We open with Sarah discovering the #metoo movement blowing up on social media. She decides to share her story on Facebook. We cut to intro.
When we come back, we are at Catherine’s house with Mark and Bonnie. They get word that the New York Times has printed the article about Nxivm and DOS. Catherine is elated. Bonnie says part of why the article is blowing up is because of the #metoo movement. Catherine reads that Keith texted to a follower that “if the [branding] initials were Abraham Lincoln’s or Bill Gate’s, no one would care.” I know exactly the tone of voice Keith would have used if he had said that out loud and that shows you how much I have been wrapped up in this series. Catherine also reads that the authorities have declined to pursue action against Keith or Nxivm. Her voice cracks as she says, “Fuck them. Fuck them all. Shitheads.” “Yep,” says Mark.
Mark calls Sarah who seems really amped and giddy with relief. I mean, it’s done. The article is out there. Mark thinks it’s almost like a new beginning. “The fireworks are going to start,” says Nippy, looking like he has mixed feelings. But mostly he seems happy about it. They all thank Bonnie for being so brave when she left all by herself. “That must have been scary as fuck,” says Sarah. “This is gonna be a roller coaster,” says Nippy. But he hopes this will be the beginning of a steady climb towards justice.
Later at Sarah and Nippy’s place some Vancouver EXSPians (ex-ESPians) have come over to celebrate. They have been sending the article to people, including members still in Nxivm. Sarah makes an inside joke about not wanting to trigger their pride which makes no sense to me, but cracks everyone up. I am at peace with lacking the requisite knowledge to get the joke. The room falls silent when Sarah says that Barbara Bouchey is calling. “Should I answer that?” she asks.
“Hi Barb,” says Sarah. Barbara tells Sarah she is proud of her and that she feels less alone now. Sarah shares with the group that Barb was her “field trainer” when she first came in. “That was her? I guess her name was blacklisted back then,” says one of the EXSPians. Barbara says that even if nothing comes from the article, it doesn’t take away from the bravery of having given the interview.
We cut to Barbara at her house. She is asked about Nancy Salzman. Barbara met her in the late 80’s when she was seeing her as a therapist for stress management, she tells us. Nancy helped her a lot and they became friends. In 1999, Nancy convinced Barbara to take the ESP workshop. She and Keith had just formed Nxivm at the time. Barbara found the workshop helpful.
Barbara was not looking for a boyfriend and “I didn’t find [Keith] attractive,” she says in that tone. You know the one we have come to expect from anyone describing their first impression of Keith. But after taking part in the program she came to respect his mind. They started dating a few months after that. He would say to her (and you know what’s coming), “You’re not like anybody else.” She felt that as a business woman she could “match him in a way that other people couldn’t.” I say he was throwing you a line, Barbara.
Barbara was quite successful running a million dollar financial planning company she built herself. She left her business to come work for Nxivm. She became a member of the executive board, created Vanguard week and developed the sales and marketing department for the company.
We cut back to Sarah and she is reading comments written to her on Facebook and Twitter. Mostly the comments are supportive, but there is the occasional one from someone wondering how she could have let something like that happen to her. “It makes me sound stupid, but whatever,” she says a teeny bit pissed. One comment is especially critical of how aggressive the Vancouver ESP center was in their recruitment tactics, calling them predators. Both Nippy and Sarah are very taken aback by that.
Sarah gets immersed in reading and zeroes in on the judgmental comments which would be hard for anyone not to do, frankly. I get it. She is disappointed, she tells Barbara in a phone call, that missing from the NYT article are “the steps to getting involved [and] the psychology behind the coercion.” The story is spreading though and reporters have been going to Albany to try and score interviews with people still in. In a news story on television some guy (psychologist? psychiatrist?) describes cult members as fragile and sharing the same narcissism as the cult leader. I think Barry Meier’s insight (scroll towards the bottom) in regards to people that get caught up in cults is more accurate.
We cut to some old footage of V-week and watch as Keith macks on endless streams of women. Barbara tells us in voice over that in 2006, people really started to believe that Keith was this enlightened human being. Barbara says that she didn’t really see Keith as a guru, but she did feel he was her soulmate.
Keith at that time was living with Karen Unterreiner (his girlfriend from his college years), Pam Cafritz, and Kristin Keeffe. They all agreed with Barbra that she and Keith were soulmates. She had no idea that he was sleeping with all three of them, too. She thought they were just his roommates sharing a house, because that was how they presented it.
In footage we see Keith at home, lying on a couch, as he ponders why he has been able to be in long term relationships with several women at the same time. He asks Pam and Karen, but neither can explain what it is about him that inspires such devotion. Nobody can. It’s a genuine fucking mystery.
We cut back to Barbara who is asked if she was aware that Keith was having sex with other people. “Not for about a year,” she says. First she found out about a woman named Barbara Jeske. Keith said he had sex with her about twice a year as her guru/teacher and it was no big deal. Then it was Pamela and the rest of the women that lived with him. They all admitted it. Altogether Keith was sleeping with about twelve women on a regular basis, Barbara discovered. She felt betrayed, humiliated and shocked.
We cut back to Vancouver and Sarah is heading in to give her first radio interview. She does her best to explain how it came to be that she submitted to being branded. She talks about how it was flipped to be about empowerment and teaching women strength when in actuality it was for one man’s pleasure.
Back to Barbara. She tells us that there are lot of people that have no problem with multiple consenting sexual partners and they see it as evolved, it’s just that she didn’t share that viewpoint. “The inner circle,” as Barbara calls Keith’s housemates/girlfriends, changed her mind. What’s the big deal? You’re Keith’s soulmate, they’d say. And Barbara hated feeling angry about it. She loved Keith and wanted to let the jealousy go. But whenever she and Keith would get in an argument, one of the inner circle would give her a call. They would work through whatever the issue was with Barbara and then she would be given the green light to patch things up with Keith. It made her feel crazy. As it would anyone.
We cut to Catherine’s house and she reads on India’s Facebook the official Nxivm statement regarding the NYT article. Catherine says it makes no sense and addresses nothing. India also posted that she was well, happy and that everything is cool as far as she is concerned.
Back to Barbara. She eventually broke up with Keith, but with the intention of still working for the organization; she felt it was still very helpful and good. But, Keith stopped talking to her. Also, the inner circle started telling people that Barbara’s soul had an ethical breach and she was crazy.
Keith was banging all of the women that served on his executive board, too. In Barbara’s opinion, that enabled him to control them better. Not sleeping with Keith was the problem. Therefore, she was on the outs. But wait, there’s more. About 40 coaches and proctors of Nxivm were bitching to her about how the company was being run and Barbara felt she had some leverage.
We then meet Susan Dones who ran a very successful ESP center in Seattle during this same time period. She didn’t spend much time with Keith and hated the whole guru aspect of his leadership. Dones told Barbara that she was thinking of leaving Nxivm. Barbara asked her to come to Albany so they could talk about their issues with the company. The plan was they would then bring them to Keith.
A group of nine women, who were not screwing Keith, planned a mediation meeting with him. It was filmed, of course, because everything involving Keith was filmed. They challenged him (very gently) on his lack of transparency and other issues. In the filmed footage we see Keith comes across as tense and a bit defensive in body language, but he never loses his cool. For Susan, during the meeting it suddenly dawned on her that, “Omigosh, I’m in a cult.” It’s funny when she says that, but it also made me wonder what the exact moment was that created the awareness. “The nine of us, after 11 hours with Keith, all resigned,” says Barbara. Eleven hours with Keith? No wonder they resigned.
Susan shut her center down and wrote a resignation letter “with the people I trusted,” she says, which included Barbara. In the letter they asked for money they felt was owed to them. All together it came to a little over 2 million. This was based on the overall worth of Susan’s ESP center, unpaid commission and trainer fees as well as money Keith had borrowed from Barbara for his attempts at commodity trading. In the letter, they said that if they didn’t receive a check in one week they would go to the press. Which was not really above board maybe, because it does come across as like blackmail. Why they didn’t say that they would hire a lawyer instead is not clear to me. But maybe they just felt fighting it out in court was a battle they were bound to lose, because of the army of lawyers Keith had at his disposal.
So then we see footage of Keith informing a roomful of people that a group of members will be leaving “the community.” Keith says they attempted to blackmail him and that is illegal. So Nxivm is filing criminal charges. Everyone in the room becomes very worried about poor Keith. Is he okay? He expresses sadness, because these were people he cared about, he says. They are people he has known for a very long time. It’s like a death, he says. But it’s also a relief, because he can now divert his focus onto other things.
Barbara shows us a picture of Clare and Sara Bronfman. In 2005, Keith asked Barbara to be their financial planner. She agreed. When Barbara left Nxivm in 2009, Clare went to the D.A. to allege that her former financial planner had tried to extort and blackmail her. Clare lied and said that she had fired Barbara for “ethical violations” and that the extortion was motivated by “revenge and spite.” Clare used the resignation letter as proof.
Barbara was served with legal documents that said Keith Raniere, Nxivm and the Bronfmans were going to bring civil and legal charges against her. In present day Barbara still can’t fathom how Keith and the Bronfmans managed to turn people against her. People who knew her and what she was about. “How did they twist it?”
We cut to Catherine in a taxi in New York City. She is talking on the phone to a man named Rick Ross. He is a cult expert and anyone who knows anything about Scientology has heard of him. Well, that’s how I heard of him anyway. He is complimenting her for her toughness and perseverance. Catherine tells us that Rick knows a lot about Keith, because Keith’s lawyers kept him in litigation for about 15 years. Rick has been helping Catherine through this whole ordeal.
She, Rick and a man named Stanley, who is a long time friend of Catherine’s, meet at Stanley’s apartment. Catherine shares that India has texted her for the first time since the NYT article came out. She told Catherine that she and her friends didn’t appreciate being publicly shamed. It was also disrespectful of their private relationship. Catherine says that she will reply that it was done out of love and fear for her. Ross thinks that reply is good. He advises to not get into a back and forth kind of argument, because none of the replies will be coming from India anyway; they’ll more than likely be coached responses. Rick says in that way, Keith will be able to determine “the parameters of reality” for India. He goes on to say that the women who live in Albany near Keith are the most controlled members of the group. Which makes sense.
“The human mind is much more fragile than we would like to believe,” Rick says. “We are all subject to influence techniques.” As for the women that tell Keith good-bye? “He doesn’t like that,” Rick says. I’ll say. We haven’t even heard the worst of it yet.
We see footage from 2009 of the Dalai Lama visiting Albany. A newscaster says that he has come at the invitation of the World Ethical Foundation which is an organization founded by Clare and Sara Bronfman. Of course it was! Who is more ethical than these two nimrods? Barbara tells us that Nxivm really milked the visit. Meanwhile, the lawsuits against her went on and she couldn’t even find a lawyer. No one wanted to go against the legal team of Keith and the Bronfman sisters.
We then see footage of Keith’s private meeting with the Dalai Lama during his Albany visit. Keith is telling him that “there are some people that come in [to Nxivm] that seem to have bad intent. Though I never want to believe that.” So innocent. So pure is Keith’s heart. He wants to know when it’s appropriate to fight back. His Holiness says that sometimes it is necessary to take appropriate action, but it must be done without ego or selfish intent. Who Keith? Never. “And also you all have to judge your guru,” says His Holiness pointing to Clare and other people in the room. “Don’t refer to me as a guru,” says Keith, “I’m not a guru.” The first time I saw this scene it seemed to me that Keith got angry at being called that, but in this viewing I can see that he stuck to that faux humble act. His well worn favorite.
We go back to Barbara who says that shortly after that visit, she received an announcement in the mail from Nxivm that their board of executives was being revamped. The girlfriends were gone and the new executives were Clare, Emiliano Salinas (son of former Mexican president Carlos Salinas de Gortari) and Mark. In Barbara’s opinion, from that point, Nancy and Keith took a strategic interest in Mark Vincente as well as Sarah Edmonson. Meanwhile, Barbara was getting accused of more crimes by the Bronfmans. Stealing money, misappropriating funds, defamation, conspiracy. Just bombarding the courts. Barbara says that 360 charges were brought against her within a 10-month period.
The same was happening with Susan Dones. She was so bombarded with charges she needed to address in court she couldn’t hold down a regular job. Plus, Susan had to represent herself, because she didn’t have the money for a lawyer. She DJ’ed on weekends to support herself.
Barbara owed $700,000 in legal debt that took seven years for her to pay off. She had to rebuild her entire life. There is more to the story as to why Barbara did not have money to pay for lawyers even though she had been/is a successful business woman. Keith (basically) conned her out of her entire life savings back when they were dating by borrowing money from her so he could attempt commodity trading. I got this info from the excellent podcast “Escaping Nxivm”. I believe it is episode 4 where Barbara is interviewed.
We hear a recorded phone call from 2014 between Barbara and Kristin Keeffe, shortly after Kristin ran away. Barbara asks her if she is safe and Kristin says, “Well, I think so.” She goes on to tell Barbara that Keith undermined her behind her back the whooole time they were involved. “He would undermine you to all of [the inner circle]. He lured you in… just seduced you to get his company off the ground. He used your business to get complete financial control of the Bronfmans” Then he blew up the relationship. “I think deliberately,” Kristin says. After that, he used the Bronfmans to “break” Barbara, referring to the court harassment.
I’m not sure I buy that Keith was only interested in Barbara as a means to use her business acumen. For one, she was his physical type and he was/is a sex addict. For another, to what degree Keith is able to form genuine emotional attachments to anyone? I mean he gets attached to women, but in a controlling pathological way. I also imagine that bad mouthing his multitude of girlfriends behind their backs was probably typical behavior for him. Certainly seeking revenge if they left him was. What I am saying is that the way he treated Barbara was standard Keith.
Barbara cries as she watches a video of Keith playing the piano, “He could have been great. There was so much potential. And he did help… thousands of people. Including me.” Barbara thinks it’s sad that his own flaws and addictions destroyed his own consciousness. She forgives him, but believes he belongs in jail for the rest of his life.*
We cut to Catherine who is headed to the Megyn Kelly Show. I can’t stand Megyn Kelly. I am just saying. Catherine does a good job during the interview, getting her points across to the audience who are supportive. Afterwards, she cries, because the whole thing was tough for her to do.
Vancouver. Sarah tells us that back in 2009, after Barbara left, she got a promotion. She believed the lies about Barbara that Keith told everyone. We then are shown footage from earlier in the documentary where Sarah is asked if she sees herself as a victim. She says that she does not believe that she is without responsibility for some of her choices. She sees herself as a victim of a con, but doesn’t think it’s all black and white. I guess the point is that…? Okay, I’m not sure what the point of tacking that on was. Other than to indicate that Sarah benefited from Barbara’s departure and she wasn’t unaware of that?
We cut to Catherine who has received a text that the Attorney General is ready to talk to her. She is shocked and thrilled. End
*If you are interested in Barbara’s final statement to Keith in court it is on the Frank Report. Sorry I am not able to provide a direct link.
“Fight” by Mavis Staples is the outro song.
Next recap: Episode 7 “Blame & Responsibility” – We meet Toni Natalie, an ex-girlfriend of Keith’s. Catherine works with Frank Parlato to gather evidence to take to the AG. Sarah and many EXSPians in Vancouver gather evidence to give to Catherine, too.