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“Keith Raniere is an activist, scientist, philosopher and, above all, humanitarian,” the filmmaker Mark Vicente once said, back when he still believed in his long-time spiritual leader. Other fans called Raniere a humble genius and “one of the smartest and most ethical people alive.”

These days, police and prosecutors are calling Raniere something else: a cult leader and serial abuser who directed women to literally be branded… with a sign that included his initials.

On March 26, Raniere, a multilevel-marketing entrepreneur turned self-improvement guru, was arrested in Mexico, where he’d fled following an October 2017 New York Times exposé.

Raniere’s story goes from wholesome to depraved in five seconds flat.

For the past two decades, an estimated 16,000 people have paid as much as $3,400 for an executive coaching workshop offered by Nxivm [pronounced Nexium], which promises to take participants on a journey of personal discovery and development.

The criminal complaint against Raniere — known as “Vanguard” to his followers — alleges that he encouraged the formation of a secretive subgroup within Nxivm called “Dominus Obsequious Sororium,” (DOS) in which women were coerced into serving as sex slaves to their male masters.”

This past Friday, police made another major arrest in the case, charging actress Allison Mack, who played Chloe Sullivan on Smallville, with sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit forced labor. Raniere has been charged with the same crimes. They both face 15 years to life.

After Mack’s arrest, assistant U.S. attorney Moira Penza alleged that the actress was

“… one of the top members of a highly organized scheme which was designed to provide sex to [Raniere]. Under the guise of female empowerment, she starved women until they fit her co-defendant’s sexual feminine ideal.”

Per the New York Post,

Mack, 35, was Raniere’s direct “slave” and had a sexual relationship with him — but also acted as a “master” to other slaves, who were forced to have sex with Raniere and get his initials burned into their pubic region with a cauterizing pen, according to the criminal complaint.

As the women were being branded like cattle, Mack allegedly placed her hands on their chests and told them to “feel the pain” and to “think of [their] master,” prosecutors say. The actress first lured the women into the secret society within Nxivm known as “The Vow” — and cajoled them into providing “collateral” like embarrassing photos and statements to use as blackmail, federal prosecutors allege.

She then allegedly groomed the slaves for sex with Raniere — ordering them to adhere to extremely restrictive diets, refrain from removing their pubic hair, and to stay celibate, according to court documents.

She also forced them to pose naked for photos — “including on one occasion close-up pictures of their vaginas” — which were given to Raniere and also used as collateral, the feds charge.

Nxivm had come under fire in the press long before the New York Times piece was published late last year. A 2003 article in Forbes sounded early warning bells, with passages like

Detractors say [Raniere] runs a cult-like program aimed at breaking down his subjects psychologically, separating them from their families, and inducting them into a bizarre world of messianic pretensions, idiosyncratic language and ritualistic practices.

Six years ago, the Albany Times-Union wrote that

Raniere has convinced some followers he doesn’t drive because his intellectual energy sets off radar detectors. He says his energy is drained if those around him disappoint or defect, former girlfriends have said. “He’s the Vanguard,” one of his key supporters testified in court, with the insistence and reverence of a child describing Santa Claus. …

At least one cult expert said Raniere directs one of the most extreme cults he has ever studied and has likened Raniere to David Koresh, who most Americans link with images of a burning cult compound packed with women and children. Raniere has denied that NXIVM is a cult.

Other experts believe there is sufficient evidence for the New York Attorney General to investigate whether NXIVM — thought to have multimillion-dollar revenues — is an illegal multilevel-marketing business.

Nothing was done until recently.

One of the reasons the Nxivm/Raniere story is remarkable, though not unique, is the leader’s apparent ability to attract and manipulate by all counts intelligent, successful, and often progressive followers. Besides Mack, other prominent acolytes are reported to have included Grace Park and Nicki Clyne of Battlestar Galactica fame, Kristin Kreuk (Smallville, Ecstacy), and Seagram heiresses Sara and Clare Bronfman. The Bronfman sisters are thought to have contributed, willingly or not, $150 million to Raniere and his endeavors.

(Screenshot via YouTube)