How NXIVM Really Did 'Change the World' - 2020-09-11
I found myself sitting on Edmondson's sectional couch with a handful of her friends and colleagues from NXIVM, the cultish self-help company she'd helped popularize among actors in Vancouver. Edmondson was a senior proctor and recruiter for the company until she left and became a whistleblower in 2017. We were about to watch an A&E documentary on cults and extreme belief —the first of many television hours that would try to make sense of the now-infamous NXIVM story.
NXIVM, pronounced Nex-ee-um, was a goal-setting program full of idealistic people who wanted to make a difference in the world. Or at least that's what students who signed up were led to believe. Behind the scenes, something unthinkable started happening: women handed over blackmail material believing it was an edgy exercise in facing fears, and that blackmail material was then leveraged to extract naked photos, secrets, assets, and in some cases their participation in sexual acts with NXIVM's founder Keith Raniere. The secret scheme, which branded women and called them slaves, would eventually lead to Raniere's conviction for sex trafficking, racketeering, and other crimes.
That viewing party in 2018 wasn't the last time Edmondson would offer me something exceedingly health-conscious to eat, and it certainly wasn't the last time a documentary would try to unpack the group's so-called world-changing mission. The latest nine-part series on HBO The Vow is the most comprehensive effort yet, with a first episode that hits many of the company's purported selling points: language immersion for kids (not licensed), Tourette's and OCD research (not peer reviewed), and classes that taught people how to get out of their own way.