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From 'Smallville' to a sex cult: The fall of actress Allison Mack

From 'Smallville' to a sex cult: The fall of actress Allison Mack

Six years ago, Allison Mack sat on a purple rug filming a segment for her YouTube channel. Bubbly...
From 'Smallville' to a sex cult: The fall of actress Allison Mack
Allison Mack, an actress known for the television series “Smallville,” outside court in New York, April 8, 2019.
Photographer: Jefferson Siegel/The New York Times

Six years ago, Allison Mack sat on a purple rug filming a segment for her YouTube channel. Bubbly and earnest, she answered fans’ questions with delight.

The “most awesomest” gift she’s ever received? A colorful scarf knitted by a friend. “But really it’s a hug made out of yarn,” Mack said.

As innocuous as she appeared, Mack was entranced by an organization called Nxivm, that promoted itself as a mentorship program but was on the brink of devolving into a sex cult. Mack herself would later be accused of recruiting women as “slaves” for the group, Nxivm, branding them and demanding “collateral” of explicit photos and videos.

In April, the 36-year-old actress pleaded guilty to racketeering and racketeering conspiracy. She faces up to 20 years in prison, and may be called to the witness stand in the coming weeks in the trial of Nxivm’s leader, Keith Raniere.

Four other women have also pleaded guilty, and trial testimony has begun to reveal details about Nxivm’s dark inner workings.

Beyond the lurid details of the case is a story of a bright, beloved young woman in Hollywood who longed for enlightenment but instead became enthralled by the teachings of a twisted leader.

“I joined Nxivm first to find purpose,” she said between sobs during last month’s plea hearing in Brooklyn federal court. “I was lost and I wanted to find a place, a community in which I would feel comfortable.”

Mack declined to be interviewed while the trial is proceeding, but interviews with former Nxivm members and those who knew her before she joined the organization outlined her journey from Teen Choice Award winner to convicted member of an apparent sex cult.

Mack was 18 when she was cast as Clark Kent’s sidekick, Chloe Sullivan, on “Smallville,” a TV series about young Superman that ran for 10 seasons.

“She was just this great kid who seemed happy, mature for her age and very responsible,” said her childhood manager, Diane Hardin.

As she moved into her teens, Mack was poised but lacked sophistication, needing help with her makeup and style, recalled her former agent, Judy Savage.

“If you saw her, she was kind of an ordinary-looking girl — wasn’t gorgeous or sexy — but could make herself into anything on screen, and you would be really surprised at her work,” she said.

After high school, Mack moved from her family’s home in Los Alamitos, California. to North Hollywood and had a group of industry friends. She was particularly close to Christine Lakin of “Step by Step,” who recalled a girl who was “hilarious and up for anything.”

But Lakin and others said Mack, the middle of three children, also had a touch of naiveté.

“The only thing I can think of is she so badly wanted to connect to something that she didn’t see the rational side of things,” Lakin said. “I think she was just constantly searching for something that was missing in her life.”

On “Smallville,” Chloe was the clever-but-grating best friend next to the ethereal dream girl, Lana Lang, played by Kristin Kreuk.

It was Kreuk who brought Mack to her first meeting of Jness, a women’s group under the umbrella of Nxivm (pronounced Nex-ee-um), in 2006.

The weekend seminar was held in a Vancouver, British Columbia, hotel where Mack seemed to bask in the attention from Nancy Salzman, who co-founded Nxivm with Raniere. Salzman was teaching a workshop and spoke about how men are genetically polyamorous, said Susan Dones, the owner of a Nxivm center who was there that day, though she had begun to question Raniere’s motives.

Dones, who left the group in 2009, recalled thinking, “Oh my God, they’ve gotten their claws into her.”

Mack tended to throw herself wholeheartedly into experiences, a habit she said she developed at a young age when she watched her mother battle and beat cancer.

“I am insatiable. Greedy, in a way. I live with voracity and intensity ... voracitensity,” she wrote on her now defunct website.

By 2007, she was insisting that anyone she hired enroll in Nxivm classes. She also turned increasingly inward, obsessing over defects in her character, said a woman who worked for Mack for eight years who asked not to be named for fear of being contacted by current Nxivm members.

“One of the insidious things that the cult does is it breaks everyone down where you’re only focused on your flaws,” said the employee, who left Nxivm around 2013.

After “Smallville” ended in 2011, Mack moved to Brooklyn, and later bought a home in Clifton Park, New York, a suburban upstate town where many Nxivm members had flocked, including Raniere, who was referred to as “Vanguard.”

Around 2013, Kreuk left Nxivm and maintained only “minimum contact” with those still involved, according to a statement she posted last year on Twitter. Her manager did not respond to requests for comment.

But Mack ventured even deeper into the organization’s philosophies. In 2014, she was helping to start a media website for Nxivm that promised to strip news of its spin.

A year later, prosecutors said, a secret society formed within Nxivm called DOS — an acronym for a Latin phrase meaning “Lord/Master of the Obedient Female Companions” — where women were “slaves” overseen by “masters” and ordered to have sexual relations with Raniere.

Mack is said by prosecutors to have targeted vulnerable women under the guise of female empowerment, starving them until they fit Raniere’s sexual ideal and threatening them with the release of collected “collateral.”

Although Mack married Nicki Clyne, a fellow Nxivm member and actress who appeared in “Battlestar Galactica,” in 2017, she appeared to be infatuated and romantically involved with Raniere, former members of the organization said.

When Mack appeared in court in April to plead guilty, her small voice wobbled as she spoke. She apologized. She wept.

“I believed that Keith Raniere’s intentions were to help people, and that my adherence to his system of beliefs would help empower others and help them,” she said. “I was wrong.”

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