If you haven’t yet heard about the scandal surrounding “self-help group” NXIVM, consider this a warning: details of this group’s actions are shocking and disturbing to read. This morning, Allison Mack of of Smallville fame fame appeared in court to enter a guilty plea for charges related to her involvement with the group. According to People, Mack pled guilty to charges of racketeering and racketeering conspiracy, following the prosecution’s accusation that she recruited sex slaves for NXIVM co-founder Keith Raniere. Previously, Mack had pleaded not guilty to charges of sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy and forced labor conspiracy.
NXIVM first gained public attention in 2017, when Dynasty actress Catherine Oxenburg spoke out about her daughter’s involvement with the illicit organization. Since then, there has been an outpouring of alarming information about the group, which co-founder Raniere referred to as the umbrella organization for a number of self-help courses. In 2015, according to court records, Raniere began a secret society within NXIVM called DOS, “an acronym for a Latin phrase that loosely translates to ‘Lord/Master of the Obedient Female Companions.’” Mack, who is publicly shown to have co-created a NXIVM program called The Source, is believed to have been a key recruiter for this society, specifically targeting fellow actors.
DOS, and NXIVM as a whole, combined aspects of pyramid schemes and outright sex cults. NXIVM courses cost thousands, and participants were encouraged to recruit new members in exchange for higher “ranking.” Members were told at the onset that DOS was a women-only organization, and led to believe that the organization’s purpose was female empowerment. Instead, the world they entered included blackmail, coerced sexual activity and violent, on-camera branding rituals. In order to be admitted to DOS, members were required to submit collateral: rights to their financial assets, naked photos or incriminating information about their loved ones. Mack is specifically accused of forcing her “slaves” to perform sexual acts with Raniere, under threat of having their collateral released.
Mack’s fate following her guilty plea remains to be seen, but she faces a minimum of 15 years in prison if convicted of all charges. She’s found a surprising show of sympathy in Catherine Oxenburg, who played a huge role in these revelations about NXIVM coming to light. “Alison Mack’s life is in ruins and I can’t help but feel sadness for her,” Oxenburg told People. “At the same time, she had to be stopped. What she participated in was dangerous and criminal.”
U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Richard P. Donoghue, has a less sunny view. In his statement following Mack’s arrest, he states the defendants’ crimes plainly: “The victims were […] exploited, both sexually and for their labor, to the defendants’ benefit.” Whether Mack’s life is in ruins or not, it’s hard to argue with the fact that her crimes should be punished. It’s hard to understand how anyone — but honestly, particularly a woman — could participate in recruiting for a society like this, but it’s heartening that the group’s actions are finally being recognized for what they are.