Frank Report published a report by Leo Helmar about a controversy between the collegiate a cappella community and NXIVM.
As Helmar reported, there were allegations that members of an a cappella group trashed a hotel room, even strewing feces and urine about, to protest NXIVM’s attempt to infiltrate the a cappella community.
The perpetrators were unnamed.
Last week documentarian John Wilson, star of How-To With John Wilson, brings the story to his HBO series, How To With John Wilson, in the episode, “How to Appreciate Wine.” Wilson was a college student at Binghamton University, a member of the a cappella group, the Binghamton Crosbys. He and others trashed the room.
He was forced to apologize to Clare Bronfman, who paid for the room, over the hotel incident.
The Back Story
In 2007, Keith Raniere began cultivating an interest in NXIVM in a cappella, the vocal performance art performed without instrumental accompaniment. Raniere formed a NXIVM-members group called Simply Human..
While Keith did not sing, he coached the singers; for them it was an opportunity to be trained by the smartest man in the world.
Clare Bronfman, who also did not sing, funded two festivals called ‘A Cappella Innovations,” a several day-long workshop, crowned with a live performance of college a cappella groups and Simply Human, at the Egg in downtown Albany.
Invitations were made to college a cappella groups, with the offer to pay for hotel and travel expenses. NXIVM’s role in the festival was not disclosed.
It was announced that, at one of the workshops, Clare’s brother, Edgar Bronfman Jr, then president of Warner Music, would attend and it was inferred that some lucky group might wind up with a recording contract.
TV stars, Smallville’s Allison Mack and Kristin Kreuk, and Battlestar Gallactica’s Nicki Clyne would host the concert.
It was not mentioned that the three were students of NXIVM.
The first A Cappella Innovations, in December 2007, went off well. IN 2008, A Cappella Innovations again was assembled.
At this second festival, references were made to Raniere’s Rational Inquiry. Attendees were asked for social security numbers, home addresses and other contact information. It seemed to some that there was surveillance of attendees, and feedback and tone of the conference, instead of focusing on input from judges and other singers on vocal performance, focused on “existential topics”.
At the concert, a banner with Raniere’s name was displayed on stage.
He also appeared at some of the events.
According to HBO’s Wilson, Raniere “lurked around the venue all evening, giving lofty speeches about the transformative power of a cappella.”
In an interview with for Esquire, Wilson said, “He just floated around the Egg in Albany. To everyone else that worked for the A Capella Innovation event, he was this sacred figure… He spoke in all these grand overtures about discovery and expression and uplifting voices. And he would refer to us as a collective.”
An Online Thread Discusses NXIVM’s Role in Festival
While the festival was ongoing, on the online forum for RARB [Recorded A Cappella Review Board] and CASA [Contemporary A Cappella Society, founded by Deke Sharon], a thread appeared entitled “A Cappella Innovations,” started by an anonymous poster who claimed to be “a member of a collegiate a cappella group”.
The thread ran 14 pages and 204 posts.
Bronfman joined the thread to defend Raniere, telling the a cappella community that Raniere is “one of the top 3 problem solvers in the world” and “in the Guinness Book under highest IQ, 1989”.
Deke Sharon, known as the father of modern a cappella, weighed in on the thread questioning NXIVM’s involvement and challenging Bronfman. This, in turn, led to NXIVM beginning an investigation into Sharon, which was revealed during the trial of Keith Raniere in 2019.
On the a cappella community thread, one of the questions was “Why would NXIVM invest resources into this festival with nothing to show for it in return, especially given that the sponsorship was not disclosed or advertised in advance”?
Raniere joined the thread to respond: “With respect to a product such as Red Bull, I believe in free enterprise and shameless plugs (I just typed pugs!) Nxivm is different. Nxivm is a method to inspire humanity and its primary objective is not to earn money for the owners. In this way, Nxivm and a cappella are sisters—both derive from the same thing. Products like Red Bull provide a value for the purpose of earning money for the owners, this is different…
“I’ve always found it suspicious when nobody says anything good about something except for the something itself (say that 5 times fast)—except I view it the opposite way from most: even Charles Manson has others claiming he is good. If there is no good, I start to think of censorship and bias…
“But it is so much more important if you come to your own conclusions than if I argue with you about them. You may find the smoke comes from a surprising source.”
Another question posed was why NXIVM hadn’t been more upfront about sponsorship considering it was collecting information like social security numbers and home addresses of people in the a cappella community.
Raniere responded: “It is a very important ethical question: under what conditions should people who share in a given activity disclose this to others. If you examine this generalized situation and apply such a study to the current situation (as we have), you may get some surprising results.”
Lauren Salzman entered the thread, suggesting that people from the a cappella community come to NXIVM’s headquarters and meet Raniere to get more “data.”
Salzman challenged Sharon and other members of the community to reveal what “data” they would need to trust Raniere.
Controversial After Party
At the end of the festival, there was a party.
Wilson claims that the festival had been set up to recruit people into 10C, “a new, ambiguous social network that you had to sign up for,” Wilson told Esquire. “At the closing night party… there was a big reveal that this is what the event was actually for.”
Mack, who hosted the party, described how she and Nicki Clyne were cornered by a group of men firing questions about NXIVM and their intentions. She claimed they invaded her physical space, conducting a “witch hunt”.
“I think we were cocky because there were 12 or 13 of us, and we were going to try and sound the alarm for the other a capella groups and events, Wilson told for Esquire. “We made a full semicircle around Alison Mack and others and interrogated them about who these people were, like the woman who took herself out in a rowboat and drowned herself after one of those executive success programs.”
“We screamed at Allison Mack and Keith Raniere in front of the rest of the a cappella groups and scrawled the names of the suicide victims on the whiteboards they had set up on the walls,” Wilson said in the episode, “How to Appreciate Wine.”
[Editor’s note: According to one eyewitness, Raniere was not at the party. This person has photos of the party, she says.]
Now to explain, Wilson’s reference to suicide, as readers of Frank Report know, there were at least two purported suicides connected to Raniere: Gina Hutchinson in 2002, and Kristin Snyder in 2003.
The reference to the woman in the rowboat was Snyder, who purportedly went out in a kayak in Resurrection Bay in Seward Alaska in February 2003 to commit suicide. Her body was never found,
My film on Investigation Discovery, The Lost Women of NXIVM offers evidence that it may not have been suicide, and that Snyder disappeared after claiming she was pregnant with Raniere’s child.
According to one witness, the men cooled off and there was an amicable conversation between them, including Wilson.
“I am somewhat of a celebrity having over 6 million viewers per week” Mack wrote in the thread, referencing her role on Smallville. She said the attacks on NXIVM from Ross, Forbes, etc. came from detractors targeting NXIVM.
A Shitty Hotel Room
After the festival, the hotel where the groups stayed informed Clare Bronfman that one of the rooms was damaged and asked her to pay for the cleanup. Mack accused students of defacing the room with urine and feces.
Wilson told Esquire, “They accused us of doing some pretty gross stuff. We did damage to the hotel room, but nothing near what they were suggesting…
“… we went back to Binghamton and people were talking about it on an a capella message board. The conversation blew up and NXIVM—through Allison, Clare and Keith—was trying to put out this fire on the thread. There were long paragraphs from Keith where he was trying to defend himself and the event.”.
Bronfman entered the thread and issued an ultimatum for the perpetrators to apologize within three days for damaging the hotel room or face consequences.
The Dean of Binghamton University spoke with Wilson and told him to apologize or risk being expelled.
Wilson told Vanity Fair, “I did have to have a frank conversation with the dean of my college at the time and try to explain to her who these people were and why they were so malicious. She just didn’t believe me.”for
Wilson told Esquire, “Everyone was so upset with me because I was the president of the a capella group at the time. Clare agreed to call the pursuit off as long as I apologized personally to her for some reason. I had no idea who she was though. I really didn’t know how nefarious NXIVM was then, and how much more steam they had in them to do what they did next. I didn’t realize Clare was the heiress to the Seagrams fortune. I didn’t realize how deep the money went with this organization and how many people would defend them. I felt powerless for a while.
Raniere went on trial in 2019, Wilson told Vanity Fair, “I was texting with my a cappella friends when that started. We were like, ‘Oh, my God!’ We just felt so vindicated.’
He told Thrillist.com, “I feel like NXIVM fever really wasn’t where it is today. I’ve been sitting with this story since 2007… Then, when the tabloids started picking up the story, I started to get this rush and I started to watch it snowball. I realized, ‘Okay, now is the time to do this.’ It was a real catharsis.”