The NXIVM cult: All the types of secret organizations you should know
We’ve written a lot of articles telling you about the horrifying acts that occurred within the cult called NXIVM. The cult was founded by the now-convicted felon Keith Raniere. His “multi-level marketing company” was semi-recently exposed for having an exclusive sub-sect which brands and abuses its members – all of which are female, and a few of which are famous actresses.
In 2018, Raniere, alongside his partner, Allison Mack (whom you may know as the girl who played Chloe Sullivan on Smallville) were arrested on a plethora of charges, including sex trafficking. Together with a number of other NXIVM execs, they pleaded guilty to pretty much everything.
It’s shocking to believe groups like NXIVM can exist outside of movies, but they can and they do. NXIVM isn’t one of a kind either – there are all kinds of secret groups with shady practices running about. While it may not be entirely likely anyone is going to try and recruit you into a cult, it doesn’t hurt to know what types of groups are out there and what to look for.
Note – according to the FBI, a cult is less of a defined type of group and more of a title attributed by public perception. Two of the most common allegations against groups described as cults are brainwashing (or extreme devotion) & taking advantage of a group’s constituents. Those are the factors we used when defining a cult in this article.
Believe it or not, NXIVM’s method of cult creation isn’t unheard of, and in fact, a lot of multi-level marketing (MLM) firms could be classified as cults, given our parameters. MLMs have a tendency to make people believe they have the ability to quickly gain massive amounts of money if they just follow the company’s guidelines.
These companies usually force members to pay to join, and often have various kinds of recurring fees depending on the type of MLM. In fact, when you look into it, legally speaking, the line between an MLM and a pyramid scheme is thin.
Of course, members of an MLM can theoretically back out whenever they want to if they realize they’re being taken advantage of. However, the people who they report to are often so charismatic and persuasive that despite being thousands of dollars in debt, people will continue to pay to be part of an MLM because the promise of paying just a tiny bit more to gain massive wealth is too alluring.
Human potential groups
NXIVM could actually also fit into this category. Raniere managed to combine two types of common groups into one mega cult. NXIVM was considered a self-help group, which was meant to help its members with professional development.
There are all kinds of human potential groups and you’ve probably come across a number of them on the internet – especially Instagram. These groups promise anyone who follows their rules, beliefs, and their leader you can unlock some kind of personal transformation with too good to be true benefits.
The groups can masquerade as fitness groups, support groups, lifestyle groups, etc. While some of the benefits may be real, such as real workout routines or real human connection with others, there is often a requirement to pay for access to the group or all of its benefits, and many of them include pseudoscience.
The pseudoscience is what makes these groups feel shady. They promise you’ll become your best self through claims which cannot be backed by science, or even worse, are harmful. Some of these groups utilize verbal abuse, humiliation, hypnosis, and other questionable methods.
Cults of charismatic leaders
This is the Hollywood favorite. A single charismatic person charms people who feel lost into joining their ragtag group of outsiders so that the outsiders have their own in-group. The leader is so pleasant to be around everyone trusts them immediately.
These groups are often focused on a single interest – healthy & organic living, and being self-sustaining were popular in the 1970s. Which sounds harmless, but usually the leader is also taking advantage of the followers by making them do his or her bidding. It isn’t uncommon for different types of abuse to emerge either once the leader is confident nobody will leave.
Leaders of these groups will often tell group members they are more enlightened and understand the world better than “normal people”. Followers stick around in the hope and expectation the leader will bestow the knowledge upon them.
It’s hard to define a religious cult, so we’re not going to. These kinds of cults can be born of a new belief system that a leader comes up with or it can be an off-shoot of one of the more mainstream religions that the leader has changed to fit their goals or whims.
This type of cult also purports to have knowledge nobody else does, and to possess secrets to the universe. Members will join up and stay either in the hopes of gaining knowledge of the universe’s secrets or because they believe the leader has given them the answers.
Often cults such as this will have a charismatic leader who claims to be some kind of deity.
Secret organizations and cults can mix and match attributes from the categories above based on whatever the cult leader’s skill set and goals are – just like NXIVM did. This is also by no means an exhaustive list, just the most common types. However, many of them have similarities, so once you’re aware of the manipulation tactics and methods, the odds of being drawn into a fanatical group are pretty low.
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