What's the NXIVM Cult? Everything to Watch or Read in Addition to the Lifetime Movie

NXIVM Lifetime
Catherine Oxenberg and Allison Mack. Images courtesy of Lifetime and Getty Images.

NXIVM, a personal development company founded by Keith Raniere, garnered national attention in 2017 when multiple outlets exposed it as a pyramid scheme and cult that forced its female recruits into sexual slavery. In the years since, Raniere and various members, including former Smallville actress Allison Mack, were arrested and later indicted on federal charges, with the founder convicted of racketeering and sex trafficking. 

Now, Dynasty actress Catherine Oxenberg has turned her true story of losing her daughter, India, to the cult and her long fight to rescue her from the clutches of Raniere into a Lifetime movie, Escaping the NXIVM Cult: A Mother's Fight to Save Her Daughter. Based on Oxenberg’s 2018 memoir, Captive: A Mother's Crusade to Save Her Daughter From a Terrifying Cult, the program debuts Saturday, Sept. 21 at 8 p.m. ET.   

While Lifetime was forced to condense seven years of “a horrendous, nightmarish ordeal” into 90 minutes, Oxenberg says that “as far as highlighting and showcasing the most salient points and really exposing the grooming process and how women like my daughter were recruited and the level of deception and coercion involved, they’ve done a magnificent job.” The focus of the film, she adds, “is really how Allison sucked in India.” 

Viewers wanting to get the full story about NXIVM and fill in the missing pieces from Oxenberg’s account as well as the many others who have since escaped or were involved in exposing the cult, will have plenty of options to pull from over the coming months. Here’s what to watch, read or listen to in addition to the Lifetime movie. 


In Lifetime’s companion documentary, Beyond the Headlines: Escaping the NXIVM Cult With Gretchen Carlson, which airs on Lifetime immediately after the film, Carlson investigates the shocking and twisted world of the notorious cult. According to Oxenberg, it features interviews and firsthand accounts with people not portrayed in the film who helped her take down the group. “You have a lot of behind the scenes and it completes the story really well.” Oxenberg will also help open the new season of E! True Hollywood Story with the special, “NXIVM: Self Help or Sex Cult?,” premiering Sunday, Oct. 6. It will focus on the recruitment of women into the organization and the impact it had on their lives. Barbara Bouchey also opens up about what it was like to live within the group. Additionally, there are a few news specials with dedicated episodes to exploring the NXIVM cult, including ABC’s 20/20 and the A&E series Cults and Extreme Beliefs, both of which are currently streaming on Hulu, and Vox’s Netflix series Explained, which kicks off season two with “Cults.” Narrated by LaKeith Stanfield, the episode opens with Oxenberg talking about NXIVM and explores how these groups lure people in and exert control over its followers -- often times resulting in them doing horrible things.

Even further out is the upcoming Investigation Discovery two-hour special, The Lost Women of NXIVM, premiering this December. It will explore the lives of Kristin Snyder, Gina Hutchinson and other women who were members of the cult and either vanished or died under mysterious circumstances. Meanwhile, HBO has started production on a new documentary series from Oscar-nominated, Emmy-winning directors Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer “following a range of people who joined the self-improvement group NXIVM.”


In addition to Oxenberg’s memoir (see above), which serves as the source material for the Lifetime movie, readers should also check out Sarah Edmondson’s recently released book, Scarred: The True Story of How I Escaped NXIVM, the Cult That Bound My Life, which recounts the Canadian actress’ harrowing experiences from inside the cult and the gruesome branding that was required of new members. “Nothing could have ever prepared me for the feel of this fire on my skin,” writes Edmondson, who became widely known in the press as one of the key whistleblowers of NXIVM. Coming out on Sept. 24 is The Program: Inside the Mind of Keith Raniere and the Rise and Fall of NXIVM by investigative journalist Chet Hardin and Toni Natalie, a former girlfriend and business partner of Raniere who provides jaw-dropping insider perspective. 

Beyond the firsthand accounts by survivors of the cult, it’s worth going back and reading the major exposes and various news coverage of NXIVM as Raniere and his illegal practices were exposed. Among them are the 2017 New York Times article, “Inside a Secretive Group Where Women Are Branded,” and the 2018 NYT Magazine article, “Inside NXIVM, the ‘Sex Cult’ That Preached Empowerment,” that followed. Years prior, Vanity Fair published an investigative look at Seagram heiresses Sara and Clare Bronfman who became victims of the cult, “The Heiress and the Cult,” in 2010. The magazine has posted ongoing coverage since, including “Inside the End of the NXIVM Sex Cult,” when Raniere was finally convicted. Meanwhile, Rolling Stone takes a look at the practice of cults and how people who leave one may get sucked into another.


For those into true-crime podcasts, there are two worth listening to. The first being Uncover: Escaping NXIVM, an acclaimed investigative series from CBC. It’s hosted by Josh Bloch, a producer and childhood friend of Edmondson’s; he touches on his own feelings about seeing a friend’s life unravel under the influence of Raniere. The podcast is accompanied by a fascinating interactive online story that’s worth checking out as well. The other is NXIVM on Trial, which is a weekly discussion with Times Union managing editor Casey Seiler and justice reporter Robert Gavin, who talk about the major developments in Raniere’s trial as it happened over the summer. 


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