As we await the sentencing of Keith Alan Raniere and Clare Webb Bronfman, it might be a fine idea to review some of the testimony during the trial of Raniere.
The first witness was Sylvie.
She was examined by AUSA Moira Penza – and her testimony began on the first day of trial shortly after opening arguments.
This is the first part of our series and in this excerpt, we get a very interesting insight into how the Nxivm intensives were conducted.
Frank Report, in conformity with the ruling of the court, is not naming Sylvie’s last name.
Q Good morning, Sylvie.
A Good morning.
Q Have you heard of an organization named NXIVM?
Q Were you part of that organization?
Q For approximately for how long were you part of that organization?
A Around 13 years….
Q From what age to what age?
A 18 up to 31.
Q And where was that organization headquartered?
A Clifton Park, New York….
Q And as part of the NXIVM organization, did you receive a certain rank in the organization?
A Yes, I made it to Coach, Three Stripe Coach.
Q …. Where did you grow up?
A Near a village in England near Bristol.
Q And can you describe your childhood a little bit?
A Yes. I’m the youngest of four children. I normally describe it as a bit of an enchanted childhood. We had horses growing up. I was very involved in pony club and competing my horses. My family traveled with us a lot. We were a close family and a big family and we had a lot of fun, basically.
Q And I think you just said at some point did you begin competing in horse shows?
A Yes. And, yeah, I’d say I was riding horses from before I can remember. But competing probably from three, four, around that age.
Q And, at some point, did you develop the desire to make that more of a long-term commitment?
A Yes, definitely. I … was trying to become the best rider in the world. That was my idea in my head.
Q … When you were younger, how were doing competitively in these horse shows?
A I was sort of working my way up the ranks of ponies which is you ride up until you’re 16. And I had two national final wins in ponies. And then I was sort of, yeah, moving up the levels with an aim to become professional.
Q How far did you go in school?
A I left school at 16, so I didn’t finish….
Q And why did you quit school at 16?
A So that I could show jump. I wanted to focus completely on riding.
Q And was that decision unusual in terms of what your other family members did?
A … Everyone else in my family went to university. … And I’m from a family of people who have been very successful in business and different small professional pursuits, we say, in that way so it stood out a lot that I didn’t finish school.
Q … after quitting school, what did you do next?
A I left home and … based myself with two British riders about two and a half or three hours away from my family home.
Q What was that like?
A I was sort of an apprentice; and so, they were teaching me, … I groomed for them … I was also taught how to back and break in young horses. I was getting the chance to have some training riding. So, really, showing me the ropes of what it means to be a professional show jumper.
Q At some point did something happen?
A Yeah, at a horse show in Oslo or Helsinki, I can’t really remember. …. I met Clare Bronfman…
Q Have you ever heard of Clare Bronfman at that point?
A Vaguely because she had a couple of big wins at the top level…..
Q What did you know about Clare Bronfman at that time?
A Not a lot. I know that there had been some rumors and things, like, people had some things about her being a bit weird, or that someone called her, like, a tree hugger or something like that but I didn’t know her … I thought she was a very talented rider and she was very calm in the way that she rode. So apart from that, I didn’t know anything about her.
Q Did you know anything about her finances?
A … not really. But, I mean, like you could tell she was wealthy because she didn’t have any owners, she owned her own horses.
Q Was that something that was unusual?
A Yeah. So, for instance, the people I worked for were really employees of an owner that owned all of their horses. They owned some of their own horses, but the top-level horses would be millions of dollars, let’s say, or a lot of money and it’s very expensive to compete at that level. So it was unusual even for a professional rider to own any and definitely not all of their horses.
Q At some point, did you have an accident when you were working with the other family?
A Yeah, … the Davenports, the people I worked for in the UK… And I had an accident that really knocked my confidence on that horse. I lost a front tooth and it was quite a bad accident and it really spooked me.
Q At some point did you stop working for them?
A I did. …. I basically went home with my horse to just compete at a lower level. And so, trying to figure out what to do next.
Q At that point, did you learn of a new job opportunity?
A Yeah, a friend of mine who had worked for the Davenports was working for Clare Bronfman and she was about to leave and so she asked me whether I’d be interested in taking her position.
Q Did you know where that position would be?
A Yeah in America.
Q Before you left, did you do any more research on Clare Bronfman?
A I didn’t personally, but my dad had printed out some stuff about NXIVM and he showed it to me.
Q And did you have any concerns at that time?
A Not really. Like, he said to me, it looks like she’s in a cult. And he showed me some stuff from the website. But I don’t even really remember reading it properly. And, to be honest, I was excited at the opportunity that I might be able to get back on track to do the career as a show jumper… I thought this was my chance to get back on my feet.
Q And so, did you end up traveling to the United States?
A I did, yeah.
Q And when was that?
A That was I think it was, like, October 2005.
Q How old were you then?
Q What was your legal status?
A I came on the Tourist Visa Waiver Program.
Q Did you expect to be paid for your work with Clare?
A I did, yeah.
Q And did you have an understanding of whether that was okay?
A I think, I mean, I think in retrospect, I did think it was wrong and I don’t think that I really put enough thought into the gravity of the fact that that was not legal. But, yeah, I did know that I was on a tourist visa and I was being paid.
Q How did you rationalize that?
A I think I thought, well, I mean, I was 18 and not that that justified it at all. But I think the way that things worked a lot in horses anyway is people got paid cash and it was all quite casual…..
Q Where were you living when you arrived?
A Duanesburg which is, I guess, it’s in the Albany area. I’m not sure what county that is. But it’s the farm where Clare had her horses was called Duanesburg.
Q Can you describe what your life was like when you arrived?
A …. I think something that totally stood out is we didn’t have the same routine…. it seemed like the rider — Clare — wasn’t there as much as the Davenports….. So it was much more down to me and the girls, like, a lot of the time and Clare wasn’t really there.
And when I very first got there, the girls were very different, like, they were very focused on, for instance, like food and their weight and their bodies and I had never been around that in the show jumping world… Most of us ate burgers and chips because that’s horse show food, that’s what’s around. There wasn’t a focus on health and image and all of these kind of things.
And, yeah, I think I remember on my first day there, they took me to lunch but they didn’t eat anything and only I got like a slice of pizza or something. And they were kind of like obsessively talking about calories and things…
Q Were the girls that you were living with taking any NXIVM curriculum?
A Yes, both of them were. And Catherine, my friend, told me she had taken one….
Q And what did they tell you?
A Well, Catherine gave me the impression she didn’t like it. But she said she wasn’t supposed to tell me anything about it or something. And she was just kind of like you should make up your own mind about that. But the other two girls were quite…enthusiastic about it and telling me about how much it could help me get through my “limitations”….
Q During the time you were there during … the tourist visa, did you interact with Clare Bronfman?
Q And what was the level of interaction?
A Well, in the beginning not so much. … She was just my boss. And then… I interacted with her a lot more after taking ESP…
Q So did you take any steps to increase your relationship with Clare?
A Yes, I did. … first of all, the girl that worked for her was telling me a lot about ESP and suggesting I take the five-day training and I think it was coming up quite soon after that. And so, she arranged for me to talk to Clare about it. That’s the first time I’d say I probably sat down and really talked to Clare.
Q You used the term “ESP,” what is that?
A That’s Executive Success Programs. And I guess that’s part of NXIVM ….
Q And you mentioned a five-day. Can you just give us a brief explanation of what you meant by that?
A Yes. They call that, like, a Level 1 Intensive. It’s actually 16 days long, but they break it down into a five-day and an 11-day, or just you could do the whole 16 days in one go. And I think it’s sort of described as, like, the pillars of Keith Raniere’s teachings. And, yeah, the five days is sort of the first part of it.
Q At some point, did you have a discussion with Clare Bronfman about taking the five-day program?
Q And can you describe that meeting?
A Yeah. She asked me why I wanted to take it, … and I said, ‘well, I’ve heard, like, it can help me get through all my limitations’ or something like that. I basically told her, like, what the girls had said to me about why they thought it would help me. And she …. encouraged me that, yes, it could help me with those things. And I think that she told me that she would pay for it because I don’t remember paying for it at all myself.
Q Do you remember, approximately, how much the five-day would have cost them?
A I don’t know exactly, but I think it was around three and a half grand…..
Q And so, did you end up taking the five-day?
A I did, yeah.
Q And where was that held?
A At the Albany Center….
Q Do you remember the street that that’s on?
A I think it’s 455 New Karner Road.
Q And so, can you describe your impressions of the five-day?
A Yeah. I mean, on the first day I … was pretty freaked out… For one, there was a lot of people at the center. It was quite overwhelming for me. The day started off with lots of questionnaires that were like personal questionnaires, and I feel like some of them asked…. ‘What’s the worst thing that ever happened,’ or ‘worst thing you’ve ever done’ or something like that. They were, like, questions that were pretty intense and I had … never taken any kind of personal growth courses. I didn’t know what personal growth was. It was a lot even at the start.
… then you went into the classroom and there were people standing up meeting to introducing themselves and why they were there and that was all very scary for me. And we went into the first class that had a lot of things in it that really threw me called “Rules and Rituals.” So I’d say to some extent I found it very scary and weird on that very first day.
Q Have you ever, as part of NXIVM, have you ever had to sign a nondisclosure agreement?
A Yes, many.
Q Did you have to sign one for the first five-day intensive?
A Yeah, I’m sure I would have done.
Q And can you explain the concept of a nondisclosure agreement?
A I think it’s like anything that you learned there you can’t tell people about and that you can’t recreate the materials. And it’s, like, basically I took it as, like, a confidentiality agreement. So anything that happens here is kind of confidential.
Q …. What were your observations about how people were interacting with each other?
A Well, people seemed, like, extremely kind of happy and affectionate with each other. So there was sort of people kissing, you know, kissing on the lips. They were very — I would call it “over the top,” I think, at the time because it was very unusual for me. But I thought maybe it was a bit of an American thing because in England people are much more reserved and my family, we’re not super touchy in that way. So it was pretty overwhelming for me.
Q Did you know anyone else in that five-day course?
A No. ….
Q How did your age compare to the age of the other people who were taking the courses?
A I would say it was I was the youngest in the room….. the rest of the people were much older.
Q What else did you note about the room where you were actually taking the intensive?
A There were lots of sashes on the wall in there. …. it was quite a big room and there’s like, a big chair or two big chairs at the front of the room that were much higher than everybody else.
Q Who sits in the big chairs?
A The head trainers.
Q What was the daily schedule for the five-day intensive?
A It was long. Like, we needed to be there early in the morning. I think we had to be there around 7:00 or 7:15 and that way you would have breakfast and start probably somewhere around 8:00. And you’d always start with a thing that they taught us on the first day that was called “The Mission Statement.” So you go through, like, a whole ritual when you started. Then the days could run from 9:00 or later at night and we’d get an hour for lunch and a half an hour for supper or dinner…. they were long days.
Q Were there any pictures in the room?
A Yeah, in the center, there were pictures of Keith Raniere and Nancy Salzman…..
Q … How was [Nancy Salzman] referred to in the NXIVM class?
A Nancy Salzman was referred to as “Prefect” and Keith Raniere was referred to as “Vanguard.”
Q …. Were you told what those names meant?
A Yes. Well, actually, I can’t remember what I was told Prefect was…. I just know what I understood a Prefect to be is like an educational leader. But Vanguard was described as leader of a philosophical movement.
Q And would the students and the trainers actually refer to him as “Vanguard”?
A Yes…. you were required to call him “Vanguard” and call Nancy “Prefect.”
Q Can you just describe, generally, what Rules and Rituals is?
A So that would be where you’re kind of introducing the idea of the rules and rituals… to the students. And so you would get them to come up with other places that they might imagine people using rules and rituals or wearing uniforms or addressing people with titles. So that you’d kind of, like, encourage them to be, like, where else might you have … seen somebody, you know, get addressed with a title, or what other professions do you know where people wear a uniform? So you’re kind of, like, normalizing the idea of people being addressed with a title…
Q …. So you mentioned … you eventually became a coach?
Q … Would you take people through the curriculum eventually?
A I would, yes.
Q Did you have an understanding from your time as a coach later on why it was important to normalize these things?
A Yeah, because I think they were, well, from my perspective they were quite weird. And so, I think you needed to set it up for people to think, ‘well, I’ve seen this in other ways in life where it is quite normal,’ so it helped them feel more comfortable with what is going on.
Q And in your time as a coach, did you ever observe other students taking the course… express …. those same feelings that you had?
A Yes, definitely. I coached for a long time… I saw all kinds of reactions to it for sure. I think it helped people feel more comfortable by asking them those questions because if you say, ‘well, you know, you’d call a police officer whatever you call a police officer’… but there were definitely people that were probably more uncomfortable with things like the Mission Statement and the clapping and stuff like that than they were [with] the titles…..
Q …Would you read Number 2 for us from the Rules and Rituals?….
A “In business there are certain requisite skills for success. Each of the requirements for promotion is a way of developing skill sets and giving tribute to the mission. ESP grants rank and promotion for making contributions to the mission of the organization and for meeting certain personal growth requirements; these criteria are ESP’s way of measuring individual progress. Promotion is not a requirement of the program; however, with rank comes certain privileges. When rank is awarded, Coaches and Proctors become eligible for additional programs, special information, facilitation training, and business opportunities.”
Q Were you familiar with that principle?
A Yes. …. there was a lot of encouragement to get to Proctor because it seemed like if you became a Proctor … there was a lot more opportunity. And I think people would say, ‘Once you’ve become Proctor you could have a business or work directly with Vanguard’….. And so, you were really encouraged to move at least up the Stripe Path to the Proctor rank.
Q Can you read Number 9?
A …. “The exercise,” so this is what the coaches were going to be asking people to do, is to think of three situations where groups begin a meeting or a session by reciting a statement.
Q … what was… the purpose of having participants do that exercise?
A I guess so that they weren’t weirded out by the Mission Statement. At least they could say, ‘oh, yeah, this is something that is used somewhere else as well, it’s not just here.’
Q And then can you read the explanation of the recitation of the Mission Statement?
A Yes. It says, ‘The 12-point Mission Statement is a cornerstone of ESP’s program. As such, it is recited before the start of each session. As a participant’s understanding and integration evolves, the repetition of this statement brings even deeper meaning to the purpose of ESP. Upon completion of the Mission Statement, all recite, ‘Thank you, Vanguard,’ as a tribute to its author.”
Q And so, how would that actually work, the Mission Statement?
A So the entire room would recite it together…. you’d get round in a circle and put your arms around each other and we had to say to each other, “We are committed to our success.”
Q And would people say, “Thank you, Vanguard,” after the Mission Statement?
A There was a clapping thing that happened… before or after the Mission Statement. But, like, the Proctor would clap, and then the coach would clap, and everyone else had to clap with the coach. And then you’d say, “Thank you, Vanguard; thank you, Prefect; thank you, Proctors.”
Q Moving on to Number 11, “Confidentiality and Materials.” It says, “We ask all participants to sign confidentiality agreements” and then it goes on. Is this the concept you were talking about earlier regarding nondisclosure agreements?
Q And was that something that was considered very important?
A Yeah, we had a lot of signing. In all the intensives, you signed a lot of confidentiality, different papers, and I started to not really pay attention to what I was signing… But we were signing papers a lot… every week because it would be nondisclosure. And also like the one to do with people being able to use your image and video and stuff like that. So we always had a lot of papers to sign.
Q … Can you read Number 18?
A Okay. This is where it was talking about the circle. So this is the huddle and commitment to success. It says, ‘At the beginning of each session, the group forms a circle and in union says, “We are committed to our success. The purpose of this is to create an interaction on a closer than normal level, more like a team. It’s an informal and what some people might call a warm/fuzzy interaction. By having this type of direct, imperfect, close face-to-face, eye-to-eye interaction we believe people will see each other not as objects but rather as people.”
Q And then the next three bullets discuss handshakes. Can you just describe the handshake process in NXIVM?
A Yes. So you would … shake hands in a specific way…. the lower-ranked person had their hands kind of lower, I guess, in the pile of hands….. So the higher ranked person would always have their hand on top of the lower-ranked person.
Q And if we move down to Number 21. Was this what you were describing before at the end of the session, the highest-ranking participant under Proctor says to Vanguard, is that something?
A Oh, yeah, this is the part where you would do the bowing and saying the thank yous.
Q So how does it actually work?
A … So we would do the clap. And then everybody clapped. And then the, “Thank you, Vanguard; Thank you, Prefect.”…
THE COURT: And when you did this, was Vanguard in the room, or?
THE WITNESS: Rarely.
THE COURT: So you thanked him in absentia most of the time?
THE WITNESS: Yes. The vast majority of the time.
THE COURT: All right. Go ahead.
EXAMINATION BY MS. PENZA: (Continuing.)
Q Turning to the next slide. It says, “Scripting.” Is scripting a concept you’re familiar with?
Q Can you describe what it is?
A It was my understanding is it’s like a way to come up with a kind of script of how you would try and sell someone something.
Q And was this actually taught on the first day of the intensive?
A This is in that first class, I think, in Rules and Rituals.
Q So could you read the scripting that is in the Rules and Rituals?
A Yes. So it says, “The first part is you come up with a statement of truth. This tells the person why you’re calling and what you want. Always be honest. Pretending a false intention is deceitful and can lead people to distrust you. If you’re calling about a business issue, don’t act like it’s a social call. Example: John, I know I haven’t spoken to you in five years, but the reason I’m calling is…
“Then there is the statement of need. So you tell the person honestly what you need from them. Example: I just got involved with this great company called Executive Success Programs and I want to tell you about it. I think it’s the greatest thing I’ve done for myself in years, and I thought of you.
“Then you do the take away and this removes pressure. So when you push someone, their natural response is to resist. As soon as you take something away from someone, they somehow feel a little rejected and they want it back. For example, ‘I don’t even know if this is something you’d be interested in, but if I could have 15 minutes of your time we could get together and see if it’s a fit, if we have a fit. And then you book the appointment.’
Q And so what is the context of this?
A This is in that first class, and I think it’s used as an example of how you should enroll people in ESP.
Q And so can you just describe the concept of enrolling people into ESP and the importance of that?
A Well, yeah. It was encouraged a lot and … it’s … one of the main parts of how you would move up the ranks in ESP. So as a student… you had to do certain things in order to be promoted as a coach.
And then, as a coach, promoted as a proctor and so on. And so, a big part of that was “Growing Your Organization.” So that’s like enrolling people into the program for them to become students and for them to become coaches and that kind of thing.
Q And now, I’m showing you …. the Mission Statement… Can you read the first callout from the Mission Statement?
A It says, “There are no ultimate victims; therefore, I will not choose to be a victim.”
Q And can you explain what that concept was?
A I feel like this was something that was taught a lot; that there’s really no such thing as victims, and anything that happens to you is created by you. So this was something I must have recited hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times because it’s the second sentence of the Mission Statement. But it was also interwoven into different classes in different ways.
Q And then can you read the second callout, please?
A This says, “People control the money, wealth, and resources of the world. It is essential for the survival of humankind for these things to be controlled by successful, ethical people. I pledge to ethically control as much as the much wealth and resources in the word as possible within my success plan. I will always support the ethical control of these things.”
Q Was that something you understood as part of the NXIVM model?
Q Okay. Going back to when you took the first five-day intensive. How did you feel about the Rules and Rituals?
A Like I say, I got very spooked. I think just it was so far outside anything I’ve ever experienced before. And also, I’m not from a background where there’s any kind of idolization of any one individual. And, yeah, so it was definitely not just a normal person, let’s say. So it was unusual.
Q Was there one individual who you felt was being idolized?
A Yeah, Vanguard. Like, to address someone as “Vanguard” and it … seems like people were very enthusiastic about Vanguard, like, that was unnerving for me. And yeah, I got a massive headache on that first day and I actually threw up later during that first day. So I was just, in general, I felt I was not doing well.
Q Did you end up continuing the five-day curriculum?
A Yeah, I did. I found those first few days really hard and I wasn’t really answering the questions in this group because you do breakout groups. The structure is the… head trainer — or there’s, like, a video of Nancy telling you what the questions are. Then the head trainer repeats the questions and you’d break up into smaller groups. And you’d have to answer the questions. And I found that really hard and I wasn’t doing — I just didn’t want to answer the questions, I really didn’t understand how to answer them and so all of it was very foreign.
Q Did something happen that shifted your experience a little bit?
A Yeah. So on the evening, I think, it’s of the third day they teach a class called, “The Fall.”
Q Can you explain what the Fall Module — I’m sorry, do you ever refer to them as modules?
A Yeah, that’s what the classes were. They’re not called “classes,” they’re called “modules.”
Q Can you describe the Fall Module for us?
A Yes. The Fall Module is where they introduce this idea of suppressives. And these are people that we’re taught that get joy from destroying things. And kind of the set up of this module was based — it started off with sort of asking questions what a person with low self-esteem is like.
So this was the first time I felt like I could answer the questions just because they seemed more straightforward. And also, just I could relate to that, honestly, like, well, they’re not very healthy, they’re depressed. These were things I could answer, so I started to get into it a little bit more.
Q And can you describe a little bit more about what the story is within the Fall Module?
A Yes. When they’re doing what I guess what you’d call the debrief… the… metaphor they used to explain the Fall [is] a Bible story…. about Lucifer and falling from grace…. The story of Lucifer becoming the devil.
Q Was there an example about anyone who had actually come into the NXIVM organization?
A Yeah, they all talked about how one of the stories … related specifically in human life was about how someone had come into the organization and befriended Keith, or made out like they were going to be friends with Keith or something like that, and then had tried to tear down the organization from the inside out is the way they described it.
Q Who taught that module?
A That night, it was pretty unusual because Nancy [Salzman] came in to teach it …. and so the room was completely packed because the whole organization, for some reason, or everyone that wanted to come in … was allowed to attend, so there was a lot of people in the room that night.
Q So what happened while you were taking the fall module?
A Well, I was, like, more enthusiastically answering the questions than anyone else because I didn’t know the punch line, and I thought — I was actually starting to feel like, “Oh, wow, I can, like, be part — I can understand how to answer these things and I know this,’ but then when I heard the punch line about being suppressives, I started to get scared, like, ‘Oh, my god, maybe I’m a suppressive because this is the only thing that I can understand,’ so I felt very motivated to, basically, like, listen in the classes and try and do better because I was worried that I was a bad person.
Q Was there talk of certain people actually being suppressives?
A Well, there was this story of the person that came into the organization and that they were suppressive and so I felt like anyone could be a suppressive and that you might not even know if you were one….
Q During the rest of your time in NXIVM, was that a continuing thought?
A Definitely, and people — it tended to be geared towards people that left the organization and had a problem with the organization, they were the people that would be labeled…. suppressives….
Q And is that something that you were concerned about being labeled?
A Yeah, I just thought people that didn’t like Keith would be labeled a suppressive or that didn’t like the program or thought that ESP was bad were suppressive people.
Q Did you ever hear any other types of words like that used to label people?
A Well, I mean, way later there was talk about psychopaths, but that was much later on.
This is a pretty good account, I think, of someone unfamiliar with Nxivm, getting introduced to it rather raw. Sylvie’s reactions are not unlike many other people’s reactions.
I think this is one of the best explanations of the beginning of the slow boil of Nxivm.
In Part 2 and succeeding parts, Sylvie will tell more of her experiences and of how she got recruited into DOS.