On this Thanksgiving Day, NXIVM victims have a lot to be thankful for.
Keith Raniere – who a year ago was in Mexico with his sex slaves and using Clare Bronfman to threaten his enemies – is now in custody and faces life in prison. He is no longer a threat to many victims.
The bully, who used Bronfman’s wealth to terrorize people he targeted, is now the target of a federal prosecution that seems likely to land him in prison for decades to come. Meantime, the judge who is presiding over his case, the Hon. Nicholas G. Garaufis, denied him bail in June and will likely deny him bail on his second application.
When it comes to the other defendants, who are all outside of prison walls this holiday – it is hard to feel the same concern as to the amount of danger they pose to society.
Clare Bronfman, of course, with her wealth, is a dangerous creature, willing to perjure herself and destroy others’ lives. It is fitting that she – with all her money – is unable to buy herself out of this problem.
It seems that for justice to be served, Clare should not be able to walk free and hurt others, at least not until she has made restitution to her victims and sincerely repented.
As for Nancy Salzman, Lauren Salzman, Allison Mack, and Kathy Russell? This is hard for me to judge. None of them worked actively to destroy my life, as far as I know. I can’t judge for others. On the other hand, they all enabled a sinister creature and somehow, I suspect, they believed they were justified. That in itself is dangerous.
I suspect there is both victim and villain in all of them. Day to day, these women might have thought they were working for the cause of good, but somewhere inside they must have known that the lies and the proclivities of the man they took their marching orders from was evil.
How did they ignore him going after their former friends with a vengeance that seemed entirely disproportionate to the purported offense? How do you explain his hunting the mother of his first child; the savage attacks on longtime lovers; the suing of people who helped build his company; the deaths of former lovers; the disappearance of one woman; the allegations of rape and statutory rape; and the loss of tens of millions on the investments he guided?
Sure, he’s a great conman but no one is so good that his inner circle can claim, after years of working with him, they knew nothing about his dark side.
Take Lauren Salzman. She was promised an avatar baby. Instead, he gets other women pregnant and she helps in the cover-up.
She even counsels a woman, Ivy Nevares – who Keith also promised an avatar baby – counseling her to keep working on her issues – and promising that he will impregnate her someday – without telling her that she herself was promised an avatar baby. And that Keith was lying to her. And meantime, Lauren – while laughing at how gullible Ivy is – fails to see it in herself.
In order to believe that NXIVM was good, you had to swallow the notion that the end justifies the means. And that Raniere’s ruthless, dishonest and vicious methods would somehow bring about a more noble civilization.
If you believed that, you are rather stupid. And stupid is a word that often comes to mind when I think of the followers of Raniere. So, does brainwashed.
Was Kathy Russel stupid to believe in Raniere? Was she part evil? Did she just not care that he went after her old friends? Did she not realize he would do the same to her if she tried to leave?
Maybe it was selfishness. Maybe he cut off all her friends and family without her realizing it and now she was stuck. Maybe even comfortable. This was her life. These were her new friends and her new family. Kathy used to show films to – and play chess with – her NXIVM family. These were not evil deeds. She also used to clean up his sex lair – after the ladies he bedded went home and Keith went to sleep – which he did most of the day.
She knew what a promiscuous man he was. Yet, how many times did she not let on, did she lie by omission or outright lie about Keith being a renunciate – a man above all carnal desires? Was that lie for the greater good?
When she saw Keith grooming some new lady, her being fooled into thinking she would be the only one, did Kathy ever say to this blushing new, slender, naive woman that Keith was conning her? That he had done this same thing dozens of times? Maybe even did it to her once? Long ago. She knew but did she tell the young lady – who just went on a diet and was growing her hair long, and was misty eyed when speaking about him in hushed tones – all the telltale signs that he was grooming her – that Keith would court her and fool her and then, after she was hooked, after she fell in love with her idea of him, she would find out: He was having sex with 20 other women.? Did Kathy take the woman aside and tell her those things?
No, I rather think our Kathy looked the other way. Filling her head with her work and her notion that Keith’s technology would help her become a better ballerina or chess player. And create a better world. And maybe having sex with him – in the sex lair – once a year – on her birthday was consolation enough for any misgivings in her heart.
Kathy saw the women come and go and let them get fooled. Some of them stayed and some of them left. Some of them left rather hurt that he lied to them. Some left rather frightened for what he threatened to do to them. Some were hunted down and were destroyed or nearly destroyed. And some stayed on promises, lies really, that he would one day father a child with them or make them number one or any such lie that would fool them and suck them in further. Kathy knew all this. She watched them come and go. And said nothing to the women. In that sense, it was a little selfish. She was looking out for herself and allowing Raniere to look out for himself.
Much of that occurred in NXIVM.
As for Nancy. Here was a woman who knew much. She knew about the smuggling of money. She knew about the fake marriages, the illegal immigration. She supported Keith in manipulation and punishing lots of people who were dependent upon them. She enjoyed being number 2. She enjoyed being almost worshiped and regarded as an oracle, a great lady, a woman of profound wisdom, a woman who knew so much, she could see right through you and could teach you great secrets.
She had to lie a thousand times to cover up for Raniere. He was having sex with her and she had to pretend he was monk-like. He had sex with her daughter and she had to believe that he would have the avatar child with her daughter. Otherwise, she is a monster too. Equal with him, or maybe worse. She had to find some kernel of hope that he was better than any rational person would believe if they judged a man by his actions and not by his words.
Nancy did all his bidding for 20 years. Never questioned the pain he caused others. She was living like a queen in NXIVM – at least on the surface. She was the Prefect. She was not to be questioned by the others. Next to Keith, she was the most enlightened, the wisest, next to him, the possessor of the most secret knowledge that could be conveyed from the smartest man in the world. And she was the one chosen to convey the message because only she had grasped his supreme wisdom. And what is more – by giving her tribute, she could share some of this – you too could be wise like her- if you gave her tribute. She held the keys – because she had glimpsed it – to what Raniere possessed and was eager to share it [for money and/or sex for Keith].
That Keith privately punished Nancy – took away her money, made her subordinate to the stupid and cruel Clare Bronfman, this she tolerated – in return for her glory before the others.
Maybe she got trapped over time. Living the life for 20 years. Having both of her daughters and her son-in-law in the group. All dependent on the income Keith permitted them to have.
And Keith knew how to pit one against the other. If Nancy was out if line, he offered something to Lauren and she nudged her mother. Or chastised her. If Lauren was off kilter in his opinion, Keith egged the mother to set her straight – or else. He even had them competing with each other. He was smart. He almost never had them both in the doghouse together.
They should consider that. All the times they were in the doghouse. But never both of them at the same time. These were women who were hooked and hooked long ago.
Nancy supported her daughters breaking off their relationship with their own father – because Keith got between them. Because Keith wanted Lauren’s father – Dr. Michael Salzman – to fire an ex NXIVM member who was one of his employees – who had become, in Keith’s mind, one of the enemies of NXIVM. The father would not fire the woman for he thought she did not deserve to be fired from his employ.
Keith commanded it and when Nancy insisted that he fire the woman and he refused, she led her daughters – to cut off their own father – cut him out of their lives – to show loyalty to Keith. Keith above father. And they justified this. And for nine years, they spoke not one word to their father – these daughters of Nancy Salzman.
I wonder now that Lauren is in jeopardy, if she ever stopped to wonder if she arrived in the fork in the road that led to hell starting on the day she took the path that denied her father, in favor of a man she knew was a stone-cold liar. Sure, Lauren was making good money — maybe more than she could make elsewhere in a world where they do not worship Vanguards. Maybe money kept her in. Maybe hope for that avatar child.
And maybe glory kept Nancy in. Maybe complacency kept Kathy in.
As for Clare, I think she honestly felt that Keith was the only one who loved her not for her money. Sure, laugh at that. It is laughable. But suppose this lonely and homely woman with little brains and lots of money, who maybe never had a person look twice at her other than for her money, honestly thought that Keith was different. That all his noble talk of a better society meant not nearly as much to her as the fact that he cared about her – not for her money.
That he wanted her – her – for herself. That even if she had nothing, even if she gave every last penny to him; or lost it all, he would still have her at his side and he would take care of both of them.
It is stupid, of course, but people do a lot of stupid things under the spell of their delusions. This was her delusion and her spark of joy – that he loved her. This allowed her to be cruel to everyone else. And to be cheap and narrow and exacting and frightening. She would lie for him. She would steal for him, perhaps she would even kill for him or overlook his killing of others in body or in spirit. His attempts to lure women to their doom in Mexico. If she know about it, my guess is she would have approved because he wanted it and that the world’s great mission could be accomplished sooner.
But even that was secondary. Primary was that she could show him that she was loyal to him, that her money or safety meant almost nothing. It was he who loved her that counted.
The real mission for Clare then was to be accepted by him. She was like a dog who can only abide one master. Not that her lascivious nature did not incline her a little – to want to bed some of the slender ladies. That was a perk. And women who normally would not desire Clare because of her inner and outer ugliness went to her bed because of her position in NXIVM and maybe at Keith’s express orders. That they succumbed to her bed reluctantly, she may have been too obtuse to know.
But even this was secondary. Her real glory was Keith. She did not look at him as a lover. She looked at him as her daddy. And believed in his power like children do. How she feels now is hard to say. She has a lot of time to think alone in home confinement, cut off from him and from most of the people she associated with – most of them she ruled and I rather suspect she misses them more than they miss her.
Could she ever come out of this? Could she ever realize that the man she followed who is likely to ruin the rest of her life – is a scoundrel? That he never loved her and the moment she had no wealth – she would be disposable. That he gave her important work to do only because she helped fund the work. That he manipulated and blamed her for his failures, much like he did with Nancy.
I will always remember the story of how when the NXIVM 9 left – nine women left NXIVM – because of his promiscuity. If anyone was at fault, Keith was at fault, but he blamed Nancy and demoted her in favor of Clare. It was a perfect solution to his big blunder – of getting caught having sex with numbers of women in his organization, students, member of the NXIVM board [if they were slender enough]. And the nine women discovering the extent of this – and how it was dangerous to the organization – decided to leave. Keith blamed it on Nancy. And to make sure of Clare – he promoted her to the number two position in NXIVM – behind the scenes [keeping Nancy as number #1 for the rank and file] and gave Clare the opportunity she soon learned to love so much – to be the bad cop, while he played the martyr.
Should Clare have understood this? She probably did not. She was too invested in her relationship with him. She assumed the role of cruelty for the sake of showing loyalty. Perhaps in time, she enjoyed the cruelty almost as much as showing her loyalty to Keith.
Why would an heiress with hundreds of millions of dollars perjure herself over trifles in court – and risk getting caught? Why would she lie on visa applications, or hack into her father’s computer and spy on him for Raniere? Why did she help Raniere smuggle money? Or use Pam Cafritz’s credit card? She had all the money to pay for these things. She did not do this for money. She did this to show loyalty and because, in her foolish head, because she thought he cared about her.
What other heiress with her wealth committed such crimes? Normally, these kind of crimes are money driven. No, these swindling crimes, these lies on visas and cheating of women falsely brought into the country – this was not done for money. It was done for Raniere. To please Raniere.
Maybe fool that he is, he might have thought that because he signed nothing, that he actually had something over Clare. That if he ever had to go after her, as he had done to others – he had something illegal he could hold over her head. He could take her down, despite her money. I guess he never reckoned on RICO – and that he, despite not having his name on anything – could wind up being held the most culpable.
As for Allision Mack, she is a pathetic creature. Like he did for Clare, Keith brought out all the worst elements in her. It was a remarkable fall for this lady. She was an actress who had somehow crafted a TV character and persona of goodness and honesty, and he provoked her lascivious side and made her a creature of lust. He exploited her bisexual nature and whipped her up and then gave her a carrot.
She wanted to be his woman; he led her to believe she would be number 1. Then he used her beauty and fame to lure in other women. In no time at all, he had her running as his main pimp woman. It came at a propitious time. Pam Cafritz who had done all this before was dying. Pam too was bisexual, and Pam worked hard – you might say she killed herself – to get attractive women into his bed. And, occasionally, into her own bed.
Whether Keith trained Pam to be bisexual or whether she came to it willingly, she became that, a wing woman, who got some of the leftovers. So did Allison.
Keith may have taught Allison to love to bed other women or she may have wanted this anyway. But she got it and that too was part of the reward. He manipulated women to be under her thrall. Not only his thrall but hers too. This was his cleverness. But it was also his big blunder. For they went farther than Pam and Keith. Allison and Keith took it to new extremes.
I can understand how it happened. In 2015, Keith was at his pinnacle. He had vanquished most of his enemies: 2015 was the year when Joe O’Hara, Barbara Bouchey, Toni Natalie, John Tighe and myself were all under indictment. He was suing Microsoft and AT&T claiming he invented teleconferencing. He had spent a million and found Kristen Keeffe and their son – and had spies watching their every movement. He sued the journalist and even prompted Jim Odato to leave his position at the Times Union. He silenced Suzanna Andrews. The entire media world was now silent on Keith Raniere.
He had Sara Bronfman occupied with running his experimental Rainbow Cultural Gardens – and Clare running operations for NXIVM. He had 400 people pay $2,000 each to spend 10 days celebrating his birthday. He had Emiliano Salinas and Alex Betancourt – two men he had pushed into being lovers, running the NXIVM operations in Mexico and smuggling cash for him in and out of the country. And he had a famous actress, Allison Mack, pimping for him. Pam was on the way out – and he had her make her will to leave everything to him in trust.
Now he needed and felt he could achieve it – a way to make it easier for him to control more women. He was getting older. He was 55. On occasion, he found that despite his tricks and the tricks of the wing women who enabled him, some of the younger women did not really find him attractive. Not in the way he wanted. They thought of him as an older man and a teacher but did not crave sex with him.
And then too he had become impotent. All those years with all those women and possibly venereal diseases – prevented him from being the old studly he always thought himself to be.
Faced with being older and less virile, but not less egoistic, he concocted a perfect retirement package for himself. DOS. He would make women slaves. He would appoint a group of loyal women who would do anything for him at any time. And use them to recruit more women and then he could command them – by virtue of the rules of the organization – that they and their slaves too – must have sex with him any time he commanded.
It was wild,.It was capricious. But with victory all around him. Law enforcement not wanting to touch him. Innocent people indicted. And Allison able to recruit and actually pull this off – he launched DOS.
And because Allison got to recruit brand spanking new women which she controlled, she went for it with gusto. This was now her new life work. She did not mind him having other women, but she wanted to be number one.
For Keith, if he was to be the only man, in the henhouse, and impotent at that, he realized he had to get the women into bisexuality. For Allison, she wanted him, and he supplanted that with her being the top woman in secret slave group – with lots of commands to have sex on demand.
For Allison, she soon realized she had to be both sweet and hard depending on what it took to control women – many of whom were deceived – by Keith’s design – to join the DOS group because they thought it was a group of all women – a true sorority. They were not told that a man was at the head and was likely going to command Allison to command them to have sex with him.
Allison – led in part by her love for Keith, in part by her lust and in part by her bisexual nature now growing in her, and being given free reign, and more power – found her niche.
When she was an actress, she had fame but little power. Now she was a leader of a group of women who were her slaves. And the purported goal of this was to empower women. To make women better – to make the world better. This factored in too.
And it was fun. When she terrified the Jane Doe women, she might have justified it as not so terrifying. She might have been thinking that she was just helping Jane get past her control issues. Being taught is often unpleasant for the student. And Allison may have thought that she was getting glorious women for the bed of her male lover, her dominant master and for her bed too. She was 80 shades of grey and working on 100.
You may ask how she could have been so delusional. Part of it was because of Keith’s ability to appeal to a woman’s latent desires.
Take Lauren for instance – who also joined the sex-slave cult. Lauren wanted a child, to be a mother. He promised her that. She wanted to be a teacher, a therapist like her mother – for the good self-satisfying feeling of helping others and being acknowledged with respect as a professional. Keith gave Lauren the latter and held out hope for the former.
For all of them, he assessed their desires and their character and gave them some of what they desired and offered hope for the rest. But there was yet another factor that kept them enslaved.
Keith kept them thin with low protein and low-calorie diets. This concept he mastered. All of them, even Nancy, even Pam, all of them, he kept the pressure on, and he used women to pressure other women too. With Allison, he made it an art form. But with all of them, over all the years, they were forced to eat little. Too little. In the old days, he even padlocked refrigerators – and kept the key. And for years he shunned women for gaining a pound or two.
He would get a woman to leave her job, her home, her family, sometimes her husband, and promise her a monogamous life and maybe a baby. Then, he would force upon her his idea of slender in a woman. He would begin to deprive her of food in the name of ideal beauty.
Weak undernourished women are pliable women. And it they are tired too, they are even more susceptible to doing things that just months before they met him – had anybody asked them – they would have recoiled at the notion that they would do such things as, for instance, be part of a harem.
And then there was sleep deprivation. How come Nancy fell asleep at NXIVM gatherings? Why did Allison fall asleep at meetings? Even prior to DOS, he was on them not to sleep much. He disguised this manipulation as hope. That a person who is fully unified like he was did not need much sleep and, of course, he lied that he rarely slept much himself. He gave it out that he slept just two hours per night and all the women, if they wanted to advance in NXIVM, in the life, in this respect and with honor – they had to sleep as little as him.
Of course, he was lying. He didn’t sleep little. He slept a lot – seven, eight, nine hours a day. The women of NIXVM were in a state of perpetual sleep deprivation. While he slept as much as he liked.
As for food, he also ate just as he liked. He deprived himself of nothing. While women were suffering bone loss and hair loss and premature menopause from eating too little, he was stuffing his face with pizza and hot sauce. They would eat calorie free squash and he would eat macaroni and cheese and chocolate cake.
The point is that the women were proud of their low-cal diets. He was proud of fooling them. So everyone suffered and no one suffered. All the defendants got just the life they wanted. It’s hard to say they were brainwashed. Whatever that means. They hypnotized themselves that they were doing good, yet part of them knew they were not nearly as unselfish as they pretended. Keith helped to remind then of this too – that they were weak and fickle and only more obedience to him would cure it.
Maybe part of them knew that Keith was not as unselfish as he pretended. Or maybe they did not know.
Keith’s greatest teaching to them was that ethics meant nothing more than consistency. To be the same. The highest ethics then could be to consistently lie for the sake of the mission. It didn’t somehow come under the dominion of analysis by these women, these defendants, that a mission that required so much lying and secrecy was a corrupt one, that the lies and secrecy were meant to serve the leader and not the world. That there were no noble civilizations built on lies. Or that the cornerstone of ethics is truth.
But to see it from their point of view, behind the sleep deprivation, they saw themselves as becoming more evolved – as if no sleep might do that for them. Behind food deprivation was the ideal body for a woman, as inspiration for men and women both. Behind the manipulation of women for sex and servitude to a man was the idea that this sex – even coerced or obtained through deception – was a form of wondrous spiritual therapy – healing and growth. That behind the slavery to a man was ultimately female empowerment as if in order to learn to command first learn to obey.
Behind the secret sex cult DOS was that this was for women’s good. Behind the power, the lawsuits, the tricks, the lies to students and lovers was the idea that this was for their good – both the world and the women themselves.
In the end, it was a perfect stew of self-interest, hoped-for altruism, and lust. And the only one who really understood that there was only self-interest and lust was the man who operated everything.
On this Thanksgiving Day, I, for one, am thankful that justice has placed each one of the defendants in the most appropriate place. Keith is where he belongs — in a cage. Lauren, Nancy, and especially Clare, are cooped up in their homes, allowed out only a few hours per week. They are not suffering as much as Keith but they are still rgreatly estricted – especially Clare – from harming others or intimating them or even holding their lying-ethical organization together.
And the lowest in rank of them all, the hapless Kathy Russell – a real nobody in the organization – who just happened to sign her name on things and helped accomplish illegal things only because she was told to – of all the defendants, she has the most freedom. She can go out all day and just must be home at night.
And more than perfect perhaps is that the guy who claimed he was the smartest of them all, the master manipulator, who put his name on nothing, thinking that if ever the shit hit the fan [which it did], he would be off the hook – since he signed nothing. Boy, did he miscalculate. He’s the one spending Thanksgiving in prison.
So perhaps on Thanksgiving or maybe on Christmas, something magical will happen. I really hope it will. I hope that the codefendants begin to realize they were stooges for him. That there was really nothing more to NXIVM than him and his selfish desires. That even any good he might have done to help another was not done for the sake of being good but so that people would think him good.
If NXIVM happened to help a few, or many, if the teachings, a hodgepodge of other people’s teachings and a little of his – if it helped people – that was not the goal. The goal was him – his ego. To get tribute and worship and obedience and sex and power and every whim of his carried out by others as if it were a sacred trust and a duty to fulfill.
My wish for the defendants is that they eat hearty, sleep well and for as long as they please and begin to realize this: That Keith Raniere was not who they thought he is, and that the sooner they recognize it, most probably the sooner they can begin to heal and seek freedom.
And finally get freedom.
Is that turkey fully cooked?