Don’t Call It a Cult: The Shocking Story of Keith Raniere and the Women of NXIVM

Steerforth. Apr. 2021. 320p. ISBN 9781586422752. pap. $17. CRIME
Berman (former senior editor, VICE) charts the rise and fall of NXIVM, a self-help multilevel marketing organization founded in 1998 and eventually exposed as a cult. NXIVM’s leader, Keith Raniere, sexually abused his followers, who included actress Allison Mack and heiress Clare Bronfman. Promoting himself as one of the smartest people in the world, Raniere set up a hierarchical structure based on a series of expensive classes. Questions about the organization arose early on, but he designed a system in which adherents who voiced criticism were labeled “suppressives,” or enemies. Taking a mostly chronological approach to an unwieldy, potentially confusing narrative, Berman illustrates how Raniere hid or reframed his darkest secrets to make himself look like a victim. Despite accounts from former members (whom Raniere attempted to silence through lawsuits), it wasn’t until years later that Raniere was held accountable; in 2019, he was found guilty of sex trafficking and forced labor, among other charges.
VERDICT NXIVM has been covered extensively, but Berman sets her work apart with a deep dive into the history and growth of the organization and an empathetic look at the psychology of the victims. Given the wide interest in this story, this is a strong addition to true crime shelves.
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