There’s nothing more infuriating when you’re looking for gainful employment and the only folks replying back to you with job interviews are all pyramid schemes. I’m sorry, “multi-level marketing” companies filled to the brim with a bunch of deluded idiots who promise you a dream lifestyle by basically hounding your close friends and co-workers to buy a bunch of BS they don’t want. NXIVM is probably one of the most heinous of MLMs, and thankfully it still isn’t active.

No, NXIVM is not still running, thankfully.

Many multi-level marketing schemes are just that — schemes in which a few people who are running the pyramid convince people that they can be rich and successful, while they usually just up and run away with their “employees” money. Their workers really don’t have anything else to show for it at the end of the day, except hours of wasted time and a vague promise of “making it big” looming over their heads.

NXIVM started just like any other MLM (AmWay, Avon, Mary Kay, Herbalife) but it ended up transitioning into something much more sinister than just a time-wasting business venture masquerading as a legitimate company: an abominable sex cult. The story of NXIVM was the subject of the mind-blowing HBO documentary, The Vow. NXIVM was founded by its “Vanguard” (his legit title), Keith Raniere, and Nancy Salzman, the company’s “Prefect.”

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It all began in 1998, when Raniere developed an “ethical framework of human experience,” which he would then go on to sell to people at $2,700 a pop for their first course. It was a five-day “intensive” routine, called Executive Success Programs, and both Raniere and Salzman managed to sell over 16,000 of the things to willing participants.

NXIVM initially had such positive PR that the Dalai Lama was supposed to visit their center in Albany, N.Y., to praise their organization.

The cult indoctrinated members by implementing grueling work schedules in various offshoot companies and instructing classes (that they wouldn’t be paid for). Lower-ranking members would greet their Vanguard, Raniere, with a kiss on the mouth. High profile celebrities and business leaders became a part of the cult: Smallville actress Allison Mack and heiresses to the Seagram fortune Sara and Clare Bronfman were all tied to NXIVM, which only compounded the group’s weirdness.

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Forbes was one of the first media outlets to point out the weirdness that NXIVM was perpetuating back in 2003: “Detractors say he runs a cult-like program aimed at breaking down his subjects psychologically, separating them from their families and inducting them into a bizarre world of messianic pretensions, idiosyncratic language and ritualistic practices.”

Clare and Sara’s father even called the organization a “cult” and there were several ex-NXIVM members who said that the 17-hour ESP sessions they were subjected to gave them psychotic episodes and hallucinations. Still, for nearly 20 years after these claims, NXIVM prospered. 

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