The Messed Up Truth About Cult Leader Keith Raniere

All self-help gurus are pretty much cult leaders. The hoards of self-improvers who take the often preposterous advice of speakers like Tony Robbins are really just one cup of Kool-Aid away from becoming his outright disciples. The guy somehow figured out how to make people pay him to force them to walk across hot coals. If that's not a cult waiting to happen, what is?

Nxivm, that's what. Actually, Nxivm (pronounced "Nexium") was the front for a cult that involved forced dieting, loyalty pledges, master/slave relationships, and ritualistic branding, among other classic cult conventions. According to The New York Times, Nxivm was a self-help company run by a guru named Keith Raniere. Within Nxivm, Raniere operated an organization called D.O.S. (also the Vow) that was made to appear like a fun secret society for women already in his program. The ostensible purpose was to promote female empowerment, but testimonies from former acolytes paint a much different picture. Induction into D.O.S. involved practices that seemed to quite obviously direct the power to the male in the room, Keith Raniere. They told tales of being ritualistically (and painfully) branded with a character resembling Raniere's initials just above the hip. "Master, please brand me," they were forced to say. "It would be an honor."

Raniere possessed an uncanny ability to manipulate women into believing that such acts would empower them. He used it to extort and control them, and worse, but he was finally brought to justice in 2018.

A celebrity helped Keith Raniere recruit new cult members

The New York Times exposé outed Raniere as the leader of an abusive sex cult in October 2017, and in March of the following year he was arrested on charges of sex trafficking, racketeering, and possession of child pornography, among other crimes. He pleaded not guilty, and was sentenced to 120 years in prison in late 2020, according to the BBC

But Raniere didn't manipulate all those women on his own. He had some star power in his corner in the form of "Smallville" actress Allison Mack (pictured above), who helped him recruit women and convince them that D.O.S. was about female empowerment. She told them that the cult's submissive and demeaning practices would give them the tools they needed to overcome their weaknesses. She was arrested in 2018 as well, and initially entered a plea of not guilty, but changed course in 2019. Mack was sentenced to three years in prison for her role in Raniere's cult.

Raniere's victims received welcome news in July 2021, when a federal judge ordered him to pay restitution to the tune of $3.4 million. The New York Times reported that some of that money would be disbursed to 21 of his victims to pay for operations to remove the scars he left on their bodies — the physical ones, at least. Some of the funds will also be allocated for mental health care to deal with the scars that are more difficult to remove.