By Leo Helmar
In my December 9th story on how NXIVM attempted and failed to recruit and groom members of the a cappella community, an interesting comment thread between Deke Sharon and Frank Parato compelled me to dig deeper for a follow-up article.
Frank informed Deke that Keith Raniere and Clare Bronfman, the Vanguard and his purse, had hired a private detective agency to spy on Deke.
Deke Sharon is a prominent leader in the a cappella community who is known as “the father of contemporary a cappella” and Deke confronted the NXIVM cult in a message board thread which was detailed in the above-linked story.
The private investigator agency that was hired to spy on Deke was known as Canaprobe and has been covered in exquisite detail on this very website. Because NXIVM was run by failsons, dilettantes, and a certain scruffy ex-MLM hustler, their attempt to dig up dirt on Deke Sharon backfired miserably.
The presence of Sharon, a director and composer of a cappella music, on the NXIVM enemies list belongs in the roll call of the strangest and most random NXIVM factoids. This piece will illustrate the efforts of NXIVM to surveil and harass Deke and other people in his community after the debacle of the A Cappella Innovations festival that my previous, above-linked article also covered.
Along with that update to the story, we will also briefly compare and contrast NXIVM’s espionage efforts and those of Scientology. Scientology is important to the story because NXIVM adapted many of the tactics that had been used by Scientology and its spy wing which was initially known as the Guardian’s Office and has now been rebranded as the Office for Special Affairs.
I asked Mr. Sharon what his reaction was to learning, from his exchange with Mr. Parlato in the comment section, that he was on NXIVM’s enemy list along with figures like the political operative Roger Stone and former governor of New York, Elliot Spitzer.
Deke was not surprised. “As I told everyone once the forum discussion [was] over, ‘if I disappear or turn up dead, you know why.’” he told me via email.
The amount of time and resources that Keith Raniere and the NXIVM group spent in their quest to infiltrate the a cappella community gives an insight into their standard operating procedure.
After NXIVM hosted the 2008 edition of A Cappella Innovations, there is no record of NXIVM hosting or being involved with another event that included an a cappella focus. This is almost certainly based in part on the way Keith and his minions got taken to the wood chipper by Deke and other pillars of the singing community in the now-infamous a cappella message board thread (the message board was known as RARB/CASA, which are two of the main a cappella organizing bodies) that was detailed in my previous article.
It didn’t make much logical sense for NXIVM to continue spending time and money to win the a cappella folks over. But, as was discussed in detail at the sentencing hearing of Raniere, he is bad at letting people leave his orbit. It seemed just as incongruent to me as it did to Deke Sharon that NXIVM would sic private investigators on an a cappella enthusiast with no other ties to NXIVM.
“Frankly, there’s probably no one who is less threatening than a professional a cappella musician.” Deke wrote to me. “What was I going to do: throw a pitch pipe at them?!?”
Clare Bronfman and Keith Raniere contracted a Canadian private detective agency, Canaprobe, to spy on Deke and other unfortunate members of the cult’s enemy list. Luckily for the victims of NXIVM’s stalking activities, NXIVM happened to hire some of the most incompetent investigators in North America. As reported in previous Frank Report stories, Bronfman’s tab for the services of Canaprobe between 2008 and 2011 was just under $900,000. This corresponds with the approximate time period when NXIVM was involved with A Cappella Innovations and was also actively spying on Deke Sharon.
Canaprobe made up a phony report to issue to Bronfman and included forged bank records that attributed imaginary offshore bank accounts to Mr. Sharon. NXIVM was trying to somehow work Deke into its grand conspiracy that Clare and Sara Bronfman’s father, Edgar Bronfman, was trying to destroy their cult.
Edgar was the billionaire owner of the Seagram’s liquor company and he had at one point been affiliated with NXIVM but had left and denounced the group as a cult. Deke, on the other hand, had barely any interaction with the group other than participating as a judge at the first, benign version of A Cappella Innovations in 2007 which NXIVM funded lavishly by paying for travel, accommodations and the venue for all participants in an attempt to establish a network in the community, presumably to recruit members like the college groups of a cappella singers.
The investigators who generated the phony reports on behalf of Canaprobe were Cullen Johnson and Elaine White who were subcontractors. Johnson and White were convicted and sent to Canadian federal prison in 2014 for falsifying bank records for other clients.
Canaprobe and its subcontractors and the Bronfman sisters were also involved in a lengthy civil lawsuit which was eventually dismissed where the Bronfmans attempted to claw back the money they paid Canaprobe for its fraudulent work. In an ironic aside, Raniere’s lawyers tried to argue in his case that Canaprobe hadn’t actually spied on people and so Raniere shouldn’t be held accountable for the attempted surveillance and harassment of his foes.
Outside of the Canaprobe shenanigans, NXIVM members made other efforts to reach out to the a cappella circle. I corresponded with Amy Malkoff who is an a cappella performer and producer. Malkoff was a participant in the RARB/CASA a cappella message board thread mentioned before. She was not present at either version of A Cappella Innovations.
Amy was the third person to write a post in the thread and was a voice who was consistently skeptical about NXIVM despite other posters sympathetic to NXIVM or otherwise affiliated with the group trying to derail her with red herrings and ad hominem attacks.
At one point, a pro-NXIVM poster said that Ms. Malkoff was “retarded” for being skeptical of some of NXIVM’s claims.
Ms. Malkoff responded in a level-headed tone which was a consistent feature of the leaders of the a cappella community’s responses to attacks from the NXIVM group. “[I] would appreciate not being called “retarded” when my concern here is the for the good of the community. [T]hat’s uncalled for.”
When I asked Amy if she had gotten any further flack from NXIVM after her experience with the group on the message board, Amy expanded on an anecdote that she briefly referenced in the 2008 RARB/CASA thread.
“In April of 2008, I was contacted by Daniela Padilla, who said she ‘stumbled upon’ me and wanted to ask about logo design and branding. That she was an ‘image consultant’ and was interested in a logo and how much would that cost?” After Amy replied to Daniela, Amy noticed that instead of the email being routed to a yahoo email address that Daniela had sent her email from, Amy’s return email was instead redirected to a nxian.net email address.
In the original 2008 thread, Daniela responded to Amy’s mention of being contacted by a NXIVM member under what Amy thought were false pretenses, and Daniela gave a confusing and seemingly self-contradictory account of why she emailed Amy. “I thought I had contacted a designer, not an a cappella person” said Daniela on page 12 of the thread. Daniela also gave excuses for not following up when Amy replied to Daniela’s request for assistance with designing business cards.
Daniela dodged by saying that she was at a wedding in Mexico and that she forgot about sending the email. Daniela then contradicted her original story about why she contacted Amy, this time revealing that she knew Amy was an a cappella person before sending her an email soliciting a design from Amy despite previously stating that she did not know Amy was involved in a cappella: “Your name was on the forum. As I looked up your name I found a lot of things, but there two things in particular that I found interest in. Your link to your a cappella (I actually listened to one of your songs BTW) and a design page.”
Amy relayed yet another incident where a NXIVM-affiliated man named Eric contacted her via email in an attempt to convince her that NXIVM was an amazing and harmless organization. Eric was a member of Keith Raniere’s Trojan horse a cappella group called Simply Human.
Amy sketched this incident in more detail for me over email: “He claimed that his life was greatly improved in all ways by his involvement with the org. He told me how much he invested and how much he made before and after. He also recited a lot of the standard lines used to dismiss the skepticism of Keith et al, that they were misunderstood, words taken out of context, concepts too big to be taken in, etc.” In addition, Amy said she felt that Eric was trying to sell her on something during the period of time between April and July of 2008 when Eric was contacting her. “He seemed like a genial guy and I had several back and forths with him. I’m unclear what his end game was as I was clear I wouldn’t be a good candidate for an org like this. But he kept talking and selling…something.”
In one of the most vivid scenes described in Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige, and Me, Ron Miscavige reconstructs an episode that occurred to him in 2013 while he was being stalked by two private investigators who had been hired by his son, the leader of Scientology, David Miscavige.
It was only through an unlikely happenstance that a window briefly opened into the spy wing of Scientology. Private eye Dwayne Powell was arrested in the Milwaukee area with an arsenal of weapons that happened to include an illegal silencer. Powell sang like a bird and told police that he had been surveilling Ron Miscavige, who had recently defected from Scientology and was a dangerous critic, around the clock and had been handsomely compensated to the tune of $10,000 per week for the last 18 months.
Powell told law enforcement a story about how he and his son, who was part of his investigator business, had been tailing Ron Miscavige at a mall and saw Miscavige grab his chest and lurch forward. Powell thought that Miscavige might be having a heart attack and, in what must have been a pang of conscience, Powell called his contact at Scientology. A moment later, a man who identified himself as David Miscavige called Powell and told him, in essence, to let his father die and to not intervene.
The use of private investigators, among many other machinations, to intimidate and harass “suppressives” or heretics is a tactic that is shared by many high control groups like Scientology and NXIVM. NXIVM owes many debts to Scientology and the NXIVM group certainly must have understood the power of using covert operatives and spy tactics from watching Scientology use these tools to infiltrate the United States government and entangle their harshest critics.
Operation Snow White involved thousands of Scientology agents infiltrating the IRS, the DEA and other government bureaus to purge negative information about the group and to steal documents. Operation Freakout was a labyrinthine conspiracy assembled by Scientology to frame Paulette Cooper, an early critic of Scientology, and the operation was so successful that Cooper was indicted on a trumped-up charge of making bomb threats and only narrowly avoided being convicted and sent to prison.
NXIVM paid millions of dollars to private investigators to spy on its “enemies list” while Scientology had an in-house armada of spies and spent hundreds of millions on its complex of vexatious lawsuits and investigators. NXIVM was objectively much more incompetent and clumsy as an organization and the results were only a pale shadow compared to an organization like Scientology. Scientology is so dastardly that even the IRS ran away like a man on fire during Scientology’s battle for tax-exempt status.
In contrast to the Machiavellian successes of Scientology’s spy operation, NXIVM’s leadership was laughably incompetent when it came to spycraft. I am thankful for that because if they were just a little less crazy and a little more subtle it is easy to envision many more people getting roped into Keith Raniere’s vile pyramid scheme.
In attempting to replicate the evil genius of L. Ron Hubbard and his flock, Keith Raniere and Clare Bronfman proved that they’re not even particularly good at being bad. Keith has always struck me as a giant, pulsating question mark.
I see footage of Allison Mack meeting Keith for the first time and it does not compute. That little furball has a harem of attractive d-list actresses following him and tripping all over themselves to empty their pocketbooks into Keith’s bank account?
Mark Twain said, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”