Women scarred by 'study,' branding

State to review physicians' roles in bizarre practices

Albany Times-Union/October 21, 2017

By Brendan J. Lyons

Halfmoon -- The images of murder, rape and mutilation still haunt Jennifer Kobelt. They were shown to her during an apparently unsanctioned brain-activity experiment in August 2016, inside a nondescript commercial building along Route 9 in Halfmoon.

The events of that afternoon are seared into her brain. She described them in chilling detail in an interview with the Times Union, and in a complaint filed with the state Department of Health.

Kobelt, an aspiring actress who was until June part of the NXIVM organization, was picked up at a nearby residence that afternoon by Dr. Brandon Porter, a licensed medical doctor who worked for St. Peter's Hospital in Albany and has been associated with NXIVM for many years. Kobelt, 28, said she and many others at NXIVM often received medical care from Porter when they were sick with the flu or other illnesses while in the Capital Region doing work for the company.

The former restaurant where the unusual experiment took place has been used regularly by NXIVM for years to host training seminars and other events.

Kobelt said after Porter parked his car in back of the building, they entered through a kitchen area and walked into a space behind curtains where Porter had set up a television monitor in front a chair. There was no one else there, she said. He asked her to sit down and began attaching electrodes to her scalp before placing what Kobelt said NXIVM associates called the "brain cap" on top of her head.

Kobelt said wearing the brain cap was not unusual: She and others had often allowed Porter to monitor their brain activity, usually when they were watching videos of lectures by NXIVM co-founder Keith Raniere.

But the experience last year was very different. The physician was typing notes into a laptop computer as Kobelt watched the first video, a scene from the 1998 drama "American History X" in which a black man is stomped to death by a neo-Nazi.

"I just remember going into kind of a panic mode. I had never seen this movie before," an emotional Kobelt said in an interview. "I started screaming and crying and just freaking out. ... I didn't understand why he was showing me this. It went to the end of the clip, and I just sat there and I cried."

Kobelt said the fictional murder scene was followed by the brutal rape scene from the Jodie Foster film "The Accused," followed by what appeared to be footage from an actual mass murder: women being decapitated and dismembered, seemingly by members of a drug cartel.
When it was over, Porter recommended that Kobelt — visibly disturbed and distraught — should reach out to a NXIVM associate for an "EM," an acronym for a practice called "exploration of meaning" in which a higher-ranking NXIVM official queries a subordinate member in one-on-one counseling, sometimes for a fee.

Kobelt said an assistant to Nancy Salzman, a founder and president of NXIVM, had recruited her to take part in the study.

Kobelt said neither the assistant nor Porter told her what the study was for or what to expect. No one had her sign any documents acknowledging she had been informed of the details of the study or its purpose, or that she was consenting to taking part.

Kobelt said Salzman's assistant told her that she had been instructed to recruit up to 100 people to take part.

Details of the bizarre human-brain experiments connected to NXIVM — which was described by one expert in a 2012 Times Union story as an "extreme cult" — have emerged only in recent months.

According to information referenced in a complaint filed with the state by Sarah Edmonson of Vancouver, at least 20 women associated with NXIVM were lured into a "secret" club within the organization that required them to consent to being branded in their pubic area.

Edmonson, and another woman also involved with NXIVM, both separately told the Times Union that they were brought into the club and subsequently branded. Edmondson listed two other women in her complaint that she said were branded with her that night.

The women said they were never told that the unusual-looking brand was a design that included the initials of Keith Raniere, NXIVM's founder, and Allison Mack, an actress and NXIVM associate whom Edmonson's complaint identified as having "started" the secret women's group with Raniere.

Edmondson, who was associated with NXIVM for 12 years, left the organization in June after she learned the brand that she received contained the initials of Mack and Raniere.

The osteopath who performed the branding on many of the women, Dr. Danielle Roberts, also works for NXIVM. She worked at St. Peter's Hospital from 2012 to 2015 through an employment agency.

Porter, Roberts and Salzman did not respond to numerous requests for comment.

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