The bizarre story behind the Nxivm cult

by Bill Ralston / 10 May, 2018
RelatedArticlesModule - Nxivm cult

NXIVM founder Keith Raniere. Photo/YouTube

Resisting a sexual Ponzi scheme like Nxivm is one thing, but many of us give blind allegiance to others.

Only in America – three over-used words I found myself uttering when I read the New York Times story on a bizarre self-empowerment cult called Nxivm (pronounced Nex-e-um). Of course, nothing is wrong with self-empowerment, whatever that may be, but if it involves becoming a sex slave, it’s probably best avoided.

Here were the warning signs many female members of Nxivm managed to miss when they joined. They were first asked for naked photographs or other compromising material about themselves that could be publicly released should they disclose details about the group’s secret activities.

I don’t know about you, but if, say, the local Rotary club or Grey Power asked for a naked picture or two before I was allowed to join, I would ask a few questions. In Nxivm, many women happily consented to hand over the risqué goods.

The next step was getting the initials of the group’s founder, Keith Raniere, branded with a cauterising device below the hip, after saying, “Master, please brand me; it would be an honour.” I’m not sure that would be such an honour, and most of us would probably smell a rat at that point.

Once admitted to the group, members were at the bidding of their master, who could text them at any time of day for any purpose, including sex. The upside of the deal in becoming a slave is that members were then expected to recruit other women, who would then become their slaves. It’s a kind of sexual pyramid or Ponzi scheme. Can I make the point that any form of bonking that requires blackmail and branding is perhaps not worth it?

Some 16,000 people enrolled in Nxivm courses, but only a relatively smaller number joined the secret-society part of it and gave up their careers, friends and families to follow Raniere. The Times says dozens of women have now left the “secret sisterhood” and they are, unsurprisingly, a little annoyed at having been sucked in by it.

I was surprised anyone could be foolish enough to succumb to Raniere’s charms until I realised he looked a lot like David Koresh of the Branch Davidians who, 25 years ago, led 79 of his followers to a fiery death when they were besieged by the FBI. In 1978, Jim Jones convinced more than 900 believers to kill themselves by literally drinking the Kool-Aid, which was liberally laced with cyanide. And in the late 1960s, homicidal weirdo Charles Manson collected a group of hippies and sent them on a Californian murder spree.

If someone turns up on your doorstep promising self-fulfilment in exchange for blind loyalty until death, such an offer is best refused – with the possible exception of a marriage proposal.

Weirdly, though, a vast number of us do give blind unthinking allegiance to leaders who preach a doctrine we come to agree with, whether it be Labour, National, New Zealand First, Greens or, God help us, Act. While none of those parties, to the best of my knowledge, requires nude photos or physical branding of the flesh, many of us are blissfully unquestioning in our adherence to whatever they offer.

Do not do that. Just as you may ask a few questions about the teachings of Raniere, Koresh or Mr Kool-Aid should you encounter them, keep an open mind about your party of choice and do not hesitate to query it should it start demanding blind acts of faith from you.

This article was first published in the May 5, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

Why the vicar of Grantchester is James Norton's most complex character yet
91260 2018-05-22 00:00:00Z Television

Why the vicar of Grantchester is James Norton's mo…

by Fiona Rae

Actor James Norton has played a painter, a prince and a murderer, but none has been so conflicted as Anglican vicar Sidney Chambers in Grantchester.

Read more
The seven big threats to KiwiBuild
91218 2018-05-22 00:00:00Z Property

The seven big threats to KiwiBuild

by Nikki Mandow

KiwiBuild aims to provide 100,000 homes over the next decade. But can it deliver? Some in construction regard the target as hopelessly over-ambitious.

Read more
Win the Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe
91256 2018-05-21 16:48:31Z Win

Win the Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Po…

by The Listener

To celebrate the arrival of Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive to Sky Arts, the Listener is giving away copies of his complete tales and poems.

Read more
Get the best of both worlds at 1947 eatery
91249 2018-05-21 16:27:35Z Auckland Eats

Get the best of both worlds at 1947 eatery

by Kate Milliken

Metro Top 50 restaurant 1947 eatery is all about the traditions of Indian cuisine in a sleek, modern setting.

Read more
A Garage Project party, a film about Coco's Cantina and other Auckland food news
91214 2018-05-21 14:22:42Z Auckland Eats

A Garage Project party, a film about Coco's Cantin…

by Kate Richards

What’s happening and what’s coming up in Auckland food.

Read more
Siri, what the hell is happening in Westworld?
91196 2018-05-21 10:38:46Z Television

Siri, what the hell is happening in Westworld?

by Greg Dixon

The revolting robots of Westworld’s first series are back with a vengeance in the second outing – and it's all quite confusing.

Read more
Government cans plans for mega-prison at Waikeria
91188 2018-05-21 08:50:48Z Social issues

Government cans plans for mega-prison at Waikeria

by Craig McCulloch

Plans to build a new mega-prison at Waikeria have been scrapped, but the government has yet to decide what to do instead.

Read more
Auckland Council stalled release of reports
91183 2018-05-21 07:20:04Z Auckland Issues

Auckland Council stalled release of reports

by Todd Niall

The release of the $935k consultants' report on a downtown stadium was the third time RNZ had to resort to the Ombudsman to extract public information

Read more