HomeOur ObsessionsAll the most disturbing NXIVM cult facts we learned from ‘The Vow’

All the most disturbing NXIVM cult facts we learned from ‘The Vow’

HBO's 'The Vow' gives us more disturbing facts about the NXIVM cult with each episode. Discover the latest, most disturbing revelations.

All the most disturbing NXIVM cult facts we learned from ‘The Vow’

The latest episode of HBO’s The Vow leaves the audience on a chilling cliffhanger. Catherine Oxenberg is trying to extract her daughter, India, from NXIVM. Oxenberg learned that her daughter is underweight that she’s missed her period for a year and is losing hair. 

The most disturbing revelation was when Catherine Oxenberg learned her daughter was branded and confronted her, India Oxenberg was proud of the brand. India saw the brand, as the episode is aptly titled, as “Building Character.” 

We’re still not sure what’s more disturbing, the sexual abuse on its own, or the emotional brainwashing & manipulation NXIVM inflicted on its members to coerce them into victimhood (and gaslighting them with their tenant to not “allow yourself” to be a victim). Here are the most disturbing things we learned from The Vow. 

“Agreeing” to be a slave

“There is no exercise, you are now somebody’s slave!” Sarah Edmonson’s outraged quote from The Vow goes back to DOS billing itself as a “character-building exercise.” NXIVM members would recruit members from their own ranks by saying that the master/slave dynamic they created was fake, it was just names. 

Except it wasn’t. Jane, a woman in The Vow who wanted to remain anonymous, detailed the life of an NXIVM DOS slave. When Jane was in DOS, she only had a minute or two to shower each morning because she had to be “on call” for her master. She had to ask her master when she could eat, specifically, how many calories she could consume. 

She would also have to be ready to perform specific tasks for her master three to four times a day. When her master would text her, she would have to respond “ready master (RM)” within a minute of her master sending the text. 

Extreme calorie restriction

“Master, can I have 84 calories, master, can I have 94 calories?” Jane details how she would have to ask her master to eat a specific amount of calories at each meal, even sending pictures of the food she wanted. The control tactic was billed as a way to not let food control your life, and “grow beyond excuses”. 

In fact, all of DOS, and even all of NXIVM was sold as a way for members to take control of their lives. The tenants NXIVM espoused were similar to ideas like “radical responsibility,” taking conscious responsibility for everything that happens to you regardless of whether or not it’s your fault. 

“What is manipulation, what is consent?” 

NXIVM’s teaching tactics made its members more suggestible and easier to control. In earlier episodes, Keith Raniere used the idea of comfort to manipulate and guilt-trip his members. When a member nearly passed out on stage from being hungry and skipped singing to rest for the day, Raniere took her on a walk and told him she was “blowing it.” 

Achieving your dreams is one thing, but self-care is important, too. By putting members in a permanent state of exhaustion by not letting them charge their batteries and get enough sustenance to live, that deprived NXIVM members of the energy or time to think about whether they were being controlled. 

It seemed, through the first few episodes, that once NXIVM members learned about branding, they left. Mark Vicente, Bonnie Piesse, and Anthony “Nippy” Ames all left after they learned about branding. Sarah Edmonson left after she was branded herself. Not all members were convinced it was a bad thing, even after they were branded, so getting them out would be much harder if not impossible. 

How deep India Oxenberg got

“I think I’m scared of not doing well,” India Oxenberg said in The Vow. Her fears & insecurities made her a prime target for the NXIVM cult. Her mother, Dynasty star Catherine Oxenberg, encouraged her to join to help build her confidence and live a fulfilling life. Catherine Oxenberg had no idea what NXIVM really was. 

Bonnie Piesse started noticing “concerning behavior” from her friend, like calorie counting & secretiveness. After India Oxenberg said she was moving to Albany to work on “a secret project” (which turned out to be DOS) with Keith Raniere & Allison Mack, Piesse decided to reach out to Catherine Oxenberg for help. 

Catherine Oxenberg went through India’s notes about the group and discovered that she “vowed” to serve Keith Raniere, giving him “such a gift that they were helping themselves.” Like many cults, that gift turned out to be sex. The Vow also reveals that Keith Raniere would sleep with women after they lost a lot of weight. 

What’s next? 

The Vow has yet to get into massive charges against NXIVM and Keith Raniere. Lauren Salzman, Sarah Edmonson’s “master” in DOS, was accused of confining a woman in a room for over a year. Lauren Salzman is still awaiting sentencing for her part in NXIVM; she pled guilty to racketeering last year. 

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Carmen delights in sharing her insights on everything pop culture. She comes armed with a graduate degree in literature and a boatload of experience crafting the written word. Ms. MacBeth lives in suburbia with her husband, three cats, plants, and giant book & yarn collection.

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