It is spectacular to see Keith Alan Raniere finally at trial. He sat at the defense table between Paul DerOhanesian [on his right] and Marc Aginfilo [on his left] looking like a little schoolboy.
Raniere was animated, often taking notes, leaning forward, sitting back. He wears no suit and tie, but rather a cardigan. On Monday, it was grey, on Tuesday, blue. He looked quite alert, never smiling and not frowning either. Just eager and attentive like a boy on his first day at school.
He was often seen leaning sideways to whisper something in the ear of his attorney, DerOhanesian – and, less frequently, to Agnifilo. Whispering very softly so as not to interrupt the proceedings.
Behind him in chairs against the wall behind the defense table sat two men in plainclothes. My guess is that they are US marshals, assigned to watch him and ensure that he does not make a break for the door or the judge or a witness. One final last act of desperation for a ruined Vanguard.
At trial, Agnifilo is doing all the talking for the defense so far. He is good. A lot of people have been critical of him but I think he is very good.
He gave his opening statement to the jury and, from what I could tell, it was spontaneous. He had no notes. He paced a little, stopped and he spoke. And it is hard to tell what impression he was making on the jury. I would think it was reasonably good considering he has such an odious client.
Tanya Hajjar’s opening statement for the prosecution was much shorter – less than half as long – and she went right to the sex – the manipulating criminal pervert that Raniere is. Hers was a more accurate description of the monster.
Agnifilo tried to undo that and spoke all over the place – trying to reduce the “ick” factor – of which with Raniere there is just about as much as anyone can imagine. Agnifilo quoted Churchill and Atticus Finch; he spoke of morality and law as not one and the same.
He said he was going to fight to prove Keith’s good faith. His lack of criminal intent.
And he said he was going to examine how people changed their minds – they gave consent to what they now complain of. That people – women too – had to take personal responsibility.
Something [i.e. Nxivm/DOS] could have been wonderful and then be all evil because you changed your mind – but you initially gave consent.
If you gave up control – you consented to it – and the man did what he was asked to do – then you cannot come back later and say you withdraw your consent – and he was criminal – for controlling you when you asked to be controlled – you asked to be a slave. So you could get better inside. Be badass.
The women asked for Raniere to control them. They gave their collateral voluntarily. This is Agnifilo’s argument.
He made it pretty well and while I can’t agree with him – for Raniere tricked women into consent – and coerced them – and used women to trick women – and coerce them – I have to admit Agnifilo is excellent.
He is not a fool. Forget that he has probably billed and been paid more than $1 million dollars for his work – he is not a fool. He acts sometimes a little like a bumbler – a little like the character of Columbo – not coming down hard – not offensive, quick to apologize as he makes his points, thoroughly and methodically.
He was good with Sylvie’s cross-examination. Slowly – not rude but dogged and determined. He presented text after text she sent to Raniere – texts that seemed to show she wanted to be under Raniere. He had her read them and asked her why she wrote what she did – in praise of Raniere.
And he kept hammering away at how she consented to do the ugly things she said she was forced to do. Sending naked pictures, not sleeping with her husband, overtraining. And sending texts to Raniere saying she “dreamed of him last night” or she was so glad he was in her life.
Sylvie turned it around pretty good when she said, as a DOS slave, she was required to give tribute – but it is hard to say if there was reasonable doubt about coercion. It is not illegal to give naked pictures. Or train six hours per day – as Raniere commanded.
I doubt it will be enough. Not with Sylvie – and not with the parade of witnesses to come.
I can’t imagine Agnifilo can overcome the sheer weight of evidence against Raniere. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t good. He has a winning way. The jury might like him – much more than Raniere.
This was the hand Agnifilo was dealt. So he brings up Atticus Finch and “personal responsibility” and in that early, first impression phase of communicating with the jury – the opening statement – he makes a stab at inspiration – at normalcy – at how he fights for a man [like you would want to fight] for a man of good faith [even if he’s different, or even kinky] and to keep his freedom – even if morally we can’t quite agree – with polyamory, and abortions and even branding – [but if the men can do it – why can’t women?].
Overall, Agnifilo is pretty good, and Raniere, like any other defendant, has the right to a good attorney.
It won’t avail him much. He is likely to be convicted on all counts and spend the rest of his life in prison. But that’s not Agnifilo’s fault. Raniere brought himself to where he sits today.
Sitting there at the defense table, trying to act like a little, innocent boy – hour after hour – while attorneys and witnesses talk about him – just him. He is the sole topic of this trial; its only star. He is The Vanguard.
One of the best things Sylvie said about Raniere is that, when he made his public statement that he had nothing to do with DOS – that it was a women’s sorority that he barely knew about, she said she thought it was an act of cowardice, for she knew he was her Grandmaster and was preeminent in every part of DOS.
Raniere’s whole life has been one long, continuous act of cowardice – but that, all by itself, is not a crime. What this trial is about is marshaling a few of his many crimes – and through evidence try to persuade 12 people that there is no reasonable doubt that he committed these crimes: racketeering, sex trafficking, and forced labor.
He did that. Even if he got texts from frightened women telling him how wonderful he is – along with naked pictures from women who hated sending them but felt they had to.
And now he is going to pay. And all the lawyers in the world – even the best, like Marc Agnifilo – aren’t going to save him.