The Truthiest Life is a podcast hosted by Lisa Hayim. On The Truthiest Life, host Lisa Hayim “shares tips, tools, and conversations that will leave you inspired and ready to live your own truthiest life.”
Recently, she had Sylvie Lloyd, a former member of NXIVM and DOS, on her podcast. She said some things that might help some people still hurting from what happened to them in DOS and other abusive groups find the strength to heal.
Hyam explained that Sylvie “simply is here because she wants to heal, be healed, and heal other victims who may feel some of the shame she was left with.”
Sylvie said of her appearance, “If this podcast could speak to anybody who has been a victim, and then had to also testify and stand up and feel the weight of that, and everything that comes in the aftermath of that, I would love to help them feel not alone in that part of the struggle. And so, if this could speak to anybody in that way, that’s what I would love to do.”
Listen to the podcasts here.
Sylvie was the first witness for the prosecution in the trial of Keith Raniere. Hayim’s interview is compelling and exciting.
Sylvie Lloyd was born and raised in the United Kingdom. One of four children, she was the youngest. As a child, Sylvie had a “normal/privileged” upbringing. Her family had horses, and she competed in show jumping since she was a child. At 16, Sylvie quit school to train with show jumpers in the UK for a couple of years. Then she came to America in 2005 to train with an elite rider.
Her name is Clare Bronfman. Sylvie was 18.
Below are excerpts from Part 1, edited because people speak differently than they write.
In her interview, Sylvie did not mention Clare Bronfman’s name.
Here is some of what she said
Clare Loves Keith
The person I came in [to NXIVM] under was in love with Keith and still is. She would still be 100 percent supportive and would do anything for him.
I worked for her and trained under her [as a show jumper] and hoped to get opportunities. I felt like this was an amazing opportunity to achieve my dreams.
But this person was heavily entrenched in NXIVM. And all the people that worked for her also took the [NXIVM] classes. So, it was expected you’d take the classes and the person with whom I was training paid for them.
The Five-Day Intensive
The first class was a five-day course. For the first two days, I didn’t speak at all.
I was so nervous and so weirded out by what was happening. The way they talked about Keith Raniere freaked me out because my experience of English culture is that you don’t have idols.
You don’t overly idolize someone. You didn’t make idols of just normal people. And here was this person, ‘we call him the Vanguard.’ And he was the most amazing, intelligent man in the world.
And like you didn’t even meet him.
They were talking about him like an ethereal creature. So, it was strange to me, right from the start, that there was this person who was the greatest in the universe. That was the way he was talked about. ‘We’re so lucky to be taking these classes because he’s created all this curriculum. You can become the person you’re going to be.’
It just freaked me out. It just freaked me out.
And then, some classes themselves were freaking me out. One of the first things I remember is that you were supposed to create an excited state and act it out to the whole class. I’m not an exhibitionist. And so, it’s like, ‘Oh, my God.’ For one, I’d never spoken about my feelings in general. I think that is another example of English culture. So, I was like, I can’t even think of the last time I was excited. I couldn’t participate.
Two days into the intensive, she wanted to quit.
I couldn’t just quit that class without major repercussions. That meant saying goodbye to my dreams. So, there was that huge pressure. I felt like I didn’t have another option. And going back to England after having only been there for a few weeks felt like a failure to me.
I was just terrified the whole time. And so that was the first couple of days, and then on the third day, there was this class where they talked about suppressives. These are the bad people.
When they see something good in the world, they want to squash it. However, there are different levels of who a suppressive person could be. And the path that takes you down to being a suppressive person, and part of the way they pitch this, was that if you feel uncomfortable around the Vanguard, Keith Raniere, you could be one of those people.
And then I was like,’ Oh my god, I have to, I’m like, the bad person, I might be a suppressive.’
And it terrified me. It’s funny now. But as an 18-year-old, I was never exposed to any of this. That is the thing that hooked me. I was worried, ‘I’m a suppressive, and I don’t want to be suppressive. I will do anything to try and be a good person.’
That was what hooked me in.
Good and Bad According to Vanguard
There was another class on good and bad. He redefines good and bad. This leaves the door wide open for his own immorality to reign free. He changed the definition of things.
I took the same classes hundreds of times because that’s how they have you do it.
They were like, ‘for sure. You have to take it twice, this five-day course. So, the more you take it, the better.’
So, we took these classes over and over to the point where I know all the stories and metaphors used in the teachings, and sometimes would say it as a joke, although not so much anymore. It was different little stories. I know those classes so well.
It affected my brain. It affected my thinking. And it takes a lot of undoing to try not to do this kind of automatic thinking programmed into my head.
Sylvie Meets the Vanguard
Sylvie met Keith about a week after taking her first class.
I actually had to tell this story on the stand, and I think it was funny. He had this weird thing. He liked to play volleyball in the middle of the night. I just think he liked to do weird things and make people do them for him. So, we’d all have to watch him play volleyball with a group of other people. But it would be like from midnight to five in the morning.
I was greatly encouraged to come to volleyball to meet with Keith, like, this is a grand honor. I remember showing up at ABC Fitness at two in the morning. And there’s this tiny man with a 70s sweatband and a ponytail, and he’s tiny, sweaty, and creepy. And that was my first experience with him.
And he would just come up and kiss you on the lips. In English culture, that’s not invited. But then, that was the standard that was set.
It’s so gross. I put so many things down to ‘this must be an American thing,’ which now I laugh at.
There were many things about that experience that were weird to me. And it’s not that they didn’t continue to be weird to me all along. He lived in a house with two other women. So, I would try to reframe things in my mind or make them more palatable to me, where I was like, ‘oh, one of them’s his friend.’ I wouldn’t ask any questions. I didn’t want to think about things as weird.
I’d see him walking around the neighborhood with all these women and always surrounding himself with all these women.
I’d think, ‘well, he’s helping them,’ but underneath, I’d be like, ‘That’s creepy. That’s creepy. This is creepy. I find him creepy.’
But that voice that thinks became quiet. It wasn’t that it wasn’t there. But there was no one I could say this to who would agree. No one would speak blasphemy against Keith. That was just not the way it was.
A Boiling Frog
In NXIVM, they talk about a frog in boiling water. You could put a frog in tepid water and raise the temperature, raise the temperature, and raise the temperature until it boils itself alive. And it would never jump out. And they would teach this metaphor.
And I think, ‘Yeah, that was other people and me.’ But things got weirder, more traumatic over time. But I didn’t notice.
I was numb to what was normal. That’s the way he had it structured. The whole thing is doing whatever he wants and setting it up in a way that we would agree was a good idea. Things that are 100% wrong.
NXIVM had centers in Albany, New York City, Mexico City, Guatemala, Guadalajara, Monterrey, Mexico, Vancouver, Miami, LA. When Sylvie first came, there were only two centers — in Seattle and Albany.
I don’t even want to try and get into Keith’s head. But there were certain people he would push, like, ‘You need to move to Albany.’ Of course, he did that with many people. But I’m sure it was mostly the younger women looking at it retrospectively.
I always laugh because I’m like, ‘Oh, I wish I could have seen things differently.’ After all, it’s almost so obvious and sick that he surrounded himself with women he wanted under his control. Of course, that doesn’t mean there weren’t families or men that moved there.
Many professionals have said Keith is a sociopathic narcissist or malignant narcissist.
Everybody had a purpose around him. You might not know what that purpose was or how you fit into the puzzle, but everyone was a tool in his game. There was a mix of people up there. But there were certain people he pushed hard to get to move to Albany, and he was successful with some and not with others.
Clare Brought Her in Deeper
Clare flew her horse from the UK to the US to train with Sylvie.
My horse is here. My life is now suddenly here. It felt like a runaway train. There were multiple times I tried to break free from living in America. And I’d always return because of things that Keith would say to me and things that this person [Clare] would say to me.
Keith would describe me as a robot to my ‘indoctrination.’ This was a word he used a lot. He even told me that if I ever had children, they wouldn’t love me because I was so cold. So, the answer to not being that way was to take more classes. It was the reason to stay the next year. Keith was the cure to all my ailments, and that was how he described it.
Clare Knew All
And the person who supported him, I saw as the biggest authority in my life. I’ve 100% felt like she had all the answers and would even say things like, “I know you better than you.” And I did believe this. I didn’t know myself. And I don’t think I did because I was so disconnected and disassociated. It’s not that I don’t know myself. I guess I was just traumatized. I didn’t even see it at the time.
The party line was Keith was always making people more successful. He wasn’t. He was attracting successful people. And then they were becoming less successful through staying in the next year. That’s the reality, looking back on it.
There was a Community
You felt it was an idealistic environment. People would be going after their goals, but nothing was achieved. I think that’s the thing that we were all blind to.
But you had this huge community of friends around you, a strange, eclectic mix because it was people from all different random walks of life. But at least you felt like you had friends and were surrounded by people. So, I think that was another huge hook.
That is probably what kept a lot of people in. ‘All my friends are here. I’m part of something bigger than me.’
They would get these testimonials from successful people and have them on video, saying things like, “Keith Raniere has changed my life.”
Or a famous actress, who had been there less a year, saying ‘This has done so much for me.’
I’ve never been in one of those videos. There was nothing that I could show, which I find funny considering the length of time I was there.
Sylvie’s Horror at Trial
I wish I could ask Moira Penza [the lead prosecutor] why my story was relevant to the bigger picture. And why I was [the] first [witness].
I felt like a guinea pig. I would have gone last. That might have been easier, but I’m sure it was just as hard for the last person as the first. But going first is like my nightmare.
While she was in DOS, she sent Keith naked photos. Those photos came up at trial – almost the first thing at trial.
There are literally hundreds of photos of my vagina—just my vagina, not my face. And I had no prior warning that this would be included in the trial. Keith’s lawyer found a loophole in how he could present this at trial without giving the prosecution a warning, without giving the judge a warning. He was like, This isn’t for evidence. It is for identification purposes.’
He spent, I don’t know how long. It was like hours and hours in my head. But it didn’t matter how long it was. So many photos were presented to me on a screen where I had to say, ‘Yes, this is my vagina. Yes, I sent it to Keith Raniere,’ and the judge is looking at pictures of my vagina to my left. There’s the prosecution in front of me. Keith is looking at these photos again.
I used to not speak about this without crying because it was the most deeply humiliating thing ever. It still is.
I’ve had an amazing therapist who has put a different spin on it. ‘Your vagina is so powerful it helped put Keith Raniere in prison.’ The first time she said it, it made me laugh so much it lifted like a giant weight off my shoulders.
She’s like, ‘No, your vagina is amazing. You’ve got to celebrate that.’
But at the time, my dad and my husband John were in the courtroom. There are tons of media. It was awful. Keith must have used that tactic. That is so Keith-like. Keith is written all over that type of behavior.
I’m not an exhibitionist in any way. So, it’s like they literally couldn’t be anything worse for me than something like that. It was humiliating enough to send Keith those photos in the first place. But having to look at them again and knowing that he’s looking at them right now. All his lawyers are looking at them. And he had so many lawyers at his table. The FBI agents I worked with are looking at them again.
The jurors were not allowed to look at the photos they decided, so they weren’t showing them to the jurors. But a few men [spectators] in the front row were like laughing.
I was like, ‘Whoa, I want to die.’ And it’s not a situation where you can be like, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore, I’m done.’
There are so many layers. You don’t want to perjure yourself. You’re trying to think. I have to remember everything as clearly as possible. There are so many things at stake.
It’s like, wow, [surprising her with those pictures to start the trial] that was like a big punch in the gut, right before we even got going.