Keith Raniere, the founder of the much-maligned “professional development group” NXIVM was deported from Mexico on Sunday and will be arraigned Tuesday in Texas on sex trafficking charges. He is accused of running a cult-like organization where female members were branded with a cauterizing pen, deprived of food, and treated as sex slaves.
NXIVM (pronounced nex-ee-um) was founded by Raniere in 2003 and is headquartered in Albany. It describes itself on its website as “a community guided by humanitarian principles that seek to empower people and answer important questions about what it means to be human.” The group sells personal and professional development courses exclusively to women. Followers advance within the group by paying as much as $5,000 for seminars and workshops and are expected to recruit new members.
The complaint against Raniere, filed by the Eastern District of New York, alleges that he used his position at the top of a secret organization within NXIVM, known as DOS, to extort and effectively imprison women who acted as his “slaves.” Members of DOS were allegedly culled from NXIVM followers who were frustrated with the pace of their advancement within the system and were told that DOS was “an opportunity to join an organization that would change [her] life.”
Prospective members of DOS were expected to provide “collateral” as a sign of their devotion. These items included sexually explicit photos as well as video taped and written “confessions” of “damning stories (true or untrue) about themselves, close friends and/or family members.”
As members, women were deprived of sleep, made to participate in punishingly difficult exercise routines, and take ice cold showers. They were also coerced into having sex with Raniere and “not permitted to have sexual relationships with anyone but Raniere or to discuss with others their relationship with Raniere. Some of the Nxivm curriculum included teachings about the need for men to have multiple sexual partners and the need for women to be monogamous.”
If the women did not comply with these teachings they believed that their “collateral” would be made public.
NXIVM was most recently in the news in October 2017 when the New York Times published an investigation into the group based on the testimony of defectors who described being restrained as a cauterizing device was used “to sear a two-inch-square symbol below each woman’s hip.”
Following the article’s publication, the federal government began interviewing witnesses and Raniere fled to the luxury villa in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where he was arrested on Sunday.
On Monday afternoon, NXIVM posted a “Letter from Keith Raniere on Current Situation” on their website in which Raniere states that the DOS “sorority” is not part of NXIVM and that he is not associated with the group. He faces up to fifteen years in prison if convicted of the charges being brought against him.