Last week, Troy Mayor Harry Tutunjian got a break from his regular humdrum duties to entertain, at least for a little while, celebrity. Allison Mack of TV's Smallville and Nicki Clyne of Battlestar Galactica were in Troy, scoping out the quaint downtown scene, visiting the shops and going out for dinner, and they popped in for a quick visit with the befuddled mayor.
Mack and Clyne have said that they were interested in starting a business, and curious about the community's youth scene, said Jeff Buell, Troy's director of public information.
Why Troy? Why the Capital Region?
Because, according to multiple sources, Clyne and Mack are students of Executive Success Programs, or ESP, which is the educational wing of NXIVM, and have been for at least a year. Mack's co-star, Kristin Kreuk, has been connected to the organization for years.
NXIVM, a Capital Region-based organization, purports to offer courses in "ethics, critical thinking and entrepreneurship." It has been criticized by many of its former members as destructive and cultlike.
The head of NXIVM, Keith Raniere, started his "human potential training" business in 1998, after his first business, Consumers Buyline Inc., a multimillion-dollar discount buyers club, was shut down after 25 state and federal investigations. It was alleged at the time that CBI was a pyramid scheme, and Raniere was forced to pay New York state roughly $50,000.
According to former insiders, Raniere is referred to by followers as "Vanguard."
Clyne and Mack's apparent goal is to start a business, the details of which are somewhat unclear, but according to sources, it would be geared toward helping young entrepreneurs and college students start their own businesses. "We really want to be known for our parties," Mack told a source, who asked to remain anonymous.
Sources also said the business could entail a membership fee. As a member, students would have access to discounted items, such as travel or computers. According to sources, the business would have direct ties to NXIVM, something that NXIVM president Nancy Salzman flatly denied.
In an e-mail to Metroland, Salzman wrote, "To say their business is affiliated with NXIUM [sic] is quite a stretch, but if you must it would also mean, Enron, Worldcom, Krispy Kreme and BNI, Black Entertainment TV and a number of different countries are NXIVM affiliated. . . . The business to which you refer is just another business started by one of our past or present 8,000 participants who took one of our courses in ethics, critical thinking and entrepreneurship. It is our intent to help people start businesses if they want to and be more joyful and prosperous in their lives, I guess we're doing a good job."
"What Raniere is obviously doing is gearing up for the college crowd," said Rick Ross, a leading cult deprogrammer and controversial critic of NXIVM. "The demographic that has been the most lucrative, the most fruitful for cults is 18 to 26."
Young people with substantial discretionary funds who are alone for the first time in their lives, are an ideal target, he said. He pointed to the survey that Clyne and Mack have linked to from their official Web sites as an example of Raniere's attempts to gather data on this demographic. Nearly each page of the online survey features a picture of Clyne, Mack, or Kreuk. The survey is hosted at etholutions.com, a domain registered to Karen Unterreiner, a longtime associate of Raniere's from his days with CBI.
Raniere, according to Ross, is not allowed, by law, to be involved in a discount buyer's club, due to the collapse of CBI.
The survey is specifically geared toward college students. It asks more than a dozen questions regarding their purchasing, studying, and recreational habits. After a round of these questions, the survey moves on to more unusual questions, such as, "Would you swallow a glass of your own vomit for $100?" The questions continue along in this vein, increasing the hypothetical monetary payout, and also the grossness factor: "What if it was dog vomit?"
"My experience with Hollywood people and cults, they are really easy to grab," said Ross. "A lot easier than you would imagine. They are so vulnerable and emotionally needy. What kind of person wants to be an actor in the first place? They need to be loved, adored, and the center of attention. It's like shooting fish in a barrel."
Clyne and Mack declined to comment for this article.