The New York Times published a story last Friday, November 27, 2020, about Nxivm, written by Barry Meier, entitled, Which Nxivm Show Is Better? An Expert Investigates.
It may be the last story he ever writes about Nxivm. In fact, he says in this story that he hopes to “never hear about Nxivm again.”
He is responsible for a lot of people hearing about Nxivm.
Three years, one month and 10 days ago, on October 17, 2017, the New York Times published Meier’s first story about Nxivm, Inside the Secretive Group Where Women Are Branded. – which made the general public aware that women were being branded in a Nxivm-related sorority called DOS.
It was the most popular story of that news cycle and was picked up by other media outlets. It was also picked up by the federal prosecutors and the FBI in Brooklyn.
When Meier’s October 2017 story was published, it was the second outlet to reveal the DOS sorority. Frank Report was first.
In fact, Meier mentioned in his story: “Many of Mr. Raniere’s followers learned of the secret society from a website run by a Buffalo-area businessman, Frank R. Parlato Jr. Mr. Parlato had been locked in a long legal battle with two sisters, Sara and Clare Bronfman, who are members of Nxivm and the daughters of Edgar Bronfman, the deceased chairman of Seagram Company…. In early June, Mr. Parlato published the first in a torrent of salacious posts under the headline, ‘Branded Slaves and Master Raniere.’”
Frank Report was, if not torrential, at least consistent, publishing 513 posts between June 5th, when FR broke the branding story and October 17 when Meier’s story was published. That was an average of 3.8 stories per day for 134 days.
The impact of these 500-plus stories was to cause many Nxivm members to quit, and DOS to suspend recruiting and stop branding. They also put Nxivm into general disarray, something which is mentioned in both documentaries Meier’s story discusses – “The Vow,” and “Seduced.”
The Times story put Nxivm leaders on the radar of law enforcement in a jurisdiction that was not at all influenced by Bronfman wealth or their battery of powerful attorneys. Keith Raniere was arrested on March 26th, 2018.
- 294 days after FR broke the news about the branding
- 160 days after NYT published its branding story
- 94 days after FR broke the news of Keith’s presence in Monterrey, MX
- 91 days after FR, NYT and ATU broke the news about the federal investigations
- 38 days after FR reported that Raniere was likely in Puerto Vallarta, MX
“’The Vow’ on HBO and ‘Seduced’ on Starz have a combined running time of 13 hours. I make cameos in both shows as the reporter for The New York Times who in 2017 broke the story about Nxivm (pronounced Nex-e-um), and had fast-forwarded through them to check out how good I looked. (Quite good, it turns out.)”
Meier gives what might be his final opinion of Nxivm as “bizarre and sickening…. a misogynistic, mind-control cult…”
He also adds, “I’d had my fill of Nxivm. But the documentaries have become pandemic TV hits and, given my role in them, plenty of people have offered me their opinions of the shows. They have included friends and acquaintances I wouldn’t have expected to spend evenings absorbed by a sex cult.”
Meier invested the time:
“’The Vow’ resembles a crime show that follows several Nxivm defectors and the actress Catherine Oxenberg, whose daughter India became a member of the cult, in real-time as they try to alert law enforcement authorities to its horrors. “Seduced,” in which the Oxenbergs are the central characters, is a study of the coercive techniques used by cults and delves deeply into the abuse that Nxivm visited on its female members.”
He calls Catherine Oxenberg and the defectors “among the heroes who brought down Nxivm.”
He does not entirely approve of the way “The Vow” portrays Vicente and Edmondson.
He writes, “Several defectors in the show are Hollywood types comfortable around a camera and seem at times to be playing to it. Also, in my first encounters with the film’s characters, they stuck me as messier — and in turn, more interesting — than how they appear in ‘The Vow.’
“For instance, Vicente and Edmondson insisted during our first talks that Nxivm wasn’t a cult but a self-improvement group that had somehow gone off the rails. And Vicente…told me that he still wanted to promote a movie he had made that glorified Raniere’s activities in Mexico. I told him I thought he was nuts.”
Vicente spent a lot of time making that film and if I am not mistaken it was completed. It is called Encender el Corazón.
Meier credits Catherine with saving her daughter.
“I never spoke with India while reporting on Nxivm. Back then, she was lost in the cult, and federal prosecutors might have indicted her along with other Raniere followers but for the relentless efforts of her mother. So I was surprised when I saw her positioned as the main character in ‘Seduced’ — she comes across as sane and chastised, a tribute to the healing powers of cult deprogramming for those who can afford it.”
Meier rates “Seduced” perhaps a little higher than “The Vow” but noted that neither documentary explored “the ranks of enablers outside Nxivm — lawyers, public officials and others — who had unwittingly or otherwise shielded the group.”
This is an interesting topic. How much did lawyers and politically connected enablers help Raniere and Bronfman to sue the bejesus out of their enemies? Were laws broken? Were there secret payoffs?
At the time Raniere was rolling out DOS, he was at the pinnacle of getting his enemies in trouble. Largely through his efforts, by January 2016, Toni Natalie, Joe O’Hara, Barbara Bouchey, John Tighe, and myself were indicted. He must have felt invincible at the time. He had gotten all of his chief enemies but one, Rick Ross. And he was still suing him at the time.
Why not start branding women with your initials?
Meier concludes his article by describing a call he got from Dr. Danielle Roberts, which occurred on October 26, the day before Raniere was sentenced.
“At first, the name didn’t ring a bell,” Meier wrote when he saw her name pop up on his caller ID, “Then, I remembered that she was the physician and Nxivm member described in my first article about the cult as having used a cauterizing device to brand women.
“Roberts had dodged my calls when I was working on the [original 2017] story. Now, she was calling me on the eve of Raniere’s sentencing. She and other of the cult leader’s remaining followers had proof, she said, that prosecutors had manufactured evidence against him. Roberts wanted me to immediately write an article for The Times about this supposed miscarriage of justice. I told her that I had retired from the newspaper and passed her along to a former colleague.
“The next day, Raniere was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison. That’s a long time and, during the duration, I hope to never hear about Nxivm again.”
Meier, 71, has had a legendary career as a journalist. Before joining The Times, he was a special projects reporter for New York Newsday. Previously, he worked for five years as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal.
He was a two-time winner of a George Polk Award for outstanding journalism [2002, 2005] and a finalist in 2006 for a Pulitzer Prize, “For his original, strongly documented stories on a flawed heart-defibrillator that imperiled the safety of unwitting patients.”
In 2017, along with a team of Times reporters, Meier won a Pulitzer for their investigative series on Russia’s covert projection of power, including the story of how Russian cyberpower invaded the U.S.
One of Meier’s biggest successes were his articles, and the book that grew out of it, on OxyContin, which “led to Congressional hearings and changes in federal laws.”
In 2001, he began investigating Purdue Pharma and one of its products, Oxycontin, when it was a relatively unknown drug, exposing how the public had been deliberately misled about its addictive nature by those with a financial interest in it.
In 2003, his non-fiction, Pain Killer: An Empire of Deceit and the Origin of America’s Opioid Epidemic,” was the first book to tell the story of Oxycontin, its maker, Purdue Pharma, and the company’s wealthy and secretive owners, the Sackler family, and how they profited from deceiving the nation that it was not addictive, and, therefore, getting untold numbers of people addicted to their drug.
A 2004 New York Times review of Pain Killer, described how “For years, doctors who prescribed OxyContin were told that the risk of addiction to the painkiller was less than 1 percent. Only after the drug had devastated thousands of lives was it revealed that this figure, touted as scientific fact, was based on a small study that had no relevance for the general public.”
Meier has also written:
Missing Man: The American Spy Who Vanished in Iran, a book about former FBI agent turned private investigator Robert Levinson, who disappeared in Iran in 2007 on a mission for the CIA.
Spooked: The Trump Dossier, Black Cube, and the Rise of Private Spies, a book about private spying, described as “a billon-dollar secret industry that is shaping our world – the booming business of private spying, operatives-for-hire retained by companies, political parties and the powerful to dig up dirt on their enemies and, if need be, destroy them.”
Meier also updated and republished his book Pain Killer in 2018.
He retired from the Times not long after he broke the Nxivm story, and followed up with a few more stories on the group and its members.
Meier has the right to hope he never hears about Nxivm again, although I think it unlikely. His impactful story on DOS is part of the history of Nxivm. Perhaps part of the history of journalism too.
In this, I mean that it took the most prestigious newspaper in America – and one of its senior and most distinguished reporters – to publish a single article – written with finesse – to get law enforcement interested and generate public outrage.
Because it was the New York Times and Barry Meier, it gave permission essentially for the other media to report on it, using the Times as their source. It also started the FBI to work on investigating.
Whether this was a good or bad thing depends on your perspective. For me, it was a good thing for it supported work I had done to accomplish this goal: Stop Raniere.
If one is a supporter of Raniere, obviously Meier’s story seems to have had a horrible result. What happened to Raniere after his arrest was largely controlled by the criminal justice system, but it was colored too by the media’s slant on the story.
What led to Raniere’s arrest was driven by two media outlets, in my opinion, one the largest in the world, the NY Times – and the other, an obscure blog, written by a man who was attacked by Raniere and chose to fight back.
Meier can’t escape hearing in the future that his story led to the ending of the freedom of six people and cratered, depending on how you view it, a deadly cult or a wonderful community of people who followed a lovely, ethical man.