Will the class action lawsuit against the NXIVM cult reopen old wounds?
The saga of NXIVM won’t end after its disgraced leader Keith Raniere receives his sentence later this month. Raniere was found guilty last year of seven counts involving sex trafficking, exploitation, and racketeering. He still maintains his innocence and awaits sentencing at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York.
Six months after Raniere’s verdict was handed down, over eighty former members of the NXIVM cult sued the organization. The accusers come from all over North America, as the NXIVM cult had branches in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.
A pyramid scheme
The plaintiffs in the suit allege that NXIVM was a giant pyramid scheme. In fact, via the New York Times, most of the plaintiffs were never part of DOS, the sex cult within NXIVM. They were suing the organization for money owed for peddling “false, unscientific claims” about their self-help practices.
“They get you to not trust your own decision-making process,” Sally Brink told The New York Times. “They tell you that you need them to make decisions. You start to doubt everything.” Brink paid over $145,000 to NXIVM over the course of several decades.
Brink joined NXIVM to help her run her business. She co-owned a restaurant in Vermont and worked eighteen-hour days, and she hoped NXIVM would give her the confidence & tools she needed to be successful.
Instead, when Brink was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017, Brink says NXIVM leadership told her she got the disease to “get her husband’s attention” and she should “do the ethical thing” and die rather than pay for treatment.
In the eighth episode of HBO’s The Vow called “the wound”, members recall how Keith Raniere used teachings in Jness and the SOP, women’s and men’s empowerment groups, to reinforce gender stereotypes and misogyny. Former NXIVM members reflect on how those teachings set them up to join DOS or accept the unacceptable activities DOS carried out.
The Vow delves into how NXIVM hand-picked members from the upper crust of society like Clare Bronfman and Smallville actress Allison Mack. Before joining NXIVM members would have to fill out long questionnaires about themselves and their lives. Mark Vicente learned from former NXIVM leader Barbara Bouchey NXIVM wanted him badly – they used his answers to manipulate him into joining and staying in the cult.
The reason NXIVM wanted elite, visible members of society like actors, athletes, and heiresses was two-fold. First, the caliber of their membership would palace them above scrutiny, per Raniere. Raniere explained to Mark Vicente how people were less likely to think NXIVM was a cult if rich, famous, influential people were members. Second, members’ deep pockets enabled NXIVM to keep running and do what they wanted.
Legal & emotional bullying
The over eighty plaintiffs detailed that NXIVM’s “methods used in pyramid schemes” were made worse by the cult’s coercive tactics, making it “physically and psychologically difficult, and in some cases impossible, to leave the coercive community” via The New York Times.
The Vow details how NXIVM would use the legal system to drain people dry if they tried to leave. One woman, Susan Dones, successfully defended herself against countless lawsuits and trumped-up criminal charges which would have rendered her penniless. Another woman, Barbara Bouchey, would have to choose between paying her lawyers and buying her groceries due to the onslaught of NXIVM lawsuits.
The reason NXIVM had the funds to attack members who tried to leave were the deep pockets of Clare Bronfman, NXIVM’s head of legal & heiress to the Seagram Liquor Company fortune. Bronfman’s net worth of $250 million and her willingness to help NXIVM allowed the cult to punish defectors with endless lawsuits. Bronfman is currently serving over six years in federal prison for crimes associated with NXIVM.
Will the lawsuit end up helping Raniere?
NXIVM leader Keith Raniere’s lawyer is hopeful about the lawsuit because he believes it could dismantle witness testimony at Raniere’s trial as “untruthful”. “As several of the plaintiffs in this lawsuit testified at trial that they were not planning on bringing a lawsuit, Keith’s chances on appeal just increased,” Raniere’s attorney, Marc Agnifilo, explained.
Raniere awaits sentencing on October 27 for seven counts he was convicted of in 2019, including conspiracy, racketeering, and sex trafficking. Raniere faces fifteen years behind bars minimum and a life sentence maximum. Raniere’s defense team wrote a sentencing memorandum, over eighty pages long, defending Raniere who still maintains his innocence and claims NXIVM helped people.
Raniere’s continued NXIVM leadership
Frank Parlato, a NXIVM defector who wrote about the cult’s activities for years, speculates Raniere will spend his time in Colorado’s supermax facility due to being caught with burner phones in jail and continually delivering orders to NXIVM membership.
In September, NXIVM members delivered the petition to the doorstep of federal prosecutors working on Raniere’s case. NXIVM members placed affidavits in their inboxes and even dropped one off in person. NXIVM members defended their actions on CBS, describing the petition from “we the people” as a simple truthfulness test.
Prosecutors merely confirmed the petition’s delivery and released an email sent from Raniere in June regarding a petition he wanted to send to federal prosecutors.