Actress Sarah Edmondson is one of the most outspoken members of the cult Nxivm, having written a memoir of her time with the sex cult that masqueraded as a personal development program. Following the arrest and trial of founder Keith Raniere, Edmondson is sharing insights into her time with the organization, including stories of how she recruited over 2,000 members.
In an interview with Refinery29, Edmondson role-played her way through a typical pitch for the cult's seminars. She showed the ways that she focused on insecurities that a recruit might have and used them as an opening to bring them on-board.
"Well, first things first: You don’t attempt any kind of a pitch until you have established a rapport. That’s something that has always come naturally to me, just chit chatting and engaging with people. Part of pitching is that you kind of want to tailor the approach to the specific person and what they’re looking for," she said.
She said that similar approach went all the way up the line, with senior officials convincing others that the sex and rituals were also part of a path to betterment. Edmonson has the founder's initials branded on her and said it was sold as self-improvement.
“If you look at the branding ritual as an example, they convince you that you are triumphing over your own weakness,” she said. “One of the things that can be helpful in terms of an explanation is to look at the ways in which cults are similar to abusive relationships. Nobody seeks out an abusive partner, but so many people stay in these relationships longer than they should — they make excuses, they ignore red flags, and they allow themselves to be emotionally manipulated.”
She also revealed she believes that Raniere gradually got to the point where he was operating an abusive cult and did not set out with the idea to create branded sex slaves.
"I do think as time went on and he became more and more powerful, he also got more and more out of touch with reality. Like, 'Oh, let’s brand people with my initials,'" she said. "I don’t know if that’s something he was planning from the beginning. People who knew him towards the end told me he was scared of getting old. And we now know that he has this erectile dysfunction problem, which came out at the trial. I think that maybe amped up [his need for power] towards the end."