This comment came from an unknown reader who had some criticism of my work at Frank Report. Unlike Keith Raniere, I like to publish critics of my work. For three reasons: They might be right – they might be partly right – or they might be wrong. But the best way to get to truth is to work at it. And with transparency is the best way to work at it, in my opinion.
Of course it would have been better if this writer had signed their name and identified themselves. But in the world of Raniere one has to be careful and I understand that.
They signed themselves as:
Removal of that woman’s name might have been too late. First, you never should have disclosed it. Doing so violated every norm of journalistic ethics there is. Naming victims, posting their pictures, posting photos of minors, I realize you are trying to force a conclusion that will save some people from further harm, but these people are victims, they are among the people who have been or are being harmed. Your crusade, which is noble and necessary, may be inflicting further harm on at least some of these people. And simply because you delete something from a website does not remove all record of it. Leaving aside any screen captures or printouts readers may have done, there are archives like the Wayback Machine where old versions of websites are stored in perpetuity. This is why people are constantly warned not to ever put anything out there they might some day come to regret, because everything put on the internet is forever.
Second, you are publishing so much salacious information that it is hurting your credibility among people who you really need to take your posts seriously. That level of detail is not necessary, again it potentially inflicts further harm or suffering on victims, and it dilutes the force of the critical, material facts you publish. Accounts or allegations of Raneire ejaculating on womens’ faces, not just one post but at least several, does nothing other than potentially humiliate every woman known or suspected of having relations with the man. What purpose does this serve? These things cloud your message, and diminish the potential usefulness of your website for people who might be in a position to do something.
You don’t know me. I have no connection to this cult. Never heard of it before I was contacted by someone who knows about cults, who introduced me to someone who introduced me to a former cult member. I have now spoken to several such victims. There may be things that could be done for them, for people still trapped inside, all of whom are victims. Even some of the ones you vilify or publish personal details about, because this man has mastered some set of techniques that enable him to turn victims into victimizers. But that does not make these people any less victim themselves, and there are potential legal sticking points if this isn’t understood.
If you want to really help all of these people, as I believe you do, then you need to filter yourself. Think carefully about what you are about to publish, and think through all of the potential ramifications, rather than single-mindedly focus on inflicting pain. That can be an approach, but I suggest you consider being more selective, and in places less detailed. Think about the harm you may be doing, and whether that is necessary. You clearly do not have an ethics counsel, so you have to do this critical thinking yourself. People who might investigate or take some sort of action need to be comfortable that this website is a credible source of information, they need to convince superiors of the same, and they unfortunately need to spend a lot of time sorting through the posts and trying to determine what information is useful, because nobody has time or resources to investigate everything.
Just chew on this. If you want to publish it, go ahead although I don’t see what the point would be. Bottom line is that two people I sent a link to your site to, whose support or assistance might have been useful if not more, refused to sign off on anything because of the problems I have identified for you. There are very few investigators or attorneys who would devote scarce resources to undertake an investigation based upon such an inherently problematic initial source.
I encourage you to keep up the very good work you are doing. You have built up trust relationships, people are confiding in you, they are trusting you, and you are so far effectively protecting your sources. I just cannot tell whether your objective is solely to ‘name and shame’ people into leaving, or whether you would like to contribute to something stronger. If it’s the latter, I encourage you to carve out a little time, take a few breaths, step out of your own mind and try to adopt an outsider’s perspective, and then read through your posts with that in mind. Then draw your own conclusions, because I am not judging you, I am offering you one such interested outsider’s view.
Point of clarification — by “salacious” I’m not referring to descriptions of the branding because obviously that is a major issue and it is impossible to explain how harmful DOS is without describing that. But I question the need to include graphic descriptions of sexual activity that make some posts read like bad soft core porn. And if explicitly or even implicitly tied to particular identified women, may ultimately do more harm than good. I’m not a prude, I don’t have any general objection, it doesn’t offend my sensibilities, and I fully understand the sexual dimension to this destructive cult. It’s a matter of how seriously the author of the posts wants people to take this website, how much value these posts do or do not have to people who might be able to at least try to do something on either the civil or criminal side or both, and again, whether victims are being harmed or caused to suffer in one way or another.
Maybe things have degenerated and the destructive behavior has escalated to a point where a ‘by any means necessary’ approach is required. As I said in my original comment, I’m not weighing in to judge, I’m only offering one perspective. But none of this is black and white, it’s not at all simple, there are multiple categories of victim, some out, some still in, who have suffered different kinds of harm, who might still be suffering even though they are out, and of those who have gotten out, some are probably in a relatively safe space in their lives and some are very much still exposed. Publishing information about them, maybe even their names, might be harmless, it might cause them some pain, it might cause them other difficulties, and perhaps there will be a case or two or whatever where it antagonizes Raniere and Bronfman and others even more, to the point where they lash out in one way or another. And there are other potential issues with respect to victims still trapped inside. Maybe the best thing for them is to continue publishing exactly as things have been, but maybe some thought could be given to whether this is always the best strategy. Not everything can be fixed with a hammer.
Victimhood in a situation like this has a lot of nuances, subtleties, gray areas. The distinguishing feature of a destructive cult such as this is the undue influence, the mind control. It’s how people are sucked in, it’s how they are pulled in deeper, it’s how they are trapped and their lives effectively destroyed, and it is also how they are manipulated to turn on one another. There are many dimensions to the harm these people are suffering, and it does not just stop when they escape. And when they are still trapped inside, there may not be a clear, bright line beyond which a victim transforms into a pure transgressor. Again, nuances, shades of gray. This is true in discussing moral culpability as well as legal liability, whether civil or criminal.
Sometimes sunlight is the best disinfectant. Sometimes to prevent or stop some harm from occurring, some other harm necessarily gets done. That is not something ever to be taken lightly, unless one is truly nonchalant about harming others. And there are many kinds of harm to be considered. I’ve tried to read all the posts on this website, and I cannot tell whether there has ever been any deliberation, reflection, self-reflection about these issues, or whether any decision at all was made as to whether the singular exposition of every last detail, including those that are fictive, is the best way to go for all purposes. And if not, how and where to draw lines.
To be fair, to give credit where credit is surely due, the author/host of this website, as well as the community of people who have provided information, have accomplished a lot. Raniere’s world is crumbling, and a lot of people are now out, hopefully more on their way. There are now other questions to be considered. Some of the victims who are out or who are on their way out may want vindication, justice — perhaps some criminal prosecution, perhaps some civil remedy. Sometimes there comes a juncture when applying maximum pressure can be counterproductive; perhaps evidence is destroyed, subjects flee, abscond with funds, etc.
But there is something even worse to consider. There is no reason to believe that the escalation is over. That is not how the sociopath’s or psychopath’s mind works. People like this don’t admit defeat, they certainly don’t accept it, and I think everyone who reads this fully understands the implications I am alluding to. Maybe that justifies staying the course, continuing to maximize the pressure by exposing every last detail, continuing to humiliate and shame, continue to amplify that humiliation and shame by mixing fact, fiction and speculation, in order to drive as many as possible to get out. Or maybe not.
None of this is for me to decide. I am putting all of this into the mix because I have seen little if any reflection in posts or comments on these issues, and this is very serious business. I understand there is a lot of emotion, a lot of justifiable anger, I know that there are victims who read and even post here. I am not saying back off. I am saying give these things some thought, consider the things that should be considered, be very clear on your objectives, and be very conscious of the various potential ramifications. From my perspective, this thing is at a tipping point, and there is a universe of human beings in various positions whose interests ought to be considered, at least if the idea is to to help them out.
Your response is cogent and very well thought out – and I agree with everything you’ve added to your original comment. I would, however, like to hear your thoughts on the duality of those who have left: i.e., the fact that many of them are both perpetrators and victims. How do we deal with that? Are they any less victims because they were also perpetrators? Do we punish only the upper echelon members who left – which is what happened with the Nazis after World War II? Or do we offer amnesty to everyone who has left? What’s fair here?
I can’t answer that. If by “punish,” you mean court, then a jury may decide. If you just mean generally who to hold accountable, there are too many individualized factors to make any generalizations. I’m not in a position to judge these things.
The decision about whether to post the names of those who have left the cult is a complex one. That’s because many of them are both “victims” and “perpetrators”. Yes, they were all brain-washed or hypnotized or something similar – but many of them also did horrific things to other innocent people while they were still in the cult (In my opinion, simply recruiting someone into the cult is a horrific thing). I think of them as members of Hitler’s army – who also got brainwashed/hypnotized into doing horrific things. Does the fact that they were brainwashed/hypnotized lessen the wrongfulness of what they did? Do they deserve to retain their anonymity simply because they woke up and realized how much harm they were doing? Like I said, this is a complex decision.
And in evaluating the “salacious details” in some of the stories, one has to take into account what Frank is trying to do with these reports: i.e., convince current members into asking the questions that, once answered, will. hopefully, convince them to get out. So the salacious details have a purpose that goes well beyond the reporting of some of the cult members’ behaviors and practices.
There are absolutely things that could be done to make The Frank Report better from a journalistic standpoint. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that the author is waging a war against a very destructive and dangerous group – and that, in doing so, he is putting himself at grave risk of being sued or worse.
I agree with Outsider. You are doing a great service when you break a story and confirm facts about NXIVM and how it can be harmful. But you are also doing a great disservice when you vilify the victims who are still involved (and who might be trying to get out). Also, your credibility is greatly diminished when you embellish or speculate without confirmation from a reliable source, let alone delve into that strange world of “factual fiction”. This could be a great opportunity to refocus and rebrand The Frank Report into something even more powerful when all that is written is true and victims still involved are protected. The signs of a great investigative reporter are research, corroboratation, confirmations, reliable protected sources, and critical thinking.
Frank, glad you published this letter….but I agree with most of what Outsider says.
You are exposing a cult with salacious practices and a crude, obnoxious leader so necessarily some facts will be salacious and crude…but you control what you report and how you write it, so be mindful that occasional lapses in tone and sympathy might hurt your credibility and mission.
I agree with salacious… you could make it more serious and credible.
Sorry, I disagree with his comment about it being “too salacious”. What does this person expect? NXIVM/ESP is a front group that hides a sex cult. Sexual activity is one of the primary reasons it exists for VanDouche. Exposing sexual and sexually-related activity (such as near vaginal branding) validates how it demeans women and is the major reason as to why so many people left the group/cult.
The salacious details are not really the problem. The flights of fancy into fiction writing of ‘what it might have been like’, comments like “keep your panties up or you’ll get a bare bottom paddling” . Explaining that paddling is a punishment is fine, using it in an attempt to be shaming and humorous hurts the overall credibility, along with the various ‘lampooning’ images.
A large part of the writing is revealing that there is a strong motive of harm to Clare and Keith that, in my opinon, is more important to the writer than actually helping victims and could cause this writer to be written off as a axe-grinder. The writing would make it easy for someone to believe this blog not credible or be talked into believing this blog is not credible. That absolutely does not help the victims.
Fortunately, at this point, hurting NXIUM leaders and helping victims are closely aligned.
“fanciful fiction” hurts credibility