This is Part #5 of our series on the testimony of Mark Vicente, the second witness in the trial of Keith Alan Raniere.
He is examined by AUSA Mark Lesko and in this relatively short post, Vicente talks about Lauren Salzman. It is of particular interest for it gives us a glimpse of the strange and depressing relationship Lauren had with her Vanguard, Keith Alan Raniere.
Q You previously discussed Lauren Salzman. If you could remind us, who was Lauren Salzman within NXIVM?
A So Lauren Salzman was the daughter of Nancy Salzman, who was the CEO of the company. Lauren Salzman was on the executive board. And she was the head of education and the stripe path, the sashes. She was also my coach, and she was, in essence, the leader of the greens, the senior proctors.
Q So how did you interact with Lauren Salzman as your coach?
A We were supposed to meet at least once a week. We tended not to. Perhaps it was once a month. So we had a coaching relationship, and then we also had a friendship. We worked on a number of projects together throughout the year, and of course, on the [Nxivm] executive board.
Q Did she ever work with you regarding your lack of tribute to the defendant [Raniere]?
A She did. We worked on that a great deal…. There were many, many discussions about it. You know, for instance, [she’d say] “tribute’s the problem,” and then I would recut the movie [he was making in Mexico], put more of [Raniere] in. And then people didn’t respond well to it, and I say, “I think it’s too much honestly.” And she’d say “Well, actually — you’re now overcompensating. In other words, you still have this tribute problem, but now it’s the other way around, you’re overcompensating, something that’s still a problem.” Just went in circles.
Q Did you discuss concerns about your pride with Lauren Salzman?
A Yes. They were in the nature of disagreement, but she would often point out that my need to protect my image is a problem, you know, and that pride is a huge problem. There was a lot of discussion in the organization about pride being one of those terrible things.
Raniere would talk about pride as this thing that would just really get you…. It’s almost — and he didn’t say it that way, but it’s almost like Satan. You know. Satan’s hiding in all kinds of corners. Pride is hiding in all kinds of corners. You know, when you least expect it, it will get you. That’s why you have to be vigilant with, you know, true humility and busting your pride. And Lauren Salzman would have a lot of those discussions with me as well.
Q Do you recall having a discussion with Lauren Salzman about her having a baby?
A I do. It was … at Apropos, during, I think, one of the coach summits when I said to her, “Why don’t you just go and have what you want in your life? Why don’t you just go and have a baby? Because I know you want one.” She said, “I do, but I’m not ready”. I said, “What do you mean you’re not ready?”
“Well, Keith says I’m not ready,” and I was confused. I couldn’t understand how Keith was advising her on whether or not she was ready to have a baby. That was confusing to me.
Q Did you have a conversation with Lauren Salzman involving the defendant asking if she loved him?
A Yes. … That was actually also at Apropos [in] the Proctor room. She was struggling with something that he had asked her to do, and she was feeling unwilling to do it. She didn’t tell me what it was. And then she said to me, “It kills me because then he says to me, ‘Don’t you love me?’ And I [Lauren] go, ‘of course, I love [you]’. So of course [I have to do what he wants].”
And I couldn’t understand how a friend and somebody, you know, who runs a division was having those kinds of discussions with Raniere. It didn’t make sense to me.
To me, the last two answers are the key to Raniere’s relationship with Lauren Salzman. Let us review them a little.
Mark knew Lauren wanted a baby and she was not getting any younger. This conversation probably occurred when she was in her late 30s.
He says to his coach, Lauren, “Why don’t you just go and have what you want in your life? Why don’t you just go and have a baby? Because I know you want one.”
Lauren: I do [want a baby], but I’m not ready.
Mark: What do you mean you’re not ready?
Lauren: Well, Keith says I’m not ready.
Mark said he was confused as to why Keith was advising her on whether or not she was ready to have a baby. Most likely Mark did not understand that Keith was to be the father. Lauren, full of secrets, would not have told Mark this important detail.
Lauren did not keep it a secret that she wanted a child. And here, astonishingly, you have a woman almost 40 telling Mark she is not ready to have a baby.
A woman nearing age 40 who is not ready to have a baby is not likely to ever be ready to have a baby. Anyone would know that, except Lauren. And as we know, Lauren never did have a baby. At age 42, and facing possible years of incarceration, she is not likely to ever have a baby.
Yet, that was the one accomplishment of life that she wanted – to be a mother. The beast stole that from her, leading her on for 15 years or more.
This militates towards leniency for Lauren, in my mind.
Next, we get to Raniere’s classic mind-bending. Again, Mark and Lauren talked at Apropos, in the Proctor room.
Lauren did not want to do something, probably something she knew in her soul was cruel and evil. Though she would do just about anything to please Keith and by doing so perhaps get him to feel she was ready to have a baby, this particular something that he asked her to do was something she was struggling with. In short, she knew it was wrong.
It is typical of the Nxivm way, that she did not tell Mark what it was that he asked her to do, but only that she was vastly uncomfortable about it and that she told Raniere that she did not want to do it [whatever it was].
Lauren confides to Mark, “It kills me because then he says to me, ‘Don’t you love me?’ And I go, ‘of course, I love [you]’. So of course [I have to do what he wants].”
Raniere put her obedience to his whims, prideful demands, and downright evil orders that she knew in her heart was wrong, on a “Don’t you love me?” basis.
This is how a cult leader operates. “Don’t you love me?” If you do, then you will do anything I ask. And poor pathetic, stupid, selfish Lauren – who wanted above all to have a baby with Raniere – always went along. If she had to oversee a young woman being confined in her room for two years, or get young women who trusted her into a blackmailing and branding sorority, without telling them that Raniere was the secret leader, she would do it – because if she did not, it would show she did not love Raniere [and then he might not let her have a baby].
Implicit in all this, and herein lies the danger, and is our lesson for all cults, – was that he always knew best. That he should not be questioned. That he was the smartest man and anything that pricks your conscience and stabs at your heart is your own fault and misunderstanding and it is all to be reduced at all times of doubt to “Don’t you love me?”
Vicente couldn’t understand how his friend, his coach and a long time, and advanced member of this supposedly fantastic, self-help, human empowerment group, the woman who actually ran the education division of the entire organization, was having these rather infantile and idiotic discussions with Raniere – about being ready to have a baby at age 40, or willing to do some unpleasant deed because she could not be permitted to think for herself since that would show she did not love the leader of the group.
This is classic cult behavior, but when you’re in it, in the midst of it, you are caught up in the potential of its goodness for you and others.
Lauren felt that by deferring, for decades – losing the best child-bearing years of her life waiting to be ready – that ultimately she would one day be blessed with the baby and then have priority over all the other women he was having relationships with. She would not only be the leader of education, but she would have the ocular proof of her ascendancy over the other women – she would have his baby.
Of course, it never happened. He had a baby with another woman, a woman who barely attended classes but lived with Keith and was his servant, Mariana Fernandez.
The cruel laugh was on Lauren, for she served him so long and was anything and everything he wanted her to be, using her intelligence and energy to work like a dog for him, always expecting the reward of a child and in the end, he chose one of the laziest and least ambitious of the women in his circle to have a child with.
Of course, this was his technique – dangling motherhood – which he did with numerous women – and always making it elusive, with one more mountain to climb, one more task to prove that you are worthy, but you are never worthy and you will always feel it is your fault.
Mark Vicente sensed something was wrong. Some great contradiction. He could not put his finger on it at first for he too trusted Raniere.
He trusted Lauren too. Nxivm operated by the concept that all these intelligent people believed in Raniere and the dirty secret was that Raniere used all of them to gaslight each other.
Lauren would gaslight Vicente that he did not pay enough tribute and, when Lauren was depressed, her mother or Pam Cafritz or some other woman would gaslight Lauren and keep her in goose step with the goals of Raniere.
The secret of this cult and many others is that the members gaslighted each other.