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Did you know the NXIVM cult had their own version of merit badges? Read about the scarves members could earn and how much they cost.

What do scarf colors mean in the hierarchy of the NXVIM cult?

Scouts have merit badges. Many martial art forms have belts. The infamous NXIVM cult had something similar: scarves. Billing itself as a self-empowerment group, it would seem natural that they would want to recognize & reward members who moved up in rank. 

However, NXIVM wasn’t the Boy Scouts or your local karate dojo. NXIVM turned out to be a highly abusive, exploitative cult that engaged in sex trafficking. Keith Raniere, its founder, is awaiting sentencing for multiple counts relating to human trafficking, racketeering, and conspiracy. 

So what’s with these scarves? Did they distinguish people who were sex traffickers, or were they a front for new recruits (join our club and you get shiny scarves)? Let’s delve into the NXIVM scarves. First though . . . 

How do we know about the scarves? 

Frank Parlato, a blogger living in Buffalo, NY, served as NXIVM’s publicist. Parlato turned away from the group and later testified at NXIVM Keith Raniere’s trial. Parlato also broke the story about Keith Raniere & senior NXIVM members branding women. 

Parlato began posting photos & stories of the branded women in 2017. He was one of several investigative journalists who exposed NXIVM, leading to an investigation and the arrest of Raniere and several high-ranking members, including Smallville’s Allison Mack. 

Parlato wrote about the scarves in earlier blogs, which were reported on in Popsugar and in HBO’s docuseries on NXIVM The Vow

Beginners wore white

Beginners, or “students,” wore white scarves once they paid their entry fee. That denoted them as students who were always available for coaching. There, the levels progressed through yellow, orange, green, blue, purple, and gold. 

Not everyone could move up to gold, and the green scarf could set an NXIVM member back $1 million. White scarves alone cost $2,000. According to Parlato, Keith Raniere would waive the fee for “slender, attractive” women. 

Students would also receive stripes as they moved up levels within levels, costing members more money & time for each stripe. 


Ascension is based on “service” to NXIVM

According to Parlato’s blog, rising up in the ranks was “based on one’s services to NXIVM.” Parlato also reported that the service needed to earn your next scarf was arbitrary and often at the sole discretion of leadership. 

Service could mean anything from paying a lot of money to performing acts, like recruiting, for the NXIVM cult. Levels like “proctor” (orange scarf) were in charge of recruiting, and that possibly allowed them to earn a small salary. However, “proctors” had to pour a lot of money into NXIVM to get there, possibly creating a loss. 

There were some members who moved through the ranks quickly without having to pay exorbitant dues. Parlato writes that young, pretty women would move up the ranks quickly, possibly to groom them for sexual abuse. 

Blue scarves were $5 million

As NXIVM members climbed the ranks, it would become more expensive to move up. Green scarves and above would set members back seven figures. For that reason, people who are “greens” or “blues” are rare. Frank Parlato writes on his blog that there were likely only “less than 20 greens.” 

The language Parlato uses to describe “blues” and “greens” suggests that NXIVM members may have referred to themselves by their scarf colors. Like a secret code and a denotation of rank, the in-group terminology makes sense for a close-knit cult to use. 

Notable greens were Lauren Salzman, who was charged with racketeering & conspiracy in connection with NXIVM, and Sarah Bronfman, who was charged but found not guilty

Only three members received purple sashes, and only one wore gold

According to Parlato, scarves above blue were so hard to get that only four people earned them. Three earned purple scarves or became senior counselors, but they’re no longer with NXIVM. If blue scarves cost $5 million, we shudder to think about what kind of cash they needed to front! 

Parlato says purple scarves’ costs are unknown. The only three members who earned them were Raniere’s girlfriends. Speaking of, there is a scarier fact about the purples. According to Parlato, two are deceased and one resigned. 

Gold symbolized one role: prefect. There was only one prefect in the organization, and therefore only one gold scarf owner: Nancy Salzman, co-founder of NXIVM. 

Keith Raniere wore a white sash

Despite being NXIVM’s leader, cult leader Keith Raniere continuously wore a white sash. He referred to himself as a student despite his leadership, making him appear humble. 

Or did he? Parlato says Keith Raniere’s blog was actually “ethereal,” representing all colors, but appearing white to the naked eye (reminds us of the fairy tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes”). 

Parlato describes the cost of an ethereal scarf as “zero dollars, servicing hundreds of slender and attractive female students, and likely a life sentence in prison.”

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