The last six months have been a bizarre time for all of us, with limited social interaction, even less traveling, and a disgusting amount of TV. As a society, we’ve moved from one TV obsession to another, because let’s face it, we all have the time. Currently, I can’t stop thinking about The Vow, and judging from what I see on social media (and the fact that both my roommates are also hooked), I’m not alone.
The Vow, a nine-part HBO limited series, is an in-depth look into the NXIVM organization, which was all over the news in the last couple years after several of its founders and high-ranking members were sentenced to prison time for their shady practices. At the time, I didn’t know much about NXIVM—it was a sex cult, that woman from Smallville was involved, there was a creepy main dude named Keith. But in its first six episodes, The Vow has taken us down a terrifying complex path, complete with a shocking number of phone and video recordings, fascinating interview subjects, and a story that’s almost hard to believe.
While the original nine-episode season ended last weekend, HBO confirmed last week that there will be a second season of The Vow. I’ve seen some people complaining that they’re drawing it out too much, but personally, I’m very excited. The finale left off on a total cliffhanger, and there are more than a few topics that I still need some major details on. Here are some of the wildest moments from The Vow, along with things we need in season 2.
Before we even get to the really bad stuff, we need to discuss the late-night volleyball sessions. Basically, NXIVM first got people involved through costly seminars that focused on how you could harness your fears and emotions and be more successful in your life. Pretty standard stuff. But as people got more invested, the program quickly got more intense. For people working their way up, one of the only ways to get face-time with founder Keith Raniere was to show up to late night volleyball. Like, this sh*t started at 1am. There’s literally no one in the world I would wake up in the middle of the night and play volleyball for, so this was a huge red flag for me. In between games (matches? idk), everyone would sit on the sidelines and listen to Keith talk, and presumably try not to laugh at how ridiculous he looked in that headband.
One of the most unsettling moments came when Allison Mack, famous actress and eventual NXIVM ringleader, came to her first volleyball session and sat down to chat with Keith. With a camera right up in her face, Keith basically tells her how acting is a stupid profession, and she starts crying like she’s had some groundbreaking revelation. That man just sh*t all over her career, and she was like “wow, yes, more of this please!” Yikes all around.
2. Keith’s Relationships
As the ringleader of what was exposed as a sex cult, it’s not shocking that Keith was having sex with a lot of his followers, but some of the specifics are especially concerning. Going all the way back to the early 2000s, Keith was dating Barbara Bouchey, a high-level member of NXIVM. At the time, she thought they were in a monogamous relationship, but it turned out Keith was sleeping with several women whom he shared a house with. Barbara was obviously upset, but when she broke up with Keith, she intended to keep the business side of things normal. Keith wasn’t down with that, and he started ignoring Barbara and turned other high-level members against her. When she eventually left the group, she tried to get back a large amount of money she was owed, and NXIVM brought extortion charges against her.
Keith also had a relationship with Lauren Salzman, the daughter of NXIVM co-founder Nancy Salzman. Lauren, who was in the top tier of DOS (more on that in a second), was purportedly in love with Keith, and people interviewed in The Vow say that he had promised her a baby for years. This never happened, and while Keith was having a relationship with Lauren, he was also sleeping with many other women in the group. Basically, for nearly two decades he was just having sex with anyone he wanted, without much regard for the women who were literally in love with him.
3. The Master/Slave Relationship
Much of The Vow revolves around DOS, a secret subset of NXIVM specifically for women (still founded by Keith, of course). DOS revolved around a strict dominant/submissive relationship between members, and each new member became their master’s “slave.” Basically, it was like a cult-themed pyramid scheme, with Keith at the very top, and the female members branching off from him. For members of DOS, nearly every aspect of their life was controlled through texts with their master: permission to go to sleep. Permission to text other people. Permission to eat a specific number of calories. The calorie part, which is low-key reminiscent of Teddi Mellencamp’s accountability pr0gram, was designed to keep the women thin—just the way Keith liked them.
Members of DOS took lifetime vows, and were required to provide their masters with “collateral.” This took various forms from personal confessions and secrets to financial commitments to nude photos. New collateral was required frequently, and it was at the master’s discretion whether a piece of collateral was sufficient. Ex-member Sarah Edmondson, who is featured prominently in The Vow, was at one point encouraged by her master to use the deed to her home as collateral. While this collateral was framed as a necessary commitment to the vow the members had taken, in practice it was meant to create a deep vault of information that could be used as blackmail.
There are a lot of cringeworthy details about NXIVM and specifically DOS, but I’m not sure I’ve ever felt as uncomfortable as I did when Sarah Edmondson described the experience of being branded in Allison Mack’s basement. Members of DOS viewed the branding as a beautiful experience, but it sounds scary as hell. Things only got worse when Edmondson realized that the brand contained both Allison Mack and Keith Raniere’s initials—even though Keith claimed he had nothing to do with DOS. When Keith was confronted by a follower about his initials being on the brand, he responded that “no one would care” if it was the initials of Bill Gates or Abraham Lincoln. To anyone who is reading this, you do NOT have permission to brand me with the initials of Abraham Lincoln.
6. The Mexico Stuff
Earlier in the series, it was noted that NXIVM had a large following in Mexico, made up largely of wealthy, influential people including the son of a former President. This was casually referenced throughout the series, but in episode nine, we finally started to get a deeper look at Keith’s relationship with the Mexican branch of NXIVM. According to the press release about season 2, this will be a major topic moving forward, which is great. Personally, I still feel like I don’t understand exactly how this group of people got involved in NXIVM, and there’s clearly some dark sh*t to unpack there.
7. Trials & Sentencing
By the later half of season 1, it was clear that this story wasn’t going to be finished in nine episodes, and the season basically ended with many of NXIVM’s top people getting arrested. TALK ABOUT A CLIFFHANGER. With Raniere, Nancy Salzman, Allison Mack, the Bronfmans, and more behind bars, I’m eager to see how the legal battle plays out. In season 1, we didn’t get much info about the actual criminal case that was being built against the organization, so a little courtroom drama sounds like a nice change of pace.
Also, in the last couple minutes of season one, they played that chilling audio clip of Keith Raniere, speaking from prison about how we only got one side of the story. I’m really curious to see if Keith is interviewed in season 2, because I have a feeling he would have some choice words for people like Bonnie and Mark. Only time will tell!
Catherine Oxenburg was a main presence throughout the first season, as she worked to get her daughter out of the harmful D.O.S. group. We didn’t really get much closure on what happened with India Oxenburg, which is funny, because she now has her own series on Starz that premiered this week. Who knows if she’ll be involved with season 2 of The Vow, but I hope she is, because tbh I don’t have the energy to watch another NXIVM show right now (or a Starz log-in, for that matter).
We’ll have to wait until next year for more episodes of The Vow, but HBO already released a teaser trailer to make sure that they don’t lose our attention.
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Images: Courtesy of HBO (3); HBO / YouTube
In “Justice Is Finally Served” News of the week, cult leader Keith Raniere was just found guilty and faces up to life in prison when he is sentenced on September 25th. The jury took less than half a day to decide this because, no sh*t, he’s a piece of sh*t.
If you aren’t familiar with NXIVM, it was a sex cult under the guise of being a “self-help” group that was extremely brutal and abusive to women. Pronounced like the heartburn medication Nexium (sorry, their public relations team), it was built on members recruiting new members to try and advance their “personal growth,” and particularly in Hollywood, their careers. If you’re interested in a full on deep-dive into their inner workings, and how Smallville is involved, I recommend our podcast Not Another True Crime Podcast’s most recent episode that goes all into this. Listen below.
But, for the quick rundown, here’s what happened with his trial: Raniere was found guilty of racketeering and sex trafficking after a six-week trial that exposed the disgusting and painful details of what he made his “members” go through.
As previously mentioned, NXIVM found a way to work itself into Hollywood and get some high-profile members to join, like Smallville actress Allison Mack and Seagram liquor heir Clare Bronfman, who were also found guilty on various other charges. The main sex cult aspect of the organization is actually a sub-group of NXIVM, known as D.O.S. (which translates from Latin to “Lord/Master of the Obedient Female Comapnions, cool) where Raniere would make women perform sex on him or other members of the cult and also brand them with a painful tattoo that ended up being the shape of Keith and Allison’s initials.
Additionally, he would basically make them create blackmail for themselves—either with naked photos or videotaped confessions where they would say awful things about their family members and friends to hold over them if they tried to leave. One woman even went so far as to falsely report her dad for sexually abusing her to their local newspaper.
From there, he would have women starve themselves in order to get to the body type he found appealing, making them both too weak to fight or think about how unfairly they were treated. All around, he is an awful human who is getting the least of what he deserves. See ya in hell, Keith!!
Images: Keith Raniere Conversations / Youtube
There comes a time in every young, budding journalist’s life when they must sit in a café and whisper to themselves, “wtf is up with celebs and sex cults?” This is precisely what just happened to me after stumbling across the news that former Smallville actress Allison Mack was arrested for her involvement in the sex cult NXIVM. Was this opening line an excuse for me to refer to myself as “young” and “budding?” Maybe. Was “journalist” the biggest stretch in terms of descriptions for myself in that sentence? Definitely. Anyway, the point is, Allison Mack is going to trial for being a recruiter for a sex cult and it’s just like, why are people trying to make sex cults happen?
So, what exactly was this sex cult’s deal? Great Q. It was called DOS or “dominus obsequious sororium,” Latin for “master over the slave women,” naturally. Allison Mack was allegedly a recruiter for the cult. Not to be insensitive, but like, tbh that’s a pretty hard job. Tough sell, man. Like, what exactly was her pitch strategy?
Allison Mack: Hey girl, wanna join my cult? It’s called “master over slave women” and it’s v chill and honestly we’re just here to have fun. You will totes love.
The cult is part of a group called Nxivm, which has reportedly branded its female members. The cult leader is Keith Raniere, and he allegedly made women of the group go on close to starvation diets so as to meet his beauty standards. He himself looks like a garden gnome with a middle part and is completely unfuckable, if you can believe. Also, of course his name is fucking Keith.
Allison Mack and Keith Raniere were both charged with sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy, and forced labor conspiracy. Allison Mack pleaded not guilty on Friday, and will appear in court for a bail hearing today. This is all very dark and fucked up, and our hearts go out to any of the women who were affected by this atrocity.
Moral of the story is celebs, or anyone for that matter – looking at you, Keith – need to cool it with the sex cults. And that is my hot take. Ttyl, going to go into a wormhole of a Googling cults and then probs top it off with a Netflix documentary.
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