The difficult-to-pronounce word on everybody’s lips this week is Nxivm, the self-help “company” that former members have deemed a cult.
Nxivm (pronounced “Nexium”) is currently in the press because its leader Keith Raniere was arrested in Mexico on Sunday. Subsequently, he’s been charged with sex-trafficking and conspiracy to commit forced labor. FBI official William Sweeney detailed on Monday that, “As alleged, Keith Raniere displayed a disgusting abuse of power in his efforts to denigrate and manipulate women he considered his sex slaves.”
Sweeney continued, “He allegedly participated in horrifying acts of branding and burning them, with the co-operation of other women operating within this unorthodox pyramid scheme. These serious crimes against humanity are not only shocking, but disconcerting to say the least, and we are putting an end to this torture today.”
Unlike other, less glamorous cults, Nxivm has always flirted with celebrity. A 2010 Vanity Fair piece alleged that Raniere went out of his way to court wealthy and influential followers. That article, “The Heiresses and the Cult,” told the story of Seagrams heiresses Sara and Clare Bronfman, who quickly rose through the Nxivm ranks, helping to organize high profile events like the Dalai Lama’s visit to Albany in 2009.
Vanity Fair reported that the Bronfman sisters’ relationship with Raniere lead to a “massive gutting” of their trust funds “to help finance nxivm and the alleged investment schemes of its leader.” The article continued, “According to legal filings and public documents, in the last six years as much as $150 million was taken out of the Bronfmans’ trusts and bank accounts, including $66 million allegedly used to cover Raniere’s failed bets in the commodities market, $30 million to buy real estate in Los Angeles and around Albany, $11 million for a 22-seat, two-engine Canadair CL-600 jet, and millions more to support a barrage of lawsuits across the country against nxivm’s enemies.”
In 2017, The New York Times published a shocking report, substantiated by the testimonies of former members. One woman, Sarah Edmondson, claimed to have been branded during a Nxivm ritual. The Times reported that, “Each woman was told to undress and lie on a massage table, while three others restrained her legs and shoulders. According to one of them, their ‘master,’ a top Nxivm official named Lauren Salzman, instructed them to say: ‘Master, please brand me, it would be an honor.’”
“A female doctor proceeded to use a cauterizing device to sear a two-inch-square symbol below each woman’s hip, a procedure that took 20 to 30 minutes,” the article continued, “For hours, muffled screams and the smell of burning tissue filled the room.”
A text message Raniere allegedly sent to a female follower that was obtained by The New York Times acknowledged both the branding and its unique design, reading, “Not initially intended as my initials but they rearranged it slightly for tribute.” The ‘KR’ initials also, when inverted, spell the initials ‘AM.’
The New York Times also reported that the state police investigator “told Ms. Edmondson and two other women that officials would not pursue their criminal complaint against Nxivm because their actions had been consensual.”
Dynasty star Catherine Oxenberg spoke with the Times as well—her daughter, India, had reportedly also been initiated into the top-secret “sorority.”
Before fleeing the country, Raniere wrote a letter in response to the Times’ expose, describing the sorority’s members as “thriving, health, happy” and “better off,” insisting that they “haven’t been coerced.”
Catherine Oxenberg isn’t the only minor celebrity to make an appearance in Raniere’s tangled web. Smallville fans were shocked to learn that Allison Mack, the Teen Choice Award-winning actress who played Chloe Sullivan on the CW series, is allegedly a “key recruiter” at Nxivm.
Frank Parlato is a businessman who was accused by the Bronfman sisters of defrauding them in 2011. He’s gone on to publish information about Nxivm on his blog, The Frank Report, often citing anonymous ex-followers. According to Parlato, Mack helped form the secret sorority, otherwise known as DOS (Dominos Obsequious Sororium, which means Master Over the Slave Women), envisioning “a united group of women branded in the name of Mr. Raniere and Miss Mack—which will be a force for good, and a female force against evil.”
According to a 2017 Daily Mail article, “DOS operates as a master-slave hierarchy, with Raniere at the top and Mack as his immediate subordinate…Women in the group are allegedly kept on a 500- to 800-calorie a day diet because Raniere likes thin women and believes fat ‘interferes’ with his energy levels, Parlato claims. Slaves must immediately answer their masters any time they text or call them, and if they do not recruit enough slaves of their own, they are beaten with a paddle on their buttocks.”
The Frank Report alleged that Mack herself introduced corporeal punishment into the sorority.
In that 2017 blog post, Parlato claimed that Mack had also taken over Jness, a Nxivm women’s group, writing, “Both women’s groups, Jness and DOS are based on the teachings of Mr. Raniere. Both require members to keep the teachings secret. Jness is open to females who want to take entry level self improvement courses on female empowerment. A beginner is not told about the higher level teachings until she proves qualified…Since Miss Mack has assumed control of both organizations, Jness is evolving into a training ground and recruitment camp for women who may qualify for the teachings of DOS. The ‘cream’ of Jness women are invited to join DOS, and the ‘cream’ of DOS women are invited to join Mr. Raniere’s harem [subject to his approval].”
According to the BBC, The FBI’s criminal complaint similarly claims that, “Once recruited as ‘slaves,’ women were allegedly expected to perform menial chores for ‘masters’ and have sex with Mr. Raniere, who was known as ‘The Vanguard.’”
“Raniere has maintained a rotating group of fifteen to twenty women with whom he maintains sexual relationships,” the FBI further stated in its complaint. “These women are not permitted to have sexual relationships with anyone but Raniere or to discuss with others their relationship with Raniere. Some of the Nxivm curriculum included teachings about the need for men to have multiple sexual partners and the need for women to be monogamous.”
Mack, who has acted sparingly since Smallville, praises Raniere on her blog. In the bio section, she writes, “Over the course of several years, Mr. Raniere mentored Allison in her study of acting and music. As such, she has developed a deep connection to the nature of humanity as it relates to acting as an art form, and a tool for personal evolution.” The blog continues, “In 2013, Mr. Raniere worked with Allison and a small group of equally skilled and dedicated professionals to develop a curriculum that is currently taught through a private arts academy, The Source. There Allison serves as president and is one of its top trainers.”
Frank Parlato told The Sun that Mack is one of the women who can be seen panicking over Raniere in a leaked video clip of his arrest. According to prosecutors, the women that were reportedly living with Raniere in Mexico “chased the car in which the defendant was being transported in their own car at high speed.”
Nxivm’s official website currently reads, “In response to the allegations against our founder, Keith Raniere, we are currently working with the authorities to demonstrate his innocence and true character.”