The Vow, HBO’s harrowing new documentary, reveals many of the inner workings of the NXIVM cult, including the existence of different groups within the larger organization. Not only were there smaller sub-groups, but NXIVM also attempted to reach out even further, with sponsored programs like the Rainbow Cultural Garden, a chain of childcare/education locations that claimed to teach children seven different languages at once, according to the Miami New Times. Among all this, three main groups emerged as exclusive circles that claimed to empower their members while actually drawing them deeper into the cult and Keith Raniere’s manipulations. Here’s what to know about each one:
According to a New York Times exposé,
Also part of the indoctrination: the idea that men were naturally polyamorous and women were not, so women needed to be okay with their male partners have multiple other girlfriends. Followers actually paid huge sums of money to take these so-called workshops: the NYT reported that it was an eleven-session series, with each individual, eight-day session costing $5,000.
Society of Protectors
The Society of Protectors was the exclusive men’s club within NXIVM. A member told the NYT that “each huddle of men would become others’ support system, and if, say, you had a new house you needed to paint, they would show up with roller brushes in hand.” But the society also had a strange system of accountability, punishing the whole group for each individual’s “failings.” For instance, “if a man didn’t ‘uphold’ his word about running, perhaps the whole group would forgo the next morning’s coffee.”
Also known as “the Vow,” DOS is the sub-group that gained the most attention and that, ultimately, led to the charges being filed against Raniere and other NXIVM leaders. Described by members as a “sorority” and named Dominus Obsequious Sororium (slightly improper Latin for “master over obedient female companions”), the secret inner circle – associated with Allison Mack, among others – was the site of the most disturbing goings-on in the organization. According to the NYT, it functioned on a recruitment system: each woman was recruited by a “master” and was encouraged to recruit more “slaves,” but members claimed it was a self-empowerment group, not anything scandalous.
The reality, as was slowly exposed, was much worse. One means of “proving” sisterhood was to sleep with Raniere, which was encouraged as a means of overcoming sexual trauma. Other requirements included intense dieting (reportedly, because Raniere preferred extremely thin women), giving up embarrassing “collateral” such as secret confessions or explicit photos to ensure that one wouldn’t reveal the group’s secrets, and getting branded with a rendering of Raniere’s initials in a ritual ceremony. One former member testified in court that she was literally held captive for two years in an isolation room, brainwashed into believing that she deserved it and that even her family was colluding to keep her there, and threatened with deportation if she did try to break free.