Keith Raniere may be discovering that there's a downside to following the Scientology model of recruiting celebrities into your cult. For whatever credibility and popularity they may initially bring to your organization, if things go pear-shaped, fame becomes infamy. A few weeks ago, the NXIVM founder was extradited from Mexico on sex trafficking and other charges. There was a flurry of news coverage, as noted here. But when "Smallville" star Allison Mack was arrested on Friday, a media firestorm ensued.
This is not the first time Raniere's cultivation of the rich and famous has backfired. It may be what put him on the road to ruin. India Oxenberg, an aspiring actress from a royal bloodline, must have seemed like a real get, until her much more famous mother Catherine Oxenberg went public. Her plea for her daughter's safety was covered by the New York Times, People, Megyn Kelly TODAY, and 20/20. And suddenly that "branding cult" was water cooler talk.
The unflinching, in-depth coverage in the media also forced New York authorities to begin taking complaints seriously, that they had previously dismissed as "consensual." Roughly six months later, NXIVM's most famous member is facing 15 years to life and so is Keith Raniere.
Previous to this graphic, public outing, Raniere's organization had been chugging along pretty quietly in Albany, making millions, and silencing former members with lawsuits and intimidation tactics, thanks to the very deep pockets of Seagram's heiresses Clare and Sara Bronfman. Although their wealth and social position had also brought him a spate of bad press. But suing your victims into silence and bankruptcy is a less effective tactic when some of them are famous and well-heeled, something Scientology is learning the hard way with its futile attacks on Leah Remini.