How Clare Bronfman Spun NXIVM to Herself

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Clare Bronfman was always one of the biggest mysteries of the NXIVM case. How did the heir to the Seagram fortune, with every opportunity and upper hand that vast wealth provided, wind up in the grips of—and often bankroll to—a multilevel marketing self-help scheme turned sex cult?

Bronfman, who formed part of leader Keith Raniere’s inner circle with her sister, Sara, is currently serving an 81-month prison sentence for her role in NXIVM. She was my point of entry as I reported on NXIVM for Vanity Fair and The New York Times. I interviewed her about a half-dozen times and always found nothing short of a true believer.

I was struck by how absolute she was in her conviction as I revisited the NXIVM story for my forthcoming podcast, Infamous. One conversation in particular captured her thought process when she was trying to run damage control for the group ahead of indictments.

In an exclusive interview I had with Bronfman at a NXIVM self-help center, in the winter of 2017, she argued that NXIVM was deeply misunderstood. Calling Raniere “just a student of life,” she said, “He wants to empower people. I mean, quite frankly, I travel a ton and I don’t find people in general happy. There’s a lot of ugly stuff in the world. Keith has tools that can help.”

Bronfman had at this point been part of NXIVM for over a decade. As Vanity Fair reported in 2010, legal filings and public documents showed   she gave more than $100 million to the group, including about $66 million that Raniere allegedly invested in the commodities market in hopes of creating more wealth. He lost nearly all $66 million.

“The hardest thing for me, honestly, is the capacity that we have to do things in the world and how that’s being destroyed,” Bronfman said, speaking about NXIVM. “It’s sad to me, because it oftentimes is made about this sex thing as opposed to what we can do in the world and the tools that we have. That’s hard. Because, in my opinion, it’s so silly, so secondary to what’s important.” When asked who was sleeping with Raniere, and the dynamic around sex in NXIVM, Bronfman responded, “I think that there are some people [for whom] sex is very intimate, and it’s not something that’s taken lightly. Um, I believe Keith is on that end of the spectrum. It’s not just, you know, sex isn’t just sex for the sake of sex.”

Bronfman also made it clear that her motivation to support NXIVM stemmed directly from her desire to emulate the success of her father, Edgar Bronfman Sr. “When my dad died, I got letters from people of gratitude,” she said. “My father shifted things. I mean, he left an impact. I want to do that too.” She added that NXIVM is not a cult. “There’s nothing we do that’s bad. And I think cult implies bad.”

Bronfman’s commitment to NXIVM, and her role in enabling it, would turn out to be just one thread in Infamous’s reinvestigation of the scandal, which includes reckoning with the role of power and money in the group, as well as Raniere’s use of Smallville’s Allison Mack as his puppet.

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1 comment

  1. Clare Bronfman was cult leader Keith Raniere’s primary and pivotal enabler. Without the millions of dollars the Seagram’s heiress Tirelessly poured into NXIVM Raniere would not have been able to hurt and harass so many people.

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