Anyone can fall prey to cults

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f you’ve been watching documentaries like HBO’s “The Vow” or STARZ’s “Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult,” both of which are about the multi-level-marketing company and alleged cult NXIVM, or really any documentary about cults, you’ve probably asked yourself – could I fall for a cult?

Many probably quickly dismiss the probability they’d fall susceptible to a cult, but it’s more likely to occur than you might think. In fact, some of the most talented and smartest individuals have fallen prey to cults.

Currently there are an estimated 10,000 cults in the United States alone, according to deprogrammer and cult specialist Rick Alan Ross, who gave the statistic on Dr. Phil. There are even millions more cults worldwide.

Chances are very likely you’ve had, or will have, multiple run ins with cults in your lifetime. It’s even possible you’ve already had or will have one recommended to you by a friend or family member, which is the most common way people are introduced to cults, according to Janja Lalich, a sociologist, writer and cult expert.

Lalich defines a cult as, “a sharply-bounded social group or a diffusely-bounded social movement held together through shared commitment to a charismatic leader.”

According to Lalich, cults can look very different from each other. Some cults may be a religious group, a fitness class, alternative community, self-help seminar or even a multi-marketing scheme.

I personally fell for NXIVM – an umbrella organization and self-help multi-level marketing company that was previously based in Albany, New York, and had several other centers worldwide. Its “charismatic leader” and founder, Keith Raniere, also known as “Vanguard” by members of the group, was sentenced in 2020 to 120 years in prison for racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, sex trafficking, attempted sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy, forced labor conspiracy and wire fraud conspiracy.

In 2008, I signed up to became a member of an online community aimed to help 12-20 year old girls and young women build their self-esteem and build social connections.

When I joined the group, I was a shy-meek 19-year-old who had just graduated high school and was getting ready to start college. I joined the online community because I was looking for anything that could help me improve my self-esteem and prepare me for college. The community looked like it could help me achieve my goals.

What I didn’t know at the time was that the group was lead by coaches for NXIVM’s Executive Success Programs, NXIVM’s personal and professional development company. The girls group also had several other participants who were also in ESP and it was also supported by several NXIVM leaders who were in the chat groups.

The girls group released numerous columns that I enjoyed reading and I participated in several forums and discussions.

In 2009, the girls group advertised a retreat they were hosting in California. I wanted to participate, but I was too old and it was only open to teens in Los Angeles. When I expressed by disappointment that I could not attend, an individual associated with the girls recommended I check out NXIVM’s ESP and the company’s new program, Jness, that was a program that helped women with their personal growth. It was suggested by the individual it could help provide me with an environment similar to the girls group.

After I received the recommendation, I went to NXIVM’s website and researched ESP and Jness. I was very interested in joining after reading about the programs and wanted to join. What I didn’t notice though were several negative news articles from multiple media organizations that delved into the dangers of the company.

Next, I gave NXIVM a call because after researching ESP and Jness I was concerned about the high costs of the workshops and classes that cost $7,500 or more. A woman who answered my phone call asked me about my age (19 at the time), education level (freshman in college) and what major I was going into college for (journalism). The woman then told me of what she called a “work-study option,” but I would need to pay upfront for the five-day and 16-day workshops called “intensives” and then I could do the work-study option by moving to Albany.

I unfortunately didn’t see the red flags then, not realizing I was being offered a form of indentured servitude, and I immediately started saving up to take the intensives. Luckily, I found out NXIVM was a cult two years later when I had almost saved enough and was ready to sign up for the intensives.

Not long before I was about to sign-up, I came across an edition of Vanity Fair when I was home on Thanksgiving vacation. I skimmed through the magazine and came across the article called “The Heiresses and the Cult,” which was about Seagram heiresses and sisters Clare and Sara Bronfman’s involvement with NXIVM.

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1 comment

  1. Anyone can be deceived. And NXIVM was a deceptive cult that lied to potential members, which can be seen as a “bait and switch” scam. What you think you have signed up for is a sham. You are tricked and then trapped in the cult.

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