The story of NXIVM, much like their dumb cyberpunk name, is hard to process. A crazy sex cult based on female empowerment which used Smallville actress Allison Mack to do its dirty work and tricked Elon Musk into promoting them as a source of responsible journalism? That's a lot of crazy to take in. So let's take a deep breath, inch closer to the edge, and dive into the dark and dumb waters of NXIVM.
The founder of NXIVM (pronounced Nexium, which makes them sound like a mid-tier medical insurance company) is Keith Raniere, a man so skeevy and irredeemable that he probably has a great future in politics. In interviews, Raniere, who gave himself the code name "Vanguard" (nerd), claims that he was always destined for greatness. According to him, he spoke full sentences by the age of one, had mastered high school math by 12, and by 13 had learned advanced college-level math and several computer languages. Or, according to court documents, he almost flunked out of all his STEM courses and barely managed to earn a degree at all. It's so hard to figure out who to believe, legal evidence or a cult leader.
After squeaking through college, Raniere discovered his true passion: child molestation. Like any creep with no shot at dating an intelligent adult, Raniere was involved in several sexual relationships with underage girls, including a 15-year-old whom he wooed by taking her to the local video game arcade. That's where his oh-so-cool code name came from, because they used to play the arcade game Vanguard together. He was also accused of molesting a 12-year-old girl, but for some reason, he didn't give himself a nickname based on what they played together.
After that, Raniere decided he wanted to save the human race, though not from himself. He later claimed that this quest to help people reach their full potential was borne out of reading Isaac Asimov and Ayn Rand -- the latter fully explaining why his first move was to start a pyramid scheme that defrauded investors out of millions. After his adventures scamming housewives and being the villain from every stranger danger kids' PSA, Raniere teamed up with Nancy Salzman, a fellow bullshit artist specializing in "neuro-linguistic programming," to form the Avengers of pseudoscientific nonsense: NXIVM. Which brings us to how ...
NXIVM was founded in 1988 to capitalize on the then-growing cottage industry of "executive coaching," whereby groups of rich idiots pay someone an exorbitant amount of money to tell them that fulfilling their manifest destiny can be achieved by, y'know, thinking a little differently.
That's not a joke.
In order to take part in NXIVM's "Executive Success Program," participants would pay anywhere between $1,200 (for a three-day course) to $7,500 (for a 16-day course), while high-flying executives who didn't want to slum it with the normies could pay upwards of $25,000 per session. In return for this small pile of cash, they'd be given the greatest gift of all: something nice and shiny to put on their resumes. Oh, and relentless brainwashing.
NXIVM inductees learned nonsensical handshakes and constantly recited a 12-point manifesto. They also had to wear colored robes to signify their rank in the organization, would be forced to bow whenever a higher-ranking member entered the room, and were expected to prostrate themselves before Raniere if he ever made an appearance. Except if you were an attractive lady, in which case you were to kiss him on the lips. This madness, combined with 13-hour sessions during which counselors would grill students on their emotional weaknesses, led to some targets becoming ill, with one 28-year-old woman winding up requiring psychiatric treatment.
Why wasn't this stuff more widely known? Why haven't we ever seen a South Park episode dealing with NXIVM? Well, the students are legally prohibited from talking about their time with the organization, courtesy of the non-disclosure agreements they were made to sign beforehand. If anyone dared to speak out or say anything remotely negative about Raniere, they'd be in a world of hurt. Of course, most found out that what Raniere could do to them legally was nothing compared to what he would do to them physically.
If scamming some people out of their money and propping up the ego of some washed-up sex offender was the full extent of NXIVM, they probably wouldn't have made that many front pages. Some students, however, didn't merely stick around for the workshops. They went whole cult, ditching their friends and families to sign up for a full-time life within NXIVM.
This is where it gets dark -- well, darker.
According to reports, Raniere established a secret sorority, known internally as "Dominant Over Submissive," or DOS (nerd). The women invited to this sorority were told it was all about female empowerment. It wasn't. This is where we introduce Allison Mack, formerly best known for starring on the TV show Smallville as Young Superman's BFF. As Rainere's second in command, it was Mack's job to manage DOS and find new members for the group. While we still don't know the exact number, Mack supposedly recruited no fewer than 25 women into DOS. She even tried to rope in several celebrities, such as Kelly Clarkson, Jill Filipovic, and Emma Watson. Emma Watson.
Warner Bros. Pictures
On being accepted into DOS, new members would find that, surprise, it was nothing but a glorified harem for Raniere. Whenever Raniere was feeling in the mood, Mack would order a member referred to as an "imperfection" (someone clearly read the negging chapter in The Game) to have sex with him. When not servicing him, the members/hostages of DOS were required to stick to a punitive low-calorie diet to preserve their figures. They were also forbidden from masturbating, and whenever they disobeyed an order, they had to "wear fake cow udders over their breasts while people called them derogatory names."
And when Raniere wanted to treat women like cattle, he went full hog. DOS members were also branded. In a ceremony overseen by Mack and a NXIVM doctor, naked members would be videotaped as a tattoo of Raniere's initials was slowly burned into their flesh for up to half an hour. At this point, we suppose we ought to be glad the police caught up to the cult before Raniere just started eating them with BBQ sauce.
You might be wondering to yourself why, NDA or no NDA, none of these women ran to the police with tales of molestation and burnings? Well, in order to join DOS, before finding out they'd agreed to a one-way trip to the cattle market, each new member was required to hand over a dossier of personal material about themselves, ranging from dark confessions about wrongdoing to nude photos. Still, think of all that empowerment! Or at least, as much empowerment as you can get after handing over your own blackmail file.
NXIVM might conduct themselves like sociopathic monsters, but they do care. Specifically, they care about us calling them a crazy monstrous sex cult instead of their preferred description of a "multi-level marketing scheme." We don't necessarily see how that's much better.
When the first allegations of abuse and came out, NXIVM immediately responded by referring to the victims as nothing more than saboteurs trying to bring down their creepy empire. When the critics/victims don't go away (people who were abused, tortured, and/or molested can get ornery like that), the legal troubles started. With help from a $150 million war chest provided by their rich idiot friends, NXIVM launches legal actions at the drop of a hat in order to bury their targets in expensive litigation. It's like The Untouchables. You say something mean about Raniere, they call their lawyers. You call your lawyer, they defame and harass you out of house and home.
One of their first targets was cult investigator Rick Ross, who managed to expose their horrid brainwashing techniques by smuggling out one of the cult's internal training manuals. After he published the book on his website, NXIVM sued him for "copyright infringement." When the courts shot down their lawsuit in Ross' favor, NXIVM hired private investigators to make Ross' life hell. They rifled through his garbage, hacked his phone and bank accounts, and surveilled his office. Then they kept stalling the lawsuit, hoping to bury Ross in legal costs. Fortunately, Ross' lawyers agreed to work pro bono. Something about the chance to ruin a rape cult brings out the charity in folks.
But even if their serial mindfuckery succeeds, there's no respite in death either. Kristin Snyder, a former NXIVM member, committed suicide, blaming the group for psychologically destroying her. "I was brainwashed and my emotional center of the brain was killed/turned off. I still have feeling in my external skin, but my internal organs are rotting," she wrote in her farewell note -- a note that NXIVM called a fake planted by the authorities. When that didn't work, they claimed that Snyder had faked her own death to avoid being murdered by a drug ring she was involved in, not realizing that compared to their cult, a bloodthirsty cartel would still have been the second most dangerous group in that poor woman's life.
After The New York Times first reported on the branding ceremonies and authorities started to look a little deeper into NXIVM's activities, Raniere did what any innocent man would do: He ditched his phone, moved to heavily encrypted emails, and escaped to Mexico. There he soon got into a high-speed pursuit with local police, which sadly didn't end with him wrapping his frontal lobe around a lamppost.
He was arrested, extradited back to the U.S., and is now awaiting trial on charges of sex trafficking, conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, and conspiracy to commit forced labor. His recent plea for $10 million bail was denied, because the judge for some reason thought a rich cult leader who fled the country before the cops even knocked on his door posed a flight risk.
As for Mack, she was arrested two weeks later -- after she returned from Mexico, where she had also fled. She's facing the same charges as Raniere, but was allowed to bail herself out for $5 million. That's a lot of Smallville royalties down the drain.
NXIVM, meanwhile, is dead. In a statement released on their website in June, the last holdouts declared that they were "suspending all NXIVM/ESP [...] events until further notice." We guess they might still be holding out hope that Mack actually knows Superman.
But while the cult is dead, their bullshit propaganda lives on. In May, in the middle of a meltdown over some bad press (or as he calls it, "press"), Elon Musk retweeted an article by a website called The Knife (formerly The Knife Of Aristotle) which defended his dumb Twitter ramblings. People were quick to point out that this "news" site was run by, you guessed it, everyone's least favorite sex cult. Musk quickly deleted the tweet, but then still praised NXIVM for their quality journalism -- i.e. they were too busy sexually assaulting and burning women to write about how Teslas suck.
The Knife isn't the only NXIVM publication that's still online, either. There's also a yoga website called Exo/Eso, a website for actors called The Source, and Society Of Protectors, a website for "men defending the honor of men." Yoga fans, actors, MRAs, and Elon Musk -- we don't know what NXIVM's endgame is, but they've built one hell of an annoying cult here.
Someone will make a Netflix documentary about this someday, like they did with the Rajneeshpuram in Oregon.
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For more, check out 5 People Who Started Religions Just To Get Laid and The Cult My Parents Forced Me Into Was A Hippie Sex Scam.
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