The Vow is a new nine-part HBO documentary about NXIVM, a cult and pyramid scheme that made headlines recently.
In The Vow, married couple Mark Vicente and Bonnie Piesse describe their experiences becoming involved with, and leaving, the NXIVM cult.
Today, Vicente and Piesse are still married and living in Portugal. Here's what you need to know about their post-NXIVM lives.
The Vow is HBO's nine-part, incredibly exhaustive documentary about NXIVM, a cult and multi-level marketing scheme masquerading as an empowerment group. The documentary looks into founders Keith Raniere and Nancy Salzman; influential members like Allison Mack; and whistleblowers like Bonnie Piesse and her husband Mark Vicente, who saw the dangers of NXIVM before the mainstream media caught on.
Piesse and Vicente met in 2007. At the time, Piesse was an actress who appeared in Star Wars: Episode II and III as well an aspiring singer-songwriter. Vicente, was the creator of the documentary What the #$*! Do We (K)now!? who had ties to Hollywood as well. He was also one of NXIVM's highest-ranking members. When the Australian born artist expressed doubt over her career, he invited Bonnie to NXIVM's "Executive Success Program" (ESP), the entry point for most members—over 16,000 people took ESP classes. So began Piesse's decade-long journey into, and out of, the NXIVM cult.
The Vow, which features footage that Vicente captured in real time, tracks the couple's gradual disillusionment with the group, alongside fellow whistleblower Sarah Edmondson.
Piesse had her suspicions about NXIVM long before her husband. In the second episode of The Vow, those suspicions threaten to tear them apart. Here's what you need to know about the couple, and how they ultimately became two of NXIVM's most outspoken detractors.
Bonnie Piesse is an Australian actress you may recognize from Star Wars.
Like many of NXIVM's members, including Edmondson and Allison Mack, Piesse had a career in show business before joining the group. As a teenager, Piesse had a pivotal role in two Star Wars movies: Star Wars: Episode II–Attack of the Clones and Star Wars: Episode III–Revenge of the Sith. Her character, Beru Lars, raised Luke Skywalker, alongside Joel Edgerton's Owen Lars. (Shelagh Fraser played Beru in 1977's Star Wars: A New Hope).
A post shared by Bonnie Piesse (@bonniempiesse) on Feb 7, 2019 at 1:16pm PST
In addition to appearing in Australian TV shows, Piesse also has a career as a songwriter. Found, her latest EP, came out in 2019. While in NXIVM, Piesse became involved with Simply Human, the group's chorus—that's where she befriended Mack, and started hearing more about NXIVM's disturbing inner sanctum, where women were branded and groomed into being sex slaves.
She left NXIVM in 2017, in part because of rumors about the DOS subgroup that subverted women.
The Vow tracks Piesse's gradual disillusionment with the NXIVM group, which had previously given her so much purpose. "I finally came to ESP, and it worked. I find that I'm getting happier and happier. Life just gets better and better," Piesse had said in The Vow's first episode, as she aimed to ascend the group's "stripe path."
Soon, though, Raniere, the group's enigmatic leader, did a number of things that Piesse believed only could be interpreted as "bad," including the way he greeted everyone with a kiss on the lips.
“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched-they must be felt with the heart.” ~ Helen Keller . . . #nature #heart #heartspace #quiet #quiettime #selfcare #iamwithme #soulonfire #sheisnotlost #liveauthentic #creativityfound #breathe #foreverinmyheart #quietmoment #quietmoments #bonniepiesse
A post shared by Bonnie Piesse (@bonniempiesse) on Jul 5, 2019 at 6:18pm PDT
In addition to distrusting Raniere, Piesse grew suspicious over the cost of NXIVM, both financially and in terms of energy. "Keith kept saying to us, 'Give it a few months and you'll start earning great money,'" Piesse said. She never did. Instead, she became consumed by 22-hour NXIVM-centric days: Waking up at 5 for a day of teaching yoga and proctoring classes, then dance rehearsal, then practicing "exploration of meaning" questions (EMs) until 2 or 3 in the morning.
But the most concerning thing that Piesse learned was about DOS (which stood for "Dominus Obsequious Sororium" or "Dominant Over Submissive). It was the subgroup that Allison Mack was involved with. There, women were controlled, and coerced into being sex slaves. Piesse fled the organization in 2017, and waited for her husband—one of NXIVM's top officials—to have the same revelation she did. "Once you've broken the spell and seen through it, you can't go back from that," Piesse told Vicente in the documentary.
A post shared by Bonnie Piesse (@bonniempiesse) on Jan 28, 2019 at 9:15pm PST
Vicente left NXIVM the same year as his wife.
Vicente, a South African filmmaker known for the 2004 movie What the #$*! Do We (K)now!?, became involved in the group in 2004, after he was was invited to a NXIVM symposium by Nancy Salzman and Barbara Bouchey, a former member.
In 2017, after Piesse left, Vicente became one of the group's most fervent detractors. One of the turning points? Vicente learned about DOS. Vicente confronted Raniere about Mack, in particular, who had lost a concerning amount of weight, thanks to DOS's extreme calorie counting. He remarked that Mack looked "broken." According to Vincente's 2019 testimony, Raniere responded, "I’m trying to break her."
During Raniere's federal trial in 2019, Vicente mined his 12 years in NXIVM to provide a scathing testimony. Calling NXIVM's 12-part mission statement, which Raniere developed and members internalized, a "fraud" and a "lie," Vicente said, “this well-intentioned veneer covers a horrible evil.”
Piesse and Vicente are still married, and currently live in Portugal.
Piesse and Vicente have survived their journey into, and away from, the heart of NXIVM. Today, the couple is still married and living in Portugal, an ocean from Albany, NY, the former headquarters of NXIVM. Their new home looks pretty idyllic, to be honest.
So I’m on my way to a lunch date with my friend @stephjohnes but before I meet her I stop to take a photo - only to have her photo bomb me with arms outstretched. Portugal we love you! #friends #friendship #portugal #village #villagelife #silvercoast #filmmakers #talkingshop #blueskies #cobblestones #portugal
A post shared by Mark Vicente (@markvicente) on Aug 22, 2020 at 2:19pm PDT
In an Instagram post, Piesse seemed to address the turmoil that has defined the last few years in her life. "The last few years have been a shit show to say the least…betrayal, heartbreak, horror, upheaval of everything I’ve known… but tonight I found myself standing in the rain in Portugal, with so many beautiful new friends and souls in my life, knowing who I am more than ever before, and feeling like goodness really does prevail," Piesse wrote. Vicente cheered his wife on, reposting her photo with the caption, "My magnificent warrior."
The last few years have been a shit show to say the least… betrayal, heartbreak, horror, upheaval of everything I’ve known… but tonight I found myself standing in the rain in Portugal, with so many beautiful new friends and souls in my life, knowing who I am more than ever before, and feeling like goodness really does prevail. 2020 you’ve been a doozy, but you come with gifts I’ll forever hold in my heart 🙏🏻💜
A post shared by Bonnie Piesse (@bonniempiesse) on Aug 20, 2020 at 1:30pm PDT
Vicente is continuing his career as a filmmaker. Perhaps unsurprisingly, his new projects are devoted to exploring the sway of groups like NXIVM. According to his resume, his new documentary Coercion: The Invisible Weapon will come out in 2021.
Today, Piesse reads the Tarot professionally, in addition to continuing her career as a singer-songwriter. "To me, the tarot is a visual representation of energy. It gives us a clear, eagle eye view of what’s going on in any given moment, so we can understand more deeply why things are manifesting in life and how to bring more wisdom and intention to our choices," her website reads. Those curious can actually book a session with her—and soak up the wisdom of her post-NXIVM life.
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