When Mark Vicente testified for the prosecution, he told a number of very distressing stories about the man known as Vanguard, Keith Alan Raniere.
He was the second witness at the trial – and he was examined for days. It was not pretty.
When it came time to cross examine him, Marc Agnifilo, Raniere’s attorney, knew he had to do something to discredit this very damaging witness.
He knew that Vicente had been a member of the Ramtha School of Enlightenment – and he seized on this to try to discredit him.
As you will see from the sidebar, Agnifilo reveals his strategy, outside the presence of the jury, for dwelling on the Ramtha period of Vicente’s life.
As a word of explanation, it was introduced in evidence that Vicente had written a letter of resignation to the Executive Board of NXIVM where her wrote, “I’m terrified writing this. I was with another organization and I did something similar and things went south pretty badly.”
That other organization was Ramtha, which some say is a cult. This opened the door for Agnifilo’s cross examination of Vicente on Ramtha.
Agnifilo: What is Ramtha?
Vicente: Ramtha is the spiritual entity that a woman, J.Z. Knight, believes that she channels.
Q Were you a member of the Ramtha School of Enlightenment at some time before joining NXIVM?
A I was.
Q What years were you there?
A I think various times between 1994 and I think 2004.
Q So for ten years?
A Yes, but I traveled backwards and forwards for ten years.
Q You gave the name of a woman when I asked about Ramtha?
A The woman what heads the organization is J.Z. Knight.
Q J.Z. Knight?
Q Tell me if this is right, J.Z. Knight believes she is channeling a 35,000-year-old warrior?
A That’s my understanding.
Q It’s your understanding because you were a member of the group?
A It’s my understanding because that’s what she said again and again, and again.
Q How did you come to join Ramtha?
A Somebody referred me at one point and said, ‘Hey, you got to check this out,’ I think in South Africa actually. And then at some point I went up and attended a weekend.
A That would have been Yelm, Washington.
Q They have a campus in Washington State, right?
A Yes, they call it the ranch but, yes.
Q Just give us a quick run-down of what would you do in Ramtha? What did you do in Ramtha?
A It was a body of knowledge…. I don’t know how much I can say because I — there may be issues by my discussing things here. I don’t know the legal issues for me.
Q Like what?
A Getting sued for saying something. I don’t know. I don’t understand how the law works in this room. Maybe in this room I can say anything that is mine.
AGNIFILO: I would like permission to ask the witness about his experience.
THE COURT: You can, go ahead. You need to answer, you’re under oath. This a Court proceeding.
AUSA MARK LESKO: May we have a side bar?
THE COURT: Okay.
The attorneys went up to the judge.
LESKO: Your Honor, we haven’t objected to this line of cross-examination. I frankly don’t expect to object in the near term. But I would make the point that this is extensive cross-examination on the Ramtha affiliation. At some point, we will start objecting if it goes too long and too detailed. I want to alert everyone to that factor.
AUSA MOIRA PENZA: Can we have a proffer of how far we’ll go?
AGNIFILO: I’ve never spoken to this witness. I don’t know what he’s going to say about it. He mentioned it obviously in his letter to the [NXIVM] executive board, so I have the right I believe to explore it. I don’t think the jury or anybody else wants to hear too much about Ramtha. I do intend to get the basic idea of what Ramtha is.
I want to understand what his problem was that he referenced in the letter to the executive board. Because he seems to be linking his own fear, that’s what he said when he said in the letter is, “I’m terrified writing this. I was with another organization and I did something similar and things went south pretty badly.” I need to know what that statement that he made to the executive board in a letter means. I need the context for what that means.
LESKO: We don’t have an issue with that. The concern I have is Mr. Agnifilo dwelling or focusing intensely on aliens communicating to this woman and, therefore, to her followers.
THE COURT: 35,000-year-old aliens.
LESKO: That’s unduly prejudicial and inflammatory, and frankly a side-show.
THE COURT: Let’s go forward. And when you think things are irrelevant or —
PENZA: I think the word alien is irrelevant.
AGNIFILO: But the jury has to figure out if this man is trustworthy. Is he trustworthy? Is he someone that we should make — one of the things the Judge is going to instruct on — I’m speaking. I’m speaking.
PENZA: Speak to the Judge.
AGNIFILO: Fair enough. When the Court instructs the jury as to whether they would rely on this person in making a serious decision in their own life, I think they should know that he thinks that it’s good to join a group where a 35,000-year-old warrior is being channeled through a woman. I think that might be something that they would want to consider in whether they should trust him. I’m not going to dwell on it, but we’re going to talk about it and see what he says.
THE COURT: Well, I’ll be watching. And if you have an objection, you’ll let me know and we’ll take it from there.
(End of sidebar conference.)
(In open court.)
THE COURT: You may continue.
AGNIFILO: Thank you. Have you met J.Z. Knight?
A I have met J.Z. Knight.
Q How much time have you spent with J.Z. Knight?
A I don’t know that I can quantify it, a fair amount of time.
Q Did you believe that J.Z. Knight was channeling a 35,000-year-old warrior?
A For a few years.
Q And how did you reach that conclusion?
A Belief versus evidence.
Q So there was no evidence that compelled you to the conclusion that — let me finish — that J.Z. Knight was in fact channeling a 35,000-year-old warrior; fair to say?
A There was evidence. But in retrospect, I don’t know that I would have called it scientific evidence.
Q What was the evidence that J.Z. Knight was channeling a 35,000-year-old warrior?
A They would bring in scientists to do a series of measurements, run a series of tests. The scientists would say: this is verifiable, this is really happening.
Q Did you reach a conclusion during your time in Ramtha that J.Z. Knight perhaps was not channeling a 35,000-year-old warrior?
A Towards the end, yes.
Q What caused to you reach that conclusion?
A It didn’t make sense in the end to me. I was challenged on something that didn’t make sense. Then I felt I was threatened in a way that didn’t make sense.
Q How were you threatened?
A What I heard was that during a particular retreat intensive, she had allegedly said in front a thousand people that I’m going to die a terrible death. I realized, okay so now a thousand people in that room that may decide that that’s what they should do, let me die a horrible death.
Q I misunderstood, J.Z. Knight said that of herself?
A No, allegedly she said it of me, that I would die a horrible death in front of over a thousand very zealous people.
Q That scared you?
A You could say that.
Q What you said in your letter to the executive board of NXIVM, is that you’re terrified to write these things because you had done this once before in another group and things went south pretty quickly. That’s a passage you just read.
Q So what happened?
A The organization turned against me.
A The whole company.
Q Was that before or after you made the movie, ‘What The Bleep Do We Know?’
A That was after it was made.
Q And “What The Bleep Do We Know”, you made with two other people who are in Ramtha?
Q And was the movie, “What The Bleep Do We Know”, in some way related to the Ramtha philosophies?
A It was.
Q How so?
A Many of the ideas in that film were ideas that were discussed in that educational model.
Q How did you end up leaving Ramtha?
A I’m not clear on that, what do you mean?
Q How did you leave? Did you resign? Were you kicked out? How did it happen?
A No. I wrote a letter, then those things happened, then I just never went back.
Q So you wrote a letter, and then Ms. Knight said the thing about you dying a violent death.
A That’s my understanding, yes.
Q So what was the letter about before the woman channeling the 35,000-year-warrior said these things?
A It was concerns about people backstabbing each other and people saying things behind each other’s back. And also I didn’t believe she was getting actual information. Because in essence, I don’t know if I said exactly this way, but I said everybody is so busy kissing your ass, they are not telling you the truth.
Q You said that to Ms. Knight?
A That was the kind of thing I think I said.
Q You were critical of the head of the program of Ramtha, Ms. Knight?
A The entire system. I thought there was a problem with the system.
Q So fair to say, what you’re talking about when you write the letter to the [NXIVM] executive board in January 2016, the reference you’re making is your circumstances exiting Ramtha years earlier, correct?
A Yes. And expressing myself and what I thought was going on as trying to help and the response was not good.
Q Okay. Is it fair to say that throughout your life, you’ve been looking to do important things – is that fair to say?
A I would say that.
Q And when you joined Ramtha, you wanted to do important things there, correct?
Q And when you joined NXIVM, you wanted to do important things there, right?
Q You said a few times on direct and cross-examination –let me ask you a more specific question. When I was asking about Ramtha —
Q — and I asked if you really thought that this woman was channeling a 35,000-year-old warrior, you felt it was true at that time?
THE COURT: You may answer.
A At the time, yes, I thought it was possible.
Q You don’t think it’s true anymore, do you?
Q So, you thought it was true through 2004, but you don’t think it’s true anymore?
Q And once upon a time you thought NXIVM was wonderful, didn’t you?
Q And you don’t think so anymore?
A I think there are many wonderful people. But I think there’s some problems.
AGNIFILO: Your Honor, I have nothing else.
THE COURT: Very well.
And so Agnifilo closed his cross-examination of Vicente on the sweet note of how foolish the underpinning of the Ramtha sult was.
I do not know about you, but if a woman who told a thousand people who believed rabidly that she was getting secret information from an infallible, enlightened, all-knowing ghost of a warrior who lived 35,000 years ago, that I was going to meet with a violent death, a horrible death, I would have some concern.
These are end-of-the-world type people who have hidden bunkers out there in Yelm, Washington where they hide guns and store survival food – and all it would take is one out of thousand who wanted to prove old Ramtha was right and it might not be pretty.
Vicente challenged the foundations of Ramtha when he saw some contradictions in the behavior of the lady, J.Z Knight, who had thousands who believed her story. There were thousands who built their life around her – and her channelling of Ramtha.
Vicente did some dangerous cult bashing.
And a thousand believers were told Vicente was going to die a horrible death – because Ramtha said so.
Right after leaving Ramtha, he was recruited by Nancy Salzman and Barbara Bouchey – and Vicente came aboard the NXIVM ship. Compared to Ramtha, it must have seemed pretty safe and sane.
With a lovely man, a genius with a soft voice who only wanted to create a more noble civilization, not a man who pretended to find wisdom from some old ghost, but a man who possessed all wisdom within himself, much more than any old Ramtha and he would share it with you or anyone.
Vicente spent 10 years with Ramtha and 13 years with Raniere. It’s easy to criticize. What it shows me is that Vicente was a seeker. He wanted to find answers and, as he said, do something worthwhile.
He had some hits. His “What the Bleep” movie was a success. His appearance and contribution to HBO’s “The Vow” was seen by millions. It is educational. He may have been fooled by Knight and then fooled againby Raniere, but when he stopped being fooled, he left both groups – and, in the case of NXIVM, he did something about it.
His critics say he left NXIVM much later than he should have. I don’t know. I do know that when we were in the trenches, he was a pretty good fighter.
Smart and determined to not back down. He did not run and hide like many of the others who ran from NXIVM.
His detractors say he destroyed a beautiful thing – the NXIVM community. But he could not quite abide – I know because I was there – branding women with Keith Raniere’s initials. I think, as I recall, the most objectionable part of it to him, was that the women were lied to about the brand.
They were told it was the symbol of the four elements. Even Ramtha would not have told a lie like that.
Viva Executive Success!