the vow

Why NXIVM Went After ‘the Beautiful People’

In advance of the fourth episode of HBO’s The Vow, Vulture has an exclusive clip that sheds light on how NXIVM members were recruited into the multilevel marketing scheme/sex-trafficking cult. As with any organization like this, the question outsiders always want to know is, “How could you let yourself fall for it?”

In the clip from this Sunday’s episode, “Building Character,” NXIVM escapee/whistle-blower Bonnie Piesse talks with former actress Catherine Oxenberg, who’s also the daughter of a former princess of Yugoslavia and a cousin to the British royal family. Oxenberg became involved with NXIVM and brought her daughter, India, into the organization’s Executive Success Programs, or ESPs, which promised a sort of spiritual growth to enhance members’ business skills. Piesse, meanwhile, was recruited into the organization by filmmaker Mark Vicente, one of the main focuses of The Vow. While Catherine, Vicente, and Piesse left the cult, India Oxenberg stayed loyal to its founder, Keith Raniere, whose initials were branded onto numerous women as they served as his sex slaves. India rose to the level of ordering other women to be branded, become “slaves” to others in the cult, and have sex with Raniere while providing photographic evidence that they’d completed their supposed mission of seducing him. Those photos, and sometimes videos, were then used as blackmail to keep the women from leaving NXIVM.

“I’m trying to find a reason why. I thought she was the happiest, most-evolved, well-adjusted child imaginable,” Catherine Oxenberg says of India, wondering how she could become a victim of Raniere and his acolytes. Piesse says that’s exactly the point — NXIVM’s leaders sought wealthy, beautiful people to join so they could project an image of purity and prosperity.

“People keep trying to fucking tell me it’s because you’re deficient and you’re weird, and you’re damaged, and you’re vulnerable,” Piesse tells Oxenberg. “No, they go for the people who are successful, easy people to get along with, capable of doing things. That’s who they want to run their cult, especially if you’re trying to get credibility.”

Catherine Oxenberg eventually wrote a memoir about her ordeal with India, Captive: A Mother’s Crusade to Save Her Daughter From a Terrifying Cult, which was turned into a Lifetime movie. According to reports, India left NXIVM after Raniere’s arrest on sex-trafficking and fraud charges, and hopes to write her own book about it someday. Check out the clip from episode four of The Vow, airing this Sunday at 10 p.m. on HBO and available to stream via HBO Max, and be sure to keep up with Vulture’s weekly recaps of this gripping documentary series.

NXIVM Went After ‘the Beautiful People’