Dynasty star Catherine Oxenberg is desperately fighting to save her 26-year-old daughter, India, from a controversial group she alleges has “brainwashed” her oldest daughter.
In 2011, Oxenberg saw an opportunity to bond with her then 20-year-old daughter after she learned from a friend about a self-improvement program called Nxivm (pronounced NEX-I-um) and they decided to attend a meeting together.
For nearly 20 years, an estimated 16,000 people have paid as much as $3,400 for an executive-coaching workshop offered by the Albany, N.Y.-based organization, whose leader, Keith Raniere, 57, is known as Vanguard to his followers. With locations in New York, San Francisco and Mexico, the group claims to take people on a journey of personal discovery and development.
Oxenberg, 56, initially found the program to be “weird and creepy,” she says. But India — “the sweetest, most nonconfrontational, easiest child of all my children” — was intrigued. She threw herself into the organization over the next few years, attending more and more of its costly classes, recruiting friends and emptying her bank account of her inheritance, her mother says.
Oxenberg initially resisted interference and judgment. Then her fears were confirmed last April, in a conversation with a friend, Bonnie Piesse, 34, who’d recently left the group herself and detailed India’s role in what Oxenberg calls a “secret sisterhood” within Nxivm.
“You need to save your daughter,” Piesse told her. “You need to save India.”
To learn more about Nxivm and Oxenberg’s effort to reconnect with her daughter, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday.
Insiders who’ve left Nxivm paint an even darker picture.
“It was the most painful, traumatic moment of my life,” says Sarah Edmondson, 40, who, after being recruited for Nxivm’s secret sisterhood, says she was branded last March below her hip with what she later learned were Raniere’s initials, shortly before quitting the group.
The group’s leaders did not respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
Nxivm responded to a recent New York Times article about the group with a statement that called the story “a criminal product of criminal minds.” Yet allegations about the group have prompted the New York State Governor’s Counsel to launch a review into the matter.
Prior to Nxivm, Raniere founded a discount-buying club that he later shut down after 23 states and two federal agencies launched investigations into allegations that it was a pyramid scheme. Raniere admitted to no wrongdoing but agreed to pay a monetary settlement.
Edmondson says she met women in the secret sisterhood in which Oxenberg says India is a member who told her they weren’t allowed to eat more than 800 calories per day. Piesse, who last saw India in the days before she left Nxivm in January 2017, says, “India was in a bad situation. One time she told me that she wasn’t going to eat for three days [out of ] penance to try and correct her behavior.”
Not long after talking to Piesse in April, Oxenberg reached out to India, who moved from L.A. to Albany in 2016, and invited her home for her birthday. Before hanging up, Oxenberg says her daughter told her, “ ‘Mom, my hair has been falling out, and I haven’t had a period in a year. Maybe I should see a doctor?’ ”
When she arrived home later in May, an alarmed Oxenberg says she confronted her “superskinny” daughter, begging her to get help. She says India dismissed her concerns, returned to Albany then next day and then stopped communicating with her.
On Oct. 19, India posted a message on her Facebook page: “I’m absolutely fine, great actually. I would never put myself or the people I love into any danger.”
Oxenberg, a mother of five, has now turned to the media: “I’m helpless. I’ve lost my child and will do whatever I can to get her back.”
With reporting by JOHNNY DODD and LIZ MCNEIL