Analysis: Initial Consent to “Life-Coaching” and Self-Help is NOT Consent to Coerced Sex and Branding

After today’s pre-trial conference in the case of United States v. Raniere et al, attorneys for the head of the sex-slave NXIVM cult, Keith Raniere, argued before the press, in a likely preview of what his defense will consist of, in part.  “There are groups of men who brand themselves. When women choose to brand themselves, they become victims?” Attorneys for Raniere, speaking about the organization being an alleged sex cult stated: “It’s a slogan, it’s a label that the government is attaching to conduct to make it nefarious. Women joined of their own volition.”

The defense argument ignores the critical allegation of coercion through “collateral.”

Problematically for Raniere, the argument that there are groups of men that brand themselves who are not victims fails to take into account the alleged false confessions, true confessions, naked pictures, and other damaging information that members were required to provide to their superiors, or slave-masters, on a regular basis. According to NXIVM members, the stated purpose of this provision of damaging collateral was to ensure a lifetime vow of obedience and servitude. When taking into account the big-money backing of Clare Bronfman and Sara Bronfman-Igtet to sue people into bankruptcy and initiate criminal complaints against anyone who dared to leave or criticize the cult, with Clare Bronfman posing as a Mexican attorney and sending cease and desist letters to a victim, members eventually discovered that the collateral held plus the threat of ruinous civil and criminal litigation meant that they had to comply with whatever the slave-masters required.

With threats like this hanging overhead, in the context of what is supposed to be a mere self-help, life-coaching group, actual and informed consent becomes less likely.

The Bronfman sisters have tapped their vast Seagram’s trust funds to spend millions suing people that were labeled as enemies of the cult or Raniere, and used their phony foundations to funnel money to several of Raniere’s “scientific experiments”: e.g., the unlicensed and unsanctioned Rainbow Cultural Garden experiments on young children; Dr. Brandon Porter’s unsanctioned experiments on women’s reaction to scenes of violence. Any woman, or man, within NXIVM/DOS/ESP or any of the cult’s entities, after becoming indebted to the cult, and giving this collateral under the false pretense of being a women’s only group, and threatened with the prospect of financial and other ruin, would not have felt free to refuse Raniere’s and others sexual, and other demands.

Clare Bronfman, center, surrounded by attorneys. Bronfman has used attorneys extensively to silence runaway slaves through lawsuits and criminal complaints.

Raniere’s attorneys argued that these women joined NXIVM freely and for their “own reasons.” Recruiter Marc Elliot indicated to a prospective member in a phone interview last month that members are admitted usually only via referrals. The group’s website offers and promises life-changing “Executive Success” and emotional development, among others, much of it predicated upon the concepts and intellectual designs of Raniere, the self-proclaimed “world’s smartest man” and one of the world’s greatest problem solvers. However, not disclosed is the fact Raniere graduated from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a 2.26 GPA, having failed and barely passed his upper level math and science courses, a fact recently discovered when federal investigators gained access to his academic transcripts. Raniere also failed to disclose the closure by the New York Attorney General of a pyramid scheme that he ran in the 1990s, called “Consumer’s Buyline” (Raniere paid a fine and agreed to never be involved in any more MLM ventures in New York State). .

Consent to branding appears unlikely on the facts alleged, which are not rebutted by the defense.

To be sure, members freely joined (the entrance and joining was but an initial act of voluntariness) NXIVM, and, according to ex-members, and an attempted recruit, actress Samia Shoaib, the first impression of the cult is to be “love-bombed,” where the cult members straddle and bestow upon the newest member an enormous amount of affection, interest, understanding, and “mirror” the likes of the new applicant. Frequently enough, the cult has recruited members when they are at their most vulnerable, such as being in the grieving process after the death of a family member, or suffering from a substance abuse problem, or a person makes it known, or it becomes known, to a recruiter that they are suffering from an emotional vulnerability. Similarly, as discussed about another cult, the “Buddhafield” cult, led by failed actor Michel, an ex-member described the invitation process— “There’s always someone who brings you or invites you,” Allen said. “My sister invited me. It felt very safe having her bring me. When someone you already trust is there, [everyone becomes] your friends instantly. They already knew I was coming. There was a chair waiting with my name on it.”

Even before being permitted inside NXIVM, non-disclosure agreements are executed as a condition of membership. Members are not given copies of the agreements, which became in various lawsuits, the basis for suing ex-members.

An additional condition is the payment of costly, up to $7,000 per course, fees for “courses.” NXIVM University agreements provide for a $5,000 per month tuition cost.

Over time, members, such as Mack, have become indebted to the cult. Current member India Oxenberg, a member of Yugoslavian royalty and wealth, through her years in NXIVM and DOS, has descended from co-starring in a tv show with her mother and stepdad, to waitressing in New York, hardly an example of “Executive Success.”  One of Raniere’s partners, Nancy Salzman, known in the cult as “Prefect,” has a background in neuro-linguistic programming, as well as nursing. Investigators are likely to have discovered her role in instituting the cult’s group-think language, and programming techniques (It is well-established that a key feature of a cult is for members to adopt a language only understood by members; this technique helps to alienate members from the outside, and isolate them, further guaranteeing their continued membership).

Problems with Voluntariness, Undisclosed Facts of Material Significance

It was also not disclosed to new members that Clare Bronfman would readily tap her vast fortune to silence defectors and critics, as she has done in dozens of lawsuits and criminal complaints.

Once well-embedded in NXIVM, members, selected by Raniere, were invited to a life-changing event: DOS, Latin for “master over the slave women.” It was promised by members such as Mack and Lauren Salzman (Prefect’s daughter, and fellow cult member) to be an all-women’s empowerment group. The cost of admission: collateral — which had to include damning admissions and/or materials, perhaps a confession whether real or false, x-rated pictures or whatever worked. One member was required to falsely confess, on video, that a relative had sexually molested a child. Mack, Bronfman, and Raniere retain, and likely still retain, this collateral.

Once the collateral was provided, women were brought to an initiation ritual. Sarah Edmondson, who spoke out and left the group, was advised that an initiation ritual within this exclusive, all-women’s group, required she get a small tattoo. Blindfolded and led to a quiet location, she received a brand from a cauterizing device, administered by Dr. Danielle Roberts, a fellow cult member. The un-anesthetized brand was reportedly very painful. (Sarah Edmondson left in 2017; shortly after, Clare Bronfman sought to have criminal charges brought against her in Vancouver. Edmondson has not been charged with any crimes.)

Pictures of a DOS slave’s brand, outlining the initials of Keith Raniere and Allison Mack. Mack, pictured right.

Once within DOS, which reportedly has over 50 members, DOS members had to provide monthly collateral to their masters. Problematically, none of the recruiters advised fresh recruits that the “all-women’s” group was not all female: Keith Raniere was the grandmaster. Insiders have detailed, and prosecutors are likely aware, that the entire DOS setup was for Raniere to handpick women he wanted to have sex with, women that had no other choice because of the collateral, the years-long hypnosis, and Clare’s piggy bank of legal funds to ruin anyone who crossed Raniere. Raniere did have sex with women under these coercive and threatening conditions.

As to Bronfmans, they knowingly and willfully funded all of Raniere’s madness and illegal activities. Clare, in particular, is much more than a passive, distant financier, but runs the cult hands-on, and has testified that she operates the cult. She is an adherent to Raniere’s low-calorie diet. She impersonated a Mexican attorney to frighten a victim, criminally complained against Sarah Edmondson and many others, and has paid millions to sue victims into bankruptcy and silence, if prison did not work.

The Bronfman sisters even went as far as suing journalists who dared to investigate the cult, costing Albany Times Union reporter, James Odato, his job when he first began reporting on the cult. They also partnered with Raniere to sue Vanity Fair’s Suzanne Andrews, who wrote an in-depth and critical piece on the Bronfmans and the cult in 2010.

Sara and Clare Bronfman in Vanity Fair feature story with Raniere and father Edgar Bronfman pictured in thumbnail photos

Raniere’s defense team does not tell the whole truth when they say women joined voluntarily. Yes, women initially signed up for a life-coaching, self-help course — but they did not voluntarily join in with, and were not advised of, the entirety of what they were getting into at the time they signed those non-disclosure agreements and first enrolled in courses. With millions of dollars to demand silence, non-disclosure agreements and uneven bargaining positions, costly courses, fraud and deception in the inducement of new members to enter the group-cult premised on the group’s innovations being the product of the “world’s smartest man” sporting a 2.26 GPA who previously had a pyramid scheme closed (facts he did not disclose to members or on the entities’ websites), deceit in representing DOS as an all-women’s group where Raniere was the leader and its ulterior purpose was the gratification of Raniere’s sexual appetite, and the heavy-handed Bronfmans to back up Raniere legally — indeed, if the cult were all-male, the cult’s conduct would be just as illegal.

About the author

George Frobisher


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  • I think I’d have a problem with not getting a copy of something I signed (i.e., the non-disclosure agreement) upon first joining NXIVM. To me, that would be a red flag and make me think twice about joining. It seems like so many people could have been saved if they had just thought twice before first signing that NDA and taking the first brutal steps into the sordid world of KR. But I think he gets you at such a vulnerable point in your life, or makes the program seem so utterly life-changing, that you simply don’t see the red flag/s. You’re just…excited to join.

  • Vandouche’s legal team are likely to extrapolate from the branding carried out by Omega Psi Phi males at Howard, but this is a very exclusive african-american fraternity who have reasonable explanations for this decision. Raniere and most of his executives, wouldn’t pass the entrance criteria:

    You need a Batchelor’s degree, a 2.5 grade average, ( Rniere’s is 2.26)
    and crucially, the material experience of coming from a group of people who have known actual slavery in their history.

    People do the strangest things. But, I see the experience of the OPP as qualitatively different from that of the DOS women. One group is paying homage and subverting something that once implied the worst sort of shame to the greatest pride; the other is not based on consent and implies torture. Plain and simple.

    this is interesting:

  • Right now, nobody knows just how many victims have come forward so far. They only used Jane Doe 1 and 2 for the indictments, but acknowledged there were already more women.

    I have to believe that the electronic evidence corroborating the victims’ testimony is far going to outweigh any b.s. witnesses Clare and camp can drag out. Plus, the second they put any witnesses to support Raniere on the stand, they are going to be dragged across the coals. None of those girls want to get up there and describe their “intimacy” with Raniere in every detail. Every aspect of their lives will be open to questioning.

    If they realise at all what it is going to entail, it might wake them up. They may just wake up on the stand under questioning. The potential for boomerang is limitless.

    The problem with people who are easily brainwashed is that they are likely easily converted. Much in the way sheep will follow whomever the new shepherd is. If the capacity for independent thought is not there, it is unlikely to develop.

  • Why do you think you wasted your time? Didn’t you help anybody not get involved with NXIVM through those many years?

  • The same guy who writes for the Artvoice? With extreme far-right viewpoints? Views that cross all kinds of lines, including racism and misogyny?

    That George Frobisher has apparently never met a friend at a coffee shop. He thought two people waiting for their friend at Starbucks should be arrested for trespass. I meet friends and colleagues at coffee shops all the time. Never once did I order before the other person or people had arrived. Standing in line and placing orders together is the start of every meeting.

    What an ugly spin you put on your Starbucks opinion pieces. Get out more, Make a friend. Maybe even meet them at a coffee shop. That way, you can see first-hand what constitutes normal human behavior.

    That George Frobisher, huh? You’re not a nice person.

      • Nah, intolerant is wanting to dictate everyone’s behavior, especially black people and women. That’s also fascist, and we all know people like you long for an authoritarian state.

      • driving the comments section into the ground.

        People on both sides think tolerance only exists for people who think like they do.

        They’re all a bunch of control freaks.

    • They were probably meeting someone to show them or be shown an MLM scam presentation, such as Amway or Herbalife. Starbucks has limited seating, they should have waited outside for their friend.

      • It would be wise to research the situation.
        Both men who were arrested are licensed real estate agents. They were meeting a client about a real estate deal.

    • Shocking that a Progressive would defend the NXIVM cult! Also a surprise is that the defense consists of trying (weakly, and by the usual tactics) to impugn the character of someone speaking up against it.

  • Mr. Raniere failed to disclose several important facts about himself to the members of ESP, NXIVM, and DOS. He failed to disclose that he had fathered a son (whom he subsequently rejected) with one of the members of the NXIVM group; that there were several allegations of child-rape against him going back to 1984; that he admittedly had murdered people; that he admittedly had people murdered; and that he was forced to shut down Consumers Buy-line, Inc. because of several lawsuits that were filed against this pyramid scheme by several state attorneys general, and that he was delinquent in paying some of his settlement obligations. To this day, the website claims that he entered RPI at age 16 years when he didn’t graduate from high school until he was 17 years old. In fact, he began his classes at RPI when he was 18 years old. His take-home IQ test is no longer recognized as valid and the fact that he had a grade-point average of 2.26 clearly indicates that he is of only average or above average intelligence.

    Admittedly, he has been a very lucky and somewhat successful career criminal and con-artist, however; his life is all but over and he has lost everything. All that survives of this diabolical human being is a wake of pain, destruction, and foul play. It would seem from the description of his latest appearance in court that he is possibly going insane. I sure wouldn’t want to be a bedbug inside of his mattress.

    “I’ll haunt thee like a wicked conscience still,
    that mouldeth goblins swift as frenzy’s thoughts.”

    “Troilus and Cressida,” Act 5, Scene X.

    • Has anyone located any of his classmates from High School or College? VanGrifter is kind of a mystery before Consumer’s Buy line…

      • What do you want to know? Has he always been a sociopathic, manipulative, deceptive bastard? Yes

        • Did he keep to himself in High School, was he picked on? Was his family constantly moving? Always broke? Father couldn’t hold a job. Mother would yell at Father?

          I’m trying to figure out why Keith has the compulsion to mark people as his property. Also why he gets off on degradation of women. Did his Mom constantly berate Keith and Dad? Why does Keith love women for sex, but view them as inferior?

          Working on a more complete psych profile..


    • This cult fucks up people’s lives. I wasn’t involved, but it indirectly impacted mine to waste so many years of my time and mess it up.

      So, fuck VanDouche and NXIVM. I hope it’s scorched Earth policy for you.

      • that you suffered with regard to NXIVM.

        I hope you are able to have some healing in the process.

    • “Admittedly, he has been a very lucky and somewhat successful career criminal and con-artist, however; his life is all but over and he has lost everything. All that survives of this diabolical human being is a wake of pain, destruction, and foul play.” Very well said, thank you. I would love to hear from high school or lower school people, but I bet K kept well under the radar.

      • I would bet he found insecure girls to harm even then. High school would be like a concentration of easy prey for someone like him. Just a practicing ground for Uni.

  • There are several important points inconsistent with consent:

    1. Blackmail/Collateral
    2. Nature of the Teacher/Student relationship – imbalance of power
    3. Deceit regarding the nature of Keith’s role in the organization
    4. Pattern of criminal or civil litigation against former students
    5. Peer pressure from senior coaches and slave masters
    6. Active effort to distort facts/history of Keith and NXIVM
    7. Total lack of transparency designed to create blind trust
    8. Constant effort to make any skepticism the student’s “issue”
    9. Break down student’s moral compass so there is no clear “right or wrong” e.g. being a slave helps women overcome their issues
    10. Teach student to lie for the NXIVM cause – small tattoo = large brand of initials KRAM
    11. Student must have sex or face ethical breaches/false imprisonment/release of collateral
    12. Students are chattels of Keith Raniere with rules inconsistent to US laws and protections

  • Frank, I admire you a great deal. In being forced to fight back against these monsters and exposing them for the criminals they are, you have simultaneously freed countless souls from bondage. I can only imagine that you must feel vindicated and sleep much better at night. Once you’re able to, I hope you spend Clare’s $1M on a civil suit against Clare and turn that million into ten. Thank you for your tireless work and this blog. Job well done, sir.

  • I’ve noticed that media coverage, here and elsewhere (but not in The Knife), tends to focus more on B- actress Allison Mack than the leader of the pack and, thus, somehow Raniere’s evil deeds do not get the attention that they are deserving of.

    If it were not for Frank Report and the indictment of Allison Mack, I’m wondering if Raniere’s journey through the legal process would receive any coverage at all.

    • I think it would have received coverage, and I think the focus on Mack is exactly why she, out of all the founding members of DOS, was the one made “Madam”. It’s a smokescreen, whether it’s for Keith or something Lauren did to cover her ass is anyone’s guess (The rest of the women seem legitimately deluded into thinking they’re doing “good”)

  • If defense has knowledge of groups of men committing the same types of behavior that is alleged, then, by all means, tell the court. Tell the world. I will be waiting.

About the Author

Frank Parlato is an investigative journalist.

His work has been cited in hundreds of news outlets, like The New York Times, The Daily Mail, VICE News, CBS News, Fox News, New York Post, New York Daily News, Oxygen, Rolling Stone, People Magazine, The Sun, The Times of London, CBS Inside Edition, among many others in all five continents.

His work to expose and take down NXIVM is featured in books like “Captive” by Catherine Oxenberg, “Scarred” by Sarah Edmonson, “The Program” by Toni Natalie, and “NXIVM. La Secta Que Sedujo al Poder en México” by Juan Alberto Vasquez.

Parlato has been prominently featured on HBO’s docuseries “The Vow” and was the lead investigator and coordinating producer for Investigation Discovery’s “The Lost Women of NXIVM.” Parlato was also credited in the Starz docuseries "Seduced" for saving 'slave' women from being branded and escaping the sex-slave cult known as DOS.

Additionally, Parlato’s coverage of the group OneTaste, starting in 2018, helped spark an FBI investigation, which led to indictments of two of its leaders in 2023.

Parlato appeared on the Nancy Grace Show, Beyond the Headlines with Gretchen Carlson, Dr. Oz, American Greed, Dateline NBC, and NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, where Parlato conducted the first-ever interview with Keith Raniere after his arrest. This was ironic, as many credit Parlato as one of the primary architects of his arrest and the cratering of the cult he founded.

Parlato is a consulting producer and appears in TNT's The Heiress and the Sex Cult, which premiered on May 22, 2022. Most recently, he consulted and appeared on Tubi's "Branded and Brainwashed: Inside NXIVM," which aired January, 2023.

IMDb — Frank Parlato

Contact Frank with tips or for help.
Phone / Text: (305) 783-7083


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