NEW YORK — The document was titled “Twelve-Point Mission Statement” and was written by Keith Raniere, a co-founder of the so-called sex cult Nxivm. It served as a sort of guiding framework within the group and included mantras like “I will not choose to be a victim” and “tribute is a form of payment an honor.” It also asked members “to keep all its information confidential.”
“It’s a fraud; it’s a lie,” an ex-Nxivm member, Mark Vicente, said about the document during his testimony Thursday in Raniere’s sex trafficking and racketeering trial in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn. “This well-intentioned veneer covers a horrible evil.”
Raniere, 58, co-founded Nxivm (pronounced Nex-e-um) in the 1990s as a self-help organization. About 16,000 people took Nxivm courses, with some paying tens of thousands of dollars.
He has been indicted on charges including racketeering conspiracy, extortion, forced labor and sex trafficking. Over the last several weeks, five women — including Allison Mack, an actress known for her role in the television series “Smallville” — who were charged alongside him have pleaded guilty.
Vicente, a filmmaker and former top official within Nxivm, said he joined the group more than a decade ago, but he eventually confronted Raniere, who was called Vanguard, about some of its practices.
On Thursday, Vicente said that in retrospect he felt “bamboozled” by parts of his involvement with the group, and he described to jurors how the organization operated and how it was structured.
Ranks within the organization included coach, proctor and prefect, with each ranking carrying a designated colored sash, in colors like yellow, green, blue and gold, Vicente testified. People were encouraged to rise along these ranks with what was called “the stripe path,” which they could do in part by enrolling others in classes, he said.
An executive board, which over the years included figures like Claire Bronfman, the Seagrams liquor heiress, and Emiliano Salinas, the son of a former president of Mexico, oversaw several divisions with names like Commerce and Humanities, Vicente said.
He went on to cite or describe a dizzying array of groups, programs, “modules” and other formations that fell under the umbrella of Nxivm but also had their own identities and functions.
Groups included Jness (for women), the Society of Protectors (for men) and Executive Success Programs. The courses had names like Compassion and Civilization.
Vicente described one session in which leaders held up their hands and participants clapped, bowed and then formed what he called a “football huddle.” They read the mission statement composed by Raniere, he said, and stated “We are committed to our success” and “Thank you, Vanguard.”
Curriculums, which Vicente said were taught across the country, could cost as much as $7,500 and were claimed to show people how to overcome fears and how to replace reactive, animalistic instinct with rational thought. He also testified that people were taught that Raniere should be considered immune to criticism, and that there was no such thing as a cult.
Prompted by a prosecutor, Vicente testified that he believed now that classes “played with our moral compass.”
The teachings, Vicente said, were derived from Raniere, who was seen as Nxivm’s “philosophical founder” and “wisest person.”
Raniere portrayed himself as a “renunciate,” or somebody who eschewed material possessions, Vicente said. But Raniere took in a percentage of profits from certain operations to finance what he called “scientific research.”
Vicente said Bronfman had paid $40,000 a month to help secure patents for Raniere’s inventions. It is not clear how many of these were successful, Vicente said, but a technology company Raniere had formed placed cameras outside of the homes of some people connected to Nxivm. Vicente testified that he now believed those cameras were meant for “surveillance of us, members of the community.”
Raniere also believed that he was being spied on, Vicente said, but by the government.
He testified that Raniere had told him that a profitable business he had founded was chased out of Arkansas years ago as retribution after “Bill Clinton’s people asked for some money.”
And he said Raniere told him he was a “person of interest to many different authorities” as part of a conspiracy that “reached the highest levels” because of his high IQ and problem-solving ability.
“He was a threat to society,” Vicente said. “He told me he was being watched all the time.”