3 years after Raniere's arrest, NXIVM divides into victims, loyalists, guilty

Imprisoned leader's inner circle awaits sentencing, but other remain vocal in their support

Albany Times-Union/March 28, 2021

By Robert Gavin

Colonie — On the glass window of a nondescript office plaza on New Karner Road, the words "Executive Success Programs" are cracking and falling away.

From the Capital Region to Mexico and living rooms across the world, the shuttered office is now notorious as the former headquarters of NXIVM, the cult-like organization run by Keith Raniere.

Three years ago this week, the man known to his followers as "Vanguard" was arrested by police in the Mexican fishing village of Chacala. Raniere, 60, is serving a 120-year sentence in an Arizona prison for sex trafficking, forced labor conspiracy and racketeering. Many of his closest followers in the once tight-knit NXIVM community have publicly denounced him as a narcissistic predator and described Executive Success Programs (ESP) as little more than a corporate front for his systems of control. Some testified against him during his 2019 trial in Brooklyn, or cooperated with the government in less public ways. Several have shared their stories in books and documentaries that have anatomized NXIVM's collapse.

Some former members of Raniere's inner circle have remained scrupulously quiet — especially the four women who pleaded guilty in the months before his trial and nearly two years later are still awaiting sentencing. Initially scheduled in the months after Raniere's trial, those sentencings have been delayed repeatedly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A fifth co-defendent, 41-year-old Seagram's heiress Clare Bronfman, was sentenced last fall to six years and nine months in prison for conspiracy to conceal and harbor illegal aliens for financial gain and fraudulent use of identification and remains loyal to Raniere. The four other co-defendants do not appear to share her support for the man who led NXIVM.

That includes former NXIVM president Nancy Salzman, 66, known within the group as "Prefect," who along with Raniere founded NXIVM two decades ago. Salzman, who pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy, is still in the Capital Region: In February, she underwent a foot procedure at a local hospital that briefly required the removal of her ankle monitor. She no longer lives in the large home on Oregon Trail in Halfmoon where she kept hundreds of thousands of dollars in her basement alongside boxes of files on the perceived "enemies" of NXIVM. Her forfeiture agreement included the surrender of NXIVM's intellectual property — its so-called "tech."

Her daughter, 44-year-old Lauren Salzman, once a high-ranking NXIVM member, delivered damning testimony for prosecutors that exposed Raniere's history of cruelty, including emotional and at times physical abuse of women and his unquestionable role atop Dominus Obsequious Sororium (DOS), in which female "slaves" pledged lifetime vows of obedience to "masters." Lauren Salzman, a "first line" master in DOS who answered directly to Raniere, pleaded guilty to racketeering and racketeering conspiracy; due to her testimony, she could receive leniency at sentencing.

Allison Mack, 38, the onetime "Smallville" actress who was a high-ranking NXIVM member and first line master in DOS before she pleaded guilty to racketeering charges, remains in California, far from her former townhouse in the group's Knox Woods enclave. NXIVM bookkeeper Kathy Russell, 63, another former Halfmoon resident who pleaded guilty to visa fraud, is living out of state.

When Raniere went to trial in 2019, federal prosecutors released an exhibit identifying 25 members of his inner circle, including longtime Raniere partner Pamela Cafritz, who died of cancer in 2016, and Barbara Jeske, who died in 2014.

Of the 23 other members, at least half no longer support Raniere. In addition to high-profile defectors such as Lauren Salzman and filmmaker Mark Vicente, who also testified against Raniere at trial, other once high-ranking NXIVM members such as Karen Unterreiner, whose ties to Raniere date back to their days at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute several decades ago, and former NXIVM member Dawn Morrison do not back him anymore.

But support for Vanguard remains. Edgar Boone, a high-ranking NXIVM member in Mexico, wrote a character letter on behalf of Raniere to U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis. So did Damon Brink, a longtime NXIVM loyalist whose own wife, Sally Brink, delivered a victim impact statement at the Bronfman's sentencing. (A December story in the Vermont publication Seven Days suggested that Damon Brink's feelings toward NXIVM have become more ambivalent in recent months.)

The father of three Mexican sisters who became involved with Raniere wrote a letter to the judge on his behalf. According to trial testimony, Raniere sexually abused one of the man's daughters when she was 15, and another was confined for nearly two years in a room in her family's home because she kissed another man; his oldest daughter has a child with Raniere and like her father supports the jailed guru.

And in Brooklyn, actress Nicki Clyne, a member of Raniere's inner circle and a first-line master in DOS, has remained one of Raniere's staunchest backers. Clyne was deeply involved in We Are As You, a group of NXIVM loyalists who danced and played music last summer outside the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where Raniere was at the time locked up. The effort, which drew scorn from NXIVM defectors, evolved into an effort called Make Justice Blind, cast as the NXIVM loyalists as an effort to hold judges and prosecutors accountable.

Six months later, the website of Make Justice Blind opened with a page devoted to Raniere's case. The supporters involved include Clyne and NXIVM loyalists Eduard Ansusolo, Suneel Chakravorty, Marc Elliot and Michele Hatchette, a former DOS member.

And they are hardly the only supporters. Several longtime NXIVM members who wrote character letters for Raniere and/or Bronfman are working for an independent insurance firm called the Summers Agency, based in Fredericksburg, Va. None of these individuals were charged with wrongdoing.

A day after the Times Union reached out to the Summers Agency seeking comment, the "Who Are We?" section of its website became password-protected. Neither the Summers Agency nor its parent, Symmetry Financial Group, returned calls and messages seeking comment.

Linda Chung, an attorney who works for the Summers Agency, is among eight women — including Clyne — who continue to defend their membership in DOS. “Believe me, my life would be easier if I just said the charges were true and Keith Raniere and DOS were bad,” Chung wrote recently in an essay posted on another NXIVM-themed website called The Dossier Project — a play on the once-secret group's acronym. “However, I know that is not true to my experience.”

Chung was among the supporters of Raniere who danced outside the federal lockup in Brooklyn last summer, before his transfer to Arizona. Also taking part were Clyne and Danielle Roberts, a physician who played a key role in DOS: She used a cauterizing pen to brand its members on their pelvic areas with a symbol that included Raniere's initials. She's facing the possible loss of her medical license for that activity.

The manner in which NXIVM has fractured is not unusual for similar groups, according to Rick Ross of the Cult Education Institute, who fell victim to a lengthy litigation attack by the group and testified at Raniere's trial.

“Typically, without the leader who is the defining element and driving force of the group, it begins to disintegrate and ultimately fade away,” Ross told the Times Union.

Its potential survival, he said, might depend on whether or not the group has substantial assets and cash flow that allows a new leader to step in. Ross noted that wealthy individuals in Mexico and elsewhere who still support Raniere have been trying to keep NXIVM training going under different names.

"You just keep wondering: Where does the money come from to support these advocacy efforts and what we see online and, you know, all of the lawyers?” Ross said.

Though shuttered, Raniere's old headquarters on New Karner Road retains traces of his work. Anyone looking through the glass door of the headquarters can see the sashes that were used as signs of advancement within the group, and a whiteboard scribbled with activities and concepts from Raniere's tech.

Outside the building, a sign on a patch of landscaping has been painted over. It used to read "NXIVM."

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