The premiere of Lifetime’s dramatization of Catherine Oxenberg’s book “Captive: A Mother’s Crusade to Save Her Daughter from a Terrifying Cult” will be shown tonight at 8:00 PM (EDT).
Lifetime’s synopsis of the movie is as follows:
“When Catherine learns about a leadership seminar from a new organization called NXIVM, she decides to take her twenty-year-old daughter India to the professional development meeting. Led by the extremely enigmatic Keith Raniere, Catherine can’t help but shake the feeling there’s more than meets the eye with the self-help organization. Despite Catherine’s best efforts, India is drawn deeper into the cult, eventually joining a secret sorority of female members who are branded with the cult leader’s initials, ordered to maintain a restricted diet and forced to recruit other women as sex slaves. Escaping the NXIVM Cult: A Mother’s Fight to Save Her Daughter tells the story of a mother who will stop at nothing to get her daughter back and exposes the intricate seductive power of Allison and Keith and the mental and physical abuse India fell victim to”.
You can see a trailer of the movie at https://www.townandcountrymag.com/leisure/arts-and-culture/a28260132/nxivm-cult-lifetime-movie/
The cast will include Peter Facinelli as Keith Raniere, Andrea Roth as Catherine, Jasper Polish as India Oxenberg, and Sara Fletcher as Allison Mack.
Don’t Expect a Documentary
Lifetime is well known for taking creative liberties when it turns ripped-from-the-headlines true crime stories into made-for-TV movies – and tonight’s presentation will probably be no exception.
Even Catherine has admitted that there’s a lot of dramatization in the movie – and that some of the characters in it are fictional or composites of several people.
But as she so aptly noted: the point of the movie is to expose predators like Raniere – and to make it harder for them to operate in plain sight.
The Story Behind the Movie
How there came to be a Lifetime movie is a story in and of itself. And much of that story involves Frank Parlato and the Frank Report.
As Catherine revealed in her novel, her entire life became focused on one thing – getting her daughter out of NXIVM – once she learned that India had become a member of DOS and had been branded with Keith Raniere’s initials.
She reached out to others who had been involved in NXIVM but who had left because of their increasing concern over what was going on behind the scenes.
It all worked out fortuitously.
Mark Vicente, the former co-Director of NXIVM’s Vancouver Center – and his wife, Bonnie Piesse reached out to Catherine.
It was Bonnie who first told Catherine about the branding.
They, in turn, put Catherine in touch with Sarah Edmondson, the other Co-Director of the Vancouver Center and another branded member of DOS.
Eventually, Catherine ran across the Frank Report when she was doing internet research on NXIVM and Raniere.
Frank had started the Frank Report in November 2015 in order to expose the travesty that had led to him being indicted for allegedly defrauding Clare and Sara Bronfman out of $1 million – and for allegedly undertaking a variety of financial transactions in order to attempt to avoid paying taxes on those and other funds.
When Catherine first reached out to Frank in the Spring of 2017 and told him about DOS and the brandings, he was understandably skeptical – and worried that she might be part of a hoax that was intended to bait him into publishing stories that were defamatory and libelous.
Who could blame him?
Raniere was now branding members of his harem – and with his initials?
Who the hell would have believed that story when they first heard it?
But Catherine, persistent as only a parent can be when they’re trying to protect one of their children, continued to provide Frank with more details about what was going on.
She also gave him others numbers to verify that what she was telling him was true.
Like Mark Vicente, Bonnie Piesse, and Sarah Edmondson. No one wanted to go on the record but they all provided additional details of the blackmail and branding operation.
Once he was finally convinced that it was real, Frank broke the story of the branding –and the underlying blackmailing that was part of DOS – in a series of articles starting on June 5, 2017.
The first article explained that DOS was an exclusive, secret group within NXIVM that was headed up by Raniere and Allison Mack.
It also revealed that the brandings were being administered by Dr. Danielle Roberts – who, as hard as it is to believe, is still practicing medicine in New York State.
And it explained that prior to being branded, each inductee had to provide highly damaging “collateral” such as nude photographs, admissions of misdeeds, and/or pledges of assets that would be forfeited if they ever defected.
The Cult Began to Crater
When Frank published the first articles about the brandings, many people, especially women who were slaves realized how dangerous a position they were in.
Slaves called Frank and he helped them leave the cult. The membership of the inner core of Nxivm dwindled from around 500 to about 150 within two months.
Some who had been involved in the effort to take down Raniere figured it would just be a matter of days before federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities descended upon him and his cronies – and hauled them away in handcuffs.
In the past, allegations of money laundering, tax evasion, and immigration fraud was overlooked – especially if there were financial incentives to do so.
And to successfully prosecute allegations of rape and statutory rape, law enforcement officials usually need DNA evidence – and witnesses who would be strong enough to withstand withering cross-examinations.
But now, we were talking about blackmail and coercion – and, are-you-fucking-kidding-me, BRANDING!
C’mon – even bribed and/or intimidated law enforcement officials have to do something about that, right?
Nope – at least not in the Capital District of New York State.
Persistence Finally Pays Off
Fortunately, neither Frank nor Catherine gives up easily.
Frank was literally fighting for his life.
And Catherine was fighting for her daughter’s life.
Eventually, Catherine came to Niagara Falls, NY to meet with Frank – and to figure out what else they could do to take Raniere and NXIVM down.
Catherine arranged to meet with high-ranking officials in the Office of the New York State Attorney General – and Frank put together a plethora of evidence to back up the allegations they were both making about the numerous illegal activities of Raniere and his crime syndicate.
“Thank you very much for meeting with us – and for providing us with all this valuable information, Catherine. We’ll start investigating immediately”. Yep – sure you will…
Nada, nothing, zilch from the Office of the New York State Attorney General.
Frank and Catherine went back to the drawing board.
Finally, a glimmer of hope.
Barry Meier, a veteran reporter with the New York Times, agreed to listen to their story.
Meier also interviewed others who had information about what was going on – people like Mark Vicente, Bonnie Piesse – and finally, one of the branded DOS slaves, Sarah Edmondson.
But the New York Times does not accuse someone of blackmailing and branding women without first vetting every detail of that allegation – especially not when the person being accused has access to the Bronfman sisters’ fortunes.
And so time stood still… month after month with no story being published in the New York Times and only the Frank Report continuing to dig deeper and deeper and reveal the names of more and more DOS slaves.
[Frank said he was justified in revealing the DOS slaves since they were recruiting other women into slavery.]
On October 17, 2017, the New York Times finally published Barry Meier’s story – and the accompanying photo of Sarah Edmondson displaying her brand – on Page 1.
The rest, as they say, is history.
But even with the publication of Meier’s story, no law enforcement official in Capital District did anything about Raniere.
Not the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York. Not the FBI’s Field Office in Albany, NY.
Certainly not the New York State Police – which had become an ally of Raniere and NXIVM.
And definitely not the Office of the Albany County District Attorney which had long ago become one of their pawns.
But the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York was neither compromised nor cowed by Raniere and the Bronfmans. And, thus, what started out as a mother’s attempt to save her daughter – and a man’s attempt to save his reputation and his life – led us to tonight’s movie on Lifetime.
Enjoy the show – and be sure to stay tuned afterward for the interviews with Catherine, Frank, and others who were instrumental in taking down Raniere and his gang.
They will appear in the documentary “Beyond the Headlines: Escaping the NXIVM Cult” with Gretchen Carlson.