There’s certainly plenty to unpick in the strange case of so-called ‘sex cult’ NXIVM. In existence since the late ‘90s, disturbing rumours have been circulating about the group, branded by founder Keith Raniere as a self-help programme, over the past decade. Following the publication of a major exposé in the New York Times last October, however, the organisation has become the focus of renewed investigation, leading to Raniere’s arrest in Mexico and subsequent deportation last month. As the case has unfolded, it’s emerged that a former Smallville star, actress Allison Mack, may have been involved in recruiting women to the group. Here’s everything we know so far...
What actually is NXIVM?
Since the late 1990s, NXIVM (it’s pronounced ‘Nex-e-um’) has been offering ‘self-help’ courses based in Albany, upstate New York. These so-called ‘Executive Success Programs,’ based on the teachings of founder Keith Raniere, are thought to have been attended by over 16,000 people to date, using a trademarked training technique known as ‘Rational Enquiry’ which promises to help its students achieve their personal goals (with a reported cost of up to $7,500 for an intensive workshop).
In recent years, however, troubling rumours have emerged about the group, with a series of damaging exposés referring to the organisation as a cult. First, a Vanity Fair piece in 2010 detailed the case of heiresses Sara and Clare Bronfman who, according to the report, allegedly gave $150 million from their trust fund to finance the group. Then, in 2017, the New York Times published an in-depth feature, detailing how female ‘members’ of the group were reportedly subject to humiliating initiation practices (which allegedly involved being branded with Raniere’s initials), referred to as ‘slaves,’ coerced into sex acts and told to starve themselves. At the end of March, Raniere was arrested in Mexico and brought back to the US on sex trafficking charges. He remains in federal custody in New York.
Who is Keith Raniere?
The son of a New York advertising executive and a ballroom dance teacher, Raniere founded NXIVM in 1998 with his associate Nancy Salzman. According to his personal profile on the NXIVM website, he claims to hold ‘147 international patents,’ and to have ‘earned degrees from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in mathematics, biology and physics.’
On his arrest in Mexico, Raniere was charged with sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy and conspiracy to commit forced labour. ‘As alleged in the complaint, Keith 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 and information,’ Richard Donoghue, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York said in a statement.
What is DOS?
Standing for Dominus Obsequious Sororium, which translates as Master Over the Slave Women, Raniere is accused of setting up DOS as a female sub-set of NXIVM, whose members were allegedly forced to have sex with him, adhere to dangerous low calorie diets and perform menial, often humiliating, chores.
How was Allison Mack reportedly involved?
According to a New York Post report, Smallville actress Allison Mack was introduced to the group by her co-star Kristin Kreuk in 2006. This week, she was arrested on sex trafficking and forced labour charges, and is alleged to have helped Raniere recruit women for DOS (charges which she denies). In a court statement, assistant US attorney Moira Penza said that Mack was ‘one of the top members of a highly organised scheme which was designed to provide sex. Under the guise of female empowerment, she starved women until they fir her co-defendant’s sexual feminine ideal.’ Should Mack be found guilty, she will face a minimum sentence of 15 years.
Her co-star Kreuk has confirmed that she took part in the Executive Success Program, but has denied allegations that she recruited women to participate in DOS as sex slaves, writing on Twitter: ‘The accusations that I was in the “inner circle” or recruited women as “sex slaves” are blatantly false. During my time, I never experienced any illegal or nefarious activity.’
How did the group try to recruit A-list celebrities?
Recently unearthed tweets show that Mack has attempted to reach out to Emma Watson on social media, under the guise of sharing her message of female empowerment. ‘I participate in a unique human development & women’s movement I’d love to tell you about,’ she tweeted early in 2016. ‘As a fellow actress I can relate so well to your vision and what you want to see in the world. I think we could work together. Let me know if you’re willing to chat.’ Watson, however. never replied to the messages.
Kelly Clarkson was another alleged target, with Mack tweeting the singer: ‘I heard through the grapevine that you’re a fan of Smallville. I’m a fan of yours as well! I’d love to chat sometime.’