As if what we already know about the allegations against supposed NXIVM cult leader Keith Raniere and one of the high-ranking members of his group, actress Allison Mack, weren't enough to give us nightmares, there's more fuel for our bad dreams. A&E has released a preview clip of its show Cults and Extreme Belief, featuring former NXIVM members' detailed accounts of the group's alleged abuses, including that horrific branding ritual.
"The actual branding itself was in Alison Mack's home," actress and former member Sarah Edmondson tells the show's host Elizabeth Vargas. In previous accounts, Edmondson had described the branding as something she and a handful of other women underwent as part of a special initiation into a "sorority" within NXIVM. They were allegedly all naked and had to hold each other down during the process, which sounds like the worst kind of pain.
The symbol of the branding, which was placed below the hip, looks like both Raniere's and Mack's initials, depending on its orientation.
"I saw the A.M. before I saw the K.R.," Edmondson says in the clip.
While that sounds pretty awful on its own, Edmondson seems to feel like she got off easy, because she was not one of the women Mack allegedly recruited to have sex with Raniere.
"Once I left, I heard about Keith using sex as a means to control people," she says on the show. “I’ve heard of women, many women, signing lifelong vows to only have sex with Keith. 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. 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."
What is on NXIVM's website at the moment is a statement from Raniere in which he disavows association with Mack's group, called Dominus Obsequious Sororium (DOS), which means "master over slave women."
"Additionally, I feel it is important to clarify the sorority is not part of NXIVM and that I am not associated with the group," Raniere says in the letter. "I firmly support one’s right to freedom of expression, so what the sorority or any other social group chooses to do is not our business so long as there is no abuse."
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).