Nxivm Cult Meltdown Continues: New Charges, New Defendants

For some time, we’ve been following the hijinks at Nxivm, the upstate New York cult selling personal success seminars.  We have published a few articles comparing Nxivm to Scientology.  In March 2018, Nxivm cult founder Keith Raniere was arrested in Mexico and returned to the US to face charges of sex slavery and human trafficking.

Nxivm cult leader Keith Raniere. Source: TimesUnion.com

In a June 12 court hearing, Raniere was denied bail, after offering an elaborate package of $10 million in cash plus offering to provide his own force of armed guards around the clock to keep him from violating any of the bail conditions. In the hearing, the prosecution remarked that a superseding indictment would be issued with additional charges against Raniere and with charges against additional defendants.

The second shoe dropped on Tuesday, June 24, with significant additional charges, and four additional defendants.  In addition to Raniere and former actress Allison Mack, the complaint added Nancy Salzman, the #2 in Nxivm and her daughter Lauren, Seagram liquor heiress Clare Bronfman and Kathy Russell, the longtime bookkeeper for Nxivm. Most of the new charges have to do with identity theft to commit other crimes, and the indictment also says that the government is looking to seize ill-gotten gains from the scheme.  It appears that the indictment now categorizes Nxivm as an “enterprise,” language usually used to bring in the RICO statute, which enhances penalties for individual crimes when committed by an organized criminal group.

The Nxivm saga is fascinating, because it suggests that small cults can be extremely wealthy, can buy significant influence internationally, and can significantly harm members.  What’s unfolding for Nxivm is not a direct foreshadowing of what may happen to Scientology, but it does show that the government is able to unleash significant legal firepower against organizations who flout the law with such impunity once the usual government inertia has been disrupted. The impossible-to-predict issue is just when that threshold is crossed. Continue reading “Nxivm Cult Meltdown Continues: New Charges, New Defendants”

Opening an Inquiry: Do Cults Always Abuse Women?

News over the last week or so on the cult front has featured multiple cults who seem to focus on sexual abuse of women members.  We wrote extensively a week ago about the arrest of Keith Raniere, founder of Albany, New York-based Nxivm (pronounced “Nexium”).  The indictment alleges that Raniere headed a secret “master/slave” group where the all-female membership were branded with his initials in their pubic region.  Be Scofield, a journalist specializing in new-generation Internet gurus, recently published an article on yet another abusive group.  Scofield looks at the followers of Padma Aon Prakasha, who leads various workshops in the US; 15 women and 2 men have accused Prakasha of physical and emotional abuse and other things.  And the well-received Netflix documentary Wild, Wild Country about the 1980s Rajneeshee cult in Oregon recounts stories of physical abuse aimed at women.

We are writing to start a discussion about treatment of women in cults, including in Scientology.  For those of you who are ex’s, we would be interested in understanding what happened to you, for both former staff/Sea Org and for rank-and-file members.  And we’re particularly interested in whether high-control groups always end up committing abuse of women (and, probably equally of children).  What general inferences can we draw and what can we do about it? Continue reading “Opening an Inquiry: Do Cults Always Abuse Women?”

NXIVM Cult Leader Arrested: Parallels with Scientology?

Earlier this week, Keith Raniere, the leader of Nexium (pronounced “Nexium”), a cultic group headquartered in Albany, New York, was arrested in Mexico after fleeing the US and swiftly extradited back to the US for trial. He’s accused of sex trafficking in conjunction with a secret “sorority” made up of Nxivm members who agreed to function as slaves for him, and who were branded in their pelvic region with his initials. There are other investigations pending that may result in further charges.

Though Nxivm never achieved the success of Scientology in its 20-year history, there are some interesting parallels between Nxivm’s modus operandi and Scientology’s as well as some parallels between Keith Raniere and L. Ron Hubbard’s claims about themselves. We look at some of these parallels and try to determine whether there’s any way to use the accelerating collapse of Nxivm to predict the endgame for Scientology, particularly in seeing how activists can target their efforts to hasten its demise. Continue reading “NXIVM Cult Leader Arrested: Parallels with Scientology?”