By Zachary Lynn
It does not always take poor circumstances for people to begin to search for meaning in their lives, or at least look for a deeper purpose. Often times people at the pinnacle of success will look for deeper success. It is easy to assume that people who are drawn to cults are people down on their luck or in poor circumstances, and while this does include some cult members, many are those looking for something else. Perhaps it is the desire to add spiritual meaning to financial success. Or ways to just be better.
While it is easy to assume that cults are all religious based, this is also far from the truth. Behavioural control and emotional manipulation are frequently used by multi-level marketing schemes, certain political movements and various sports organizations. Some self help groups are perfectly fine. A group for people to help one another with a certain goal is one thing. A group that purports to help people with a goal and never moves forward is something increasingly different.
Enter NXIVM. NXIVM (It does not stand for anything, but we will get to that later.) was founded by Keith Raniere in 1998 as a multi-level marketing and executive success program. The idea was that members would pay a fee to participate in professional development seminars and executive success programs. This should already raise questions as the fees were generally rather large. This was only the surface though. The reality was that NXIVM was for all intents and purposes a front for a secret society known as The Vow, that would force women into sexual slavery.
Founded by Keith Raniere and Nancy Salzman in 1998, the group claimed that its executive success programs would facilitate “rational inquiry” and “help people develop more joy in their lives.” Of course, these programs costed tens of thousands of dollars. Members were required to call Keith Raniere Vanguard, and Nancy Salzman Prefect. Rank within NXIVM was signified by colored sashes that were to be worn whenever one was at a ESP program. NXVIM included a mission statement, like many cults do. NXIVM wanted people to purge themselves of envy. To rid people of “parasites in their lives” and to “ethically control as much of the money in the world as they reasonably could.” Of course, like most cults and multi-level marketing schemes, they were encouraged to enroll as many people in the group as they possibly could. NXIUM courses could last for weeks without a break, and many courses went for at least twelve hours a day. Of course, you could be paying $7,500 for the privilege of this.
Of course if you tried this out, and decided it was not for you, well…you would be able to leave. Probably. But if you did, you would be labelled a suppressive person and current members of NXIVM would be encouraged not to talk to you. Some of the course material could be okay upon a first look, such as delving into material that caused you pain as a child. Others, less so, as one of the course modules reportedly focused on ways you might benefit if a loved one died suddenly. Like any over priced self-help group that eventually (or always was), a cult, NXVIM had a number of celebrity members.
Clare and Sara Bronfman were the heirs to the Seagrams Whiskey fortune and would bankroll the group for a number of years. Emiliano Salinas was a venture capitalist who was the son of a former President of Mexico. India Oxenberg was the daughter of Actress Catherine Oxenburg and in theory a member of the Serbian Royal Family. Finally, the most well known Celebrity was Actress Allison Mack, of Smallville fame who would rise to the position of effectively being Keith Ranieres second in command.
Even before everything came to the surface about Kieth Raniere and the NXVIM organization, many had begun suspecting something suspicious. Edgar Bronfman had suspected that his daughters were under the control of a cult for time, especially as they tried to use his political connections to have critics of the group investigated.
Several different reporters would at varying times investigate parts of NXVIM and there were always allegations that the organization had issues. Such as the fact that the Bronfman’s had lost 2 million in poor real estate dealers, and that they often sued reporters who opened up stories or investigative pieces into the group. As far back as 2009 and 2010, suspicion had fallen onto the group after a front organization for NXIVM had been forced to delay a visit by the Dalai Lama to Albany owing to the negative press around NXIVM, however, the Dalai Lama would later speak in the city. However, the organizer Tenzin Dhonden, a Lama in the Dalai Lama’s organization was later dismissed as it was discovered he had a relationship with Clare Bronfman. As well, a former NXIVM coach told the press that the group was nothing more then a front for Keith Raniere to exercise his sexual and gambling proclivities, preying on vulnerable members.
The bow broke in 2017. Reporter Frank Parlatto who had been hired to bring up positive press for the group instead broke the news about a society within NXIVM called Dominus Obsequious Sororium, which was supposed to be a women’s only sisterhood. A counterpart to the society of Guardians, a men’s only organization within the group. Well, it turns out DOS (We will call it DOS, but it can also be called “the Vow” as that name was also used), was less a secret society then a sex trafficking ring.
Members of DOS were referred to as Slaves. They were branded with the initials of Kieth Raniere and Allison Mack on the upper area of the groin in a secret ceremony by cult Doctor Danielle Roberts with a cauterizing pen. They were forced to perform sexual acts for Kieth Raniere and other people upon his orders. As a matter of enforcement were required to give major “collateral”, such as explicit photographs or other blackmail that would be leaked to the media if they went public. This was the endgame of a program started at the beginning of ones induction into NXVIM, and it started with an innocuous act such as giving up 20 dollars if you don’t go to the gym. The idea was to prepare victims for eventual participation in DOS.
Most of the secrecy was blown open by Canadian Actress Sarah Edmonson, who told the papers that she had been stripped naked and branded at her home by Allison Mack and 4 others a year earlier. After she went public, hundreds would leave the group. Keith Raniere was arrested in 2018 on charges related to sex trafficking, forced labor, conspiracy to commit sex tracking, financial fraud and a number of other charges. A month later, Allison Mack was arrested under charges that she was a full and willing participant, and essentially coerced women into sex with Raniere and performing effective slave labor, and she was paid for the service by the organization. Federal prosecutors would secure several properties held by the group were seized. The group would then move to New York under the guidance of Clare Bronfman..who was later arrested by Federal Prosecutors for various fraud causes. Several others, including Nancy Salzman who avoided arrest at first were arrested by the government.
Raniere pleaded not guilty but was found guilty of racketeering and trafficking. Allison Mack has been found Guilty of racketeering. Both currently are awaiting sentencing and could serve up to 15 years in prison each. Members of the group who remain are steadfastly loyal to Raniere.
Unlike some of my other articles I have no hypothesis of an apocalypse under the eyes of a mad cult leader. Keith Raniere never stockpiled weapons and prepared for the end. It is abominable just the same. So lets consider not a direct scenario, but more just the moral of this saga. Don't trust multi-level marketing schemes.
Zachary Lynn is the Author of Three Days in Yangonpublished by Sea Lion Press