NXIVM Explained, Part 5

Previously: Hollywood Connections and “The First Women’s Movement that was Created by a Man”
Click here to view all posts in this series.

Content Warning: Please ensure you are in a good mental headspace before reading this, regardless of whether you consider yourself to have any specific triggers. Specific topics mentioned in this post include: sexual abuse, kidnapping.

Nine Traitors, One Dalai Lama, and One Captive

As previously mentioned, the problem with trying to turn NXIVM into a coherent narrative is that there is just so much. This blog post is going to be a bit disparate, covering the end of the 00s and a little of the early 10s. Like most things NXIVM, it is going to be 50% bonkers and 50% tragedy.

One item usually treated as a side note that, again, I feel like could be a whole book is the Rainbow Cultural Garden, which was an international chain of childcare institutions founded by NXIVM where children were taught 7 languages at once. (It’s unproven that their methods work.) The Rainbow Cultural Garden was started around the time Keith Raniere’s son with Kristin Keeffe was born, around 2006. It is likely that Camila, the young Mexican woman that Raniere began raping when she was 15 years old, was one of the first nannies/instructors. 

There’s also all the ongoing litigation. Around 2008, Sara and Clare Bronfman pressured the New York State attorney general to investigate NXIVM’s “enemies,” including their father Edgar and U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer. Daniela (Camila’s older sister, also in a sexual relationship with Raneire) helped the Bronfmans install malware on Edgar’s computer, digging for things to use against him. There were also some real estate shenanigans occurring in California.

As part of these California shenanigans, the Bronfmans hired a man named Frank Parlato to do some PR work. Frank Parlato was not treated particularly well by NXIVM (also maybe wasn’t paid properly) and eventually would start a blog called The Frank Report, which is an internet hotspot for anti-NXIVM activity. He is also the primary voice claiming that Raniere was responsible for the slow murder of Pam Cafritz. I’ll go into this in the final post of the series, but in general The Frank Report is not the type of resource I look to for objective facts. In general, if the only place I can source something is The Frank Report, I use caution. But he was among the first, loudest voices on the topic of NXIVM’s crap, and I would be remiss to not mention him. 

But what was Keith Raniere himself up to in the late 00s?

Well, he had good days and bad days. 

In 2009, nine women in leadership positions within NXIVM called a meeting with Raniere. They had many concerns across many topics, including NXIVM’s financial chicanery (generally, their preference to not pay taxes or people) and Raniere’s ideas about gender and sexuality. Raniere listened, but shrugged. He admitted to no wrongdoing and proposed no changes to how NXIVM was doing things. 

All nine women left NXIVM. This group included Barbara Bouchey, financial planner and former girlfriend of Keith Raniere, and Susan Dones, an early NXIVM adopter who managed the Seattle chapter. NXIVM would quickly sue these nine women, kicking off another round of aggressive litigation against defectors. Barbara Bouchey is the most public name of these women, I think because she was also a girlfriend and had, prior to Raniere, been worth millions in her own right, and also managed the Bronfman fortune. But all nine of them were ruined, in their own way. One of the moments I found saddest from any of the documentaries was from Susan Dones; dealing with NXIVM lawsuits became her full-time job, and the only employment she could find that gave her the time to deal with the lawsuits was as a weekend DJ.

The departure of the “NXIVM Nine” sent shock waves through the organization, but Raniere quickly gathered the flock around him, holding group therapy sessions to reassure everyone that things were fine and that the Nine were the enemy. (An example of the classic cult technique of creating “enemies” out of defectors. NXIVM called these people Suppressives. If this sounds familiar, it’s because “no-original-ideas” Raniere stole this one from Scientology.)

With the NXIVM followers reassured, Raniere could look to one bright spot in 2009 – the Dalai Lama visited Albany, NY. The Dalai Lama visited him.

(I honestly don’t know if the defection happened before or after the Dalai Lama’s visit in May 2009, but for the purposes of narrative flow it’s going after, thank you for your understanding.)

The Dalai Lama’s visit to Albany and NXIVM was arranged by the Bronfman sisters as part of his U.S. tour. At one point, the Dalai Lama pulled out of the appearance, having gotten wind of some of the weird stories circulating around NXIVM. Sara Bronfman flew to Tibet personally to convince him; he changed his mind and reinstated the stop on his tour. That gin money, man.

(One of the Dalai Lama’s associates, Lama Tenzin, was later suspended from his role over allegations of corruption and abuse of his role. Allegedly he and Sara Bronfman were lovers for a brief period. As mentioned above, I am dubious of any news story that only references the Frank Report, but if you’re here for the bonkers headline-grabbing shit, I don’t want to deprive you.)

Raniere and NXIVM were obviously ecstatic; the Dalai Lama’s presence was a validation that they were a legitimate organization doing good in the world, just as they’d always claimed. The footage NXIVM gathered of Raniere meeting with the Dalai Lama, being embraced by the Dalai Lama – pure gold, in terms of marketing. 

So that took away some of the sting of the NXIVM Nine. 

He also still had his stable of sexual partners, of course. And that brings us to 2010 and the terrible culmination of Daniela’s story. 

Because Daniela was a major witness during Raniere’s trial, it’s pretty easy to find a recap of her testimony. As mentioned previously, her entire family was involved with NXIVM; her parents were long-term NXIVM members, her older sister Mariana would bear Raniere a child, and Raniere had started raping her younger sister Camila when she was 15. Daniela had started a sexual relationship with Raniere in the early/mid 2000s, when she was 18. 

In 2010, Daniela developed a crush on another man in NXIVM, Lauren Salzman’s boyfriend Ben Myers. (Unsure what the status of Lauren and Raniere was at this point.) This obviously pissed Raniere off, but he framed it as an “ethical breach” on Daniela’s part, for which she needed to do penance. Media shorthand has said he “locked her in” her bedroom; this is not technically true, which NXIVM members would later use as a defense – The door wasn’t locked! She could leave any time she wanted! But Daniela, after many years of indoctrination, was convinced that she needed to stay in the room as penance for her breach. And where did she have to go? 

Daniela would be in that bedroom for two years.

In the first post of this series, I referenced the Times-Union’s reporting on the teenage girls Keith Raniere had been raping in the 90s and early 00s. The article in question was published in 2012. Shortly after its publication, Daniela was removed from her bedroom in Clifton Park and taken to the U.S.-Mexico border. Some theorize that Daniela’s imprisonment came to an end because NXIVM was spooked by the Times-Union reporting. If they hadn’t been scared by the article, who knows how long Daniela would have stayed in her bedroom, or how her NXIVM experience would have ended.

Lauren Salzman, during her testimony almost a decade later, would say that her involvement in Daniela’s treatment was the worst thing she did during her time in NXIVM.

So that is a collection of anecdotes from late-00s/early-10s NXIVM, yet another example of all the random shit that was happening that didn’t necessarily make the mainstream news and didn’t really fit anywhere else in this narrative. Next time, we’ll dive headlong into the misogynistic organizations that would lead to all the “sex cult” headlines.


Up Next: From “Empowering” Women to Branding Them

If you are enjoying this series, please consider “leaving me a tip” by donating to one of the domestic violence organizations listed here or to a similar organization in your area. Thank you.

Disclaimer: Before the remnants of NXIVM sue me, I wish to clarify that the items covered in this post are allegations. I am merely recapping and collating the reporting done over many years by other media sources, including highly credible publications and media organizations that I trust to both fact-check their work and who also ran their articles or documentaries through their legal department. That’s all that is happening here. A simple recap of allegations.

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