Arriving this weekend on Sky Documentaries is The Vow – an eight-part docuseries centered around cult NXIVM and its now-imprisoned leader Keith Raniere.
Featuring interviews with former high-ranking members, The Vow explores the self-proclaimed ‘self-improvement’ group, which has been labelled by many as a cult with links to sexual slavery and documents the legal proceedings against the group’s leaders, culminating in Raniere’s conviction for sex trafficking and conspiracy crimes.
Sky Documentaries recently debuted a trailer for The Vow, but if you want to know more, read our guide the events explored throughout the docuseries and what happened to NXIVM.
What is NXIVM?
NXIVM is a New York-based multi-level marketing company, founded by Keith Raniere and Nancy Salzman in 1998.
Pronounced Nexium, the company offered “Executive Success” seminars. During these seminars, in which people were taught Raniere’s “ethical framework of human experience” and cost $2,700 (£2074) for a five-day intensive course, students were expected to call Raniere and Salzman “Vanguard” and “Prefect” respectively while Raniere “broke down his subjects psychologically”, according to forensic psychiatrist John Hochman.
From 1998 to 2018, over 16,000 completed the Executive Success Program and the group attracted a number of celebrities and wealthy members, including Smallville actress Allison Mack, daughter of former Mexican president Ana Cristina Fox, businesswoman Sheila Johnson, Seagram heiresses Clare and Sara Bronfman, Hawaii Five-O’s Grace Park and Battlestar Galactica’s Nicki Clyne.
What did NXIVM do?
In 2003, cult investigator Rick Alan Ross published an assessment of NXIVM’s ‘secret’ manual, labelling the course as “expensive brainwashing”, while in the same year, Edgar Bronfman – the father of members Clare and Sara Bronfman – told Forbes that he thought NXIVM was a cult and was worried by the “emotional and financial” investment by his daughters, who’d lent the company $2 million and hadn’t spoken to their father in months.
In 2017, the New York Times exposed a secretive society within NXIVM named DOS after former member Sarah Edmondson left the group and went to the press with accusations.
Edmondson claimed that DOS, which stood for Dominus Obsequious Sororium, was a “secret sisterhood”, which branded its female members with Raniere and Allison Mack’s initials and forced them to provide naked photographs or other compromising material to act as “collateral” if the group’s existence came to light.
Several former members accused the group of financial and sexual predation, and in March 2018, Raniere was arrested on charges of sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy and conspiracy to commit forced labour in relation to DOS’s activities.
Mack, Clare Bronfman, Nancy Salzman, her daughter Lauren Salzman and NXIVM employee Kathy Russell were arrested and charged with racketeering.
Mack and Lauren Salzman pleaded guilty to racketeering, while Nancy Salzman pleaded guilty to racketeering criminal conspiracy.
What happened to NXIVM leader Keith Raniere?
Keith Raniere was found guilty on all charges in June 2019, which included sexual exploitation of a child and possession of child pornography, sex trafficking, identity theft, trafficking for labor, forced labor and services, conspiracy to alter records for use in an official proceeding and sex trafficking conspiracy, forced labor conspiracy, racketeering conspiracy and wire fraud conspiracy.
On October 27th, the 60-year-old was sentenced to 120 years in prison and fined $1.75 million.
Where are the NXIVM members now?
Many of the former NXIVM cult members appear in The Vow – however those who ranked highly within the organisation, such as Allison Mack, Nancy Salzman, Lauren Salzman are still awaiting sentencing for their criminal convictions.
Clare Bronfman was sentenced in September to six years and nine months in prison for pleading guilty to conspiracy to conceal and harbour illegal aliens for financial gain and fraudulent use of identification.
According to New York newspaper Times Union, Keith Raniere is still acting as the leader of NXIVM from prison and is communicating with his remaining followers through emails and jailhouse phone conversations.