Language of a con man – what can be learned from the NXIVM cult

I usually don’t look at cults when analysing fraud, but I was given the recommendation by American friends of mine to check out NXIVM (pronounced NEXIUM), of which I had not heard anything before.  More details can be found here for example:

I got curious and subscribed to an additional channel from one of my streaming providers to be able to watch one of the available documentaries. Having just finished watching it, I have come to the conclusion that cults give great insight into the mind of a fraudster, since they were all founded and are all led by a sophisticated con man defrauding people of their own free will, sense of mind and of course and above all money.

That is why I decided to write this blog about NXIVM’s self-appointed “vanguard”, Keith Raniere, and what can be learned from his language and some of the peculiar terms that he established and used.

NXIVM was a cult that offered self-development seminars. For its members it worked like a pyramid scheme. Members had to recruit more seminar participants and/or new members to advance in its ranks. Also members themselves were encouraged to take the costly and lengthy seminars for advancement depleting them not only of time, energy but money. Members wore different coloured sashes with and without stripes denoting their ranks. One of the cult’s teaching’s was that lower ranks had to be obedient to higher ranks, referring to higher ranked members as Masters and/or by their respective title ranks, like prefect or proctor. The lower ranks had to act on what they were asked or instructed by higher ranks.

There were a number of incidents that could have made people more cautious before signing up for seminars or getting involved with NXIVM.
Its founder claimed that he had three Masters degrees and stated further that he was one of the smartest people of the world. He allegedly scored highest amongst two others on a specific intelligence test, which was even mentioned in the Guinness Book of Records. However, the one and only entry about his superior intelligence can only be located in the Australian edition of the book series for 1989.
Keith Raniere had worked for a big and well-known direct marketing company relying on a pyramid scheme. He had then founded his own pyramid scheme-based company, which later bankrupted and was subsequently sued.
Keith Raniere holds many patents which he submitted in bulk on specific dates. You can find his patents here on the internet: Amongst them you will find some patents appearing technical, e.g. “Device and method for authenticating a user of a voice user interface and selectively managing incoming communications”. Others appear comical even bordering on the bizarre like “Apparatus and method for preventing a vehicle from running out of fuel” or “System for videotaping and recording of a musical group”. Six patents alone deal with above mentioned sashes: checkered with and without edges, toned differently, striped or non-striped. The “UR”-patent in the “sash theme” is called “Rational inquiry sash”. Scrolling through the eclectic collection of patents, it looks like a license to patent troll other companies or current and former cult members… One patent, however, is completely odd and in hindsight does not come as a surprise. I leave it up to you, the reader, of what you make of this scary patent title: “Determination of whether a Luciferian can be rehabilitated”.

But let’s look at Keith Raniere’s language. Keith Raniere had remarkable Freudian slips of unprecedented clarity. As proven by recordings he uttered for example at the end of a seminar: “Next week we deal with enslavement.”. Or he mentioned to one of his many concurrent girlfriends: “I had people killed.” Those alone stand for itself. What stands out, however, besides those Freudian slips, is his use of vocabulary of Latin origin. NXIVM offered ranks like prefect or proctor. There was the secret society called DOS, allegedly an organisation to foster the growth of women by and with the help of women. However, what we know now is that its abbreviation meant Dominus Obsequious Sororium or in English: Master of Submissive Sisters. Keith Raniere himself was the lord master behind DOS grooming and growing women to become his sex slaves with the help of its female participants. Latin must have been another of Keith Raniere’s fortes, since he had earlier been accused of having seduced a 12-year-old female minor while acting as her Latin tutor. It is unclear whether DOS members knew what the abbreviation meant, but had they translated another term, it could have dawned on them, what the cult’s purpose really was. 

The cult’s title NXIVM is spelt unusually in Roman Latin with a V instead of a U. What does NXIVM mean? There is no Latin word NEXIUM, but there are the words NEXUS and NEXUM. A NEXUM was a debt bondage in the early Roman Republic whereby a debtor defaulting on his loans pledged himself as collateral. What it boiled down to is that a debtor could be enslaved by his creditor for as long as it took to pay back the debtor’s loan in case the debtor was unable to pay back by other means like coin or goods. A thus no longer free Roman citizen was called a NEXUS or NEXI in plural. The Romans did not fool around when it came to loans and credits, but since this punishment was seen as very cruel and harsh for the free Roman citizens, the Romans did away with it a long time ago during the 5th century BCE. Collateral was also a term that was heavily used in the Master and Slaves set up of Keith Raniere’s cult. To join the higher ranks within DOS or the order itself, interested members had to offer collateral, which was basically a dark secret revealed about themselves given as a token of trust. However, this secret could later be used by the cult for blackmail, should a member decide to leave or threaten the organisation.

So NXIVM is a combination of the words NEXI and NEXUM. Keith Raniere founded this cult based on a pyramid scheme and on multiple occasions either clearly or via references stated what specific personal development he had in mind for its members, namely modern enslavement. Keith Raniere must have lost his faith in the power of his own patent “Determination of whether a Luciferian can be rehabilitated”… and rather decided to continue with his devious deeds.

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