Will Raniere End Up Pleading Insanity Or Diminished Capacity?

Is this unfortunate rascal, Keith Raniere legally unable to distinguish whether or not he has committed criminal acts?

By K. R. Claviger

Several recent commenters have raised questions about what was going on in Keith Raniere’s mind for the past 20 years as he transformed himself from a geeky RPI graduate (albeit one with a 2.26 GPA) running a company that specialized in bulk-buying retailing to the head of an international cult that brought him unlimited access to wealth and beautiful young women.

Paraphrased versions of some of those comments are as follows:
• Why did he have to claim so many “achievements” that were obviously made-up: e.g., He was able to speak in full sentences at age 1; He was East Coast Judo Champ at age 11; He tied the New York State record for the 100-yard dash)?
• Why was he so greedy?
• Why did he get involved in things like commodities trading that he knew nothing about?
• Why did he have to introduce “branding” as a new requirement for the women that wanted to be in his “inner circle”?
• Why did he always have to keep gambling until he lost?
• Why did he have to be so punitive against the people who chose to leave him (e.g., Toni Natalie, Joe O’Hara, Barbara Bouchey, Susan Dones, Kim Woolhouse, etc.)?
• Why did he promise so many women that they would have children with him?

Those questions have raised lots of interesting questions about who Raniere really is – and what motivated him to do things?

And they have also lead to lots of psychological terms being tossed about – sometimes correctly but oft times not – as people try to explain why Raniere did what he did?

Delusional? – Quite possible…

Psychopath? – Definitely a possibility…

Sociopath? – Almost certainly…

But even if all of those diagnoses turned out to be true, will they have any effect on his legal case? In other words, can any of those diagnoses be used to explain away his decades of criminal activity – and allow him to avoid spending decades in federal prison?

Probably not…None of those diagnoses – even if they were all proven to be 100% true – is likely going to save Raniere from being convicted and going to prison.

But it is equally true that his defense attorneys may try to use some of Raniere’s behaviors to craft an argument that could, in fact, stave off convictions on some/all of the charges he is currently facing – or at least reduce his sentence if he is convicted of any of those charges.

Without getting bogged down into too much legalese, let’s take a look at some of the underlying principles of the American legal system.

Right at the outset is the fundamental notion that most crimes consist of two elements: i.e., the actual action (which is referred to as the actus reus) – and the perpetrator’s awareness that the act they are committing is wrong (which is referred to as the mens rea).

A few crimes – which are often referred to as strict liability crimes – do not require mens rea on the part of the perpetrator. One example of such a strict liability crime would be statutory rape.

In the case at hand, it appears that all the crimes that Raniere is accused of committing will require the prosecution to prove that the underlying act was illegal and that Raniere knew it to be so at the time he was doing it.

This means that the defense attorneys will either have to prove that the underlying acts did not take place – or that Raniere was incapable of knowing that he was committing criminal acts.

I don’t see much hope for the defense attorneys in terms of proving whether the charged activities actually happened. This is where are that evidence that was seized from Nancy Salzman’s house is going to be a real problem for them. And then there are those damn brands that are unlikely to fade away before the date of the trial.

Instead, what the defense attorneys may try to do is prove that Raniere was incapable of understanding that what he was doing was wrong.

This is where “insanity” and “diminished capacity” come in to play. And in this context, both of these are legal concepts rather than medical diagnoses.

In order to utilize insanity or diminished capacity as a defense, Raniere’s lawyers would have to bring in expert witnesses to convince the jury that their client was insane – or, alternatively, that he was incapable of understanding that what he was doing was illegal.

If successful, an insanity defense would result in a verdict of “Not guilty by reason of insanity”.

A diminished capacity argument, on the other hand, would only come into play after Raniere had been found guilty of one or more crimes. More specifically, it would be used to argue that the judge should impose a lesser sentence than would otherwise be appropriate per the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.

To buttress a diminished capacity argument, the expert witnesses would likely try to prove that Raniere was suffering from some sort of mental disease at the time he committed the crimes. Among the ones that that are most commonly cited in these types of cases are the following:
• Dementia
• Dissociative States
• Intoxication
• Irresistible Impulse Disorder
• Manic-Depressive Illness (Bi-Polar Disorder)
• Mental Retardation
• Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
• Schizophrenia

So, buckle up, Frank Report readers because you may well be reading lots more stories about the nuances of insanity pleas and diminished capacity defense arguments over the next few months.

The only question, of course, is whether the great and mighty Vanguard could sit through several days of listening to expert psychiatrists and psychologists describing his various mental problems and diseases.

Somehow, I just don’t think that’s very likely…



Although some states still allow “diminished capacity” to be asserted as a defense, that is not allowed in federal court. There, “diminished capacity” can only be used as an argument for a reduction in the sentence to be meted out for someone who has been convicted.


About the author

K.R. Claviger


Click here to post a comment

Please leave a comment: Your opinion is important to us! (Email & username are optional. To leave a name, click on the email icon)

  • It’s almost comical to read some of the things written by members here, especially Heidi.

    I’m reading so much ‘word salad’ these days that I can practically taste the lettuce.

    Heidi needs to use Occam’s Razor before spouting her Mothman theories.

    Occam’s Razor says that Keith didn’t drive or retake his driving exam for the SIMPLEST and most logical reason of all: He simply wanted to be chauffeured around town to increase his own self importance and/or out of pure laziness. That’s the likely truth.

    There was no ‘radar detector’ element to his lack of driving. There was no “Mothman element” to his lack of retaking a driver’s license exam.


    Because radar detectors don’t differentiate between somebody sitting in the driver’s seat or the passenger’s seat.

    Even if Keith had those “Mothman powers” where his brain waves could set off radar detectors — or harm other drivers in some other way — his “brain waves” would still set off those same radar detectors while sitting in the passenger’s seat.

    Thus it makes no logical sense to forgo getting a driver’s license for his ENTIRE LIFE just because he fears that his “Mothman powers” might set off radar detectors or harm other drivers in some other way.

    I’m just so tired of hearing pure, unadulterated bullshit. I can’t believe that Heidi actually takes the time to type out such obvious bullshit.

    Heidi sure does know how to make a tasty word salad though.

    She can almost give Keith some decent competition in that department. lol.

  • We have to remember there are distinctions between actual mental illness and “personality disorders” such a narcisissim, borderline personality disorder (which also fits Keith, IMO), and sociopathy. I don’t think personality disorders are valid defenses for diminished capacity. If they were, we’d be in trouble since most thieves, swindlers and murderers fall into one or more of these categories.

  • Keith’s legal team will NEVER, EVER be authorized to use an insanity or diminished capacity defense.

    It’s not even a possibility that Keith would ever entertain that idea.

    Claviger is correct that Keith’s ego would never allow that possibility. This is one of the few times that I actually agree with that legal minded turd.

    Guess what?

    For the rest of you spectators who may disagree, here’s the straight skinny:

    1) Keith’s only achievement in life is that he is Vanguard, wise leader of NXIVM and worshipped as a demigod by all Nexians.

    2) Keith has nothing else in life except the power and wealth he derives from being Vanguard.

    3) Vanguard is all-knowing among his supporters. He’s never wrong. He has no ‘disintegrations’. He’s a perfect human being.

    4) If Keith uses an ‘insanity’ defense — either at trial or at his sentencing — his legal team would have to say that he’s a fucking nutball who really doesn’t know reality from Fantasyland. Keith’s legal team would have to call expert witnesses who testify that Keith is a fucking nutter. His own attorneys would have to argue, in open court, that he’s a crazy fucker who’s not playing with a full deck of cards. Most importantly, Keith would have to approve this defense and agree with it.

    5) Once his legal team makes this argument in open court (that he’s a crazy nutball) Keith would cease being Vanguard to every follower he ever had. He could never go back to being Vanguard after that. His money from Clare Bear would be cut off forever, since how can Clare and Sara Bronfman continue supporting a guy who openly admits to being a fucking nutball?

    6) His harem (i.e. his endless supply of pussy) would be gone forever if he pleads insanity. Even if he was released early from prison his pussy supply would dry up, since no girl wants to fuck a crazy nutball who no longer has money from Clare Bronfman. Girls only want him because they think he’s a demigod who might give them an avatar baby. …But who would want an avatar baby fathered by a guy who told the world he’s not right in the head?

    7) MOST IMPORTANTLY: Even if convicted at trial and facing 20 years in prison, Keith will delude himself into thinking that his appeal will be successful and thus he won’t see any benefit to pleading insanity. His attorneys will likely fuel his belief that the appeal will be a successful one, since they’ll likely tell Keith that the jury was full of emotional people who ignored the law but the appellate judges will be fairer when reviewing his case.

    That’s the straight skinny.

  • Not to pull a Nancy Salzman and claim I know anything with no credentials — and maybe Festiger or Klaviger or someone can clarify — but I always thought the etiology or cause more so than symptoms or the way it’s manifest or the degree was what defined the disease.

    That sociopathy = a pathology caused by social environment and psychopathy = a pathology caused by the psyche.

    I used to think Keith was similar to people I know who are diagnosed bipolar but are not at all cruel or self-serving whereas Keith clearly is. That maybe the real reason Keith didn’t drive, never retook the exam, for instance, was because he was having those “Mothman” delusions or something and didn’t trust himself to drive. I often felt sorry for him those days to be perfectly honest. But that was long before his vile criminal acts were exposed, before Gina passed.

    Now, I think Keith more played at being delusional — at being an eccentric, mad genius — to mask his crookedness, narcissism and carry out his crimes.

    • You actually know and have spent a considerable amount of time with KAR so I will always have to defer to your observations. If you think he truly believed the outlandish claims he spouted, such as being like Mothman, then he could have some kind of delusional disorder.


      People with this disorder are hard to diagnose since they can walk among us in society and present themselves to others as perfectly normal. People will come up with ‘evidence’ to support their delusion and have no recollection of being the one who created this ‘evidence’.

      There is an excellent book called Run, Hide, Repeat: A Memoir of a Fugitive Childhood written by a woman whose stepfather suffered from delusional disorder.

      This is also very enlightening


      It’s interesting the author of the above mentioned book is Canadian.

      You can be completely correct that he put on these eccentricities to draw people toward him and he is either a sociopath or a psychopath. What does seem abundantly clear is the only person he cares about is himself.

      • Thanks for those links, Leon. I read ‘em all whether or not I comment after. (Trying not to bog down the blog with 1:1 conversation.) That Vancouver subway link was fascinating, especially the comments. Seems all of “Gotham City” is either an MK10 CIA experiment or mass hallucinating that they are! Were I an entrepreneurial sort, I’d start an anti-EMT wave tin hat business in Vancouver!

        • You’re welcome and it is fascinating and so sad people are suffering from these delusions believing they are true and never seeking help. I believe the internet has helped people rationalize their delusions because they find a community and they feed off one another.

  • We need to recognize evil does exist.
    It’s not a mental illness. Not insanity.
    Just pure, plain evil.
    Sociopaths are created. How and why we do not know.
    Psychopaths are born, created in the womb.
    Keith appears to be the latter, a psychopath and he attracted those easily swayed and those bent as he is.
    Keep that in mind when politicians want to house sexual predators in one apartment building in your neighborhood.
    It’s the perfect storm as we see has transpired in NXIVM.
    Add to Keith’s psychopathy the funds of the Bronfman’s and justice willing to be bought….

  • Raniere has access to preeminent legal counsel who are undoubtedly aware the success rate of an insanity defense is less than 26%. They are also on record claiming he is fairing well in prison. Smith anuary 5, 2019 at 3:07 pm

    The reality is grimmer than that.
    Very grim.

    According to an eight-state study, the insanity defense is used in less than 1% of all court cases and, when used, has only a 26% success rate.

    Of those cases that were successful, 90% of the defendants had been previously diagnosed with mental illness.

    And the Federal courts have extremely strict interpretations of insanity.
    This case is being tried in Federal court.

    Federal courts

    After the perpetrator of President Reagan’s assassination attempt was found not guilty by reason of insanity, Congress passed the Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984. Under this act, the burden of proof was shifted from the prosecution to the defense and the standard of evidence in federal trials was increased from a preponderance of evidence to clear and convincing evidence.
    Under this new test only perpetrators suffering from severe mental illnesses at the time of the crime could successfully employ the insanity defense. The defendant’s ability to control himself or herself was no longer a consideration.

    Has Keith Raniere already been diagnosed with mental illness?

    Has Clare Bronfman already been diagnosed with mental illness?

    Has Allison Mack already been diagnosed with mental illness?

    Has Nancy Salzman already been diagnosed with mental illness?

    Has Lauren Salzman already been diagnosed with mental illness?

    The very fact that these five criminal defendants organized a complex Conspiracy case involving violation of the RICO statute argues against any mental illness that would prevent a conviction.

    And the Federal courts don’t give a damn what psychiatrists say is mental illness.
    The Act also curbed the scope of expert psychiatric testimony

    The law determines what is mental illness, not psychiatrists.

  • I’ve never known the insanity plea or diminished capacity to be effective pleas. Can’t you think of any high profile case where they’ve been successfully used?

    Raniere and crew will have to face what they’ve sewn. I can, however, imagine that Raniere did not see his actions as criminal. Afterall, Agnifilo has proclaimed that DOS members voluntarily were branded and chose sex with Raniere.

  • Would Raniere, who presents himself as a perfect ethical saviour of humanity and may even believe that he is, actually accept and admit that he is mentally ill? Even if a psychiatrist diagnosed him with a mental illness, he would probably see himself as sane and the psychiatrist would be deemed to be at fault. He would have to weigh up the advantage of using that defence in court for a possible shorter sentence vs the disadvantage of presenting himself to his followers as an imperfect leader.

  • The two statements bracketed [ ] below are in direct opposition.

    In the case at hand, it appears that all the crimes that Raniere is accused of committing will require [the prosecution to prove that the underlying act was illegal] – and that Raniere knew it to be so at the time he was doing it.

    This means that [the defense attorneys will either have to prove] that the underlying acts did not take place – or that Raniere was incapable of knowing that he was committing criminal acts.

    A few points:

    1. The fact is that it is a very high bar to prove insanity and it is the defense’s task to prove it, so I’m not very concerned about this issue. In fact, since it hasn’t been mentioned by his lawyers yet, it is very unlikely to be raised. In almost any cases where it has been successfully used, it came to mind to most people quite early after the crime was revealed, such as the Texas woman who drowned several of her kids (she had to be crazy to do that!);

    2. Issues such as writing the draft letter to threaten various women via a Mexican lawyer would sink using a theory of insanity AND diminished capacity;

    3. The “damn brands” are already shown in the New York Times, the question isn’t whether the burning/cauterizing (damn brands) occurred, it’s whether it was voluntary or coerced/blackmailed.

    4. PTSD is listed twice, I don’t know what that means in terms of which of the listed issues Clavinger has, but this whole “story” is pure fantasy, trying to drum up concern/worry/controversy.

  • He’s not a psychopath.
    Psychopaths aren’t scared little boys inside like Raniere is.
    Psychopaths aren’t usually afraid of anything, at all. Ever.
    His self-preservation quotient is way too high.
    Same reason I don’t think he’ll kill himself after he is sentenced.
    Sociopath, sure.
    His image is everything to him, because it’s everything he knows he isn’t, so he can’t possibly sustain the damage to it of an insanity defence even if his desperate legal team wanted to suggest it.

    • Narcissistic Personality Disorder or something very like in the sociopathy spectrum. There was a video up at one time with him discussing unconscious sociopaths (who didn’t realize what they were) and conscious sociopaths to whom it was all a game, The way he giggled at that thought was chilling – he knows what he is and this was all some sick game to him and he is a pretty sore loser. Hard to know whether his ego protection will win out or whether a diminished capacity plea would be part of playing the game. And that is as far as I want to go in trying to get inside his head – break out the brain bleach.

      • I don’t see why he would have any better chance post-sentencing than Christian Maire.
        Raniere’s abuse of pre-teen girls and Mexican girls will probably be his death sentence.

      • Lol, on “brain bleach,” blast. I agree that video could be key to exactly what Keith ET AL were up to.

        I’m sure I’ve seen that vid and had an “ah, ha” moment, too. And it is mind boggling to think an insane person is sane enough to profit from his insanity by converting some marginally sane or even relatively “normal” people to his fully insane (integrated ?) mindset.

        Insane as it sounds, I believe that’s what’s happened. And not only in this case, people are apparently “losing it” on the subways in Vancouver — Leon shared a link — while others profit from their loss of mind or gain more control and power the crazier it gets.

        Plus, there are “tools” available, like the HAARP networks, that use EMT’s bounced off the ionosphere — proven to change weather patterns and scramble migratory patterns of fish and birds, for example. (The US Embassy in Cuba was purportedly blasted with EMT’s but staffers didn’t go insane, they got massive headaches and such.) Imagine if an insane idiot like KAR got control of a HAARP network!

        Gotta see “Bird Box” on Netflix. I found it to be analogous. Happy bleaching!

      • Thanks for the info, Blast. I wouldn’t be surprised if “scared little Keith” is just an act and part of the game. It was and is all a game to Keith. He new exactly what he was doing. He is the sorest loser of all time.

  • Raniere has access to preeminent legal counsel who are undoubtedly aware the success rate of an insanity defense is less than 26%. They are also on record claiming he is fairing well in prison.

    They would only consider this path if his odds of being found not guilty are lower than 1 in 4. It’s a huge risk for the defendant that involves an admission of committing the acts as charged as well as compromising the integrity of the attorneys themselves.

    It’s far more likely one or more of his lieutenants would consider plea not guilty by reason of insanity. They could point to Raniere and the influence he wielded to claim their ability to make decisions was diminished through participation in the cult.

    • I don’t think the insanity success rate has much to do with the odds of being found not guilty. These are barely overlapping subsets. You used integrity and attorneys in the same sentence, that should result in you as having at least one of the diminished capacity issues listed above. Any underlings can’t blame Raniere for their own insanity or diminished capacity. That’s called brainwashing, which has been discounted in an earlier thread.

    • I do agree, Smith, his lieutenants would have a better chance of arguing some kind of diminished capacity defense if they were footing their own legal bills. Since the legal trust is filled with Bronfrom money it seems unlikely that would be a path they would be allowed to follow. She seems to have blind faith in KAR.

    • Agree wholeheartedly, Smith. That’s why it’s so horrifically unfair that they’re all being cooked in the same pot of $$$$ —Bronfman, etc. paid counsel.

      And, now, we learn the chef, Dennis Burke, may be a cannibal — cooking them all up in his own self interests.

      At least the conflict of interest is being dealt with and the court didn’t just accept the defendants’ conflict of interest waivers without further investigation. Bet Burke didn’t count on that. Or on Peterson coming forward.

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
Email: frankparlato@gmail.com