NXIVM: A Cult for the Modern Era
Cults are a larger problem in the world than many people realize. When a lot of people think about cults, they imagine the Manson family or Jim Jones in Guyana. What they don’t typically imagine is a scheming multi-level marketing company to become a sex cult. However, that’s just what happened with NXIVM. It has a sordid and strange history. Below is an overview of the cult and the criminal case that followed the discovery of their dark doings.
How Did the Organization and Cult Work?
The organization was founded in 1998 by Keith Raniere and Nancy Salzman. Raniere, who was the leader of the group, was known as Vanguard. Salzman was called the Prefect.
Between 1998 and 2018, more than 16,000 people completed a course offered by Raniere. The course taught Raniere’s ethical framework of human experience. The five-day course cost $2,700 and could be taken at different locations in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
The techniques taught in the Executive Success Programs they offered were essentially a form of mind control. The goal was to psychologically break the subjects, according to a forensic psychiatrist named John Hochman who evaluated them in 2003.
As with many cults, Raniere was eventually elevated to a deistic position. Members believed wholeheartedly that Raniere was able to help them with their phobias, medical issues, and more. The masquerade was enough to fool a large number of people. E
ven the Dalai Lama visited and commended the “ethical” work Raniere was doing.
Students were required to sign NDAs and not talk about what they were learning in the classes. The indoctrination would start subtle and slowly ramp up, and many who were in the cult had no idea they were in, well, a cult. Raniere used many tried and true methods of cult leaders. This includes having training that could last for 17 hours. This alienated them from their friends and family.
Many of the higher-ranking members of NXIVM lived together in communes, where they would teach, often without any pay. There were multiple programs in the organization, including some just for men and some for women.
What allowed for the downfall of the cult was one of the women’s organizations—Dominus Obsequious Sororium (DOS), which essentially means “lord over the obedient female companions”. An actress who had been involved with the cult for decades, Sarah Edmondson, filed a complaint to the NY State Department of Health after she was brought into DOS.
The women were inducted into the group, branded with a cauterizing device with Raniere’s initials, and would then be on call around the clock and had to respond within one minute or be punished. Many of the women were forced to have sex with Raniere.
When this information came out, Raniere fled, as most cowards do. He went to Mexico, but the Mexican authorities arrested him and sent him back to NY to face charges.
He was convicted and sentenced to 120 years in prison. Salzman, the co-founder of the group, was only sentenced to 3.5 years in prison after pleading guilty to racketeering conspiracy.
NXIVM Was Attractive to Many Powerful People
One of the myths surrounding cults is that only those who have little education or little money are drawn into their clutches. However, that’s not the case. Hollywood celebrities, CEOs, and Seagram heiresses Clare and Sara Bronfman were part of the group, as well.
Allison Mack, an actress who played Chloe Sullivan on the television show Smallville from 2001 to 2011, was a member of the cult. She was recently sentenced to three years in prison and was given a $20,000 fine for her involvement. She was one of the recruiters and lead deputies for NXIVM.