Female sex slaves were branded with group leader's initials, say feds

The leader of a secretive New York group who allegedly coerced female followers into having sex with him and had their skin branded with his own initials has been arrested at a luxury beach condo in Mexico.

Keith Raniere of Albany, 57, has been charged with sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy and forced labor conspiracy for allegedly enslaving members of the Nxivm community, an organization he founded as a self-help group.

In a criminal complaint, federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York say he would charge his followers up to $5,000 per session for courses in personal and professional development, and then when they were in debt, take their possessions as collateral. The complaint says that when women turned over collateral, which could include compromising pictures and damaging personal information, they would become "slaves."

The prosecutors' detention request refers to "over fifty female slaves," and said he enjoyed the backing of wealthy individuals.

Raniere, also known as "Vanguard," allegedly taught his followers that men needed multiple sexual partners while women should be monogamous. According to the court filing, he maintained a rotating group of 15 to 20 women with whom he had sex. In the New York Times and Vanity Fair, former participants in Raniere's development programs alleged that the organization is a "cult."

More on infamous cults

Most infamous cults in history
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Most infamous cults in history

The Manson Family

Charles Manson led a group known as the Manson Family in California during the late 1960s. The group targeted some of Hollywood’s biggest names in an attempt to incite a race war -- what they called “Helter Skelter.” They committed a series of seven murders in 1969, including the murder of Sharon Tate, the pregnant wife of director Roman Polanski. Charles Manson was sentenced to life in prison in 1971.

(Photo by John Malmin/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Children of God 

The Huntington Beach, California cult was established by David “Moses” Berg in the last 1960s. Though the group considered themselves a form of Christianity, they condoned sex with children and often used young women to lure in new followers. Joaquin and River Phoenix and Rose McGowen were raised in the Children of God before leaving. 

Photo Credit: Reuters 

The People's Temple

The leader of the cult, Jim Jones, began preaching social equality for all and other progressive views by the late 1950s in Indianapolis. After amassing many followers, he moved them to California to build a commune. Jones grew increasingly paranoid and eventually relocated the cult to a compound in Guyana, South America in 1977.

In 1978, California Congressman Leo Ryan visited Jonestown with reporters to investigate claims that members were being held in Guyana against their will. When Ryan attempted to leave with several defectors, Jones’ men ambushed him. The congressman and four others were shot and killed at the airport. That night Jones instructed and forced followers to drink juice that contained cyanide. At least 900 people died. 

(Photo by Don Hogan Charles/New York Times Co./Getty Images)

The Branch Davidians 

Branch Davidians started when David Koresh became the self-appointed prophet of the small religious community in Waco, Texas.

He was suspected of stockpiling weapons, polygamy and having sex with underage girls.

Koresh’s cult compound in Mount Carmel was raided in February 1993, resulting in a shoot out that killed four FBI agents and five cult members. After being tipped off that there were women and children inside the compound, the FBI stood down and re-strategized their raid.

Using bulldozers, loud music and tear gas — the FBI stood on the compound for 51 days before the compound was lit in a fire and incinerated.

Source: NPR

Heaven's Gate

The cult’s leader Marshall Herff Applewhite was convinced that Earth was going to be "recycled," and that they needed the help of extraterrestrials to transcend into a new body. The group believed that after the 1996 Hale-Bopp, a spaceship would follow. Applewhite and 38 followers committed mass suicide in 1997 at a mansion in Rancho Santa Fe, California. 

(Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Sygma via Getty Images)

Order of the Solar Temple

Based on the Knights Templar, the Order of the Solar Temple is a suicide cult founded by Joseph Di Mambro and Luc Jouret in 1984 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Jouret saw himself as Jesus Christ and centered the cult around sex and money. In October 1994, 23 bodies were discovered in a Swiss canton while another 25 bodies were found in Valais. Another couple and their infant son has also been found stabbed to death with a wooden stake in Canada — believed to be the Antichrist.

Foreseeing an end of the world due to disaster, cult members -- including both founders -- took part in a mass suicide/murder. The cult is now believed responsible for 74 deaths.

Source: Bizarrepedia

Aum Supreme Truth, Shoko Asahara

Aum Shinrikyo, or “supreme truth,” began in the 1980s primarily as a spiritual group based on Hindu and Buddhist doctrine. Later, though, the group’s leader — Shoko Asahara — claimed to be the first “enlightened one” since Buddha.

Eventually, the group turned into an anarchist cult. The cult infamously carried out a rush-hour attack in Tokyo in 1995 when they released opened bags of sarin on the train lines. Thirteen people were killed and thousands were injured.

Source: BBC


The criminal complaint includes pictures of the brands that would allegedly be burned into the skin of followers at "branding" ceremonies that marked their formal initiation. The brands are variations on Raniere's initials, KR.

"Keith Raniere created a secret society of women whom he had sex with and branded with his initials, coercing them with the threat of releasing their highly personal information and taking their assets," stated U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue. "This office and our law enforcement partners are committed to the prosecution of those who break the law by preying upon and violating members of our community."

William Sweeney, FBI assistant director-in-charge, said Raniere "displayed a disgusting abuse of power … to denigrate and manipulate women he considered his sex slaves … with the cooperation of other women operating within this unorthodox pyramid scheme."

According to the complaint, Raniere founded various self-help groups over the past 20 years under his umbrella group, Nxivm. Based in Albany, Nxivm operated centers in the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

Participants, known as Nxians, paid thousands of dollars for courses and were encouraged to recruit others to join in order to rise in the group. Prosecutors allege that the organization has features of a pyramid scheme.

The detention request alleges that Raniere "has a decades' long history of abusing women and girls" and had "repeated sexual encounters with multiple teenage girls in the mid-to-late 1980s and early 1990s."

According to the complaint, in 2015 Raniere created a secret society of "slaves" and "masters" within Nxivm called "DOS," also known as "Lord/Master of the Obedient Female Companions" or "The Vow." It alleges that female "slaves" in DOS were expected to recruit slaves of their own — thus becoming masters themselves — who in turn owed service not only to their own masters but also to masters above them in the DOS pyramid.

Raniere stood alone at the top of the pyramid, according to prosecutors. Other than Raniere, all members of DOS were women.

On his company website, Raniere's bio said that he "holds many titles to his name — scientist, mathematician, philosopher, entrepreneur, educator, investor and author — but perhaps the most poignant among them is that of humanitarian."

Raniere was deported to Texas by Mexican authorities after he was found in a luxury villa in Puerto Vallarta on Sunday. The detention request says that women who were with Raniere chased the car that took him away from the villa. He is expected to appear in federal court in Dallas Tuesday for his arraignment. Prosecutors in New York want to keep Raniere detained since he has recently been out of the country.

"Through his connections and followers, [Raniere] has access to millions of dollars and a private island," said the detention request.

In an undated letter to members of his Executive Success Programs, Raniere has denied previously published allegations about his group. He said that "there is no merit to the allegations that we are abusing, coercing or harming individuals. These allegations are most disturbing to me as non-violence is one of my most important values."

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