This is Part #14 in our series on Sylvie, the DOS slave who narrowly escaped being branded. She was the first witness in the trial of Keith Alan Raniere.
In our last post, Sylvie explained that, in 2018, at around the time Raniere was arrested, she and her husband John, also a Nxivm member, decided to leave Nxivm.
AUSA Moira Penza is examining Sylvie.
Q And after that [when Sylvie decided to leave Nxivm] what happened?
A Not long after that — ….we were in the process of, like, selling everything inside our house and packing up our house. And then during that time actually my family came over because my sister gave birth to my nephew, so it was a lot going on at once and my family was there…. But during the time while my family was there, the FBI knocked on my door and I was not there so John answered.
Q And after that did you end up meeting with the government?
A I did. I think I got a subpoena in the end and then we arranged the meeting for me to come and speak to the government.
Q Do you have any agreements with the government?
A We recently signed an immunity letter.
Q Did you have any understanding when you were first meeting with the government that you would have an immunity letter?
A Definitely not, no.
Q What is your understanding of the immunity letter?
A Is that anything that I have said in testimony or in interviews and in the grand jury you can’t use it against me to charge me at this point, but anything new that came out or anything that I said that was untrue or anything like that you could.
Q And then did you end up moving away?
A Yes, we went to England right after we finished the meetings [with the FBI] in the beginning of June .
Q Is that where you live now?
Q I just want to talk a little bit more about the Nxivm curriculum. Looking back now, do you… believe that the Nxivm curriculum impacted you in any way?
A Definitely. I think I’m still trying to like recover my brain from the experience because it was so many years for me, from when I was 18, of being in a really specific way of thinking, which I personally think led me to be ashamed of who I was as a person and to always feel like there is something wrong with me or I’m bad in some way and I just can’t quite get myself to be a good person somehow. So, I just felt flawed all the time. And it’s very challenging to try and overcome those thoughts now. So, I’m trying to overcome that and be okay with who I am and that’s difficult honestly.
Q How about Jness specifically, did that have any impact on you?
A Yeah, I think the Jness training specifically, and I felt like this even at the time I didn’t enjoy going to the debriefs, or dispositions they were called, because I really felt like I started to hate the fact that I was a woman and being a woman, and other women I saw as flawed too because we were taught — I felt like we were taught that women are self-absorbed, like narcissistic. We objectify men; we lived in a bubble; that we knew nothing about reality. So, it just felt like everything about being a woman was not good and the problem was that I was a woman in a lot of ways and that I needed to like somehow stamp that out of me, and so I feel like in some ways that was the worst part of it for me.
Q How about the concept we saw in the mission statement about no ultimate victims, did that have any impact on you?
A Well, yeah, definitely. I think it was hard for me even to … see myself as a victim to be honest because I said that statement so many times over and over and over again. And I do believe that people can be victims of horrible things that happen in the world but at the same, I’ve been drumming this statement into myself through reciting this thing over and over again and I think it’s been very hard to just come to terms with anything that’s happened because of that.
Q And what were the teachings in regard to victimization as to men versus women?
A Well, for women and I think this was… part of Jness. We were kind of taught to believe that women cried victim whenever they could to get off the hook from things because they didn’t want to be responsible … just so that they didn’t have to face the consequences of their actions or something like that. Like women they want to be seen as victims when really they are the victimizers.
Q So I’m putting on the screen a CD [a Jness Disposition]. Do you recognize it?
Q And was that a disposition that you attended?
Q And do you remember approximately when that was?
A It was 2017, I think it was April 2017.
Q … Sylvie, the Jness dispositions, can you just explain what those were like.
A Well, the way that worked was that you were in a friendship and you had to meet with your friendship weekly to discuss — there was four questions the entire month, and you would discuss one question each week leading up to the end of the month, then there would be a group meeting of all the women in that area and Nancy Salzman would read the disposition to us.
Q Where would those meetings take place?
A At Apropos in the Jness room most typically. Occasionally they happened at Nancy Salzman’s house.
Q What is the kind of the format of the disposition?
A You basically just sit and listen to Nancy read along, yeah, like that sometimes over an hour of statement or like teaching or whatever. I’m not sure what you’d call it.
Q Did you have an understanding of where those teachings came from?
A I understood them to come from Keith Raniere because, again, she would mention that she had a download from Keith just that morning or that she had an extra download and added that to the disposition or whatever. And I knew that she needed help transcribing at different times because at one point she asked if I was good at transcribing for this purpose. I said no because I don’t want to do it. I believe Samantha did the transcribing for her for these dispositions.
In this selection, readers get a real glimpse into Nxivm’s effect on its members and indeed the techniques of all cults.
Sylvie remarks that she was “still trying to …recover my brain from the experience… so many years for me, from when I was 18 [she was about 31 when she left Nxivm].
The goal of Nxivm was, as Sylvie says of herself, “to be ashamed of who I was as a person and to always feel like there is something wrong with me or I’m bad in some way and I just can’t quite get myself to be a good person somehow.”
This was the secret of Nxivm and perhaps all cults. The members must feel bad about themselves and also feel that their leaders, in this case, Keith Raniere and Nancy Salzman, were perfect or near-perfect beings. A classic case of “I’m not OK, you’re OK” and more: Only the cult leaders could ever get you to be OK.
What is not told is that the cult leaders never want you to feel you are OK. You must always feel flawed. If you did not, you might leave the cult and get a life.
The whole goal of Nxivm and perhaps all cults is to ensure dependence, and failure is the best way to ensure dependence. This is the secret recipe of what makes something a cult and not a religion. You are meant to feel worse. You are meant to be enslaved. You are meant to be a failure. It was not Executive Success Programs, it was secretly Executive Failure Programming.
Sylvie, speaking perhaps for all cult members for all time, says, “I just felt flawed all the time. And it’s very challenging to try and overcome those thoughts now. So I’m trying to overcome that and be okay with who I am and that’s difficult honestly.”
Each cult has its own method of ruining a person’s self-esteem. In Raniere’s cult, he had special and different teachings for men and women – each designed to destroy a member’s confidence.
For women, there was Jness and later DOS.
In Jness, they had something called debriefs, or dispositions. The women would get weekly questions to ponder and all the answers led to demeaning women. Nancy provided the answers – which she said came from Keith.
Sylvie says “I started to hate the fact that I was a woman and [I saw] other women…as flawed… we were taught that women are self-absorbed… narcissistic. We objectify men; we lived in a bubble; that we knew nothing about reality…. everything about being a woman was not good and the problem was that I was a woman…”
As we shall see in a later post, the men who were in the men’s group, Society of Protectors, were also being trained for failure. They were taught an opposite and very destructive path.
Men and women of Nxivm were both taught that there are no ultimate victims. This was Raniere’s most destructive teaching. As he victimized them, and made them dependent and cratered their lives, he would tell them they were not victims. He found the perfect way to deflect blame from his rotten teachings.
Anything that goes wrong in your life is your fault. And everything goes wrong in your life – by virtue of the fact that you are in Nxivm.
Conversely, should anything go right, you must give tribute to Keith and Nancy. In fact, you must give tribute to Keith and Nancy even when everything goes wrong, for they are the ones who helped you see what is wrong and that you are to blame for everything that is wrong.
It’s your disintegration. It’s your issue. It is not the sleep deprivation or semi-starvation imposed on you; it’s not the bizarre sex with Raniere, that you must be available to perform upon his whim or command. It is not the endless hypnotic induction sessions or the feel-bad teachings. No, it is you who is flawed. There are no ultimate victims. It’s your fault and you must give tribute to Keith and Nancy for giving you this noble teaching that keeps you in permanent awareness of your flaws.
This then is the secret of cults: Keep ’em down and dependent.
We will be looking at other cults in the near future and following up on some we have reported on in the past. The FBI is still pursuing its investigation, based in part on my reporting, of an invidious cult, the One Taste cult [AKA the Fingering Cult].
Here are some stories I wrote on One Taste that helped spark an investigation and the closure of several One Taste centers.
[There are still women entrapped in this sex slaver cult. Stay tuned for an update on One Taste as it tries to survive an FBI investigation and keep its women slaves during the pandemic.]
Here are links to previous stories on Sylvie
Other posts in this series:
Part #13 Sylvie Decides to Leave Nxivm