This is Part 2 in our series on Sylvie, the first witness in the trial of Keith Alan Raniere.
She was a Nxivm member for about 12 years and during the last few years, she became a DOS slave.
She brings us inside Nxivm in a unique and fascinating way, which may be why she was chosen as the first witness – to explain to jurors what kind of an organization Nxivm was.
AUSA Moira Penza is examining Sylvie. The judge is Nicholas G. Garaufis [in the transcripts referred to as The COURT]
Q What was the talk about psychopaths?
A I remember it being more around when they did the Ethicist trainings…. there were … various forums where Keith would talk about psychopaths …. a real discussion what you would call “in the community”…. I remember it, several forums, things like, “There’s at least one psychopath in the room,” so it was a similar thing, I think for me and for other people that I spoke to, where there was, like, this fear of, like, “Could I be a psychopath?”, or, like, “Who is a psychopath?” and it was another scary word.
Q …. in the five-day intensive, how did you feel at the end when you had gone through the five days?
A I was proud of myself for finishing it. I didn’t think I would ever take another one, so I was more like just, yeah, pleased that I made it through and that I felt like, yeah, glad that I stuck with it, I guess.
Q How did Clare Bronfman react to your having … finished the five-day?
A She said that I did really well. She was definitely happy with me and I was happy about that because I felt like I had made it through and I had done a good thing that might impress her or get me more opportunities and so I felt good about it and it seemed to me that she felt good about it, too.
Q At some point, did you meet Keith Raniere?
Q When was that?
A I believe it was at volleyball session that Clare invited me and Katie, who was the other girl that worked at the farm, to come to volleyball.
Q And can you describe the concept of volleyball within the NXIVM community?
A Yes, it was like your chance, I guess, to get to meet Keith and he would play volleyball starting — I don’t really know what time they started, but you would be encouraged to come at like 1:00 or 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, so it was in the middle of the night, and Keith would be playing volleyball with a few other people and there would be, like, kind of tons of people just hanging out sort of either hoping to see him or to connect with him for a moment, that kind of thing.
Q Did you actually meet Keith Raniere at one of these?
A Yeah. So I went to volleyball and I went with Katie and I didn’t really know anyone else, but … I was kind of surprised, like, he was, like, a short, I thought, quite creepy-looking man playing volleyball, looked pretty normal compared …. to the Vanguard that he was supposed to be …. but… there was lots of people, kind of, kissing on the lips again and there was a lot of touchy-feeliness and it was just another very unusual experience for me.
Q And in addition to what you already told us, was there anything else you noted about him or the way [Raniere] interacted with other people?
A Well, I think — ….he is very touchy-feely and he was kissing a lot of the women on the lips, so that definitely stood out to me. And there were — yeah, …. there were a lot of women there…
Q At that time, did you know anything about his relationship with any of those women?
A No. Not at that time, no. I mean, there were women in particular that I think that he was closer to, but I didn’t have any background information on that at all.
Q Who were the women that you observed him being closer to?
A Marianna…. And Pamela Cafritz….
Q You were in the United States on a tourist visa. How long did you stay in the United States on that visa?
A I stayed up to … about three months because I left in the middle of December for a family party.
Q And had there been a discussion about you coming back?
A Yes. I had a return flight and it was for between Christmas and New Year.
Q And was there — at that time, was there any discussion about your horse?
A Yes…. Clare had been happy with my work and I had proven myself to a certain extent, and I proposed to her that … I bring my horse over from England and that she help pay for that and that I would somehow work it off….. that would include her training me as a rider with my own horse at her property.
Q Why was it important for you to have your own horse over in the United States?
A Because if I had my own horse, I felt like it guaranteed me the opportunity to compete because it was my horse and I didn’t need to be dependent on her for … giving me the ride on one of her own, so it was much more likely that I could continue my path as trying to become a professional rider.
Q Did you end up returning to the United States when you had intended to at that time?
Q What happened?
A I went to the airport to get the flight and I was asked questions…. they [officials] asked me my intentions on staying, and I didn’t feel comfortable going without a visa and so I didn’t get on the plane.
Q What did you do after that?
A I went back home…
Q How did Clare react?
A I feel like she was disappointed because it was, like, not what was planned.
Q Did she ask you any questions?
A Yeah. I think she was asking me, like, what happened specifically and I felt … guilty about the fact that I didn’t get on the plane, but I also hadn’t felt comfortable about getting on the plane, so I felt in an awkward position.
Q Did you eventually get another type of visa?
A Yes. She, first of all, employed a lawyer to try and get me a professional athlete-type visa, but I didn’t have enough athletic credentials…. so eventually we found another kind of visa that I was suitable for which was the J1 visa.
Q What was your understanding of what that visa is for?
A It’s used for people … I think they called it a training visa and I went through an agricultural organization, it’s called Communicating for Agriculture, I think, and basically it’s like you’re an apprentice with a professional and they train you and they provide you with housing and an allowance and you work for them and also train under them in your chosen field, which was … show-jumping…
Q Were you expecting to participate in some sort of training with Clare…?
A Yes… because my horse had also flown out there. So …. that was a hundred percent my understanding.
Q And had you discussed with Clare any specific plans about riding?
A Well, we had —
Q Did you end up getting the J1 visa?
Q Approximately when did you return to the United States?
A It was March … 2006.
Q What happened once you arrived?
A Not long after getting there, things… were starting to fizzle out on the riding front for Clare…. she wasn’t coming to the stables so much… She … taught me a bit with my horse…. so I had some training with her, but things had changed even more… she was doing some different weird things with the horses… and she just wasn’t coming as frequently.
Q Can you explain a little bit more about her own training program…?
A … Keith Raniere was her … horse-riding trainer at that point and was overseeing her training … so she started doing some different things with the horses… Like she was riding the horses bareback and doing a lot of things just very different to what I had seen before in the professional world.
Q Did the defendant ever come to the farm?
A Not that I remember…
Q Do you know whether the defendant has any experience with horses?
A I don’t believe so, not that I know of.
Q So do you have any understanding of why, then, he was training Clare Bronfman in horse riding?
A The way that he was always presented to me, and I think to others, is that he was like one of the most intelligent men in the world and like that he had the highest IQ or scored the highest IQ on some kind of test, and that he had been an athlete and he had been a musician and he had been this, that and the other type thing, so he was presented as like extremely talented in everything really and able to teach anyone in anything.
Q At that point in time, what did you think about the way the defendant was being presented within this community?
A It was still weird to me, but — so many people kind of were reaffirming it all around me… I was like, um, okay. You know, like trying to come to terms with that, I guess, because there wasn’t anyone saying that that wasn’t true, if that makes sense.
Q At this point in time, when you’re there on the J1 visa, do you start becoming more involved in the community?
A . I ended up taking another intensive class … the same, the training — the five-day, I took the last 11 days, so yeah — and I was taking ethos, so I became more and more involved I would say.
Q What is Ethos?
A Ethos is… weekly classes or they were held several times a week, or modules…. they are not called classes…. So you would take a module, but it would be like one module that was from the 16 day or from the 5 day….
Q Why did you want to become a coach?
A … Clare was trying to become a proctor at that time and because I was part of her organization, it was sort of important and encouraged that we all move up the Stripe Path, and I wanted to help Clare become proctor, so that was a big motivation for me because, you know, I wanted to do a good job for her and do things that would earn me more opportunities. And…. in my mind, like if I could become a coach that kind of gave me, you know, another … chance to show whether I was, like, committed and that I was committed to my growth…
Q And … the idea of becoming proctor, what were some of the reasons why that was important within the community?
A Well, the thing that was always talked about. is that’s when you could run your own business, that was one thing that was said, and also that you would be able to work with Vanguard. Like you couldn’t — as a coach, you couldn’t have… a business with Vanguard….
Q At some point, did Clare Bronfman’s training of you fizzle out…?
A Yeah. …. she kind of came less and less and less and then eventually she quit riding, so she quit show-jumping completely.
Q What did Clare Bronfman quitting show-jumping mean for you and for your life?
A Well, I didn’t really have… another life path honestly. I didn’t have another career planned out, I didn’t have anything else that I thought I was going to do with my life … apart from being an elite equestrian rider at that time… It’s like a really dark time in my life because I really don’t think I knew, you know, like what to do and I don’t have really have a sense of my future. I just felt – yeah… it was a very dark time for me.
Q Why didn’t you leave the United States at that point when Clare quit riding…?
A Well, for one, my horse was out there. I think my sister was out there by that point. I didn’t really have… a community back home anymore with the horses, I didn’t see any other way that I was going to become a show jumper, like I kind of like put all my eggs in one basket in this way. And …. I was only a few months into my J1 visa, so I just felt very dependent on Clare in many different ways and I just didn’t see a future or like where I could go from there.
Q You said it was a dark period of time for you. Did you have any other symptoms of that?
A Yes. So while things were … fizzling out with the horses, I … became very anorexic and I had lost a lot of weight… I was extremely underweight … and really all my thoughts were around sort of restricting food and not — not eating properly and so I just was extremely low in many different ways.
Q And had you been anorexic previously in your life?
A Yeah, I had a bout of anorexia sort of around sort of twelve — eleven, twelve.
Q When you first came to the United States, were you suffering from anorexia at that point?
Q About how much did you weigh when you came to the United States?
A I didn’t weigh myself at the time. I’d say, from looking at pictures, around 120 pounds.
Q And at your lowest weight, when you were suffering from anorexia while you were in the United States on the visa, how low did you go down to?
A I think I got down to around 89 or 90 pounds.
Q Can you describe . the relationship of food to members of the community?
A Yeah. I’d say, like, pretty much all the women that I interacted with seemed to have some kind of thing they were doing with food, whether it be a diet or a cleanse or eating a specific number of calories. Like I think Clare was raw vegan when I went and she would talk a lot about how she only needed 800 calories a day and that her body was very efficient, and then the other girl that I lived with seemed to have some kind of issue with like binge eating and potentially bulimia, although I never asked her directly.
A lot of the women were very, very thin which really stood out to me, I guess from having an eating disorder in the past, like, that was like unnerving to me, but it was very normalized. So these people weren’t saying they had a problem with food, it was just like it was normal, and so, yeah, it was … unnerving to me and easy for me to, like, slip back into that kind of thinking.
Q Did anyone in the community ever make comparisons about their body and yours?
A Yeah. Later on, I… ended up moving in with Clare and … I had gained some weight back and I was a bit healthier, but I was still under 110 pounds and I had to check in my weight with her every day, and Keith, but part of it, especially with Clare, she would ask me what my weight was in the morning and then at different times she would be like, ‘oh, I’m lighter than you today’ and would like make comments about things like that that was very I’d say triggering for me, or it was very uncomfortable for me, and — yeah, so I found that unnerving.
Q During the time period when you were suffering from anorexia, are you also exercising?
A Yeah. I had started running as we quit the riding, so I guess that was like my new athletic outlet… I was running every day basically.
Q …. Was there anyone in the community who suggested anything regarding your running?
A Yeah. So as the riding was winding down, we were planning to go to V Week that year, and that would be the first time I went to V Week. I don’t know if you want me to explain what V Week is.
Q I would love you to explain what V Week is.
A …. So V Week is a ten-day week — well, it’s not a week. It’s 10 days where you celebrate Vanguard’s birthday and it’s called V Week and so, yeah, it’s a celebration of Keith Raniere.
Q …. Where is V Week typically held?
A It was always held [at] Silver Bay. It’s like a YMCA-type hotel in the Adirondacks.
Q Do you know what the defendant’s birthday is?
A The 26th of August, I think.
Q And was V Week around that time?
A Yeah, it was always sort of before and after that and that was specifically Vanguard day was his birthday.
Q And so what would happen at V Week?
A Well, people from all the different centers would come to celebrate Keith, so there were different — like, tons of different activities going on all the time and in the evening there was always sort of entertainment or different kind of tribute ceremonies to Keith from the different centers, or there would be like performances of singers, but it was kind of all centered around the idea of a tribute to Keith and celebrating Keith’s work.
Q Did V Week cost money for the people who attended?
A Yeah, it definitely — I mean, it ranged from — I think the cheapest way you could do it, if you signed up really far in advance, would be like $1,400 in rustic accommodation, and I think the most expensive could have been like — I don’t know, probably over $3,000 or more.
Q So you mentioned something happened at V Week?
A Oh, yeah. So they were having a triathlon and me and Katie… and Clare were going to train to do the triathlon. I hadn’t done a triathlon before, but anyway, so that’s how I got into running. I started running and I told Clare that I had done two miles in like 14 minutes, which was…. apparently … quite fast for someone who doesn’t run and…. I think she must have told at least Pam [Cafritz], or Pam and Keith, because then it was suggested, like, that I come to volleyball and that Pam wanted to film me and they wanted to watch me run. And so, yeah, it became a thing, like, I was good at running.
Q When you say “suggested,” what do you mean by that?
A …. I say things were suggested to you because a lot of the time the language that was used was kind of like ‘you might want to consider doing this,’ or — yeah. So I would say there’s sort of a lot of language where it wasn’t you are being directly told to do something, but you were kind of suggested through, ‘yeah, it might be good for you,’ or ‘it might be a good idea’ if you did such and such, or ‘you might want to consider doing’ blah-blah-blah, and so, yeah, that’s where I would use the term suggested.
Q How would you take those suggestions?
A I took them more as directives because I found that, if you didn’t do those things, you might be told that you are not upholding yourself. That was a common phrase, or you would get some kind of feedback or further questioning on why you didn’t want to do the thing.
Q And so did it end up that you … ran on the treadmill?
A Yeah, I did run on the treadmill at volleyball. I went to ABC Fitness at night, which was where volleyball — and I ran and I think Pam at least watched me. I’m not sure if she filmed me….. but yeah, it was like kind of confirmed that running could be a good thing for me because I was good at it.
Q And so then did you compete in the triathlon?
A I did, but I had like a panic attack in the water and I …. didn’t finish the swim, so I didn’t do very well in the triathlon after all.
Q What was the reaction when you did not do very well in the triathlon?
A Well, there had been … people saying that I was going to win it … because I was able to run fast, and so I had felt …. really nervous and a lot of pressure going into it just because I guess I’m a competitive person and I wanted to perform, but then when I failed in the water and I came out, I just felt really ashamed and … was embarrassed and I think Pamela said to me that she thought maybe it’s because I was too skinny to be in the water because the water was cold and — but, …. I was just ashamed and ….felt like a loser.
Q At that point in time, did there start to become more interventions regarding your weight?
A Yeah… there were more interventions. Like Pam and Clare came to me and said that they were going to…. help me get better somehow, or do something. … they started making me food and I think I went to stay at Sara’s, which is Clare’s sister, Sara Bronfman, for a bit, and then I was staying with Clare. Like there was much more monitoring of me and … I needed to start checking in my weight more regularly, which I think was every day…
Q When you stayed with Clare, where did you sleep?
A In her room. She had a room in a house in Clifton Park, as well as the farm, and she actually was there way more than she was ever at the farm and … I was in her room with her on the floor.
Q And where were your things?
A Yeah, I just had my stuff, like, in a little kind of circle around my bed.
Q Did anything happen next in terms of the community and your weight?
A Yeah. Well, I was kind of lying about my weight to people quite a lot. I was — like I say, I think really struggling with anorexia at that point and I was pretending I was heavier than I was, or I was doing things to manipulate the number on the scale, so, like drinking tons of water, holding all my possessions and things before I stood on the scale and then reporting that number versus the real number.
I kept myself not knowing what the real number was a lot of the time. And then — I was going to say it was suggested, but some — somehow I ended up in — I was told it was a good idea for me to take levels 2A and then level 2B, which are another type of ESP training, and in the first one is called “Anatomy of Mind/Body” and … the second one is called “Breaches of Ethics” and in that one, I had admitted that I had been lying about my weight to the head trainer, which was Lauren Salzman.
Q What is an ethical breach?
A …. The words that I would say were used in ESP is like if you don’t uphold yourself, so — sorry. I’m just having a hard time thinking how I would describe what that means. I guess it’s like not being the person you should be or something like that.
Q And was — was that type of language used in the community?
A Yeah, definitely, and there were people — I think if you were a proctor… you even had to …. write like a breach plan, like how you were going to overcome your ethical breach. So it was definitely a thing that was talked about a lot.
Q At some point, did you have a conversation with anyone else about your weight?
A …. After I had admitted that I was lying about my weight…. I was called to Nancy’s office, Nancy Salzman, and she told me that if I didn’t get to a hundred pounds — and I was given I think a two-week period, if I didn’t do that, then I would have to leave the community.
Q And did you take that seriously?
A Yeah, definitely. I was extremely scared by that.
Q Why was that so scary to you?
A Because I didn’t really feel like I had anywhere else to go. I didn’t have another … life plan. I didn’t really have any friends anywhere else… I felt so dependent on Clare and I didn’t want to leave the community, so that was a huge motivator for me, yeah.
Q At any time, did anyone in the community suggest that you get professional help for your anorexia?
A No, not that I remember.
Q So what happened after that conversation with Nancy Salzman?
A Yeah, I needed to start checking in my weight to – at that time, I think it was Nancy, Clare and Keith every day, and a report of what I had eaten, and -so – my sister needed to come and watch me weigh myself each morning. So I basically just started eating as much as I possibly could because I was going to make sure that I hit that hundred pounds in that time.
Q At some point, did you begin doing daily check-ins?
A Yeah, it was around then.
Q And who would you do those with?
A Keith and Clare primarily, but during that two-week period that I had to get to a hundred pounds, I also checked in with Nancy every day.
Q …. did these check-ins continue for that time?
A Yeah, for a lot of years of like checking-in my food and my weight.
Q While you were on the J1 visa, did you ever go home?
A Yeah, I went home. I think it was Christmas 2006….
Q What was the reaction when you planned to go home for Christmas?
A …. Clare was very anti that idea and so were others, like it was suggested that I get a lot of EM’s because they thought it wasn’t a good idea for me to go back. I think because I was so thin and it didn’t look good. I’m not sure — that was the impression that I got, anyway.
Q Did you end up going home?
A I did, yeah.
Q How did your family react when you got home?
A I honestly don’t remember that much of that Christmas, but I think they were …. definitely worried about me, but not a lot was said…. So, yeah, it was a pretty dark Christmas, honestly.
Q Did you then return to the United States?
Q When did your J1 visa expire?
A I think it expired … at the end of September and then I was allowed to stay an extra month and so I stayed through October, like, as part of the visa or it expired in October and I stayed an extra month, but it was around that time of 2007.
Q And did you leave Albany at that time?
Q When you returned to — did you then return to England?
Q And what did you do once you were there?
A … There were discussions about getting me another visa and me coming back, so I think really I was kind of in limbo just waiting for that…. I was …. trying to learn Spanish… I really wasn’t doing very much with my days. I think I was still running….
Q So were efforts made to bring you back to the United States?
Q Was…. there any importance within the NXIVM community of people being in the Albany area?
A Yeah, definitely — well, and I’d say especially with me, a lot of the time, it was sort of presented to me that it was most upholding of me to be in Albany and that I would sort of lose myself in my ‘indoctrination’ if I was back in England and, yeah, so it was almost like the best place for me was in Albany.
Q Can you describe who was … talking to you about returning to Albany?
A Clare Bronfman.
Q Did you ever have discussions with anyone else about returning to Albany?…
A Yes, Keith Raniere.
Q And … this concept of your indoctrination, can you explain what that was?
A I believe that it was taught in the ESP curriculum or, if not, it was said to me by Keith and Clare at different times, that it’s like what your family has kind of taught you, or they use the word programming. I’d say Keith and Clare when I say “they,” that it’s your programming from your family…. My mom and dad and, like, they kind of programmed you with the way — and that’s — you’ve become a certain kind of person because your family had programmed you, that’s like your indoctrination.
THE COURT: Is that a form of criticism or it —
THE WITNESS: That’s what I understood it to be, like you’re just — because another nickname that they had for me was Sylvie-bot, like I was a robot, and it was like I’m a robot of my indoctrination is the way that I understood it.
THE COURT: And that you were indoctrinated by your family.
THE WITNESS: Correct.
THE COURT: And the purpose of this process you were in was to —
THE WITNESS: Undo my indoctrination– like I shouldn’t be just living by my indoctrination, like that’s a bad thing.
THE COURT: Okay, go on.
BY MS. PENZA:
Q And what were the types of things that were considered part of your indoctrination that you would want?
A For me specifically?
A Like getting married and having a family, like that was told — that was, like, my indoctrination versus whereas it was presented to me that it was more upholding of me like when I talk about wanting to be an athlete, like that’s not in my indoctrination, let’s say, would be the way that Clare would speak to me about. It’s like it’s upholding for me to pursue my running versus like wanting to have a family.
Q How about the defendant, did he ever have those conversations with you?
A We talked about my indoctrination in the context of Jness, from what I remember for sure, and about taking the Jness tracks. Sorry, this is another ESP training.
Q …. You said the defendant called you Sylvie-bot; is that correct?
A Yeah, Clare and — and the defendant, or Keith Raniere, would call me Sylvie-bot.
Q Did the defendant have any other nicknames for you?
A For a short period, at some time I remember him teasing me at volleyball and calling me — I think it was the Spanish version of piggy, or something related to that, but it didn’t last very long, but I remember him calling me something like that.