HomeNewsTrue crime: How Keith Raniere ended up running a sex cult

True crime: How Keith Raniere ended up running a sex cult

How the hell did Keith Raniere end up with charges of sex trafficking, conspiracy, and basically live his life as a cult leader? Here's what we know.

True crime: How Keith Raniere ended up running a sex cult

Did you know at one point, the Guinness Book of World Records would mark the smartest people in the world? In the 1989 edition, the last edition to have this achievement, the three people marked to have the highest IQ were Marilyn vos Savant, Eric Hart, and Keith Raniere. 

So how the hell did a man regarded to have such a high IQ end up with charges of sex trafficking, conspiracy, and basically live his life as a cult leader? The journey of Keith Raniere from smart man to full blown cult leader is bizarre, involves far too many failed MLMs, and a Smallville actress

Changing like a switch

For the majority of his childhood, Raniere was normal. He dealt with his parent’s divorce, went to a Waldorf school for a little bit, and had far too many girlfriends at the same time. But as his parents told Raniere how special and gifted he was, they recall him quickly letting it go to his head. 

Just like that, he became much more narcissistic, and classmates of his noted his blackmailish ways because he would be paying attention to nearly everything around him. Maybe it had to do with the fact he was reading mind control literature at age 12, which ended up being the basis for NXIVM

Taking the bad from Amway and making it worse

Shortly after being named one of the world’s smartest people thanks to his MEGA test score, Raniere fell for the same mistake so many stay-at-home moms make: he joined Amway. His girlfriend’s sister recalled that around the time he joined the MLM, he was obsessed with Amway, Scientology, and neuro-linguistic programming. 

But by 1990, Raniere was tired of the MLM and decided to make his own. Probably because he realized you only make money in MLMs if you’re the top dog. Consumers’ Buylines Inc., or CBI, was born with Raniere as top dog. There, he met his future girlfriend Toni Natalie, who was one of the top sellers in CBI. 

By 1993 though, the company was shut down, with multiple states having opened inquiries into the company for its shady sales tactics. That didn’t stop Raniere from founding the National Health Network, another MLM set on selling vitamins. Though that one collapsed by 1999. 

A fate meeting brings NXIVM to life

In 1998, Natalie introduced Raniere to Nancy Salzman, a nurse who doubled as a trained practitioner in hypnosis and neuro-linguistic programming. The two joined together to found Executive Success Programs, but you know this company better as NXIVM. It didn’t get that name until a few years later. 

Those who joined the organization referred to Raniere as “Vanguard”, and took classes heavily influenced by Ayn Rand’s teachings. Raniere helped the organization grow further by recruiting two of the Seagram’s heiresses, Sara and Claire Bronfman. Their father took a course, but was dissatisfied. 

Self-improvement classes

The intent of NXIVM was to teach self-improvement and joy, and help you unlock your true potential. This was part of the reason Edgar Bronfman actually took a class, because he thought it would be beneficial, and he saw how much NXIVM meant to his daughters. 

But Raniere spent a large part of his classes attempting large-scale brainwashing to convince people to be the best version of themselves. Since he was so smart, many people bought into the scheme and paid thousands upon thousands of dollars to take these classes. Yet many saw through it, and openly called it a cult to the press. 

Little did they know, a cult was brewing underneath. 

A cult begins

When Allison Mack was recruited into NXIVM in the late 00s, no one knew what journey she would take as a leader of the organization. But once the Smallville actress left Vancouver, she moved closer to the NXIVM compound in New York. There, she took a leading role in a sex cult under the covers of NXIVM.

Women were recruited into this part of the organization under the impression that if they joined DOS, they could move up in NXIVM. But to join, the women had to offer up collateral, like nude photos or blackmailable materials. Once they joined, they became slaves, with masters above them ordering them around.

While several high-ranking women in the organization were masters, no one was higher in the pyramid than Raniere. Many of the sexual claims with the organization relate back to Raniere. From forcing slaves to starve themselves to stay attractive to Raniere, to posing for nude photos, to even being branded with Raniere’s initials, as well as their masters. 

Breaking free of the chains

Sarah Edmondson is the one to thank for blowing the whistle on the cult, as she did several tell-all interviews after breaking free of NXIVM and DOS. She showed off the brand given to her with a cauterizing pen, and told horrid stories, like being forced to participate in drills where they had to respond to a text no matter what hour.

After Edmondson and other DOS victims went public with their stories, it was like a mass exodus of NXIVM at that point. A large portion of NXIVM members left, horrified that the money they were pouring into the organization was helping fund this sex cult. Not long after, an official investigation was launched.

Thankfully, Raniere and the other leaders of DOS were all arrested for their crimes, and their trials are in various states of completion. In 2019, Raniere was found guilty on all charges of sex trafficking, conspiracy, and conspiracy to commit forced labor. He is still awaiting his sentence, though he faces a minimum of 15 years to life in prison.

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Bethany is a recent graduate who dreams of making her own award-winning film, but for now writes about other media. She’s a child at heart specializing in hot takes on animated family movies (and sometimes other films & TV).

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