- Sarah Edmondson/YouTube
- A bombshell report from the New York Times accuses Albany, New York-based group NXIVM of manipulative and abusive tactics.According to The Times, it practices cult-like behavior including branding some of its members and a hierarchical structure of “masters,” “slaves,” and “Vanguard.”Motivational “self-improvement” programs and products are a $9.9 billion market, and self-help has a history of veering into the cult realm.
The self-help industry is booming.
Motivational “self-improvement” programs and products including books, speeches and seminars, and self-help organizations are a $9.9 billion market, according to the newest report from independent research firm Marketdata Enterprises.
One “self-help” organization, NXIVM, illustrates the slippery slope that comes with placing your hopes for success and fulfillment into the hands of a charismatic leader.
Keith Raniere, who the New York Times describes as “a New Age teacher with long hair and a guru-like manner of speaking,” founded NXIVM in 1998. The “self-help” group, based in Albany, New York, with chapters across the country, Canada and Mexico, offers “programs that provide the philosophical and practical foundation necessary to acquire and build the skills for success,” according to NXIVM’s website.
On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that the organization practices cult-like behavior including branding some of its members and a hierarchical structure of “masters,” “slaves,” and “Vanguard.”
Canadian actress Sarah Edmondson told the New York Times that she and other female members in their 30s and 40s were recruited by “rock star” member Lauren Salzman to join a “secret sisterhood” within the organization “created to empower women.”
Here are eight of the wildest details about the secret society from the New York Times report:
- The sorority reportedly had a number of different circles each led by a “master” who would recruit six “slaves.” Eventually, these “slaves” would recruit “slaves” of their own. To gain admission to the sorority, “slaves” were reportedly required to give their “master” naked photographs or other compromising material as “collateral.” If they revealed the group’s existence, the “collatoral” might be publicly released. Membership is said to have grown steadily. “Slaves added compromising collateral every month to Dropbox accounts, and a Google Document was used to list a timetable for recruiting new slaves, several women said,” the New York Times reports. During an initiation ceremony, one “master,” a top NXIVM official named Lauren Salzman, reportedly instructed women to say: “Master, please brand me, it would be an honor.”
“A female doctor proceeded to use a cauterizing device to sear a two-inch-square symbol below each woman’s hip, a procedure that took 20 to 30 minutes. For hours, muffled screams and the smell of burning tissue filled the room,” the New York Times reports.
The branding symbol’s design is said to have incorporated Ranier’s initials as a “tribute.” According to the New York Times, Ranier texted a female follower: “if it were abraham lincolns or bill gates initials no one would care.'” “Former members have depicted [Raniere] as a man who manipulated his adherents, had sex with them, and urged women to follow near-starvation diets to achieve the type of physique he found appealing,” the New York Times reports.
During training, the women were reportedly required to text their “masters,” “Morning M” and “Night M.” If a “master” texted her “slaves” with a “?” and a “slave” failed to reply, “Ready M,” within 60 seconds, said “slave” would have to pay a penalty like fasting or a physical punishment, the New York Times reports.
NXIVM-affiliated physician Dr. Brandon Porter reportedly conducted an “experiment” on some women, where he showed them violent footage of women being murdered and dismembered while a brain-wave machine and video camera recorded their reactions.
The accounts undoubtedly tick many of those boxes used to determine if an organization is a cult.
Former Harvard Medical School professor and psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton outlined in his paper “Cult Formation” three primary characteristics most commonly shared by destructive cults:
A charismatic leader, who increasingly becomes an object of worship as the general principles that may have originally sustained the group lose power. A process of coercive persuasion or thought reform – otherwise known as brainwashing. Economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader and the ruling coterie.
Self-help has a history of veering into the cult realm.
In 2009, self-help speaker James Arthur Ray, who charged his followers $10,000 to attend a meditation retreat in the desert, asked attendees to shave their heads and huddle within his “sweat lodge” for 36 hours without food or water. Three people died of heatstroke, while 18 others were hospitalized.
Edmondson and other members eventually left the NXIVM group, despite fears their “collateral” would be used against them. “There is no playbook for leaving a cult,” Edmondson told the New York Times.