Clare Bronfman, the heiress to Canadian liquor giant Seagram’s fortune, was arrested Tuesday for her dealings with alleged sex cult Nxivm. Pronounc
Clare Bronfman, the heiress to Canadian liquor giant Seagram’s fortune, was arrested Tuesday for her dealings with alleged sex cult Nxivm.
Pronounced “Nexium,” the supposed “self-help” group has been accused of forcing its female members into unwanted sex and even branding the women. Former Smallville actor Allison Mack, along with Nxivm’s leader, Keith Raniere, were both arrested within weeks of each other in March and April of this year.
Bronfman, 39, the daughter of late billionaire philanthropist and ex-Seagram chairman Edgar Bronfman Sr., and three others were arrested and charged with racketeering conspiracy. Nancy Salzman — Nxivm’s longtime president — along with her daughter Lauren Salzman, and another Nxivm employee, Kathy Russell, were also charged. (As of this writing, none of the four charged individuals has entered a plea.)
Mack and Raniere’s charges are more sinister than Bronfman’s. They each face three charges: sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy and forced labour conspiracy. Both have pleaded not guilty.
Raniere is being held without bail, while Mack is currently out on a $5-million bond and is under house arrest.
According to a filed complaint, Raniere (who was known in the group as “The Vanguard”) oversaw the functioning of Nxivm, which operated under an archaic system: women were told the best way to advance was to become a “slave” watched over by “masters.”
They were expected to have sex with their “master” and do any and all menial chores they were ordered to. They weren’t to tell anybody about the arrangement, and they risked public humiliation if they ever revealed details to any party.
It’s not a surprise that Bronfman, who’s been affiliated with Nxivm for years, was arrested. At a court hearing in June, a judge rejected an attempt to get Raniere released on $10 million bail — paid for by Bronfman — after prosecutors labelled her a co-conspirator.
In earlier court filings, the government detailed how Bronfman gave away tens of millions of dollars of her fortune to support Raniere and his group, including paying for private air travel at a cost of $65,000 per flight. It also said Bronfman has “paid for numerous lawyers to bring suits against Nxivm critics.”
In a website post last year, Bronfman called the secret society a “sorority” that “has truly benefited the lives of its members, and does so freely.” She added, “I find no fault in a group of women (or men for that matter) freely taking a vow of loyalty and friendship with one another to feel safe while pushing back against the fears that have stifled their personal and professional growth.”
Investigators said Raniere preferred exceptionally thin women, so “slaves” had to stick to very low-calorie diets and document every food they ate. As punishment for not following orders, women were forced to attend classes where they were “forced to wear fake cow udders over their breasts while people called them derogatory names,” or threatened with being put in cages, court papers said.
The idea within Nxivm is to continually perpetuate the cycle; each master is supposed to bring in slaves, and then to grow into a master themselves, they need to recruit their own slaves.
Each circle was “like a little family,” Mack said to the New York Times’ Vanessa Grigoriadis.
Earlier this year, Raniere posted an open letter to the Nxivm website (now deleted), ruing “the picture being painted in the media” about his group and denying any accusations levied against him.
“Over the past months, there have been extensive independent investigations performed, by highly qualified individuals, and they have firmly concluded that there is no merit to the allegations that we are abusing, coercing or harming individuals,” it read in part. “These allegations are most disturbing to me as non-violence is one of my most important values.”
Raniere and Nxivm have been the subject of criticism for years, dating back to at least 2012 when the Times Union of Albany published a series of articles examining the organization and allegations that it was like a cult.
Other rumoured celebrity members include former Battlestar Galactica star Nicki Clyne and Canadian actor Kristen Kreuk. Clyne has not commented publicly on her involvement, while Kreuk acknowledged hers, saying she’s “disturbed and embarrassed to have been associated” with Nxivm.
Nxivm’s official site still exists, but solely consists of an “important message” to the group’s members. It reads:
“It is with deep sadness that we inform you we are suspending all NXIVM/ESP enrollment, curriculum and events until further notice.
“We will be in touch with more information for anyone currently enrolled in upcoming events/programs.
“While we are disappointed by the interruption of our operations, we believe it is warranted by the extraordinary circumstances facing the company at this time. We continue to believe in the value and importance of our work and look forward to resuming our efforts when these allegations are resolved.”
A trial date for the Mack and Raniere has been set for Oct. 1.
Seagram Company Ltd. formerly had its headquarters in Montreal.
Bronfman’s lawyer did not reply to a request for comment.