Guest View: Dani Exemplifies How Intelligent Persons Get Caught in Cults

Keith Raniere by MK10ART.

Dani may be an example of someone – the many, really – who, if she hadn’t been sort of born or raised in the group, would either not have gotten involved, or would have gotten out before too long. But family connections are often pivotal in these sorts of groups. It’s why, for instance, women and children remain in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) — the polygamist offshoot of the Mormon Church — and even resist attempts to get them to leave, not knowing anything else, and having all their family ties there.

I also see a lot of similarities to Scientology in Nxivm. Much of that is because high control groups or cults, and their narcissistic and psychopathic leaders, tend to tap into certain patterns of human behavior, and weaknesses. L. Ron Hubbard tapped into similar sources as Raniere did, like Nietzsche (through Aleister Crowley) and Buddhism, plus hypnosis. On top of that, there was some deliberate copying and the involvement early on of people who had been involved in Scientology or one of its offshoots (though the connections and the extent of it are unclear.)

Cults are often apocalyptic. Early on, Scientology used claims that the world would end in five or 10 years unless saved from itself to recruit many of the idealistic, young baby boomers who still account for much of their now-aging membership, and then to get them to buy into and act on an ‘end-justifies-the-means’ ideology; though they have since moved on to other tactics, such as exploiting the fear of death through their strangely qualified take on reincarnation.

The idea that “unified” (or “integrated”) means not reacting to the external world sounds like the characteristics of a psychopath; some of the tests and measures of psychopathy involve gauging whether individuals lack normal responses and reactions. It’s also typical of these groups that the leader’s personality – often flawed, if not pathological – gets held up as the ideal, and imposed on followers. The idea of Raniere having attained some sort of personal wholeness stands in contrast to the fact that internally he is obviously driven by unresolved issues and fixations from his youth.

Experts in the field always say that people drawn to these kinds of groups can’t be dismissed as unintelligent or uneducated. In fact, they are often actually slightly above average in intelligence, in some cases with above-average education, but typically idealistic. I suspect that they tend to be more gullible or vulnerable, though what research there is suggests a complex confluence of factors, including situational vulnerability  – the times in people’s lives, typical, but not exclusive to youth, when they are in turmoil and seeking answers. It also may be that, at the highest levels, and in the inner circles, such as we’re seeing here in this trial, those involved are a very select group with particular characteristics and weaknesses.


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Frank Parlato


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  • Actually, Dani is a better example of how young people get caught up in cults and scams. Take a look at Raniere’s original harem, it was a bunch of women he knew since his college days and it was THEM who drew others to Raniere, not Raniere himself. Classic MLM edification.

  • This is a woman who continued a sexual relationship for years with a man whom she knew was also with her sister. She declares how smart she was – yet she (and her sister) don’t appear to have learned any sense of morals or emotional intelligence by the time they were 18 and over and both with Keith sexually during the same time.

    This is a woman who 6 years after the start of that sexual relationship – when she was 24 years old – was ‘trapped in a room for 2 years that wasn’t actually locked’ – it just doesn’t make any sense to me. She never in that time found the strength to tell her parents about the ‘nap’ that man wanted from her and her sister – so she could at least get her freedom back and move on with her life? It’s just another aspect of this horrid story that really doesn’t add up.

    I keep waiting to hear something to make me understand whether all these people were under hypnotic suggestion – or actual mind control – because otherwise there is just no way I’d say she or any of them are extremely intelligent. Sorry.

    • I think it’s harder for some personality types to go against the flow especially in group dynamics of coercive persuasion. Dani was agreeable at that age and deeply interested into doing well academically, this group was presented to her as a way to grow her potential. Furthermore, her entire nuclear family was there sanctioning this, and she was in a foreign country illegally as a minor, which is a situation that renders people very vulnerable and unwilling to reach out for help. She was isolated and constantly told she was the one who was in the wrong. So while a lot of psychological aspects are into play, keep in mind she truly was isolated in Albany and didn’t have a community there outside of NXIVM.

  • The idea that “unified” (or “integrated”) means not reacting to the external world sounds like the characteristics of a psychopath”

    I agree. I’ll say it again, reread Dr. Brandon Porter’s “Spock” statement about “his” mission — remembering KAR wrote and directed much of the promo materials assigning words to most everyone’s mouth.

    Reread Clare’s mission statement about “her” ethical science foundation. “Can humans be manipulated and if so how” — to that effect.

    Listen closely to the audio clip of KAR’s branding instructions with Ally.

    Thousands of examples exist where Keith has zippo, nada empathy or apparent feeling for anyone but himself. He only borrows it from others. He gauges reactions. He may be INTERESTED, was always very interested in any display of feeling for another, but he’s not ever feelin’ it except when his own smelly ass is on the line.

    What’d he do in court while Lauren was “disintegrating”? — passed more notes to Aggie trying to aggrevate her and when she finally broke, congratulated himself on her “meltdown.”

    I imagine he looked like Ted Bundy, laughing and smiling as he exited that courtroom thinking he dazzled everyone with his amazing display of domination and control.

    The really scary part for me is how easily such psycho’s do rise to power due to their insatiable need for it and unhindered acquisition of it by manipulating others in part through the emotions and social integration instincts they lack.

    Soon survival of the fittest will mean survival of the cruelest if money is our measure. Trouble is there’ll be no planet left to survive on.

    Any Mexican or other “elitists” trying to control the world’s wealth better set-up their kiddie camps and black ops on Mars instead of bumfuck Albany, NY.

  • In the usa we call this the boiling frog syndrome.
    The theory being if you put a frog in water and slowly raise the temperature the frog won’t notice and be cooked to death.
    The analogy of this being when people are subjected to mild forms of abuse they adjust to it and it becomes normal.
    Then more abuse and more adjustment until it becomes bat shit crazy like you see here.
    Those who have not experienced this have a hard time understanding how this is even possible but it is.
    This is how all cults operate.
    However while this is true with people it is false with frogs.
    The frog will jump when it gets to hot meaning the frog is smarter then people or more accurately the frog has better instincts.
    There have been references to “red flags” which is your mind telling you something is wrong.
    So Nxivm told people to ignore the “red flags” to advance, become better, sure thing, no problem here, God created “red flags” for a reason and the reason is protection.
    I heard about Nxivm after the arrests, the main press posted limited info, I searched Nxivm cult, found the pot of gold in Frank report.
    I’m interested in cults, how they work, have heard this all before, still amazed it happens over and over to the unaware.

    • Yes, and the same has been found here in the UK where some intelligent people get caught in financial scams; giving more and more money to the fraudsters on the line selling shares. They get more and more sucked in.

      In a sense, I noticed it in my marriage too where by the end I thought what we had was “normal” yet it was only when I had a bit of common sense and also some random girl on line explained it wasn’t normal (what we were subjected to at home) that I realized. It is the drip, drip, drip of it that hooks you in and gets you used to what should be an unacceptable norm.

      It must be even worse for people born into extremists groups like FLDS as you do not have any first 10 or 15 years of you life which was normal to compare it to (and in some groups are also kept away from msot books and all internet).

  • There’s different measures of intelligence. Much should not be made of remarks like
    “Only an idiot would fall for this BS”. There is some truth to it but it’s an offhand remark. Of course there were many smart and educated people in NXIVM. Wether there was something special about them or something lacking, they were duped and many others were not.
    Idealistic to the point they they ignored intuition and badly wanted to believe they found something special.
    Moderation is key to fulfillment.

  • Intelligence and wisdom are two different things, and it’s possible to have one without the other. Then there’s naiveté, which is different from either. Youth and naiveté kind of go together, I can’t blame Dani for being naive at age 16. Some people lead sheltered lives and reach adulthood as easily fooled as a four year old. Sometimes I thank the gods I grew up in the school of hard knocks; I learned to be skeptical without becoming cynical. You don’t have to be Buddha or Einstein, it just means going to a grade school where some kids are your friends and other kids steal your lunch money.

    Some people manage to remain naive and gullible into adulthood and no matter what manner of bad things happen to them. These people I refer to as fools or knuckleheads. As Scotty of the Starship Enterprise said, “fool me once, etc.”

    The sad, tangled story of NXIVM fascinates me. At first I was pissed off, but now I find myself laughing at the extent of human folly. I do feel badly about people like Frank Parlato who were genuinely hurt by this evil entity through no fault of their own. But village idiots like Allison Mack, who was born into privilege and had nothing but good luck come her way until she managed, against all odds, to turn her life to shit, have no one to blame but themselves. Many of the Nexians seem to have been rich and stupid. Well, now they’re reaping what they’ve sown, and Fortuna’s Wheel grinds on.

    • It’s not her just being 16 and naive, her mom and dad were deep into New Age belief for years before this, which led credence to such types of seminars in her mind. She wanted to be smart, she was a responsible good kid and she was agreeable. She saw important well dressed people peddling this stuff legitimizing it, it all was It’s a recipe for disaster.

      • Good point. We by contrast are a fairly questioning family. I joke it is a pity all the children are different from me but more seriously that is perhaps a testament to bringing them up with an open mind able to make their own choices and with no weird hippy new age stuff.

    • Good example of why these “charter” schools are a scam and a scourge on society. And why public schools are running scarce of resources while their student body count is on the rise. And why Bernie Sanders should be elected President pronto, if “elected” is an applicable term anymore. Lol, JK, I’m still undecided l.

      I hope you take that as a compliment to your writing skills and put them to better use on here than crushing on Allison Mack. Please consider that just maybe there’s a story and a lesson in this — call it “good girl gone bad” if you like but if you examine the facts, starting with getting them straight, you might see a different side of Ally and the truth about what she got caught up in.

    • He’s a bit over weight himself really. He should take the plank from his own eye before criticising the women.

    • Also noted that searching ‘nxivm trial’ on twitter pulls up a slew of Spanish language news articles. While the coverage here feels thin. Gone are the days of Nancy Grace and CourtTV, who would be riding this story like a rodeo. I’m seeing superficial sloppy reporting, with little if any insight or scope, and missing out on the international scope of this is a huge mistake by the media. The media has ignored the truly powerful names in this, and that is a disgrace, to portray this as a small group of b-list actresses, or just take the ‘weird sex-cult’ angle.

  • Highly intelligent- means you are able to remember what you are told/taught. It also means you have no ability to think for your self as your thoughts have already been put there by someone else.

    • Agree. Cheers. And to quote the man of my dreams, “imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

      — Albert Einstein.

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.” In addition, he was credited in the Starz docuseries 'Seduced' for saving 'slave' women from being branded and escaping the sex-slave cult known as DOS.

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 premieres on May 22, 2022.

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