Readers of the New York Times this week were treated to a series of blockbuster articles concerning the alleged torture and sexual exploitation of women at the hands of Keith Raniere and other high ranking members of his NXIVM cult.
The revelations will come as no surprise to readers of the Niagara Falls Reporter, which broke the horrific story in May.
The Times reports, written by top investigative journalist Barry Meier, reveals that numerous complaints by the victimized women to various state and local law enforcement and health agencies resulted in no action whatsoever.
In his articles, Mr. Meier credited Niagara Falls Reporter Publisher Frank Parlato for his work on breaking the sordid story.
Mr. Meier reported on Wednesday that a spokesman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the launch of a comprehensive review as to why the victims’ traumatic accounts fell on deaf ears.
NXIVM describes itself as an organization offering courses and workshops designed to help improve self-fulfillment. Its website describes it as “new ethical understanding that allows us to build an internal civilization and have it manifest in the external world,” whatever that means. The program is led by Mr. Raniere, who is known within the group as “Vanguard,” and former members have alleged that he had sex with members and urged women in the group to follow “near starvation diets.”
The group is largely funded by Sara and Clare Bronfman, the youngest daughters of the late billionaire philanthropist Edgar Bronfman Sr., who himself described NXIVM as a cult and is reported to have considered putting his daughters into a deprogramming facility.
The Times’ story is based on numerous reports and firsthand accounts of a secret society within the already secretive NXIVM cult know as Dominus Servus, which is Latin for “master-slave.” Entry into the group requires the all female membership to be branded with a hot iron on their pubic region with the initials of Mr. Raniere, the Times stated.
In order to enter into this necessarily exclusive group, where Mr. Raniere is willing to impart both his hidden teachings and afford, in some instances, personal communion with the women, the branding ceremony is required.
In this ritualistic ceremony, which takes about three hours, the women make what is known as “The Vow” which includes a lifelong commitment to the service of Mr. Raniere.
After a probationary period, women are invited to participate in the ceremony and an instrument known as a cautery, made of metal, is heated to a dull red glow and applied to the cleanly shaven skin of the pubic area of the woman being initiated.
The hot iron cauterizes the pubic area, leaving permanent tissue scarring that forms the letters KR, Mr. Raniere’s initials. The process is similar in effect to the branding of cattle. Dr. Danielle Roberts MD, a licensed physician, performs the branding to ensure the safety of the women. Dr. Roberts is a student of Mr. Raniere and one his ardent followers.
The Times report describes an initiation process for the “secret sisterhood” within NXIVM that occurred this past March. Five women gave recruiters “collateral” including naked photos or compromising materials that would be released if the group was ever exposed. Then the new members were restrained by top official Lauren Salzman who instructed them to say “Master, please brand me, it would be an honor.” One woman thought she was getting a small tattoo upon initiation, but in reality “a two-inch-square symbol” was burned on each woman’s pubic region.
After initiation, a member is required to make monthly offerings of additional collateral. This collateral is said to provide assurances to Mr. Raniere that those who have pledged their slavery to him – and in return will receive more fulsome instructions from him – will be less likely to flee as others have done in the past.
One of the women who was branded, Sarah Edmondson, told the Times she was first recruited into this “secret sisterhood” by Ms. Salzman. She described the group as a “force for good” that taught female members how to overcome “weaknesses” like being overemotional:
“Submission and obedience would be used as tools to achieve those goals, several women said. The sisterhood would comprise circles, each led by a “master” who would recruit six “slaves,” according to two women. In time, they would recruit slaves of their own.
“She made it sound like a bad-ass bitch boot camp,” Ms. Edmondson said.
Ms. Edmondson and others said that during training, the women were required to send their master texts that read “Morning M” and “Night M.” During drills, a master texted her slaves “?” and they had 60 seconds to reply “Ready M.” Trainees who failed had to pay penalties, including fasting, or could face physical punishments, two women said.
Although former members filed complaints about the branding and NXIVM with the New York State Department of Health, the police, and state medical regulators, the New York Times reports that they have not taken action against the group. After word of the branding spread among NXIVM followers, the Times reports that “panic ensued” with women instructed to delete encrypted messages and erase Google documents. A text message in the article also reveals that Raniere knew women were being branded.
It was unclear if Sara and Clare Bronfman underwent the painful procedure that burned a symbol into the bodies of some members of the cult.
Sara Bronfman, 41, has reportedly poured millions of her family’s fortune into the cult. Clare Bronfman is a member of the executive board of NXIVM and is vice president in charge of operations.
In the interest of full disclosure, the Bronfman sisters are the star witnesses in the federal case against Reporter Publisher Parlato, who once worked for them on a real estate deal in Los Angeles.
The case involves a $1 million payment by the sisters to Mr. Parlato, which was wending its way through the civil court system when the sisters, perhaps at Mr. Raniere’s urging, opted to make the business deal a criminal matter.
How the explosive Times expose and Gov. Cuomo’s review of this sordid mess culminates is uncertain. What is certain is that it’s been a bad week for Mr. Raniere, the Bronfman sisters and the prosecutors in the Parlato case.