The daughter to TV star Catherine Oxenberg says of leader Keith Raniere ahead of his sentencing: “He’s a master at manipulation. And he’s a predator.”
India Oxenberg is breaking her silence on life inside NXIVM, the sex cult led by convicted guru Keith Raniere, who is now facing life in prison.
Oxenberg and her mother, Dynasty star Catherine Oxenberg, have been a focus of HBO’s true-crime series on NXIVM, The Vow. The series has followed Catherine Oxenberg’s fight to rescue her daughter from Raniere’s clutches and, with one episode still remaining, has teased a sit-down with India Oxenberg on the outcome.
On Tuesday morning, ahead of India Oxenberg’s participation in another documentary on NXIVM, Starz’ upcoming four-part docuseries called Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult, the mother-daughter pair sat down for a virtual interview with ABC’s Good Morning America where India Oxenberg — who defected after being a member of the group for nearly seven years — shares her perspective publicly for the first time.
“What I thought I was learning was self-help and personal growth. What I was learning was the opposite. It was inhumane,” she says of NXIVM.
India Oxenberg was 19 when her mother brought her to her first group meeting, which on its surface purported to be a self-improvement program. But after Smallville actress and Raniere recruiter Allison Mack introduced her to a secret sorority within NXIVM called Dominus Obsequious Sororium (DOS), that’s when India Oxenberg began to shut her mother out. India Oxenberg now realizes she became a victim of “parental alienation” as she immersed herself further within the group.
In order to join the DOS sub-group, the women were required to give collateral, like nude photos or family secrets. Raniere, who to his followers was called “Vanguard,” turned many of those women into his sex slaves and had his initials famously branded onto the victims.
Of the years of grooming, she explains, “When you’re unaware, it’s so easy to be led astray especially by people who are masters at manipulation. And these people were that. Especially Keith Raniere. He’s a master at manipulation. If there’s one thing he’s intelligent at, it’s that. And he’s a predator.”
Raniere has been convicted of sex trafficking, racketeering and conspiracy charges and faces life in prison at his sentencing later this month. Mack has also pleaded guilty to racketeering and conspiracy, and awaits sentencing. Clare Bronfman, Seagram’s liquor fortune heir and benefactor of Raniere, has been sentenced to 81 months for her role in NXIVM; three other defendants also await sentencing.
“It was a trap,” says India Oxenberg of Mack recruiting her for DOS, where she would become a “slave” for her female “masters” and Raniere. Her daily activities, including eating and sleeping, were monitored. “It was a ploy for Keith to enslave women for his own sexual desires,” she says. “The relationship took a different turn and became sexual when I was commanded to do a seduction assignment. That was the beginning of continual sexual abuse and I didn’t see it as that at the time.”
Describing her sexual relationship with Raniere as “rape,” India Oxenberg explains that she was being blackmailed to stay. “I had given collateral, which automatically removes my choice, so I did not have the option to say no,” she explains. “Saying no meant hurting my family or hurting my friends and I wasn’t going to do that.”
On GMA, a clip from Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult, shows India Oxenberg returning to house in Albany, N.Y., where she was held down and branded with Raniere’s initials in her pubic region. At the time, she didn’t know the symbol was his initials. “It was horrible. At the time I thought I was doing this empowering, bonding moment with a group of friends that I considered my nearest and dearest,” she explains. “We were told it was a symbol of the elements and that this was going to be a bonding experience. And we were sleep deprived, we were starved, we were coerced. You don’t just decide to be branded. You’re coerced into being branded.”
It wasn’t until 2018 when Raniere and Mack were arrested that India Oxenberg finally came around to her mother’s pleas for her to escape: “I was too deeply in. I was scared and I was confused. It was stages of revelations and I started working with the deprogrammer who helped me tremendously. But you have to be open to it. You can’t force somebody to see the truth. You have to want to, and I didn’t want to for a long time.”
The defector, who has since covered her brand with an evil eye tattoo and the phrase Ancora imparo (“I’m still learning”), is set to read a victim impact statement at Raniere’s Oct. 27 sentencing. Watch her GMA interview below.