfast, Dept III must arrange to have coffee and rolls ready, at 0615 for Cond I to give ’em some vittles so they can lift hawsers and fenders. Have a good day.” — Lt. N.F. Starkey, Captain Apollo, June 15, 1971



Overheard in the FreeZone

“There is one other State of Being above OT – it is a True Static. So stay the course as things are about to change and all the hopes and dreams of what we once believed – in and with Scientology – are not only about to be realized but be surpassed.”


Past is Prologue

1995: Maggie Council posted a series on one Scientology member’s experiences with Applied Scholastics schools. “The claim that the school was non-denominational was a bold-faced lie. Everything was scientology. Knowledge reports were kept on students, Q & A upon admissions which were kept in files and used to smear students who ‘blew,’ stat charts, study courses and the Comm Course (which being under the Tax Exempt umbrella makes them ‘religious’ courses), ethics policies, success stories, Friday graduation and wins sharing and applause, etc. They would take students off of the courses they really needed to get a standard academic education, such as math, history, etc. which take a lot of work and time to get the course completions. Then they would be put on some really educationally benign program of drawing a picture, calling each picture an art course, counting it as a completion, plus taking the points for it. If they were far behind the previous weeks completions and points, all of the students would draw several pictures, taking an art ‘completion’ for each one and the points that go with it.”


Random Howdy

“Miscavige became emperor through the Hubbard-approved Roman rules of ascension which he achieved by his control of the Praetorian guard of the Sea Org, the CMO. Once becoming Caesar how could he smash his name into the history books of his hermit kingdom? He can’t add to the ‘tech’ so all that is left for him to do is BUILD BUILD BUILD. It’s all about the ruinous runt’s ego.”


Full Court Press: What we’re watching at the Underground Bunker

Criminal prosecutions:

Danny Masterson charged for raping three women: Next hearing set for August 9. Trial tentatively scheduled for early November.
Jay and Jeff Spina, Medicare fraud: Jay sentenced to 9 years in prison. Jeff’s sentencing to be scheduled.
Hanan and Rizza Islam and other family members, Medi-Cal fraud: Pretrial conference August 21 in Los Angeles
David Gentile, GPB Capital, fraud: Next pretrial conference set for June 18.

Civil litigation:
Luis and Rocio Garcia v. Scientology: Oral arguments were heard on July 30 at the Eleventh Circuit
Valerie Haney v. Scientology: Forced to ‘religious arbitration.’ Petition to US Supreme Court submitted on May 26. Scientology has until June 25 to respond.
Chrissie Bixler et al. v. Scientology and Danny Masterson: California Supreme Court grants review on May 26, asks Second Appellate Division to direct Judge Steven Kleifield to show cause why he granted Scientology’s motion for arbitration.
Matt and Kathy Feschbach tax debt: Eleventh Circuit ruled on Sept 9 that Feshbachs can’t discharge IRS debt in bankruptcy. Dec 17: Feshbachs sign court judgment obliging them to pay entire $3.674 million tax debt, plus interest from Nov 19.
Brian Statler Sr v. City of Inglewood: Second amended complaint filed, trial set for Nov 9, 2021.
Author Steve Cannane defamation trial: Trial concluded, Cannane victorious, awarded court costs. Case appealed on Dec 24.

Concluded litigation:
Dennis Nobbe, Medicare fraud, PPP loan fraud: Charged July 29. Bond revoked Sep 14. Nobbe dead, Sep 14.
Jane Doe v. Scientology (in Miami): Jane Doe dismissed the lawsuit on May 15 after the Clearwater Police dropped their criminal investigation of her allegations.



We first broke the news of the LAPD’s investigation of Scientology celebrity Danny Masterson on rape allegations in 2017, and we’ve been covering the story every step of the way since then. At this page we’ve collected our most important links, including our four days in Los Angeles covering the preliminary hearing and its ruling, which has Danny facing trial and the potential sentence of 45 years to life in prison.


After the success of their double-Emmy-winning, three-season A&E series ‘Scientology and the Aftermath,’ Leah Remini and Mike Rinder continue the conversation on their podcast, ‘Scientology: Fair Game.’ We’ve created a landing page where you can hear all of the episodes so far.


An episode-by-episode guide to Leah Remini’s three-season, double-Emmy winning series that changed everything for Scientology watching. Originally aired from 2016 to 2019 on the A&E network, and now on Netflix.


Find your favorite Hubbardite celeb at this index page — or suggest someone to add to the list!

Other links: SCIENTOLOGY BLACK OPS: Tom Cruise and dirty tricks. Scientology’s Ideal Orgs, from one end of the planet to the other. Scientology’s sneaky front groups, spreading the good news about L. Ron Hubbard while pretending to benefit society. Scientology Lit: Books reviewed or excerpted in a weekly series. How many have you read?



[ONE year ago] DONE SIR: Scientology leader David Miscavige caught flattering himself for virus PR ploy
[TWO years ago] Spend hundreds of thousands on Scientology, and the rain will part for you!
[THREE years ago] First person: In Scientology, children are punished for being kids
[FOUR years ago] Marty Rathbun, Victoria Britton has a question for you about Scientology and judges
[FIVE years ago] Wacky scenes from Scientology’s ‘Battlefield Earth’ launch on Hollywood Boulevard
[SIX years ago] The Scientology spy who came in from the cold: Len Zinberg, who apologized to Paulette Cooper
[SEVEN years ago] Scientology Sunday Funnies: The Valley rocks as the fundraising rolls ever onward
[EIGHT years ago] OT Powers: Jon Atack on Scientology’s Promise to Make You Superhuman
[NINE years ago] VIDEO: Watch Sacto Mayor and Former NBA Star Kevin Johnson Suck Up to Scientology
[TEN years ago] Inside Scientology Promises a Lot, and Delivers


Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley (1952-2019) did not see his daughter Stephanie in his final 5,667 days.
Valerie Haney has not seen her mother Lynne in 2,332 days.
Katrina Reyes has not seen her mother Yelena in 2,837 days
Sylvia Wagner DeWall has not seen her brother Randy in 2,357 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his grandson Leo in 1,377 days.
Geoff Levin has not seen his son Collin and daughter Savannah in 1,268 days.
Christie Collbran has not seen her mother Liz King in 4,575 days.
Clarissa Adams has not seen her parents Walter and Irmin Huber in 2,443 days.
Carol Nyburg has not seen her daughter Nancy in 3,217 days.
Doug Kramer has not seen his parents Linda and Norm in 1,547 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 4,021 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 3,337 days.
Dylan Gill has not seen his father Russell in 11,903 days.
Melissa Paris has not seen her father Jean-Francois in 7,822 days.
Valeska Paris has not seen her brother Raphael in 3,990 days.
Mirriam Francis has not seen her brother Ben in 3,571 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 3,832 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 2,870 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 2,583 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 2,108 days.
Julian Wain has not seen his brother Joseph or mother Susan in 463 days.
Charley Updegrove has not seen his son Toby in 1,638 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 6,189 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 3,338 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 3,658 days.
Roger Weller has not seen his daughter Alyssa in 8,513 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 3,632 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 1,988 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 6,291 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 2,397 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis in 2,799 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 2,671 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 2,254 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 2,749 days.
Mary Jane Barry has not seen her daughter Samantha in 3,003 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 14,112 days.


Posted by Tony Ortega on June 15, 2021 at 07:00

E-mail tips to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We also post updates at our Facebook author page. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

Our new book with Paulette Cooper, Battlefield Scientology: Exposing L. Ron Hubbard’s dangerous ‘religion’ is now on sale at Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats. Our book about Paulette, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook versions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.

The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2020 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Underground Bunker (2012-2020), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)

Other links: BLOGGING DIANETICS: Reading Scientology’s founding text cover to cover | UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists | GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice | SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts | Shelly Miscavige, 15 years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ

Watch our short videos that explain Scientology’s controversies in three minutes or less…

Check your whale level at our dedicated page for status updates, or join us at the Underground Bunker’s Facebook discussion group for more frivolity.

Our non-Scientology stories: Robert Burnham Jr., the man who inscribed the universe | Notorious alt-right inspiration Kevin MacDonald and his theories about Jewish DNA | The selling of the “Phoenix Lights” | Astronomer Harlow Shapley‘s FBI file | Sex, spies, and local TV news | Battling Babe-Hounds: Ross Jeffries v. R. Don Steele


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