NXIVM Founder Keith Raniere’s Exploitation of Members Was a ‘Horror Story’—Here’s Where He Ended Up

Sophie Hanson
Keith Raniere
Photo: Keith Raniere Conversations on YouTube

Keith Raniere, the founder of the self-help organization NXIVM, spent over a decade using his power and influence to manipulate women and groom underage girls under the guise of female empowerment. As HBO Max’s The Vow Part II continues, many viewers will be wondering where Keith Raniere is now that he’s been sentenced.

Known as “Vanguard” to his followers, Raniere was convicted by a Brooklyn jury of all counts against him—racketeering, sex trafficking, forced labor conspiracy, and wire fraud conspiracy—deliberating for less than five hours. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the justice system, he awaited sentencing in the Metropolitan Detention Complex (MDC) in Brooklyn, New York for over a year. Raniere faced a minimum of 15 years behind bars but after many former NXIVM members made victim impact statements in court, his sentence ended up being considerably more than that. Read on to find out where Keith Raniere is now and if he could get parole.

Where is Keith Raniere now?

Where is Keith Raniere now? The disgraced former leader of NXIVM is serving a 120-year prison sentence at a high-security facility in Tuscon, he is prisoner 57005-177. His release date is listed as June 27, 2120. As he’s already 62, it’s already more than a life sentence, which was handed down by Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis at the federal court in Brooklyn, New York, in October 2020.

USP Tucson

USP Tucson

The NXIVM founder was convicted in June 2019 of racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, sex trafficking, attempted sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy, forced labor conspiracy and wire fraud conspiracy. The ruling also imposed a fine of $1,750,000. At sentencing, the court heard victim impact statements from 15 individuals, including “Camila” (not her real name), the victim who was sexually exploited by Raniere when she was 15 years old.

“The 120-year sentence imposed on Keith Raniere today is a measure of his appalling crimes committed over a decade,” stated Acting United States Attorney DuCharme at the time. “Raniere exploited and abused his victims emotionally, physically and sexually for his personal gratification. It is my hope that today’s sentence brings closure to the victims and their families.”

FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Sweeney said the consecutive life sentences were appropriate given Raniere’s “inconceivable” crimes. “Raniere’s reign of control over the women he scarred, both physically and emotionally, is the making of a horror story. It is inconceivable to think of the sexual exploitation, abuse, seclusion, and mind control his victims suffered—at his direction,” he said. “Today the judge has given him 120 years to think about whether or not the torture he inflicted on others for more than a decade, and the distress he brought to their families, was worth it in the end.”

Allison Mack

Getty Images

IRS-CI Special Agent-in-Charge Larsen agreed, saying: “Sexual exploitation of children and women is among the most reprehensible and vile forms of crime. While Keith Raniere’s sentence cannot erase the pain his victims have endured, I hope it provides an opportunity for healing and a path forward. Today’s sentencing should be a warning for criminals around the world. Regardless of the illegal enterprise and whether the profits are tangible or not, IRS-CI will decode illicit schemes and hold criminals accountable for the pain, suffering and financial abuse of their victims.”

What was NXIVM?

Keith Raniere founded NXIVM in 1998 as a “self-help” organization in Albany, NY, along with co-founder Nancy Salzman. At its peak, 18,000 people had enrolled in the group’s “Executive Success Programs” (ESP) and workshops, which promised to free participants from their insecurities and negative emotions. These programs could cost as much as $7,500.

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While most people only participated in a few classes, some members became ardent followers of Raniere, whom they called “Vanguard” and deemed him the smartest and most ethical man in the world. He even met the Dali Lama. Salzman was referred to as “Prefect”. NXIVM’s 12-Point Mission Statement included mantras like “There are no ultimate victims; therefore, I will not choose to be a victim” and “Part of the condition of being accepted into ESP is to keep all its information confidential. If I violate this, I am breaking a promise and breaching my contract, but more importantly, I am compromising my inner honesty and integrity.”

NXIVM

Courtesy of HBO

Claims against the group’s abuse can be dated all the way back to 2003, but it wasn’t until 2017 that several former members asked New York State authorities to investigate NXIVM. Complaints focused on a secretive subgroup known as The Vow or DOS—a bastardized Latin phrase that means “master of obedient females”—which was a scheme to provide Raniere with a continuous flow of submissive women. Ex-members detailed being branded with Raniere’s initials and coerced into having sex with him.

The New York Times ran a report on the branding in 2017, a sinister ceremony that was conceptualized and carried out by a member of Raniere’s inner circle, Smallville star Allison Mack. Mack told the New York Times that DOS was “about women coming together and pledging to one another a full-time commitment to become our most powerful and embodied selves by pushing on our greatest fears, by exposing our greatest vulnerabilities, by knowing that we would stand with each other no matter what, by holding our word, by overcoming pain.” That pain, as it turns out, involved searing Raniere’s KR initials into the skin near their pelvis.

“Do you think the person who is being branded should be completely nude and sort of held to the table like a sort of, almost, like a sacrifice?” Raniere asked Mack in a recorded conversation, according to the New York Times. “The person should ask to be branded,” Raniere told Mack in another recording. “She should say, ‘Please brand me. It would be an honor’—or something like that—‘an honor I want to wear for the rest of my life.’”

Nancy Salzman

Courtesy of HBO

To this day, Raniere denies any wrongdoing. “He is not sorry for his conduct or his choices,” his lawyers wrote in a court filing, per the New York Times, adding that he “intends to fight this case with all of his might, confident that he will one day be vindicated.”

There are still loyal followers of Raniere, who argued much like his defense that the branding was entirely consensual and not a result of mental conditioning and manipulation. The Dossier Project, which is made up of former NXIVM members including Battlestar Galactica actor Nicki Clyne and others interviewed in HBO’s The Vow, defines DOS as “Master, Allegiance, Sisterhood,” rather than a translation that suggests subservience. They’re also committed to carrying on the “spirit” of the group. “DOS no longer exists, but the spirit of compassionate, strong women working together lives on!” the group has written in the Frequently Asked Questions of the website.

In September 2022, Raniere was attacked by a fellow inmate and sex offender, Maurice Withers, 33, who is serving 18 years for trafficking five women. Raniere suffered a black eye, swelling, nausea and dizziness for more than a week, NBC News reported. “Mr. Raniere did not fight back,” according to court papers, per the news network. “Mr. Raniere has limited knowledge of the assault.”

The Vow is available to stream on HBO Max. Here’s how to watch it for free.

Scarred: The True Story of How I Escaped NXIVM, the Cult That Bound My Life

Scarred: The True Story of How I Escaped NXIVM, the Cult That Bound My Life

Image: Chronicle Prism.


If you want a first-person’s account of the inner workings of NXIVM, you should check out Sarah Edmondson’s book Scarred: The True Story of How I Escaped NXIVM, the Cult That Bound My Life. As seen in the HBO Max documentary series The Vow, Edmondson spent over a decade dedicated to Keith Raniere’s vision—having enrolled more than 2,000 members over the course of 12 years. Her compelling memoir tracks were joining the organization, her indoctrination into the secret sisterhood DOS and her harrowing fight to get out to expose Raniere’s abuse.

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