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How did a simple organization focused on self-improvement turn into something so dark? Here's what we know about the NXIVM cult.

NXIVM: What daily life was like in the modern-day sex cult

When NXIVM first debuted in 1998, it just seemed like your run of the mill multi-level marketing scheme. Bringing members together for Executive Success Programs, or ESPs, these members would then go to recruit new members to help grow with the program. 

But underneath the dark underbelly of NXIVM was a growing cult. Run by the company’s co-founder and leader Keith Raniere and recruiter/leader Allison Mack, this cult had women becoming sex slaves, joining DOS, a secret group within the organization.

How did a simple organization focused on self-improvement turn into something so dark? The reality is, the DOS sector of NXIVM, aka the NXIVM cult, most likely existed for a majority of the company’s existence. It just took until 2017 for the public to become aware of the dangers of the NXIVM cult

When one door closes, another opens

Raniere spent the 80’s learning the MLM way from Amway, though he found himself also interested in Scientology and neuro-linguistic programming. Using what he learned, he created Consumers’ Buyline Inc, his own MLM, in 1990. 

But by 1993, the company was shut down after 20 states launched investigations, with New York suing CBI over being a pyramid scheme. He tried to launch a vitamin MLM in 1994, but by 1999, that business had sunk too. But while running CBI, he met Toni Nataline, a woman who helped influence Raniere to try a new business.

After meeting nurse and trained hypnotist Nancy Salzman, the two worked together to create the Executive Success Program, which was eventually rebranded into NXIVM. Using the teachings of Ayn Rand, Raniere managed to bring in a large number of successful people to the business, including Seagram’s heirs Sara, Claire, and Edgar Bronfman. 

Edgar becomes an enemy

At the encouragement of his daughters, Edgar Bronfman Sr. took one of the NXIVM courses. But he was appalled at what he saw, and declared that this was a cult. Taking the story and running with it, Forbes posted a huge expose in 2003 about Raniere’s failed businesses of the past, and included Bronfman’s comments. 

Vanity Fair followed up with the NXIVM heads after the story came out, and they were all insulted. They were interviewed and assumed it was going to be a nice cover story, not some dark expose. According to a witness at Raniere’s trial, Bronfman became an enemy that day. Up until his death, his emails were hacked and read by NXIVM members. 

The truth comes to light in 2009

While a number of minor scandals popped up between 2003 and 2009, nothing hit the fan quicker than when a bunch of high-level NXIVM members stepped down with concerns of the cult-like properties. Raniere’s ex Toni Natalie used the time to come out about their relationship in the 90s together as well. 

The bubble popped in November of 2010, when a Vanity Fair article called “The Heiresses and the Cult” interviewed Natalie. She discussed her experiences with him, and the beginnings of NXIVM. Later that month, The New York Post reported on a video of Raniere where he said he’s had people killed for their beliefs, as well as his own. 

A Times Union article around the same time also had former NXIVM coaches characterizing students as “prey” for Raniere to use for satisfaction. Natalie also filed a case against Raniere for multiple counts of rape during their relationship together. The picture of Raniere being painted was not a pretty one. 

Allison Mack and the creation of DOS

All of this stems from the recruitment of Smallville actress Allison Mack. Recruited in 2006, she joined the Vancouver chapter of NXIVM thanks to Salzman. It’s unknown exactly when it started, but at some point in 2015, Mack became in charge of a Master/Slave group within NXIVM called DOS, or Dominus Obsequious Sororium. 

This group recruited female members of NXIVM who wanted to become higher ranked and closer with Raniere, as well as those going through dark times. As collateral, the women would offer up nude photos and other blackmail materials before being allowed to join. Each of these women carried a brand on their body, either with the initials of Mack and Raniere, or of NXIVM.

The NXIVM cult formed out of DOS still had a pyramid scheme structure, but now is focused on slaves and masters. By default, Raniere was on top of the pyramid as the only male member of DOS. Women could recruit new slaves and move up the ladder themselves. Many members join under the impression it was a “mentorship group.”

The disturbing sex cult of DOS

While in DOS, slaves basically were maids and servants to their masters. Running errands, doing chores, reading NXIVM materials, etc. But some were turned into sex slaves for Raniere, and if so, their master would be greatly rewarded financially or with higher status. 

These slaves were forced to starve themselves, pose for nude photos, and groomed to become the perfect sex slaves for Raniere. If a member broke these policies, their collateral could be released, or worse, they could be physically beaten or locked in solitary confinement for a long time. 

Taking down sex traffickers

It seems silly that it took until 2018 for anyone to be caught for their crimes, but it took that long for details of DOS to finally hit the news. 2017, allegations about DOS hit The New York Times, and later that year, a huge 20/20 expose came out interviewing former members about DOS.

So in 2018, police were finally able to apprehend Raniere for his crimes. Mack was arrested a month later for her role in DOS. Over time, about 4 others were arrested for their involvement in DOS and NXIVM’s shady business practices. While neither Mack or Raniere have been sentenced yet, both are facing a minimum of 15 years in prison, and at worst, life. 

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