The Karen Unterreiner interview for ‘A Little Bit Culty’ with Sarah Edmonson and Anthony Ames turned out to be a treasure trove of information for those who follow the ESP/NXIVM phenomenon.
Here is the final part of our edited and abbreviated version from ‘A Little Bit Culty.’
Listen to the podcast to hear the complete interview.
Does she still practice what she ‘learned’ at ESP?
I stopped being part of NXIVM about six months after Keith was arrested. I started to realize so much of what we called ‘tech’ was distorted.
I just didn’t feel good, and I was getting real therapy for myself. I was seeing the difference between dealing with a professional, versus us, amateurs. There’s so much that is distorted and used for not good.
I couldn’t do it.
People talk about all the classes, and everything. That they gained things out it; that classes were great.
Nancy Salzman says: ‘How could someone like Keith create this wonderful thing?’
As I’ve looked back at all the different things we taught, all the different concepts, I see how so many of them were used to manipulate people.
I mean, “ethical breach” could be a beautiful concept, but someone else telling you what your ethical breaches are?
It’s total abuse.
If someone got something out of it, great – but don’t ever bring this tool back up. EMs were often – I tried very hard not to do this – you were told to get somebody to think a certain way, [which is] the exact opposite of what we taught.
We were sent in to work with Barbara Bouchey. We had to get her to realize she was in the wrong with respect to Keith. I refused to do that. At the end, they sent me, because they gave up but I wasn’t going to try to do that.
I had to make it look like I was doing what the other guys want and then do what I thought was right. It was a really hard line to balance.
When Bonnie was waking up, she had an altercation with Nancy, and she came to me and asked me for help. And when I found out it was about Nancy, I’m like, ‘Oh, shoot, there’s no way this is going to end well for me’.
And so I said, “I can’t really help you with respect to her. But I will help you with respect to you.”
Nancy found out I was working with Bonnie, and I got in big trouble, because I hadn’t fixed Bonnie the way she wanted her fixed. There’s that pressure going on, and I’m sure Nancy had that from Keith at some level. I was considered weak because I wouldn’t do those things.
‘Keith was responsible for all good things’ was a red flag for Karen.
Everything that was good was Keith’s responsibility – and everything that was bad was our responsibility. That’s basically the red flag.
Kristin, who lived with us for a while – the mother of his first child – had one type of cancer. Barbara Jeske had brain cancer. What was suspicious is that Pam died of what started as kidney cancer, and I had bladder cancer – those two things are really close, literally connected. And that sounded suspicious.
Keith himself, when I got cancer, said, with his usual conspiracy theories, that somebody might have been trying to kill him, and maybe we should have the water tested at Flintlock. I’m the only one still living at Flintlock at this point.
And he didn’t want me moving out of there! You think it’s possible that it’s bad, here, but you don’t want me to move out? He’s the one who brought up the idea of testing stuff.
When Frank Parlato called me with the results of the hair test, I was pretty surprised that we actually came up with something.
I think it’s possible, but we don’t have any real proof that he could have been trying to get rid of us. I mean, he basically had written us off. We barely got crumbs, as we got older.
Barbara Jeske and myself. I mean, the question is, was he trying to kill us? I don’t know. But it’s possible. It’s definitely possible.
I survived the bladder cancer, and I’m 12 years cancer free.
‘There’s something wrong, here.’
It wasn’t like a moment, there were a couple of things. One, the fact that it was Marc Vicente. I had EM to Marc, I had heard his stories from his childhood, I had heard what he was doing in Mexico, and how scary it was.
I believe he was a very honorable, upright man. And when they started saying Marc was the one tearing this down, I went, ‘There’s something wrong, here’.
I had to shun him, because that was the rule. And it was the hardest thing. I think he said to me, “When did you start not liking me?”, and I wanted to say I did.
The biggest moment, for me, was Pam’s memorial. I had a meltdown. It was a bizarre event. We talked about how ‘Pam didn’t do crap’. She would help people, but she’d be just going on intuition. I loved her, but she was not this incredible humanitarian, or whatever else.
She was actually very mean to me at times. Even when I had cancer.
[The memorial] was so over the top, and I would look at it and think ‘This is not Pam’. Why are we taking this person and putting her up so high, on a pedestal? Barbara Jeske got like a little gathering, you know, but this was like the very sad funeral.
And there was that whole weird thing where I had to walk around pretending she was alive for a month.
They said Keith needed time to process. That’s all I heard. But I was getting my information through Nancy at that point.
My friend for 20 years has died, and I have to pretend she’s alive. But there was no consideration of what that meant for the rest of us.
I was so upset, at the service memorial. At one point, I was with someone that I told ‘Please, take me home. I can’t handle this. I’m about to pass out.’
The final wakeup was during that time, when Keith was arrested. I was awake, they knew it. They worried about me turning on them.
I had nothing else in the world, and I was told I was weak. So I didn’t think I could handle going out on my own. Where I could was when they tried to deal with Keith being arrested.
I made a comment that ‘the company needs to shut down’. And I was attacked with virtue-blackmail by Lauren Salzman and Clare Bronfman, you know, ‘loyalty’ and all this kind of stuff.
I was like, ‘I’m done’.
I quit the board a week later, and started seeing a therapist immediately. And the first words to the therapists were: ‘make sure I don’t go back.’ I had to keep my head down for a little while, but I was out at that point.
A Last Kiss
I spent a little bit of time with him. I went down for the first weekend in Mexico [before the arrest]. I just went for a couple of days, because the company was in crisis. I had some time with him.
I was challenging him, I told him I wanted to help with part of the company. My only requirement was: I didn’t work for Clare. And he went against that.
He said, ‘No, I can’t do that’. I would have to work for Clare. And I said, ‘Well, I ain’t doing it’.
I challenged him about the man that Danny got in trouble for kissing, I was like, ‘This guy’s a good guy. You gotta be nicer to him.’
I asked him about DOS, and he still claimed not having much to do with it. Because DOS is the name of a computer system, the original computer system, when computers PCs were started.
I’m like, ‘Oh, you had to have created that.’
But I had a very nice time with him, right before I left, because we were talking about music – as I was learning to play the bass guitar – and I took the chance to give him one last kiss, not knowing it would be the last one.
I had a feeling, at that point, that I was done – because I was getting so much of what I now know to be gaslighting from him in that conversation. So I was done.
Life after NXIVM
I don’t live in my condo anymore. But the condo next door was Pam’s and all her stuff was in it – so I had them move his piano into there, so I could empty out my house.
And I snuck [Pam’s] ashes over there, at the same time. I don’t know what they did. The lawyers of Pam’s trust are now in possession of all that. I offloaded the ashes. I didn’t want to have to deal with them.
I think that what ‘The Vow’ didn’t show is the depth of the manipulation. I know you saw a lot. But it was just the tip of the iceberg of the depth of the manipulation that this man could do to you. And understanding that, you understand Lauren’s choices, and other people’s choices a lot better.
I’m doing as much therapy as I can afford. I’ll try anything. I’ve been following a lot of different people that are knowledgeable in this area.
The best thing has been the friends I ended up with. I’ve had the most lovely people from the whole company still in my life, and they have been incredibly, incredibly supportive.
I have people that call me every day. That’s awesome. One gentleman calls me every day, and I ended up with the best of the people.
The people I thought were my friends weren’t. But these people are just the most lovely people. And I’m very, very grateful they’re in my life.
Thank you both. You [Sarah and Nippy] have been an inspiration. You saved my life. I can’t say that enough. You guys saved my life. I’d still be sitting in Flintlock. So, thank you.