On Tuesday morning Federal agents in New York arrested Clare Bronfman, the youngest daughter of Canadian billionaire Edgar Bronfman and an heiress to the multibillion-dollar Seagrams fortune. Bronfman was arrested in connection to her work with NXIVM, a shadowy, cult-like group whose leader is charged with sex trafficking.
Nancy Salzman, Lauren Salzman, and Kathy Russel were also indicted today in connection with NXIVM. (NXIVM is pronounced “Nexium.)
Earlier this year NXIVM’s leader, Keith Raniere, was arrested in Mexico after authorities said he was coercing his followers into becoming “slaves” to him and to other leaders of the group. He is charged with human trafficking, child sex trafficking, and other crimes. The actress Allison Mack, known for her role on Smallville, was arrested in April for her connection to NXIVM.
Bronfman has been connected with NXIVM since at least 2002 and served as the organization’s director of operations — but she says she had no knowledge of any wrongdoing by the group. In an official statement released last year, Bronfman defended the group and Raniere, writing, “I can say firmly that neither NXIVM nor Keith have abused or coerced anyone.” You can read that statement here.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Bronfman Is Accused of Being One of NXIVM’s Main Financial Backers And a Member of the Group’s “Inner Circle” That Helped Recruit Sex Slaves for the Group’s Charismatic Leader
The charges against NXIVM aren’t pretty. Authorities say Raniere made his followers recruit women to act as his sexual partners; he allegedly maintained a rotating group of 15 to 20 partners. The group is also charged with sex trafficking — and authorities say that they branded Raniere’s initials onto women’s genital areas.
Four people, including Bronfman, were charged today with being part the “inner circle” of NXIVM leader Keith Raniere. The indictment, obtained by Fox News, charges that those indicted today “helped him with various illicit activities such as conspiracy to commit crimes like identity theft, harboring of aliens for financial gain, extortion, forced labor, sex trafficking, money laundering, wire fraud and obstruction of justice.”
The indictment reportedly also says that Raniere’s inner circle helped recruit women into the group to serve as “sex slaves” for Raniere.
Bronfman, an heiress to the multi-billion dollar Seagrams liquor empire, is accused of being one of MXIVM’s chief financial backers. She and her sister,Sara, first joined the organization in 2002. Bronfman acted as the director of operations for NXIVM but denies any knowledge of the group’s illegal activities.
2. Federal Authorities Say NXIVM’s Leader Was Involved in Sex Trafficking and That Women in the Group Were “Branded” With His Initials
A warrant for the arrest of Keith Raniere, NXIVM’s founder and leader, was filed on February 14, 2018. You can read the warrant here. Federal authorities charge that Raniere was knowingly involved in a sex trafficking operation involving at least two women. The women (referred to as Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2) were transported across state lines and were forcibly coerced into engaging in “one or more commercial sex acts.”
Authorities say that Raniere’s victims were “branded” in their genital areas using a cauterizing pen. The women were stripped naked and, in a procedure that lasted 20 to 30 minutes, were branded with Raniere’s initials while other members of the group recorded the ceremony. Raniere has admitted that the branding was done as a “tribute” to his status as leader.
The warrant also says that since NXIVM’s founding, Raniere has maintained a “rotating group” of between 15 and 20 women with whom he has sexual relations. The women were not allowed to have sex with anyone besides Raniere, and they were not allowed to talk to anyone about their relationship with Raniere. Apparently NXIVM’s “curriculum” teaches its followers that men need to have multiple sexual partners and women need to be monogamous.
3. Bronfman And Her Sister Sara First Joined NXIVM In 2002, In a Quest For Self-Improvement. Soon They Were Writing The Groups Checks For Millions of Dollars
Keith Raniere founded his group in 1998. At that time, it wasn’t called NXIVM; it was a self-improvement group known as Executive Success Programs, Inc, or ESP. The group held workshops which promised to “actualize human potential.” Then in 2003, Raniere created NXIVM (pronounced “Nexium”) as an umbrella group to include ESP and the other organizations he was involved in.
In 2002, Bronfman’s older sister Sara discovered ESP. She was 25 at the time and at a loose end; she had taken some college classes at NYU, but other than that, she was known as a bit of a party girl. That fall, she tried one of ESP’s “intensive” workshops (the cost was about $7,500 for five days) and was immediately hooked. That same year, Clare joined the group. She soon abandoned her previous career as a competitive horse jumper, sold her stable and horses, and dedicated herself to NXIVM.
In 2004, the Bronfman sisters presented NXIVM with a check for 20 million dollars to fund Raniere’s “scientific research.” From 2005 to 2007, the Bronfmans gave Raniere more than 65 million dollars to help cover the NXIVM leader’s stock market losses.
Sara Bronfman was put on the NXIVM board and given the title of “minister of humanities”. Clare, for her part, slowly worked her way up through the group until the became the organization’s Operations Director.
4. Rumor Has It That After Raniere and Allison Mack Were Arrested, Bronfman Became NXIVM’s De-Facto Leader
Back in April, the actress Allison Mack was arrested for her alleged role in NXIVM. Vice News reported that with Mack arrested, and Raniere already in jail, Bronfman had stepped up and become the de-facto leader of NXIVM.
Vice reported that a former NXIVM publicist, Frank Parlato, told them that since April, Bronfman had been in charge of at least a dozen “slaves” located between New York and Toronto.
Parlato told Vice that Bronfman is one of the most “ruthless and fanatical” of NXIVM’s members. He said that she works tirelessly to try and discredit the group’s critics and is devoted to its leader.
Bronfman has never denied that she was a member of NXIVM but says she knew nothing about the group’s alleged connection to sex trafficking.
5. Bronfman Said in an “Official Statement” Last Year That She Doesn’t Believe The Allegations Against NXIVM or Raniere. She Says NXIVM Has Made Her a Happier, Healthier, Person
In December 2017, Bronfman released an “official statement” denying that she knew anything about sex trafficking or other crimes allegedly carried out by NXIVM. You can read her statement here.
Bronfman writes, “There have been many defamatory accusations made and I have taken them seriously. Determining the truth is extremely important to me, and I can say firmly that neither NXIVM nor Keith have abused or coerced anyone.” She adds that it would be a “tragedy” if NXIVM were shut down and the world were “deprived” of its teachings.
Bronfman notes that she gave up a successful career in competitive horse jumping to devote herself to NXIVM. She says that NXIVM provided her with the “meaning” that was missing in her life. And she adds, “I am happy, healthy and financially more successful than I have ever been.”
She makes no mention of the tens of millions she reportedly handed over to Raniere and NXIVM over the years.