The supposed self-improvement organization, NXIVM, was founded in 1998 by Keith Raniere and Nancy Salzman, originally named Executive Success Programs. Over the years, it grew to encompass more than 60 subsidiaries. Some of which were later exposed as dangerous cult-like sects that employed coercion and manipulation in order to control women as Raniere’s sex slaves. Now, NXIVM's history is being explored in the HBO docuseries The Vow, but if you're anxious to find out how it all ends, let us enlighten you.
Local news outlets were suspicious of NXIVM and its followers, who referred to themselves as Nxians, for years, but exposure came on a national scale in October 2017 when the New York Times wrote an exposé interviewing former NXIVM members who revealed the dark side of an organization that marketed itself as a community-guided, humanitarian group whose sole purpose was to empower people. Specifically, Sarah Edmondson, who was part of the secret women’s group DOS, disclosed details of a sordid branding ceremony. Federal prosecutors would later describe NXIVM as a deeply manipulative pyramid scheme.
After the story came out, Raniere fled to Mexico only to be arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and charged with sex trafficking in March 2018. As the case developed, Raniere would face additional charges of possession of child pornography. Bit by bit, more information came out about NXIVM including Smallville actress Allison Mack’s involvement in recruiting women. She was arrested by the FBI and charged with sex trafficking and forced labor one month later. More key members — Clare Bronfman, Kathy Russell, Nancy Salzman, and her daughter Lauren Salzman — were arrested on racketeering conspiracy charges for alleged involvement in NXIVM in July.
Throughout March and April of 2019, Mack, Bronfman, Russell, and both Salzmans plead guilty to a variety of charges ranging from identity theft to visa fraud to sex trafficking leaving Raniere as the sole defendant who had yet to admit any wrongdoing.
Raniere’s trial began in May 2019. “Raniere was truly a modern-day Svengali,” said Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue, reports Associated Press. Raniere was found guilty of racketeering, sex trafficking, forced labor conspiracy, and others totaling 11 charges in June 2019. It reportedly took jurors less than five hours to find him guilty on all counts. Based on his crimes, he faces a potential sentence of 15 years to life in prison, but it will not be determined until October 27, 2020.
On January 28, 2020, a lawsuit was filed in federal court in Brooklyn, New York. 80 people came forward with yet another iniquitous side of NXIVM. Not everyone was Raniere’s sex slave. Some were duped by false scientific claims into paying thousands of dollars for classes in the organization’s insidious pyramid scheme. The lawsuit names Raniere and 14 other associates including those who already faced criminal charges. Nearly all of the 80 plaintiffs remain unnamed in court documents to protect their identities, but these accuse NXIVM and its leaders of using pyramid schemes and making it “physically and psychologically difficult, and in some cases impossible, to leave the coercive community.”
So where does that leave NXIVM? With all of its key players awaiting sentencing and all but assured prison time, it seems that the organization now only exists in the pages of court documents and lawsuit filings. Its website has been taken down and some of NXIVM’s most high profile former members haven’t made statements in a while. Currently, there have been no reports on continued NXIVM activity at any of its locations leading some to believe that it may be gone for good.
HBO's nine-episode docuseries The Vow airs on Sunday nights at 10:00 p.m. ET. New episodes also stream on HBO Max.