The Current

Trial of NXIVM leader will reveal dark underbelly of sex cult, expert says

On Tuesday, NXIVM leader Keith Raniere will stand trial for his alleged role in the subjugation and abuse of women through the group, which the FBI has dubbed a cult. We speak to the host of the podcast Uncover: Escaping NXIVM about what to expect from the court proceedings, and hear from a woman who escaped a cult herself.

Keith Raniere has pleaded not guilty to numerous charges, including sex trafficking

Keith Raniere is the founder and creator of NXIVM, a self-help training organization that the FBI dubbed a cult. His trial begins Tuesday in Brooklyn federal court. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

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The upcoming trial of accused sex-cult leader Keith Raniere will be a "fascinating and illuminating" look at the inner workings of NXIVM, says Josh Bloch.

"So far, our window into it has only been through a few people," Bloch told The Current's guest host Matt Galloway.

"So we're going to find out how an organization like this operates and really understand what was going on in the very inner circles of this group."

Bloch is the host, co-creator and producer of the CBC's podcast Uncover: Escaping NXIVM. He will be covering the trial, which begins Tuesday in federal court in Brooklyn. 

Raniere has pleaded not guilty to numerous charges, while several others in his inner circle have pled differently.

In early April, NXIVM member and former Smallville actress Allison Mack pleaded guilty in a New York court to racketeering charges for her role in NXIVM. She is one of several high-ranking members who have been charged with manipulating women into becoming sex slaves for Raniere, among other charges — including forced labour conspiracy charges and extortion.

Sarah Edmondson, former member of NXIVM, shows the scar she says was left after she participated in a branding ceremony at a private residence near Clifton Park, N.Y., with a small group of other women. (Supplied by Sarah Edmondson)

Prosecutors refer to the Albany-based organization that calls itself a self-help group as an "organized criminal enterprise. The group, however, brands itself as a humanitarian community focused on self-help and career advancement.

Bloch explained that the prosecution will have a lot of ground to cover during the trial, given NXIVM's history of keeping detailed records.

"NXIVM documented everything. One of the things I'm told is that they thought they were changing the world and they wanted to document it," he said.

"I'm told that there's 11 library floors of information, many terabytes of information, that the prosecution has been going through."

Josh Bloch is the host, co-creator and producer of CBC's podcast Uncover: Escaping NXIVM. (Evan Aagaard/CBC; Ben Shannon/CBC)

The group suspended all operations following the arrest of Mack last June by shuttering all physical iterations, but Bloch pointed out that it still exists on paper.

"I'm told there are some, maybe several dozens of people who are still committed and devoted to Keith Raniere; true believers that no matter what comes out in the media, no matter what the FBI claims, they believe he is a radical thinker and he is being targeted because he is revolutionary in the same way that Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King was targeted."

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.

Produced by Danielle Carr and Jessica Linzey.