Allison Mack Will Be Serving Only 3 Years In Prison For Her Role In The NXIVM Cult

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 
Scary Mommy and Drew Angerer/Getty

Trigger warning: abuse

For Allison Mack, it started as a self-help seminar … and ended with a three-year prison sentence.

The “Smallville” actress had always been insecure about missing college, and said once, “I have a tendency to call myself stupid.” She seemed a searcher, with an apartment full of Buddhas and East Indian art. So when co-star Kristin Kreuk invited her to a personal growth seminar in 2006, Mack jumped at the chance. But she didn’t know that Jness, which called itself the women’s movement inside the executive self-help organization NXIVM (pronounced Nexium), was only the first step towards a secret sex cult led by NXIVM founder, pyramid scheme leader, and child predator Keith Raniere, also known as “Vanguard.”

NXIVM seemed innocent enough. They charged thousands of dollars for their self-help courses, which were supposed to help attendees to overcome childhood trauma, among other things. Course prices rose as an initiate moved higher within the NXIVM organization, much like Scientology. Based near Albany in upstate New York, it hosted seminars all over the world, including Ireland and Mexico.

NXIVM higher-ups, including Nancy Salzman, the organization’s president; her daughter, Lauren; and Seagram’s liquor heir Sara Bronfman, turned the charm to eleven for Mack. By the weekend’s end, Lauren and Mack were besties, and she flew back to Albany on the Bronfman jet to personally meet Raniere.

Two weeks later, another NXIVM member reports, Mack was still there.

She was filming Smallville’s fifth season, and began taking NXIVM “intensives” more regularly. Reportedly, Mack wanted to be a “strong businesswoman,” with a mentor like Barbara Bouchey, the NXIVM executive who had pushed the organization into the TV community in Vancouver, where it tried to scoop up stars.

Boucher would become one of the first to report Raniere, and said at his sentencing that, “I loved Keith for many years. I really thought he was my soulmate.” At the time, she saw NXIVM as “a kind of Camelot where people could be empowered to be more loving and compassionate and live better lives.” This feeling must have rubbed off on Mack, who was soon encouraging her parents to take NXIVM courses.

There’s no way to tell when her sexual relationship with Raniere began, or when Mack became aware of NXIVM’s secret underbelly. But she would tell a Brooklyn judge that she “believed Keith Raniere’s intentions were to help people.” At her introduction to NXIVM, one woman reports, Mack listened to a soft sell on polygamy: women are taught to be monogamous, but men are by nature meant to have as many sexual partners as possible. And in 2006, some NXIVM members knew that Raniere kept “a harem of at least a dozen women.” For Mack, alarm bells should have blared immediately: polygamy, courses with increasing price tags revealing more and more information, a guru-type figure.

Apparently, they didn’t. Or she ignored them. Maybe she also didn’t know that Raniere’s last business had been ruled a pyramid scheme after being sued by New York’s attorney general.

In 2009, the swirl of events surrounding Raniere became stranger. He tried to buy endorsement from the Dalai Lama and, according to one former member, may have gotten it with two million dollars. Whether paid or not, the Dalai Lama did place a white scarf around Raniere’s neck at a 2009 ceremony in Albany. When one NXIVM member kissed another man in early 2010, Raniere ordered her imprisoned in a room with nothing but a mattress and video cameras — then kept her there for nearly two years. Apparently his agreement with women said that while he could sleep with other women, they couldn’t sleep with other men.

One source claims that she could tell Mack was sleeping with Raniere in 2010: he forced women he slept with to lose weight, and Mack “had a gray pallor that was common to Keith’s women because they all start to get a little sickly.”

After Smallville ended, Mack bought a house near Albany — closer to NXIVM headquarters. “She really believed that teaching the difference between men and women was good, that it was pure and noble,” said a former consultant. “I don’t think any of us saw where it was going, that it was teaching women to be subservient.” Mack would say in one statement that, “I believed, whole-heartedly, that [Raniere’s] mentorship was leading me to a better, more enlightened version of myself.”

Mack’s acting career was winding down. At the same time, several women in Raniere’s inner circle died or defected; in their absence, Bouchey was told, Mack stepped up. At the time, the secret sex cult had about 50 members and was known as DOS, or “Dominus Obsequious Sororium” (“Master Over Slave Women”). Some people called it “The Vow.”

Members were forced to swear unwavering obedience to Raniere. He convinced the women that they were all connected via his sperm, so when they were upset, they upset him. This turned all the women against the perceived offender. Mack became his second-in-command; she was used to recruit women into the cult. She says Raniere used “demeaning and derogatory language, including racial slurs, to humiliate ‘slaves,'” at least one of whom was a teenage girl.

“Allison Mack is a predator and an evil human being,” said Jessica Joan at Mack’s sentencing. Mack, court documents say, ordered Raniere’s brainwashed cult members “to perform labor, take nude photographs, and in some cases, to engage in sex acts” with him. Mack also collected damning information on the women, including nude photographs, in case they were needed as blackmail material.

One victim says that Mack told her, “Now, go be a good slave.” Later, Raniere tied the woman to a table “while blindfolded” and made another woman “perform a sex act on her.”

Then there was the branding.

It should be “a vulnerable position type of a thing,” Raniere told Mack in a recording she provided to the court, “hands probably above the head being held, almost like being tied down, like sacrificial, whatever.” Before it happened, the women “should say, ‘Please brand me. It would be an honor.’ Or something like that.” Lauren Salzman told the courts that she recited, “Master, please brand me. It would be an honor,” and another DOS member “used a cauterizing pen” to draw Raniere’s initials into the skin near her pelvis (some sources report the brand was a combination of Raniere and Mack’s initials).

Salzman would later organize brandings herself; women were forced to strip naked and sit blindfolded in a circle “as part of the ritual.” Salzman reports that the first woman she branded “was screaming and squealing.” Around the same time, Mack was ordering women to seduce Raniere; one woman manufactured a family emergency and fled to California out of fear.

With authorities closing in, Raniere fled to Mexico, and Mack with him. He was arrested there; Mack was arrested within a few days of her return to the United States. He pled not guilty and was eventually sentenced to 120 years in prison, though he said, “I do believe I am innocent of the charges. … It is true I am not remorseful of the crimes I do not believe I committed at all.”

Mack turned state’s evidence and testified against him.

She was sentenced to only three years in prison for procuring women for Raniere. “I am sorry to those of you that I brought into NXIVM,” she wrote in a letter to victims. “I am sorry I ever exposed you to the nefarious and emotionally abusive schemes of a twisted man.”

Though Mack herself was clearly a victim, after manipulating so many others, branding them, and offering them up to Raniere, did she deserve more than three years behind bars? “I don’t think she was thinking she was actually trafficking girls,” her former roommate told Hollywood Reporter. “It doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve punishment, but I think she had drunk enough Kool-Aid to really believe that these girls were going to save the world with [Raniere’s] super-sperm.”

Is Mack really sorry for her role in the NXIVM cult? “The NXIVM saga and the story of Ms. Mack’s descent have been a tragedy for all involved. But that need not, and should not, be the end of the story for Allison Mack,” her lawyers told the courts.

Regardless of her sorrow, the next chapter of that story’s been written. It’s three years long, and it takes place in federal prison.

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