I need to confess straight up that I am 100% one of those basic white girls who simply cannot get enough true crime documentaries. I love them. I live for them. As soon as a new one drops I cannot hit play fast enough. So obviously my remote just about exploded when the new four-part documentary series Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult hit Stan.
NXIVM, the so-called “sex cult”, hit headlines in 2018 when founder Keith Raniere was arrested and charged with various crimes, including sex trafficking, forced labor, child pornography and racketeering. What was perhaps the wildest detail was that former Smallville actress Allison Mack was basically second-in-charge of the sex cult and was also arrested and charged that same year. In the aftermath of the highly-publicised trial, more cooked details about NXIVM are coming out, with one survivor’s story told in Seduced.
India Oxenberg first came into contact with the organisation in 2011 when she was 19, and spent five years as a member before she became part of Raniere’s secret sex society DOS (Dominus Obsequious Sororium, Latin for “Master over Slave Women”). Seduced tells India’s story, but also delves into the experiences of other women who were members of NXIVM and hoo boy, it’s truly messed up. And it’s seriously compelling viewing, even if you aren’t a basic white girl who lives for true crime.
Here’s some nuggets from Episode 1:
NXIVM used self-help as a cover
It’s a pretty common tactic, because most people don’t get sucked into cults from Googling “cults in my area”. In the case of NXIVM, it was purportedly an “executive training program” that hooked people in to attending their seminars. Cult 101: preying on people who are vulnerable and seeking guidance and manipulating them into joining / spending thousands of dollars / recruiting others. India was one of those people, first attending what she thought was a self-help course (albeit a super expensive one) with her mother, actor Catherine Oxenberg.
Keith Raniere is perhaps the creepiest person ever
While other famous cult leaders – Jim Jones, Charles Manson etc – manipulated members with their magnetic presence and big personalities, Raniere is just a short, awkward little creep who kisses everyone on the mouth. Posing as one of the “most intelligent men in the world”, the doco shows how Raniere was actually just a conman who had operated pyramid schemes in the past. And because he is also a narcissistic psychopath and sexual predator, he realised he could create another pyramid scheme that serviced his other sick desires – and so NXIVM was born.
The cult weaponised women
One way to get a woman to trust you is to be a woman. We’re conditioned to be on our toes around men we don’t know, but we naturally feel a kinship with other ladies, and that’s how Keith Raniere got so many women to join his cult. In fact, one of the former members makes the point that “[Raniere] was the wolf, we were the sheep’s clothing.” There’s Nancy Salzman, the president of NXIVM who was the face of the welcome videos when you first attended a seminar and basically the highest “coach” in the organisation. Not to mention Allison Mack, whose part of the story hasn’t featured in Seduced yet, but we know she helped recruit sex slaves and had the horrible idea to physically brand these women by burning initials onto their stomachs.
The whole thing was bankrolled by women
In footage taken from a NXIVM gathering, Raniere admits he’d be nowhere without the help of sisters Sara and Clare Bronfman, billionaire heiresses to the Seagram’s alcohol fortune. In the doco it’s alleged the sisters provided a huge US $200 million in funding to NXIVM during the 18-odd years they were members of the organisation. Both sisters have been named as defendants in a mass action lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of 80 NXIVM victims earlier this year.
Princess Elizabeth is the real MVP
Long story short, but India Oxenberg is basically royalty, as her grandmother Elizabeth Karadordevic was actually once Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia and is Prince Charles’ second cousin. No joke. Anyway, she only features in Seduced very briefly but is a much-needed bright spot in a pretty bleak story, recalling a time her daughter Catherine hosted an event for Jness (NXIVM’s so-called “women’s collective”) and Elizabeth immediately knew something was fishy. She says in retrospect that she “should have maybe been more rude” to the NXIVM people, and I am very much here for that kind of energy.
Only one ep has dropped so far, so there’s no doubt going to be more insanely cooked details about NXIVM and hopefully a lot more of Princess Elizabeth.
New episodes are fast-tracked every Sunday at 5pm, only on Stan.