Twice a day, five days a week—and sometimes more, depending on whether or not I’m on deadline—I drive past Exit 8 on the Northway. My attention usually darts for a split second to the signs hawking fast-food restaurants, and by the time my gaze straightens out, the exit’s far behind in my rearview. I can’t say I’ve spent much time in Halfmoon, NY, but ever since the Saratoga County town has been showing up in the national news cycle, my interest has been piqued.
The center of all the intrigue? A group named NXIVM (pronounced “Nexium”), which per its website is “a community guided by humanitarian principles that seek to empower people and answer important questions about what it means to be human.” The group, cofounded by Keith Raniere, also launched a series of self-help workshops under the “Executive Success Programs” (ESP) heading. Harmless-sounding, right? Well, apparently, that’s only half the story. (Note: I’ve refrained from referring to NXIVM as a “cult,” because it’s unclear whether that’s the proper terminology for the group or not. That remains to be seen.)
According to the Albany Times Union, a townhouse in a nondescript Halfmoon development associated with NXIVM was raided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in late March. The house is said to have been dubbed “The Library” by Raniere (a.k.a. “Vanguard”), who allegedly used it as a “private sex lair.” A few days prior to the raid, the 57-year-old Raniere was arrested in Mexico, where he was holed up with some female companions, seemingly on the run from authorities. He was charged with sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit forced labor. In a Department of Justice statement, FBI Eastern District of New York’s Assistant Director-in-Charge William Sweeney noted: “As alleged, Keith Raniere displayed a disgusting abuse of power in his efforts to denigrate and manipulate women he considered his sex slaves. He allegedly participated in horrifying acts of branding and burning them, with the cooperation of other women operating within this unorthodox pyramid scheme. These serious crimes against humanity are not only shocking, but disconcerting to say the least, and we are putting an end to this torture today.” Raniere’s currently sitting in a federal prison in Oklahoma City, awaiting trial in Brooklyn. He’s facing 15 years to life in prison, if convicted.
Per the FBI’s statement, the case developed over a period of at least three years (the group’s origins date back two decades). Raniere’s said to have had a rotating harem of 15-20 women at a time over the past several years, all of whom were forced to have sex with him. He also forced women into a secret sex club called “DOS,” which made them into “slaves,” and some of the women were branded on their lower abdomen with Raniere’s initials (a story alleging one such case broke in The New York Times back in October 2017). Furthermore, the women were forced to provide Raniere with “collateral,” in the form of nude photographs or damning information about their families and various personal effects. And a few of the women have turned out to be Hollywood actresses, including Allison Mack (Smallville) and Nicki Clyne (Battlestar Galactica).
Since the story broke of Raniere’s arrest, the group has posted the following message on its website: “In response to the allegations against our founder, Keith Raniere, we are currently working with the authorities to demonstrate his innocence and true character. We strongly believe the justice system will prevail in bringing the truth to light. We are saddened by the reports perpetuated by the media and their apparent disregard for ‘innocent until proven guilty,’ yet we will continue to honor the same principles on which our company was founded. It is during the times of greatest adversity that integrity, humanity and compassion are hardest, and needed most.” (The statement is also translated into Spanish; the group is said to have hubs in Mexico and South America.)
The story is developing, and more arrests are said to be imminent.