By Paul Serran
For the last few years, NXIVM has become a household name in America.
Articles, books, documentaries, podcasts, videos – a multitude of stories were told (and are being told) about Keith Raniere and his followers.
Most of these stories were told by insiders from the cult, while others carry an outside view, by people who have a different – maybe less informed, and less saturated, take on the Vanguard and his undoing.
There is an interesting video on YouTube about NXIVM, made by a filmmaker named Blair, AKA the ‘iiluminaughtii’. She has 883,000 followers, and this video has had over 1.4 million views – which is more than many TV shows achieve on cable TV.
Blair covers multi-level marketing organizations and criminal activities, but she realizes that this is a much deeper and darker side of NXIVM:
“NXIVM may not be one of the more well-known MLMs I’ve covered, but they’re definitely vastly more disturbing, and the most cult-like organization I think I’ve come across aside from actual cults.”
Before getting into the NXIVM story, she says that Keith Raniere “has a dark and very alarming past.” She states he committed his first crime in 1984, when he was 24 years old, sleeping with 15-year-old Gina Hutchinson.
[This to date is only an allegation since Gina has passed away, dying by a gunshot wound in 2002, when she was in her 30s. Her death has been ruled a suicide. The allegations of his underage sex come from Gina’s sister and a friend of hers, who also alleges she was underage when Raniere had sex with her.]
Blair talks briefly about the Raniere’s appearance in the Guinness Book of Records.
Having an interest in MLM schemes, she talks about Consumers’ Byline: “Keith apparently founded this on the principle that a more ethical world would consist of people that understood and pursued their goals in aggressive and ruthless ways, which is just rich, coming from a guy who slept with a minor.”
Consumers’ Byline was alleged to be an illegal pyramid scheme by various governmental authorities, leading her to comment: “To be clear, a guy with an IQ of 240 supposedly, couldn’t figure out how to run an MLM without being shut down for pyramid scheme allegations.”
The video is centered around the venture that Keith started with Nancy Salzmann – a ‘psychiatric nurse’, at the time: “The third MLM was called Executive Success Programs, later rebranded as what we will be focusing on today, NXIVM.”
NXIVM members had a 12-step mission statement that included that “they would pledge to ‘ethically control as much of the money wealth and resources of the world as possible’ – yeah, that’s real.”
Blair recounts how Raniere was referred to as Vanguard, and how he enrolled actress Allison Mack in his organization.
“Keith lured her into the group and Mack, in return, targeted sororities with young women and that would trust her, look up to her and join.”
The Youtuber shows an excerpt of the video Keith and Mack made, where we watch him say: “True self inauthenticity is blindness, it’s an incompletion.”
“[This] sounds so deep and so thoughtful on the surface – he comes across like a wise intelligent man when, in reality, that phrase holds almost no weight. You can’t be honest if you lie to yourself. If I say that in plain wording, without his tone – yeah, it’s pretty obvious,” Blair says.
“Keith’s manipulations are top-notch”, she observes. “I’m not sure if he actually believes what he’s saying, or he’s just using it as a tactic, but without his language and tone, I doubt he would have gotten this far.”
She notes that people paid US $7,500 for intensives to learn “NXIVM’s patented Executive Success Program technology – a patchwork of various self-help programs, religious ideologies, and hypnosis techniques.”
But, she adds, “plain and simple, this really looks like brainwashing.”
“Women were hoping for a giant makeover and inspiration, [but] those that joined were told to diet and eat 800 calories a day instead of the 2,000 recommended. […] But I’m sure followers found a way to justify that he was only helping them change their lives right.”
In discussing DOS, Blair advises the content will be graphic, and asks that sensitive people skip the video at that point.
The reason is she will start discussing branding.
She quotes Sarah Edmonson saying that the pain from the scarification is “worse than childbirth”.
She also quotes Toni Natalie saying that “Keith was able to […] immediately ascertain your weak points and insecurities, and then [take] those insecurities and [convince] you he’s helping you with them – but it’s just things he uses to hold you hostage.”
When talking about DOS, she says that “These women didn’t feel that they had a choice – they’d been brainwashed, they were starving, they were branded – and higher-ups in NXIVM had nude photos of them to blackmail them.”
In Blair’s opinion, the situation is clear: “They were slaves and they were tortured.”
As it often happens when someone discusses NXIVM with any degree of nuance, she talks about the consequential work of Frank Parlato.
“It wasn’t until 2017 that the full extent of what NXIVM really was came to light – thanks to Frank Parlato, a former NXIVM publicist.”
“Frank faces charges for his actions against the IRS and wire fraud, but he is no longer believed to have stolen a million dollars from heirs of the Seagram liquor fortune. Frank says that, in fact, it was Keith Raniere and Clare Bronfman that set him up.”
The YouTuber reminds us that Clare’s father, Edgar Bronfman, was quoted in Forbes magazine stating his opinion that NXIVM is (was) a cult.
Blair recounts how Parlato recovered assets for Clare, but she went after him anyway.
The video author has an interesting take on the event: “As messed up as this sounds – accusing someone of a crime they didn’t commit – I’m grateful it happened, if not Frank may never have made the in-depth report on NXIVM in 2017.”
“[Parlato] spoke in depth about the branding process and wrote an article citing why Dr. Danielle Roberts, a medical professional that actually carried out this branding, should have her license revoked. […] Whether or not Frank did this as some sort of revenge – or he was horrified all along – I can’t speak to his intentions, but thanks in part to Frank getting the ball rolling, the New York Times picked up the story.”
She quotes Parlato: “Shortly after I broke the branding story in June 2017, on the Frank Report, […] the New York Times was putting together, or trying to put together, a story. Barry Meier, the New York Times writer, that most thorough and spectacular wordsmith, a man who can – in a thousand words – destroy a cult, was seeking to find people to go on the record. Naturally, I was willing. But who was I? Just an indicted guy – indicted by Bronfman’s lies – who wrote a salacious blog, condemning back at them – maybe with lies. What proof was there that this insane story was true? Maier needed other people on the record to write a story about the secretive group that branded women.”
Parlato continues: “Now, you all know the wealthy Bronfman’s propensity to litigate. You must realize that the New York Times has to survive on its credibility, and if you put these two facts together, you will realize how hard it was for The Times to actually publish the story, and the only way it was ever going to be published is with ample sources on the record, and complete vetting. So, who was going to be on the record?. Almost no one. The only woman who was branded – and this was bravery if there ever was – who was willing to go on record [and actually show the world the branding] was Sara Edmondson, but I doubt she would have done that if Mark [Vicente] had not been there first, willing to go on the record, putting himself on the line. […] Again, let me remind you: there was no investigation by law enforcement – he was far more likely to be investigated himself by law enforcement in the Northern District of New York. Keith and the witch-like Clare Bronfman were almost sure to go and file some false criminal complaint against him.”
After Raniere’s arrest in late March 2018, his followers and defense team tried to justify his behavior, but, Blair recalls, charges started pilling on until they were “almost too long to list”.
Blair says “MLM [Multi-Level Marketing] is the least of his crimes”.
“Raniere’s statement, which was read at trial,” she adds, “accused the media of shaming the women for engaging in consensual activities and spearheading a campaign against the rights of women and alternative lifestyles.”
This prompts her question: “How can you defend something you have no knowledge about?”
The YouTuber is offended by Raniere’s relationship with Rhiannon, who was 12 years old. He took her virginity, she points out, “before Rhiannon was even in middle school.” That was not all, she says, “Raniere was accused of raping at least four other children between the ages of 12 to 15 in that timeframe.”
“I’m not going to sit here and explain why that’s fucked up – if you need to debate that point, you really need to take a look at yourself in the mirror.”
One aspect that Blair finds distressing is the continuing nature of Raniere’s crimes. “Often, when I hear about shady businesses, their worst acts have been decades ago. I’m not saying that excuses anything, but, at least, it feels like there’s progress being made. […] But [NXIVM] wasn’t shut down until two and a half years ago, and what the complaint alleges is nothing short of utterly terrifying.”
The video also touches upon other terrible aspects of the cult, such as the ‘human fright experiments’ by Dr, Brandon Porter, the captivity of Daniela for being in love with another man, among other crimes.
In terms of aesthetic considerations, Blair’s video is much like a podcast, with a loop of drawn cartoons that are funny and screengrabs of news pieces as visual aids. There are also excerpts of videos to create variety.
It seems to be working, since she has a viewership that is huge.
As time passes on, the real-life saga of NXIVM still keeps audiences intrigued.
You can see the iiluminaughtii video here: