Out today in The New York Times is a chilling report on Nxivm, an Albany-based self-help organization. The report, by Barry Meier, includes details on how women in the group were allegedly branded with the initials of their leader Keith Raniere.
Nxivm offers courses and workshops designed to help improve self-fulfillment. Its website describes it as “new ethical understanding that allows us to build an internal civilization and have it manifest in the external world” whatever that means. The program is led by Raniere, who is reportedly known within the group as “Vanguard,” and former members have alleged that he had sex with members and urged women in the group to follow “near starvation diets.”
The report describes an initiation process for a “secret sisterhood” within Nxivm that occurred this past March. Five women gave recruiters “collateral” including naked photos or compromising materials that would be released if the group was ever exposed. Then the new members were restrained by top official Lauren Salzman who instructed them to say “Master, please brand me, it would be an honor.” One woman thought she was getting a small tattoo upon initiation, but in reality “a two-inch-square symbol” was burned below each woman’s hip.
One of the women who was branded, Sarah Edmondson, says she was first recruited into this “sisterhood” by Salzman. She described the group as a “force for good” that taught female members how to overcome “weaknesses” like being overemotional:
Submission and obedience would be used as tools to achieve those goals, several women said. The sisterhood would comprise circles, each led by a “master” who would recruit six “slaves,” according to two women. In time, they would recruit slaves of their own.
“She made it sound like a bad-ass bitch boot camp,” Ms. Edmondson said.
Ms. Edmondson and others said that during training, the women were required to send their master texts that read “Morning M” and “Night M.” During drills, a master texted her slaves “?” and they had 60 seconds to reply “Ready M.”
Trainees who failed had to pay penalties, including fasting, or could face physical punishments, two women said.
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Although former members filed complaints about the branding and Nxivm with the New York State Department of Health, the police, and state medical regulators, the New York Times reports that they have not taken action against the group. After word of the branding spread among Nxivm followers, the NYT reports that “panic ensued” with women instructed to delete encrypted messages and erase Google documents. A text message in the article also reveals that Raniere knew women were being branded.
Nxivm has been the subject of scrutiny in the press several times before. In 2010 Vanity Fair reported that two heiresses to the Seagram brand and daughters of Edgar Bronfman Sr. had spent around $100 million to “help finance nxivm and the alleged investment schemes of its leader, a 50-year-old man by the name of Keith Raniere.” A 2012 series from The Albany Times Union reports that Raniere had sex with underage women, intimidation of people who try to leave the group, and that the organization may have mysteriously adopted a young boy in 2007.