Catherine and India Oxenberg break the silence about their escape from the group, the threats they received, the trial against the leader and the role of actress Allison Mack in the group of acolytes
IIndia Oxenberg (Los Angeles, 1991) was the first to be marked in her group of slaves. He had spent five years in NXIVM (pronounced Nexium), an organization designated by the US Justice as a sexual sect, which sold itself under the facade of self-improvement. The promise of DOS, a secret sisterhood within the cult, was to empower women, help them achieve success, improve their lives. In 2016, as the cauterizing pen burned the skin on her pelvis with the initials KR, she recalls that the smell was so intense that it filled the entire room. One year later, an article of The New York Times he exposed the hoax: it had all been orchestrated by Keith Raniere, the leader and founder, to have a harem at his disposal.
When the scandal exploded, India, daughter of actress Catherine Oxenberg (New York, 1961), lost control of her life. Her mother turned to the press and uttered a desperate cry to rescue her. It worked. The FBI decided to take action, but the newspapers filled with headlines such as “slave” and “Raniere’s ex-girlfriend.” Now she wants to be the one to tell her story: “It was a nightmare, but I was so attached to NXIVM at the time that I didn’t see that I was in it.” In this interview, mother and daughter break the silence about the price they paid for escaping from Raniere’s deceptions – who will be sentenced this coming Tuesday in New York -; the role in the plot of Allison Mack — actress of the series Smallville and his mistress in DOS — and his own process of confrontation and self-forgiveness.
The downfall of Raniere, arrested in Mexico in March 2018 and convicted of sexual exploitation and six other charges in June of last year, would not have been possible without the help of a group of members, mostly women, who decided to expose the scam. when they learned of the existence of a group of female slaves. Catherine Oxenberg, who accompanied her daughter to the first NXIVM course in 2011 but dropped out shortly thereafter, joined actresses like Sarah Edmonson and Bonnie Piesse in pressuring the US authorities to take action. Nobody took them seriously at first. NXIVM amassed some 18,000 followers, mainly in Mexico, the United States and Canada, and not only did it have the luxury of cleaning up its image with events such as conferences with the Dalai Lama, but it also harassed its defectors with lawsuits and threats.
“They sent me legal documents, threatening to accuse me of many crimes and to put me in jail,” says the mother, who has assured that the son of a former Mexican president was directly the one who threatened her. “I was very scared to hear that they would kill me if I went to Mexico, these people were very powerful,” adds the oldest of the Oxenbergs.
“Mexicans were very important in the group, people of status and prominent families, and they were the ones who probably contributed more money, more than those from the United States and Canada,” says her daughter. The halo of exclusivity, with courses that cost thousands of dollars, was sold like hotcakes in Mexico, under the idea that if the relatives of three former presidents, businessmen and members of the celebrity endorsed it, it should be worth it.
“For a long time I wanted to sweeten things to feel better and now I realize that it is better to accept what it was: an abuse of power,” he says. The profile of India Oxenberg, then a 19-year-old girl with ties to European royalty and Hollywood, made her a perfect target for Raniere. The pattern was to exploit the vulnerabilities, the fame and the wealth of his followers, who spent huge amounts of money for an unquestionable guru who presented himself as “the most intelligent man in the world.” This is repeated over and over again in the self-help industry, valued at more than 11,000 million dollars in the United States alone, according to the consultancy. Market Data.
In late 2015, Raniere instructed women in her close circle to create DOS, a parallel structure within NXIVM made up of only women, and prepare others to take a life oath, which included being branded without anesthesia, suffering humiliation, and participating. in sexual acts with the guru, which were sold as “self-improvement” challenges. The mark was said to be “a rune.” They were actually the leader’s initials.
Before reaching that point there was a long process of indoctrination, steeped in misogyny. “Women have the worst pride of all,” says one of the NXIVM women’s course materials, focusing on female obedience to prevent them from becoming “princesses”.
The group of slaves started from a pyramidal scheme, in which women were recruited by mistresses and then put other followers under their hierarchy. The top of the pyramid was reserved for the leader, the only man, something that the vast majority did not know. In addition to being branded, the recruits had to hand over “collaterals”, such as intimate photographs or property titles to prevent them from divulging the existence of the group.
The control was total. India Oxenberg had to ask Mack for permission to sleep or go outside and eat a 500-calorie diet a day, the equivalent of a thick slice of cake. The abuse caused her to stop menstruating and her hair to fall out. “I want him to be sentenced to life imprisonment,” says the young woman and confesses that she is very nervous a few days after hearing the sentence and confronting her attacker in court. “Nobody has left NXIVM better than how it arrived, people go without money, without work or end up seven years in jail,” he says, referring to Clare Bronfman, the heir to the Seagram liquor empire, sentenced earlier this month.
The complex structure of secret sisterhood within NXIVM, in which the same person was a victim and also perpetrated the abuse, has made accepting and overcoming what happened much more complex for those who passed through the group.
“I feel sorry for Allison because she was a broken person who was abused by Keith, but I also know that she did criminal and cruel things.” You have to face the consequences.