Damon Brink believed he had found a path to spiritual fulfillment, self-awareness and financial success. Days into his initial training with a mysterious group outside of Albany, N.Y., he had become captivated by its teachings.
“I didn’t really want to leave,” Brink recalled. “At the end of the day, I was exhausted but happy — happy in a way I hadn’t been in years or maybe decades.”
That happiness would not last. Twelve years later, the Morrisville resident has found himself trapped in the undertow of the group, known as NXIVM (pronounced NEX-ee-um) and widely described as a cult.
Since 2017, when former members went public with lurid allegations of sexual slavery and branding, it has become the subject of tabloid headlines and the HBO documentary series “The Vow.” In October, NXIVM’s charismatic leader, Keith Raniere — addressed by his followers as “Vanguard” — was sentenced to 120 years in prison for forced labor, sex trafficking, and the sexual exploitation of a minor, among other charges. Members of Raniere’s inner circle, including Seagram heiress Clare Bronfman and “Smallville” actress Allison Mack, have pleaded guilty to racketeering and related crimes.
Though Brink, 50, maintains he was unaware of NXIVM’s darkest secrets, suspicion and scorn have followed him back to Vermont, where he was once known as a standout first baseman for the University of Vermont Catamounts, co-owner of the Burlington nightclub Nectar’s and candidate for the state House of Representatives.
According to Brink, he remains estranged from friends and family members he once sought to recruit. He has been denied rental housing due to his association with the group and has received threatening messages from neighbors. One note called him “pathetic” and “a despicable human being.” The writer added, “Don’t worry. We’re already making sure the entire town knows who you are. No one will want you around their children.”
Last week, it appears, NXIVM also cost Brink his job.
“I feel vulnerable. I feel scared. I feel sad,” he said. “Sometimes I feel angry.”
Since leaving the Albany area with his family in 2018, Brink has sought to establish himself as a mentor and coach in north-central Vermont. He serves as president of Stowe Youth Baseball and Lamoille County Little League. He founded an indoor batting cage center called Go Baseball and is a DJ for Top Hat Entertainment. In August 2019, he was hired to run an afterschool program at Everyone Equals Morristown Community Center, or E=MC2. There, he helped secure a contract with the state Department for Children and Families to host supervised visits between noncustodial parents and their children.
Earlier this month, however, a community member brought Brink’s past to the department’s attention. “We became aware of a connection between Mr. Brink and NXIVM,” said DCF general counsel Jennifer Myka.
Last Thursday, the department gave notice that it was exercising its right to cancel the $8,200 contract for no cause. Myka declined to say whether the decision was prompted by the tip.
“We’re in the middle of a budget process, and we’re doing constant monitoring,” said DCF spokesperson Luciana DiRuocco. “When flags come up during the monitoring process, they get responded to.”
By Friday, Brink was no longer employed by E=MC2, according to Billi Dunham, president of the nonprofit’s board of directors. “The conditions of us separating are considered confidential by both parties,” said Dunham, whose partner, Sunny Brink, is Damon’s brother.
Brink’s supporters — and even some of his detractors — say there is no reason to believe he has hurt anybody but himself. He has been charged with no crimes and publicly accused of no wrongdoing.
Frank Parlato, a former NXIVM employee who became one of its chief critics, has mercilessly mocked Brink as a dupe on his blog, the Frank Report, which has for years documented the organization’s alleged misdeeds. But even Parlato argues that Brink’s association with NXIVM should not cost him his career.
“I do not think Damon Brink is a threat to any children whatsoever. Just the opposite. I think he’s probably a good kind of role model for kids,” Parlato said in an interview. “He might be brainwashed about Keith. He might be blind to Keith’s scenario. But he’s no threat to children.”
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