Mr. Raniere and Ms. Salzman built a curriculum that they falsely claimed was based in science, the lawsuit alleged. The early courses conditioned students to become emotionally dependent on a system of rewards and punishment. Coaches would break down the students’ self-esteem and scold them for failing to achieve their goals, then lift them up with a positive affirmation.
“That process leaves you wanting more and feeling like they have the answers,” said a former Nxivm member who is participating in the lawsuit.
The group exploited students’ desires for validation, telling them that only Nxivm classes could fix the internal problems hindering their success. If they reached the top of Nxivm, they were told, they could earn income and build a career within the organization.
Yet the leaders continually manipulated the program requirements so that only a fraction of participants ever received income, the lawsuit said. Students were constantly pressured to take more courses and recruit other students.
Many members effectively became indentured servants for Nxivm, working for years without pay and losing their life’s savings, the plaintiffs said…
Many Nxivm members were shielded from negative press about the group because Mr. Raniere in 2014 created his own news organization called The Knife of Aristotle. Reading outside news was considered an act of rebellion, according to the plaintiffs.
Mr. Raniere and his inner circle tested the loyalty of longstanding members by making extreme demands, the lawsuit said, like asking them to lick a puddle of mud or run headfirst into a tree.
The curriculum became increasingly misogynistic over time, according to the plaintiffs. One of the programs taught women that they were sheltered from the consequences of their actions by men, and that they did not deserve equal pay because they had quit their jobs to have children. Women were to be monogamous, while men were to be polygamous, Nxivm taught.
The slow indoctrination laid the foundation for certain women to be groomed as Mr. Raniere’s sexual partners, the lawsuit alleged.
Students were often scared to quit, having invested so much money and time into an endeavor that they thought could bring them success. They also saw the retaliation by Nxivm leaders against its critics and defectors, former participants said.
Thanks to Ms. Bronfman’s wealth, the lawsuit alleged, Nxivm was able to hire an army of lawyers to sue former members and interfere in their personal bankruptcy proceedings. Nxivm associates gave false statements to law enforcement authorities in Canada and elsewhere to initiate criminal investigations into defectors, according to the lawsuit.