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Steven Hassan's Terrorism BITE Model

The BITE Model was developed by adapting the work of Dr. Robert Jay Lifton's eight criteria of Thought Reform (Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, Norton, 1961) and Dr. Margaret Singer's six conditions from Cults in our Midst (Jossey-Mass, 2003) to help people identify the specifics of destructive influences.

By combining attributes of both concepts, a comprehensive reference of the levels of control was created using Leon Festinger's Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (Stanford University Press, 1962, 1957). Expanding on Festinger’s initial triad of behavior, thought, and emotion, the “I” for information was added to round out all aspects that could cause a person to be controlled.

The Terrorism BITE Model

I. Behavior Control

II. Information Control

III. Thought Control

IV. Emotional Control

  • Regulate individual’s physical reality
  • Dictate where, how, and with whom the member lives and associates/isolates
  • Manipulation, exploitation, and control of sexuality
  • Control types of clothing that are permissible, colors, hairstyles worn by the person
  • Regulate diet, withhold food/drink as a form of punishment
  • Take away passports or other vital documents; abduction; physical imprisonment, torture
  • Sleep manipulation and deprivation
  • Use of drugs (which are administered at times without informed consent)
  • Financial exploitation, manipulation, and dependency; use of “quota” system to control
  • Restrict leisure, entertainment, vacation time; restrict access to schooling and jobs
  • Major time spent on grooming and indoctrination
  • Require permission for major (and often minor) decisions
  • Thoughts, feelings, and activities (of self and others) reported
  • Rewards and punishments (thus modify behaviors, both positive and negative) – beating, torture, burning, cutting, rape, tattooing as branding
  • Discourage individualism
  • Impose rigid rules and regulations
  • Threats of harm to family/friends
  • Little or no medical treatment and/or mental health
  • Instill obedience and dependency
  • Being forced to rape and/or be raped

  • Deception (No Informed Consent)
  • Deliberately withhold information
  • Distort information to make it more acceptable
  • Systematically lie
  • Minimize or discourage access to competing sources of information, including:
  • Internet, TV, radio, books, articles, newspapers, magazines, other media
  • Critical information including service providers
  • Survivors of terrorist mind control
  • Keep them so busy they don’t have time to think and investigate
  • Control through cell phones with texting, calls, internet tracking
  • Compartmentalize information into Outsider vs. Insider doctrines
  • Ensure the information is not freely accessible
  • Control information at different levels
  • Only terrorist group leader decides who needs to know what and when
  • Encourage spying on others
  • Report deviant thoughts, feelings, sexual identity, and actions
  • Ensure that individual behavior is monitored by terrorist leaders or terrorist group network
  • Extensive use of pro-terrorism propaganda, including:
  • Various forms of mass media which glorifies exploitation
  • Use of videos, YouTube and movies
  • Misquotations, statements taken out of context from competing sources
  • Information about past used to disrupt/dissolve identity boundaries
  • Past used to manipulate and control
  • Confabulating events

  • Member required to internalize the terrorist doctrine as truth
  • Adopting the terrorist “map of reality” as reality
  • Instill black and white thinking
  • Decide between good vs. evil
  • Organize people intous vs. them
  • Change person’s name and identity
  • Dissociation
  • Use of loaded language. For example, thought-terminating clichés (words are tools for thinking. Special words-constricting rather than expanding knowledge, stopping thought process-function to reduce complexities into platitudinous buzz words
  • Only so-called good and proper thoughts are encouraged
  • Hypnotic techniques are used to alter mental state, age regress to undermine critical thinking and reality testing (past lives, confabulating events)
  • Memories are manipulated and false memories are created
  • Thought-stopping techniques, which shut down reality testing by stopping negative and allow only so-called good thoughts, are used
  • Denial, rationalization, justification, wishful thinking
  • Rejection of rational analysis, critical thinking, constructive criticism
  • No critical questions about trafficker, doctrine, or “rules” allowed
  • Alternative belief systems viewed as illegitimate, evil, or not useful

  • Manipulate and narrow the range of feelings – healthy emotional impulses such as desire for love or a work opportunity are exploited
  • Emotional numbing
  • Emotion-stopping (like thought-stopping, but blocking feelings of homesickness, anger, doubts)
  • Make the person feel that problems are always their own fault – never the trafficker’s fault
  • Excessive use of guilt
  • Identity guilt
  • You are not living up to your potential
  • Your family is deficient
  • Your past is suspect
  • Your affiliations are unwise
  • Your thoughts, feelings, actions are irrelevant/selfish
  • Social guilt
  • Historical guilt
  • Excessive use of fear
  • Fear of thinking independently
  • Fear of the outside world including institutions such as law enforcement
  • Fear of not being able to make it on one’s own
  • Fear of leaving the terrorist organization or being shunned by the organization
  • Fear of disapproval
  • Extremes of emotional highs and lows – love bombing and praise, then you are horrible, unworthy, etc.
  • Phobia indoctrination: inculcating irrational fears about leaving or questioning the terrorist group leaders authority
  • Threats and Threats of Exposure/Blackmail
  • Harm to self and/or others
  • Public sharing (telling one’s family or others in order to embarrass/dishonor)
  • Turning over to law enforcement; incarceration
  • Death