In 2013, actress Allison Mack, then best known for her 10-season run on the television series “Smallville,” posted a video to her YouTube channel titled “You asked, I answered.”
With a tree-filled yard as her background, she answers questions that range from innocuous (her favorite snacks are cucumbers with peach salsa and roasted buttercup squash, she says) to reflective (“I want to be remembered for the way that I impacted people.”)
Four years later, one question from that video stands out — “What’s it like working for Jness?”
Without providing much context on the group itself, Mack says, “Working for Jness is, I think, the most gratifying thing I’ve ever done.”
She makes references to how women “completely transform” because of their involvement with the group.
Jness is a company founded by Keith Raniere, who along with Mack, is facing charges of sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy and forced labor conspiracy.
Mack has entered a not guilty plea.
Requests for comment sent to Mack and Raniere’s attorneys by CNN have gone unanswered.
According to Raniere’s profile on the website for Nxivm, the group that prosecutors say is a pyramid scheme and the umbrella organization under which Raniere and Mack carried out the crimes of which they are accused, Jness was formed “to promote the furtherance and empowerment of women throughout the world.”
“Working for Jness is grounding and satisfying and humbling and, and…wonderful,” she says, the edges of her mouth curling up into a slight smile. “Wonderful.”
Leaving the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York on Tuesday, Mack was a shadow of the bubbly woman who waxed poetic about her favorite scarf on YouTube just a few years ago.
Mack was released from jail on $5 million bond just days after being indicted. Mack’s mother, Melinda Mack, put up her home as collateral, according to court documents.
Raniere remains in federal custody.
Mack will be under house arrest in California and her release comes with a number of conditions, including one which states she is prohibited from contacting or associating with any present or former members of Nxivm (pronounced NEX-ium), court documents say.
She must also wear an electronic monitoring device and can’t use a computer or access the internet through any means, unless it’s to communicate with her legal counsel or other pre-approved persons.
Mack is in the process of negotiating a plea deal with prosecutors, according to public filings.
Lauren Hersh, a former prosecutor and national director of advocacy group World Without Exploitation, says a plea agreement would likely not be a get out of jail free card for Mack but notes that important questions remain.
“If I were the prosecutor here, I would want to understand how she got pulled into this world, and what kind of trauma, if any, she experienced — not that it would mean she should not be guilty of the harm she caused to another person,” said Hersh. “But it may, in certain circumstances, make things make sense and may mitigate in some respects.”
How did Allison Mack get involved?
At the height of “Smallville’s” popularity, Mack enjoyed the attention given to any star whose TV show is closely followed by scores of young, passionate fans.
While “Smallville” was never a ratings behemoth, appearances from the show’s actors at San Diego Comic-Con could fill thousands of seats and though the show’s debut predated the creation of Twitter, its fans were among the first wave to use the platform to voice their opinions on episodes.
Mack’s character, Chloe Sullivan, was especially popular. So much so, that DC Comics introduced the character into the comic book mythology in 2010, The Hollywood Reporter noted in 2011.
So where did it apparently go wrong for Mack?
In a cached page from her now-deleted personal website, Mack’s biography states that she “immersed herself in the study of her craft in both conventional and unconventional ways,” after completing her work on “Smallville.”
“The more ‘unconventional’ approach came when Allison came across the work of Keith Raniere,” the website states. “Over the course of several years, Mr. Raniere mentored Allison in her study of acting and music. As such, she has developed a deep connection to the nature of humanity as it relates to acting as an art form, and a tool for personal evolution.”
It is through her love of acting, it seems, that Mack and Raniere have or had a connection.
In a 2017 Nxivm recruitment video featuring Mack and Raniere on YouTube, Mack cries at one point as Raniere carries on for several minutes about “authenticity.”
“I guess that’s probably part of the reason I have such an obsession with art and creativity and things like that because it feels like the sole purpose of those sorts of things is to generate that type of experience for people,” she says, with a shaky voice.
Traffickers are extremely perceptive in figuring out a person’s vulnerabilities and preying on those vulnerabilities, Hersh said.
“So, yes, we have an accomplished woman who has a network of people and who is successful, but that doesn’t mean she’s not vulnerable, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have vulnerabilities,” she said.
Mack’s website says Raniere, Mack and a “small group of equally skilled and dedicated professionals” created a curriculum for a “private arts academy” called “The Source” in 2013.
The Source is among the Nxivm-connected groups named by prosecutors in their filings.
DOS, an alleged secret society within Nxivm, is allegedly the subgroup in which sex trafficking activities took place.
Mack’s individual experiences within the Nxivm are unclear, but in court documents, prosecutors paint a disturbing picture of what the women Mack recruited went through.
The indictment claims Mack recruited two women, whose names are withheld, into DOS, which was created in 2015.
The sub-group, prosecutors allege, operated under a pyramid formation, in which women were designated as “slaves” until successfully recruiting others, at which time they became “masters.” All so-called slaves were at the service of their own masters as well as those above them in the pyramid.
The indictment claims many so-called slaves were branded on their pelvic areas with a symbol which, unbeknownst to them, incorporated Raniere’s initials.
Documents describe “branding ceremonies,” in which women were held down by others while naked and filmed while being branded with a cauterizing pen.
Raniere was the only male in DOS and the leader, according to court filings.
Prosecutors believe Mack was near the top of the pyramid with Raniere and “directly or implicitly required” her slaves to engage in sexual activity with Raniere.
Mack allegedly received financial and other benefits from Raniere in exchange for the women’s cooperation with their demands.
FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. called the allegations “an inconceivable crime” in a statement last week.
Prosecutors say Mack’s accusers claim they were blackmailed into complying, as DOS has compromising information about them.
That, Hersh said, is a classic tactic of traffickers who aim to prevent their victims from speaking out.
“Very often, there are trauma bonds that are established and that’s when victims tend to, for a whole host or reasons, do what that perpetrator wants them to do,” she said. “Very often victims are too traumatized, too terrified to report the perpetrator. They’ve been told repeatedly that ‘Nobody is going to believe you.’ or that, in this instance, if you share information about this secret society, we’re going to disseminate any harmful information you shared.”
The “grooming process” also normalizes the experience, Hersh said, enabling victims to be turned into recruiters.
“I wouldn’t be surprised that as we unpack this we learn that [Mack] is not just a perpetrator but a victim as well,” she said.
Mack’s “Smallville” co-star Kristin Kreuk admitted some involvement with Nxivm in a note posted to her Twitter account last last month. She said she was 23 when she took a course in hope it would help her overcome shyness.
“During my time, I never experienced any illegal or nefarious activity,” she wrote.
She says she left the group five years ago.
‘Intolerant of exploitation’
If convicted, Raniere and Mack each face mandatory minimum sentences of 15 years imprisonment, and up to life imprisonment.
As the case unfolds, Hersh feels there are important takeaways to be noted.
“I think where we’re in a moment in time where we realized that there are a lot of secrets in [the entertainment] industry and it is our obligation to look really closely at all these circumstances, understand them, and be really intolerant of exploitation,” she said.
Also, she said, it’s important to understand that sex trafficking is not just something that happens to “foreign-born victims in far away places.”
“And I think it’s an issue we all…need to understand because I think this highlights how vulnerabilities come in all shapes and sizes,” she said. “So in order to prevent it — I mean, there are many things that need to happen — but we all need to be aware of these circumstances.”