The painful branding ritual at the heart of a sex trafficking trial of an upstate cult leader was a manipulative torture session staged so members would not feel coerced, video of planning sessions revealed Wednesday.
Even though women were held down, and experienced excruciating pain during the procedure, NXIVM leader Keith Raniere insisted that they ask on video to be branded so it would not appear that the searing symbol was forced on them.
“Do you think a person should be completely nude and held to the table, almost like a sacrifice?” Raniere asked an associate during a January 2017 planning session that NXIVM leaders recorded.
Raniere, 58, made the suggestion to “Smallville” actress Allison Mack, a NXIVM member who has already pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge, adding that it would convey “the feeling of submission, you know.”
“And the person should also ask to be branded” he said, before suggesting an oath, “Master please brand me. It would be an honor and an honor I want to wear for the rest of my life.”
“They should probably say that before they’re held down so it doesn't seem like they’re being coerced,” Raniere said in the video as jurors watched in Brooklyn Federal Court.
He also crafted aloud another part of the motto that “slaves” would recite at their branding ceremonies.
“Although my body may be burned or tortured or whatever, my love is stronger,” Raniere said in the video, as Mack absorbed the concepts.
Prosecutors played the video as NXIVM deputy Lauren Salzman, 42, took the stand for a fourth day, answering questions about her twisted relationship with Raniere.
Raniere’s lawyer, Marc Agnifilo, asked Salzman about relationships Raniere had with other women. Salzman tearfully said the group leader did have other girlfriends, and “briefly” had a romantic relationship with her own mother, Nancy.
But Salzman got so emotional during her testimony that Judge Nicholas Garaufis stepped in and ordered Agnifilo to shut down his cross examination.
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“You went way over the line as far as I’m concerned,” Garaufis said. “I thought it was extremely excruciating. I’m may not get everything right up here, but I will tell you that before I’m a judge, I’m a human being.
Raniere, has pleaded not guilty to sex trafficking and other charges. He claims his encounters with the alleged victims were consensual. Five of Raniere’s co-defendants, including Seagram’s liquor heiress Clare Bronfman, have pleaded guilty.
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