We’ve all finished Wild Wild Country by now, yes? Great, because there’s an equally bizarre tale of another cult led by a charismatic leader and his (allegedly) ruthless right-hand woman unfolding as we speak.
Last week, a man named Keith Raniere, co-founder of an Albany-based self-help group/pyramid scheme called Nxivm (Pronounced “Nexium,” like the heartburn medication) was arrested in Mexico and extradited back to the U.S. on federal charges of sex trafficking. According to the FBI, Raniere, who went by the nickname “Vanguard,” had been living in a $10,000-a-week luxury villa with a group of women he referred to as his “slaves.”
“Slaves” were allegedly coerced into sexual contact with Raniere and expected to perform menial labor for his closest and most loyal female followers, a “secret sorority” called DOS (Dominos Obsequious Sororium, or Master Over the Slave Women). “Slaves” were allegedly restricted to a 500-800 calorie a day diet—Rainere, you see, prefers thin women, not to mention that starving people are easy to control—and forced to wear “fake cow udders over their breasts” while being publicly humiliated if they disobeyed. They were also expected to offer up damaging information on themselves that could be used as “collateral” if they tried to leave the group. Raniere’s teachings on the subject of sex are vastly different than those of the aforementioned Rajneeshee, preaching that women are naturally monogamous and men naturally promiscuous.
Once recruited, new “slaves” were branded with a symbol incorporating Raniere’s initials, along with those of DOS’s alleged leader and Raniere’s alleged second-in-command—Smallville’s Allison Mack. (You may also remember Mack as the love interest on the FX series Wilfred.) Until quite recently, Mack was the leader of a Nxivm women’s subgroup called Jness, which ironically preached “female empowerment” in a series of self-help classes. Top Jness students were then invited to join DOS, which Mack allegedly helped form as “a united group of women branded in the name of Mr. Raniere and Miss Mack—which will be a force for good, and a female force against evil.” The most elite of those were then allegedly invited to join Rainere at his compound.
And Mack is only one of the influential women caught in Raniere’s orbit. As far back as 2010, Vanity Fair ran a story called “The Heiresses And The Cult” detailing how Seagrams heiresses Sara and Clare Bronfman had blown more than $150 million of the family fortune on Nxivm and Raniere, and Dynasty actress Catherine Oxenberg told The New York Times last year of her concern over her daughter, who she said had joined DOS. Goldie Hawn and Grace Park—both of whom bailed as soon as they realized what was actually going on—were loosely associated with Nxivm groups at various points, and actresses Linda Evans and Nicki Clyne were named as members in a 2012 investigation into the group by an Albany newspaper. Just last week, Mack’s Smallville co-star Kristin Kreuk tweeted about her involvement with Nxivm, saying she left five years ago and wasn’t party to any of the (alleged) truly crazy shit:
Since Raniere’s arrest, the IRS has joined the FBI in investigating Nxivm. The Nxium website currently reads, “In response to the allegations against our founder, Keith Raniere, we are currently working with the authorities to demonstrate his innocence and true character.” Emiliano Salinas, son of the former Mexican president who runs Nxivm’s Mexico chapter, also denies any knowledge of DOS or the group’s inner workings.
Members of the group are reportedly being subpoenaed to testify at Raniere’s upcoming federal court appearance in Brooklyn, which has yet to be scheduled. He is currently being held without bond. Mack, who several outlets are presuming to be the unnamed “co-conspirator” in the FBI charges against Raniere and who can allegedly be seen in cell phone footage taken during Raniere’s arrest, has yet to comment.