Inside NXIVM: The Self-Help Group Where Women Are Branded and Recruited as Slaves

Coach and support group during psychological therapy

Today, we’re digging into a ‘self-help’ sorority that allegedly requires naked photos for admission, brands members with a medical instrument and urges them to follow a near-starvation diet. These are the shocking allegations I’ve recently learned about a group that’s long been at the center of controversy. That group is NXIVM. Based in Albany, it was founded in 1998 by Keith Raniere, promises to take participants on a journey of personal discovery and development. Some former followers claim the man who sells enlightenment is really pitching something else, so I travel to upstate New York to investigate.

The founder of NXIVM is a man named Keith Raniere, a multilevel-marketing businessman turned self-improvement guru, who has peddled himself as a spiritual being to followers, most of them women. A close-knit group of these women have tended to him, paid his bills and shuttled him around. While talking to people close to Keith they explained that he has convinced some followers he doesn’t drive because his intellectual energy sets off radar detectors and they  regard him not by his name but as “Vanguard.”

Claiming one of the world’s highest IQs and holding three degrees from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Raniere has evolved over the past two decades from the founder of Consumers’ Buyline Inc., a buying club business investigated for being a pyramid scheme, into the intellectual commander of NXIVM, a company promising followers it can “help transform and, ultimately, be an expression of the noble civilization of humans.”

It’s been called a successful executive coaching program by some and a cult by others. For the past two decades, an estimated 16,000 people have paid as much as $3400.00. His shtick: Make your own self-interest paramount, don’t be motivated by what other people want and avoid “parasites” (his label for people who need help); only by doing this can you be true to yourself and truly “ethical.” The flip side, of course, is that this worldview discredits virtues like charity, teamwork, and compassion–but maybe I just don’t get it. Insiders who have left NXIVM—and scores reportedly have in recent months—paint a disturbing picture of what life is like for the group’s most hardcore followers.

Today, we investigate as I travel to NXIVM headquarters and meet with the people who were the closest to the man at the center. Watch it here.