A top “slave master” in the alleged sex cult Nxivm said in testimony on Friday she herself was sexually and psychologically enslaved by Keith Raniere, the sole defendant in a sex-trafficking trial that has produced a rolling tableau of alleged debauchery and cruelty.
Such was Raniere’s control over his followers, Lauren Salzman said, they came to accept claims about his ability to control the weather or to disable electronics. It was rumoured, she said, that Raniere could stroll through a rain shower without getting wet.
“He would say that his technology was acting up and that he had these types of problems,” Salzman testified. “That it was something special about him. That it was his energy. His impact on the world.”
Nxivm, pronounced “Nexium”, operated in New York state and was ostensibly devoted to wellness and personal development. Within it, however, there was allegedly an inner organisation of “masters” and “slaves” devoted to Raniere’s sexual gratification.
Raniere, 58, was arrested in March 2018. He has pleaded not guilty to charges including racketeering conspiracy, identity theft, extortion, forced labor, money laundering, wire fraud and sex trafficking. In federal court in Brooklyn on Friday, he watched impassively as prosecutors questioned a former senior aide.
Lauren Salzman, daughter of the group co-founder Nancy Salzman, said that for many years Raniere, who was known to followers as Vanguard or sometimes Grandmaster, was the most important person in her life.
“He was my mentor,” she said. “My teacher. We had a romantic relationship. A physical and sexual relationship.”
Salzman said the relationship began when she was 21, in 1995. Over time, she said, she became a member of a secret society within Nxivm known as “DOS” which arranged followers into a hierarchical order of “masters” and “slaves”, focused on sexual obedience to Raniere. Salzman said she was a “first-line slave” who answered directly to the leader.
“I was a slave with Keith as my master,” Salzman said. “I had other slaves under me.”
Jurors were shown photographs of women “branded” with Raniere’s initials. Group member Marc Vicente testified that the pictures were kept in an online folder created by the actor Allison Mack, a group member. DOS members were allegedly warned that if they broke with or displeased Raniere, the pictures would be released to families and the press.
Salzman testified that when Raniere could not attend DOS meetings, she and other women were directed to take nude photographs of themselves and send them to him.
When Raniere was present, she said, followers would strip naked and sit on the floor in front of him while he held court, fully clothed, describing goals and projects such as a book or a new dungeon.
Over the course of their 17-year relationship, she said, Raniere took closeup photographs of her genitalia and forced her into threesomes with other alleged slaves, including Mack.
“Initially, I participated because I was curious,” she said. Later, she said, she participated because “he wanted that”.
Prosecutors have repeatedly sought to describe Raniere’s hold over his followers. Witnesses have testified that adherence to his wishes often came with strict weight-control guidelines. Saltzman told jurors Raniere gave her a target of 100lb.
Vicente told the court he had grown concerned about Mack’s weight loss. Raniere’s matter-of-fact reply, he said, was: “Well, I’m trying to break her.”
Salzman and co-defendants including her mother, who was known as “Prefect”, Seagram heiress Clare Bronfman and Mack have pleaded guilty to crimes ranging from visa fraud to racketeering. Vicente testified that Bronfman, an important group benefactor, was once forced to wear a jock strap, for misbehaving.
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