[Editor’s Note: Julia K. Brennan has commented on a number of Frank Report stories – but has always done so anonymously. Recently, she contacted us and asked if she could write a post about her viewpoint of Keith Raniere’s arrest, trial and conviction – which, as you will find out, is quite different from that of most of our readers and most courtroom observers. In the interest of presenting all viewpoints on a topic, we’ve agreed to publish her post without any commentary or editing].
By: Julia K. Brennan
I began following the saga of NXIVM and Keith Raniere when the Frank Report ran the first story about the branding part of the DOS regimen.
Since then, I have gone back and read all the earlier posts on the Frank Report – and hundreds of other related stories in newspapers and blogs from all over the world. I tend to get a little obsessed when I find a topic that interests me.
I originally got interested in the topic because as a feminist, I was shocked by the idea that women willingly allowed themselves to be branded with Raniere’s initials.
That just sounded insane to me, especially in this day and age.
But the more I read – and the deeper I dug into the topic – the more I began to wonder whether Raniere’s arrest, prosecution, and conviction were really justified.
My biggest concern is that Keith was arrested, tried and convicted because of people’s revulsion about the branding – which, of course, is not illegal in and of itself.
Why did the prosecution only offer him a plea deal that would have required him to spend the rest of his life in federal prison? Were they trying to achieve a just result – or were they forcing him to go to trial so they could show-off in front of the media covering the trial?
But I have lots of other concerns about the various events that led up to his conviction.
Impetus for Investigation and Venue.
To begin with, it bothers me that the investigation into Keith and NXIVM was the result of a front-page story in The New York Times. When did we decide to give newspapers that much power? Do we really want newspapers deciding who should be investigated and charged with crimes?
I’m also concerned that the investigation and prosecution took place in Brooklyn, NY – when, in reality, almost all the alleged illegal activities took place in and around Albany, NY.
If there’s something wrong with the Department of Justice’s operation in the Northern District of New York, steps should be taken to address that problem.
Four of the original charges against him were dismissed because there was no jurisdictional basis whatsoever for them in Brooklyn. I think the same can be said for most, if not all, of the other charges.
Allowing prosecutors to initiate charges when there is no jurisdictional basis for those charges is a dangerous precedent.
It also means that defendants in such cases are not truly being tried by a jury of their peers but rather, as in this case, by a jury made up of people from an entirely different locale.
Concerns About Pre-Trial Rulings
I find it disconcerting that virtually every pre-trial ruling by Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis was in favor of the prosecution.
Were Keith’s attorneys so incompetent that were wrong on every issue that arose before the trial began?
First and foremost, why was Keith not allowed out on bail?
He didn’t really pose any threat to anyone – and per the proposed bail conditions, it was extremely unlikely that he would have been able to escape from the country.
Forcing Keith to defend himself from a jail cell almost 200 miles away from his home was inherently unfair. And keeping him locked up for more than a year in one of the worst prisons in the country only exacerbated the unfairness.
Why were all of his co-defendants given bail – and he wasn’t?
Why was the case designated as a “complex case” – which prevented the defendants from being able to go to trial within 70 days of their arrest?
Why was the prosecution allowed to drag its heels on turning over evidence to Keith’s attorneys?
Why was there no mention of the fact that Co-Conspirator #2 – who is believed to be India Oxenberg – was not prosecuted even though she participated in many of the same alleged illegal activities as Lauren Salzman and Allison Mack?
Why was the prosecution allowed to utilize evidence that was not listed on the original search warrant for the 8 Hale Drive property? The prosecution went back – after the material was discovered – and got a second search warrant that included it.
Why did the court allow the trial date to be pushed back several times? By the time the trial actually started, Keith had been incarnated for more than a year.
Why did the court deny all of the other defendants’ requests to sever their trials from Keith’s trial, thereby forcing them to accept plea deals – and, in some cases, to agree to testify against him – in order to avoid being tried with him?
Why did the court deny Keith’s request to have his witnesses be guaranteed “safe passage” by the prosecution – or, in the alternative, to be allowed to appear via closed-circuit TV?
Concerns About Trial
As bad as all the pre-trial proceedings were, the trial was even more one-sided.
All of the prosecution’s witnesses who were deemed to be “victims” were only identified by their first names – thereby giving them a different status than other witnesses. By contrast, the alleged victims who appeared at Jeffrey Epstein’s bail hearing last week testified under their full names – and were even photographed coming into and out of court.
Keith’s lead attorney, Marc Agnifilo, was stopped from finishing his cross-examination of Lauren Salzman – and was ordered to “Sit down!” by the judge in front of the jury.
The prosecution was allowed to introduce a good deal of evidence that had nothing to do with any of the seven charges against Keith – much of which was highly embarrassing to him. At one point, the entire courtroom was engulfed with laughter over a derogatory comment that was read aloud about Keith’s Erectile Dysfunction problem.
No real evidence was introduced to support the charges of sex trafficking and forced labor – but those charges were not dismissed after the prosecution had rested its case. Nicole had admitted to having fantasies about forced sex and most of the “forced labor” in question really amounted to nothing more than favors from one woman to another.
The prosecution was allowed to gloss over several key facts:
(a) That participation in DOS was entirely voluntarily.
(b) That all of the women who chose to join DOS were adults and that most of them were at least 24-years-old when they joined.
(c) That anyone who gave first collateral could have left once they found out what being a member entailed. Only those who chose to join had to provide additional collateral. So anyone who joined DOS had to give collateral a second time – voluntarily.
(d) That no collateral was ever released – not even for someone who went public about DOS, like Sarah Edmondson.
The jury never really deliberated in this case. According to some reports, they spent more time putting together their lunch orders than they did talking about whether the prosecution had proved every charged and alleged offense “beyond a reasonable doubt”.
In effect, the jury in this case participated in what amounts to a “reverse jury nullification”. They were so repulsed by the prosecution’s unfair presentation concerning Keith Raniere’s immorality that they did not deliberate. They decided to find him guilty of crimes he didn’t commit.
I don’t blame the jury. The blame goes to the judge who allowed cumulative evidence to come before the jury, evidence meant to inflame the jury, while at the same time allowing the prosecution to intimidate potential defense witnesses.
I heard that one possible witness for Raniere, Sahajo Haertel, was issued a subpoena by the prosecution just for showing up in court to witness the trial.
The Trial Reeked of Injustice
As a feminist, I find it appalling that the prosecution resorted to such tactics in order to convince a jury that Keith did bad things to a group of women who chose to participate in those very things.
If a woman wants to be part of a harem, she doesn’t need permission to do so.
If a woman wants to get branded, she doesn’t need permission to do so.
If a woman wants to be a bad-ass woman, she doesn’t need permission to do so. Even if she wants to join a society that calls her a slave in order to become a badass woman – as counter-intuitive as that is – she doesn’t need the DOJ’s permission.
And she cannot rescind her consent retroactively – which is what this whole trial was about – retroactive withdrawal of consent.
I also find it offensive that the whole trial served to make women seem like infants. The men used their full names but the women, like baby Nicole, the ultimate whining crybaby, the devious and calculating Daniela, the muddle-brained Sylvie, who agreed, after all, to do everything she did – even not have sex with her husband and send Raniere nude photos – [she was over 30 for Godsakes] and the loudmouth Jaye, who talks tough so long as she can hide behind her anonymity. These are not brave women. They were dunces and fools sure but they volunteered to do everything they did.
In the end, the prosecution put words in their mouths. They consented to everything they did. Then they were told to cry on cue and say they were coerced. And using only their first names, they mouthed whatever they were coached to say.
Imagine the specter of a trial where half the women’s names were first names only and half were both first and last names.
Do you understand the injustice here? The bad women – Allison Mack, Rosa Laura Junco, Clare Bronfman, Daniela Padilla, etc. – their first and last names were used.
The good women – the “victims” [some of whom did as much as some of the other women] were referred to only by their first names. The entire farce was played out before the jury who could think nothing other than “one name good, two names bad.”
On top of that, the semi-sequestering of the jury, making them feel they might be in danger, had to weigh on them leading them at least subconsciously toward a presumption of guilt.
I don’t condone what Keith Raniere did. But I despise what was done to him – and the women.
The making of women into babies and railroading a man into prison for, in effect, daring to take women at their word – that they are adults. When clearly they weren’t.
If ever a case is ripe for appeal, it is the case of Keith Raniere.