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|Privately held company|
|Headquarters||Colonie, New York|
Keith Raniere (founder)|
Nancy Salzman (president)
NXIVM (// NEKS-ee-əm) is a multi-level marketing company, based in Albany, New York (U.S.), that offers personal and professional development seminars through its "Executive Success Programs". NXIVM has been labeled as a pyramid scheme, a sex-trafficking operation, and sex cult. A report for the Ross Institute described its seminars as "expensive brainwashing".
NXIVM has also been accused of being a recruiting platform for a cult operating within it (variously called "DOS" or "The Vow") in which women were forced into sexual slavery and branded.
In early 2018, NXIVM founder Keith Raniere and associate Allison Mack were arrested and indicted on federal charges related to DOS, including sex trafficking. A trial has been scheduled for October 2018. As of May 2018, the company's operations have been suspended.
Background and early years
NXIVM was founded by Keith Raniere. Born August 26, 1960, to James and Vera Raniere, an advertising executive and a ballroom-dance instructor, Raniere grew up in Brooklyn until age five, when the family moved to Suffern. In 1976, he moved to Albany after Vera's death, and attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1981. After taking an Amway marketing class, Raniere founded Consumers Buyline in 1990. When the New York Attorney General accused Raniere of operating the company as a pyramid scheme, Raniere signed a consent order agreeing to a permanent ban on "promoting, offering or granting participation in a chain distribution scheme," while denying any wrongdoing.
In 1998, Raniere and Nancy Salzman (who would serve as the company's president) founded NXIVM, offering "Executive Success Programs" ("ESPs") and a range of psychological techniques aimed at self-improvement. Raniere stressed that the programs' "main emphasis is to have people experience more joy in their lives." In 2003, Forbes magazine reported that some 3,700 people had taken part in ESP offerings, naming Sheila Johnson, Antonia Novello, Stephen Cooper of Enron, and Ana Cristina Fox, daughter of former Mexican president Vicente Fox. Other participants were later reported to include Richard Branson, Linda Evans, Allison Mack, Kristin Kreuk, Grace Park, Nicki Clyne, and Sarah Edmondson.[better source needed] (After Raniere's 2018 arrest, Branson denied having taken the class.) In the early 2000s, Seagram heiresses Clare and Sara Bronfman, the daughters of Edgar Bronfman Sr., became attached to the organization.
During seminars, students were expected to call Raniere and Salzman "Vanguard" and "Prefect", respectively. The Hollywood Reporter states that Raniere "adopted the title 'Vanguard' from a favorite arcade game he'd played as a kid, in which the destruction of one's enemies increased one's own power." Within the organization, the reasoning for the titles was that Raniere was the leader of a philosophical movement and Salzman was his first student.
NXIVM's training is a trade secret, subject to non-disclosure agreements, but reportedly uses a technique the organization calls "rational inquiry" to facilitate personal and professional development. In 2003, NXIVM sued the Ross Institute, alleging copyright infringement for publishing excerpts of content from its manual in three critical articles commissioned by cult investigator Rick Alan Ross and posted on his website. Ross posted a psychiatrist's assessment of NXIVM's "secret" manual on his website – the report called the regimen "expensive brainwashing". The manual was obtained by Ross from former member Stephanie Franco, a co-defendant in the trial, who had signed a non-disclosure agreement not to divulge information from the manual to others. NXIVM filed suits in both New York and New Jersey, but both were later dismissed.
In October 2003, Forbes published an article on NXIVM and Raniere. Vanity Fair subsequently reported of the article: "People at NXIVM were stunned. Expecting a positive story, the top ranks had spoken to Forbes, including Raniere, Salzman, and Sara Bronfman. What upset them above all were Edgar Bronfman’s remarks. 'I think it’s a cult,' he told the magazine, going on to say that he was troubled about the 'emotional and financial' investment in NXIVM by his daughters, to whom he hadn’t spoken in months." In 2006, Forbes published an article about the Bronfman sisters, stating that they had taken out a line of credit to loan NXIVM US$2 million, repayable through personal training sessions from Salzman, and for Salzman being available to take calls from Clare. And a third Forbes article in 2010 discussed the failures of commodities and real-estate deals made pursuant to Raniere's advice.
Dalai Lama visit
The World Ethical Foundations Consortium (an organization co-founded by Clare and Sara Bronfman and Raniere) sponsored a visit to Albany by the 14th Dalai Lama in 2009. The visit was initially cancelled due to negative press surrounding NXIVM, but was rescheduled, and the Dalai Lama spoke at Albany's Palace Theatre in May 2009. Subsequently, in 2017, Lama Tenzin Dhonden, the self-styled "Personal Emissary for Peace for the Dalai Lama," who had arranged the appearance, was suspended from his position amid corruption charges; the investigation also revealed a personal relationship between Dhonden and Sara Bronfman, which began in 2009.
Early involvement of Allison Mack
In 2006, actress Kristin Kreuk became involved with NXIVM, and Salzman and her daughter Lauren went to Vancouver to recruit Kreuk's Smallville costar Allison Mack. The younger Salzman (herself a junior NXIVM leader) bonded with Mack and the latter became involved, although Kreuk would subsequently leave. Mack became "an enthusiastic proselytizer" for NXIVM, persuading her parents to take courses, and, after wrapping production of Smallville in 2011, moved to Clifton Park, New York near NXIVM's home-base in Albany.
2017–2018: Revelations and arrests
For several years, NXIVM was accused of being a cult controlled by Raniere. In a 2010 article in the Albany Times Union, former NXIVM coaches characterized students as "prey" for use by Raniere in satisfying his sexual or gambling-related proclivities. Kristin Keeffe (a longtime partner of Raniere and mother of his child) left the group in 2014, describing Raniere as "dangerous" and stating that "[a]ll the worst things you know about NXIVM are true."
New York Times and other exposés
Starting with an October 2017 article in The New York Times, details began to emerge about DOS, a "secret sisterhood" within NXIVM, in which female members were referred to as "slaves," branded with the initials of Raniere and Mack, subject to corporal punishment from their "masters," and had to provide nude photos or other potentially damaging information about themselves as "collateral."
Sarah Edmondson, a Canadian actress who had been an ESP participant since 2005, testified that she left the group after Mack inducted her into DOS the preceding March at her Albany house: Participants were blindfolded naked, held down by Mack and three other women, and branded by NXIVM-affiliated doctor Danielle Roberts, using a cauterizing pen. (Edmondson subsequently filed a complaint with the New York Department of Health against Roberts, but the agency replied that it lacked jurisdiction because the alleged actions did not occur in a doctor–patient relationship, and advised Edmondson to report the matter to the police.[better source needed]) Appearing on an A&E show about cults, Edmondson would provide additional context on the use of the "collateral" concept, stating that it was used in innocuous forms from the earliest, outermost stages of NXIVM in order to acclimatize victims—for example, collateralizing small amounts of money that one might forfeit if one did not go to the gym one day. The Times would later report that "hundreds" of members "fled" NXIVM after Edmondson went public about her experience.
On December 15, 2017, the ABC news magazine 20/20 aired an exposé featuring interviews with many former NXIVM adherents, including Edmondson and Catherine Oxenberg, who alleged that her daughter, India Oxenberg, was in danger due to the group. Several former members reported financial and sexual predation carried out by NXIVM leaders.
2018 arrests, indictments, and suspension of operations
In March 2018, Raniere was arrested and indicted on a variety of charges related to DOS, including sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy, and conspiracy to commit forced labor. He was arrested in Mexico and held in custody in New York after appearing in Federal Court in Fort Worth, Texas. The indictment alleged that followers were coerced into sex with Raniere, who forced them to undergo the branding ritual alleged by Edmondson and others. 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,” and the FBI’s New York Field Office Assistant Director-in-Charge stated that Raniere "displayed a disgusting abuse of power in his efforts to denigrate and manipulate women he considered his sex slaves.”
On April 20, 2018, Mack was arrested and indicted on similar charges to Raniere's. According to prosecutors, after she recruited women into first NXIVM and then DOS, Mack coerced them into engaging in sexual activity with Raniere and performing menial tasks for which she was allegedly paid by Raniere. Mack was alleged to be second in command of NXIVM after Raniere. On April 24, Mack was released on $5 million bond pending trial and held under house arrest with her parents in California.
If convicted of all charges, Mack and Raniere face a minimum of 15 years and up to life in prison. On May 4, Raniere pleaded not guilty. The court rejected defense attorneys' request for an "early summer" trial and scheduled the trial for October 1. Lawyers for Raniere said that "everything was consensual" and that "There are well-known groups of men who brand themselves... A group of women do that and suddenly they're victims[?]... I'm not qualified to say what is normal."
Salzman's home was raided shortly after Raniere's arrest, and prosecutors stated during his arraignment that further arrests and a superseding indictment for Raniere and Mack should be expected. In late May, authorities moved to seize two NXIVM-owned properties near Albany.
Clare Bronfman responded to the arrests in a post on the NXIVM website stating that she “still support[s] NXIVM and Keith Raniere” because “I’ve seen so much good come from both our programs and from Keith himself” and insisting that “neither NXIVM nor Keith have abused or coerced anyone.” The same post seemingly confirmed the existence of DOS, stating of the "secret sisterhood": “[W]hile I am not and never have been a member of the sorority... [it] has not coerced nor abused anyone. In fact, the sorority has truly benefited the lives of its members, and does so freely. I find no fault in a group of women... freely taking a vow of loyalty and friendship with one another to feel safe while pushing back against the fears that have stifled their personal and professional growth. It’s not for any of us to judge how they, or anyone else, choose to advance their lives and values.”
On May 24, NXIVM announced on its website that it was "suspending all NXIVM/ESP enrollment, curriculum and events until further notice" due to "extraordinary circumstances facing the company...." Bronfman, the heiress to the Canadian Seagram family fortune, was arrested on July 24, 2018, and charged with racketeering; she was released to house arrest after signing a $100 million bail bond. Also arrested and charged with the same crime were Nancy Salzman, NXIVM’s president, her daughter Lauren Salzman, and another NXIVM employee, Kathy Russell.
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