In 1998 a new multi-level marketing company entered the scene called NXIVM (pronounced “NEKS-ee-em”). They reportedly offered personal and professional self development seminars through an “Executive Success Program” of large-group awareness trainings.

NXIVM ceased operations in 2018 amid a scandal of brainwashing, blackmail, racketeering and sex-trafficking. This was a classic pyramid scheme, meaning there was nothing good to be found within the company or its trainings for anyone.

In August, HBO began a docu-series entitled “The Vow”, that sheds light on the case.

The Players and the Draw

NXIVM was founded by Keith Raniere. Raniere learned MLM strategy as an Amway associate during the 1980’s. He also spent time studying and learning about Scientology and neuro-linguistic programming. In 1990, he created Consumer’s Buyline, Inc. – his own MLM.

But by 1993, after 20 states launched investigations into the company, Consumers Buyline was shut down by federal investigators as a pyramid scheme. He tried launching a few other MLM’s, but they did not take off.

He had a chance meeting with nurse and trained hypnotist, Nancy Salzman. Together they created the Executive Success Program, which was later branded “NXIVM”.

Within NXIVM, his closest associate was actress Allison Mack, who was known for her role in Smallville. Allison Mack only joined the organization in 2010. In her role of recruiting new members she would use blackmail to coerce them into having sex with Raniere.

She was paid for her services by Raniere and later sentenced for racketeering, which she plead guilty to.

In the Beginning…

In the beginning, the organization seemed like any other MLM. It would bring members in for the Executive Success Programs (or ESP’s), and members would recruit other members into the program.

Raniere was able to draw a large number of well-known celebrities into the business, as well as a number of successful entrepreneurs, one of which was Edgar Bronfman, a Seagram’s heir. The association with well-known celebrities made everyday citizens want to be a part of the organization.

During the seminars, attendees were expected to call Raniere and Salzman “Vanguard” and “Prefect”, respectively. Within the organization, the idea behind the titles, was that Raniere was the leader of a philosophical movement and Salzman was his first student.

Turning Point . . . Or Tipping Point

In the early 2000’s cult allegations began to emerge. Although their training remains a trade secret, it reportedly used a technique that, within the organization, was called, “Rational Inquiry”. This supposedly helped to facilitate personal and professional development.

In October 2003 Forbes Magazine published an article about NXIVM and Raniere. In it, they quoted Edgar Bronfman, who had been invited to take one of the courses by his daughter, as saying, “it’s a cult”. Apparently Raniere and others at NXIVM though the article would be positive and were surprised when it was not.


It wasn’t until 2017 that media articles were published detailing a subgroup called “Dominus Obsequious Sororium”, or DOS for short. “Dominus Obsequious Sororium” is a Latin phrase best translated to “Master over Slave Women”.

Media articles pictured the group as a “secret sisterhood” within NXIVM, in which female members were allegedly called slaves. They were further branded with the initials of Raniere and Mack, and subjected to corporal punishment from their “masters”. They were required to provide nude photos or other potentially damaging information about themselves as “collateral”. Law enforcement alleges they were forced into sexual slavery.

Actress Sarah Edmonston left NXIVM after she became inducted into DOS in her Albany, NY home. She shared the gruesome details of the ritual that took place during initiation.

Exposing the Truth

In December 2017 ABC’s 20/20 aired an exposé featuring many former NXIVM members, including Edmonston and other former members. Several reported financial and sexual predation by NXIVM leaders.

Other news programs followed, including a CBC podcast Uncover, which aired a segment entitled “Escaping NXIVM”.

Criminal Charges

In March 2018 Raniere was arrested and indicted on charges related to DOS and various sex trafficking offenses, conspiracy and conspiracy to commit forced labor.

On June 19, 2019 he was finally convicted of racketeering and sex trafficking.

Others closely associated with NXIVM and/or DOS have also been tried and charged in related offenses These include Salzman, Mack and others.

The Bottom Line

It’s interesting to me that things took so long to unravel and that the organization was able to operate for such a long time without being discovered for what it was.

It’s difficult to know if an organization is a pyramid scheme, not offering any real value, or something worthwhile. If you look into an organization, and the hair on the nape of your neck goes up, trust your instincts.

NOTE OF CAUTION: Just because fancy gurus or well-known celebrities are part of an organization, that does not mean it is worth spending your time or money on. What’s more, there could be more to it than meets the eye, and the price therein could be much more dangerous.

Details at Wikipedia