When NXIVM was founded in the late 90s, it paraded itself as a personal development company for self-improvement. The company offered “Executive Success Programs” (ESP) that promised to help people maximize their potential and live their best lives. With that, the corporation based in the New York Capital District, attracted thousands of participants and spread to Canada and Mexico. NXIVM subjected participants to non-disclosure agreements, claiming its training was a trade secret. But it soon emerged that the organization was a cult perpetuating all sorts of crime, from grooming and sex trafficking to sexual abuse, hacking, money laundering, and blackmail.
Complaints from former members of the organization and several negative media coverage regarding the operations of NXIVM triggered an investigation by the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. By 2018, its founders and key members had been dragged to court with various criminal charges that brought the company to defunct. From its founders and notable participants to the shady practices and crimes of the company, here are the dark secrets of NXIVM.
Who Were The Founders And Key Players Of NXIVM?
The cult was founded by Keith Raniere and Nancy Salzman in 1998 as Executive Success Programs, which was later rebranded as NXIVM. Raniere, revered as the organization’s Vanguard, worked with Amway, a multi-level marketing company in the 80s. He founded a similar company called Consumers’ Buyline Inc. (CBI) in the 90s. Through CBI, he met Toni Natalie, his partner for many years, through whom he met his NXIVM co-founder, Nancy Salzman, a hypnotist nurse. Natalie had approached Salzman in 1998 to help her boyfriend. She told the hypnotist that Raniere’s obsession with his ideas was making him erratic.
Salzman agreed to help, describing Raniere as a sociopath. But upon meeting him, her opinion changed; she started regarding Raniere as a genius. Recalling what transpired, Natalie said: “They met, and four days later she came out with the glazed eyes and gave me the ‘You don’t know who he is (look),’ and I was like, ‘Wow, there goes another one.'” The nurse with years of experience in hypnosis and Neuro-linguistic programming eventually partnered with Raniere to bring his ideas into existence. They founded NXIVM, and she became known as the Prefect, a title denoting she’s Raniere’s first student.
With the help of Salzman, Raniere developed a multi-level marketing model for recruiting members. He professed himself the world’s most intelligent man, and with the support of some notable figures, people began signing up for NXIVM programs. Smallville actress Allison Mack was one of the prominent leaders of the organization. Others include American heiress Clare Bronfman, who financially supported the company, her sister Sara Bronfman, and Emiliano Salinas, son of Carlos Salinas de Gortari, the 60th president of Mexico. Canadian and American actresses like Sarah Edmondson, Nicki Clyne, Linda Evans, Grace Park, India Oxenberg, and her mother Catherine Oxenberg were also among notable NXIVM participants who popularized the organization.
Criminal Activities And Sexual Exploitation of Enslaved Members
A few years after NXIVM was founded, its activities and controversial practices earned it a cultish reputation. Several media outlets reported on the organization’s activities, citing complaints from former members while describing Raniere as the cult leader. As NXIVM spread its operations in the 2000s, so did the cult allegations. While Raniere tried to distance the company from the allegations, its rules, rituals, and habitual veneration of the founder didn’t help matters. Following numerous public accusations of sexual and physical abuse, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York began investigating the organization.
Of all the allegations against NXIVM, the exposure of its DOS activities led to the downfall of the cult. The female secret subgroup created in 2015 recruited members as slaves, using the multi-level marketing model. So it had levels of slaves, each subjected to a master, with Raniere as the only male in the secret group and the grandmaster. Members were required to provide “collateral” like explicit pictures, videos, and scandalous personal information before joining the group. At least 150 women joined DOS, and the collaterals they provided were used to blackmail them into complying with the despicable physical and sexual abuse meted out to them.
DOS members were branded with a symbol fashioned out of Raniere’s initials around their pelvis. He convinced DOS masters to groom and subject the slaves under them to his sexual bidding. Some slaves were put on extreme diets to fit Raniere’s appetite for thin women. Reports of NXIVM’s sexual enslavement and exploitation of DOS members were the final stroke that sparked the downfall and eventual demise of the NXIVM cult.
Legal Proceedings And Convictions That Led To NXIVM’s Demise
Several famous women like Sarah Edmondson and Catherine Oxenberg came forward with gory details about the sexual and financial exploitation of DOS members in 2017, leading to Raniere’s arrest the following year. Many charges were brought against him, from racketeering conspiracy to sexual exploitation of a minor, possession of child pornography, sex trafficking, forced labor, identity theft, and wire fraud. He was convicted in June 2019 and sentenced to 120 years imprisonment.
Other key players were also charged and convicted. NXIVM’s co-founder Nancy Salzman was sentenced to 42 months in prison after pleading guilty to racketeering conspiracy. Salzman agreed she wouldn’t contest the forfeiture of NXIVM’s assets for a lighter sentence. Her daughter Lauren Salzman pleaded guilty to a similar charge and was sentenced to five years of probation. Allison Mack and Clare Bronfman were sentenced to three years and 81 months in prison, respectively.
Recovery Journey Of Former NXIVM Members
While Raniere is paying for his crimes at the United States Penitentiary in Tucson, his victims continue to share their stories as they recover from their traumatic experiences with the NXIVM cult. An Insider report in October 2020 revealed that India Oxenberg’s therapist, Rachel Bernstein, was treating eight former members of NXIVM. The American socialite and actress later told The Daily Beast that she’s learning to love food again after the cruel diet she observed as a member of NXIVM’s secret cult of sex slaves. “…(I’m) learning to love food again, learning to eat, learning to experience pleasure and enjoyment—that’s part of life, and that was taken from me for a long time,” she said.
When Raniere was arrested, Oxenberg stood by him, insisting he was a good fellow until she uncovered Allison Mack’s hard drives with contents that depicted Raniere bragging about his crimes against DOS members. The realization that she had been vouching for a deplorable man left Oxenberg questioning her sanity. “…He’s a massive manipulator who was very good at setting up a system that supported him as this kind of messiah…He had this caucus of women around him spreading his propaganda… so by the time you even meet the guy, he’s on a pedestal,“ stated the actress as she explained how she got brainwashed.
Oxenberg added that she was unimpressed when she met Raniere for the first time. Hollywood filmmaker Nicole Cannon shared a similar sentiment in an article that detailed how she joined NXIVM. “…I didn’t like the hierarchy of the pyramid scheme and hated having to call Keith Raniere ‘Vanguard,'” reads excerpts from the article published on the Daily Beast website in November 2020.