A few days ago, I ran across a story that Vanessa Grigoriadis had just written for Vanity Fair about the recent court hearings involving Clare Bronfman – and her hiring of Michael Avenatti to negotiate some kind of plea deal on her behalf.
I recognized Vanessa’s name right away.
She was the same journalist who had written what I recalled was a “puff piece” about NXIVM and Keith Raniere that appeared in The New York Times Magazine.
And so, as I started reading Vanessa’s latest story, I was mentally prepared to find it told from a pro-NXIXM standpoint.
It was nothing like that.
Instead, it was a very forthright account of Clare Bronfman getting “reamed out” by Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis because she had not told him the truth about how she decided to hire Mark Geragos as her lead attorney (Vanessa was in the courtroom for both days of the Bronfman hearings).
Her description of Clare Bronfman was both kind (“slight and soft-spoken”) and brutal (her “shoulder blades protruded from the back of her sweater like parallel door hinges”).
Her description of DOS was even more poignant: “a freakish cousin of today’s wellness craze that tells women they’ll be magically transformed if they devote enough time and money to becoming mentally healthy and thin”.
When I finished reading the Vanity Fair piece, I smugly thought to myself “Well, I guess Vanessa Grigoriadis had obviously had a change of heart over the past ten months”.
And I thought it would be interesting to go back and read her New York Time Magazine piece – and report on just how much her perspective had changed.
Surprise #2: Vanessa’s original piece was much more balanced than I remembered – and it included some very interesting information and observations.
Entitled “Inside NXIVM: the ‘Sex Cult’ That Empowered Women”, Vanessa began by reporting about what she described as a “therapy session” that Nancy Salzman was about to conduct on a 29-year old woman named Jaqueline.
Within 30-minutes, Jacqueline had reportedly “upgraded her belief system”, overcome her fear of flying, and decided to change the way that she interacted with men.
What I first read as an endorsement of Nancy Salzman’s therapeutic powers – and the power of Raniere’s “tech” – I now see as a very subtle “are-you-fucking-kidding-me?” poke at the absurdities of the various claims made by both of them.
Later in the story, Vanessa noted that she was the first journalist who had been granted access for an article about NXIVM in 14-years.
But in doing so, she also noted that what she was really given was “a tightly stage-managed tour of its leadership and operations” – and that NXIVM “remains highly secretive and exquisitely paranoid”.
Vanessa also noted that her initial contact with NXIVM was Clare Bronfman – and that she had traveled to Mexico where Clare was staying with Raniere.
“They were staying there on the advice of lawyers and consultants,” she wrote – words that would come back to bite Raniere in the ass when he sought to be released on bail.
Vanessa was also especially brutal in describing her first impressions when she met Raniere.
“He spoke in a nasal, New York-accented voice and often tossed his hair, a feminine gesture that he used to punctuate his thoughts. He didn’t seem like a man who could make other people orbit him like moons. He seemed like a high-end real estate broker trying to come off as friendly but anxious about closing a sale.”
She went on to recount some of the claims that Raniere made about himself: “He has said he spoke in full sentences at a year old, read by 2 and taught himself to play concert-level piano at 12, the same year he learned high school math in 19 hours”.
But, once again, I missed the “are-you-fucking-kidding-me?” poke at Raniere’s bullshit.
Raniere, incidentally, also told Vanessa that he walked 14-20 miles per day as “he thought about how to solve humanity’s problems”. Since the average walking speed for humans is 3.1 miles/hour, that means that Raniere spent 4.5 – 6.5 hours per day just walking and thinking (And that doesn’t take into account that he walks much slower than the average human being because of his stubby legs and square feet).
One of the few people that Vanessa interviewed for her New York Times Magazine piece who was not a current member of NXIVM was Barbara Bouchey.
Barbara described Raniere as “a loving boyfriend, affectionate and measured…” who never raised his voice, showed anger or talked condescendingly in her presence.
But Barbara also admitted to Vanessa that she is still haunted by one question: “Did he really love me? I honestly felt it at times. It seemed genuine, especially in the early years.” [Editor’s Note: Barbara claims that she never spoke these words to Vanessa. It is not known if Barbara ever demanded a retraction from The New York Times Magazine].
But the most interesting part of Vanessa’s original story on NXIVM had to do with DOS.
To begin with, almost her entire description of DOS was told from the standpoint of Allison Mack – who claimed to be the one who came up with the idea of branding members.
And according to Vanessa, Mack – and several other members of DOS – told her that they had “improved” because of their participation in what Raniere described as “a sorority”.
Raniere also claimed that he had only been sexually involved with two members of the reported 150 members of DOS. Vanessa made it pretty clear that she did not believe that claim.
But it was Vanessa’s description of her interactions with Mack that, upon rereading it, really got my attention: “To be honest, I was surprised that she was sitting there at all. And Mack told me that she’d been experiencing some anxiety talking to a reporter”.
But Mack went to explain that she had been convinced to do the interview after talking with Keith, Clare, and Lauren.
So, in addition to the various other conspiracies they were involved in, the three of them conspired to set up Allison to take the fall for DOS.
Who needs enemies when you have friends like this?