This is our next in our series on the testimony of Mark Vicente, one of the main whistleblowers that helped take down the cult of Keith Alan Raniere.
AUSA Mark Lesko is examining Vicente and in this selection, Vicente explains that he was becoming increasingly perturbed by the way Nxivm was treating people. He also describes events at Vanguard Week 2016, where he espied Raniere in a cabin with a woman.
Q Okay. Mr. Vicente, let’s talk about some events that occurred in 2016 and 2017. Okay?
Q All right. Do you recall sending a letter to the defendant and others in January of 2016?
A I do, yes.
Q And what did you say in that letter — well, first off, who did you send it to?
A I sent the letter — I sent one letter to Nancy Salzman, and I sent another letter to Nancy Salzman and the entire executive board listing some of my concerns with things I was seeing in the company.
Q Okay. And what did you specifically say in that letter?
A I said I had concerns about the way we were treating people, that we purported to be a humanitarian organization, and that when people came in we did not treat them that way at all. We treated them quite poorly. We were demeaning to people that actually knew what they were doing. And I was trying to point out the way the company was operating was like a cloistered religion that was cut off from the rest of the world. And that people that came in that had a lot of knowledge were considered they don’t know because they don’t have our ethics, or, you know, they don’t know because they’re not humanitarian enough. And I was trying to explain that there was a duplicity in the company in terms of what was stated and the way people were treated.
I also said that I was concerned that we’re not really promoting people’s dreams. We’re not really helping them become greater. In fact, we’re doing quite the opposite, that we’re squashing their dreams and we’re squashing what they wanted to do.
I also said that I had grave concerns about the way that Raniere was treated like he was some kind of god, and that people — some people couldn’t make decisions without him, and he was seen as like almost an oracle — I don’t know if I used that word, but he was like an oracle, and that he was just a person, just a man, and that I was just very concerned about the almost religious nature of people’s devotion to him, this belief that he had the answers to everything.
And I also talked about that there’s a tremendous fear in the organization. That they’re afraid of the upper ranks. That they’re afraid to say the wrong thing, and that they’re afraid to step out of line. And I said, so much so that even I am afraid to write this letter because I might become the problem in the organization, you know, in essence, meaning you know, well, maybe, you’re going to come after me if I say these things. And I was trying to in essence get a lot of these — to get things across to them because I was seeing a lot of the effects of these things in the company, and I was seeing that people were deeply unhappy. And as I said, it was like cloistered, closed-off, you know, a convent of sorts.
Q What response did you receive, if any?
A One person sort of said, Well, yes, we have these problems and we don’t know how to fix it. Another person said, Well, it’s out of cause, you know, meaning that I’m not owning my emotions. And there was a pretty consistent philosophy that, you know, if you had — if you were emotional about something, then you — what you were saying had no validity. Only if you were unemotional, zero emotion, no attachments of any kind would what you were saying be valid, which I was — I’ve always found insane. And so I was told that, in essence, I was out of cause, and everybody just pretty much ignored it.
Q I would like to direct your attention to V week in August of 2016 later that year. Do you recall something peculiar that happened during that V week?
A Yes. There was an event that really deeply concerned me. So at that time, the Society of Protectors consisted of Raniere, myself, Jim Del Negro and Anthony Ames. And we had a number of significant failures, including that weekend that was canceled and, you know, we were evolving the way he hoped we would. So we thought, well, maybe what we need to do is have more face time with him. So at V week, we decided, well, let’s make sure we meet with him every single day. And, in essence, the idea was if we are not able to meet him by midnight, then we were to stand at his cabin outside for an hour and in silence as a kind of penitence.
Most of the time we found him on time. I think one day we couldn’t find him, so we went to the cabin and we stood there for a while and I thought to myself, Well –…
Q Mr. Vicente, you can continue.
A Okay. So the idea this one night we were — we couldn’t find him, and so we stood outside on the — on the porch of the cabin. There was a — he had two cabins. And eventually, I thought, well, this is very strange. It’s very unusual that he wouldn’t show up, knowing that this was something we were doing [working to meet him every night by midnight] and knowing this was a penance we would take on [for not meeting him].
So I began wandering around, and I had a flashlight and I was shining it in different places. There was a cabin further down the road. And I shone it in the cabin and I saw him and a woman in the bed together. I believe they were clothed and their legs seemed to be intertwined. And I was very just shocked and disturbed, because given what I understood the Society of Protectors was and what I understood about showing up when you say you’re going to show up, I just thought it was very, very strange.
And I began walking back to the other men realizing I’d just seen that and switched the light off. Walked back to the other men and I didn’t say anything, but it really worked at me for a while. You know, part of me was going, ‘Well, you know, was that thing he was doing more important than this? Is it something that I don’t understand?’ But it deeply disturbed me.
And then I saw– and then I saw the woman leave. You know, he came back and I saw the woman leave and walk down the road and that stuck with me.
Of course, Keith Raniere had no concern that a number of men were waiting for him and would undergo some kind of stupid penance if they did not meet him by midnight. He had a woman he wanted to have sex with – and that took priority.
The secret of Nxivm and of many destructive cults is that the leader is almost invariably a sex addict and that takes precedence over everything else. It often leads to the destruction of the cult. And even when it does not, it often leads to the destruction of people, oftentimes women, in the cult.
Raniere had another psychosis. In addition to being a sex addict, he got enlivened by the idea of destroying his followers. He did not care about their well being, and enjoyed their ruination.
While the SOP men were so sincere and wanted to learn from their glorious master, he was busy having sex with a woman and probably laughing at her and at the stupid men who were waiting for him.
He had no regard for anyone other than himself and this I think is the secret of a cult. The leader really has no regard for his followers. He is only in it for himself.
Mark Vicente slowly figured this out and was, once he found out, Raniere’s worst nightmare. I know there will be commenters who will be quick to say that Vicente profited for years. Maybe he did and if he did, he could have gone right on profiting. He did not need to risk his safety and his income by exposing the varmint.
But he saw that it was wrong and gave up his income to expose the demon. This deserves praise, not calumny.
He could have kept quiet and just slipped away. He did not have to try to rescue others. He did not have to work with me to expose the rascal. He did not have to cooperate with law enforcement. He did not have to expose his name to The New York Times and indelibly link himself to this notorious group.
He did it because he thought it was right. Sure you can mock him. Say he was a fool because he was a sincere and perhaps gullible follower. First, he followed Ramtha and then when he found that wanting, he went with Raniere.
Through it all, Vicente was a genuine seeker. A man searching for the truth and believing what he was doing was good. The fact that as late as 2016, he could be shocked to find Raniere in bed with a woman shows how well Raniere kept his sexual deviancy hidden from the men.
But the point is this: [as we shall see more clearly in our next post] once Vicente realized the fraud – and it took him some time to do so and I am sure all the armchair quarterbacks out there will tell me that they would have realized it sooner – but as soon as he did, he probed, he investigated and then he exposed the monster.
Without Vicente, the monster might be still in business.
It’s clear his realization was gradual. He noticed that people were not being treated as he thought the company should based on their self-proclaimed ideals. And he wrote a letter. He saw Raniere in a cabin with a woman and it deeply disturbed him. He is slowly seeing that the man he invested years of his life into following and into trying to build a business and perhaps even a mission to do good to the world, was not who he thought he was.
And rather than slink away, rather than continue to rake in the money, he chose to take a stand and expose him and rescue others.
Mark Vicente deserves to be praised as a true whistleblower.