The Vow: Ep. 5 “Class 1 Data”

In episode 4 we learned that Catherine Oxenberg’s daughter India was a member of DOS. “Jane Doe” told us of her experience being in the secret group.

Kristin Keefe.

Albany, New York 2007

We open with Mark Vicente filming Nxivm’s “Legal Liaison” Kristin Keeffe. She is saying that Nxivm is a wonderful idealistic movement and for critics to come after them is just “heinous.” Don’t fuck with us, Kristin warns. Our attorneys are saying, “Man, you people will scorch the earth.”

Vancouver 2017

Sarah got a call from the financial crimes unit of the Vancouver police. Nxivm is trying to get Sarah arrested on charges of fraud, mischief and theft. She knew it was coming… Sarah calls a man named Jim who is still in. He is a leader of SOP and Sarah considered him a friend. She tells him that she feels ostracized and so alone. She asks him what the word is on his side of the fence (so to speak). Jim tells her that from his perspective “when you make a promise to do something, you do it. I had heard you had broken a promise.” Now he doesn’t know if he can trust her. Sarah tries to explain that promise or no, holding on to someone’s “collateral” when they want it back or whatever is blackmail. The illegality is with the people of Nxivm, not anything she has done. But Jim can’t hear it. A promise is a promise and is everything in Nxivm land. Anything she says falls on deaf ears.

We cut to Nippy who tells us that he’s not angry at Jim and his other friends that are still in. He gets it. But he is struggling to come to terms that that means they are no longer a part of his life. Nippy tells us Jim was as close as a brother. He gets choked up talking about how much Jim had helped him grow as a person through his compassion and honesty. Jim sounds like a good guy. Problem is, he’s a true believer who thinks Keith is the one with all that goodness.

Los Angeles 2017

The legal dogs have been released Mark has been told. We cut to him talking on the phone with Kristin Keeffe. Mark tells us in voice over about Kristin. She was Nxivm’s legal liaison, working with all of the lawyers on all of the many lawsuits that Nxivm filed against people. She was “very close to Keith” but then she suddenly disappeared. Mark found out later that she ran away from the group after she had a baby with Keith.

We then cut to footage of a weird scene (year unknown) between Kristin and Keith at the house they shared in Albany. Keith is just rambling as he always does, while Kristin is typing on her computer. “I’m trying to read? Can you stop?” she asks him nicely, but with a little edge of irritation. “I can stop,” says Keith quietly seething through a smile. He touches her arm so she will look at him and says, “and you know what else? I will stop… sorta.” You can see Keith didn’t like that being caught on camera.

“I had been pretending everything was fine but he was starting to catch on,” Kristin tells Mark in present day. So she ran. But once she hears through the grapevine that someone else has left Nxivm, she likes to contact them. Through a burner phone though, because one thing she had to do was basically go off the grid for her own protection.

Mark tells us that Kristin wants to help and has her call Sarah who wants to know how she can prevent being dragged through the courts. Kristin informs her that Clare has hundreds of millions of dollars at her disposal. Nxivm has deep pockets.

Clare Bronfman

She is the financier of Nxivm. Now she is in prison, but at the time of filming she was not yet arrested. Thanks to an enormous fortune she (and her sister Sara) inherited from their father, they paid for the legal team that Keith used as a weapon against people he felt had betrayed him. Or against critics that saw Keith for what he is. I can’t stand the Bronfman sisters. Very unlikable women. I don’t know why, beyond the obvious working for the wrong side aspect. I feel as though I would find them unlikable, regardless. Anyway, through the years Mark watched Clare climb the ranks and become more powerful within the organization.

Kristin recommends that Sarah, Catherine and everyone else call victim services of law enforcement and let them know about the kind of shit that has been going down. Especially with a focus on DOS. They do, but unfortunately law enforcement isn’t sure what the crimes are, even though investigators agree that it’s fucked up. Mark thinks the next step is to get the press involved.

Mark contacts the New York Times and is put in touch with journalist Barry Meier. We see footage of Mark talking to Barry on the phone. Mark tells him that they need a reputable news source to write about Nxivm. He also directs Barry to other publications that have already written about the organization through the years. Like Forbes magazine.

We hear an old recorded conversation between Mark and Keith where Mark expresses concern about the bad stuff about Keith in the press. Of course Keith manages to flip it. Instead of anyone being wise to steer clear because of his bad reputation, Keith says people who would do so lack critical thinking skills and are weak. After all, captains of industry and adult children of first families are in Nxivm.

In 2007, Mark was tasked with making a film that would exonerate Keith and restore his reputation. So, he, Kristin Keeffe and some other people started making this pro-Keith/anti-cult film. We see footage from it where Kristin calls Nancy and Keith intellectual and humanitarian giants. She also says that she feels determined to “make justice happen” for Keith. Mark worked on this film for years, but the bad press was relentless. Everyone ran out of strategies to deal with it so, the film never got finished.

Edgar, Clare (again) and Sara Bronfman

Sara on left and Clare on right.

In Keith’s view, his bad press was the result of journalists being funded by corrupt rich people. Rich people like Edgar Bronfman, multi-billionaire father of Clare and Sara. Keith thinks he was corrupt, of course, because Edgar didn’t like him. Edgar was interviewed for the Forbes article linked above.

We get a blurb about how the wretched sisters got involved with Nxivm and how it changed their lives. Both women claim they became more successful and driven as a result of the ESP tech. The sisters believe that success like that inspires fear. We hear Sara say in a radio interview that family members first noticed how much she had grown as a person, but then they would say that they liked her better when she was miserable and would cry on their shoulder.

Keith said that people like Edgar Bronfman found him threatening, because his parental influence was diminished. The Forbes article was the beginning of Keith’s bad press, I believe. Keith considered it Clare’s fault, because it came out after some argument she had had with her father about ESP and Keith. That was her “breach.” So she had (has) a responsibility to fix it.

We cut to Catherine who is on her way to pick up her mother, Elizabeth, from the airport. She tells us in voice over that she struggled with the idea of going to the press. But she understands the impact this article could have. She talks about the affect this cult has on people and how it separates family members from each other, sometimes for good.

I read somewhere (I can’t recall where), possibly from another Nxivm documentary, that Clare harassed her father, as he lay on his deathbed, to repudiate the things he had said about Keith in the Forbes article.

Driving home, Catherine and her mom admit that they had a period of estrangement. Catherine worries that could happen between her and India. She also worries that the press about India being in a cult will stigmatize her. Elizabeth disagrees as this is about a mother who loves her daughter. Elizabeth, by the way, is kind of fabulous. Stylish.

Albany 2009

Ugh, the Bronfman sisters again. We hear a radio interview from 2009 where Sara is defending Keith. Sara says controversy sells newspapers and that is the root of the bad press. She is giving the interview also to spread the word that the Dalai Lama is coming to Albany to meet Keith. Nxivm is a goal setting program, Sara says, so she set a goal to meet the Dalai Lama. And she worked to make it happen. (Read: she greased the right palms.)

Mark Vicente tells us in present day that the whole point was for the Dalai Lama to vindicate Keith. But whoops! The event got cancelled. Precisely because of Keith’s shitty reputation. So Sara, Keith, Nancy and Mark flew to Dharamsala, India to convince the Dalai Lama to change his mind and to please come. I say the Dalai Lama cancelled, because who the fuck wants to travel to Albany, New York?

We see footage of the meeting, because Mark filmed it. His Holiness tells Keith his organization is controversial. There is more, but mostly this is an awkward uncomfortable meeting where every one denies what is being said about Keith.

Keith meets the Dalai Lama.

At the conclusion of the meeting, it looks like Keith and company have made some headway in changing the Dalai Lama’s mind about whether the bad press was deserved. After the meeting, Keith says to Sara and Nancy that he wishes that he could “apply [his] skill” in regards to the situation between China and Tibet, “but [His Holiness] doesn’t want that right now.” Aw, that Keith! Always so humble and ready to help! Then he comments that His Holiness didn’t like his hair. Combing it might have helped, Keith.

Mark tells us that the bad press just kept on coming. Including accusations in a 2012 Times Union article, that Keith had been involved with underage girls. Mark admits that he found the article disturbing. He was still a “fervent believer”, but he did have a talk with Keith because of this. “He had answers for everything,” Mark says.

Cut to Mark talking on the phone again with Barry Meier of the NYT. Barry has been doing some investigating and says that even if only half of what he has read is true about Keith and Nxivm, it’s shocking. Mark warns him about the litigation machine that Keith has and says he wants to remain anonymous.

Catherine tells us that she has been served with papers from Nxivm Mexico to stop going after the company or she may be arrested. Since the papers were issued in Mexico I am not sure how that works? Barry Meier and Sarah were sent the same.

Phone call between Kristin, Sarah, Nippy and Mark. Mark says that Barry needs as many people going on the record as possible. Everyone wants to be off record except Catherine. Sarah’s terrified of her collateral being released. We see Sarah and Nippy’s little boy playing with his dinosaur as Nippy says that he doesn’t want any of this to be the backdrop of his son’s childhood. Their son is incredibly cute. Yes, I am a softie in regards to babies. Sorry.

Lauren Salzman

Sarah, sounding fed up and tired, asks Kristin if Lauren had sex with Keith. “Omigod, yes!” says Kristin. “Lauren’s been with Keith for seventeen, eighteen years.” Sarah is shocked. Kristin goes on to say that’s why Lauren has never had a boyfriend. And that for many years Keith promised he would have a baby with her. “Look at what’s going on with these women,” says Kristin. Kristin pressures Sarah to go public and she makes a good point. Sarah has evidence literally on her body. Or “Class 1 data” as Nxivm would call it, Sarah tells us. She and Nippy decide they will go public as they think it’s the right thing to do.

We see Mark and Bonnie being photographed by a NYT photographer as Mark tells us in voice over that Barry told him that he needed Mark to go public, too. People not going on the record is why this shit keeps happening, Barry told him. Mark says, “I was like, Fuck you. That’s so true.” Which makes me laugh. Both Bonnie and Mark felt like they wouldn’t be able to live with themselves if they didn’t.

So, Catherine, Sarah, Nippy, Mark and Bonnie are on the record, but you know who isn’t? Kristin Keeffe. Even though she had a lot of insider info. Maybe it was decided it was too risky being that she was the mother of Keith’s child, but I don’t know. I have major issues with Kristin Keeffe that I will get into a bit further into the series.

Since people are coming forward the EXSPians are hearing more stories about shit that went on that they weren’t aware of. Sex stuff filmed for Keith’s pleasure, paddlings by Keith, assignments to seduce Keith… Catherine now knows that India has been both slave and “master.” She thinks she won’t be able to get India out until the whole organization is brought down. She’s really depending on the NYT article to do that, but the date of its publication is unknown.

Catherine then hears the bad news that the story won’t be released any time soon. She is desperate and has no idea what she can do, she tells us. “Somebody tell us–give us an option,” she says.

We cut to an interview with Barry by the filmmakers. He expresses compassion for the ex-members he talked to and believes that we are all vulnerable to being victims of a con. Maybe not this particular “self-help” kind of con, but we all have intense vulnerability as human beings. And vulnerability is exploitable. He also says that the greatest fear people had about coming forward with their stories was fear of retaliation.

Barry wrote a really interesting article about all things Nxivm after the release of both this doc series and Seduced. It is not a long read, but a good one: “For instance, Vicente and Edmondson insisted during our first talks that Nxivm wasn’t a cult but a self-improvement group that had somehow gone off the rails. And Vicente, a filmmaker who shot much of footage chronicling Raniere’s reign that animates “The Vow,” told me that he still wanted to promote a movie he had made that glorified Raniere’s activities in Mexico. I told him I thought he was nuts.” It just shows, to me anyway, how much Sarah and Mark were still struggling to free their minds and to reconcile the good they saw along with the bad.

We end the episode with Barry making reference to “this other group of women” who had left Nxivm and had been harassed into the ground with lawsuits from Keith. One of the women is Barbra Bouchey who closes us out. She tells us that she was the first “signifiant person in the entire organization to ever leave.” Keith really went after her to make an example out of her to the community. “Buckle your seat belt and get ready. Cause they’re comin’ for you,” she drama-queens. End.

The outro song, once again, doesn’t really fit the mood of the ending even if the lyrics work, “You Better Be Careful” by the Golliwogs.

Next recap: Episode 6, “Honesty & Disclosure” – The NYT article is published and Sarah makes the front page. We hear Barbra Bouchey’s story of her 9 years in Nxivm.

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