A reader made this comment and within it, he or she posed a reasonable question:
Frank — Are you retracting what you have written previously about Karen Unterreiner?
Previously you wrote, ”Karen Unterreiner has been with Keith Raniere since he was in his 20’s. She has brought him scores of women and helped him have sex with underage girls. ”
Now you are saying, “Karen, who I have come to know, is the last person I would expect to groom anyone underage for Raniere.”
In 2018 you published an article titled, “Karen Unterreiner, Another Evil Woman, Should Not be Forgotten!
From the civil suit. “Thereafter, he and members of his Inner Circle, including Defendants Nancy Salzman, Lauren Salzman and Karen Unterreiner began a campaign of extreme isolation, harassment and other abuse that lasted years, culminating in her confinement to a room with virtually no human contact for nearly two years, during which her pleas to be let out were either rejected or ignored.”
To answer the question:
Back in 2017 and 2018, during the time when the fate of Keith Alan Raniere and Nxivm were still uncertain, and Karen was still a member of Nxivm and his follower, I wrote a lot about her.
I had known her slightly when I was working as a consultant for Nxivm in 2007 but had not seen her since. It was my impression then that she must have been part of the grooming operations for Raniere.
In 2019, I met Karen again and spent time with her, asking her a wide range of questions during multiple, multi-hour interviews, many of which were recorded with her permission.
By probing deeply and asking pointed questions – none of which she refused to answer – I came to form another impression of her. That she was a victim of Keith Raniere, perhaps his first victim.
This is my understanding of Karen today: She met Keith Raniere at college. She is a little older than him and they were both teenagers when they started dating. They met in the late 1970s.
She thought she was his girlfriend for a number of years, while Raniere secretly cheated on her, telling her that they were a monogamous couple. She may have had suspicions that he was not faithful but, she says, it did not become obvious until he started an openly amorous affair with Toni Natalie in the early 1990s.
By that time, Karen was an integral part of Consumers’ Buyline and had dedicated more than 15 years of her life to supporting his plans. For quite a few years in the 1980s, she worked as he stayed home and, as it turns out, bedded women by day in their house – as Karen went out and earned the money for him to have this lifestyle.
They purchased a townhome together – at 3 Flintlock Lane, in a subdivision called Knox Woods in Half Moon, New York.
During these years, the sex-addicted Raniere had not only Karen, but other women believing he was in a monogamous relationship with them. When Ranere fell “madly in love” – or so it seemed – with Toni Natalie, Karen realized they were no longer in a monogamous relationship. In time, Toni became his public girlfriend.
Karen remained loyal to the work and to her friendship with Keith. She also discovered around that time that Keith was also sleeping with Pam Cafritz.
Pam had been around for several years and Keith made it out that Pam was just a friend, and to some, he said that she was lesbian. Karen admitted she learned they were having sex by reading Pam’s diary.
Maybe Karen should have left. She says she honestly believed that Keith, despite his philandering, was a sincere man who truly was interested in the welfare of society and was a rare genius who had the ability – with the right help – to improve society.
She wanted to help him.
Karen says she never helped Keith with his take-home IQ test, but thinks it’s possible that Gina Hutchinson and others may have helped him. She also recalls Keith talking to her about it and believes that Keith did figure out some or all of it himself.
She recalls also that at RPI she and he both took some kind of IQ test and both scored extremely high. There is no doubt that Karen is one of the higher IQ people of Nxivm.
For many years, she lived with Raniere knowing he was not monogamous. They shared the same bedroom for years. But anyone who knows Raniere’s ability to lie and compartmentalize, knows that it is possible that he could deceive anyone, especially those who wanted to believe in him and would overlook his deceptions as of less importance as his greater overall mission.
Karen was a believer and Keith was an expert at only revealing what a believer would be willing to accept.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Karen told me that she never saw Keith with any underage girls in any inappropriate way. She told me so many true and verifiable and insightful things about Keith and Nxivm that I am inclined to believe her.
I believe that Karen would not have approved. Therefore, Keith would have hid that from her. Overall, Keith did a lot to minimize her knowledge of adult women since she was not particularly happy about him being with other women. She would, she said, have objected to underage girls.
She understands that Pam Cafritz would have thought differently about it, and Pam was the one [not Karen] who secured little 12-year-old Rhiannon’s services as a dog walker – in order to lure her to the home, where Keith could seduce her.
Karen worked by day and was not home when the child was being groomed. Gina Hutchinson and Gina Melita were seduced at their own homes and at Keith’s father’s house in NYC.
Karen said she first learned about the possibility of Keith being a hebephile through the Albany Times Union story, In Raniere’s Shadows.
Karen approached Raniere when the Times Union story was published. She asked him about the police report they published as part of the story that showed evidence that a teenage girl claimed Keith had committed statutory rape against her in 1993, when she was 12-13 years old.
This police report was made when Karen was with Keith and just prior to the time Keith began his relationship with Toni Natalie.
Keith told Karen, she says, that it was not a true police report but a forgery and that the Times Union paid various people, including Heidi Hutchinson, to make up false allegations about him.
Not only did Karen believe this, but this was the official narrative that successfully persuaded most of his followers to believe it also.
The Times Union was out to get Keith, the narrative went, and the newspaper was willing to spend a lot of money to create this false narrative. Of course, we know this is another of Keith’s lies but it worked for a time. In fact, it worked until June 2017 when I broke the branding and blackmail story.
That would not have been persuasive either, except that two longtime Nxivm members, Sarah Edmondson and Mark Vicente, backed the story up when various members questioned them. In Mexico, Toni Zarattini backed up the story and soon a network of ex-Nxivm members verified the story was true. This led to more than half the members quitting the cult.
Still, a lot of long time devotees stuck with Keith.
Karen was one of them. She stayed until March 2018. In fact, she went to visit Keith in Mexico at his villa in Puerto Vallarta just a few days prior to his arrest. He seemed relaxed there, she said, and was talking about rebuilding Nxivm, once the bad publicity passed. This was Karen’s last visit. She stayed a few days and left. He was arrested a few days later and she has not seen him since.
During the last few years of her membership in Nxivm, she worked primarily as a proctor – an instructor of Nxivm intensives. She seemed to have found her niche as a life coach and teacher of what she thought was a good program to help people.
Keep in mind that thousands of people took the intensives and never joined the cult per se. Many of those thought they got something good out of the courses and quite a few of them were Karen’s students. Karen seemed to have taken a gentle, caring approach to teaching and was always accessible to her students.
She also did fairly well financially from it, meaning that she made a middle-class income from it.
I am convinced she thought she was doing good for people and she loved her work. She told me that it was by secretly reading the Frank Report [it was forbidden by Keith and Nancy for Nxivm members to read the Frank Report] she gradually came to realize that Keith was not a good man and that he had deceived her – for more than 40 years.
She was the first to join him, and one of the last to leave, but she left.
During her sojourn with Raniere, I have not found anyone who said she actively worked to destroy them. In this respect, she was different than some of the other women, women who have been described by the term – I believe first coined by Susan Dones – as the “Wolf Pack.”
Was Karen part of the wolf pack? If she was, it was not as virulent as Nancy and Lauren, and others.
Yes, Karen supported Raniere and probably did work on persuading women who were thinking of leaving him to stay. This was, I think, because she thought his teachings had great value. I am not saying it was totally unselfish. It was her living, but I am saying she did not believe it was evil or that Keith was out to destroy the very people she was trying to keep from leaving him.
She did not even realize Keith was trying to destroy her. She did come to realize that though.
I met Karen again in 2019, through another proctor who had left Nxivm. We met at a diner and the first thing Karen said to me was “I want to thank you. You saved my life. It was the Frank Report that made me realize that Keith is a psychopath. ”
Of course, this was a flattering thing to hear. But we turned on the recorder and I began to interview her to determine if she had really left and why she left and how she had come to realize that a man she had been faithful to for 40 years could become in her mind suddenly a monstrously evil man.
I am convinced she is telling the truth. That she believed and then she no longer believed in his goodness.
While she believed in his goodness, she naturally thought she was doing good to promote and support his work.
I don’t care if others believe it, but I don’t think she had anything to do with enabling Keith’s hebephilia.
So to the extent that I formerly speculated that she might have done that, I do retract it.
Lastly, and this is interesting to me, and the commenter at the beginning of this post suggested it: Karen, who is one of more than a dozen Nxivm members being sued by the Nxivm plaintiffs represented by Neil Glazer, is accused of having some responsibility in the captivity of Daniella.
There was no testimony by Daniella in court and Daniella never said anything to me during my interviews with her about Karen having any role in her captivity, which lasted almost two years.
Daniella spoke of Keith and Lauren Salzman having the main role in this bizarre episode. Curiously, it may have been the publication of the Albany Times Union stories in Feb. 2012, that may have led to Daniella’s leaving.
She decided to go on her own, it seems, but Keith, I am told, was very eager to ensure she left and may have encouraged her father, Hector, to pave the way for her getting back home.