NXIVM brainwashing? What Allison Mack’s classmate thought of her
It looks like Allison Mack is back in school. Students at UC Berkeley reported to Vice News that they saw Mack in their class, in Zoom chat. After learning who she was the students were horrified, given the class was about healing sexual trauma and assault.
Allison Mack is currently under house arrest, awaiting sentencing for her participation in a sex-trafficking cult. In 2019, Mack pled guilty to racketeering after her arrest in 2018. While NXIVM leader Keith Raniere will be sentenced later this month, and Clare Bronfman received an eighty-one-month sentence, Mack’s fate is still undecided.
In the meantime, it seems like Mack could be educating herself on the trauma she inflicted on her victims. However, the nature of her sentence and the information she knows about her fellow classmates disturbs some students at UC Berkeley, where Mack attended online classes.
NXIVM was an umbrella company that Keith Raniere billed as a self-empowerment center. They had outposts all over North America, but their headquarters was in Albany, New York. While rumors about NXIVM circulated for years in The Times Union and The Frank Report, they weren’t on the worldwide radar until 2017.
In 2017, The New York Times broke a story about DOS, a secret sisterhood in NXIVM with horrifying practices. Former NXIVM members like Sarah Edmondson came forward with brands on their bodies of Keith Raniere’s initials. Stories poured in about extortion, sexual assault, and sex trafficking.
The article prompted an FBI investigation and the arrest of NXIVM’s leadership, including Allison Mack. Some reports allege that the branding was Mack’s idea, and it was pointed out in the HBO docuseries The Vow that Mack’s initials were also hidden in the brand. While Mack initially pleaded not guilty, she changed her plea to guilty for racketeering.
Black Feminist Healing Arts
The summer course Allison Mack took at UC Berkeley was called Black Feminist Healing Arts. According to the syllabus outlined by lead instructor Ree Botts, it was a virtual learning course about “the informal and unrecognized ways that Black women use everyday artistry to effectively reflect on selfhood, sisterhood, spirituality, intimacy, interiority and healing.”
A student in the class, Sofia, told VICE that students shared stories of their past sexual assault & trauma in the class. Sofia and other students feel like their safety was violated to keep Mack’s privacy intact.
“None of us in my class had any clue who she was. Her video was on, and her name was the same during Zoom,” Sofia recalled.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, is a U.S. 1974 law that prohibits universities from disclosing student educational records. The law prohibits universities from releasing “personally identifiable information in education records” including grades, health records, and which classes they attended. There are exceptions, but the press or fellow students aren’t one of them.
“Federal law and UC student privacy policies preclude our ability to answer questions about specific students (or individuals believed to be students), their courses of study, and their classroom experiences,” a media representative from UC Berkeley told VICE.
How students found out it was Mack
Olive, a junior in Allison Mack’s UC Berkeley class, detailed how she found out that the disgraced Smallville actress was in her class on TikTok. In the TikTok, a “put a finger down” video, Olive says that Allison Mack was “highly participatory” in the class. Mack messaged Olive about her class project, offering to help her out with research.
Then, Olive looked her up on social media, as you do in 2020. She found out that Allison Mack has over 103,000 Instagram followers so she Googled her name. Olive wasn’t sure if it was the same Allison Mack, so she looked up an interview to see her face. “And then you discover that yes, this is the same woman who carved her initials into women’s bodies,” Olive said, ending the TikTok.
Concerns about sharing safely
The class was billed as a safe space for classmates to share intimate details about their past experiences. Also, as students do, they share personal information with each other to make friends and help each other on assignments.
“She knows where some of us live, she has our phone numbers, she knows our Instagram accounts and other social media, on top of these really intimate stories,” Sofia said, expressing concerns with how Mack may use that information in the future.
Here are multiple screencaps provided to me by a student wishing to remain anonymous. Allison Mack of the NXIVM sex trafficking cult was asked to no longer attend the video classes in person, but remains enrolled at UC Berkeley. pic.twitter.com/cytmS0VorY
— Italien Feeld📉 (@julianfeeld) September 15, 2020
The feminist healing course also wasn’t the only class Mack took on Zoom. Twitter user Julian Feeld obtained screenshots from an anonymous student showing Mack calling into a class called “The History and Practice of Human Rights”. “Allison Mack of the NXIVM sex-trafficking cult was asked to no longer attend the video classes in person but remains enrolled at UC Berkeley,” Feeld wrote.
Responding to the tweet, some speculated that Allison Mack could be using the classes to receive a lighter sentence, as taking college courses on the impact Mack’s actions had could gain her sympathy in the eyes of the judge. After Clare Bronfman’s stiffer than expected sentence, it’s not a bad move.
However, one twitter user suggested a nefarious motive could be at play: “always be recruiting.”
Is Allison Mack still contacting NXIVM?
Allison Mack’s team declined to comment on VICE’s article. She still awaits sentencing and as a condition of her bail, isn’t allowed to have contact with anyone from NXIVM. However, Frank Parlato speculates that she may be breaking her agreement.
In August, Parlato wrote a blog about current NXIVM member Michele Hatchette dancing in front of Keith Raniere’s cell wearing the same dress Allison Mack wore to perform for Raniere’s birthday. Parlato speculated it could be a message. Although Allison Mack is forbidden to contact Raniere, he’s been caught with burner phones, and Mack has access to a computer.
While Parlato’s speculation is circumstantial, current NXIVM member, Allison’s wife Nicki Clyne, tells a different story. She told CBS that she hasn’t had contact with Mack in a year and a half per her bail conditions.
Parlato hopes that Mack “fully disavowed” Raniere when she pled guilty in 2019, unlike Bronfman. “I became close with Keith Raniere . . . I believed that Keith Raniere’s intentions were to help people . . . I was wrong . . .”she said at the 2019 hearing.
As far as the classes, a classmate on Reddit reported that she dropped out. “She was in my ‘Gender, Sex and Power’ class for about a week, but left voluntarily after an outcry from students who did not feel safe discussing those topics with someone who branded other women. Our professor will not tell us how the administration is handling this matter being brought to their attention due to privacy laws,” they wrote.