The sex cult of NXIVM

NXIVM was touted as a personal development company.  It was founded in 1998 by Keith Allen Raniere and Nancy Salzman. 

The company offered “Executive Success Programs” (ESP) and a range of techniques for self-improvement.  Keith Raniere claimed that its “main emphasis is to have people experience more joy in their lives”.

Sounds kinda flakey from the start, right?  During seminars,  students would call Keith ‘Vanguard’ and Nancy ‘Prefect’.  

The Hollywood Reporter wrote that Raniere adopted the title from the 1981 video game Vanguard, “in which the destruction of one’s enemies increased one’s own power”.

Nancy is thought to have been the first ‘student’ for NXIVM, with Keith being the teacher. 

In the first five years following the establishment of the company, 3,700 people took part in their program.

Reported participants included businesswoman Sheila Johnson, former Surgeon GeneralAntonia Novello, Enron executive Stephen Cooper, Ana Cristina Fox (daughter of former Mexican president Vicente Fox)] entrepreneur Richard Branson (who denied having taken the classes]), businessman Edgar Bronfman Sr., and actresses Linda Evans, Grace Park, and Nicki Clyne. In the early 2000s, Seagram heiresses Clare and Sara Bronfman, daughters of Edgar Bronfman Sr., became attached to the organization.

What the seminars actually involved has not been made fully public due to non-disclosure agreements.  Cult Investigator Alan Ross has said that NXIVM program was essentially ‘expensive brainwashing’. 

Forbes Magazine seemed to take issue with the company as early as 2003, when they published a critical article.  Keith was taken aback by this as he had expected the press to be positive.  Forbes spoke with billionaire  Edgar Bronfman Sr. about the involvement of his daughters in the company.  He said he believed NXIVM was a cult and that he was troubled by his daughters’ “emotional and financial investment” in it.

In 2006, Forbes published an article about the Bronfman sisters, stating that they had taken out a line of credit to loan NXIVM $2 million, repayable through personal training sessions and phone consultations with Keith. Another Forbes article in 2010 discussed financial failings of the Bronfman sisters, after they made investments based on Keith’s advice.

As the years went on, more and more high profile people became involved with NXIVM.

Canadian actress Kristin Kreuk signed up with the company in 2006.  Kristin travelled to Vancouver, Canada around this time and she enlisted another actor to join.  Allison Mack is best known for her portrayal of Chloe Sullivan for ten years on the tv series ‘Smallville’.

It is rumored that Allison got into a relationship with Nancy Salzman’s daughter Lauren, and that she became “an enthusiastic proselytizer” for the company.  

Kristin ended up leaving NXIVM in 2013 and she came out a few years later saying that she left because it was not the self-help group that she was led to believe.

Allison was so into the company, that when she wrapped up filming Smallville, she moved to Clifton Park, NY to be closer to the NXIVM head base.

The company had many critics over the years. The Bronfman sisters did not stand for any negative feedback about NXIVM.

In 2008, they allegedly pressured Stephen Herbits, a confidant of their father, to ask Albany County District Attorney David Soares, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, and New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram to begin criminal investigations into NXIVM’s critics. NXIVM reportedly kept dossiers on Soares, Spitzer, political consultant Roger Stone, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, and Albany Times Union publisher George Randolph Hearst III in a box in the basement of Nancy Salzman’s home. According to the Times Union, NXIVM “developed a reputation for aggressively pursuing critics and defectors who broke from its ranks, including using litigation to punish critics of Raniere, the organization, or its training methods.

NXIVM has been described over the years as a pyramid scheme, a sex trafficking operation, a cult, and a sex cult.
In a 2010 Times Union article, former NXIVM coaches characterized students as “prey” for Keith’s sexual or gambling-related proclivities. Kristin Keeffe, a longtime partner of Keith (they had a child together), left the group in 2014 and called him “dangerous”, saying, “[a]ll the worst things you know about NXIVM are true.”

In 2017, an investigative reporter named Frank Parlato started looking into NXIVM.

Information about Dominus Obsequious Sororium, a “secret sisterhood” (referred to in the media as DOS) was uncovered, DOS was formed in 2015 within NXIVM, in which female members were allegedly called slaves, branded with the initials of Keith and Nancy subjected to corporal punishment from their “masters”, and required to provide nude photos or other potentially damaging information about themselves as “collateral”.

Canadian actress Sarah Edmondson was part of NXIVM from 2005 until 2017.  She left the organisation after she was ‘inducted’ into DOS by Allison Mack.  Sarah alleged that participants were blindfolded naked, held down by Allison and three other women, and branded by NXIVM-affiliated doctor Danielle Roberts, using a cauterizing pen. 

Sarah spoke to ABC news about her experiences:

After Sarah’s claims were made public, hundreds of members cut ties with NXIVM.  This seemed to be the beginning of the end. 

Rolling Stone featured an article about this case, and they interviewed a woman named Nicole.  

Nicole was in a dark place.  She moved to New York to pursue an acting career but had been unable to secure many auditions and could hardly pay her bills.

Nicole emailed her friend Allison Mack, looking for some support.

“I looked up to her,” Nicole said. “She had a lot of discipline and had reached a certain level in her career.”

The two had met when Nicole took one of Allison’s acting classes in 2015.  Nicole paid $8k for the 5 week course, called ‘Source’.  This was to be her first introduction to the NXIVM gang.  

In the email, Nicole told Allison how she was struggling, depressed and suicidal.  

“She said she had something she thought would fix how I was feeling,” Nicole said. “It was gonna make everything better.” Allison described it as a “really cool women’s mentorship [program]… for women who were serious about being strong women.” But there was one condition. “If I wanted to get more information on this mentorship, I’d have to provide collateral,” she said.

Click here and here to read the Rolling Stone articles.

The collateral required to join DOS was generally nude or sexually explicit photos or humiliating testimonials.   Nicole did not know this at the time, and she met with Allison to discuss the ‘mentorship’ opportunity at a hotel in NYC. 

At the meeting,  she was invited to join an “intense, growing empowerment group where women were pushing each other to be stronger, physically, mentally, intellectually, so that they could live the kind of life that they wanted to.” 

Allison told Nicole about the group, which was then called the Vow, as a mentorship organization intended to encourage women to become more resilient and self-sufficient; the harder, stronger, smarter, more badass versions of themselves.

She also finally elaborated on the collateral needed to join.  Nicole had to provide a sexually explicit video of herself as well as letters that would hurt her family members or ruin her career.

Nicole has said that Allison told her to falsify a letter, saying that her father molested her as a child.  Nicole was not comfortable with this, but Allison said the letters were only intended as an exercise of “trust.” “Don’t you want to be the kind of person who trusts someone?,” Nicole recounted Allison saying.

Nicole agreed to join DOS, but she soon felt very uncomfortable. She was required to be available to check in with Allison  at all times in exercises known as “readiness drills” and refer to her as “master,” and she was instructed to stay celibate for three months. The intensity of the group unnerved Nicole. “I had decided [DOS] just wasn’t for me,” she testified. But when she told Allison she wanted to leave, Nicole was told that leaving DOS “wasn’t an option” and that the group was a “lifetime commitment,” noting that at one point her own master had threatened to release her collateral if she didn’t get her act together. “It’s the choice you made — now what are you gonna do about it?,” Allison taunted in an email to Nicole, which was read in court.

Nicole was stuck.  She could not see any way to leave DOS.  During her time with the ‘organisation’, she would be asked to seduce Raniere; she was blindfolded, tied down and told to have oral sex with someone whose identity would be kept a secret from her; she was subject to physical punishments and was made to pose for close-up genital photos. 

Allison and Keith were in a sexual relationship, with Allison being his slave.  Allison became aware of Nicole’s forced sexual relationship with Keith, telling Nicole, “Isn’t it so cool that Keith is working on my sexuality through you?”

Keith told Nicole that the goal of DOS in general — was to erode women’s autonomy in order to build strength and obedience in them. As Nicole testified how Keith  explained it, “he needed to break me in order to build me back up into a strong woman.”

In 2016, things started to intensify in DOS.   Allison had recruited three other slaves, including Dynasty actress Catherine Oxenberg’s daughter India, and the women were required to attend weekly “church” meetings on Monday nights, where they’d sit on the floor while Allison would sit on the couch and reprimand them. The women all had nicknames — Nicole’s was “the brat” — and many of them were required to adhere to strict, extremely low-calorie diets, with Allison at one point subsisting only on 500 calories a day until she reached 107 pounds. “[Mack] sometimes said Keith wouldn’t care about her if she gained weight,” Nicole testified.

The ‘slaves’ were required to pose for a group ‘family’ photo before church every week.  The only catch was that they all had to be nude.

In 2017, Nicole and the other slaves were branded.  Some reports say they were marked with Keith’s initials, others say it was a symbol representative of the four elements – earth, air, wind and fire.

Allison told Nicole that “pain is love, and you show your love to your master by pain.”

Nicole finally managed to muster the courage to leave DOS in Spring 2017.  She decided that there was more risk to her if she stayed and that she was willing to chance her collateral being released.  Allison must have had a change of heart around this time, and said that Nicole’s collateral would not be released if she left DOS, and to date none of the DOS slaves’ collateral has been released.

When this case eventually went to court, Nicole was clear that her relationship with Keith and Allison and with DOS in general, had caused her nothing but pain and psychic tumult. “Things would get normalized, and slowly become more intense,” she said in justifying her decision to stay. She likened her slow immersion into the group to the process of boiling a frog: “if you put a frog in hot water, they just jump out. If you put a frog in cold water, and slowly turn the heat up, they just boil it to death.”

In April 2019, Allison Mack pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering and one count of racketeering conspiracy.

She cried in court and said she took “full responsibility for [her] conduct”. 
In a statement, Allison apologized for her role In NXIVM. “I’m very sorry for the victims of this case,” she said in court, visibly emotional. “I’m very sorry for who I’ve hurt through my misguided adherence to Keith Raniere’s teachings.” She also admitted that she kept a slave and instructed women in the group “to perform services for me” and confirmed that members were required to provide naked photos of themselves and other blackmail material before joining.

Days before she was sentenced, Allison released a statement saying that her involvement was “the biggest mistake and regret of [her] life” and expressed remorse in regards of those affected. In addition to the letter, her attorneys asked for no jail time in consideration of her remorse and her cooperation with Keith’s prosecution.

On June 30, 2021, Mack was sentenced to three years in federal prison and was ordered to pay a fine of $20,000.

Keith had been arrested around the same time as Allison and charged with sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy, and conspiracy to commit forced labor.

When the authorities finally tracked him down at a luxury villa near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, he was hiding in a closet. He was living with several women from Nxivm.
As he was placed in the back of a police car and zipped away, the women chased after him.

United States Attorney Richard Donoghue stated that Raniere “created a secret society of women whom he had sex with and branded with his initials, coercing them with the threat of releasing their highly personal information and taking their assets.

A woman named Camila testified at the trial and said that she had been abused by Keith since she was 15 and he was 45. During their 12-year relationship, Camila said, Keith expected her to be available for sex at all hours. He ordered her to weigh less than 100 pounds and directed her to get an abortion. She said she attempted suicide once.

In October 2020, Keith was sentenced to 120 years in prison. The judge also ordered him to pay a $1.75 million fine.

Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis of Federal District Court in Brooklyn determined the punishment after hearing hours of wrenching testimony from 15 victims, many of whom described how Mr. Raniere had left them traumatized and brainwashed.

Keith has still been causing trouble, even from jail. He is still attempting to maintain leadership over NXIVM, regularly communicating with his followers by phone. He instructed his followers to solicit the assistance of Alan Dershowitz, the attorney who successfully negotiated a non-prosecution agreement of the late Jeffrey Epstein. Raniere gave false names of people he was allegedly calling to prison officials, and call recipients employed “burner phones” in an attempt to avoid detection. In one instance, Raniere instructed a follower to “get scrutiny” on the judge in his case, explaining that “the judge needs to know he’s being watched”.

Investigation Discovery aired a documentary in 2019, titled ‘The Lost Women of NXIVM’. They found that many of Keith’s former lovers had died in strange circumstances. Gina Hutchinson was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head. Kristin Snyder disappeared and was last seen at a NXIVM event. Live-in girlfriends Barbara Jeske and Pam Cafritz both died from what was diagnosed as cancer at the time, but is alleged to have actually been subtle poisoning. Raniere’s partner Kristin Keeffe survived cervical cancer. In 2009, Raniere was filmed claiming, “I’ve had people killed because of my beliefs.’

According to that program, a woman who lived with Raniere and developed bladder cancer submitted a hair sample – that sample reportedly revealed the evidence of dangerous levels of bismuth and barium.

The others who were involved with NXIVM were also punished.

Claire Bronfman (who spent $100m of Daddy’s money to sue critics of NXIVM) was sentenced to six years in prison.

As of 22 March 2021, she was imprisoned at FDC Philadelphia, a temporary/in-transit federal prison facility normally used to house inmates prior to or during court proceedings. Her Federal Bureau of Prisons inmate number is 91010-053, with a scheduled release date of 29 June 2026.

Nancy Salzman was actually just sentenced this past week – September 2021- for her involvement in NXIVM. In a Brooklyn federal court on Wednesday this week, Nancy said she was “horrified and shamed” to have ever promoted Keith.

Her attorneys said she now appreciates “the full weight of her wrongdoing while she served as Keith Raniere’s collaborator and enabler” of the cult.

Federal judge Nicholas Garaufis, however, said that Nancy left “trauma and destruction” on her victims during her time with Nxivm. Nancy was sentenced to 42 months in prison.  Interestingly, Nancy does not have to go to prison straight away.  She will be free until January 19, 2022.  Her lawyers said she has been caring for her ailing mother.

Her daughter Lauren avoided any prison time. She was sentenced to five years’ probation, 300 hours of community service and credit for time served while under house arrest.

Lauren was the only NXIVM co-defendant to testify against him in court and was the first to cooperate with prosecutors, who said she played a “critically important” role in putting Raniere behind bars and asked the judge to grant her a lenient sentence.

During her trial, Lauren maintained she herself had been manipulated by Raniere, with whom she had a relationship and a child.

The final participant in NXIVM will be sentenced in October this year.  Company bookkeeper Kathy Russell admitted to visa fraud and faces 6 months in prison.  

In February 2014, Kathy presented a false letter to the U.S. Consulate in Mexico.

“The letter that I submitted was required to be filed by the immigration laws,” Russell said at the time. “I know what I did was wrong, and I’m very sorry for the trouble I have caused. I compromised my own principles and I will have to live with that for the rest of my life.”

We will keep you updated on her sentencing.

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