An Interview With Marisa Silva-Dunbar about her book “Allison”


As long as I’ve known you (many years now), you have been working on this collection about Allison Mack’s descent into the NXIVMcult and the aftermath. What drew you to this subject matter? Has your perspective on Allison as a subject changed as time went by and the case progressed? If so in what ways?


I grew up watching Allison Mack in tween films. We are around the same age so she was in a lot of the media I consumed. Her character on Smallville, Chloe Sullivan, became one of my favorite characters; she was witty and charming. She didn’t hide her smarts to impress the men around her, but she was also relatable. She wasn’t seen by the people she wanted to see her most. (I stopped watching around season four, so maybe this changed). 

During the summer of 2017, I just happened to Google her, and found The Frank Report. This website was one of the first places (if not the first) to leak information about DOS (a group within NXIVM that consisted of women–knowingly and unknowingly– dedicating their lives to Keith by providing collateral, being branded). I was reading it in realtime. Not only did The Frank Report have the horrific details of the branding and Raniere’s manipulations, but it also featured people who knew Allison (we see this in the collection) talking about how she wasn’t in a good place mentally, how she had wanted to leave before. 

I kept up with the story, until Raniere’s arrest. I hoped she would wake up. I wanted to understand how she got to this point—why she followed this man blindly.

My perspective of Allison has definitely changed since I first started writing the collection. I feel it has become less black and white. She is definitely a victim of Raniere (I think people need to remember he is the big bad, without him none of these things would’ve happened), but she became a victimizer. Regardless of her intentions, she harmed and traumatized people.

KG: There is an epigraph at the beginning of this collection from Derek Landry. It states that “the lies we tell other people are nothing compared to the lies we tell ourselves.” How does this apply to your subject Allison Mack? From your research, what lies had she been telling herself in regards to her participation and leadership in NXIVM? Do you feel you’ve seen Allison evolve during the period of time you have studied her for your book?

MSD: I think the biggest lie she told herself was that serving Raniere was for the ultimate good. I believe she was one of the women who truly thought if they did everything he asked, they could change the world. He convinced some of the women that sex with him could heal them, that he had divine sperm. To believe something like that, one has to have created a bible of lies that they follow, and I feel that she did.

I feel like she has evolved over the last four years. The fact that she renounced Raniere is huge. The mythology around him in NXIVM was astounding. She was in the inner circle, and that would be seen as the ultimate betrayal. Clare Bronfman, who wasn’t in DOS, but who funded NXIVMs criminal activity, is still deeply loyal to Raniere. I feel Allison turning her back on him, and helping the feds, shows that she is moving in a different direction.

KG: Can you tell readers what sources you used in researching the book?

MSD: The majority of the source material is from Allison’s blogs on her now defunct website. I initially focused on the time period between 2011-2017, but I did go back further to see how her writing changed and ultimately devolved in 2017. Reading those posts it’s clear she was unwell.

KG: also used The Frank Report as another primary source. Once the story was broken by the New York Times, I read whatever article I could get my hands on, that included: Vanity Fair, Vice, The Hollywood Reporter, an article she wrote for Huffington Post. Particularly interesting was a podcast where former Smallville castmate Michael Rosenbaum explained that he had a strange encounter where Allison and a group of NXIANS basically invaded his home and he had to throw them out.

MSD: For a few years there wasn’t that much information about her, but then in 2020, HBO’s The VOW and Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult premiered and there was new information. This included footage of Allison’s introduction to Raniere and information that the brand was specifically Raniere’s initials and not hers.

KG: I noticed that you make reference to Allison’s blog in the book as a source. For those of us who know less about Mack, did this blog precede her involvement with NXIVM? How long into her involvement in NXIVM did this blog exist — if at all?

MSD: She started blogging in April 2007, about five months after meeting Raniere and joining NXVIM, and her last post was July 1st, 2017. Just over ten years, and I feel like the isolation and indoctrination becomes more obvious in those later posts. She was definitely more faithful to blogging in her earlier years. There is this huge gap between November 2014 and May 2017, and I would be curious to know if that’s when Raniere really took over her life.

I remember reading her blog back in the mid-2000s so that’s how I knew it existed. She was likable then. She talked about traveling the world and her adventures with various friends. She was trying to figure out who she was. 

5.) In a culture that worships celebrity, Allison Mack had the privilege of attaining that.  Yet one would extrapolate from her cult activities and downfall, she was not fulfilled by her career and its accolades.  From your research, what factors in Allison Mack’s life and personality made her particularly vulnerable to Raniere? 

I think there were multiple factors that made her vulnerable to Raniere. First of all, she was targeted by his inner circle Pam Cafritz, the Saltzmans, the Bronfmans. Pam Cafritz had been procuring women and girls for Raniere for decades by this point (DOS was basically set up as a replacement method of procurement after Cafritz’s death). They went to the intensive Allison attended with the intent of bringing her in; they were grooming her. 

Former NXIANS talk about the mythology surrounding Keith. He was billed as the smartest man in the world, he had multiple degrees, his presence could mess up electronics, he could change the weather, didn’t need sleep, and if he paid you attention or wanted to talk to you, you were lucky. By the time she met him, it must’ve seemed like she was meeting this icon. NXIVM saw her addition as a big win. There is actually a clip of her first meeting with him in one of the later episodes of The Vow. He breaks down her joy, and subtly tears apart her love of art. It’s a bunch of word salad by a person whose only “skill” is manipulation (and that’s in no way a flex), but she obviously already reveres him, so it’s devastating to her.

Second, she was young and clearly looking for some sort of purpose. I think most of us have points in our life where we feel like we could do more, or we aren’t on the right path. We want to improve ourselves. She had friends and coworkers in the community, so I can see how it would be easy to step into that world. 

And if you ever see The Vow, that first episode shows how appealing the NXIVM program could be. Some people were able to conquer their fears, there was this strong sense of community, there seemed to be a strong support system built into the program. The majority of it ended up being manipulative, but on the surface it seemed hopeful. 

KG: I notice throughout the text you use devices like striking through words like “he” or “man” when referencing Keith Raniere. It seems an authorial commentary made about Raniere as the poem is enlightening us often on Allison’s less critical stance regarding Raniere. Were there other stylistic choices you made to insert a viewpoint of Raniere that was less biased than your titular subject?

MSD: When I initially started writing the manuscript, I found Keith to be the least interesting part of the story. Yes, he was running the show, but I did not give a flying fuck about him. I still find that while he is an odious, piece of chicken shit—he is ultimately very pedestrian. He is a textbook malignant narcissist. I also feel that whatever potential he had as a human was gone by his late teens/early twenties. He was already abusing women and girls. His intentions were malicious from that point on. It’s clear he’s a misogynist, and enjoys destroying women.

Allison on the other hand, seemed to be a good person prior to her involvement. I think that’s the tragedy of the story; had she not met Raniere—had she never been involved with NXIVM I suspect her life would’ve been very different. 

Over the last few years, what has become clear is that so many women and girls had years stolen from them because of NXIVM. And I would say people in general, but I am focusing on the women and girls because they were all being groomed for him in some way. I’d rather hear their stories. I think hearing from them (if they are willing to share) takes away his power. 

I suppose I am very biased towards Keith—he deserves to rot. 

KG: Currently Allison Mack is serving three years for her participation in the crimes of NXIVM under the guidance of Keith Raniere. As someone who has studied Mack extensively, what are your hopes for her when she re-enters society in the not-too distant future?

MSD: My hope is that she genuinely seeks healing. Healing is not an easy process, and I feel like she still is going to have a few barriers once she is released. If this is something she wanted to do, I would like her to share her story.

KG: True crime writing and documentaries are incredibly popular. Why do you think that is? Do you think Allison’s story is very relatable to most who read it? What translates to readers about Allison’s story?

MSD: I think true crime is popular because a lot of us are trying to understand where this dark behavior comes from. What goes so wrong in a person’s life that they become a monster. I know that’s one of the reasons I am drawn to it.

I think there are different aspects of Allison that people will find relatable. If a person has ever searched for a community, a greater purpose, faith and found themselves in over their head. If a person has ever lost themselves, or abandoned who they are to dedicate themselves to a relationship/ a person who ultimately used them and didn’t care how they hurt them.

I know when I was writing Allison’s story, especially these last couple of years I was able to look at my own relationship with a narcissist and see how they drown a person and make it so the narcissist seems like the only thing the person can grab on to. It’s very consuming, and easy to lose oneself. It takes a lot to wake up.

KG: Allison is a true crime tale told in poetry. What does the poetic form offer to this genre of storytelling?

MSD: I found that the poetic form allowed me to hone in on certain parts of the story, play with different perspectives. I suppose it allowed me to be a little less objective as opposed to journalism, and it’s not as one-sided as a personal narrative. I think both of those are equally important, and valid, but as an outsider I didn’t want to take on the voice of the survivors, nor did I have the resources or background to write an investigative journalism text.

KG: In doing research for this book, If you could ask Allison Mack one question and knew she would have to answer, what question would that be?

MSD: How do you feel you can take your life back, atone, and live the life you want ?

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