The following is our latest in our Lauren Salzman series where we report and evaluate her testimony in the trial of Keith Alan Raniere.
Part of our study is to analyze in effect a sort of ratio – of how much Lauren [or for that matter anyone who joins a cult and does questionable and illegal things at the direction of the leader] is a victim versus being a perpetrator.
Lauren is an extremely interesting case for rarely do we have such in-depth testimony about a sex cult member, who seems willing to tell all – in order – no doubt – to save herself from a lengthy prison sentence.
But her testimony is fulsome. And there is a ring of truth in it.
She is not only bringing us into the creepy world of Nxivm and Keith Raniere but also into the mind of an otherwise intelligent follower who left her conscience and her better judgment checked at the door because she believed that Raniere’s wisdom was so vastly superior to her own that, if she doubted the rightness of what he was doing or teaching, it was because she was flawed.
The real question here is then: if a woman checks her conscience and commits crimes out of the belief that a leader’s teachings are in the best interest of people including herself – is it still her crimes?
Does she lose the necessary intent to commit a crime by her blind obedience?
I think most people would say she did commit crimes and with the necessary criminal intent. And that she does not deserve complete exoneration.
But our question is where is the grey line? Where does she deserve some, if any, leniency for her choosing to abandon her own independent reasoning by deferring all ultimate moral judgments to her master?
AUSA Tanya Hajjar is examining Lauren.
Q At around this time did NXIVM, the company, hire a public relations firm?
Q And did the firm reach out to a reporter to run a story on DOS?
Q Do you know the name of that reporter?
A Vanessa Grigoriadis, I think.
Q Were you interviewed by that reporter?
A Yes, I was.
Q And what did you tell her?
A Same thing I told everybody. I — mostly — most of the subject of my interview with Vanessa related to NXIVM. But any statements that I would have made to her about the sorority contained all the misrepresentations and untruths that I’ve testified to so far. And I even represented things about Jness that I really have no experience or knowledge about because I was sent in really to be the spokesperson for both of these things, and I did that.
Q You mentioned Jness earlier in your testimony. Can you just remind the jury what Jness is?
A Jness was a women’s organization and it had a very specific gender focus, how are women, how are men, how do they relate with each other? That was the main curriculum and subject of the entire education of Jness.
Q What was your view of the Jness curriculum?
A I really struggled with the Jness curriculum on a number of levels. I thought a lot of it was trying to normalize and legitimize Keith’s polyamorous lifestyle and help lay a philosophical foundation for why we should all get on board for that. We should have these monogamous relationships where men get to have all these polyamorous relationships and that that’s the nature of men and that this is something to be understood, you know, and promoted, and that was very difficult for me.
And there were also parts of the Jness curriculum that seemed to be advocating for — but it doesn’t matter –that the most ethical and the most open-minded non –nonvested and nonissue perspective would be not that you have your own children, but that you have the most genetically fit children. And so I thought that it was advocating for people to want to have children specifically with Keith because of his most genetically fit, you know, high intellect, ethical, compassionate perception as a human, that this was like how he was laying the foundation for people to think that that was a good idea and accepts that and want that.
I think a lot of — you know, on retrospective, I think a lot of the Jness and the SOP and DOS curriculum was creating a community of people and kind of even an army of people to insulate and protect Keith and his views and legitimize and advocate for the lifestyle that he wanted to live.
And a lot of us had real problems with it, and we were told that it was our issues and it was our indoctrination and it was — you know, that was problematic and that had to go, but it was limited. It was fear based and, you know, it was incredibly restrictive and it was creating damage and thwarting our objectives as an organization and as a community.
Q Notwithstanding your comments to the reporter, had you had these feelings about Jness earlier when you first took their curriculum?
A Yes. And I discussed them with different people. I went and had EMs about them with a number of people.
Q Can you —
A I went to Keith, too, and said, “Is this what you’re advocating for?” Like, “is this what you think that everybody should be, polyamorous?” And he said, “No, I’m not, necessarily. I was thinking about it more like if people understood that men had these needs or whatever, there might be places where they could go to get those needs met like with prostitutes or something like that”. I was like, “Really? That’s like — is that what we’re advocating now for? That all the — that all the couples in our community now understand that men have these needs and they need to go get them met in other places?” To me it was very difficult, you know.
And I — and I chalked it up to obviously I’m having a big reaction to this so I need to look at why it’s my issue, you know, and work it through and there’s a lot that I can learn, obviously.
Q Ms. Salzman, you say, Obviously, I had a reaction to this. It’s obviously my issue. What are you talking about? Can you explain that?
A Yeah. That — I mean, within our curriculum, within the NXIVM curriculum, which was laid out first and then it carried over into Jness and SOP, the women’s and men’s curriculum and into DOS as well, that when we have emotions and emotional reactions to things and the circumstances, that that’s a clue to something that’s going on internally with us. But it’s not the external circumstance that’s problematic. It’s our reaction to it, you know, that’s indicative of some limiting belief or fear that is an opportunity for us to grow and that we should view it as that.
So when I had strong emotions and reactions to the things, I looked at it as I must be really limited. And when I went to go talk to other people about those things, they were like,” Well, this is exactly why Keith put it in the curriculum, to give you this opportunity to grow through it.”
Q Do you have that view now?
A I think that there are things that are legitimately objectively good or bad, and there are things that are subjective. But there are things that are subjectively good or bad. And that it’s a hundred percent normal to feel emotional about that. Even if there are limiting beliefs or whatever, it doesn’t negate the fact that certain things are not good and that certain things are criminal.
Q Were other first-line DOS masters interviewed by the same reporter?
A Yes. At least Allison, and I think possibly Nicki [Clyne] too. But I’m not a hundred percent sure on that.
Q Did you subsequently learn something about what Allison Mack had said to the reporter?
A Yes, I did.
Q What was that?
A There were a few things that I learned. One, was that she had said in — she conveyed it as a moment of impulse. She took credit for coming up with the idea of the brand and then was like, “I don’t know why I did that. You know, I just felt special in the moment” and I was, you know, and I said — I said it. “But that was false.” And that she also — her accounting of it was that she characterized it as this wonderful opportunity for women to explore their sexuality and sensuality as women, which I specifically disagreed with.
Q Was Nicki Clyne interviewed by the reporter, to your knowledge?
A Either she was or she believed she was going to be and we had discussions and made preparations for that.
Q Did she ask you for anything before she met with the reporter?
A She did. She — she asked — she thought that it would be a good idea to have a visual representation of the brand and to show how each of the lines of the brand could legitimately represent the alternate story that we were laying out, which was the seven chakras, the four elements, Bar Alpha Mu, and there was another thing about triangles descending and ascending triangles and lines. And so I — I agreed to do — to draw this out and I grafted, I drew it on the graph paper where I just reproduced the brand each time in its entirety but highlighting the element that I was referring to and how it was each of the things, each of –what it represented, the seven chakra or the four element or the Bar Alpha Mu. I highlighted how you could see — each of those could be interrupted from the brand.
Q And this concept that the Bar Alpha Mu could be an explanation for the brand, who gave you that idea?
Q And was this after DOS was publicly exposed?
Lauren also explained how she had concocted another idea – that the brand represented the four earth symbols
Q And was this another false explanation for what the lines in the brand stood for?
A Yes, all of them are.
Yes, Lauren has seen the light. She now recognizes fully, she says, though she partly recognized it in the past: that Keith was a self-serving teacher. What he taught others allegedly for their own good was only to enable the lifestyle he wanted for himself.
Before her arrest, Lauren thought that it was her “issue,” her problem, her flaw, when she did not agree with his teachings, crazy though they may sound.
She substituted his thinking for her own. And she was able to completely subdue or extinguish – or if that is not possible – to ignore for a time – that small voice of conscience that told her she was wrong to follow him, that he was wrong and that what he was doing was bad for her and for others.
That what he was doing was selfish.
That killing of conscience is what’s of interest. For it is but a small step from killing the conscience to killing consciousness itself. To becoming a mindless robot in the service of another. How far would Lauren have gone if she had not been stopped? Had DOS not been broken by its exposure and his arrest?
Would she have robbed for him? Would she have killed or ordered other women to kill?
We have seen that she would blackmail, extort, lie, defraud; she even force-feed and surreptitiously gave drugs to an unruly student and, as we shall see, she was willing to work with him in imprisoning a woman [Daniela] in a room for almost two years – and then later refused to give her ID papers so she could return to normal life in Mexico.
Who’s to say she would not have killed for Raniere – for his beliefs or her belief in him?
Lauren is one lucky woman that she was arrested and freed from the cult and the monster. I wonder if she realizes that?
She may think her arrest was a bit of bad luck, an unfortunate occurrence. She may be more upset about going to prison for 5 years or so than her being in the cult for 20 years – though she decries her role in the cult in court.
As long as she thinks that, if she thinks it, then she is still a slave to the cult and her own demons. She is still a criminal and her confessions on the witness stand, her mea culpa, was simply to avoid prison time.
She betrayed Raniere just as she betrayed herself.
But, if she honestly – in her heart, in her conscience –- can say she is glad she was arrested because it extricated her from the monster, then, in my opinion, she is on the road to redemption.
If there were a way to divine the truth of this – to the extent that she is truly glad to be free of the clutches of Raniere – even at the cost of prison, to that extent that that is true, to that same extent I believe she deserves leniency and mercy.
Of course, we cannot lose sight of the fact that, with her blind obedience to Raniere, she had both pleasure and pain. The rewards of being honored as a teacher, a leader in this quasi-religious group with their mission. She was a wise woman; that fed her ego. And she made good money – in the $150,000- $200,000 per year range. Enough to bring her two houses, two expensive cars, trips to Mexico and Fiji, but no boyfriend, no husband – and, saddest of all from her viewpoint, no child. Years of loneliness, loveless life.
Years supposedly without sex, yet being required to have sex on demand with a man who had 30 other women at his beck and call.
She was a robot, a slave, a fool and she enjoyed it.
Is she more or less a criminal because of that?
Sometime in the future, the judge will decide.