Raniere is facing life in prison for sexually abusing and extorting former Nxivm members.
Nxivm, a multi-level marketing company and self-help group, was once called a “sex cult.” Now a lawsuit is accusing the organization’s founder, Keith Raniere, of running a pyramid scheme.
According to The New York Post, more than 80 former Nxivm members are suing the company. Altogether, they claim that Nxivm lied to its followers about the sorts of treatment they were receiving, which were little more than a “pseudo-scientific hodgepodge of psychotherapeutic methods.”
But those treatments, notes the Post, were marketed as self-improvement courses. The expensive kits were sold to “thousands of unsuspecting people,” many losing their money and dignity not long after involvement.
“Nxivm preyed on earnest, intelligent people who wanted to better themselves and the world through what they thought to be a humanitarian undertaking of unprecedented scope,” said Philadelphia-based attorney Neil Glazer, who’s representing the company’s disgruntled ex-members.
Sally Brink, a plaintiff who paid around $145,000 to take Nxivm courses over a period of nearly 15 years, said the organization thrived on insecurity and distrust.
“They get you not to trust your own decision-making process,” Brink told The New York Times. “They tell you that you need them to make decisions. You start to doubt everything.”
Brink and her fellow litigants say that Nxivm employed “methods used in pyramid schemes” to continuously squeeze members for more money. In many cases, Nxivm used coercive tactics to make it “physically and psychologically difficult, and in some cases impossible, to leave.”
Brink, writes the New York Times, was first introduced to Nxivm in 2004, after a college roommate recommended its courses. When Brink first met Raniere, the company’s founder, she left impressed, certain his ideas were profound. Moreover, upon returning home, Brink felt her relationships with family and coworkers had approved.
But as Brink’s relationship with Nxivm became increasingly toxic with time. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017, other Nxivm members tried to convince her that she’d given herself the disease to get her husband’s attention. Instead of offering any sort of support, they told her to give up and die.
Other plaintiffs allege that Raniere himself targeted vulnerable female associates, luring them into what’s been likened both to a sex cult and a “sex-slave ring.” Women recruited by Raniere were allegedly forced to have intercourse with them, after which they’d be branded with his initials.
The Times suggests that Nxivm was able to exert such control over its members because it was exhaustive in its selection: one former participant said that Raniere looked for “trust fund babies” and actors, people with means but lacking confidence. Applicants were required to fill out long questionnaires, which gauged their views on health, wealth and a variety of other topics.
The goal of Nxivm’s screening process, says the lawsuit, was to identify applicants’ insecurities and filter out potential skeptics.
Once approved as a member, Nxivm associates would be enrolled in courses and assigned coaches. The intent, claims the suit, was to gradually break down participants’ self-esteem, making them ever more dependent on Nxivm.
“That process leaves you wanting more and feeling like they have the answers,” one former Nxivm member told the Times.
Along with litigation, Raniere and other Nxivm executives are, alternately, facing criminal investigation and sentencing.
Raniere, says the Times, was found guilty over the summer of charges which included racketeering and sex charges. He faces life in prison and is expected to be sentenced in the next several months.