The Journey of the ‘Sex Cult’ Heiress: From Reluctant Recruit to Criminal Defendant

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Sara and Clare Bronfman were born to their father’s third wife and are 20 years younger than some of their half-siblings. After their parents divorced, when they were 7 and 4, they left New York and grew up in Kenya and England, according to a 2010 article in Vanity Fair.

It was Sara Bronfman who introduced her sister to Nxivm in the early 2000s. The group, which was based in Albany, N.Y., offered its members workshops that it said were designed to help participants achieve greater self-fulfillment by removing emotional and psychological roadblocks.

At the time, the Bronfman sisters, who were then in their early 20s, were opposites in both appearance and personality. Sara was blond, outgoing and likable, and appeared to be seeking a direction in life. Clare, who is extremely thin and has a narrow face and brown hair, struck Nxivm members as dour and socially awkward. She also already had a passion. As a teenager, she had become an equestrian, going on to compete in international events and open a farm to train horses.

At first, Clare Bronfman appeared to have little interest in joining Nxivm. But several meetings with Mr. Raniere turned her into a believer. She also apparently fell in love with Mr. Raniere, who had sexual relationships with many Nxivm women, several former members said. Starting in the late 1990s, approximately 16,000 people took his courses, and some were drawn deeply into the group, giving up careers and past ties to become followers of Mr. Raniere, who was referred to as “Vanguard.”

In the early 2000s, Edgar Bronfman Sr. also took some Nxivm training courses, before quickly losing interest. Several former Nxvim members said that Mr. Raniere was convinced that the businessman was behind the negative Forbes article about him. He blamed the Bronfman sisters for the episode, those former members said, and used it to exert control over them.

In the mid-2000s, Edgar Bronfman Jr., while he was head of Warner Music, also apparently once came to Albany at the request of his sisters to help judge a Nxivm-sponsored a cappella singing contest, said several people familiar with his visit. (Mr. Bronfman did not respond to emails seeking comment.)

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