Anthony Nippy Ames and Sarah Edmondson producing their new podcast, “A Little Bit Culty” (Submitted)

Anthony Nippy Ames and Sarah Edmondson producing their new podcast, “A Little Bit Culty” (Submitted)

B.C. survivors of NXIVM cult launch podcast about experience

The Vancouver-based couple wants to help people avoid destructive cults through their story

Two survivors of a cult which got worldwide attention in recent years have started a podcast called A Little Bit Culty, hoping to help other people learn from their experience.

Vancouver couple Sarah Edmondson and Anthony “Nippy” Ames were members of NXIVM, which from the fringes seemed like a personal development program. It had leadership training, mentoring opportunities and a very charismatic leader.

It took them 12 years to hit a breaking point, when Edmondson was branded with what they later learned was the initials of that charismatic leader Keith Raniere. That incident brought all their doubts and questions to a head, and they left the cult in 2017.

NXIVM founder Keith Raniere was sentenced by a New York federal court in October 2020 to 120 years in jail for racketeering, sex trafficking and more. Several members of his inner circle were also convicted.

Edmondson and Ames told Black Press Media they didn’t know any of the criminal abuse that was going on at the top; they thought NXIVM was a personal development program, albeit with some admittedly unconventional methods. It’s since been called a sex-cult.

RELATED: NXIVM guru gets 120 years in prison in sex-slaves case

Their podcast is grounded in what they’ve learned since leaving the cult through the help of therapists who have put a language to what happened. Some episodes will feature experts, others will interview survivors and some delve into the curriculum of NXIVM’s Executive Success Programs to examine what teachings drew them in and where things got “culty.”

The pair, now parents of two, have spent years “de-programming” their minds, and processing various reactions of shame, embarrassment and rage.

“Like, what did I miss? How did I think I was doing something good but ended up being aligned with someone who was abusing so many people? That was a really difficult,” Ames said.

While they didn’t know Raniere’s abusive side, they were close friends with some who did and lied about who Raniere was.

That deception is the first red flag Ames thinks of when he’s asked how to identify a destructive cult.

Not all cults are destructive, but many are designed to abuse power.

“That was the joke, we were like, yeah we’re in a cult, but were helping people. We were aware of the weird stuff, and we just thought it was funny and ridiculous. We didn’t know that the people closest to Keith were getting abused in the way they were,” Ames said.

Their split with NXIVM came gradually. Ames felt the mission to bring joy to the world wasn’t working. Morale was low, and the monthly training sessions weren’t having the same reach.

The decision to leave culminated in a ceremony where Edmondson and other recruits to a secret sisterhood were branded with Raniere’s initials. They didn’t know it was his initials, or that it would be a brand instead of a type of bonding tattoo.

“There is no word to describe my rage,” she said.

Since coming forward about being in NXIVM, the couple were interviewed on The Vow, an HBO documentary about the cult, and were involved in court cases that got Raniere and other top leaders behind bars.

They receive inquiries almost daily from people who think they may be in a cult. Some key indicators, the couple said, include if a person can leave the group without being harassed or hurt, if they can question the leader and their transparency.

To anyone concerned about a loved one who might be in a destructive cult, they say to approach with respect, curiosity and lots of questions.

“Say, I’ve seen these allegations, tell me about them. Like, how is that for you? What do you think about it? Is any of it true? What would you do if it was true? Stuff like that,” Edmondson said.

Do you have something to add to this story or something else we should report on? Email: zoe.ducklow@blackpress.ca


Podcasts

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Flight with COVID
Another Kelowna flight with COVID-19 exposure

Westjet flight on April 5 from Kelowna to Edmonton

Lori Jantz snapped this picture of a fight between a bald eagle and an osprey above Osoyoos Lake on Friday. (Lori Jantz photo)
Battle in the sky erupts above South Okanagan lake

Bald eagle and osprey fight mid-air in Osoyoos

This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus.[CDC]
More COVID-19 exposures reported at schools in Kelowna

Interior Health added additional schools and dates to their list of exposures

Royal LePage Arena was an addition to West Kelowna championed by Len Novakowski. (File photo)
West Kelowna community leader Novakowski dies

Former Westside regional district director Len Novakowski dies after lengthy health battle

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

These nails were collected off the Campbell Mountain bike trails in Penticton this weekend. Someone placed them all over the trail. (Facebook)
Hundreds of nails placed on popular Penticton bike trail

A mountain biker took to Facebook to warn others about the nails

A second case of COVID-19 has been confirmed at Vernon’s BX Elementary School. (Kerry Hutter photo)
Second COVID case confirmed at Okanagan elementary school

Exposure at Vernon’s BX Elementary happened April 6 and 7

People walk past the Olympic rings in Whistler, B.C., Friday, May 15, 2020. Whistler which is a travel destination for tourists around the world is seeing the effects of travel bans due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Adults living, working in Whistler, B.C., eligible for COVID-19 vaccine on Monday

The move comes as the province deals with a rush of COVID-19 and variant cases in the community

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
UPDATE: RCMP investigating after child, 6, dies at motel in Duncan, B.C.

The BC Coroners Service is conducting its own investigation into the circumstances around the child’s death

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Highway 97 being converted to four lanes in April 1990. This photo taken in Lake Country. (Greater Vernon Museum and Archives Photo #14025)
HISTORY: How the old Highway 97 in Lake Country got new name

Pelmewash Parkway recognizes the First Nations history in Lake Country

RCMP display some of the fish seized from three suspects who pleaded guilty to violating the Fisheries Act in 2019, in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - RCMP
3 banned from fishing, holding licences after overfishing violations near Vancouver Island

Mounties seized the group’s 30-foot fishing vessel and all equipment on board at the time

Most Read