The Vow: Ep. 7 “Blame & Responsibility”

Last episode, the New York Times article exposing Nxivm/DOS came out. Barbara Bouchey shared her story of her years with Keith. We met Susan Dones, who along with Barbara, was faced with Keith’s revenge after leaving Nxivm. The wretched Bronfman sisters arranged for the Dalai Lama to come to town. We concluded with the Attorney General wanting to meet with Catherine Oxenberg.

Nippy, Sarah and Bonnie.

We open with shots of a beach with Bonnie, Sarah and Mark looking contemplative as we hear Nancy Salzman in voice over telling us that shame and guilt is a verdict we pass on ourselves. We cut to video of Nancy as she explains that shame makes you want to run away from what you did. “[But] someone who is “at cause” doesn’t experience shame the same way.” When people who are at cause know they have participated in something that “goes against their values”, they have a strong need to correct it. Intro

We are in LA. Catherine tells us she had fervently hoped since the NYT article came out that India would wake up and want to come home, but the opposite is true. “I am a tad hysterical right now,” says Catherine. This is not a criticism, but one of the things I have observed about Catherine is that she is very emotionally controlled. I express more visible hysteria having to go to the grocery store than Catherine does having to deal with her daughter being in a cult. It is just the nature of her personality. “Darling, please call me. I love you,” she texts to India.

Back to Catherine’s house. She is with Bonnie and Mark and they are video conferencing with Sarah and Nippy. She tells them that the chief criminal investigator for the Attorney General’s office needs evidence of criminality from them to bolster the case. Mark Vicente wants more people to go on the record. Mark points out that Frank Parlato of the Frank Report has a lot of contacts and knows a lot of what has gone down in Nxivm. But everyone’s issue with him is he can be rather crass in his reporting. Bonnie says he is “vulgar.” Catherine admits that some of his reporting can be hurtful, but she doesn’t interfere.

After the conference, Nippy and Sarah talk more about Frank. He was initially hired by Nxivm to clean up Keith’s online reputation. That is until the whole thing went sour. I don’t know the details of that, but maybe we will find out later. Nippy feels Frank is insensitive to the women he writes about and Sarah says that he “has published lies about people that have really hurt them.”

Back at Catherine’s, she receives a call from Frank and she lets him know about the latest news. She wants to get together with him so they can correlate all the evidence they have. Catherine flies out to Buffalo. Catherine tells us that she has never met him in person, but the more she got to know him over the phone, the more she realized they have the same agenda. “And I think he’s helped a lot of people get out.”

Driving on her way to Frank’s house, Catherine calls her mom, Elizabeth. Catherine wants her to call “Charles” and ask him to speak to the Dalai Lama. Perhaps His Holiness can make a public statement. Charles as in Prince Charles. Prince Charles is Elizabeth’s second cousin. Elizabeth doesn’t sound too responsive to that idea. When is the last time Elizabeth has talked to Charles, I wonder. When is the last time you have talked to your second cousin? Catherine tells her she is spending the night at Frank’s house. Elizabeth thinks they will get along quite well. Catherine laughs and agrees. Elizabeth thinks Frank is “brave” and “out to kill.”

Frank Parlato.

They get to Frank’s house and Catherine says the outside of it looks like The Addams Family. Once inside, introductions all around. There is quite a gang of people there. Some are there just to meet Catherine Oxenberg, I’m sure. She and Frank sit down to talk and he kicks out the filmmakers, because he wants to talk privately.

When we come back, Catherine gets right down to business making a fruit and veggie drink using Frank’s never-been-used juicer. Which cracks me up for some reason. Catherine is so far away from her usual environment that she probably intuitively reached for something that feels familiar. L.A. comes to Buffalo.

Frank is asked if the whole thing is like a chess game. Franks says the great chess players, like himself, keep the whole game in their head. He is 14 steps ahead of Keith with seven to go. He kind of smirks when he says it. I think Frank is one of those people who has a rather wry sense of humor so it’s hard to know when he is joking around or being serious.

An awkward moment occurs when one of Frank’s friends gets a bit starstruck and tells Catherine she is a huge fan of hers. “You are even lovelier in person, if it’s possible,” she says. Which is very sweet actually and Catherine says so. But you can tell the woman would like to stare at Catherine for a bit and Catherine knows that. It’s just a weird moment, too given the circumstances of why Catherine is even there.

Catherine, Frank and Frank’s attorney Jim Roscetti sit down to talk about what they need to gather for the A.G. Jim advises they gather as much evidence as they can instead of paring it down. The bigger the notebook of information, the better.

We see archival footage of Susan Dones conducting an intensive. Mark tells us in voice over that Susan had been dragged through the courts after resigning from Nxivm. She had over 200 charges brought against her. “She defended herself,” Mark tells us. “And won.” She fucking won. That is amazing considering the team of lawyers she was up against. Mark says that she is an amazing woman.

We hear a recorded phone call of Susan telling Mark about her experience in court. The judge had told her that due to the seriousness of the charges against her she really needed to hire an attorney. Susan told the judge she simply would not be able to afford the half a million or more it would cost her in attorney fees. But she believed she had a chance because she had the truth on her side.

Back at Frank’s house. Frank tells us he was never a follower nor did he ever take a course of Keith’s. He was simply Keith’s publicist. “It’s astounding how many people Keith has intimidated and frightened.” He will spend millions of dollars just to go after a person he doesn’t like. “He enjoys hurting people,” says Frank, “this is a pattern.”

We see a small house “somewhere in New York” as Frank in voice over tells us about a woman named Toni Natalie. We see her in her house as Frank tells us she was the first of the defectors and “the one out there fighting long before anyone else came out to fight.” By herself. For thirty years Keith harassed her. He wrecked her life, says Frank.

Toni Natalie

Toni tells us that she is a former girlfriend of Keith’s. She knew him before he was called “Vanguard” and the spiritual leader of Nxivm. He was “just Keith” and a business man. Keith created a company called Consumer’s Byline. A multi-level marketing company where people paid a membership and as a group bought consumer goods at much cheaper prices than what would normally be paid retail. Members were represented by “professional buyers” who shopped around for the best deals. “We help each other have more” was the motto of the company. In archival footage we see Keith say that what the company is really about is changing the way we live and maximizing human potential. Yeah, I always think about maximizing my human potential when I buy something. I mean that genuinely. It is my rationale for all my impulse shopping.

The company was booming Toni tells us. Curious about it, she drove to Albany to check it out. The joint was energized. Young people excited and working hard. Keith came out of his office to greet her. Toni said that the way Keith represented himself to people was, “Hi, I’m Keith Raniere. I have a 240 IQ and I want to change the world.” He offered to help her quit smoking. (Toni said in another interview that he could smell the scent of cigarette smoke on her clothing.) Toni was so flattered that “this genius” was offering to spend time and help her.

She went into his office and they talked. He asked what things made her nervous and was pressing on certain points on her hands while he was talking to her. He told her anytime she felt like smoking to just press on one of the pressure points and the urge would go away. That was all she could remember of the meeting.

Afterwards, someone asked her what she was talking about with Keith for so long. So long? Toni thought she had only been in Keith’s office for about 15 minutes. In fact it had been several hours. Did he hypnotize her? Why can’t she remember what happened or how much time had passed? Toni doesn’t say.

She returned home and Keith started calling her. A lot. They would talk for hours and Toni told him all about herself. Keith would always ask probing questions and was a good listener. “So, Keith knew all of my secrets.” Toni says. She asked him why someone with a 240 IQ wasn’t out curing cancer or something profound like that? Oh, did he forget to mention that he is a sociopath? Because that might explain at least part of it. No, what he said was that Consumer’s Byline was the platform he was going to use to change the world. Did she want to come along? She was hooked, Toni admits to us, her face revealing a big swath of emotions, including regret.

Toni was offered a position within the company so she and her son moved to Albany. From her description, it had the same vibe that people felt in Nxivm. Warm, friendly, happy people. It wasn’t a company, it was a family! Toni was excited because it was a good job that paid well. But Keith told her to not tell anyone they were dating each other. “Because you don’t have a formal education,” he told her. People will think she only got the job because Keith was her boyfriend. Toni was a high school drop out “so he took my shame and he figured out a way to use it to control me.”

But then things started to go wrong with the company. Commission checks weren’t going out. The company was accused of being an illegal pyramid scheme that used unfair sales practices to sign up new members.

Charges against Keith, Pam and Karen.

Keith’s company was in deep shit. He was facing multiple investigations as well as lawsuits. Notice that Keith’s two groupies from the very early days, Karen and Pam, were named in the lawsuits as well. The company was shut down and Keith refused to admit guilt. He eventually paid a fine, but that’s all I know that he had to do. To Toni, it seemed that Keith was falling apart.

Nancy Salzman enters the picture. Somehow she always does. Nancy met Keith through Toni. Nancy was Toni’s therapist and Nancy described herself as the “number two NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) expert in the world.” How does one measure something like who is the top expert in the world in regards to something that is pseudoscientific? Who would measure her expertise? I’m just curious.

We see Nancy in archival video footage explain that she became a trainer in NLP and helped thousands of people using it. Nancy tells us that once she met Keith many of the questions “burning in her mind” were answered. He developed a model called “rational inquiry” that could get to core issues in minutes. He taught it to her and said that he could teach it to literally anyone if they cared to learn. “A single man had developed a technology to transform and empower the world,” Nancy says, looking like a complete loon.

Nancy and Keith wanted to start a business, Toni tells us, that would be working with big corporations, selling them their program. I guess to help executives perform at higher levels at their jobs? I dunno what their “program” was supposed to do for corporations. Anyway, the feedback they got was that companies thought Nancy was great, but they wanted nothing to do with Keith. Presumably because of his bad reputation from his failed business. Keith and Nancy reworked it and created the Executive Success Program, or ESP, to sell to individuals.

Toni attended their first intensive, but she wasn’t comfortable with it or Keith so much anymore. Too many women around and too many pieces didn’t fit, she says. By the time Keith decided everyone should call him “Vanguard” (named after a video game Keith kept in Toni’s garage), Toni decided to break up with him. That would be that and Toni would move on with her life, she thought. “But that was just the beginning of hell,” she tells us.

We cut to Catherine who has received text messages from India. One text asks why she won’t just come to Albany and see what’s going on for herself instead of listening to hearsay. Frank thinks Keith is behind the messages. Catherine very much agrees. Catherine says that India feels very lost to her. She blames herself, because she was the one who introduced India to ESP to begin with. In 2011, she asked if India wanted to attend the 5 day intensive with her to check it out.

India.

India loved it and Catherine felt she had learned some helpful things, too. Catherine kept taking classes on and off for two years, she tells us. She overlooked the things that bothered her. Catherine says that she didn’t realize “the system was designed to break a person down and lock in a new persona.” Which is a very succinct way of describing exactly what happened to people the further they got into ESP courses and sub-groups.

Catherine asks Frank for advice in what to say to India. How can she turn her against Keith. “It’s not turning against Keith,” he says, “It’s turning towards herself.” Yeah, but how? Catherine wants to know. Frank thinks India needs to be told that Nxivm and Keith are going down; she needs to be told to protect herself and reclaim her own mind. Then what happens if Keith tells her to block Catherine’s texts? “We’ll send them by carrier pigeon,” Frank deadpans.

We go back to Toni who takes us down to the basement to her “war room”. Her dog Ramona comes along. Toni tells us that when she and Keith split up, he told her he would see her dead or in jail. She thought that was a terrible thing to say, but she had no idea what Keith had in store for her.

It started with phone calls all hours of the day and night. Then her medical insurance was canceled, her phone was shut off, credit cards canceled and her son’s school enrollment was canceled. All done by Keith. Toni couldn’t figure out how he was able to do it until a neighbor told her that every day a woman with long hair (I am assuming that was Pam Cafritz) went through and stole her mail. Her dog was poisoned and died. Her house was broken into and stuff rearranged just to scare her. She was forced to file for bankruptcy after lawsuits were brought against her. This went on for decades. And there is so much more shit that happened as well.

Toni said in a podcast interview–which I am sorry I cannot find because there are a lot of them on the web now and I am not sure which one it was– that Kristin Keeffe got in touch with her once she (Kristin) bailed on Keith in 2014. She apologized for poisoning Toni’s dog and all the other harassment. It had been decided by Keith and his inner circle that the dog had to be killed, because he kept getting in the way when they were trying to break into Toni’s house. See what I mean when I said in a previous recap that I have issues with Kristin Keeffe? Oh, she eventually ran away, but where was her gut check when she was killing Toni’s dog and other abuses? Sorry. Kristin can fuck all the way off.

Pam Cafritz.

Toni shows us a day planner she has that belonged to Pam Cafritz. It’s filled with weigh ins and calorie counting. Pam was the one he first manipulated, Toni says. We always forget about poor Karen, his college girlfriend, who was there before Pam. She is just kind of forgettable in her blandness. Sorry, Karen.

I am not clear on how Pam and Karen were presented to Toni in the beginning or at what point Kristin came into the picture. I am pretty certain Toni did not know they were all sleeping with Keith though she probably figured it out later. Toni started dating Keith in 1991. Pam had been with Keith for about five years at that point and Karen even longer. Pam had to commit her life to Keith and that included welcoming any additional women he wanted to have sex with and/or date. “And [Pam] embraced me with more love… than anyone ever had in my life,” Toni says. After she broke up with Keith, Toni still waited for Pam to call.

We see footage from 2006 where Keith is in someone’s car and he is talking about Toni. He claims that Toni tried to steal the business and take money from Nancy. Keith says that he told her he would no longer have anything to do with her if she didn’t pay Nancy back. “In my opinion, she sounds really crazy,” a woman in the car says angrily. Keith starts to make fun of Toni “… she needs more therapy. They should up the dosage on the-” But he stops himself to revert to his very fake, but very well polished humble persona. “I have my opinions about her. It’s not really my place to say. Everyone builds their own postulate world. … for some people the world is a real hell. And she sounds very angry,” he concludes. You know who is angry? Me. Having to listen this asshole. I hate this guy.

We hear Mark Vicente tell us that Keith was very careful to keep his hands clean on every single thing going on with the company or anywhere else. His actual name wasn’t on anything so it could not be shown that he explicitly ordered anything, but of course his hands were in everything.

We hear court testimony where Susan Dones is interrogating Clare Bronfman. She is asking Clare what Keith’s role is in the company of Nxivm and Clare denies that he has one. He has nothing to do with how the company is run. He is not the owner, a board member or a paid employee. He is simply Vanguard, the conceptual founder of Nxivm, she says. And even that she admits reluctantly.

Mark tells us that Keith lied to people that Susan had “stolen materials and misused the tech.” It was therefore necessary to hold her accountable. Nobody knew that she was being dragged through the courts on hundreds of bullshit charges and that everything Keith said about her was a lie. Mark says that he was part of the opposition against her. He calls himself part of the “reign of terror.” Oh boy.

In voice over, Mark refers to himself as the “enforcer”. His job was to “capture everybody back into the system.” The end result being that people were afraid to ask questions for fear they would be seen as dishonorable. “I sided with the wrong side of history,” he says. He doesn’t know how to deal with the fact that he sided against people who were just trying to get away.

Mark has come to visit Susan Dones and he knocks on her apartment door. Whatever his offenses, Susan at least, is thrilled to see him. She gives him a big hug. They sit to talk and she tells him that she had always hoped he would wake up one day. He apologizes for how “fucked up this all was.” He says that he let the lies that were being said about her affect his feelings and he has a lot of regret. Susan says that what he is doing now is part of the healing process. The other stuff, the guilt, the remorse and so on, resolves itself in time and Mark just has to go through it. Processing those feelings is just part of the journey.

We go back to Toni’s house. Mark calls and tells Toni about Catherine and how she is compiling evidence to take to the A.G. He asks her to gather any evidence that she has that might help with the case. “There’s quite a bit,” says Toni. Mark hopes this is a chance for Toni to get some justice, too. Toni heads out to Frank’s place to hand over what she has.

Toni shows Catherine the “death timeline” Keith sent her after they broke up. I love the “you are here” marker. Reminds me of being lost at a mall. Catherine wants to add that to the evidence pile. “He is doing the same things,” Toni says. “His patterns haven’t changed at all.” And they really haven’t. It’s always the same old lines, same tropes, over and over.

Everyone works to compile the evidence. It comes to three big binders full. Frank takes them out to the car for Catherine. Catherine hugs him and Frank gives a casual wave good-bye. Despite being somewhat controversial, Frank really helped a great deal. I don’t know if he gets much credit for that these days? I have no clue.

Next we see Catherine taking a cab to the criminal justice building in Albany New York, I think. It’s a huge imposing fortress whatever building it is. Catherine says in voice over that she never thought she would be responsible for so much of bringing Nxivm down. But it has now taken a momentum of its own and she can’t control what that means for her daughter or how she will be perceived by the government, as criminal or victim. But she is at the point where she would rather see India serve time than remain in the cult. End.

“Change is Everything” by Son Lux is the outro music.

Next recap: Episode 8, “The Wound” We get into Keith’s head and it’s pretty dark in there. The FBI is ready to investigate and wants to talk to witnesses right away.

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