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In 1998, Keith Raniere, an erstwhile vitamin salesman with a history of multi-level marketing schemes under his belt, co-founded a new venture that would become known as NXIVM (pronunced "NEKS-ee-um"). Billed as Executive Success Partners at the time, the company purported to teach clients how to become the best versions of themselves. Just over 20 years later, Raniere—called "Vanguard" by his followers—would be convicted for acts he committed as the group's leader, including sex trafficking, racketeering, and forced labor conspiracy.
Actress Allison Mack, who rose through NXIVM's ranks to become a senior figure in her 12 years with the group, would make headlines for her own arrest facing similar charges. Raniere was sentenced to a 120 years in prison on October 27, 2020 and Mack was sentenced to three years in prison on June 30, 2021.
Once known for her role as Chloe Sullivan on teen Superman drama Smallville, Mack admitted to coercing a number of NXIVM's female members into a lifestyle of self-harming behavior at Raniere's command. Within Dominus Obsequious Sororium (DOS), a secret subgroup that claimed to foster women's empowerment, Mack allegedly enforced a master/slave dynamic in which "slave" members were paddled, required to submit humiliating "collateral" material to their master for potential blackmail purposes, and deprived of food to achieve the rail-thin physique Raniere preferred. Many say they were also pressured into sex with Vanguard, and held down as a brand featuring his and Mack's initials was seared into their skin.
Mack's role in NXIVM is discussed throughout The Vow, HBO's 2020 documentary series on the group, which is evidently getting a season 2. Here's how Mack became a prominent member, what she allegedly did, and what comes next for her.
Smallville star Kristin Kreuk reportedly introduced Allison Mack to NXIVM.
Mack attended her first meeting in 2006 after her costar Kristin Kreuk had become involved with the group, according to sources cited in a Hollywood Reporter feature. The event was a two-day introduction to Jness, an arm of NXIVM specifically geared toward women (the group for men was called The Society of Protectors).
As a source told THR, Lauren Salzman—daughter of NXIVM co-founder Nancy Salzman—immediately ingratiated herself to the then-popular CW star. Following the seminar, Mack was invited to the Albany, New York, area to meet Raniere during one of his weekly volleyball games (like many NXIVM moments, their first conversation was recorded and appears in The Vow). Smallville was in its fifth season at the time, and Mack enrolled in many pricey "intensive" courses. Barbara Bouchey, an ex of Raniere's and former high-ranking member, took Mack under her wing as a mentee from 2006 until Bouchey's departure in 2009.
As Mack leveled up the ranks, Raniere entrusted her to lead an organization under NXIVM's umbrella called The Source. As Mack describes it in a recruitment video with Raniere, it's "a curriculum specifically for actors" that draws upon Raniere's Rational Inquiry Method of self-improvement.
By the time Mack joined, NXIVM had faced criticism for years. A 2003 Forbes cover story on the controversial Raniere, and Executive Success Programs, deemed the leader a "corporate Svengali." In the piece, multi-billionaire head of Seagram beverage company Edgar Bronfman Sr., whose heiress daughters Sara and Clare Bronfman would effectively bankroll NXIVM with around $150 million total as longtime members, put it plainly: "I think it's a cult."
But Mack and her colleagues tirelessly recruited new members for more than a decade. Among the events designed to attract young prospects was "A Capella Innovations," a multi-day festival billed as a university singing showcase held in 2007 and 2008, with the first co-hosted by Kreuk, Mack and Battlestar Galactica actress Nicki Clyne.
Rick Alan Ross, a self-described cult deprogrammer, told THR of Mack, "she was the Tom Cruise of NXIVM." Kreuk, meanwhile, maintains that she cut ties with the group around 2013, "had minimal contact with those still involved" and was disturbed by the details of the scandal. By the time Smallville ended in 2011, despite a few acting gigs including a recurring part on FX's Wilfred, Mack had purchased a home in the Albany area to be near Raniere and the group.
DOS was Raniere's idea, and Mack helped carry it out.
During the trial of Keith Raniere, a woman named Nicole testified that Mack, who she'd met through taking an $8,000 acting class with The Source, told her in 2016 about a “really cool women’s mentorship [program]… for women who were serious about being strong women.” In reality, DOS employed tactics of mental and physical abuse, often to groom members for sex with Raniere to be part of what former members describe as his rotating "harem" of between 12 and 20 women.
Like NXIVM itself, DOS had the structure of a classic pyramid scheme. As told in The Vow and in court testimony during Raniere's trial, a woman would join at the ground-level status of "slave," but were told they could eventually ascend through the four levels of the slave-pyramid to become a "master" of a pod themselves.
Lauren Salzman, a "first-line master" within DOS, testified that there were five stages of recruitment. In stage 1, a "prospect" would be asked for collateral as a symbol of vested trust in a prospective master. In court, Nicole testified that Mack requested a sexually explicit video and a letter falsely accusing her own father of molesting her in childhood (Mack had allegedly provided this same collateral). Later, when Nicole expressed that she wanted to leave DOS, she said Mack made her afraid the damaging materials would be released.
"It's the choice you made—now what are you gonna do about it?" Mack wrote in an email to Nicole. When DOS members complained of how they were treated, their master would tell them that their fear was a sign of weakness they should push past.
By 2016, Mack's slave pod included actress Catherine Oxenberg's daughter, India, as well as Nicole and at least two other women. In weekly meetings at her home, Nicole said Mack would berate them as they sat on the floor, and demanded that some follow diets like her own of 500 calories a day. (Another former "harem" member told THR that if Raniere felt she wasn't thin enough, he would blame his erection problems on her weight).
In 2017, Mack shared a selfie posing with a group of women on a "road trip north," at least one of which was believed to be a DOS slave of Mack's. "I got good ingredients in my life... for sure," Mack wrote in a caption for the post, which you can see on Mack's Instagram page.
As former member Sarah Edmondson recounts in The Vow, slaves had to text their master to request permission to eat and sleep, and immediately reply to "readiness drills" that their master sent them at all hours. The masters, including Mack, required their slaves to pose smiling together for nude "family photos" they'd send to "grandmaster" Raniere. Mack also allegedly threatened to release collateral if her slaves didn't agree to sleep with Raniere, saying that to refuse would violate "the Vow" they took of lifelong obedience.
Corporal punishment the DOS slaves endured included standing barefoot in the snow, as well as beatings with a leather strap administered during cold showers. Salzman testified that there were additional plans to build a dungeon with a cage in it beneath the house the first line members lived in outside Albany.
Mack's "slaves" were seared with a brand featuring her initials.
Though DOS slaves were often told the brand symbolized the four elements, it was actually a combination of Raniere and Mack's initials.
"We were told that we’d all be receiving an identical tattoo the size of a dime," Edmondson, whose "master" was Lauren Salzman, writes in her memoir, Scarred. "Instead, we took turns holding each of the other members down on a table as Nxivm’s resident female doctor dragged a red-hot cauterizing pen across the sensitive area just below their bikini line. The women screamed in pain as the smell of burnt flesh filled the air.”
Salzman said in testimony, "It was the most painful thing I've ever experienced." Nicole testified that Mack told her, "pain is love, and you show your love to your master by pain."
This was by Raniere's design, according to recorded conversations with Mack in which they planned the ceremony together. "Do you think the person who's being branded should be completely nude and sort of held to the table like a, sort of almost like a sacrifice," Raniere mused in the recording.
News of the branding ceremonies broke in June 2017 on the site of Frank Parlato, a controversial figure who became an early NXIVM whistleblower following work as a publicist for the group (The Vow shows that Edmondson was one of his sources). The report led to a high-profile story in the New York Times months later. With investigators on the scent, Raniere, Mack, Salzman, and others fled to Puerto Vallerta, Mexico, where federal agents found Raniere hiding in a closet in March 2018. In video of the arrest obtained by the Daily Mail, a gaunt and dazed-looking Mack appears in frame as law enforcement drives away with Raniere in custody.
She has reportedly filed for divorce from fellow member Nicki Clyne.
In December 2020, TMZ reported that Mack had filed divorce documents in Orange County, CA. Per federal transcripts, Mack told prosecutors that she had married Clyne in 2017 under Raniere's orders, so that Canada-born Clyne could remain with the group in the states.
In a June 2017 Instagram post from Mack's account, which is hashtagged #soulsisters and #summerlove, Mack and Clyne flash big smiles as they sit aboard what appears to be an Amtrak train. Mack shared another photo with Clyne in a July 2017 Instagram post, in which Clyne leans with her elbow on Mack's shoulder.
Clyne, who never faced any criminal charges for her role in NXIVM, remains an active supporter of Keith Raniere’s. In the summer of 2020, Clyne staged daily dance parties outside of the Brooklyn prison where Raniere was held ahead of his October sentencing, as part of a new organization featuring former NXIVM members called The Forgotten Ones. According to the BK Reader, the regular dancing first arose when Clyne would dance for Raniere while visiting him from outside the Metropolitan detention center; reportedly, the groups’ dancing soon became popular among other prisoners who had a shared view.
In September 2020, Clyne appeared with other Raniere defenders in an interview with CBS News. Asked about the allegations that NXIVM was a sex cult, Clyne said, “I don’t even know how to define what that is.”
Asked about Mack at the time, Clyne said, “I haven't been able to speak to her for a year and half. Part of the conditions of her bail is that she can't speak to anyone who is affiliated in any way with the case or NXIVM.” Clyne called the series of events since 2018 “the hardest, most humbling experience of my life," but said “I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything.”
Mack pled guilty and was put on house arrest.
When Allison Mack was arrested in April 2018, she initially pleaded not guilty to sex trafficking and conspiracy charges related to her role in DOS. After a few days' stint in jail, she was released to her parents' custody in California that same month on the condition she wouldn't use her phone or the internet, nor travel for reasons not connected to the case.
However, per a September 2020 Vice article citing student reports and screen shots, Mack had allegedly been using her computer to take virtual gender studies courses at UC Berkley, including one titled "The History and Practice of Human Rights." After classmates' outcry upon learning of Mack's presence in the classes, a person claiming to be a student wrote in a Reddit post that Mack was allegedly asked to leave a "Gender, Sex, and Power" course after a week. The unconfirmed report also claimed Mack may have continued on as a student.
Mack's last Instagram post, a re-shared video, is dated March 22, 2018. The last photo of Mack is a photo with her mother, and as of August 2020, she is understood to still be under electronic surveillance at her parents' house.
A year after her arrest, Mack pleaded guilty to racketeering and racketeering conspiracy, admitting to state law extortion and forced labor. The New York Times reports that she tearfully told the Brooklyn court that she joined NXVIM to "find purpose," and admitted to recruiting DOS members under false pretenses of mentorship. She also confessed to forcing them to submit damaging collateral, which she then leveraged for labor and services, and apologized for hurt caused by her "misguided adherence to Keith Raniere's teachings."
In 2021, Mack was sentenced to three years in prison.
On June 30, Mack was sentenced to three years in prison for her involvement with NXIVM. The day before her sentencing, Mack issued a formal apology to those harmed by her actions. "I have experienced overwhelming shame as I have worked to accept and understand all that went on and all that I chose," Mack wrote.
In the letter, Mack disavowed Raniere, calling her collaboration with Raniere the "biggest mistake and greatest regret" of her life. "I am sorry to those of you that I brought into Nxivm. I am sorry I ever exposed you to the nefarious and emotionally abusive schemes of a twisted man. I am sorry that I encouraged you to use your resources to participate in something that was ultimately so ugly. I do not take lightly the responsibility I have in the lives of those I love and I feel a heavy weight of guilt for having misused your trust, leading you down a negative path," she wrote.
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