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. This post is mostly about Raniere’s comeuppance and has very little details about his crimes, but note that suicide is mentioned briefly.
On the Run and On Trial
Whatever else you want to say about the New York Times, it’s amazing what can happen when you hit their front page.
The Albany Times-Union had been reporting on NXIVM for literally over a decade. Former NXIVM members, including legit famous people, had gone to the NY Attorney General and the FBI to try to get NXIVM investigated. But finally, when the NY Times published their October 2017 article about branding women in a secret society, public outrage was kindled and authorities began to properly investigate.
In November 2017, Raniere casually moved to Mexico.
There is a massive story about NXIVM’s presence in Mexico just waiting to be uncovered. (One of Mark Vicente’s documentaries was about all the great things NXIVM could do for Mexico, but that’s not what we want). At some point, partially or totally or at least initially due to the influence of Edgar Bronfman, Sr. (before he dramatically split from NXIVM) NXIVM became connected to the Mexican elite, including the son of former President Carlos Salinas and the daughter of a Mexican media mogul. The number of high-powered Mexicans in the inner circle can seem surprising considering how little the media has covered the Mexican connection, but many of Raniere’s close associates and about half of the first-line DOS members were Mexican. Raniere had them convinced he could solve all of the Mexico’s problems, and the country’s rich and powerful loved him, truly considering him a genius and guru. So Raniere went to Mexico.
Law is not my strong suit, but I’ve watched enough crime shows to understand that when you cross state lines in commission of a crime, your crimes become Federal crimes and not State crimes. It was the Feds who chased Raniere to Mexico.
Some of Raniere’s female inner circle joined him near Puerto Vallarta, including Nicki Clyne, Allison Mack, and Lauren Salzman. Raniere talked about having a “recommitment” ceremony with his women that would involve a group sex ceremony. Before this could happen, Nicki Clyne posted some ill-advised photos on Instagram of herself climbing one of Puerto Vallarta’s most famous landmarks, giving police their location. Raniere’s Mexican residence was raided and he was arrested.
Those of you who haven’t consumed as much cult-related media as I have may be unaware that when the police arrived to arrest Charles Manson, they found him hiding in a kitchen cabinet. Raniere, like that great leader who came before him, was hiding in a closet until one of the women gave away his presence.
This is what started to break Lauren Salzman. (Also maybe the possibility of a plea deal, but what do I know?) Per Salzman’s testimony, Raniere had spent decades preaching that men were supposed to stand up and take responsibility for their actions and supposed to protect women, the weaker sex – he literally named his mens’ group the Society of Protectors, after all. And seeing him hide in a closet, she saw him for what he was – a hypocritical coward.
Raniere’s inglorious return to New York was in March 2018. Allison Mack was arrested in April and placed under house arrest on a $5 million bond. NXIVM the organization moved briefly to New York City, but officially suspended operations in June 2018.
Nancy Salzman, Lauren Salzman, Clare Bronfman, Allison Mack, and Kathy Russell, a NXIVM bookkeeper, were indicted on July 24, 2018.
Nancy Salzman was the first to plead guilty, in March 2019, which was apparently a surprise to her co-defendants. Over the course of the next month, the other four women also plead guilty to their charges, which range from visa fraud (Russell) to identity theft and immigration fraud (Bronfman).
Why were these women charged but not the others? No clue. Some people you might expect to face charges, like Mark Vicente, turned witness for the prosecution, but that’s not everyone. I have no idea what happened to Sara Bronfman, or why Nicki Clyne hasn’t been charged with anything.
Raniere’s trial began in May 2019 in Brooklyn, NY.
I really enjoyed and (with a few caveats, which I’ll go into in my next/final/bonus post) recommend the Times-Union’s podcast series covering the trial, where their court reporters dissect the logistical details of the case. There’s a bizarre way in which, to these reporters, this is just another case in their long careers, but I liked how they’d come at the topic from the direction of “what does this legally mean for the ongoing case?” One thing I learned was that apparently one of the benefits of charging someone with racketeering is that you can charge them with literally everything you want to, regardless of the statute of limitations. However, in a move that sounds pretty standard, prosecutors also kept a few items as separate charges in case racketeering didn’t stick. Who knew? Lawyers, that’s who, and court reporters.
Among the primary witnesses for the prosecution were Mark Vicente, Lauren Salzman, and Daniela. Text messages between Raniere and then-underage Camila were read aloud, including his callous, narcissistic response when she admitted that she’d thought about taking her own life: “Do you have any idea how bad that could have been for me?” Recordings of Raniere himself were played for the jury, his own words about the branding ceremony used against him.
The defense called no witnesses, and the jury deliberated for four hours before finding Raniere guilty of all charges.
Raniere was set to be sentenced in early 2020 but the pandemic kept pushing it back. The Times-Union court reporters stressed that sentencing delays are generally expected – the defense obviously has a lot of delay tactics at their disposal, such as filing motions they know will be eventually rejected – and the pandemic exacerbated but did not create these delays.
In July of 2020 a group of mystery people who claimed to have nothing at all to do with NXIVM started dancing outside of the New York jail where Raniere was being held. The dancers who had nothing to do with NXIVM included Nicki Clyne (actress, Allison Mack’s wife), Danielle Roberts (doctor who used a cauterizing pen to brand women in DOS) and Marc Elliot (NXIVM’s “we cured Tourette’s” poster child). They call themselves “We Are As You” (?) and posted all over social media under the #BLM hashtag (??).
They eventually admitted that they started as a tribute to Keith Raniere but they “grew” to become a tribute to all those incarcerated at that facility.
Those of you who haven’t consumed as much cult-related media as I have may be unaware that when Charles Manson was in jail, his female followers would sing and perform outside the courthouse where he was on trial. I’m just saying, even in defeat there’s nothing original about Raniere.
In September 2020, the first NXIVM-related sentencing occured. To the surprise of everyone involved, the judge handed down a sentence for Seagram’s heiress Clare Bronfman that was significantly longer than the prosecution had requested – 81 months (6 years, 9 months). Previously, the judge had denied a request from Clare Bronfman to loosen the restrictions of her house arrest. This had seemed like a bad sign to the Times-Union reporters, an indication that the judge was going to be harsh and attempt to make a statement with Bronfman’s sentencing – and he was. 81 months is the type of sentence that is not just meant to affect the defendant; it’s a warning for any other gazillionaires that they will be punished, too.
The judge in question overseeing the case is a Nicholas Garaufis, who seemed to have zero percent patience for Raniere and NXIVM through the entirety of Raniere’s trial. At one point he informed Raniere’s lawyer, as he was executing a particularly rough cross-examination of a victim, that “this is not DOS, not in my courtroom.” We stan a legend.
Raniere obviously hated Judge Garaufis. He not only accused Garaufis of corruption but also wanted his followers to “get scrutiny” on him and make sure he knew he was “being watched.” Definitely good things a defendant should say about the judge in charge of his case. Raniere also tried to get Jeffery Epstein’s lawyer involved somehow.
In addition, a group called “Make Justice Blind” presented an affidavit to the court alleging prosecutorial misconduct. This is signed by many people who have nothing to do with NXIVM, including Amanda Knox. They’re also planning to launch a podcast (?) which will host an “Innocence Challenge” (???) with a cash prize for anyone who can poke holes in the prosecution’s evidence. As far as I know the challenge is not yet accepting submissions.
On October 27, 2020, Keith “Vanguard” Raniere was sentenced to 120 years in prison.
Raniere still has many supporters. The most vocal of these are Marc Elliot, who is now a motivational speaker, and a group of DOS members who recently started something called the DOSsier Project. Some of the more notable DOSsier Project members include Nicki Clyne and Danielle Roberts. Their general thesis seems to be that the “salacious” media and general public are deciding on their behalf that they are victims, and they decline that label. If DOS were a group of men branding themselves, they say, would we all be screaming abuse? (I mean, yes? I would?) I’ll just point out again that Raniere has a long history of teaching people that they decide whether or not they are a victim, and if someone “chooses” to be a victim they are mostly damaging the person they accuse of victimizing them. So just because these women are choosing not to be a victim doesn’t mean I agree with them.
Aside from Clare Bronfman and Keith Raniere, no other defendants have been sentenced as of this writing. Allison Mack is on house arrest but continuing to live her best life, taking online classes at UC Berkeley (where she is not particularly popular among fellow her fellow students). She also, very recently, filed for divorce from Nicki Clyne and was seen out having a pleasant pandemic afternoon with a friend. But stay tuned for her sentencing, as well as Nancy and Lauren Salzman’s and Kathy Russell’s.
So this isn’t over, and there will be appeals, obviously. More will come out, more victims, more horrors. There are things I didn’t even cover in this sixteen thousand words of NXIVM content that I’ve somehow written – NXIVM tried to purchase items for a sex dungeon, for example. There is just so much. I hope this series helped provide a single overarching narrative for anyone who was like “I keep hearing about this, but what was it really?” but I want you to know that there are still so many layers.
NXIVM was a web of manipulation, with Keith Raniere sitting in the middle as master puppeteer. The scope is impressive, but at the end of the day Raniere is just a man who wanted to have lots of sex and thought he was smarter than everyone around him… but wasn’t quite smart enough.
Many blessings on his 120 years in prison.
And that’s it, thanks for reading. If you want more, there will be a bonus post about the different ways the NXIVM story has been told across different media, along with some reviews and recommendations for future reading and watching. But this is, thankfully, the end of the official NXIVM narrative.
If you enjoyed 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.