Episode 70: Catherine and India Oxenberg
Catherine and India Oxenberg
Catherine is an author and actress, best known for her role as Amanda Carrington in the 1980s prime time soap opera Dynasty, in addition to other movie and television roles, who has always been a strong advocate on women’s issues. India, Catherine's daughter, is also an author, actress, producer and writer. Catherine and India are here to talk about India’s 7-year experience in a cult called NXIVM, and Catherine’s attempts to rescue India that spanned several years.
Intro Voices 00:04
Where do I go? It only happened once. I think I was singled out. The phone calls began about one month ago. What is hazing? Something happened to me when I was younger. I'm worried about my safety. He said he was sorry. Can someone help me? Where can I get help? Can someone help me? This is You Matter, a podcast for the NYU community developed by the Department of Campus Safety.
Karen Ortman 00:36
Hi, everyone, and welcome back to You Matter, a podcast created to teach, inspire and motivate members of the NYU community who have been victimized in some form or fashion and to identify resources both on and off campus that can help. I am your host Karen Ortman, Associate Vice President of Campus Safety Operations at the Department of Campus Safety, and a retired law enforcement professional. Today I welcome Catherine Oxenberg, and her daughter, India Oxenberg. Catherine is an author and actress best known for her role as Amanda Carrington on the 1980s primetime soap opera Dynasty. In addition to other movie and television roles, she has always been a strong advocate on women's issues. India is also an author, an actress, a producer and writer. Catherine and India are here to talk about India's seven year experience in a cult called Nexium, and Katherine's attempts to rescue India from Nexium that spanned several years. Catherine and India, welcome to You Matter.
India Oxenberg 01:44
Hi, Karen. So lovely to meet you. Thank you for having us on. Nice to meet you as well, happy that this is what you're spending your time doing. made me really happy to hear that intro actually that this is even a resource available to students. Yes, yeah.
Karen Ortman 01:59
I and I appreciate you the both of you coming here to talk to me about your experience, not only your experience, India, but Catherine, your experience and what that must have been like for you as the mother of a daughter, who was, you know, in having this experience for seven years. So let's get started. So I understand that the both of you together explored Nexium many, many years ago. So what did you believe Nexium to be at that time? Or at the time that you discovered it?
Catherine Oxenberg 02:40
Let me preface the question by saying that what we understood it to be was a self-help, personal, professional development program. It was called Executive Success Programs. We didn't know anything about the company NXIVM , which is the umbrella parent company. It seemed completely conventional. It seemed like there was nothing woo woo about it, right? It just seemed very...
India Oxenberg 03:04
They really pitched themselves as a scientific organization.
Catherine Oxenberg 03:08
India Oxenberg 03:09
Yeah, that was really their consumer product. My mom and I didn't know anything about NXIVM. I'd like to be a little more specific about the differences, because NXIVM is really the mainstream name that's now hit the media, before that we really just called it ESP or Executive Success Programs, because that was the only thing we related to. That was what we were invited to, by a trusted friend, it was ESP. NXIVM really didn't come into our vernacular until the last couple of years, but that's the umbrella company that has a bunch of other sub-companies underneath it. People get recruited for companies or programs that relate to their needs; we didn't know that at the time, but that was the way that Keith Raniere set up his MLM.
Karen Ortman 04:01
That's an important clarification, so thank you for that. You mentioned the name Keith Raniere. If you could just very briefly say who he is, and then we'll probably get into more detailed conversation about Keith later.
India Oxenberg 04:21
Keith Raniere is a convicted felon who is now in prison for 120 years. So we are very proud of that accomplishment. That was something that has to do largely with my mother's efforts, and a lot of other people, even those who left Nexium before me helped to make this happen. He is a con man and a predator. He has created multiple companies over the years, some very similar to ESP, that he was actually penalized for in the 1990s. So he's kind of a serial, con artist, if you will.
Karen Ortman 05:00
Okay, so he's the person that was in charge of this large umbrella organization, out of which NXIVM later developed.
Catherine Oxenberg 05:10
Yes, pulling the strings from behind the scenes using it as a recruitment tool. Not having his name on anything is kind of how he...
India Oxenberg 05:21
...which is super common, if you know anything about other con artists or some of the...
Catherine Oxenberg 05:27
...racketeering scams, or mob mobsters.
India Oxenberg 05:30
You know that they're really good at, you know, making sure that other people are blamed for their role.?
Karen Ortman 05:36
Yeah, absolutely. So when you first pursued this Executive Leadership organization, what was your intention? What were you seeking from that meeting?
India Oxenberg 05:53
I mean, I had I was 19 years old at the time, so really exploring structure and guidance. To be honest, I was feeling really aimless and lost in my life. I looked to my mom, and I was like, hey, do you want to do this with me? We thought that we were going to get executive, you know, success program related accreditation.
Catherine Oxenberg 06:15
Yeah, critical thinking skills. India at that point, when we signed up, actually was developing a catering company with a friend of hers. I thought, well, this might be a great leg up in terms of entering the workforce.
India Oxenberg 06:28
We want to have fun together. Learn about ourselves, learn about each other. I had just left University so there was a lot to catch up on. I think that's where we were coming from, like, okay, let's do something together for the next five days, we had no idea...
Catherine Oxenberg 06:43
A cool learning slash bonding experience.
Karen Ortman 06:46
So you go to this meeting and at some point, Catherine, you decide this isn't for you and India continues. Tell me about that. Why wasn't it for you? What about it? appealed to you, India.
Catherine Oxenberg 07:05
Okay. So we're truncating a couple of years, because I took classes periodically. I was pretty gung-ho in the beginning. Then I saw signs that really, I found troubling, but I didn't know enough about cults to really be able to, I wasn't able to identify them. One of them was this intense, aggressive recruitment strategy that they had, to take people out of just being students, and recruiting them to be coaches, which meant that you were pretty much giving up your life to champion their cause.
India Oxenberg 07:38
The pitch did not work.
Catherine Oxenberg 07:39
No, it did not appeal to me at all, but it worked on India.
India Oxenberg 07:43
Yeah, it did for a multitude of reasons. One, they were telling me, and they pitched this strategically for me, that this was going to be like a practical MBA, that I would be going back to college, and that I was going to get all of the resources that I thought that I needed in order to be successful in my life. So, that pitch was really spot on for where I was in my life, because I thought that that's exactly what I needed. Also, I was being drawn in from a community angle. I think I was not aware that that's another strategy that's used in high control groups, and just unfortunately, in grooming processes, is for them to target and kind of bombard you with love and attention and admiration. All of that felt amazing. At the time, I wish I would have known that this was a very common strategy, but if you don't know, you can't see those things.
Catherine Oxenberg 08:38
Yes. It's a very good point.
Karen Ortman 08:41
So when Catherine decides this program isn't for her, India, you decide you're going to continue, were you cool with your mom just saying, ehh?
Catherine Oxenberg 08:53
Not really. She was unhappy with me.
India Oxenberg 08:56
I thought that maybe she didn't like what I was choosing. I took it really personally. I didn't see it as, there was something rubbing her the wrong way about the program in general, I made it more about me, that she was like, not into what I was doing. Strangely, that was kind of the perfect fuel that they needed in order to separate us more, for me to look at it as us against them. That included my family and my mother.
Catherine Oxenberg 09:24
Well, this is the thing, India you're saying you didn't like it. The truth is, they were already indoctrinating her to have this kind of superior mindset. Anybody who wasn't along for the ride and didn't embrace their philosophy wholeheartedly, and their mission, was a suppressive, they called it, or somebody who was inferior, who wasn't committed. They were very critical about anybody. So it's not like you alone felt like I was disappointing you or whatever. It's like it was heavy handed from them as well saying your mom's a loser. Right, and that's why I do think that the narrative supported their goals. It wasn't, it wasn't so overt.
Karen Ortman 10:08
How long after you and mom go to the first meeting, I think you probably went to several meetings Catherine, you decide this isn't for me, India, your liking what is being told to you, how long did it take for you to recognize your relationship with your mother was significantly different than when you first started going to these meetings together?
India Oxenberg 10:37
Catherine Oxenberg 10:38
Yeah, it was an incremental erosion. They worked on her systematically, kind of patiently of alienating her from me.
India Oxenberg 10:54
If they had done it any faster, I would have noticed.
Catherine Oxenberg 10:56
She would have gotten, yeah, she would have resisted. I remember a friend of mine, she called me up and she said, you know, I think they're trying to separate you guys because I was part of a breakout group, and I watched this coach basically turn India against you. I'm like, that'll never happen. That's impossible. I had no idea.
Karen Ortman 11:15
Now, did you have frequent communication with India in these early years after you left, and India you're still continuing? Did this turn into like a residential thing for you?
Catherine Oxenberg 11:31
Yeah, because she moved to Albany. Absolutely, she left LA.
Karen Ortman 11:36
So the meeting started in California. When you decided it wasn't for you, Catherine, India, you stayed and at some point moved to Albany, New York.
India Oxenberg 11:50
Catherine Oxenberg 11:50
How soon after, did you move to Albany?
India Oxenberg 11:53
Five, five years. So, we're talking a good amount of time, and a long amount of time to be groomed and indoctrinated into that philosophy. There’s been many interviews where we've had to kind of correct people and be like, this is not something that happens overnight,
Karen Ortman 12:13
Right, which is why I'm trying to be very intentional in this conversation.
India Oxenberg 12:18
I'm not the only one who went through a process like this. There are many people who, you know, at one point we're students that went to coaches, then relocated their entire lives to Albany, and became completely dedicated to Keith and to NXIVM, and ESP, whatever you want to call it. This wasn't just something that worked on me, this was a strategy that they used for lots of people.
Catherine Oxenberg 12:43
Hundreds of people. I just want to add one thing about the process of grooming that I find whether it's, you know, a controlling abusive relationship, or a group like this has a very similar seduction period that India talked about where they make you feel wonderful, and your Insta friend, (laughing) and...
India Oxenberg 13:03
...(laughing) yeah, beware of Instagram...
Catherine Oxenberg 13:06
...they build you up, then, what happens is they start to break you down, right? The breaking down process is so insidious, and so cruel, to the point where they actually dismantle your personality and your belief system, your thinking, your relationships, everything. It's like they destroy your person, you become a different person based on in their image. I just want to mention, that is something that people don't understand, that it literally changes the person into a cult persona. India was a different person, different values, different beliefs, different...
Karen Ortman 13:45
How long into this first five years, before she went to Albany, did you see a change in her?
Catherine Oxenberg 13:58
Again, it's so subtle and slippery.
India Oxenberg 14:02
I was in and out quite a bit. I wasn't as committed. Year two, year three my commitment level really intensified. That's when I started to really become much more serious and disconnected, spacey, and honestly, there were weird things happening my life. I was having car accidents; I was really disassociated. That was pre doffs, which we'll get into as well. as just next. That was just a peek.
Catherine Oxenberg 14:34
I'll add, for instance, she's pretty much a homebody, loves her family, but she'd say mama want to hang out with you, let's go for a walk on the beach. The whole time we'd be walking on the beach, she'd be on her phone, texting and talking. So, even when she was there, she wasn't present. They kept her so busy and occupied. That's one of the strategies as well.
Karen Ortman 14:52
The first five years prior to you going to Albany, had you yet met Keith?
Catherine Oxenberg 14:58
I was invited to a volleyball game and I'm like, I don't know what I'm doing here.
India Oxenberg 15:01
She went to Albany to take a course.
Catherine Oxenberg 15:03
Yeah, well, in the beginning.
India Oxenberg 15:06
They don't allow you to meet Keith until you come to Albany and you've had a certain amount of education, and that's also a red flag that we didn't notice.
Catherine Oxenberg 15:16
Well, another red flag is he's introduced as Vanguard. So through the whole process of the classes, you learn about this man, Vanguard.
Karen Ortman 15:26
So you met him that one time.
Catherine Oxenberg 15:28
Karen Ortman 15:29
At what point India, did you meet him?
India Oxenberg 15:31
I met him first when I went to go finish my 16 day, it was freezing cold. I went to Albany in February. That's when I first met him at a volleyball game, similar setting. It was also just a couple seconds, and I was really unimpressed. From there. I didn't really think about Keith Raniere all that much because he wasn't really the reason that I went to NXIVM. The reason I went there was because I thought I was going to be building skills for my own career. The longer I was in, the more my feelings and my thoughts about him and the organization started to change, and they became more admiring and kind of like in awe of this person. So if you want to talk about big shifts, that was a major shift in, just the way that I thought and felt about Keith Raniere and Nancy Salzman, for instance.
Karen Ortman 16:24
I'm interested in hearing about the shift when your participation changed from this executive leadership group to what we know to be NXIVM.
India Oxenberg 16:43
Well, it never really changed because from the time that I became a coach, it just became more and more of a commitment. It didn't change that much until I was actually recruited into DOS, then things changed a lot. That was five years in, around the same time I was told that I had to move to Albany. What is DOS? DOS is a subgroup which was pitched as a secret women's only sorority that was supposed to provide, I'm doing like air quotes, but intense coaching to its members. Really, what DOS was, is a master slave organization that used blackmail to coerce and control people.
Catherine Oxenberg 17:40
A very different pitch from the reality of what it was.
Karen Ortman 17:44
And that began your membership in DOS?
India Oxenberg 17:48
2016, but it was created in 2015.
Karen Ortman 17:54
Is that when you moved to Albany? Yes. 2016 in the spring, So tell me what is in Albany, that is not in California?
Catherine Oxenberg 18:08
The inner circle of the group, all of their hierarchy, the upper level executives, and Keith Raniere, like his harem, I guess, the women that he was intimate with, which is all of them.
Karen Ortman 18:22
So you're told at some point that you're going to Albany, New York as a member of DOS because, you're going to be a coach?
India Oxenberg 18:34
Well, I was actually, I was already a coach at that point. I had been going to Albany back and forth quite a bit over the years, because that's where they only offered certain courses. So you could take them in New York and you would take some in Los Angeles, but mostly you could take them in Albany. People would go there who were students or coaches for different trainings. It wasn't until 2016 that I was told that I needed to relocate there.
Karen Ortman 19:07
And live there.
India Oxenberg 19:09
Yeah. That was a big change.
Karen Ortman 19:13
And Catherine, how did you feel about learning that India was going to relocate to Albany?
Catherine Oxenberg 19:19
I felt awful. When she told me, she was so excited and I just, everything inside me sunk.
Karen Ortman 19:27
Catherine Oxenberg 19:28
Because I had been to Albany a few times, and I had kind of sussed it out. It was mostly females and all of them were single, except maybe one. It just seemed it just seemed like the end of the road to me. It didn't seem like this was a step up. It just seemed like this was a very, very bad idea. I didn't even know how bad at that point. It was just my gut.
Karen Ortman 19:55
But what about the fact that it's all females who were single with the exception of one made it seem like the end of the road for you?
Catherine Oxenberg 20:06
Well, actually, I don't mean those together, they seemed lonely, and sad, and rigid, and angry, unhappy, unfulfilled, and bitter. It was more that the energy of them, right, rather than the fact that these were single word, I've been single and most of my life, it’s not really that. It's just seemed like such a sad kind of life, and my daughter so vibrant.
India Oxenberg 20:43
I was really inspired. I really admired those people. I think that's probably partly where some of your concern came from too, was these were people that I was looking to model my life. I thought that they had really reached a certain level of, you know, proficiency in their education, personal fulfillment, and maybe they had something that I didn't have.
Catherine Oxenberg 21:09
Yeah. However, it was all smoke and mirrors. I would say what I was probably picking up on, and I didn't know at the time, was that all those women that rubbed me the wrong way were part of his harem. They were single, because they were all told to be monogamous to Keith, so I was right to think that this was a very creepy.
India Oxenberg 21:28
Yeah, I did not see that at all. Yeah, I wish that I would have seen that clearly, but I didn't mean I was...
Catherine Oxenberg 21:36
,,,so well hidden.
India Oxenberg 21:37
Karen Ortman 21:38
Were these women coaches as well? Were these women that you were supposed to coach?
India Oxenberg 21:45
No, they were superiors of mine.
Karen Ortman 21:50
Okay, did they have a title?
India Oxenberg 21:52
Some did. Yeah, they would have higher ranking sashes, most of them.
Karen Ortman 21:59
So, you relocate to Albany? What were you told were your responsibilities once you got there? What were your expectations, once you arrived at Albany?
India Oxenberg 22:16
Well, once again, I think it was another slow drip, because I wasn't really told all of the things that I was going to have to do that related to DOS right away. I was taught a little bit at a time. Then once you're ready to compromise, because of the collateral that they're requiring of you, you can't really go back, you are too deep in. There were a lot of things that, initially, might not have raised hairs on my arms, but then the longer I was there, the more was being asked of me, and then the more rigid and controlled my daily life became to the point where I had to ask permission to eat or drink.
Karen Ortman 23:08
You spoke of collateral. Explain what that is, in the context of this organization.
India Oxenberg 23:16
Okay, so in order to be in DOS, you needed to provide blackmail collateral as a way to show your loyalty to the group. I think that's a way to kind of explain it, but really, what we didn't realize, and what we weren't told was that was a way for them to have damaging information over us and the people that we loved most, so that we couldn't leave.
Karen Ortman 23:43
It was a way to control you.
India Oxenberg 23:45
Yeah, but we were being told that it was actually good for us and that it was us, kind of, pledging our loyalt, so that we would never break our word. That was sort of the way it was spun.
Karen Ortman 24:00
At this point, did you know that your loyalty had to be with Keith, or was it to the organization in its entirety? Was it to NXIVM, was it to DOS? What was the expectation with respect to who your loyalty was towards?
India Oxenberg 24:21
it's twofold. I think, as a coach, your loyalty was to NXIVM and supporting those companies. Then when I became a part of DOS, I believed that my loyalty was to DOS and to Allison Mack, who was the woman that recruited to me, but really, when you said yes to DOS, you're saying yes to ultimate obedience to Keith Raniere, without you knowing that, because he was at the top of that pyramid.
Karen Ortman 24:53
When did you learn that your pledge of loyalty was actually to him?
India Oxenberg 25:07
Months after being in DOS.
Karen Ortman 25:12
And tell me again what DOS is.
India Oxenberg 25:14
There's two things. There's what DOS was pitched to me as, and what DOS really was. So DOS was pitched to me as a women's empowerment group that was going to give me intense coaching. That it was a women's only sort of sorority, if you will. What it really was, was a way to enslave and control people under the guise of personal growth.
Karen Ortman 25:40
Okay. So you're, you're in Albany, you are part of DOS, you know at this point that your allegiance and loyalty is to Keith Raniere, and you have been told that you have to provide collateral...
India Oxenberg 26:08
Karen Ortman 26:10
Okay, so continuously.
India Oxenberg 26:12
Karen Ortman 26:12
Can you give an example of collateral that had to be obtained from you?
India Oxenberg 26:20
Yeah, actually, we talked about this a lot in the docu-series, Seduced, because collateral was something that everyone who was involved in DOS had to provide. It really ranged from, mostly being made up content that would hurt the people that you love most, so either a family member, ex-boyfriends, loved ones, made up secrets, damaging photos of yourself, explicit photographs, or videos. Those are all things that I had to do myself and I know that other women who are involved had to give things like that as well.
Karen Ortman 26:58
So collateral had to be provided weekly, monthly?
India Oxenberg 27:04
Karen Ortman 27:06
Who collected the collateral?
India Oxenberg 27:09
Your superior in DOS. In my case it was Allison Mack who was a first line DOS slave of Keith Raniere's. Anyone who was directly underneath Keith would be considered first line, and anybody under them would be second line, I was on the second line of that pyramid.
Karen Ortman 27:30
So at this point, while you're living in Albany, what is your relationship with your mom?
India Oxenberg 27:37
More and more distant, because one, we weren't seeing each other that often. It was really difficult to talk to her on the phone, because my life really felt like I was living two different lives. I had this DOS life that had to be entirely a secret, and I had my life that was becoming more distant.
Catherine Oxenberg 27:59
I kept trying to strategize like, trips that might entice her, because it was harder and harder to get her to come see us. The worst moment, I think, and obviously I didn't know what was going on at the time, was when she told me she wasn't coming home for Christmas, which would have been, what, Christmas 2015. She sent me the saddest video I've ever seen.
India Oxenberg 28:26
Which is really scary for me to think about because I didn't even think of myself as that sad, and that's how I was being interpreted. It was just this sadness through the video like this vacancy, this lack of...
Catherine Oxenberg 28:39
Yeah, there was nobody home.
India Oxenberg 28:40
... and that's a really scary thing to realize about yourself. That's actually not the only time that someone had told me that I looked really, like, vacant and lost. That has to do a lot with the sleep deprivation, the lack of food, and just like the constant chronic stress of an environment like that. I didn't realize how much that can change your psyche and your brain until I started working with the FBI and they really explained to me how much that can damage your decision making.
Karen Ortman 29:15
You said that you were living two lives and that DOS had to be a secret. A secret from whom?
India Oxenberg 29:25
Anyone who wasn't in? It was a secret from anyone outside of the group, and actually there were secrets even within the group. It was all about secrecy.
Karen Ortman 29:38
But what was the secret?
India Oxenberg 29:41
That DOS even existed. It was something that they really kept, or they tried to keep under wraps. I mean, one of the secrets was that Keith was involved. That was one of the major secrets and the other one was its existence at all.
Karen Ortman 30:01
So you couldn't use Keith's name to anybody outside of NXIVM?
India Oxenberg 30:07
Not really, no. It wasn't really something that you were told to promote. They were very, very careful.
Karen Ortman 30:17
Did he ever tell you not to use his name?
India Oxenberg 30:22
Not really. I mean, I think it was so set up for him. He didn't really have any doing anything. Yeah, he had other people implement rules. It becomes kind of a self-sustaining system where the leadership doesn't really have to enforce anything, because people are doing it to themselves and other people.
Karen Ortman 30:45
Tell me about your your daily life once you are in Albany with DOS.
India Oxenberg 30:55
Very much the same every day. A lot of monotony, a lot of control. I would do the same thing every day. I'd wake up at 6am, I would go through like a list of rituals that I had to do in the morning that I would report to Alison, I would have to ask permission for my food and measure it, I would then have to go to classes, either do some kind of homework, I guess, if you will, or reading related to DOS or to NXIVM. It was very regimented, very much the same every day. If I wanted to go out and see other people, I'd have to ask permission for that as well.
Karen Ortman 31:36
Who was teaching these courses, and what were the courses?
India Oxenberg 31:40
Different people. There are courses being taught that were ESP or NXIVM related courses, and those would be taught by other superiors within the community. I mean, it was kind of like a small school with different teachers. Those teachers were people who had kind of risen up the ranks in the organization. All of that was very arbitrary, because there really wasn't an actual measurement system. It was based on whether or not Keith Raniere or Nancy Salzman wanted to promote you.
Catherine Oxenberg 32:11
The real thrust became about how to, as quickly as possible, recruit for DOS. And that became...
India Oxenberg 32:19
...a huge focus.
Catherine Oxenberg 32:21
Basically they're pushing a sex trafficking scheme.
Karen Ortman 32:24
So the the classes, the attendance, those who attended these classes, the instructors, were all part of your sort of nuclear world? There weren't people coming in from the outside?
India Oxenberg 32:42
Not really, I mean, unless they were new recruits. You were recruiting people for NXIVM and ESP. I was having to recruit people for DOS, specifically. So, the only new people were people that you were recruiting other than that you're really only socializing with people who are in the organization.
Karen Ortman 33:04
Can you give me an example of how you would recruit somebody for DOS? What would you say to someone?
India Oxenberg 33:12
I mean, they were training us in how to speak to people about this. A lot of it had, I mean it's so scary to say, but a lot of it had to do with finding out people's vulnerabilities. I think that's one of the things that I am so careful about now, is just making sure that I know my own vulnerabilities; that I'm aware of them, that they can't be used against me without my knowing, because that was something that I wasn't aware of. It was one of the ways that I was taking advantage of. And they were instructing you to do that to other people who they wanted to bring to DOS? Correct.
Karen Ortman 33:51
So at what point were you introduced to a seduction assignment?
India Oxenberg 33:57
That was when I was newly recruited to DOS, and actually the time where I was told that Keith Raniere was my Grandmaster, as they refer to it in DOS. That was around winter of 2016. So that all happened around the same time.
Karen Ortman 34:25
Tell me, what is a seduction assignment?
India Oxenberg 34:27
Well, it's not really specific. It's something that he gave to a lot of women. It was basically his way of getting women to pursue him and to seem interested in him so that he didn't look like he was preying on you. That was a way for then, you to be additionally compromised, because you had now engaged in what looked like a desirable sexual relationship with someone, and that was not what was going on. What was going on was, you the person who was given the assignment was being pressured to perform and complete the assignment under duress.
Karen Ortman 35:18
Can you describe the living arrangements for members of DOS when you move to Albany?
India Oxenberg 35:24
Yes, well, my living arrangement was that I was instructed to live with Allison back in her townhouse. There are other women who were instructed to live together in kind of like a boarding house type of situation where some women would live in a basement, some others lived in rooms that they rented from people who owned those homes. It was kind of like a commune setup where people who would own homes would rent rooms to other members of either DOS or E. When I moved there, I was instructed to live with Allison specifically, I didn't understand why that instruction was given to me until much later. When it was explained to me that I was kind of a lure, or used as a lure to make other women feel comfortable.
Karen Ortman 36:16
Under what circumstances would you see Keith, because he didn't live in the same townhouse as you, correct?
India Oxenberg 36:24
I would see him walking around the neighborhood with other people, he often did that. I would see him if he instructed me to meet with him, so there was also that, but otherwise, I wouldn't really see him.
Karen Ortman 36:39
And would that be for a seduction assignment? Yeah, it would be oftentimes for seduction related assignments, but sometimes it would just be to walk and to talk. That was part of his strategy, to keep it kind of unpredictable. Is it fair to say that Keith committed sex crimes against the women of DOS?
India Oxenberg 37:03
100%. It's so confusing oftentimes for victims of abuse, especially of abuse that's sexual or sexual in nature, because for someone who has a normal brain, and who has empathy, they look at the situation and they go, how could somebody want to just have sex with all of these people? What are they getting out of it? I didn't understand that. I couldn't rationalize it, because I don't think like that. I had to understand that for somebody like Keith Raniere, and many, many others like him, it's about power and control. Sex is just a tool to have power and control over people, because oftentimes, he wouldn't even have a sexual relationship with some of the women who really wanted to have a sexual relationship with him, it was his way of controlling them. Whereas someone like me, who was not interested in in him at all, and might be pursued aggressively in that way, because I didn't want that.
Karen Ortman 38:03
Yeah. How many women would you say lived in this neighborhood in Albany where DOS existed?
India Oxenberg 38:12
I'd say under 100. I think it was about 100. In DOS, not everyone lived there. That was part of why he was charged with the types of trafficking crimes that he was, because part of the women in DOS were centralized in Mexico, and were going back and forth from the US to Mexico, and some from Vancouver, so it was crossing, state and country.
Karen Ortman 38:44
Did you miss your mom? Did you miss seeing her and hanging out with her?
India Oxenberg 38:47
Oh, yeah, I missed my family a lot, but I wasn't really letting myself feel that. I think it was too hard for me.
Catherine Oxenberg 38:58
Well, you know, the other thing is, when you're around so many people, kind of group think, the pressure to conform, because if you don't agree with anything, there's such like public shaming that goes on there. They have a system of isolating and controlling, information and relationships. It's very hard to withstand the pressure of that when it's constantly being reinforced.
India Oxenberg 39:20
Yeah, a lot of my thoughts ended up just being private, and then I would just dismiss them. It makes me sad, even now, to go back there to that time, because it just reminds me of how much repression I was going through and just how much of my real feelings were being buried. I just, it wasn't safe, actually.
Karen Ortman 39:46
You were trying to survive.
India Oxenberg 39:47
Yeah, and that's something that I've had to just forgive myself about and to understand that it was my survival strategy and my way of being complicit and my way of sort, not rocking the boat too much, was my way of making sure that I was okay. In this environment that was really, really dangerous.
Catherine Oxenberg 40:10
I just want to say, the times that you did try and be remotely defiant and not toe the line, it was so brutal. You need to be clear, they were awful.
Karen Ortman 40:25
So what were the consequences?
Catherine Oxenberg 40:28
India Oxenberg 40:29
There would be consequences that were physical. I mean, it wasn't only just shame. It just happened to be that because of my personality, I responded a lot to the emotional sort of consequences, if that meant somebody was going to be angry with me or, you know, reprimand me, sometimes that was worse than being told that I needed to have a cold shower, or doing planks? Or those things were kind of like, I mean, at a certain point, the easier option.
Catherine Oxenberg 41:03
Yeah, remember this, not only were you punished, but what they did was much crueler. They would punish everyone else in the group.
India Oxenberg 41:11
Yeah, if you weren't on board. You weren't allowed to show any unhappiness.
Karen Ortman 41:19
And if one person did, everyone paid the price?
India Oxenberg 41:22
Karen Ortman 41:24
Tell me about the branding.
India Oxenberg 41:29
Whoa, well, where do I start? Thank you. Okay, so, branding is another one of those things that I like to say did not happen overnight. We're talking, you know, a year of already being involved in DOS, and then five years of additional indoctrination to get to the point where someone says yes to being branded. You're not just saying yes to being branded, you're saying yes to being branded with all of this blackmail that they have over you. Saying no at that point is not really an option anymore. Although I wish that it would have been. We were told at the time that the brand was a symbol of the elements and that's what I wanted to believe, and that's what I believed so did the other women in my pod, which is what they called them, which was four other women, including myself.
Karen Ortman 42:32
When the idea of branding is even broached with you, you understood what that meant? That your body was going to be burned?
India Oxenberg 42:43
Yes and no, I mean, one, I have never been branded before so, before that experience I really didn't have anything to relate it to except for maybe scarification, was the only thing that I kind of could put together in my head. I did not think that was going to happen to me. It was like a disconnect.
Karen Ortman 43:06
Were you scared?
India Oxenberg 43:08
Oh, yeah, I was scared, but I wasn't really allowed to show the amount of fear that I was in. I remember, I think I just said, are you sure we have to do this? That was my only way of, kind of, showing that this is not what I wanted to do. When it came to the actual branding ceremony, it was very ritualistic. All of that was done strategically so that we would feel this kind of gratitude and sort of elation over it. It went from being an extremely painful thing to kind of this out of body experience where I just felt like I was watching myself be branded. What I didn't realize was how big it was going to be, because we were told that the brand was going to be about the size of a quarter. Then, I'm looking down on my body and I'm watching this happen, and the whole process took about 30 minutes. It's a lot larger than that. I think I was the first woman that was branded by Dr. Danielle Roberts, so there really wasn't anybody prior to me to give me any kind of idea of what this was going to be like or what it was going to look like.
Karen Ortman 44:21
Was this an actual medical doctor?
India Oxenberg 44:23
She is a medical doctor.
Karen Ortman 44:26
And she branded the women, including you.
India Oxenberg 44:29
Correct? So there's that, and I mean, I still have the scar obviously, that's not going away, it's deep. It's something that I had to get covered. I decided to cover it with a tattoo that was more meaningful to me so that I wouldn't have to look at the actual scar anymore. That's been very helpful for me to just kind of reclaim that part of my body. For a while, I just didn't even want to look at myself with that.
Karen Ortman 44:57
You said earlier, and I'm not sure if you actually identified what the symbol really is, but you said it was purported to be that of the elements, and it, in fact was not.
India Oxenberg 45:11
No, it's actually Keith Raniere, it's monogram, it's K A R for Keith Allen Raniere. That was something I didn't really understand until way after the fact, my mom even told me what it was, and I still couldn't believe it. I think there was a part of me that just was incapable of accepting that was the truth.
Karen Ortman 45:35
So what happened after the branding, your how many years into this organization now?
India Oxenberg 45:44
About seven. After the branding my life just continued as it was. It was just DOS related every day until 2017 when things started to come out in a more local news outlet, which was the Frank Report. From there, in the fall of 2018.
Catherine Oxenberg 46:16
India Oxenberg 46:17
So sorry, the fall of 2018 was when the New York Times came out. That's when everything really changed. NXIVM went into this full scramble mode to try and rescue their reputation, but the train was already leaving the station, and my mom was in the lead of that exposure happening. I was terrified, because I was still very much loyal to the group. I thought my mom was crazy, and that she was going out into the media and sharing all of these intimate details. Sadly, at that time, I was being told by the leadership, Keith and Nancy, that I needed to be afraid of my mother and that she was trying to hurt me and destroy the company, so I didn't believe any of the things that my mom was saying. Instead, I retreated deeper into NXIVM for about a year.
Karen Ortman 47:14
So Catherine, you're the catalyst for the exposure of NXIVM in the media, particularly in New York Times?
India Oxenberg 47:26
With a group of people, I would say that I did the most..
Catherine Oxenberg 47:30
You were the figurehead. ...and was probably the figurehead that reached out to most of the media sources.
India Oxenberg 47:35
Probably you and SOMEONE.
Catherine Oxenberg 47:37
Karen Ortman 47:38
Catherine, at some point, did you report your concerns to federal law enforcement or to a local police department?
Catherine Oxenberg 47:47
Yes, I did. I was working on this 24 seven trying to figure out how to create as much disruption and as much exposure as possible. My first initial outreach was to local law enforcement in the Albany area didn't meet a lot of traction. I was told these were consenting adults, it was very frustrating. I then reached out and consulted with, you know, had a legal team in New York who helped me tremendously and said, we see evidence of racketeering and stuff, which was just enlightening for me, because I didn't know how I was going to penetrate this. I had put together like this huge dossier full of the crimes that I believe were being perpetrated, breaking that down, as my lawyer said, case in a box and the statement with me, and they were great. What ended up happening is that the Eastern District, which I never expected, because I thought this was a Northern District issue. I got a call from my lawyer saying that the Eastern District, were moving in aggressively with the FBI, literally, three days after my meeting with the government of the state government up in Albany, and they said, you don't need to carry the burden of this on your shoulders alone, we're gonna help you. I mean, basically, they're gonna take over and rest assured they were taking this very seriously. It was a process. It was a three-month process of me pounding the pavement every single day trying to figure out an inroad.
Karen Ortman 49:15
And India, you obviously got wind that your mom was aggressively trying to pursue law enforcement intervention here. What were the consequences for you?
India Oxenberg 49:33
I mean, I guess primarily a lot of stress and feeling like I was at fault for a lot of the attention. NXIVM was getting a lot of negative attention, I felt responsible for that. There was a lot of pressure on me to fight against my mom. That pressure came from the higher ranking members of NXIVM. I was really scared. I didn't even know who to trust or how to behave, but I felt like I had to keep them happy, and then take care of myself, otherwise. I was really lost at that time.
Catherine Oxenberg 50:16
And then the higher ranks kept asking India for dirt on me that would compromise me legally and to try and destroy me.
Karen Ortman 50:24
Terrible, no limits to what they would do After the FBI became involved and you are feeling the pressure from leadership within DOS, how did this finally end for you?
India Oxenberg 50:43
For me? I feel like it's such a hard question, because there isn't really a clear ending. It was like, there are many steps in between that needed to happen when I left Albany, and I relocated to New York City, and so I was trying to create some distance for myself, sort of subconsciously. Then I began to work and interface with human beings outside of the NXIVM world. That kind of helped me. Additionally, Keith and Alice and Mac were arrested, so that was a huge point where it started to change. That's actually around the same time, that summer, where my mom and I reconnected. Then a whole other stage of this journey began towards healing and recovery, and working with the government.
Karen Ortman 51:41
But how were you able to leave Albany as a member of DOS? Was this after they were arrested, or do you know? How did you manage that?
India Oxenberg 51:52
I just asked, because everything was falling apart around me and everyone was leaving Albany. Keith had left to Mexico, Allison was gone and I just said, can I go to New York City, I really need to work. I need a job. I can't get I can't get hired here in Albany. It was really out of desperation, and Allison just agreed. She said yeah.
Karen Ortman 52:12
Then did you call your mom and say, hey, I'm moving to New York City?
India Oxenberg 52:16
Nope. No, I just, I just tried to hide myself, and that was literally impossible, because I was all over the media at a certain point. All I was trying to do was go to work and pretend like none of this was happening. It was not going to happen, because the end was not in sight at that point. I still had a lot of work to do, and a lot of justice needed to be had. That took years for that to happen.
Karen Ortman 52:44
So this was the summer of 2018?
India Oxenberg 52:46
Karen Ortman 52:47
Okay. So Catherine, India moves to New York City, it's the summer of 2018. Keith and Allison are arrested at this point. How do you and India reconnect and sort of start that recovery process that she certainly has to go through, but also your relationship recovery?
Catherine Oxenberg 53:09
Okay, so good question. It was hard. It was really hard. I mean, we had seen each other once in nine months, I mean, really zero contact. She was so suspicious and paranoid, and mistrustful of me. The first thing that I did was hire a deprogrammer to come and mediate OFFICE MEETING. While we're sitting in the meeting, four of the NXIVM members are hauled off into court and arrested. That was quite extraordinary. India was still, it took a long time is what I wanted to tell you. It took probably a year of India working really, really hard with experts and the deprogrammers and therapists and us working together to learn to communicate with each other in a way that she trusted, and could hear me. No, it was not like my fantasy of her throwing herself in my arms and saying, mom so happy to see you. It was really lot of work.
Karen Ortman 54:06
Clearly the two of you are in a completely different place today than you were back then.
India Oxenberg 54:11
Oh we are. The thing is, I don't like to sugarcoat it for people because one of the most painful and difficult things that we had to go through was the post healing and recovery process. It was so intense, because there was a void for me where I was so afraid and so paranoid. I just didn't feel. I wasn't able to feel love. I know that sounds really strange and it might be hard for people to understand, but I think anyone who understands trauma can know what happens to your emotions when you go through something like that. My mom and I had to rebuild that love and that trust that we have, that had been broken and tampered with.
Catherine Oxenberg 54:59
She had to find her love. She had to find her heart because ultimately I had been targeted as her nemesis. She didn't even remember, it's like they had constructed a whole history that was not even based in reality and convinced her that I was this terrible monster. It was just it was so hard, it really was.
India Oxenberg 55:08
So not to not to leave anybody without hope. Really I think the crux of this is that there isn't anything more worth fighting for then love.
Catherine Oxenberg 55:35
Than love and family.
India Oxenberg 55:36
If that's your goal, and you win that back, then you're a winner, because it's not what it wasn't worth it for me to live my life without love in my life. To live without my mother, to live without my family, none of that is worth it. So, all of the difficulty that you have to go through in the healing process is worth it. Even if you have an awful day where you think, oh, my God, I've gone two steps back, but really, you've gone forward.
Karen Ortman 56:02
If you could break it down for listeners India, upon what did you base your decision to actually leave NXIVM , even after Keith and Allison and others were arrested, and many women chose to stay even after that fact? What made you different?
India Oxenberg 56:23
I think partly something that I can't really explain, because I think it's partly instinct. Whatever you want to call it, your intuition or your soul, because there was a part of me that just had to go, that wasn't really aware of why I needed to go. The same kind of applies to rebuilding my relationship with my mom. It's like, I just knew that that's what I needed to do. I had to learn to trust myself, I had to learn that I could trust my own intuition. That also was how I felt about when I was working with the FBI, because I just knew that this was my job to tell the truth. Like, once I knew the truth, I had to do it.
Karen Ortman 57:05
I think that's a great answer. There are so many details that we just do not have enough time in the day to discuss. I highly recommend anyone who is interested in learning more about India's and Catherine's experience, to check out their books. Catherine's is Captive, and India's is Still Learning, both available on Amazon. Catherine's is available in print and audio and India's is available in audio. If there's anything else that you would like to add that I have not asked you, please let me know.
India Oxenberg 57:48
One more resource that you might want to add is just FACT. That's Families Against Cultic Teachings, and they're a really good resource for anybody who might have a family member who is either estranged or coming out of a cult, I can vouch for that. Oh, yeah, and the back of my book has a whole list of resources as well.
Karen Ortman 58:07
Oh perfect. Thank you so much Catherine and India for joining me today on Your Matter and for sharing your very personal story that I know is going to be impactful to anybody who has experienced any form of trauma in their life. They will learn something by not only listening to this interview, but checking out your books and all the other tremendous interviews that you've done up to this point, so thank you. Thank you so much Karen, it’s such a pleasure. Thank you for your support. My pleasure. Thank you once again to Catherine and India, and to all of our listeners for joining us for today's episode of You Matter if any information presented was triggering or disturbing, please feel free to contact the Wellness Exchange at 212-443-9999 or NYU's Department of Campus Safety and their Victim Services Unit at 212-998-2222. Please share, like, and subscribe to You Matter on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Tune in or Spotify.