The season finale of The Vow on HBO aired Sunday, leaving viewers with questions about what happened to NXIVM’s key players, including Keith Raniere, Allison Mack, Nancy Salzman, Lauren Salzman, India Oxenberg, and Clare Bronfman.
The documentary series, about an alleged sex cult and multi-level marketing scheme masquerading as a self-help program, ended its first season with the arrest of Keith Raniere. Raniere was the leader of NXIVM and its various subgroups, including DOS, a secret women’s organization that assigned its members “master” and “slave” roles and branded their pelvic areas with Raniere’s initials.
HBO has renewed The Vow for a second season, to air in 2021, and the Season 1 finale hints that both Raniere and Salzman may have participated in the new episodes; in the finale, a woman who appears to be Salzman is shown wearing a house arrest ankle monitor, and the episode’s final scene features a voice recording of Raniere, apparently agreeing from jail to talk about NXIVM for a documentary. According to HBO, Season 2 will feature revelations from the group’s supporters and defectors, and will center on Keith Raniere’s trial and ultimate conviction of crimes including sex trafficking, forced labor conspiracy, racketeering, and production and possession of child pornography. On Oct. 27, Raniere was sentenced to 120 years in prison.
The Vow Review: HBO’s NXIVM Doc Offers an Eye-Opening Look at the Chilling Cult
Viewers don’t have to wait for more episodes of The Vow to learn what happened to NXIVM’s inner circle. Here’s a look at each of the key players:
Keith Raniere, 60, has been sentenced to 120 years in prison for sex trafficking and other crimes.
The Vow’s Season 1 finale ends with Raniere, also known to NXIVM members as “Vanguard,” being arrested in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, in March 2018 on charges including sex trafficking.
The first season of the docuseries doesn’t detail the dramatic circumstances surrounding Raniere’s arrest; however, Lauren Salzman testified in court that Mexican authorities interrupted Raniere’s plans for a “recommitment ceremony” involving group sex with several of the first-line “masters” in Dominus Obsequious Sororium (DOS), the secretive women’s club within NXIVM. (The Latin name is roughly translated as “master over slave women,” and Raniere was the sect’s “grandmaster.”) According to the Albany-based newspaper The Times-Union, Salzman testified that when officers burst into the resort where the group was staying, Raniere hid in a walk-in closet. “It never occurred to me that I would choose Keith — and Keith would choose Keith,” Salzman said in court.
In May of 2018, Raniere pleaded not guilty to charges including sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy, and forced labor conspiracy; his lawyers told NBC News that “everything was consensual.” Raniere was held without bail because he was deemed to be a flight risk. In March of 2019, prosecutors accused Raniere, who is now 60, of having sex with a 15-year-old girl, The New York Times reported. He was charged with “coercing a child to engage in sexual conduct to produce visual depictions of it, and of possessing child pornography between 2005 and 2018,” according to Reuters.
Raniere’s high-profile trial began in Brooklyn’s Federal District Court in May 2019. In June, after deliberating for less than five hours, a jury found Raniere guilty on all counts. He was convicted of sex trafficking, forced labor, production and possession of child pornography, racketeering, and wire fraud.
Waiting for his sentence, Raniere maintained his innocence, telling Dateline NBC that he apologizes for participating in an organization that caused “pain and suffering,” but said he is not guilty of any crimes. “I am innocent,” Raniere said in the jailhouse interview. “This is a horrible tragedy with many, many people being hurt. There is a horrible injustice here. And whether you think I’m the devil or not, the justice process has to be examined. … I’ve clearly participated. I’ve been the leader of the community. And it has come to this. Even if it is by oppression, I am absolutely sorry and pained. This is a horrible situation.”
On Oct. 27, 2020, Senior U.S. District Court Judge Nicholas Garaufis sentenced Raniere to 120 years in prison and ordered him to pay a fine of $1,750,000, calling the NXIVM founder “ruthless and unyielding” in “particularly egregious” crimes that targeted girls and young women, the Associated Press reported.
The sentencing was handed down after a morning of listening to statements from 15 of Raniere’s victims, including sisters who became involved with him when they were teenagers. “I still hear his voice in my head, and it continues to be a daily struggle,” said one woman, who was 15 years old when Raniere began preying on her. The woman’s older sister, who was 16 when she became involved with Raniere, was confined to a room for nearly two years after she kissed another man. “You abused my innocent body, (messed) with my mind, and turned my family against me,” she said, per the Albany Times-Union.
During the sentencing, Raniere told the court, “I do believe I am innocent of the charges. It is true I am not remorseful of the crimes I do not believe I committed at all.”
Allison Mack, 38, is waiting to be sentenced for racketeering and racketeering conspiracy. She faces up to 40 years in prison (20 years for each count) and a maximum fine of $250,000.
Allison Mack, the 38-year-old actress best known for her Smallville role as young Clark Kent’s friend Chloe was, by many accounts, Keith Raniere’s top lieutenant in the NXIVM secret sorority DOS. The docuseries accuses Mack of recruiting women to be “slaves”; forcing them to hand over compromising material including nude photos as “collateral” and blackmailing them to keep them obedient; putting them on extreme weight-loss regimes and assigning them “penance” for mistakes; and initiating rituals that used a cauterizing pen, without anesthesia, to brand them with a symbol that incorporates Raniere’s initials and her own without their consent.
The Vow Season 1 finale shows Mack preparing to follow the authorities who arrested Raniere at the group’s hideout in Mexico in March 2018. In April 2018, Mack herself was arrested in Brooklyn by the FBI on charges of sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy, and forced labor conspiracy. Shortly thereafter, she pleaded not guilty to all charges and was released to her parents’ custody on $5 million bail, NBC News reported at the time.
In May 2018, The New York Times Magazine published a feature after being given a rare tour of NXIVM leadership and operations earlier in the year, before the arrests. In the story, Mack defended DOS’s “master/slave” dynamic and took full responsibility for creating the branding ritual, explaining, “I was like: ‘Y’all, a tattoo? People get drunk and tattooed on their ankle ‘BFF,’ or a tramp stamp. I have two tattoos and they mean nothing.’ ”
In April 2019, a year after she first pleaded not guilty, Mack reversed her plea just hours before jury selection was set to begin, taking a deal that allowed her to avoid going to trial with Raniere and Clare Bronfman, the Associated Press reported. During her hearing, Mack pleaded guilty to racketeering and racketeering conspiracy, tearfully admitted to her crimes — including obtaining “collateral” from women and threatening to make it public if they disobeyed her — and apologized to the women who were exploited by NXIVM. “I believed Keith Raniere’s intentions were to help people, and I was wrong,” Mack told the judge. “I must take full responsibility for my conduct and that is why I am pleading guilty today. I am and will be a better person as a result of this.”
Mack was scheduled to be sentenced in September 2019, but her sentencing was delayed, and she has yet to receive a new date, partly due to COVID-19 court closures. In the meantime, Mack wears a monitoring anklet and spends most of her time at her parents’ California home.
In an interview with CBS News in September 2020, Mack’s wife, former Battlestar Galactica actress Nicki Clyne, defended Raniere, NXIVM, and its branding ritual. When asked how Mack was doing, Clyne said, “I haven’t been able to speak to her for a year and half. Part of the conditions of her bail is that she can’t speak to anyone who is affiliated in any way with the case or NXIVM. This has been the hardest, most humbling experience of my life.”
Nancy Salzman, 66, is waiting to be sentenced for racketeering. She faces 33 to 41 months in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.
Before she met Keith Raniere, Nancy Salzman was a former psychiatric nurse, a trained hypnotist (according to several sources), and a self-proclaimed expert in neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) — an unproven method purported to change people’s thoughts via communication techniques.
Salzman and Raniere co-founded NXIVM’s Executive Success Programs (ESP) in 1998. The company would later become NXIVM, but ESP remained its “educational” arm, a self-help program that served as a recruiting ground for the pyramid scheme and gateway to the cult. Salzman, who developed the curriculum for ESP, was known to the group’s members as “Prefect” and served as president of NXIVM and second-in-command to Raniere’s “Vanguard.”
Days after Raniere’s arrest in March 2018, federal agents raided Salzman’s home in Halfmoon, a suburb of Albany, and seized more than $520,000 in cash, some of it hidden in shoeboxes, according to The New York Times Magazine. Four months later, in July 2018, Salzman was arrested along with her daughter Lauren Salzman, NXIVM bankroller Clare Bronfman, and NXIVM bookkeeper Kathy Russell. Salzman was charged with racketeering, specifically identity theft and altering records.
In March of 2019, Salzman pleaded guilty, admitting to making plans to obtain the email user names and passwords of perceived enemies of NXIVM, as well as editing recordings and destroying videotapes that the company didn’t want to hand over in a lawsuit. According to the New York Post, she sobbed in court as she apologized for bringing her daughter, Lauren Salzman, into NXIVM. “I want you to know I am pleading guilty because I am, in fact, guilty,” Salzman told the judge. “I accept that some of the things I did were not just wrong, but sometimes criminal. I justified them by saying that what we were doing was for the greater good. I am deeply sorry for the trouble I caused my daughter, the pain I caused my parents. … I still believe that some of what we did was good.”
Salzman was released on $5 million bail until her sentencing, which has yet to be scheduled. She is fitted with an ankle bracelet monitor and reportedly lives with her other daughter, Michelle, in Waterford, New York while she awaits sentencing.
Lauren Salzman, 44, is waiting to be sentenced for racketeering and racketeering conspiracy. She faces up to 40 years in prison (20 years for each count), but is likely to receive a lesser sentence for testifying at Raniere’s trial.
The daughter of NXIVM co-founder and president Nancy Salzman, Lauren Salzman served on NXIVM’s executive board, was the company’s head of education, and became one of the “first-line masters” in DOS, the organization’s clandestine “master/slave” women’s group.
Lauren Salzman was with Keith Raniere in his Mexico hideout in March 2018, helping him plan a group sex recommitment ceremony with several of the “first-line” women, when authorities came to arrest him, she later testified in court. He hid in a closet, leaving Salzman alone to face the officers, who were wielding machine guns. “Everything he taught us was this … what men do, what women do,” Salzman said in court. “And then he didn’t do it — and I did do it.” She called his name — a mistake she said she agonized over for months — and officers burst in to arrest him.
Four months later, in July 2018, Salzman was arrested along with her mother, Nancy Salzman, as well as NXIVM bankroller Clare Bronfman and NXIVM bookkeeper Kathy Russell. Salzman was charged with wire fraud conspiracy and racketeering, specifically trafficking, forced labor, and extortion.
In March 2019, Salzman pleaded guilty to racketeering and racketeering conspiracy and admitted she had recruited women to DOS. Two months later, she testified for the prosecution in Raniere’s trial — the only former defendant to do so — and described her own crimes, the lurid inner workings of the “master/slave” sex group of which Raniere was “grandmaster,” and the circumstances of his arrest in Mexico. Salzman testified that women in DOS made vows to become lifelong “slaves” to Raniere, The New York Times reported, and were subjected to brutal punishments such as being whipped with a leather strap and standing barefoot in the snow. Salzman admitted to participating in the group’s branding rituals, during which women were forced to disrobe and have Raniere’s initials branded on their pelvic areas with a cauterizing pen, without anesthesia. She also described the “master/slave” pyramid structure and the process for collecting compromising “collateral” from initiates in order to blackmail them — all part of a plan to enforce “total obedience and secrecy,” she told the court. Salzman was enlisted to write a handbook for DOS based on Raniere’s teachings. One of the manifesto’s passages shown in court read, “The best slave derives the highest pleasure from being her master’s ultimate tool. You surrender your life, mind, body for unconditional use.”
Salzman also admitted to coercing a woman to sign over multiple bank accounts and a car, and more disturbingly, she confessed to keeping a “slave” captive for two years after the woman expressed romantic interest in a man who was not Raniere, according to The Times-Union. “Of all the things that I did in this case and all the crimes that I admitted to, this was the worst thing I did,” Salzman said. “What can I say? I kept her in a room for two years.” NXIVM leaders abandoned the woman at the Mexican border with little money and no documents, Salzman testified.
Salzman, who was released on bail and required to wear a tracking anklet, remains under house arrest while she awaits a sentencing date.
Clare Bronfman, 42, was convicted last month of identity theft and harboring a woman who was brought to the United States on a fake work visa so Bronfman could exploit her labor. Bronfman was sentenced to nearly seven years in prison, and is being held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn until the prisons bureau decides where she will serve her sentence. Her lawyers are asking that she remain free while she appeals the sentence.
Bronfman is a daughter and heiress of late billionaire Edgar Bronfman Sr., the former chairman of Seagram’s liquor. Formerly a competitive equestrian, Bronfman was brought into NXIVM in 2002 by her sister, Sara Bronfman. Soon thereafter, according to Vanity Fair, the sisters began bankrolling multiple NXIVM projects while trying to hide their financial involvement with the organization from their father, who disapproved of NXIVM and called it “a cult” in a 2003 interview for a Forbes Magazine feature on Keith Raniere.
Clare Bronfman was appointed to NXIVM’s board, and over the next two decades served as the group’s financial muscle, sinking some $100 million into the organization. She paid for real estate, a private jet, and attorney fees, as well as allegedly covering Raniere’s failed bets in the commodities market, Vanity Fair reported.
Following Raniere’s arrest in March 2018, Bronfman took over NXIVM, moving its headquarters from Albany to Brooklyn, near the detention center where Raniere is being held, the New York Post reported. Three months later, the company announced on its website that it was suspending its operations.
Bronfman was arrested in July 2018, along with NXIVM co-founder Nancy Salzman, DOS leader Lauren Salzman, and NXIVM bookkeeper Kathy Russell. Bronfman was charged with racketeering conspiracy, including identity theft, encouraging and inducing illegal immigration, and money laundering. She was released on $100 million bond and placed under house arrest. In April of 2019, she pleaded guilty to fraudulent use of identification and conspiracy to harbor and conceal immigrants who were not in the United States legally, Reuters reported. Bronfman admitted that she helped Raniere use the credit card of late NXIVM member Pamela Cafritz after she died of cancer. She also confessed to harboring a Mexican woman who was brought to the country on a fake work visa so that she and NXIVM could exploit her labor.
Despite her plea deal, Bronfman has remained loyal to Raniere and NXIVM. In a letter to Senior U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis, she wrote, “Many people, including most of my own family, believe I should disavow Keith and NXIVM, and that I have not is hard for them to understand and accept. However, for me, NXIVM and Keith greatly changed my life for the better,” The New York Times reported. She also wrote, “I never believed I was supporting anything bad or wrong, I never wanted to shield anyone from criminal behavior, I never intended to intimidate people,” CNN reported.
On Sept. 30, 2020, Bronfman was sentenced to 81 months (6 years and 9 months) in prison, a harsher sentence than prosecutors had asked for. Judge Garaufis condemned Bronfman for serving as Raniere’s “accomplice” in NXIVM’s efforts to threaten, silence, and exact revenge on defectors, using “her wealth and privilege as a sword.” Judge Garaufis was unswayed by Bronfman’s lawyers’ arguments that she was less-to-blame because she was ignorant about DOS until media reports exposed the “master/slave” sex group. “Ms. Bronfman came to learn details about DOS and faced a choice as to whose interests she would protect: Raniere’s or his victims’,” the judge said, per the New York Post. “She chose Raniere unequivocally, and to this day she has not clearly apologized.” In addition to her prison sentence, Bronfman was ordered to pay a fine of $500,000 and more than $96,000 in restitution to a woman for forced labor, as well as to forfeit $6 million in accordance with her plea deal.
Bronfman was immediately taken to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where Raniere also is being held. But on Oct. 6, 2020, the judge agreed to recommend that Bronfman serve her sentence at a minimum-security facility in Danbury, Connecticut, according to The Times-Union. The prisons bureau will make the final decision. In the meantime, Bronfman’s attorneys are requesting that she remain free while she appeals the sentence, arguing that she has a liver condition that would put her at greater risk should she contract COVID-19 in prison.
India Oxenberg, 29, left NXIVM after Keith Raniere’s arrest. She details her experience in four-part documentary series titled Seduced: Inside The Nxivm Cult, which debuted Sunday on Starz.
Oxenberg, the daughter of Dynasty actress Catherine Oxenberg, became involved in NXIVM after she and her mother attended an introductory Executive Success Programs (ESP) course in 2011.
Over the course of seven years, India Oxenberg became close with Raniere and his inner circle, including Allison Mack, and was recruited to join the secret “master/slave” sorority DOS in 2015. She handed over nude photos and family secrets as “collateral”; she was branded with what she was told was a Latin symbol for the elements but actually was a combination of Raniere and Mack’s initials; and she was tasked with seducing Raniere, she told People Magazine. Oxenberg said she was groomed and indoctrinated, telling Vanity Fair that she believed her punishments from Mack, her starvation diet, and her prescribed oral sex sessions with Raniere were ways for her to prove her strength and work through intimacy issues. “I was coerced and manipulated and believed what I was doing was helping me when I was really just serving Keith,” she told People.
Oxenberg’s mother, Catherine, staged interventions, worked with defectors and journalists to expose NXIVM’s criminal activity, delivered evidence to the FBI, and even wrote a book appealing to her daughter in an attempt to draw her out of the cult. But the younger Oxenberg remained loyal to the group, even after Raniere’s arrest in March 2018. When Mack was arrested the following month, Oxenberg packed up Mack’s belongings for her, but held onto a few things she thought were too personal to put in storage, including a box of flash drives, she told Vanity Fair. Months later, after moving to her mom’s home in Malibu, Oxenberg decided to see what was on the flash drives and discovered audio recordings of Raniere “masterminding DOS’s darkest details,” according to Vanity Fair, including dictating the specifics of the branding rituals and recommending methods of coercion. “That was a huge, huge moment for me,” Oxenberg told the magazine. “When I heard those flash drives, I could not go back to thinking the way that I had.”
After she left NXIVM and went to the FBI, Oxenberg closely guarded her privacy, using the next two years to heal and put some distance between herself and over-simplified headlines that labeled her a “sex slave.” She designed a mandala-style tattoo to cover her brand. She got a job as a manager of a New York eatery and met a chef at another restaurant, Patrick D’Ignazio, to whom she is now engaged.
Recently, Oxenberg has begun to open up about her NXIVM experience. During coronavirus quarantine she wrote a memoir, titled Still Learning, which released in audio form on Oct. 27, the same day Raniere was sentenced to 120 years in prison. And along with filmmakers Cecilia Peck and Inbal B. Lessner, she executive-produced the Starz docuseries Seduced: Inside The NXIVM Cult, which premiered on Oct. 18.
The Starz series follows Oxenberg’s own experience within NXIVM, detailing how she slowly became ensnared.
“I’d love to continue writing and doing work like this,” she told Vanity Fair. “I’ve learned so much from being an EP, and from working with the other women: It’s totally reinvigorated me. … I feel like if there’s anything that you can do to heal, it’s to take your pain and turn it into something positive.”
The Vow, from the Emmy-winning filmmaking team Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer, will return for Season 2 in 2021. Season 1 is available to stream on HBO Max. The new docuseries Seduced: Inside The Nxivm Cult airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on Starz.