Hi everybody and welcome back! Let’s just get into it.
The 1st episode opens up with basically a summary of season 1. If the names are unfamiliar or you can’t remember who is who, don’t worry. That will get explained as we go along in the season.
Nancy Salzman, in a video clip, asks us if we could have, do or be anything we wanted, what would that look like? Keith Raniere in voice over, as we look at fast clips of scenes from season 1, describes ESP as a “methodology that allows people to optimize their behavior.” Former member Sarah Edmonson describes it as “almost like magic.” Former member Mark Vincente describes the Nxivm community as “idyllic” and that it was too good to be true. “Something’s not right,” he says. Former member Bonnie Piesse says she looked around, saw all these unhappy people and was concerned.
We hear about DOS, a secret women’s group and how women got manipulated into joining under the guise of it being about empowerment. Collateral is given to affirm their commitment. Naked photographs, family secrets etc. A lifetime vow of obedience, slave/master relationships, branding and recruitment of other women. “What the fuck? How did we get here?” Sarah asks.
Quick scenes of the whistleblowers as they work together to bring down Nxivm. We see the happiness of the whistleblowers as news comes in that Keith has been arrested. It ends with some voice over from Nancy Salzman as we see her in various clips. She talks about how we, as people, need to change our beliefs about ourselves so that we can change the way we conduct ourselves in our lives. More or less. That’s the gist.
“Hello and welcome. I’m Nancy Salzman…” In a video clip Nancy tells us she is the president of Nxivm etc. She says that people who use the word “cult” to describe a group do so to devalue it when they have no substantiated criticism to offer. In “non-critically thinking people” (read: not yet evolved through ESP) this creates doubt. If this happens to you, Nancy suggests asking yourself what the group is doing that’s bad. I love that Nancy presents it like it’s a run-of-the-mill thing one encounters in life, people thinking you’re in a cult.
Metropolitan Detention Center. Brooklyn, New York.
Keith, now locked up, is being interviewed by a producer of this doc. Keith tells producer guy the “zeitgeist of this time” is to lock him up for life or to have him killed. He thinks people don’t know why he’s a bad guy, they just assume he is. They’re lumping him in with people like Epstein and Jim Jones. “We create monsters for comfort. It gives us peace,” Keith says, “because we can attribute something to a monster and put it away.” Don’t be so fucking grandiose. No one would be “attributing” anything to you, Keith, or give a shit about you at all if you hadn’t made it your life’s work to be a con artist and a sexual predator. Honestly, I have never heard someone say such nonsensical things with such confidence.
The real question is, he continues, whether we have the character to “go beyond” our prejudices, emotions and fears to “see what is true.” Okay, wise one. What truth are people not seeing? Because from where I’m sitting, concluding that you’re a bad bad guy is not only logical, but very accurate.
While Keith is blathering, we see some people dancing outside of the detention center. We aren’t told this yet, but they are the remaining faithful. They are dancing for Keith who can see them from way up high, through the window of his prison cell. We then cut to the opener with the song “Invisible Skin”, the same song used in Season 1.
We hear voice overs from various newscasters about Keith and Nxivm. Newspaper headlines float across the screen. Sex-cult leader Keith Raniere is accused of brain washing, sex abuse, branding, sex trafficking, racketeering, conspiracy. “If convicted he could spend life in prison,” we hear one women newscaster say as we see shots of the various lawyers, both prosecuting and defense, walking to court. What is true consent? What version of Keith Raniere is true? This trial is about determining that, says a commentator.
Two Years Earlier. Lake George, New York.
“Nxivm Emergency Meeting” the screen says. We hear applause as Keith comes out to the stage? Platform? There’s a nice chair for him to sit on, whatever it is. He appears relaxed and cheerful. The camera is focused solely on him as he tells his audience that they are of “sufficient position within the organization” to hear about “what’s going on.” With a shrug, he says he can’t tell them any details, but there are multiple investigations of the organization going on in multiple countries. We, the viewers, know why he “can’t tell them any details.” God forbid the remaining faithful get an inkling of the shit he has been pulling through the years.
Keith admits the investigations are a big deal. He laughs as he tells the audience that an article from the New York Times will be coming out that had “zero participation from us.” That’s because Nxivm refused to answer any questions from the paper. He doesn’t tell them that though, of course. His smile drops. Looking sad, he says it’s all hearsay.
If you are going to be a successful con-artist you need an act. You must perform and do it well. Keith is well rehearsed, I gotta say.
Keith goes on. He keeps hoping that former friends “or whatever” will come to their senses and say it’s ridiculous. There is nothing nefarious *shrug* There is no abuse of power *shrug* He lays awake at night crying with worry over whether he has abused his power by saying this or that. That’s his life *shrug* He admits though, that they are “being kicked.”
Keith says that it’s probably a coordinated attack by just a few people. Many, Keith. There are many people at this point who have banded together to bring down Nxivm. He probably knew that at the time this video was filmed, but of course he is going to play it down. The question, Keith says, is how do “noble people” handle a situation like this? Spare me. As if he has any idea. Then Clare Bronfman comes out on the stage and asks the audience to keep this information secret. “Are we done?” Keith asks Clare, in a tone of voice that implies he finds the whole thing a minor annoyance.
Seven Months Later.
Keith has run off to Mexico. “What a coward,” we hear Sarah Edmonson say.
We cut to a man from the Policía Federal Ministerial, a Mexican federal agency that deals with organized crime and corruption. We aren’t given the investigator’s name, but on a purely superficial note, he is very handsome. He looks like a Hollywood actor playing the part of an investigator.
Anyway, he tells us the FBI had contacted them saying they didn’t know where Keith was in Mexico and asked for help in finding him. Some investigators saw Allison Mack first and recognized her right away from the television show “Smallville. From there, they started to track Keith and his associates to find out where he was staying. Once Keith was located, the investigators got in uniform and armed with a warrant, knocked on the door of Keith’s villa. A DOS member speaking Spanish asked to see the warrant, but refused to let them in. Guns drawn, the team entered by force.
We cut to footage from the arrest. Once the agents are inside, the DOS member is asked how many people are inside the house with Keith. The woman says that there are five females with one woman in the bedroom. She denies that Keith is there at all. “And why won’t she open the door?” a female agent asks when they try to enter the bedroom. “She’s scared. Look how you stormed in,” the DOS member replies. Some agents enter the bedroom by kicking the door in and once inside, they find Keith hiding in the closet. You know, like how a “noble” person would deal with the situation.
We see DOS members Nikki Clyne and Allison Mack outside of the house looking bewildered. Keith can be seen in the background in handcuffs being put in the squad car. Nikki tells Allison that Lauren (Salzman) will be following the car to the police station. We cut back to the investigator who shows us a picture of Keith in the back of the squad car. He looks rumpled and a bit dazed.
Next, we cut to outside the court in Brooklyn where Keith is being arraigned. We see newspaper headlines and soundbites from reporters talking about the case. They talk about Nxivm’s response to Keith’s arrest: They are cooperating with authorities. Justice will prevail. The truth will come out… blah, blah. Keith’s lawyer Marc Agnifilo is talking to reporters: Keith is innocent. There was no criminal conduct. Everyone was a consenting adult… blah, blah.
We see a headline that Keith has been denied bail. We cut to Toni Natalie (ex-girlfriend of Keith’s) being interviewed by reporters. Keith has pleaded innocent and they want to know her reaction. She’s like, of course he did. He’s a sociopath. Catherine Oxenberg who is standing nearby says that Keith “lacks a moral campus. He will justify any abuse.”
We cut to inside a house (somewhere in Brooklyn, I guess) and the ex-Nxivm members/whistleblowers are celebrating. It’s Mark Vincente, Toni Natalie, Bonnie Piesse and Catherine Oxenberg. They are undeniably gleeful and who can blame them? They marvel at how arrogant and unfazed Keith looked in court during his arraignment. Some things never change. They all agree it’s because there is nothing inside him. He’s a soulless shell of a person. They joke that Keith is probably enjoying it all, because he imagines he will have his big moment in court like Atticus Finch. Sarah Edmonson Facetimes Mark from Canada (where she lives). She’s worried he might get off. “There’s no way, right?”
We cut to an interview between Megyn Kelly and Keith’s lawyer Marc Agnifilo. He says that people are making a big deal about the branding, not because it’s actually wrong, but because it involved women. The women of DOS have been reduced to “poor little dears… When women do it, they’re victims. When men do it, they’re Marines,” he says. I’m not so sure about that, Marc. Are Marines typically blind-folded and told they are being taken to a secret location where they will get a tattoo? Do they get there and discover they are actually going to be branded with a cauterizing pen while being held down to a table, stark naked, all while being filmed? I really doubt it. But the point he’s making is all this stuff happened between consenting adults and is being sensationalized. This is the crux of his defense and he’s going to be repeating that a lot.
We cut to Marc Agnifilo, in his office, as he has agreed to talk to the filmmakers so we can hear his perspective on the case. He thinks the government is dead wrong and the case is winnable. He tells us that they have some surprises that will come out in trial, stuff the government doesn’t know about.
Next we cut to Moira Penza, lead prosecutor, who has also agreed to talk to the filmmakers. She tells us she sees Keith as a crime boss. He is like anyone that is the head of an organized crime family. Nxivm members are indoctrinated from the start to follow and believe in Keith as a figure to be revered. Because of this power, he was able to give orders and get people to commit crimes on his behalf. Just like you would find in the mafia.
Because the Eastern District of New York has such a history of prosecuting crime bosses, Moira has had plenty of knowledge available to her as to how best to prosecute the case against Keith. As they decided what charges to bring and against who “it became clear very quickly who the major players were.” Moira says she stands by her decision to prosecute all of them.
Mark and Bonnie, who are still in Brooklyn, get word that multiple arrests are coming down. They are able to read the entire indictment online (I think this is it) and the list of defendants (see pic above). Charges include racketeering, identity theft, harboring of aliens for financial gain, extortion, forced labor, sex trafficking, money laundering… the list goes on. Now is the time according to the training, Mark says, where Nxivm members should all be showing up to defend Keith.
We see that press is camped out in front of the Brooklyn courthouse. We see Nancy Salzman, who is described as the co-founder and president of Nxivm, heading into court with her lawyer. We then cut to Sarah, at home, reading the news about Nancy’s daughter, Lauren. She is shocked to read that Lauren’s bail was set at five million. We see Lauren, looking very tense, leaving court with her lawyer. “Were you involved in a sex cult?” a reporter asks her.
We then cut to reporters surrounding Clare Bronfman. The news has reported that she is the heiress to the Seagram’s Liquor Company and her net worth is estimated at about 200 million dollars. We first season viewers already know she has an enormous fortune, as does her sister. We also know that she and her sister Sara have bankrolled Keith and Nxivm for years. My point is, as vast as her wealth still is, it was probably even greater before she met Keith.
She is utterly surrounded by reporters and is quite calm despite the frenzy. She gives a mildly snotty look and slightly shakes her head when a reporter asks, “Do you have anything to say?” Another reporter asks if she is worried about going to prison. Looking straight at the camera, a subtle, but definite sneer crosses her face before she and her lawyer turn away.
Next, we hear audio from the bail hearing for Allison Mack. Her mom signs the document agreeing to pay the five million dollar fine in the case her daughter fails to appear in court. Surrounded by the press as she leaves, Allison’s mom looks understandably tense. Then we see Allison leaving court, too. She is holding onto the arm of one of her lawyers. Her hair is up in a ponytail; she is wearing a jean jacket and a backpack. She looks very young.
The scene cuts back and forth between watching her leave court completely surrounded by press and a clip from a video filmed with Keith during her Nxivm days. In the video, Keith asks her to imagine a scenario where she finds herself rejected by the audience while onstage. “What is the worst that could happen?” he asks. “It feels like I’ll be unloved forever,” Allison says. Keith jokes that the scenario is getting worse. Now he can hear some boos and laughter coming from the audience; people are following her and pointing, “Like, bad Allison, right?”
We cut back to present day and we see someone from the press horde, who is following Allison, fall down. We then hear a woman maniacally laughing, seemingly in response to that. Did the producers add that for effect? If not, the laughing woman sounds completely unhinged. The whole scene is frenzied and chaotic. We close out with Keith in the video clip telling Allison that if she can remove herself from the reactions of others, she will become invincible. Or something like that. That’s the gist.
The screen then shows a newspaper with a pic of Allison with the headline “Sex Cult Vulture.” Yikes.
The next scene is with actress, Nxivm member and Keith loyalist Nicki Clyne. (I’ve been spelling her name wrong here and there. Sorry, Nicki.) Seated at a table, in a room somewhere in Brooklyn I guess, she starts off by telling the filmmakers about the day Allison was arrested. Allison was shaking with fear. Nicki had really thought she would be seeing her again later that day so she didn’t even hug her good-bye. Nicki says feels isolated without Allison and Keith.
We then cut to a video clip where Nicki is telling a small group of Nxivm members how she came to join the organization. Basically, a friend and fellow actress had taken some ESP courses and seemed “different” because of it. Interested in personal growth herself, Nicki signed up right away to take courses in ESP, too. “It’s the best decision I ever made,” she says in the video. “Cool,” a man replies.
Nicki gives a mini bio of her life before Nxivm. She was experiencing success as an actress on the show “Battlestar Galactica”, but she felt unfulfilled and insecure within herself. That is until she took ESP. Keith, she says, helped her learn to trust and love. “It’s important to be part of a community that support and love each other,” she says. Absolutely. No argument here. I just don’t think it should be a community headed by a sociopath who acts like a king with a fiefdom. I believe in checks and balances on power. Safer bet. Anyway, she relied on that support and now she doesn’t have it anymore.
Albany, New York
We cut to Nicki going into Keith’s house in Albany. The house is filled with packed up boxes of Keith’s stuff. Standing in the kitchen, she tells us that Keith had fully intended to come back from Mexico. The government lied about that, she tells us, to justify calling him a flight risk. Up in Keith’s bedroom she sees that old black puffy coat he always wore that I remember seeing in season 1. She puts it on and smiles affectionately. Just from her tone of voice, it’s obvious she adores Keith.
We cut back to the room in Brooklyn. She tells us she was in a physical relationship with Keith for many years. She kept it secret, but she doesn’t say that it was at Keith’s behest. Though we, the viewers, know that of course it was. She says a lot of people within the Nxivm community did not know about Keith’s sex partners (I am loathe to call them romantic partners) or that he even had any. Believe it or not, a lot of people thought he was a renunciate. I learned that from India Oxenberg’s doc series “Seduced.” That just shows you, as India says in her doc, how good Keith was at getting people to keep his secrets. And there were a whole lotta women having sex with Keith while keeping it secret.
Nicki wishes there was a way she could show the world who Keith really is “and how much he has contributed to making this world a better place through everyone he has ever interacted with.” Yeah, she really said that. I don’t know what she feels about Keith today, post-trial. It is likely that she was not fully aware of all the shit that went down between Keith and some other members at the time of this scene being filmed. Because no way in hell would she have the chutzpah to say that if she did, right? Because, damn. Crying, she says that she is proud of and stands by her decisions. She also knows how hard that is for people to understand “considering the lens through which this is being portrayed.”
We do a quick cut to a clip from Sarah Edmonson’s interview from Season 1. In it, Sarah says she feels responsible for Nicki, because Sarah was the one who brought her into Nxivm in the first place. But she knows she can’t do anything to get Nicki to wake up and see Keith for who he really is. She’s got to do that on her own. “Nicki has a hard road ahead of her,” she says.
Brooklyn, New York
We see Emily Saul, journalist for the New York Post, talking on her cell to her editor, as she hurriedly walks on a street outside of the courthouse. She consults her notes, “Grandmaster is one word and it should be capitalized,” she says to her editor. Which is funny in a kind of macabre way.
Emily tells us that she covers Brooklyn Federal Court for the paper. The Post is known for their attention grabbing headlines. “Nxivm leader liked ‘sex slaves’ thin- but pigged out on junk food” the headline of one article written by Emily says. These are called “Hey, Martha!” headlines, she explains, because they’re supposed to be the kind that gets a husband sitting at the breakfast table to call out to his wife, “Hey Martha! You won’t believe what I’m reading in the paper!” The whole case is just filled with “Hey, Marthas,” she tells us.
“The press loves Allison Mack,” Emily says in voice over as we look at pap shots of Allison leaving court. Emily finds Keith more compelling. “Self-proclaimed smartest man in the world,” she says wryly. We see a bunch of headlines from articles she has written about Nxivm as well as some other cases. I have to say, some are so darkly comical it’s hard to choose which one to post a picture of.
Emily has covered some notorious trials, like drug lord El Chapo’s and Bill Cosby’s. She admits that it seems callous, these provocative headlines. Her articles cover trials where people have been severely victimized. Still, she enjoys “the lurid aspect of some of these things. As many people do.”
We see tons of headlines from other papers and magazines, too, calling Nxivm a “Sex Cult.” The media loves this shit, Marc Agnifilo says in so many words. And because of the media attention, it caught the eye of the government. Now Marc’s gotta spend a week explaining to the jury about why it’s not a cult if everyone is a consenting adult. Marc thinks the government is using the controversy of the “sex cult” label as leverage.
Prosecutor Moira Penza, on the other hand, feels “it was very important to show that sex was a major part of this.” She doesn’t pretend to know if for Keith it was all about the sex or really, all about the power. It doesn’t matter. “The sexual abuse of women was part of this enterprise,” she says.
Back to Marc. He tells us that Keith makes no apologies for having “multiple long-term partners.” Some he has sex with and some he doesn’t but they all know the deal. The relationships are on Keith’s terms. Marc doesn’t think that it’s even possible to say these women didn’t consent.
Consent means informed consent, Moira says. None of the women actually knew what they were signing up for in DOS. And once in, they no longer had the option to refuse demands, because they were essentially blackmailed into complying. You’ll remember that all the women had to provide “collateral” before hearing about what the hell DOS even was. No one was informed that having sex with Keith was a part of the package for some of them. Not until it was too late to back out.
Marc thinks it’s dangerous to criminalize “decisions adult people are making to be happy.” To rectify this, DOS members will need to testify in court that they joined the secret group for good reasons of their own. The government and all its money hasn’t been able to shake these women in their beliefs, Marc says. As he is talking we see pics of the various masters in the group. There are some names that I have never heard mentioned before.
Back to Nicki. She tells us that she has the authority to give better insight to DOS, because she helped create it. Her tone of her voice when she says this is very no, I am not embarrassed to admit that. Then in a somewhat mocking tone, she says that people are obsessed with sex and that was not the focus of the group. They did stuff like go for coffee runs and walks together. With sincerity, she says the group was about building meaningful relationships amongst the women that were meant to be for the rest of their lives.
We cut to a different room (probably still in Brooklyn) and a woman sits down at a table to give her interview. This is Michele and though we aren’t told this, she was referred to in Season 1 as “Rachel,” Jane Doe’s master. “People think anyone who’s still around are just brain-washed bitches of Keith’s doing his bidding.” She pauses for a beat and says with an ironic smile, “How insulting.”
Michele gives us a mini-bio of her life prior to joining Nxivm. When she was 24, she went through an intense break-up. She felt suicidal at times and had no sense of how to best handle what she was going through. She basically says it was not just the break up she didn’t feel she knew how to handle, but aspects of life in general. This is certainly relatable. To me, anyway. “I became a seeker,” she says. She tried Bikram Yoga, various churches, “I was shopping for churches like I was shopping for shoes,” and continued on the path to find something that would speak to her, pretty much. Then she found ESP/Nxivm.
From a promo video we see Michele talk about how “amazing” ESP has been and that it gave her the understanding of how to actualize the dreams she had for herself (that’s the gist). Cutting back to the interview, Michele explains that she has always strived for excellence, to be the best version of herself. Allison was the one who told her about DOS. Michele was very interested right away, because it was just for women and if Allison was a part of it? “… I know there’s some dope sisters a part of this, too.”
Michele understood DOS would be hard-core. In the group she got to find out “what I was made of.” She refers to the activities that went on in DOS as “simulations” that were designed to build discipline, understand commitment and develop character. Allison’s job was not to affirm or coddle, Michele explains, but to push as hard as necessary to enable personal growth. She gave Allison permission to push her this hard, because she was very serious about wanting to be the best. (Interesting that Michele uses the word “permission” given that once you joined DOS, compliance to your master was a non-negotiable. That was kind of the whole point.) We are not given specific examples of the simulations or exactly what went down that Michele felt was so transformative, beyond saying that she was pushed past her fears. What fears? How exactly did Allison push her? Well, whatever happened, Michelle says, “it changed my life.”
When things fell apart for Nxivm, Michelle walked away from the organization. She found a great job working for a restaurant company. No one knew where she came from, “I felt like I had a second chance.” Things were going great until Frank Parlato wrote an article about her for his website “The Frank Report.” In the article, Frank said that Michele had invited Nicki to join her at her job for the purpose of recruiting women into a sex cult. Michele was fired immediately.
Michele does not say how she felt about Keith or the ESP community when she first walked away. But clearly, she knew that being associated with the organization would not be doing her any favors for the future. And she was right. She’d lost her job. So, she didn’t see the point in trying to run away anymore if it would always find her anyway. She emphasizes that it’s not DOS that has created hardship in her life, but the public at large seeing it as a sex cult.
We cut to Michele calling Keith. She asks how he is and giving a little sarcastic chuckle, he says, “It’s just like being in prison.” Then he, with some degree of (fake-ass) humility, expresses his thanks for her standing by him “in this struggle.” She tells him that it’s a test to see if she is willing to stand up for what she believes in. He tells her that she is purposeful and principled.
It’s subtle, but the way in which Keith speaks, even as he sits in a prison cell, is with an authoritative tone. Keith tells you what kind of person you are, because he knows. He’s the expert. And while Michele certainly does not come across as a pushover, there is a surrender there on her part. At least to some degree. There is a surrender on anyone’s part who lets Keith assume the role of being the best judge of their own character. It’s a dynamic.
“Know that you are appreciated,” Keith says to her. Michele says she is glad to hear that as it’s important to her. Not sure if she means it’s important to her that Keith appreciates her efforts or if she means sticking up for Keith is. “We’re fighting for you,” she tells him. He says “thank you” and the scene fades out.
Next we fade into what looks like someone’s living room. We are introduced to a woman named Vero. She starts off by saying friends of hers that are still defending Keith are causing harm to themselves. She hopes they can recover. At this point, she says, because of all the information out there about Keith, if his defenders don’t see anything concerning about him, it’s because they don’t want to.
We cut to video footage of Keith sitting on his platform/stage thingy. He is smiling at Vero (short for Veronica) who introduces herself to Keith from the audience. She is earnest as she tells Keith “she is ready for the hard work.” Of improving the world, presumably. ESPians believed they were on a mission, if you remember from last season.
Vero gives us a mini-bio of her life prior to joining Nxivm. She was a successful actress before she joined, but she had always been a bit of a “seeker.” This self-descriptor “seeker” comes up so constantly with members still in and out of the organization, I almost wonder if it was part of a mantra they had to repeat on the daily or something. I’m not mocking, but I have heard it a lot. A lot.
We again cut to video footage of Vero, in an audience of people sitting in a conference room, listening to Keith ramble about creating a better world. Her hands are clasped and she is very heartfelt in her expression. Watching this, it just makes me hate Keith more. These are the kinds of people he sought to take advantage of. People who wanted to be of service to their communities and be a positive force in the world. I’m aware that intention can come in many forms, including some that aren’t always good. It can be subjective. But my point is, Vero comes across as very genuine in her desire to be a force for good.
Vero says that when she joined ESP/Nxivm, she felt like she had found “everything that I had been looking for.” It was ten years before she was asked to join DOS. Like all the others, she was told it was supposed to be a group of women who were deeply committed to upholding their values. She tells us that it was very hard to see the wolf in the lamb’s clothing. The sense of betrayal she feels is intense and she is still grappling with trying to understand how she allowed herself to take part in it all.
We cut to Bonnie Piesse and her husband Mark Vincente, in NYC it looks like. They are heading to see Diane Benscoter, a former cult member whose expertise is psychological manipulation. I guess she is a therapist? I’m not really clear. Mark is telling her how intense the anger is towards the whistleblowers from people still in, even from people who now understand Keith is a bad guy. They are angry that in bringing down Keith, “the tech” was destroyed in the process. (There will be more from people who are very passionate about “the tech” that we will hear from in future episodes.) Diane explains that it’s quite different to leave a cult by choice, like Bonnie and Mark did. Watching your whole world crumble around you results in a lot of anger for those still in and as a result, loyalists cling to an “us versus them” mentality. Diane says that mentality is always a component of a cult and it’s all they’ve got left. Basically. That’s the gist.
Bonnie looks stressed out as she listens to Diane. She and Mark have been very open about how hard processing their former involvement in Nxivm has been. They talked about it a lot in Season 1. “There has to be a crack,” Diane says, before those still in will be able to see things from a different perspective.
Clifton Park, New York
We cut to Mark Vincente and Keith’s longtime (but now) former girlfriend Karen Unterreiner, at her house, talking. I made fun of Karen in some episodes from season 1. She seemed so passive and silent that it was as if she could disappear altogether and no one would notice. But in this clip, it seems that she just has a quiet, very chill energy.
Another detail to remember for those reading this is she and Keith started dating in college. Keith majored in three different subjects (biology, math and physics) with two minors while at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. I imagine he was motivated by the desire to prove he was the exceptional genius (240 IQ!) he believed himself to be. I have read or heard somewhere—a book or an interview perhaps—that it was Karen who was tasked with completing a large chunk of his schoolwork so he could keep up with the workload. He did manage to graduate, but barely, with a 2.26 average.
Anyway, back to Karen and Mark. She tells him if he hadn’t brought down Keith she doesn’t think she ever would have gotten out of Nxivm. She does say she was “already working toward it,” but it was a slow process. She jokes that she’d been manipulated by Keith for so long she would have been 80 years old before she had freed herself.
We cut to video from 2006. Keith is saying that he has been with Karen for 30 years. He wonders why he is able to maintain long term relationships with multiple women. Some have left, he admits, but why do some stay? The camera pans to Pam Cafritz (who you may remember as another of Keith’s girlfriends) and then to Karen as she says, “There’s a certain type who stays.” Keith asks, why does she stay? There is intensity in Karen’s voice when she answers that he is “the ideal human being and what I want to be. What I want my life to be.” The camera pans to Keith and his expression doesn’t change with her reply. He obviously is very used to hearing stuff like this.
Karen shares a mini-bio with Mark and Bonnie about her past with Keith. She was 18 and her father had died only the week before they first met. She feels her vulnerability was what made him notice her. Things got intense between them very quickly. At this time in her life, her self-esteem was quite low–she says she felt “defective”– and Keith “enhanced this belief” and took advantage of it. He also encouraged the belief that she couldn’t survive without him.
Karen met Keith’s mom, whom she describes as very eccentric. Keith had told her his mom was manipulative. She would make herself sick to punish him. Later, Keith would accuse Karen (and the rest of his girlfriends) of doing the same. He would make himself sick to get out of situations where he was being questioned too closely by the women as well. Karen refers to herself and the other girlfriends as “we.” She and the women who lived with him in a house in Albany were like a collective acting as one. Barbara Bouchey talked about dealing with them in season 1.
She casually points to a bookshelf. “His mom’s up in that orange thing, up above,” she tells Mark. Fascinated, Mark asks to take a look. “This is Cuddles the cat,” Karen says, taking out a cardboard box from the container. “And this is Vera. Vera Raniere,” she says, showing Mark the plain tin canister that holds her ashes. The official cremation certificate is glued on the side. “What the fuck,” Mark says, incredulous. Karen says her ashes have been sitting on the top of the shelf for 20 years or so and she had forgotten about them. There’s some dark humor in Vera’s ashes being so casually stored along with the ashes of Cuddles the cat, but, for whatever reason, it just struck me as sad.
Next, Karen shows Mark on her computer a list of all the ESP members within the company and their information. Keith wanted to keep track of who was in and who was out. He had fears about former members hacking into their computer system and stealing data or something. It was true then, everybody was just spying on everybody, Mark says. Karen is like, yeah, I certainly reported stuff I found out. She has sympathy for those still caught up in Nxivm, given the things she was willing to do for Keith.
Talk turns to Nancy Salzman and Karen says that Nancy must have had some awareness of things that were going down with DOS. Mark is like, didn’t she know about everything? Karen isn’t sure. Nancy was never consistent about revealing what she knew. “Oh, it’s just some girls doing some things,” is how she described it to Karen. She thinks Nancy was not one to question Keith about much. He was her mentor and Nancy looked up to him as “almost a god, in some ways.”
We cut to Brooklyn and the press camped out in front of the courthouse. There has been some updates on the case. The defendants are being represented as a united group. They have a shit ton of lawyers, too. Prosecutor Moira Penza says loyalty amongst the inner circle of criminal organizations is nothing new. It’s the “us versus them” thing and it’s possible some of the inner circle will never break with Keith, in Moira’s opinion.
Video Footage Filmed in 2006
Keith and Nancy are being filmed as they have a philosophical discussion about perception. She sits on the floor with Keith above her on the couch. She looks at him adoringly as he blathers about a mirror and a red cloth or some bullshit. He blathers some more about perception being subjective and what is perceived by individuals “is very much like a color off of the wall.” I have no fucking clue what the hell he means by that either so, don’t look at me. Talking to whoever is holding the camera he asks, “You understand?” The camera person, who sounds like a woman, mumbles an unsure sound of agreement. “It doesn’t exist,” Keith concludes.
Nancy tells Keith he has an amazing ability to explain things to people. Keith is like, well, my ability as a teacher can only be judged by what my students become. Nancy hopes to be an example of a successful student. Sounding quite emotional, she says she is very grateful to him. She continues to gaze at him adoringly and shakes her head in wonder. She is just knocked out.
Keith is just lying there, taking her devotion in. A small smile appears on his face and there is this little hint of a young boy taking delight in her adoration. That’s what it looked like to me. It is also possible what I saw was Keith being amused by how snowed Nancy is. Now that I think about it, I’m going to go with the latter. It would be more consistent with the guy we have come to know.
Audio Recording From 2014
Keith is talking to someone about Nancy. Keith says that initially Nancy was “replaceable.” He claims he could have partnered with Tony Robbins or people like that, but he didn’t think they were “appropriate.” Oh, please. Tony Robbins has been in the “motivational speaker” biz since he was 17 years old. He had already become successful in the self-help market before Keith got in the game. Anyway, Keith says people like Tony Robbins and others (he doesn’t mention anyone else by name) would not have been a good fit with him “personality-wise and things like that.”
Keith describes Nancy as a good student who practiced what she learned from him diligently. There is going to be more detail about “the tech” of ESP and how it was developed in a later episode. I want to mention it now though, because how Keith is talking about it in this audio recording, makes it sound like he was the creator of the entire ESP curriculum. He wasn’t. He created the concept of ESP, but Nancy helped him make it a workable program. He couldn’t have done it without her.
What she learned from Keith was how to teach it to ESP members in a salesman type way that was easy to understand. I guess? I’m not even clear what Keith taught Nancy exactly. Though in some video clips we see Nancy conducting ESP classes in the same way that Keith does. In some cases, she repeats what he says word for word. We will hear from Nancy, in later episodes, details about how Nxivm was created and stuff that will give more insight to this whole relationship between Keith, Nancy and the company.
We see some more clips of Nancy and ESP people bowing to her and saying, “Thank you, Prefect.” Prefect was her official title and Keith’s was Vanguard, as you may recall. We see people like Allison Mack thank her for being their leader and Nancy looking emotional and touched by their praise. “So, now, Nancy’s not replaceable,” we hear Keith say in voice-over. Making “thousands of Nancys” is his goal. The scene closes out with Nancy in voice-over saying that the upside in personal secrets coming out is freedom, the downside is punishment. Sounds ominous!
We cut back to the Brooklyn Courthouse. News has come in that Nancy has pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering conspiracy. This is an important crack in what was a united front of defendants. We see Nancy heading into court as a reporter asks her if she is prepared to testify against her daughter. Mark Vincente wonders if she is “really waking up” or if she is just trying to protect Lauren.
We cut to Marc, Keith’s lawyer, heading out to the Metropolitan Detention Center. He says that he thinks Nancy is a sweet and smart person. He’s sad that she has turned.
In voice-over we hear Keith talking to Marc, weighing in on this latest development. Keith says it’s “understandable” that Nancy has given in to various influences. He doesn’t sound angry; he is trying to convey an attitude of compassion, but the condescension is there. You can hear it through the bullshit. The way he talks in general, even to his lawyer Marc, is like he is still on stage in Albany giving a lecture to an audience.
Nancy doesn’t understand what she has done, Keith explains to Marc. She doesn’t realize that by pleading guilty, she has “separated the community.” His tone of voice is like *little regretful sigh* Oh, well. What can you do? She’s weak and now she has ruined it for everyone. He likens her situation to a lamb being surrounded by wolves.
Outside of the detention center, Marc tells the filmmakers that Keith is really grieving. His world is coming to an end. Marc told Keith that he doesn’t know if others will turn also.
Back to outside the courthouse. We see Lauren Salzman walking into court flanked by her lawyers. There is a look on her face of, I would say, resigned acceptance. We hear that she has pleaded guilty to two counts of racketeering conspiracy and racketeering. We hear a reporter say that there is a possibility that she will be testifying at the trial. Next, we hear that “Allison Mack cracked.” She, too, has pleaded guilty and is facing a maximum of forty years.
We see Emily Saul of the New York Post outside of the courthouse. There is word that Clare Bronfman might be pleading guilty, also. We hear voice overs and see newspaper headlines that Keith is all by himself now. All of the defendants, except him, have pleaded guilty. We hear prosecutor Moira Penza say that once Nancy pled, it changed the entire dynamic of the group. Moira wonders if they will cooperate with the government and testify against him.
Ugh, this episode felt like it was never going to end! But finally. We close with Nancy, sounding incredulous, as she describes her house being raided, being arrested and ending up in a jail cell. We see her feet with an ankle monitor on as she says, basically, that the world has a perception of her that isn’t really who she is.
Next episode clips show that Nancy will be the focus. It ends with her saying, in the same incredulous tone, “I spent 20 years trying to make the world a better place and this is where I ended up.”
Episode 2: “Rapport” is next. Coming soon.
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