Fact Or Fiction: What We Know About The NXIVM Cult

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The chilling saga surrounding the NXIVM cult has been unfolding right before our eyes and Smallville actress Allison Mack is one of the people at its center. NXIVM, an Albany-based organization run by Keith Raniere and Nancy Salzman which hosted "Executive Success Programs" that members are now saying were a front for a closer-knit organization that involved branding, meal restriction, sex, and blackmail. Last month, Raniere was charged with sex trafficking in relation to NXIVM (pronounced “nexium”), and now it's Mack's turn to stand trial.
Mack, 35, who joined NXIVM in 2006, has been charged with sex trafficking and forced labor. Specifically, she's been accused of recruiting women for Raniere's inner-circle, called "DOS", according to The New York Times, women in DOS were branded against their will and forced to fast for twelve hours a day, take cold showers, and perform a "daily act to honor" their master. They were also pressured to regularly send "collateral" such as nude photos, financial information, or confessions to crimes that were used as blackmail for their loyalty. Mack has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and was released on $5 million bond; she’s now staying at her parents’ house in California. She can only leave for court-related reasons, and cannot use her cell phone or the internet.
A number of women have come forward about their experiences in the organization, and according to The New York Times, asked the authorities to investigate the group; police initially declined to pursue action because they believed the activities to be consensual.
Now, however, with more details emerging, the organization is in hot water, with countless questions emerging daily. Ahead, a breakdown of exactly what NXIVM is and just how far it spread.
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Is NXIVM a cult?

According to Alexandra Stein, who has a PhD in the sociology of cults and wrote Terror, Love and Brainwashing — yes. She told Rolling Stone last November that NXIVM fits her five-point definition: it has an authoritarian and often charismatic leader, is built on a hierarchy, has a "total absolute ideology," isolates members from their family, and exploits those who join using a "potential for violence."
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Okay, but is it a *sex* cult?

Allegedly. Mack has been charged with sex trafficking and forced labor. In a statement on April 20, assistant U.S. attorney Moira Penza said:

"Ms. Mack was one of the top members of a highly organized scheme which was designed to provide sex to [Raniere]. Under the guise of female empowerment, she starved women until they fit her co-defendant’s sexual feminine ideal."
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What's the difference between NXIVM and JNESS and DOS?

NXIVM is the overall organization, JNESS is an all-women NXIVM sub-group that Mack described as "a bunch of women. We go on a retreat upstate, and we share our experiences and support each other," and DOS is allegedly a group of 25 secret sex slaves, according to Frank Parlato, who first reported on the group’s activities on his website The Frank Report.
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What about Emma Watson?

The beloved Harry Potter star popped up via Mack's Twitter account, which she often used to connect with (and possibly recruit) high-profile women. In the case of the Emma Watson's @ mention, Mack wrote that she wanted to talk to her about "a unique human development and women’s movement."

"As a fellow actress I can relate so well to your vision and what you want to see in the world," she wrote on Twitter. "I think we could work together. Let me know if you’re willing to chat."
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Did Mack try to recruit anyone else on Twitter?

Not explicitly (that we know of) but author Jessica Valenti and New York Times writer Amanda Hess are among people who found old tweets from Mack asking to connect.

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