A cult leader backed by heiresses of a prominent Jewish philanthropic family was arrested by authorities near a Mexican resort on Monday, The Washington Post reported.
Keith Raniere, who goes by the name “Vanguard,” had claimed to be poor but had been living with multiple women in a villa that cost up to $10,000 a week. Sara and Clare Bronfman, daughters of the late philanthropist Edgar Bronfman, have given millions of their family’s fortune to help fund Raniere’s organization, The New York Times reported last year.
Since 2003, Raniere has been the head of the self-help organization NXIVM (pronounced Nex-e-um). His promise to participants was to introduce “a new ethical understanding” and “self-determination”. Authorities said that he took advantage of his position of power by locking women into having a master-slave relationship with him and coercing the women into sex out of fear.
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Members of the group described it as a human bondage pyramid scheme in which each swore loyalty to their “master.” Women provided Raniere with embarrassing information or photos that would be released if they ever tried to leave the group.
“Raniere has maintained a rotating group of fifteen to twenty women with whom he maintains sexual relationships,” the criminal complaint stated. “These women are not permitted to have sexual relationships with anyone but Raniere or to discuss with others their relationship with Raniere. Some of the Nxivm curriculum included teachings about the need for men to have multiple sexual partners and the need for women to be monogamous.”
Authorities also accused Raniere of forcing women to undergo a branding ritual where his initials were allegedly burned into their pubic region with a cauterizing pen.
It is unclear whether Sara or Clare Bronfman underwent any of the bizarre rituals themselves.
Raniere’s arrest was based on eight FBI interviews with alleged victims. He is scheduled to appear in a Texas court on Tuesday on federal sex-trafficking charges.
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