Vengeance – not branding – was Vanguard fatal flaw

Keith Raniere

By Frank Parlato

Keith Alan Raniere was a man who had it all.  He had the Bronfman fortune at his disposal. With two gullible sisters, willing to let him spend tens of millions on his plans and schemes – whatever it was – they didn’t care – he could have done good or evil.

They believed whatever he said.

And them not having earned a dime of the money made it hard for them to calculate just how much harm or good could be done with their inherited money. They had no proportion, no sense of money.  A million was just something they knew they had lots of – they never worked to get it – and here’s someone telling them that he was able to know how to use it — far better than them.

And they believed him.

And he had a harem of pretty women waiting to serve and service him – at a moment’s notice. At any given time – at his sole discretion – he had the choice of at least a dozen or more women, who would drop everything and do anything he told them.

And when I say a dozen or more, I really mean more, at times much more.  But the core dozen or so, he did not even have to work or persuade. He just had to hint and they would do whatever – from any kind of sex to any kind of errand.

Like he said once in an interview, the clothes he was wearing just magically appeared. Someone was always on top of making sure he had all the creature comforts he wanted.

For years, he had five women in his house – he slept alternately with them and would then go off some nights to sleep with other women at their homes – homes they bought or rented to live near him.  For years, he lived menage a trois with Pam Cafritz and Mariana Fernandez – three in a bed. On many nights, he just went out for a walk and dropped in on any number of women – came in, dropped his trousers – came and went. Or stayed and slept.

He did not have to work. He ate what he pleased. He had women vying to buy him gifts, run errands, feed him grapes as he lay on a couch.  He could call any number of women and tell him he might let them do his laundry – and they would rush away from whatever they were doing to pick up his soiled underwear and wash it and count it a blessing.

He had adoring devotees and a cult he founded where everyone who took a class entered, and praised him as Vanguard – and he never had to teach a class. He had hundreds of followers tell others he was the smartest man in the world, a top athlete and a great saintly ethicist.

He did not have to say it himself. He had others say it for him, so when he wanted fresh meat – his wing women set him up as akin to the gods. His own harem were his matchmakers and he had them all believing they were blessed in getting other women into his fold.

He could travel when he wanted – in private planes – he could sleep when he liked. Eat when he liked. Walked when he wanted  with women waiting to go on walks with him. He had no schedule – except what he wanted when he wanted. Oftentimes, he kept people waiting for hours – made appointments and showed up late or not at all. Just because he changed his mind or did not feel like going.

Maybe another woman popped into his head and he decided to bed her. Or maybe he was tired and needed a nap.  He was in the habit of making appointments and having people wait for him and when he did not show, he did not have to make excuses, or just made his standard excuse – oftentimes made through one of his women – that he was working on saving the mission – and he was excused. After all, he was Vanguard.

They were far below him. For he was the smartest, most ethical man in the world.

And when he called them next – he knew – for an appointment or a meeting or a bedroom frolic – he knew they would wait again – wait for hours – hoping he would come.

He had the people and the money to back him to do great things – make noble movies, write inspiring books, and publish them – or feed the hungry, serve the needy. He had powerful friends in Mexico, England and elsewhere. He had people who wanted his counsel.  He had the world on a string. It was his oyster.

Somehow, this was not enough. He had to go and spoil it by branding women and blackmailing them. To set up a scheme so outlandish that anyone who heard it, would really call it bonkers.

But it was not the branding that did him in.

He got away with financial crimes for years. He had law enforcement in his area cowed or stymied or bribed.   He used the US legal system – with its unfair advantages to those with wealth – to aggressively harass and oppress his enemies. He knew that with the Bronfman’s wealth to back him, he was untouchable.

But it was the making of enemies – of former friends and lovers – frightened people mostly – people he terrified – and sought to destroy – that undid him.

Most guys who have it as good as Vanguard, don’t bother much to seek out frightened former lovers or friends and engage them in public fights.  Who sues their ex-lovers, when they have millions to burn?  Usually someone with a Bronfman-sized fortune and a harem of adoring women doesn’t bother to make a public spectacle [and courts are public] to sue near bankrupt ex-lovers from whom they can never hope to recover any money, and then, after making them spend every dollar defending themselves in court, intervene in their bankruptcies.

The contented, stable person ends well with ex-lovers. They break clean and fair. They don’t try to put ex-lovers in prison or see them dead. No, most people who had the world by the tail would be content to enjoy it, and if one or two people – even an ex-lover or two out of hundreds of women – went their own way – they would be content to let them go.

What harm, really, could Toni Natalie or Barbara Bouchey have done to Vanguard if he had just let them go? Compared to the harm of his suing them and the indecent revelations about him that came out solely because he sued them, the harm would have been minuscule.

But not Vanguard. It was not about money. It was not about decency. He went after Toni Natalie over something like $50,000. He spent 100 times that going after her. It was not about money. It was not about principle. It was vengeance.

Even if Toni was in the wrong – it was stupid on his part. There was no noblesse oblige in this guy’s character. He had to settle scores with everyone. No one, but him, wanted the blood of Toni Natalie.  Clare Bronfman and Sarah Bronfman-Igtet didn’t care. Nancy Salzman didn’t care.

He wanted to ruin Toni and they went along and helped because he told them to do so. If he had said, ‘Toni or Barbara are gone – good riddance,’ no one in his cult would have cared or thought of it again.

His vengeance ruined him.

I can’t say it enough. Almost any man – who worked and schemed in the first place to get it – would have been happy to piss away the Bronfman millions on caprices, live like a high school boy all his life – have all the women he wanted – and sleep all day and play all night. But not Vanguard. It was not enough to play volleyball with adoring women watching.  He needed vengeance added to his game of tricks. He needed to ram the ball in somebody’s face.

He went after ex-lovers, Natalie, and Bouchey, ex-business associates and consultants – like Susan Dones, Joe O’Hara and myself. He went after Kristin Keeffe, the mother of his first child. And he went after those who wrote about him like Rick Ross, Suzanna Andrews and Jim Odato.

And, with everyone he sought to destroy, he gave no quarter, offered no respite, no olive branches. There was no settling. No turning back. It was bloodsport. And by degrees, with each public fight, the world learned more and more about the creature Raniere. His internet record turned foul. He lost untold potential followers because of that, because people Googled him and found that here was a guy with a lot of baggage.

But his internet record also served as warning to those who might try to leave him. He was a dangerous man.

Because he was relentless – he destroyed many of his former friends and lovers – turned enemies – or ruined their lives for years, put them in terror and fear, robbed them of their freedom, or their lot in life. Some he pushed underground to fight against him.

For years, for instance, Toni and Joe O’Hara fought – sometimes underground and sometimes publicly.  Raniere started the war. He got them both indicted – twice.  In turn, they dragged his name through the mud. Not because they were after him – but because he was out to get them – trying to destroy them. It was self defense.

He did this also to me. Had he let me alone, I would have went my own way – frankly unaware of how bad the monster was.

But when he had Clare Bronfman lie about me – perjure herself in the grand jury – it dawned on me that everything his critics said was true and probably worse.

He forced me to fight, and I took it up, once I knew he was rotten to the core, but I marveled also – ‘why would a guy who has it all seek to destroy me over a pittance?’ It wasn’t the money. It may sound like a lot – a million dollars. But I knew he would spend 10 times that to get me. No, it was something sick and sinister. And I knew then that I would have to get him, [or he’d get me] and that it would cost him far more than a million. But I also knew that if I lost, it would cost me my freedom.

The spark that turned to flame my long months of kindling was when Catherine Oxenberg called me and told me her daughter was branded.  After months of investigating and writing about him, when she called, and I confirmed it was true, I said, “Eureka.”

I knew we had him.

I wrote about it – and people quit his cult. The branding was the shocker that got them. Even some of the branded women left – because they realized if I could write about branding and he didn’t release anyone’s collateral – they were safe to leave also.

So his cult cratered.

To put the finishing touch on it, the New York Times – giving me credit for breaking the story – and quoting Oxenberg, Mark Vicente, Bonnie Piesse, Anthony Ames, and Sarah Edmondson – who bravely showed her brand – made it worldwide news.

Barry Meier’s masterful and chilling story prompted the DOJ  – Eastern District of New York – to do what other law enforcement failed to do — start investigating.

Many of the crimes I alleged – wound up being investigated.  Raniere was arrested. So was Allison Mack, Nancy Salzman, Lauren Salzman, and one of his heiress-benefactors too – Clare Bronfman.   [Also arrested was the feeble, witless bookkeeper, Kathy Russell].

Had he not been a bully – he might have got away with branding.

Branding was merely the tipping point to launch an investigation – for a man who brands women is a man who would do other depraved and criminal things.  But, in the end, it was not branding, but the fact that he went after people – that got him where he is now – in jail.

The people he hurt – me included – knew he would never leave them alone.  No one could leave him without fear he would go after them.  We had to fight. We had no choice.

This is what did him in.

Some of the women I spoke to got out safely by being quiet.  They sneaked out and hoped he would not go after them. But they helped. They gave me information – to use against him. If he were stopped, they might not have to fear.

Some of them I helped get to a certain attorney – who has asked that his name not be revealed – who in turn got them to the FBI.

There were many people who wanted to end the risk of his going after them.

Toni Natalie and Joe O’Hara helped immensely. Susan Dones helped. Sarah Edmondson helped. Jen Kobelt, Anthony Ames, helped. Many others who asked that their names not be mentioned helped.

Some had been attacked and so they helped. Others helped for they knew he might one day attack them.

Bullies have to be fought. You cannot run. They are always after the weak, those weaker than them.

I had to proactively fight. I was fighting for my life. He thought I was weaker than him.

I know the only remedy for the strong oppressing the weak is to thrash the strong.  With the help of some of his victims, and potential victims, we thrashed him.

He brought it on himself.  Anybody else would have been content to live the life Raniere had, instead of going after associates and ex-lovers who would have otherwise left him alone – had he not sought to destroy them.

I hope he thinks of that during the long, cold, dark days in his prison cell. He’d be enjoying now, – they’d be calling him Vanguard – but for that – his fatal flaw: He was a man of vengeance and because he was a bully and a fool – he thought he could live by the sword and not die by it.



About the author

Frank Parlato


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  • This is an excellent piece and explains a lot…thanks for tying this together…its still harder me to understand this level of vengeance and the danger it brought with it…classic over-reacher, brought down by hubris

  • Cult leaders- yuck. Enablers of cult leaders- yuck. And vengeance by the Villains in the story? Double yuck. Well-written piece.

  • It’s taking pride in vengeance that leads to a fall. No-one seeking vengeance for injustice is proud of the fact: hurt, angry, confused and terrified, maybe, but so cool and calculated that you conspire to make use of the law to enforce your slave-driving tyranny..? I think greed, sloth and envy are raniere’s calling cards. He has no claim on vengeance, just the hurt pride of a violent criminal brought bang to rights, who will never reconcile with the fact he can no longer buy the justice that caught him, to violate the freedom and security of those who know what a mendacious, weak and craven man he is.

  • VanFraud is sociopathic and narcissistic which makes him doubly dangerous. This means that he effectively has no conscience, lacks empathy, is self-serving, hedonistic, and egotistical. Sociopaths have little to no redeeming positive qualities. What they seem to possess of such qualities is almost entirely superficial, e.g., charm, and “intelligence” which is manipulative. They are selfish and scheming and prey on people. Have no doubt about it, whenever they seem to be doing something for you, there is an ulterior motive behind it for their own pleasure and satisfaction. They view things and people collectively as items to be used, i.e., “tools”, and their various interactions in life as nothing more than some sort of game or a competition where they must come out on top. So I don’t think it’s about vengeance per se, but more about VanDouche “losing” in some way. Something must drive vengeance, and it can be to seek justice, correct a wrong, smug satisfaction, etc. The fact that VanDouche is in jail while Frank is not is likely burning him up more than his inability to satisfy his material wants of being fawned over and in getting pussy.

  • Why? Why did he go after Toni and then others? He said he went after Toni because they were supossed to have a baby together who would save the world. Even the inner circle now knows that was a lie. Why did he do it? Is the answer as simple as “That’s what certain types of sociopaths do”? Why did Keith have the fatal flaw of vengeance?

    • Good question. My take is that people like KR cannot bear to be defied, contradicted, criticized, challenged, betrayed or questioned. KR craves complete and utter control over his followers, and demands their unquestioning worship, acquiescence and obedience. Because he deserves none of it, he resorts to harassment as insurance. Viciously attacking defectors was intended to make examples of them, in order to strike fear in the hearts of potential defectors / traitors / whistle blowers. And for a long time, it worked.

      • You are correct! Keith also suffers from the OJ Syndrome. No man shall ever enjoy a woman that Keith has bedded. His arrogance is extraordinary.


    “Our friends at DOXA launch the first ever Vancouver Podcast Festival in November with a program focused on “True Crime, True Justice”—and a deep dive into the CBC’s much anticipated investigation, Uncover: Escaping NXIVM.

    Running from November 8-10, VanPodFest will bring live tapings, workshops, and panel discussions to venues including the Rio Theatre, CBC Vancouver’s Studio 700, and the Vancouver Public Library’s Inspiration Lab.
    Participants will include producers and hosts from, among others, Someone Knows Something; You Must Remember This; In the Dark; and the CBC’s massively popular This Is That, featuring Pat Kelly and Peter Oldring—which arrives at VanPodFest as the only date on its Canadian tour.”

  • What a great piece Frank. I agree that Kieth so need to “punish” people who don’t agree with what he was doing was his ultimate undoing. The majority of Nxivm students and coaches would be shocked to know the depth of the lying under oath that went on with Care Bronfman,Jim Delnegro, Beck Freeman…etc. When I left with 8 other woman ,they not only stole my rightfully earned paycheck, but refused to return my personal property ( which Nancy personally asked me for to support Kristin with the baby…my son’s Crib and pram) …items that upon lending I said were very sentimental and I wanted back. When I sent emails and called to retrieve them ,I was threatened by their lawyers.The harassment by their lawyers and process servers then began. My son was questioned at school by Esther Chipone. It was very ugly and dark. I had given 11 years of my life to this group and I simply did not agree with the unsavory/ disturbing things Keith and the inner circle had going on and resigned. What they went on to do to Barbara Bouchey and Susan Dones was criminal. The harassment of folks who just disagree was Kieth biggest weakness. Keep up the good writing and take care !!

    • Were NXIVM coaches not reporting their earnings but instead hid the money by spending it on more NXIVM courses?

    • Angela G, I wish you peace and healing. I am so very sorry you had to experience the betrayal. I hope you find support here.

  • Vengeance was a flaw..but not his “fatal flaw” and not what brought him down.

    Branding had nothing to do with vengeance, and without branding he and his cult would have continued like it had all the years of the Frank Report and before…a small scandal known only by a few and off the radar of everyone else.

    Branding wasn’t just a tipping point, it was the sole reason his creepy cult finally gained the attention of the nation and the law….which had ignored it previously, and would have done so for years without the branding, no matter how many enemies his vengeance had created.

    • On paper, what you say makes sense. But the branding would still be going on if Keith didn’t have a long list or mortal enemies that were desperately trying to fight back against him. There were lots of angles that his enemies could take while fighting back against Keith. The branding was the low hanging fruit.

  • I agree with the person who said this post should be pinned. Its great writing and a compelling story-line that captures the emotion of this whole tragic debacle.

    My personal feeling is that someone who has Rainere’s life with all the money and women does not have it all, not even close, and even if they aren’t a depraved sociopath, no one could ever be content living like that. Major problems will always crop up. I admit it would be fun for awhile, maybe a few months. But contentment is found in having daily responsibilities, obligations to other people, and if you’re married – staying committed to your partner. Yeah, its not always fun, but it brings internal peace and never leaves a person feeling empty.

    After I graduated from college I worked for a small business that managed the holdings of a wealthy, jet setting family. Their familial wealth is close to the level of the Bronfman sisters former wealth. They were all miserable most of the time, with non-stop drama and other problems in their lives. I got to know about half of the family quite well on a personal level. They were all kind-hearted, decent people, but they had no daily purpose in life to get them out of bed every morning. It ruined them.

    The oldest of the fourth generation saw what a mess his parents and aunts and uncles were, so he committed early on to being as normal as he could. He found a part time job in high school at restaurant and worked on the grounds maintenance crews for their commercial property holdings in the summer time. After college he started working full time in the holding company and still does today, 15 or so years later. He’s the only person in that whole family that’s content with life.

    Raniere never had it all. If contentment smacked him in the face, he’d have no idea what it was. Same for all of his followers and the others who wasted thousands on ridiculous things like Vanguard Week. They are all empty people. Its sad and pathetic.

    • It is certainly true that KR never knew – never will know – the joy, peace and contentment that flow from a deeply committed, exclusive, trusting monogamous relationship. That may be why he searches through superficial pleasures to calm his mind. But he will never be entirely satiated. I hope his herpes-infested d*ck falls off.

      You can bet that if he had AIDS, and knew it, he would insist on going bareback with his women anyway.

  • Seven Deadly Sins: Pride, Greed, Lust, Envy, Gluttony, Wrath and Sloth.

    Is there anything above that does not fit? If there were one, I would say Envy, given the contents of the article. Unless it would be Envy over Tom Cruise – of similar age and stature, but eminently more handsome and talented.

    I personally like the remaining: Pride, Greed, Lust, Gluttony, Wrath and Sloth. Perfect.

    Frank, this is possibly the very best post you have ever written on KR. I think it says all that needs to be said, and all that many of us have been thinking all along.

    “He brought it on himself. Anybody else would have been content to live the life Raniere had, instead of going after friends and lovers who would have otherwise left him alone – had he not sought to destroy them.”

    Thank you.

    • Hopefully we can apply the thinking in Frank’s post beyond Keith. Who in our everyday lives demonstrate these types of behaviors that we should pay attention to? The unfortunate thing about NXIVM is that most EXNex see the light now and are ashamed by how easily they were duped by a charismatic human that they felt understood them on a level never before by a leader. But that person was a con man that led them to do and think things that don’t substantiate the smart, logical, intuitive and KIND person that they know they are We are all smart, caring and principled humans with POVs that matter – let’s not act like sheep.

      • Sociopaths are true masters at presenting a persuasive and believable façade. The can appear normal, intelligent, caring and charming. They figure out exactly what you need to hear and then tell it to you. Most folks – especially trusting ones – are sitting ducks. I would also bet that a lot of NXIVM recruits were reassured by the fact that certain celebrities chose to get (and stay) involved. I would not be too hard on them. Decades ago I was duped by a sociopath, and it cost me dearly in terms of money and self esteem. I have moved on but I can tell you, to find you’ve been royally had is a devastating experience that calls for a lot of healing.

  • 1000 percent right. Bullies in power that demand supreme loyalty, are nasty towards defectors from their doctrine and lie about their abilities – they will always be brought to justice. Their egos will always over power their charisma and expose them for the con men (and women) they are.

  • Surely, if someone tried recruiting you into this shitty cult, going on about “the world’s smartest man”, you would do an internet search first before handing over a few thousand dollars to start with. Surely, all you would see was CULT CULT CULT CULT CULT, along with pedophile, rapist, lawsuit terrorist and more. Then surely you would say “no fucking way am I doing this”.

    The chopped off foreskin from a botched circumcision has more morals, ethics and critical thinking skills than any of these twats.

    All the males in NXIVM, including Mark Vicente, Mark Hildreth, Emilianao Salinas and Keith Raniere himself are weak soy boy dickheads with less testosterone than a single pubic louse and the women are just attention whoring sluts with daddy issues and perhaps now, a hairy bush.

    The people involved with NXIVM are everything wrong with western civilization.

    • First of all, jackass, this started before the internet days. 2nd, they were selling classes (on ethics, morals, and critical thinking skills, nonetheless) not a cult membership. That being said, I totally agree with you that people should have left WAY earlier and gotten the fuck out of dodge as they saw the warning signs.

      • Obviously “Jackass”, I was talking about when there was eventually information about the cult on the internet. There was tons of info online from years back.

  • The trial will occur next year.

    Keith Raniere will be found guilty of multiple counts.

    Due to his depravity, Raniere will spend the rest of his days, underground, in a SuperMax cell.


  • What a truly excellent piece! This should be pinned separately as a go-to article for those who don’t understand the reason you do what you do.

  • Very well written.
    The one thing a bully can never abide by is someone with the nerve to stand up to him.
    It’s not about the money or the sex.
    The bully craves the power.
    The ability to manipulate and control others.
    To bend others to his will.

    Sadly the Bronfman sisters, born with great wealth, handed control over their inheritance to this swindler and thug Raniere.
    Most people born with 300 million dollars in the bank would assume that they had hit a home run the day they were born.
    They would be content with their great good luck and strive to preserve it and enjoy it.

    Unfortunately the Bronfman sisters did not understand the work that was needed to build their fortune.
    The Bronfmans failed to appreciate how ruthless and rapacious their father and grandfather had to be to amass that kind of money.
    So they flushed most of their money away pursuing frivolous, vengeful lawsuits that should never have been filed.
    And now what is left of their fortune will be wasted away fighting indictments and lawsuits.

    NXIVM is a modern day “American Tragedy.”
    Much like in Theodore Dreiser’s American Tragedy the main protagonists are destroyed bytheirs own innate weaknesses.
    Their “destruction being the consequence of their innate weaknesses: moral and physical cowardice, lack of scruple and self-discipline, muddled intellect, and unfocused ambition; additionally, the effect of their ingratiating (Dreiser uses the word “soft”) social manner places temptation in his way which they cannot resist.

    • Speaking of bullies, Shadow – you’re getting worked over pretty well on the limerick thread. I think you need to stand up to that limerick chick and fight back with a limerick of your own.

  • AMEN! “Vengeance is mine,” sayeth the Lord of Hosts.

    Fits right in with Vanfraud’s God delusion. Right along with “Man is that he might have Joy.” Only for Keith it was Joy, Mary, Susan, Allison, Clare, Nikki, Toni, Barbara, Ivy, Pam, Mariana, et. al.

    Very happy you’re alive and well, Frank.

  • This particular portrait / photo of Keith is so unflattering. He should sue the photographer. He looks reptilian and rather cold / ashen. Sure must be a heck of a lot of hurt and other personal issues rolling around in that head of his for someone to do what he has done. His idea of ethical and preferred behavioral leanings is skewed beyond anything other than a psychopath — to suit his own wants and needs, and nothing more. It’s quite sad actually.

    • I agree, it IS sad. But we must stop him. Lifelong bologna and fake cheese would earn my vote. How many tears has he caused to be shed? Did he ever offer one moment or kind action of compassion, in his entire, sorry life? Did he even cry at his lover’s grave? I doubt it.

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.

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