NXIVM Cult Leader Keith Raniere Used Common Manipulation Tactics, Cult Deprogrammer Says

In recent years, the world was shocked to learn about a group called NXIVM, a cult that involved sex slaves. However, this was more than just another true crime story. The victims of the cult leaders were genuinely harmed to the point of being branded. Although the structure and secrets of the cult were new, the strategies they used to convince their followers were not. According to one expert, they’ve been used for generations. 

NXIVM court documents in a cart with text reading 'U.S. v KEITH RANIERE'
NXIVM | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Who is Keith Raniere, and what was NXIVM?

According to Insider, NXIVM was originally presented as a multi-level marketing company that provided self-help instruction. The organization was founded in 1998 by Keith Raniere and Nancy Salzman. Over the next two decades, the group offered courses to roughly 18,000 people, some of whom paid as much as $7,500 per session. But by 2012, experts started to accuse NXIVM of being a cult. 

It came out that within the organization was another secret group that was led by Raniere. This group was known as Dominus Obsequious Sororium, which is Latin for “lord over the obedient female companions.” In this inner circle, he was known as “Vanguard,” and he was served by a collection of women who took care of all his needs, including his sexual desires. 

As details started to emerge, the picture became more disturbing. Women who had left NXIVM revealed that the secret inner organization was made up of groups of sex slaves. Each group was controlled by a “master.” The women involved were required to turn over compromising information to be used as blackmail against them if they ever tried to leave. These “slaves” were even branded with an insignia that included Raniere’s initials. 

‘The game doesn’t change’

In a YouTube video for Vanity Fair, a cult deprogrammer named Rick Alan Ross talked about some of these techniques. To illustrate, he used clips from the movie The Master, in which a man meets the leader of a new religious movement.

He explained that people have the right to believe anything they want. But once they use their beliefs as the basis to ask for something — whether it’s time, money, or devotion — people should be wary. 

There are some manipulative behaviors to watch out for. Is the person answering your questions, or are they avoiding them? Are they acting belligerent? Are they trying to get you off the topic of your questions?

Ross pointed out that the techniques used in the movie are the same ones that were used by Raniere only a few years ago. “The leaders’ names change, but the game doesn’t change,” Ross said. In other words, NXIVM may appear to be a shocking modern cult, but Raniere’s methods of control are nothing new. 

Raniere’s charisma couldn’t save him

By 2018, the group’s secrets couldn’t be hidden anymore. Raniere was arrested and charged with a number of crimes, including sex trafficking. As more facts came out, the charges grew to include sexual exploitation of a child, racketeering, and extortion. 

CNBC reports that several high-profile people who were involved in NXIVM, including actor Allison Mack, were also charged with crimes. Raniere was found guilty of all the charges against him, and he was sentenced to serve 120 years in prison.

The people involved in the inner circle weren’t unintelligent, and many of them had already attained impressive levels of success. So how were they tricked into joining such a twisted scheme? According to one attorney who works with victims of multi-level marketing scams, Raniere used skills that are often used to manipulate people.

“They use a number of techniques to sort of get people to lower their guard and to stop thinking critically, not treating it as a business, but treating it as a way that they’re going to fulfill their dreams,” he explained.

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