When the story first broke about the NXVIM sex cult, the world was fascinated. First with how to pronounce the name and then with the sick and twisted acts that were happening behind the scenes. The New York Times published an expose in 2017, but the HBO documentary called The Vow that was released in August 2020 was what really made this story spread like wildfire. The founder of the cult, Keith Raniere, has been sentenced to 120 years in prison. So what exactly happened that got him this sentence? There are decades of stomach-churning evidence, but here are some of the most shocking revelations to come out about the cult.
1. It all started as a self-help seminar
A large part of the framework of the cult was based on Executive Success Programs that were intended to motivate followers to achieve their goals in different aspects of their lives. Raniere began his mass mental manipulation during his seminars where he taught the “ethical framework of humankind”. The first session was 5 days long and cost $2700. From 1998 to 2018, over 16,000 people across the North American continent attended Raniere’s seminars. Some estimates are up to 18,000. A forensic scientist named John Hochman stated the seminars were “aimed at breaking down his subjects psychologically.” These seminars were also said to cure a myriad of mental health problems including OCD and Tourette’s.
2. Most members never had sexual relationships with Raniere, but they were still exploited
One couple reported that they had to file for bankruptcy after spending over $300,000 on seminars. Many participants only took one seminar and moved on, but Raniere was able to convince other participants to uproot their lives and move to the HQ near Albany, NY where Raniere would sink his devious claws even deeper into them. “Coaches” became dependent on the income, many of which were immigrants, and if they tried to leave the organization, they would be royally sued by Raniere’s team.
3. There wasn’t just one cult
NXIVM was, say, the umbrella cult. There were several smaller off-shoots that were even sicker than the last. The “sex cult” was one of these off-shoots called Dominus Obsequious Sororium (DOS). It basically means “lord over the obedient female companions.” This was a secret sexual society of women involving masters and slaves. This video by Investigation Discovery gives a basic overview of the whole organization’s set up:
4. The DOS was anything but empowering
Many of the survivors report that they thought they were joining a women empowerment mentorship program only to be treated as sex slaves. They were forced to be sickly thin and wait around naked until Raniere wanted to have sex with them. According to one survivor’s testimony, Allison Mack claimed that if the survivor had sex with Raniere, it would “cure her sexual trauma.” Women were told they were monogamous while men were polygamous. In a disturbing video, a woman is branded on her pelvic area with Raniere’s and Mack’s initials. The women were constantly forced to provide “collateral,” which were mainly sexually explicit videos that they did not want leaked. The “slaves” were made to sit naked in front of Raniere while he lectured them. If he was not there, they had to take a group picture and send it to him. The slaves had to answer texts from masters within 60 seconds or else they would be punished with starvation. The list of atrocities is seemingly never-ending
5. Raniere had 5 rich women in his inner circle who did a lot of the behind-the-scenes work.
Two heiresses to the Seagram’s fortune, Sara and Clare Bronfman, used over $100 million dollars of her inheritance to support the cult as well as sue Raniere’s enemies. Another noteworthy name in this inner circle is Allison Mack, who was most famous for her role in Smallville. Her vocal support of the cult brought in celebrity visitors, including the Dali Lama. All of the women in the inner circle have been charged for their involvement. Here is a compilation of Allison Mack’s recruitment videos from 2013-2017:
6. The judge yelled at Raniere’s lawyer during the trial
While Raniere’s lawyer went on about how having sex with underaged girls doesn’t count as rape because he was in love with them, the judge screamed “NO!” in the middle of his speech. The judge wouldn’t even allow him to continue this revolting rant because he knew what the lawyer was saying should not be permitted as “his truth.” While many of the head organizers will be paying a heavy price, nothing will be enough for the countless people who were devastated by Raniere’s reign.