As more revelations emerge about former Smallville actress-turned-sex-cult member Allison Mack, including her role in allegedly recruiting female sex slaves for the bizarre NXVIM (pronounced NEX-ee-um) cult leader Keith Raniere, bigger questions are raised concerning how the popular actress got involved with a cult at all.
After her arrest, it was reported that the 35-year-old actress not only recruited members for Raniere to have sex with, but she also blackmailed them with compromising pictures, and helped hold them down and brand them with a symbol that was a mix of Mack's and Raniere's initials. Raniere and Mack's trial is set to begin October 1, and if they're convicted, they will face 15 years in prison, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Why do celebrities get involved in cults?
Mack is certainly not the only Hollywood celeb who is a cult member, but she is among those who joined cults voluntarily as adults.
"I find that the vast majority of people who join these groups are extremely intelligent, open-minded, kind, loving people," director Jodi Wille told The Hollywood Reporter. Wille directed the documentary The Source Family, about a Southern California cult in the 1970s led by flamboyant Father Yod, who owned a vegetarian restaurant in Los Angeles frequented by celebrities. Hollywood, she says, has many people who "are lost or damaged, and so if you get a predator in the mix, whether it's Harvey Weinstein or the leader of NXIVM, they're going to go for it."
The following is a very short list of Hollywood insiders who were either born into or joined organizations described by people as cults.
Leah Remini and Scientology
Based in Los Angeles, the Church of Scientology, founded by L. Ron Hubbard in 1954 and notoriously described by those who escaped it as being a cult, has perhaps its most vocal opponent in ex-Church member Leah Remini, the former King of Queens actress.
Remini was raised in the Church of Scientology as a child, and she finally left in 2013. Remini detailed her experiences in her book Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology and in an A&E docu-series Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath, which won an Emmy.
Leah claims that one of the worst things about Scientology is that its doctrine demands that anyone who wants to leave must be "destroyed" and their families must shun them. Famous Scientology members include John Travolta, Jason Lewis, Kirstie Alley, Tom Cruise, Juliette Lewis, Danny Masterson, and musician Beck.
Joaquin Phoenix, Rose McGowan and The Children of God
Like Leah Remini — and unlike Allison Mack — both Joaquin Phoenix and Rose McGowan were born into families that already belonged to cults, in their case, the notorious international Children of God cult founded in 1968, according to Ranker. Their doctrine? Although officially to serve as missionaries, ex-members have claimed their purpose was to have sex with strangers and to use their children to lure new members in, what they called "flirty fishing," according to CBS.
Actress Rose McGowan's father was the leader of the Italian branch of the Children of God. She told People that her father had the family leave for fear she might be molested. Joaquin Phoenix's whole family were members of The Children of God, although, as he told Playboy in 2014, "I think it was really innocent on my parents' part." They left when their sons were teens.
The cult exists now as The Family International, head by Karen Zerby. And if what happened to Zerby's son Ricky Rodriguez is any indication, ex-members might have a more accurate idea about what the cult's "mission" is.
In 2005, her son Ricky, who'd been raised in part by topless female nannies, invited one of them to dinner, murdered her and committed suicide, but not before asking his wife to explain to the press why he was doing it, reported the The New York Times. He claimed it was to get revenge for being molested by his nanny in an organization rife with allegations of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. Former members say that at least 25 adults who were raised as children in the cult have committed suicide.
Andrew Keegan and Full Circle
Although it might seem odd that Andrew Keegan of 10 Things I Hate About You and Boy Meets World would start a religion in California called Full Circle, that state seems to draw cult leaders like it draws celebs. In 2014, Andrew told Vice that he was inspired to start the religion after a series of strange things happened following a mugging in Venice Beach in 2011.
"I had a moment where I was looking at a street lamp and it exploded. That was a weird coincidence," he said. "At a ceremony, a heart-shaped rose quartz crystal was on the altar, and synchronistically, this whole thing happened. It's a long story, but basically the crystal jumped off the altar and skipped on camera. That was weird." From these experiences, Keegan told Vice that he needed to start a religion whose mission "is to take the war out of our story, which is essentially peace, but activated peace."
Although cults usually have the reputation of being sinister, one of their defining traits is being organized around a single, powerful personality. So although it remains to be seen what will happen with Andrew's Full Circle church (or is it cult?), it definitely exists around his "cult of personality."