In a previous post, I discussed my involvement in a fandom cult, what happened, and what the ultimate (and unsatisfying conclusion) of that was. In this post which does relate to that one somewhat, I will discuss how to recognize if you are not only in a cult but specifically in a cult that surrounds a fandom. Now, most people are aware of entering a cult-like situation. To many it is obvious when they have gotten themselves into such nonsense, either that or they are brainwashed. However, it’s easier to sniff out some sort of religious cult scam these days than it may be to sniff out a cult within a fandom. This is because people engage in fandom activity for fun and for social reasons so it can happen with them being less aware. Especially since no one is asking anyone to really worship a certain new god or deity. I have seen this happen on at least two occasions and even people involved in such groups seem utterly unaware it’s happening until it’s pointed out to them.
For this, I am going to specifically be talking about something called The BITE Model and how it is integrated into these fandom groups in order to force a cult following of one person. BITE stands for four things:
- B – Behavior Control
- I – Information Control
- T – Thought Control
- E – Emotional Control
In the post that I mentioned, I discussed what it was like to be involved in a cult like this, as such I will be using examples from that situation to explain what I mean and how each of these things was utilized. Some points are redundant and some areas have a lot of points so I will not be using every single example, just a few. However, if you are interested in the complete warning list of how to recognize a cult you can check out my source at your leisure.
This is usually how it starts because this stuff is aimed to break down a person’s emotional state until they are susceptible to suggestions and other weird ideas that they may normally not be open to if they were in a more healthy physical and mental state. Some of these methods of behavior control include (but are not limited to):
- Dictate where, how, and with whom the member lives and associates or isolates
Example: In the group that I was in, there were specific rules of who the inner circle members could interact with and if the leader (TC) decided someone was evil then they were not to be communicated with. No exception. TC decided who was “trusted” and who was not to be trusted. She enforced these rules with an iron fist by monitoring blog posts, social media content, and making sure to be in phone contact with all of her inner circle at almost all times she possibly could be in contact with them.
- When, how and with whom the member has sex
Example: TC paired people in her inner circle with other people and many times demanded them to have sex. Who with who. This included online roleplay but eventually ended up crossing over into real life when her inner circle came together to live in the same house for a period of time. These people were not to interact in such a manner without her express permission and when she wanted it to happen it happened.
- Control types of clothing and hairstyles
Example: TC was very into who was what character and how they would cosplay said character. When the person came over to her house they were to be dressed in cosplay at all times and never break character. This led to such extremes as one of the members of the inner circle cutting off all of her beloved waist long hair to make her appearance more masculine.
- Manipulation and deprivation of sleep
Example: TC kept people up at all hours of the night for various reasons. Mostly something she would call “staff meetings”. To refuse to attend these meetings would be met with some form of punishment. It was milder for some people than other but TC would offer such things as Press Passes or VIP passes to her staff if they attended these late night meetings every night for weeks on end. This, obviously, deprived them of sleep as they feared losing out on the reward if they didn’t do as she demanded.
- Financial exploitation, manipulation or dependence
Example: TC regularly used her inner circle as proxies to travel out to conventions on her behalf to preach the good word of her website to gain attention. TC never attended these conventions herself and she never paid for them nor did she reimburse anyone who went on her behalf. As benign as this may sound, some of these conventions included SDCC and cost thousands of dollars and the conventions were not fun for these staff members as they had to follow TC’s orders the entire time they were there. It also became apparent that she had control of at least one person’s PayPal account and funds (and most likely a second) meaning they never actually saw the donation money coming in for them and their work.
- Thoughts, feelings, and activities (of self and others) reported to superiors
Example: Members of TC’s inner circle, the ones closest to her, had to clear all interactions with outsiders to her, and inform her of what they were communicating about. If TC saw them communicating with someone they didn’t know, not only were they interrogated immediately upon discovery but the person they were interacting with was also interrogated. This usually left the stranger confused and creeped out which meant they stopped communication with her staff, isolating them further and ensuring that staff member was unable to make friends outside of the set group.
Information control is a powerful tool in making sure you can keep people loyal to you. Presenting half truths and full lies once you have already controlled their behavior and have them sleep deprived can manipulate their world and force them to see a reality that isn’t happening. Things like this can include (but are not limited to)
a. Deliberately withhold information
b. Distort information to make it more acceptable
c. Systematically lie to the cult member
Example: TC constantly withheld important information like the fact that she was not official to the network (even though she was able to make it appear that way) or that she had no ability to get anyone an actual job with the network. She also regularly took a true story but omitted facts from the story in order to demonize a person. For instance, someone in the group had the police called on them for a certain reason, except she left out the part where that person was completely innocent, never arrested, and had not done what was claimed of them. All of this falls into category C which is systematically lying to the members of her staff (aka Cult).
- Minimize or discourage access to non-cult sources of information, including:
a. Internet, TV, radio, books, articles, newspapers, magazines, other media
c. Former members
d. Keep members busy so they don’t have time to think and investigate
e. Control through cell phone with texting, calls, internet tracking
Example: The only thing anyone was allowed to really view, media wise, was specifically Hannibal related. Either the actual show or specific articles, interviews, youtube videos, and other media that was all Hannibal. If someone attempted to contradict TC with proof this was immediately discounted and deflected from. Especially if it involved former members (like myself and several others). Inner Circle members were kept busy with tasks such as writing articles for her website, making art for her, or taking control of social media accounts. It became clear that for a few inner circle members she had access to their blogs and their messages and was monitoring everything they were posting before they posted it. This level of monitoring became even higher once they lived with her, same with the busy work and the media they were allowed to consume. TC would assign them projects and books to read and ways to prepare for the next fandom they would enter.
Now that a person has your information and behavior controlled you are probably broken down enough that they can begin to control your thought process. Lack of sleep is a key thing here and other than the behavioral aspect of it, pointless busy work that delays sleep, especially if it’s related to the same task/theme over and over, will keep your mind one track and focused. This can include (but is not limited to):
- Change person’s name and identity
Example: Once you entered TC’s group you did not have your name any longer. You were given a name, a name of a character that wasn’t taken yet. Lauren became Frederick Chilton, Roxy became Will Graham, and TC was Freddie Lounds while her existing partner Gail was Hannibal. I was never given an actual assigned name because I had always existed as Freddie Lounds (at least in the roleplay community) but the identity of Abigail Hobbs was nearly assigned to me, I just resisted too much for their liking.
- Encourage only ‘good and proper’ thoughts
Example: There was no criticism of anything allowed. No allowance to criticize the show, the website, TC herself, point out any flaws that any characters may or may not have, or point out any problems with the show creator, characters, or the show. Absolutely none of this or you’d need to expect some pretty severe consequences. This left everyone to avoid saying anything negative and only reinforce over and over why the show was so great and why TC herself and Bryan Fuller were basically Gods.
- Memories are manipulated and false memories are created
Example: Once good and sleep deprived TC attempted to convince me that I was Abigail Hobbs but in a past life. Though it didn’t work on me I don’t assume this tactic was any different for any of the other members, they were just naive enough (or broken down enough by that point) to start believing it or buying into it in some capacity.
Once you have emotions controlled you pretty much have everything and ensure that not much can go wrong in your group. Even if everyone isn’t truly happy you can manipulate them into believing they are happy and they are on the correct path to success as long as they follow your doctrine. This type of control can contain (but is not limited to)
- Phobia indoctrination: inculcating irrational fears about leaving the group or questioning the leader’s authority
Example: On one occasion I was questioning another friend in the group (who was a more trusted member of the staff than I was) why she didn’t just leave if she hated dealing with TC so much. She responded, “I can’t leave, I’m afraid of what she’ll do to me.” I asked her then what in the world she thought some nobody in a cult fandom could do to her and she said, “I don’t know but I think it’s best I just do what she wants once I’m done I can stop talking to her”. There was no more elaboration on what she feared or what may have been said to her. This is something that I will always remember as it was very weird and quite terrifying.
- Extremes of emotional highs and lows – love bombing and praise one moment and then declaring you are horrible sinner
Example: This happened with me a lot, mostly because TC believed I had a history with her that was completely in her own head. There would be days where she would praise my behavior and be very thankful for my help. Then there would be days when she would totally flip out on me and imply I was some sort of demon or monster. This happened quite a bit to others who didn’t immediately follow her orders without question and she was very prone to spreading rumors about people to keep them in line (as well as quick to offer people promotion from her website if they did what she wanted).
- Manipulate and narrow the range of feelings
Example: Certain tones of voice and phrases were not allowed. If TC decided that you sounded angry or upset she would tell you that you sounded angry or upset, regardless of if you actually were or not. Even if you weren’t and you tried to assure her of this until you changed very specifically to how she wanted you to talk/act you were screamed at or lectured.
The most chilling part of all of this was that the vast majority of it took place over the internet and not in person. One may think it’s impossible or instantly call bullshit on such a scenario. How can you control people over the internet to this level? Well, you can. As I said, I’ve seen it happen twice and it happened in two very different fandoms that had nothing to do with each other. Just like a real life cult it is very based on a hit or miss line of tactics. I am sure that TC attempted this stuff on far more people than it actually worked on.
However, she didn’t need it to work on everyone, she only needed it to work on a small group of people. From there she could build the group even bigger. It was a slow process for her and it took a few years but she was handling it just fine. This would happen in any cult group anywhere. It takes only weak minded individuals and people who fear consequences on any level to fall under someone’s command and do what they say. For instance, TC was offering some pretty high-level rewards to these members if they listened to her. She promised them work with NBC, meeting the cast and crew of the show, interactions with the creator, and other perks. Gifts, merchandise, and even money. These things were (and are) huge incentives for a lot of people, at least to start.
Once you have them hooked in and believing that they can attain these things if they do one small favor, you can get them to do another and another. You really want a press pass to an event with celebrities? You may justify that you can miss a few hours of sleep here and there, it’s not a big deal. You may justify you can follow a few stupid rules here and there, not a big deal. TC would see who followed her smaller requests and then up the ante. Asking for more and more. If you gave her an inch, she’d take a mile. She’d continue to do this with everyone until she either got to a point where they called bullshit on her, or they never got to that point and became her slaves. It surely is a tedious process but it can be done over the internet just as well as it can be done in real life.
As stated before, more people are likely to fall into this trap because it doesn’t start with asking a person to convert their religion or believe in an entirely different God. It starts with a fun hobby they already have and slowly snowballs into more and more tasks and devotion until they are in too deep to get out. This makes these types of cults far more dangerous and delusional because, by the time you realize you’ve gotten yourself into one you may also not be able to get out and even if you do, the emotional damage is probably already finished.