Hi I’m Kelly Thiel. I live in the OC, I do pilates 3 days a week. I practice yoga (on and off the mat). I volunteer, I have been in part of the Young President’s Organization for 14 years, I graduated with honors from the University of San Diego. GO TOREROS!! I have been on quest for enlightenment through books and teachers. I got to meet and was blessed by his holiness the Dali Lama. Namaste! (Bowing with prayer hands). I have an amazingly supportive and successful husband who adores me and I have a four beautiful children whom I adore. And in 2016………….. I joined a cult.
Well, I need you to know that I did just not wake up one morning and decide to join a cult. Sane people just don’t do that. I choose to join Nxivm. I was in no way coerced or forced. It was a choice I made because I believed I was somehow broken and needed to be fixed.
I had spent a lifetime trying to be perfect. Jumping through hoops and rearranging myself, my ideas, my everything in order to fit in and gain approval for my work and for myself. I thought that being perfect would certainly keep me safe from being criticized and judged. If I were perfect then I would be accepted and loved. But somehow it wasn’t working and, as a result, I was becoming more and more disconnected from myself. My internal guidance system, my GPS, as I like to call it, had become a bit rusty.
In addition to feeling lost, I was hungry for purpose and knew with out a doubt that I needed to find a solution. Low and behold, Nxivm and I found each other. We were a match made in heaven…. Or hell depending on how you look at it.
Well, I have to tell you—right from the start the classes were amazing! They were held in a Santa Monica in a beautiful home in a gorgeous neighborhood. The fundamental ideas were: 1) changes in the world can be achieved with compassion instead of violence 2) true happiness is a life lived in line with one’s moral compass and 3) true human potential could be attained by the proper use of the tools created by Keith Raniere.
A few days into my classes, I met Allison Mack, from the TV show Smallville. She struck up a conversation and I was bold and told her that I had read that Nxivm might be a cult. She laughed just a little too loud. Then she said that if it were it cult, then it was the best cult the world had ever seen. Well, I mean this was coming from Allison Mack; a famous TV celebrity. I mean she would know.
I’m sure she would tell me if there were any dead bodies or dead chickens I should know about. Right? She would know if there was any helter skelter Charles Manson stuff going on or any stock piles of Kool-Aid I should be aware of. Right?? If that kind of stuff were going she wouldn’t be so smiley and shiny and happy and nice. I mean she was smiling ALL THE TIME!
I learned early on that Keith, or Vanguard, as he liked to be called, was one of the smartest and most ethical men in the world. We all believed it! He had conferred with the Dalai Lama about world issues and he was a true humanitarian. He only slept four hours per night, and was always busy thinking of ways to use compassion, tolerance and non-violence to help humankind.
The whole thing was right up my ally. The classes were going to fix me and I had found a purpose in Nxivm’s mission to heal the world. I quickly began enrolling people from my large network of clients, friends and colleagues into what I thought was the greatest programs in the world designed by one of the greatest humanitarians in the world.
The I soon began working many long hours coaching at week long intensives with little sleep, little time to eat and NO compensation.
Each time I showed signs of emotional and physical exhaustion, maybe a bit of defiance or insubordination or even threatened to quit, a senior member or sometimes even Keith, would reach out and ask how they could support me. They would discuss my long laundry list of issues and remind me that in order to become a whole and integrated person, I must first fix myself. I was told that if there was a problem, it was most certainly me.
This cycle repeated itself almost weekly and each time I began to believe more and more that the problem really was me.
By now I am sure that you can all tell that I have tried the Kool-Aid. I DRANK the Kool-Aid. I also bet you are wondering—What were my friends and family thinking? Well, let me tell you, I had become very, very good at keeping my Kool-Aid drinking self help addict separate from the Orange County girl I talked about earlier. There were two of me now and I could tell they were starting to merge. I was caught up in storm of confusion and coercive control. It was becoming difficult to tell who was going to win.
I was so busy keeping up the act that it hadn’t occurred to me yet that anything might not be as it seemed- that we might not be in Kansas anymore— This Dorothy never thought that she might be working her ass off to enable the abuse of other women or that she was enrolling people into what turned out to be part of a sex slave cult.
I had begun to depend less and less on my own Guidance system. I had all but smothered my intuition and I lost focus of my North Star until is all but disappeared. This is called indoctrination.
My indoctrination started once I began to believe that I was the problem and Nxivm was the one and only answer. I believed that I had to become a more ethical, accountable and noble person in order to truly contribute to the human race. It was an honorable pursuit. Don’t you think? However, I was exploited in my servitude to these higher ideals and principles.
But I also need you know that I was targeted by a brilliant micro recruiting process. Nxivm was not going after the weak and the vulnerable. I was targeted because I was intelligent, had access to resources and to social and business networks. Nxivm used intake forms to identify my weaknesses and traumas. Then they created a tailor made program of endless classes and a confusing and near impossible stripe path. I was required to fix my weaknesses based on a subjective measuring system. I was stuck in a cycle that I was never supposed to get out of. Brilliant really, if you think about it. The system created dependency instead of independence and; in addition, the hundreds of millions of dollars, given to Keith Raniere by Nxivm members, like the Bronfman sisters, enabled not only the target specific recruitment, but the ability to grow the organization while silencing any and all opposition, including the local authorities in Albany.
The one thing that I would like you to take away from my experience in a cult, is that people who find themselves in these situations are not always uneducated, lacking resources or on the fringes of society but they are people like you and me and given the right set of circumstances, anyone could be susceptible.
As the next generation of attorney’s, you might find yourself drawn to advocating for or representing someone who has been exploited or abused by a high demand high control group, a cult or who has been sex trafficked. In my opinion, this would truly be an honorable pursuit. It is crucial to our society that awareness and lawful action is brought to these organizations that are exploiting, enslaving and sex trafficking women and girls, right within our communities- right in plain sight.
Kelly is a highly sought after speaker and consultant to families and organizations regarding high demand groups (e.g., cults) and narcissistic personalities. Kelly is dedicated to helping people reclaim their freedom and uncover their glorious selves.