While we are doing our ongoing series on Sylvie, of which we are at part #4, I think it will be good to also review the testimony of former Nxivm member and whistleblower Mark Vicente, the second witness called in the trial of Keith Alan Raniere.
Since we are studying the cult of Nxivm, I think this is appropriate – and the two series [Sylvie and Mark] can run side by side.
Between Vicente and Sylvie, readers can gain some insights into Nxivm and perhaps cults in general – and if we are really lucky, perhaps we can formulate some ideas on how to take down vicious cults.
In the interest of transparency, I consider Mark Vicente a friend of mine and a staunch collaborator in the takedown of Nxivm. We worked together, along with his wife, Bonnie Piesse, Catherine Oxenberg, and Sarah Edmondson for months during 2017 and 2018 and well prior to the New York Times story.
I believe it was Mark, along with a friend of his, who first contacted the NY Times and got them interested in writing a story.
Mark was one of my main sources for Frank Report – especially before the Times came out with their story and I was the only publication that was writing about Nxivm, DOS, and the branding.
Without Mark’s help, I doubt Nxivm would have been taken down so hard and fast.
He was also an invaluable asset to the prosecutors in this case and they relied on him for what I think was the best and soundest judgments on Raniere and Nxivm.
Vicente was called to the stand on the second day of trial, May 8, 2019, after about a day and half of Sylvie’s testimony.
So we will be alternating now between Sylvie and Mark’s testimony.
I want to complete theirs and others’ testimony prior to the sentencing of Raniere, which is likely to be rescheduled for June. I think it will be helpful to compare what we learn with the sentence Raniere, as well as his codefendants, receive.
Vicente was examined by AUSA Mark Lesko.
The judge was Nicholas G. Garaufis and in the transcript, he is referred to as THE COURT.
Q Good afternoon.
A Good afternoon.
Q What’s your name?
A Mark Vicente.
Q How old are you?
A Fifty-three years old.
Q Where were you born?
A Johannesburg, South Africa.
Q Could you describe growing up in South Africa.
A I was born in 1965. I spent my early schooling years there. I traveled a great deal, Canada, Brazil, Portugal. I ended up going to university in Johannesburg, I went to a film and drama school. This was during apartheid era, so I became pretty active in politics, you know, making films about what was going on at the time and then worked way up the film industry for a number of years, then finally in the early ’90s moved to the U.S.
Q So are you a citizen of multiple countries?
A I am a citizen of the U.S. and of Portugal.
Q And you’ve alluded to it, but what is your profession?
A Film maker.
Q What made you become a film maker?
A I saw a number of things in my country when I was young that disturbed me greatly. It was a very difficult time, apartheid era. I felt as a young child that something needed to happen, I had no idea what I would do. And then when I was pretty young I saw a film that moved me very deeply. Funny enough, Star Wars and I decided that this was the method I would try and use to express what I wanted to express, which is basically I didn’t think it was necessary for people to be killing each other. I grew up in a family that was very much on the side of very oppressive government at the time, and I decided that I would make films to somehow get my ideas out, which were basically at that time anti-apartheid humanitarian ideas.
Q How long have you been film maker or film producer?
A Since 1986.
Q And what types of films have you made?
A So my early career was — when I first began was feature films, then music videos, some documentaries and for many years I was a cinematographer shooting, you know, feature films, then when I came to the U.S. I continued that. It’s been a mixture of commercials, feature films, then more recently documentaries.
Q Is there a particular documentary that received a significant amount of attention or notoriety that you made?
A Yes. In 2004, myself and my producers released a film called, What the Bleep Do We Know.
THE COURT: I’m sorry, what is it.
THE WITNESS: What the Bleep Do We Know.
THE COURT: What the bleep —
THE WITNESS: Bleep as opposed to the —
THE COURT: I understand.
THE WITNESS: Yeah. That was the politically correct name. That came out in 2004 and I began touring and, yes, the film got a lot of attention, we got a lot of attention. We began making a second film. We began writing a book about it, but, yes, we got a lot of acclaim.
Q What was that film about?
A It was about pseudo-quantum mechanics, neurobiology, the biology of emotions. It had to do with a certain amount of science and also we did a lot of cartoon animation about what happens in the brain and body. And there was a narrative portion as well. Marlee Maitlan played the main role. And there was a … narrative role to explain the journey of the character to some kind of awareness.
Q Where do you currently reside?
A Los Angeles, California.
Q Are you married?
A I am.
Q What’s your wife’s name?
A Bonnie Piesse.
Q When did you and Bonnie get married?
A We got married, I believe it was June 2011.
Q Where were you married?
A In Half Moon, New York.
Q Where did you meet Bonnie?
A I met Bonnie via a mutual friend…. She introduced us a few years before and we kept in touch and then finally we were in touch a lot more, then we finally got married — we actually — she actually joined the organization that we’re going to talk about.
Q And what’s the name of that organization?
A Nxivm or Executive Success Programs.
Q Did you try to get her to join Nxivm?
A I did actually for a number of years.
Q What is your wife’s profession?
A My wife is a singer and an actress.
Q How is Nxivm spelled?
Q When did you first become aware of Nxivm?
A I received a letter — once the film What the Bleep came out, you know, I was receiving a lot of letters and invitations to all kinds of things and I think it was towards the end of 2004, perhaps 2005, I received a letter from Nancy Salzman and Barbara Bouchey inviting myself and the other producers to some kind of a symposium with a number of scientists who I admired greatly, so I decided to respond.
And I called and I think I spoke to Barbara Bouchey and we had a chat and they both wanted to meet me. And so they were – I think they were flying to LA, I met them in Los Angeles and we began our conversations about the organization.
Q Who specifically did you meet in Los Angeles?
A I met Nancy Salzman and Barbara Bouchey.
Q Where did you meet?
A It was a Beverly Hills hotel and I can’t remember the exact hotel right now.
Q So when you’re meeting with Barbara Bouchey and Nancy Salzman, what did you discuss?
A They wanted to talk to me about my film and they said basically “we love your film; we think that many of the things you hypothesize in your film we actually know how to do. We know how to sort of hack the human behavior equation. We have this incredible mentor that you should definitely meet, he’s a scientist, mathematician, an incredible human being and, you know, we’d love you to come at some point, maybe as soon as tomorrow” kind of thing, and I said, “well, I’m a little busy right now, but let’s definitely keep the doors open and keep talking.” But the idea was to try to get me to come to Albany so I could see what their methodology was.
Q Did they describe the methodology?
A To some degree they did. I don’t think I understood at that point. They described to me that they had this unique patented method of getting into the — I’m not sure how to describe it. My recollection is getting into your subconscious and being able to help people make the changes they ordinarily were not able to make usually in a very quick amount of time and it was a completely scientific method as well, completely measurable.
Q Did you meet them again?
A I met Nancy Salzman and — a few weeks later. I didn’t meet Barbara Bouchey until much later. I met Nancy Salzman and Sara Bronfman a few weeks later after that first meeting.
Q Where did you meet them?
A They had called me, I believe Nancy Salzman called me and said to me, you know, we would love to meet some of the scientists that are in your film, do you think it would be okay if we flew to — at that point I was living in Ashland, Oregon. Do you think it would be okay if we flew to Ashland, picked you up and we flew, you know, all over the place and we met some of these scientists. And I said that sounds great.
I began calling a lot of the scientists and, you know, we sort of created a plan of where we would go and a few — I think it was a week later they landed in Ashland, Oregon to pick me up and we flew all over the place for a number of days.
Q Who landed in Oregon —
THE COURT: They landed in Ashland, Oregon?
THE WITNESS: In the airport in Medford, Oregon.
THE COURT: Medford, Oregon.
THE WITNESS: Medford, Oregon.
THE COURT: You were producing shows in Ashland, Oregon at the time?
THE WITNESS: I was just living there. It was a community of, I thought, like-minded people. I was spending time there.
THE COURT: All right, go ahead.
BY MR. LESKO:
Q Who picked you up in Ashland or Medford, Oregon?
A That’s funny, I actually went to the normal terminal and thinking that that’s where we were going to go and they said, “no, no, we have a private jet so you’ll be going, you know, to where the private jets land.” So the jet landed, and it was Sara Bronfman and Nancy Salzman that met me there. And shortly after that we took off and I believe we went to University of Oregon first, I think.
Q Whose jet was it? Who owned the jet?
A My understanding is the jet belonged to Clare and Sara Bronfman, I think they co-owned the jet. It was one of those — I mean it was a Lear — you know, I think it had 12 seats, twin engine type Learjet.
Q Can you approximate the year that this happened, the first trip?
A I think it was around 2005.
Q So, did you, in fact, travel and meet with scientists on the Bronfman private jet?
A I did, I don’t remember the number of days but we flew to a number of different places to meet a whole host of the scientists that were in my film.
Q And did you have discussions or did you overhear discussions with those scientists and Nancy Salzman?
A I mean we spent a good amount of time together and Nancy Salzman was trying to explain to each of them what this unique methodology was. She was also trying to, you know, do it on me as well. I didn’t understand what it was at first but I was having a number of awarenesses and she was also at times using me as sort of a Guinea pig to demonstrate to the scientists what the methodology was, but we had a number of discussions about many things.
We also discussed film projects. They wanted to know what I wanted to do with my life and the kind of films I wanted to make and they discussed that the organization they worked for had, you know, tremendous resources, that they could possibly help me with some of the projects I wanted to make but they really thought it would be good if I could come to Albany and meet their mentor and discuss these things further.
Q These trips to visit the scientists, was there one flight or was it a series of flights to multiple destinations?
A It was a series of flights to multiple destinations.
Q After those series of flights did you fly on the Bronfman private jet again?
A I did a number of other times over the years, I believe they eventually sold the jet sometime between — before 2010 but I did take a number of flights I believe to Seattle, to Mexico, to Los Angeles a few times.
Q During these discussions did anyone use the term “exploration of meanings”?
A Yes, they talked about the term and I wasn’t quite clear exactly what it was yet but they did discuss it a number of times and Nancy Salzman was demonstrating it with me. You know, she at one point, for instance, she decided — we were having lunch somewhere and my girlfriend at the time had some kind of a dairy allergy and Nancy Salzman said, “oh, I can fix that very easily.” She began having a conversation with my girlfriend at the time and I had no idea what was going on but the conversation became very deep, my girlfriend became very tearful and Nancy said, “well, I think you’re done now, I think it’s going to be fine, don’t drink any dairy or don’t eat any dairy for like a day but I think it’s gone.” And I was pretty impressed with that because, you know, a day later my girlfriend did actually try some cheese and she didn’t have the reaction she had always had. I was like, “okay, they’re definitely on to something.”
Q Was the term “Executive Success Program” used?
A Yes, it was.
Q Who used that term?
A Both Nancy Salzman and Sara Bronfman used that term.
Q And how was that term used?
A That was sort of the company they kept on talking about, I don’t recall if they used the word NXIVM so much but they did talk about Executive Success Programs and I remember because they said ESP, I said ESP like ESP, extra sensory perception, and I thought that was just a funny joke. They said, “no, no, Executive Success Programs.”
Q Did they mention the name… Keith Raniere during these meetings?
A They did, they did, they used his name and also they talked about him as their mentor.
Q And did they describe him at all?
A They described him as, you know, a unique individual…. they said to me that he was one of the top three problem solvers in the world, he had one of the highest IQs ever scored in history, concert level pianist, judo champion, incredible human being, he sort of unlocked the keys to the human condition. They spoke about him quite a lot.
Q Did they indicate that Mr. Raniere had a background in mathematics?
A They did. In fact, I think they said that he had majors in mathematics, physics … and … there
were minors in, I think they said psychology, biology. I think there was also majors in computer science I believe.
Q Did they indicate the position that Mr. Raniere had in their organization?
A At that point I think they just described him as the founder and as, you know, the philosopher behind the entire company.
Q Did you later come to know Mr. Raniere?
A I did.
Q What was Nancy Salzman’s role in the company, in NXIVM?
A … she was considered the CEO of the company. She had a title. Her name was Prefect, that was the title she was given. She was at that point when I came, you know, seen as the head of education. She would take all of Keith Raniere’s philosophical ideas and working with him she would create an educational model out of it with him that she would then teach.
Q Now, you mentioned ESP and you’ve mentioned NXIVM; what was your understanding of the relationship between NXIVM and ESP?
A My understanding… was NXIVM was the sort of umbrella organization that all the other companies fell under. ESP was one of the many companies that were under the umbrella of NXIVM.
Q So, let’s talk a little bit about the other companies, okay, and we’ll do them in order.
Q Was there a company named Jness?
A Yes, there was.
Q What was Jness?
A Jness was supposedly a women’s movement. It was created by Keith Raniere, he was the philosophical founder of the women’s movement. The idea, to the best of my understanding, is for women to get a sense of their own — their own essence and who they were separate from men. So, everything they did, towards the beginning anyway, was completely separate from all men other than Keith Raniere, the founder, and they met typically, my understanding is, once a week to go over curriculum. They had little groups that they did, they had a whole bunch of activities but most of the activities were invisible to the rest of us, we had no idea what they were doing because it was a women’s only movement.
Q Very well. Was one of the companies named Society of Protectors?
Q Was that also known as SOP?
A It was. SOP began I think around 2011 and it was, again, the brainchild of Keith Raniere. There was a number of men including myself who had seen some of the women’s curriculum from Jness and said it would be really great at some point if men could have some form of education as well and he talked about it with a number of us for many years. Around 2011 he said “I think it’s time now, let’s get this thing started” and the name he came up with was Society of Protectors.
Society of Protectors was a male organization. There was, you know, a curriculum, there was all kind of different trainings, there were different activities and that ran certainly up until the time I left, it may be even still running now.
Q Was there a company or program named Ethicist?
A There was. Ethicist — my first exposure to Ethicist I think was around 2006. My understanding of Ethicist was it was sort of this newly hypothesized job that people could learn and eventually take out into the world and it was to help people in essence figure out how to become ethical, moral, how to be the most ethical person they could and then go into corporations and, you know, organizations and a bunch of different things and basically give people tools for conflict resolution, for figuring out what is the right thing to do in a situation, what’s the most ethical thing to do in a situation.
A lot of the training was basically first trying to figure out what were your ethics and how to improve them.
Q Was there a program or company named The Source?
A Yes, there was. The Source began around 2014. The Source was a program for presenters and performers. We thought of it commonly as an acting curriculum. It was a very different acting curriculum in the sense that I’ve certainly — I was in drama school so I’ve done a lot of that kind of thing. This was a very different curriculum. It was basically based on the idea that rather than trying to embody the emotional let’s say truth of a character, don’t worry about that so much, just take on the physical aspect of what that would look like.
So, for instance, if you were to do sadness, rather than feel sadness, just project sadness in your body; if you were to act humble, you don’t have to be humble, just look humble. So, it was sort of an outside aiming kind of acting curriculum.
Q Was there a program or company named Reverence?
A There was. Reverence was termed the emotional gym. It was suggested that it would give you emotional flexibility, it would teach you how to feel certain emotions, how to move towards the emotions that you were afraid of, become more rounded emotionally and, again, understand there are two versions of any answer, the one version is what it was reported to do and then there’s my understanding of what they actually did so I’m not certain which one we want to delve into.
Q Was there a program named exo/eso?
A Yes, my understanding ofexo/eso was it began as a physical program much like yoga, for instance, and there were different levels. I’m not sure if I understood all the levels. In fact, Reverence was one of the exo/eso levels, I’m not sure which level it was. Exo/eso was a physical program to develop strength and flexibility and basically use your physical body as a tool.
Q Was there a program or company named Ultima?
A Yes. Now, Ultima — actually the same way that NXIVM is the umbrella company for ESP and others, Ultima was the umbrella company for Reverence, for exo/eso, for The Source.
What Ultima did, it did have a beginning where it talked a number of basics about emotional flexibility and that kind of thing and then you ended up specializing in one of the areas, for instance, like exo/eso or Reverence or The Source.
Q Was there something called Ethos?
A Yes. Ethos was part of what I’ll call the Level 1 curriculum of ESP. My understanding is that when ESP began, and this was before my time, classes were taught in this format and what it was like basically a gym membership is what I was told, you would go to class, you know, maybe six times a week, it would be two-hour classes, there would be certain topics that you would deal with in each two-hour session, you had a coach; for the tuition you paid you would have a coach and you would go, you would attend classes, and then Ethos eventually turned into another program as well but it was how I believe, to my understanding, how ESP started.
Q If you could briefly describe how Ethos evolved into another program?
A My understanding, because I wasn’t there when it happened, was that people felt that it was — Ethos was wonderful if you lived in an area that was close to a center that taught this but some people didn’t and so the idea was brought forward about what if we ran like an intensive.
Basically the idea was to take the Ethos curriculum along with another curriculum called Origins and turn it into a longer intensive and I believe… it began as a 20-day intensive or something like that and eventually ended up being a 16-day intensive.
Q Is there a company named First Principles?
A Yes, there was a company called First Principles. My understanding of First Principles is somewhat limited, is that First Principles was the company that owned what was called “The Tech,” all of the whole educational model was known as The Technology and the short term was The Tech. So, I think it was any, you know, written or video material that was made of the actual education I believe was owned by First Principles.
Q And when you use the term “education,” are you referring to the curriculum used by these programs?
A Correct, the curriculum, yes, but also the curriculum you would learn in class but also the methodologies that coaches would use in coaching… so a whole range of things.
Q Okay. Was there a company named Delegates?
A There was a company named Delegates. Delegates was something akin to TaskRabbit where you could hire assistants to do certain tasks for you anywhere from picking up your groceries to driving you somewhere, driving somebody else somewhere and that program was run by one individual I believe.
Q And who worked at Delegates?
A Generally the people that worked at Delegates were some of the younger members of the community that were living in Albany, they all did tasks for Delegates. So, if somebody called the head of Delegates, you know, to say I need such and such, you know, they would get a call back saying, well, so and so is going to, you know, pick up your mail or, you know, drive you somewhere or pick up your groceries.
Q You used the term “community,” is that a term that people associated with NXIVM used about themselves?
A Yes, there was — it was a philosophical concept like anybody who had taken the education, who had committed to the education and also obviously spending time there, that was a philosophical community. Then the community itself were the people actually living there, some that were, you know, born there, many people had moved there, that was termed the community and that word was used very, very often.
Q Was there another term that was used for people involved with ESP?
A Another term was Espians, you know, people that had taken ESP, Espians. There was a big focus on community, on Espians, you know, anybody who arrived back in Albany, you know, they’d say things like welcome home, don’t leave home, that kind of thing.
Q Getting back to the companies and programs, was there a company named Rainbow Cultural Gardens?
A Yes. Rainbow Cultural Garden was something developed, as far as I remember, pre-2012. It was run by Loreta Garza. It was an idea once again that Mr. Raniere developed, the idea being creating children that are citizens of the world. He would talk about that in a child’s natural development there are windows of opportunity they have when they’re little to learn certain things and that once those windows close, they can’t learn as much anymore and his proposition was, you know, we can teach them in such a manner that those windows stay open much longer, in essence creating smarter, more brilliant children. And then also the idea of creating citizens of the world which is teaching children multiple languages, so children were learning anywhere from three to up to seven to nine different languages at a pretty young age.
Q Did the participants in Rainbow Cultural Gardens pay tuition or fees in order to participate in that program?
A My understanding is they did, they paid it to the company and then for that I believe they got to put their children, you know, in these different centers if they had them and they also got in essence nannies to take care of their children.
Q And what type of fees were paid, are we talking hundreds of dollars, thousands?
A My understanding was thousands of dollars. I don’t have the exact number but it was a significant number. I remember because people said to me this is as expensive if not more expensive than private school. It was many thousands.
Q The other programs that we discussed, did they also involve tuition or fees?
A As far as I remember, all the programs that I mentioned thus far involved tuition, involved fees, yes.
Q And same question, could you approximate the amount of fees generally?
A If you look at, for instance, Ethos, depending on where you took Ethos, you know, it was anywhere from, you know, $2,000 for the year to, you know, 3,000 something; when you look at an intensive, an intensive could be — I mean I’m talking full price $7,500 for 16 days. Ethicist I believe was $10,000 per intensive and I believe it was eight or ten days.
Jness intensives were in the region of $6,000 per intensive. Significant amounts of money.
Q Under this NXIVM umbrella were there foundations?
A There were. I recall the Ethical Humanitarian Foundation, I recall the Ethical Science Foundation. There may have been more, I don’t recall right now.
Q Let’s talk about those two. What was the Ethical Humanist Foundation?
A I don’t entirely know, I just remember that there was an event that was created that the Dalai Lama was supposed to come to the first time that got cancelled. Then there was another event he did come to and I believe … the Ethical Humanitarian Foundation put that on. I believe everything was run financially through that instrument, that’s to the best of my recollection.
Q What was the Ethical Science Foundation, if you know?
A My best understanding is that the Ethical Science Foundation was the foundation that was responsible for scientific research. Mr. Raniere wanted to do a lot of scientific research on all kinds of things. That was I believe supposed to fund his research and also there was a certain percentage that he received for his position that he said was for scientific research. I don’t know if it went to that particular foundation or not but I think that was the theory.
Q Okay, we’ll get into the percentages a bit later. Did each of these entities, leaving aside the foundations, have their own curricula?
A Yes, they did. It was all — it was different but in many ways based on, you know, a single core idea or a number of single core ideas but there were differences.
Q And who developed the curriculum for each of these programs?
A My understanding is Mr. Raniere developed all of it in essence, he worked with Nancy Salzman and in some of the other companies he worked with some of the people that developed those companies but my impression was that he was developing all of it.
Q And was the curriculum similar between companies?
A There were many similarities, yes. There were – you know, I mean an example of a commonality is, you know, the philosophical idea of overcoming one’s body, overcoming one’s emotionality, you know, using one’s logic, being less attached to other people or other things. Those kinds of things were commonalities pretty much throughout.