NXIVM, the star-studded sex cult that recently landed actress Allison Mack under house arrest, is already getting the TV treatment. The new A&E series Cults and Extreme Belief is premiering next Monday with an episode on the controversial self-help group. Led by Keith Raniere, NXIVM has been accused of vile crimes within a sub-sorority known as “Dominus Obsequious Sororium,” which loosely translates to “master over slave women.”
The indictment against Mack and Raniere charge the leader and his second in command with sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy, and forced labor conspiracy. In a statement, United States Attorney Richard P. Donoghue claimed that, “Allison Mack recruited women to join what was purported to be a female mentorship group that was, in fact, created and led by Keith Raniere… The victims were then exploited, both sexually and for their labor, to the defendants’ benefit. This Office and our law enforcement partners are committed to prosecuting predators who victimize others through sex trafficking and forced labor.”
In a letter on the NXIVM website, Keith Raniere insisted that the sorority “is not part of NXIVM” and denied any association with the group.
Former NXIVM member Sarah Edmondson recalled her experience in a clip from the upcoming Cults and Extreme Belief episode. Edmondson has already played a crucial role in NXIVM’s downfall. Her testimony about a disturbing ritual in which female “slaves” were branded was featured in a 2017 New York Times exposé about the cult. That piece was a turning point, putting Raniere on the defensive by revealing the sinister practices behind the supposed self-help group.
Edmondson told the New York Times that she was part of a secret sisterhood within the larger NXIVM organization. According to the article, Edmondson knew that a “small tattoo” would be part of her initiation, but she “was not prepared” for the reality of the ritual. “I wept the whole time,” Edmondson said about the procedure in which a cauterizing device was used to burn women with a symbol incorporating Keith Raniere and Allison Mack’s initials. “I disassociated out of my body.” The New York Times detailed Edmondson’s attempts to report NXIVM, claiming that, “a state police investigator told Ms. Edmondson and two other women that officials would not pursue their criminal complaint against NXIVM because their actions had been consensual.”
In a longer account for Vice, Edmondson went into more detail about her relationship to NXIVM and to her DOS master/recruiter, Lauren Salzman. “The best metaphor I can use to explain it is the frog and the boiling pot of water,” Edmondson said. “If Lauren had said to me, ‘Hey, want to join this group? You're going to have Keith's initials burned into your crotch.’ Of course I would have said, ‘You're crazy. Get yourself to a psychologist.’ But it didn't happen that way. It happened in very incremental stages, with more and more commitment and more on the line, and more coercion and blackmail. A lot of people say you could just run out. You could leave. I just didn't feel like that was an option at the time.”
In her interview for A&E’s deep-dive into NXIVM, Edmondson discloses more details about the branding, revealing that the ceremony took place in Allison Mack’s home. “I saw the A.M. before I saw the K.R.,” she continues, referring to Allison Mack’s initials in the design. Edmondson cut ties with NXIVM after the traumatic initiation ritual, adding, “Once I left, I heard about Keith using sex as a means to control people… I actually think that the branding doesn’t even compare to the other emotional abuses that have been going on for decades.”
“I’ve heard of women, many women, signing lifelong vows to only have sex with Keith.”
According to legal docs regarding Mack’s bail, the prosecution claims that, “DOS masters, including the defendant, groomed DOS slaves for sex with Raniere by requiring DOS slaves to adhere to extremely restrictive diets and not remove their pubic hair (in accordance with Raniere’s sexual preferences) and by requiring them to remain celibate and not to masturbate. DOS masters, including the defendant, who directed their slaves to have sex with Raniere, received financial benefits in the form of continued status and participation in DOS, as well as financial opportunities from Raniere.”
If convicted, Mack and Raniere would each be facing a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison.
“I don’t think it’s OK for a man who’s the leader of a philosophical movement to be sleeping with all of the high ranks within his company, and his students within the company,” Edmondson concludes in the sneak peek of her A&E interview. “It’s a conflict of interest, because they’re there to learn. And then you have the person who’s teaching them having sex with them as part of their growth? If that’s what he wants to do, that should be on their fucking website.”