Why Allison Mack is facing new charges for role in alleged cult NXIVM

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Moya Crockett
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The Smallville actor, who says she came up with the idea to brand women in a secret society, is facing new charges. 

There has been no shortage of bizarre news stories in 2018. But one of the most disturbing has to be the allegations surrounding actress Allison Mack, who has been accused of recruiting sex slaves to a cult disguised as a women’s empowerment programme.

Mack, best known for her role in TV series Smallville, was indicted in April on charges of sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy and forced labour conspiracy. Her arrest was related to her involvement with Nxivm (pronounced Nexium), an organisation that claimed to be a self-help group for women but – according to the FBI – was actually a pyramid scheme that exploited women sexually and economically.

The founder of Nxivm, Keith Raniere, was also indicted in April, and both he and Mack deny the charges against them. 

Now, according to BBC News, six people have been charged with racketeering conspiracy, forced labour, money laundering, identity theft and wire fraud – including Mack.  

Nxivm co-founder Nancy Salzman, her daughter, Lauren Salzman, and the group’s 60-year-old bookkeeper, Kathy Russell, were all arrested alongside heiress to the Seagram liquor fortune, Clare Bronfman on Tuesday 24 July. 

Six months prior to their arrests, a former member of the organisation gave an interview to The New York Times in which she said there was a secret group within Nxivm – and that women who joined it had their flesh branded with a cauterising device.

Now, the newspaper has published an interview with Mack in which she takes full responsibility for the practice of branding women in the secret society, which was known as the Vow or Dominus Obsequious Sororium (DOS), meaning “lord over the obedient female companions” in broken Latin.

Mack, who helped recruit women to Nxivm, said she came up with the idea of branding women as a sign of their dedication to allisDOS. She didn’t think a tattoo was meaningful enough, she said.

“I was like: ‘Y’all, a tattoo? People get drunk and tattooed on their ankle ‘BFF,’ or a tramp stamp. I have two tattoos and they mean nothing,’” she said. 

Allison Mack arriving at court in New York for a bail hearing on 4 May 

The interview with Mack was conducted before her arrest in April, and she was unrepentant about her involvement in Nxivm. She said she joined the organisation when she was dissatisfied with her career, and asked Raniere to “make her a great actress again”.

She insisted that the women in DOS started the secret society themselves, and that it was a military-style boot camp aimed at making women understand that they were not victims. Explaining how DOS worked, Mack said that Nxivm members had to be invited to join by another woman. This woman would then become their ‘master’, and they her ‘slave’. Your master was the “representation of your conscience, your higher self, your most ideal”, Mack said.

Other women in the group said that ‘masters’ told ‘slaves’ to count calories and abstain from orgasms. They were also required to perform “acts of care” for masters, such as bringing them coffee, and acts of “self-denial”, like taking cold showers or getting out of bed at 4am for no reason. According to Mack, these rules were “about devotion” and “like any spiritual practice or religion.”

She passionately maintained that being a member of Nxivm and DOS had had a positive effect on her life. DOS, she said, 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.”

Mack in 2006, when she was a regular cast member on Smallville 

According to prosecutors, after Mack recruited women to join Nxvim, she used tactics including blackmail to force them into sexual activity with Raniere and enslaved them to do menial tasks, for which she was allegedly paid by Raniere.

However, as well as exploiting women, Mack was also allegedly blackmailed by Raniere. The criminal complaint filed by the FBI claims that she was his personal slave, and that he was able to control her thanks to her providing him “collateral”.

This collateral allegedly took the form of a contract stating that if Mack broke her commitment to Nxvim, her home would be transferred into Raniere’s name and any children she had would be his. She also gave him a letter, addressed to social services, in which she said she abused her nephews.

Raniere and Mack face mandatory minimum sentences of 15 years and a maximum of life imprisonment for the sex-trafficking charges.

Raniere and Mack have denied the allegations. Bronfman has said in previous public statements that she had no knowledge of wrongdoing.

The judge set a trial date of 1 October 2018. 

The story was originally published on 1 June 2018, and updated on 25 July. 

Images: Getty Images