Belly chains: a fashionable accessory or a symbol of being shackled to a cult?
Former high-ranking NXIVM member and “Smallville” actor Allison Mack wore a belly chain before the group's reputation completely fell apart in 2017. Mack had joined NXIVM, a multi-level marketing company with centers across North and South America because, like other celebrities, she was convinced that the group would lead her to more success and a higher level of enrichment.
However, for some members — including Mack — it led to arrests and convictions.
The organization was thrust into the spotlight in 2017 after several former members blew the whistle on the group’s hidden inner sex cult with a shocking New York Times expose. The secret society was a group called DOS (an acronym for a Latin phrase which means “Master Over Slave Women") where women were branded after being forced to fork over collateral in order to serve NXIVM leader Keith Raniere and other high ranking "slaves-turned-masters" in the pyramid scheme.
Mack was one of the high ranking "slave-masters," according to a 2018 U.S. Attorney’s Office press release. She was arrested in 2018 on sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy, and forced labor conspiracy charges. She pleaded guilty last year to racketeering conspiracy and racketeering charges.
As “Star Wars” actor and former NXIVM member Bonnie Piesse was catching on to the group’s dark underbelly, she was disturbed by details Mack told her on a walk.
“She says that she’s made a lifetime vow to Keith and I think she said it was a vow of devotion and she lifted up her shirt and showed me her belly chain,” Piesse recalled in HBO’s new docuseries “The Vow.” “She said, ‘And this is to symbolize the vow that I’ve made.'”
As the series shows, DOS slaves reportedly took a vow to serve their masters. All slaves, as well as masters, were slaves to Raniere, a grandmaster.
Investigative journalist and former NXIVM publicist-turned-antagonist Frank Parlato wrote on his blog in 2018 that the chains are "literal symbols for the chains of slavery."
He said that based upon his research, DOS slaves were required to get a chain after they handed over their collateral. He said the branding came next. DOS slaves were infamously branded with Raniere and Mack’s initials on their bodies.
“The rule was that you could never take it off even when showering,” Parlato told Oxygen.com about the chains.
Parlato believes that around 100 women wore chains, but specified that they were not all belly chains. He said the DOS members had the option of wearing them around their belly, ankle. or neck. He also said that there didn’t seem to be any specific design on the chains, nor did the chains seem to bear any symbolic markings. Parlato believes that DOS members were given some instructions on what kind of chain to wear but that they were allowed to buy it from a retailer or jeweler of choice.
“It was one of the conditions of being a DOS slave besides being branded and giving collateral,” he said. “It was an external badge of slavery.”
Raniere was convicted in June 2019 of sex trafficking, racketeering, and forced labor conspiracy, among other federal charges.
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