New York State In-depth

Allison Mack was “a seeker”: “notorious” anchor for being NXIVM’s designated reporter and interviewing members

A few years ago, Vanessa Grigoriadis began telling the story of her life. This story would take them to a suburb north of Albany, New York and a mysterious location in Mexico. This story would put her in front of everyone from Clare Bronfman, heiress to the Seagram fortune, to “Smallville” actress Allison Mack. All in search of the history of NXIVM, a group originally founded as a (now defunct) corporation by Keith Raniere that sold personal development courses and videos for a price.

Starting out as a multi-level marketing company, NXIVM offered seminars such as the Executive Success Programs and eventually had an estimated 16,000 members. Women within the organization were used to recruit more women for clandestine groups within the group that used coercive techniques such as threats and blackmail. Women were branded and sexually abused.

Grigoriadis was chosen by the group to tell their story. As such, she was given unparalleled access to her headquarters, members, and the group’s leader himself, Raniere. Grigoriadis reported on her findings in a series of high-profile, in-depth articles for The New York Times Magazine and Vanity Fair.

I was starting to see it almost as a cookie cutter cult.”

Now Grigoriadis is telling the story in a new miniseries for Infamous, her podcast with fellow journalist Gabriel Sherman. The five-episode series features exclusive interviews with Raniere, Bronfman and Mack. For her involvement, Mack was sentenced to three years in prison and three years probation after pleading guilty to racketeering and other charges. Bronfman was sentenced to nearly seven years in prison, more than the recommended sentence, and Raniere is serving a 120-year sentence after his conviction on federal charges including sex trafficking and child pornography procession.

Salon spoke to Grigoriadis about NXIVM, what makes it a cult, and why some of its most famous members, like Mack, may have joined the group now commonly known as the “sex cult.”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How did your interest in NXIVM come about?

I hadn’t known much about it until 2017, when a male colleague called me and said that NXIVM was interested in speaking to a magazine reporter for a long article. And he had spoken to them at some length and thought it more likely that a woman should tell the story.

How would you describe the cult?

“PPeople always want to be part of a group that appears to have people inside them they think they are.”

They were based in Albany, New York. They were relatively small considering how much money was in circulation and how many celebrities or sons and daughters of celebrities were in the group. I talk a lot on “Infamous” about not being sure what to make of them at first. But as I got to know them better and better, my first thought was: I don’t want to call them a cult unless I’m sure. I want to make sure I don’t apply this label too indiscriminately. When I got to know her I started to see it almost as a cookie cutter cult. It uses so many tactics that are just common cult tactics. It’s kind of extraordinary. And people have been talking about how maybe there isn’t that much new in NXIVM [but] much “cut ‘n paste” from another cult.

Can you share what some of those tactics were?

The classes. People throughout the coverage of NXIVM sometimes lost the fact that these many hour long courses were a big part of people’s daily lives in the cult by attending seminars. And as we know from large group awareness training, as they are called, over time we put a group of people in the same room for days to talk about their problems and how we frame their problems for about 12 to 14 hours am Day, can be a cult. It’s really about aligning people to a new reality, a new discourse. . . I think they did. Control over food is another really clear cult tactic. The way they describe the war between good and evil, that there are some people who are just irredeemable, and they’ve taken the doom, as they like to say.

You mention the phrase “celebrity daughters”. So many women that we would describe as “strong” or with many privileges became part of NXIVM. What do you think was the appeal for her?

I still struggle with some of them today. I mean, I think there are a lot of tactics that NXIVM used that just about everyone is susceptible to. But I also think that in our world, like follows like, and people always want to be part of a group that seems like it has people inside it that they think they are. And I think having celebrity actresses and having the sisters who are heirs to the Seagram fortune gave NXIVM that shine of respectability and that feeling that you’re in the crowd. I think that helped them attract a lot of people.

What was it like being the person chosen by the group to tell the story of NXIVM and having all the access you had? Were there times when you feared for your safety?

I didn’t fear for my safety. I think some weird things happened that were a step beyond phishing emails that I thought were related to it, weird ways they tried to figure out what I was doing. I didn’t feel like they would physically attack me. I figured if there was a way they could break into my computer they might have tried.

Keith Raniere”was like Oz; he was so unassuming.”

And you met Keith Raniere personally. Can you describe this experience?

I mean, when I met Keith, I had met a lot of the inner circle members before. . . Part of the reason for positioning him as Oz was that he was like Oz; he was so unassuming. And I think everyone who has seen a documentary or listened to an NXIVM podcast is asking this question, which is: How did these people follow Keith? If you see old David Koresh videos, people can kind of understand the charisma. But Keith was anti-charismatic.

It made me even more convinced that everything in NXIVM was an illusion. This guy was the leader?

It’s really like Oz: “Don’t pay attention to the man behind the curtain”. One of the prominent people in the group you met was actress Allison Mack. Why did she say she joined?

She said she was a seeker. And she was a person trying to find meaning in life. She had come across NXIVM and felt like she was looking for it. And then she felt that her passion for acting had fizzled out too, and that she wanted Keith to help her make her a great actress again, that Keith had the tools to help her achieve that goal.

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Have you heard from the people in the group you’ve spoken to since you started covering it?

No, I haven’t heard from them. People who are imprisoned, no.

Any more stories to tell about NXIVM? Does the group still function at a certain level?

I’m sure there are more stories to tell. There are tons of people who have not told their stories publicly. I don’t know if they will ever choose to do that. I’m not sure about your last question. I don’t think they’re really working, but there’s certainly a group of people in New York who are on The Vow season two who have stayed loyal to Keith.

Infamous is a podcast produced by Campside Media and Sony Music Entertainment. Listen to episodes through Apple Podcasts.

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