I thought about whether or not to republish this 2008 comment Mark Vicente published on the a cappella forum CASA.org.
I was hesitant because members of the anonymous ‘peanut gallery’ who sometimes comment on this site and elsewhere will probably use it to mock Vicente, which seems to be common sport ever since the docuseries “Seduced” showed a side of him that differed from the view most people had of him in “The Vow.”
I only know the Vicente as seen in “The Vow,” the defector. I met him once briefly when he was in Nxivm, in 2007, when he still supported Keith Raniere. The view of him in “Seduced” is pre-defector.
The reason I decided to publish this comment is as an illustration. Vicente did so much to bring down Raniere. He spearheaded the takedown in many ways. And like others, before he became a defector, he was a staunch supporter.
After he became a defector, he had the good fortune to team up with Catherine Oxenberg and myself, and he had strong allies in his wife, Bonnie Piesse, and his friend and business partner, Sarah Edmondson, and her husband, Anthony Ames. That turned out to be a lethal combination for Raniere.
But for a dozen years, Vicente loved Raniere and defended him. That’s what makes this 2008 comment important. It shows his state of mind at that point in time. And it shows that minds can change.
It is also fascinating to observe the way defectors went from one world to another. I suspect the first group of defectors were the Nxivm 9, led by Barbara Bouchey and Susan Dones. They were shunned by the then-numerous Nxivm community, including Mark, even though they were once great friends. That was 2009.
When Mark and Sarah Edmondson chose to defect in 2017, they were shunned by Nxivm members, including many of their close friends, whom they loved or professed to love for years.
It is perhaps indicative of a cult: A person is enamored by Keith one day, believing him to be larger than life, and then they change and those who still adore Keith shun the defector. Then, when they who once shunned others also leave, they are shunned in turn.
Mark and others went from shunner to shunned.
If nothing else, this ought to give one who has defected a great deal of sympathy for those who have not yet defected, rather than despise or mock them – for they were once precisely where the present supporters are now.
I think this is the best reason to publish this 2008 comment by Vicente: There are, I estimate, about 100 people who still support Keith Raniere staunchly. They are visibly represented by the Nxivm-5. But they are more than five. I have personally seen about 20 of them gathered in Brooklyn alone just prior to Raniere’s sentencing. And I have spoken to numerous others in the USA and Mexico by Zoom and by phone.
If they are misled, now that Raniere is defeated, I do not think a kind of reverse shunning, and certainly not shaming, is in order. It is time to be patient.
As a result of two festivals Clare Bronfman funded called “A Capella Innovations” in late 2007 and again in early 2008, which sought to promote the role of Keith Alan Raniere as a musical mentor, a number of people in the a capella community smelled an incursion of a “cult.” In 2008, most of the bad publicity was focused around reports in the Albany Times Union, a 2003 Forbes Magazine article and Rick Ross, the well-known cult deprogrammer, who published unflattering things about Nxivm on his website.
That was enough. As the a capella online forum reveals, many of the a capella community called into question Raniere and Bronfman’s roles in their close-knit world. There were about 200 comments, most of them negative.
In response, some of Raniere’s friends and followers stepped in to defend him, like Allison Mack, Lauren Salzman, Nicki Clyne, and Clare Bronfman. Mark Vicente also came to Raniere’s defense.
By Mark Vicente
Thu Apr 10, 2008 9:29 am
Good morning. My name is Mark Vicente. I was one of the facilitators (performance advisors) at A Cappella Innovations this weekend. I am a film director who has been in the industry for over 24 years and have in my cumulative career worked on probably 30 feature films, numerous documentaries, commercials and music videos. I’ve had the privilege of working and interacting with some amazing people; actors, celebrities, filmmakers, politicians, heads of state, activists, humanitarians, etc.
I’ve read through all the posts now and thought I might add some impressions. Some of what I’ve read sounds like refreshing critical thinking, some of it non-sensical conjecture, and then some of it emotionally reactive absurd fear-mongering. It got me thinking back to my home country, South Africa.
In apartheid-era South Africa, there were a number of people that felt the government’s policy of seeing other human beings (black) as sub-human, was flawed and immoral. The government’s brilliant plan was to frame this complaint in a very specific way so as to guarantee control of people’s perceptions. What they did is labeled anyone who dissented as a “communist” with nefarious intent. I myself was one of those labeled people. I refused to do mandatory military service in a war that I did not believe in. Consequently, I was labeled as a criminal for several years until Nelson Mandela pardoned all ‘criminals’ of conscience.
The government’s framing technique was amazingly effective however as most people believed that anyone who questioned the government was a bad person. So complete was this strategy that most law-abiding, news-watching citizens couldn’t fathom the possibility that someone who dissented may have good intent.
The government had complete control of the media. I experienced this very deeply during my time as a news cameraman in South Africa in the late ’80s. I would spend a day shooting in unrest-ridden townships seeing all manner of ghastly things and then go home and watch the news, which told an entirely different story, as though what I had shot had never happened. It was at this point that I understood there is a vast difference between media (what is reported) and reality.
In some of these posts, it seems that a few people think they are the same thing. Anyone who believes everything they read, hear or see is under a self-induced spell of sorts. Which brings me to something that I haven’t seen addressed deeply yet:
What is a Cult?
It’s a word people have used liberally in these posts. Sort of like “Commie Sympathizer”. But what is it? It seems scary, frightening…like maybe they’ll cart your children off into the night, perform ritual sacrifice, or steal your brains!
When I was a kid, my Mom told me to never go beyond the fence around our property (we lived in the bush) because the witchdoctors would get me and eat me. Later, when I grew up, I found out that it may just have been a story used to scare me into never going beyond the fence. And believe me, it worked! I was scared!
The word ‘cult’ seems to strike an irrational fear in people. It’s guaranteed to frame whatever is being talked about in a very specific way. But what is this ‘cult’ thing? Some say it has something to do with worshiping a deity or figurehead or concept. Well… there’s lots of that going on in the world. People worship their gameboys, cars, fashion models and celebrities. Others say it has something to do with not thinking for yourself. Once again, we have a lot of that going on in the world. In fact, it could be the number one ailment of humanity.
‘Cult’ seems to be this vague indefinable word. It’s supposedly bad… but what is it? A few years ago Keith Raniere and I had a conversation about another group that had been called a cult for years. He pointed out that not all cults are destructive groups. And not all destructive groups are cults. What people are scared of are not cults… what they’re scared of are destructive groups. So why speak of a ‘cult’? If there’s a group of people (whether they’re a cult or not) killing puppies across the street, you call them Puppy Killers. If something is destructive, why don’t we just call it that? Destructive! Or Anti-Humanitarian!
Now, maybe you don’t like a particular group,(maybe you’re xenophobic or something). You can’t call them a destructive group because there’s nothing you could really put your finger on that’s destructive. Maybe they seem a little too happy, too nice, too friendly… or whatever – so you call them a ‘cult’ and you import all of the negative attributes of a destructive group. It seems to be a blanket term people use when they can’t seem to find something bad about something but have some kind of a bad emotional feeling. What matters is if a group is destructive or not, not whether they are this vague, indefinable thing called a ‘cult’.
Which brings me to this supposedly evil, bad-intentioned, dangerous guy…. Keith Raniere. I’ve noticed that a few people have been searching under every rock to find the TRUE intent behind A Cappella Innovations. It reminds me of reading the National Enquirer in which it is often stated that the federal government is actually run by aliens who arrived in space ships in the ’50s. I’m somewhat skeptical of this. I’ve always been a fan of getting firsthand data.
I’ve known Keith Raniere for about three years now. I am very fortunate to call him my friend. George Lucas had Joseph Campbell as a mentor and I am fortunate enough to have Keith as an adviser in my filmmaking endeavors. When I first met Keith, I was very careful and skeptical of him. One of the problems for me (which turned out to be an asset) was that he was not authoritative and yet people were saying a number of great things about him. But he just acted like a normal guy.
So how do you know someone’s intent? One way might be to see how they live their life. I have taken time to really watch how he lives his life and how he conducts himself.
This is a guy who lives very simply. He owns very little (sinister?), doesn’t drive a car (some might think that’s sinister), and took a vow of non-violence many years ago (some call it weird, others call it noble). He is extremely conscious of his ecological impact and goes so far as to tear up little pieces of a paper towel to use rather than the whole square. This is a really down-to-earth, warm-hearted guy who really cares about other human beings and is devoted to inspiring people to be the best they possibly can.
For some reason, there are those who think that it is not possible to aspire to be noble but, instead, there must be some bad intent at work. Why? What are the criteria being used to evaluate his true motives and those of ACI? A scared feeling that someone has because they heard a story (that was designed to scare them)? Questionable data on a website? Yes, it’s true he has never responded to the allegations made against him in the media. Is that a sentence of guilt?
There are two ways to gather data. The scientific method and the unscientific method. The scientific method: Gather data and form a flexible hypothesis. The unscientific method: Form a hypothesis based not on data but some prejudice or ‘feeling’ and then find data that matches.
What does all this have to do with this forum? Well, it’s this very non-thinking that seems to be at the root of many human travesties.
A Cappella Innovations in my understanding is attempting to promote a more humanity-based experience through expression and voice. That is the reason I am involved. In Africa, many tribes use singing and dancing to express the way they feel about certain things. Injustices, births, deaths, life. I always found it to be an inspiring tool of transformation.
It seems in some of the posts, that the search for nefariousness is a foregone conclusion and now some are just fighting for the ‘proof’ of badness. To be skeptical of others’ intent is a wise thing. But there is a distinct difference between skepticism and cynicism. Skepticism involves evaluation and study and critical thinking. Cynicism, on the other hand, is the refusal to critically evaluate and the attempt to make something bad.
It concerns me that some people who are complaining the loudest about the possible nefariousness of ACI, NXIVM, etc. are the ones behaving destructively, both in words and actions. Perhaps the reason they assume bad intent of other people is because they themselves have bad intent and, consequently, assume all others do as well.
Maybe not everyone does…
I met some wonderful people this weekend and hope to be friends with them for a long time. Thank You to all of you who participated in this in the spirit in which it was intended.
All my very best,