NXIVM Cult Leader Keith Raniere Sentenced To 120 Years In Prison — Meet Former Member Who Revealed All

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Keith Raniere
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Former NXIVM sex cult leader Keith Raniere was sentenced to 120 years in prison on Oct. 27. 

US District Judge Nicholas Garaufis read Raniere his sentencing in a Brooklyn court after more than a dozen victims spoke at his trial. 

Raniere isn't the only former NXIVM member to be charged recently, though. On Sept. 30, Clare Bronfman was sentenced to 81 months in prison for involvement with NXIVM.

In October of 2017, Sarah Edmonson, an actress, and one-time NXIVM cult member, made headlines for an interview that shed light on the NXIVM cult.

Who is Sarah Edmonson, former NXIVM cult member? 

Edmonson had been a leader inside the group that billed itself as a professional development self-help organization. But after she was branded with Raniere's initials, she broke away. 

Since that story broke in 2017, the top leadership of NXIVM, including founder Keith Raniere and his girlfriend, Smallville actress Allison Mack, have been arrested on multiple charges including sex trafficking. Raniere was convicted this summer, and was sentenced today on Oct. 27. 

Edmonson has shared her story with the newspaper and with the Canadian Broadcasting Company podcast Uncover: Escaping NXIVM.

Now, she has written a memoir about her experience inside the sex cult.

What is NXIVM?

As we reported here in 2018, NXIVM (pronounced like "Nexium") was founded in 1998 by Keith Raniere. 

The organization claims to be a self-help entity focused on professional development via "executive success seminars," but former members have alleged that the group is a front for a cult led by Raniere. 

It's been reported that NXIVM "uses a trademarked method called 'Rational Inquiry' to help adherents achieve their goals (for the reported cost of up to $7,500 for an intensive, multi-day workshop)." 

There was always some skepticism and scrutiny about the group, which was largely funded by billionaires Seagram's heiresses Sara and Clare Bronfman, but the attention intensified in 2017 when Edmonson and others revealed that there was a group of women within NXIVM who were called "slaves" and engaged in sexual activity with Raniere under threat of blackmail.

RELATED: Who Is Keith Raniere? 5 New Details About NVIXM Cult Leader Accused Of Having Sex With 12-Year-Old Girls

Sarah Edmonson discovered NXIVM in her 20s.

Edmonson was an actress in her 20s when she discovered NXIVM and went to a seminar. In an interview, she talks about looking for fulfillment in her life at that time. 

"I was in my late 20s at the time, so that stage where you’re not a kid anymore, but not fully an adult and still figuring out what to do with your life," she said.

"I was acting, but I wasn’t feeling very fulfilled by the work. I was really looking for a sense of purpose, a sense of community. I guess you could say that made me vulnerable, but I think those are good things to want," she continued. 

"More so than being naïve, I would say I was extremely idealistic, and that’s something Nxivm exploited," she added.

She went on to say that she felt like the seminars had actually helped her.

"I can say from my own experience that after those early ESP seminars [Nxivm lingo that stands for Executive Success Program], I felt like things were going really well for me," she explained. 

"I went to more auditions, I got off my sleeping pills, I felt like I was a causing agent in my life rather than just being at the whim of the world."

Edmonson became a center director for the cult.

Edmonson felt so strongly that the ESP program was valuable that she started teaching the seminars and opened a center in her native Vancouver.

It was the only NXIVM outpost in Canada and she was one of the top recruiters of seminar participants in the entire organization.

Looking back, she can see that she was taking good things from the program but at the same time, she was being groomed to worship founder Keith Raniere. 

"I really thought these seminars were a wonderful opportunity," she said. "I have a lot of guilt about the people I brought in, but if there’s one thing I can hang my hat on, it’s that I never lied."

"I thought Keith Raniere was the greatest, wisest, most brilliant man on Earth," she added.

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She explained that from the beginning of a person's involvement in NXIVM, Keith was placed on a pedestal and people were taught to think of him as a supreme leader.

"He was totally deified. It’s not like I thought he was a hot stud or anything. I just respected his beliefs. Or what I thought were his beliefs." 

RELATED: Who Is Clare Bronfman? New Details On The Heiress And New Leader Of Sex Cult NXIVM

She soon discovered there was a cult within a cult.

The basic seminar structure of NXIVM and the worship of Keith is already cult-like in its very nature, but Edmonson was recruited to join an inner circle for women that took the cult aspects to another level.

Edmonson was approached by her friend and fellow NXIVM member Lauren Salzman about joining something called DOS, which stood for Dominus Obsequious Sororium, a Latin phrase that roughly translates to "Master over Slave Women." 

Once Edmonson agreed, she went to an initiation ceremony in Albany where she and other participants were blindfolded, stripped naked and branded with a cauterizing iron.

They had been told they were getting a tattoo but in reality, it was a scarification process that left a raised mark on their bodies. The mark contained Raniere's initials. 

All of the participants called themselves "slaves" and had to follow the bidding of the women who recruited them and were called their masters.

They were also required to provide collateral, damaging information that could be released if they stepped out of line.

Edmonson knew she had to break away from NXIVM.

After the branding, Edmonson and her husband, who was also a NXIVM member, started laying plans to leave the cult for good.

At the time they got themselves out, all the while making recordings and collecting information that they could use to counter any attacks against them the cult might launch, including lawsuits.

Since then, they have spoken openly about their experiences. 

RELATED: New Details About The 'Smallville' Actress Accused Of Luring Women Into The Nxivm Cult To Brainwash Them Into Becoming Sex Slaves

The crimes of Keith Raniere are seriously disturbing.

Raniere was ultimately arrested in 2018 and charged with racketeering and sex trafficking, as well as possession of child pornography.

As the podcast Behind the Bastards reports, the evidence that came out at Raniere's trial was nothing short of shocking.

Women reported being forced to starve themselves on a 500 calorie per day diet at Raniere's command.

He also claimed that men are naturally polygamous but women are monogamous so while he could sleep with anyone he chose, they must remain faithful to him.

He demanded women engage in group sex with him and made plans to build a dungeon for confining women.

He insisted that they send him damaging information about themselves and nude photos every month to keep as collateral to prevent them from defecting.

After hearing all the evidence, a jury convicted Raniere after only a few hours of deliberations. 

Sarah Edmonson narrowly escaped NXIVM.

While Edmonson is still working through her experience being on the inside of a cult, she realizes that she was spared the worst of Raniere's perversions. She tells Refinery 29, "I had no idea what was going on with the women and everything that came out in the FBI’s investigation." 

Edomonson's book, SCARRED: The True Story of How I Escaped Nxivm, the Cult That Bound My Life was released on September 17. 

What is Sarah Edmonson's Instagram?

Sarah Edmonson uses her platform on Instagram to bring awareness to the cult that took over her life for some time. 

She also shows what her day-to-day life outside of the cult is like, and often posts about her family.

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Rebekah Kuschmider has been writing about celebrities, pop culture, entertainment, and politics since 2010. Her work has been seen at Ravishly, Babble, Scary Mommy, The Mid, Redbook online, and The Broad Side. She is the creator of the blog Stay at Home Pundit and she is a cohost of the weekly podcast The More Perfect Union.