What to expect during the trial of Keith Raniere, the leader of the alleged sex cult NXIVM

  • The trial of accused sex cult leader Keith Raniere began in New York on Tuesday for crimes including racketeering, extortion, sexual exploitation of a child, and possession of child pornography.
  • Prosecutors say NXIVM was a secret sex cult that recruited and abused female “slaves.”
  • Raniere has pleaded not guilty to all charges, and his attorney has described his relationship with women in the organisation as consensual, NBC News reported.
  • Throughout Raniere’s trial, which is expected to last the next several weeks, some of the women who say they were slaves are expected to testify in court.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

The high-profile trial of accused sex cult leader Keith Raniere began in New York on Tuesday with opening arguments. Raniere – who called himself a self-help guru with his group, NXIVM – stands accused of multiple crimes including racketeering, extortion, sexual exploitation of a child, and possession of child pornography, according to court filings.

After more than a year in a Brooklyn jail following his March 2018 arrest in Mexico, Raniere appeared in Brooklyn’s Federal District Court, completely alone. In her opening statements, Assistant US Attorney Tanya Hajjar described Raniere as a “crime boss” and “predator who preyed on young women,” relying on tactics of shame and humiliation to break down his followers,reported Robert Gavin of The Times Union.

The trial, which is expected to last up to six weeks, will delve into the chilling details of what prosecutors allege happened behind closed doors at NXIVM, including:

  • accusations that Raniere recruited and groomed sexual partners;
  • accusations that he encouraged followers to have abortions;
  • accusations that he ordered women to starve themselves to obtain a body type he perceived as most desirable;
  • accusations that he branded his followers with a symbol of his initials on their flesh;
  • and accusations that he isolated them from friends and family as they grew increasingly dependent on the organisation.

What was NXIVM?

The organisation (pronounced like “Nexium”) started as a series of workshops in Albany in 1998.

NXIVM branded itself as “providing educational tools, coachings, and trainings to corporations and people from all walks of life,” according to court filings. It had centres across the US, Canada, Central America, and Mexico.

NXIVMPhoto by Drew Angerer/Getty ImagesStaff and members of the prosecution team push carts full of court documents related to the US v. Keith Raniere case to the US District Court for the Eastern District in Brooklyn on May 7, 2019.

In 2015, according to court documents, Raniere started a secret society called “DOS,” which operated like a pyramid with levels of “slaves” who were expected to follow “masters.” Prosecutors say Raniere oversaw the entire pyramid, which included slaves who were expected to recruit other members, thereby boosting their chances of becoming masters.

To keep the group secret, masters obtained their slaves’ “collateral,” according to the documents, which could include “sexually explicit photographs; videos made to look candid in which the prospective slaves told damning stories (true or untrue) about themselves, close friends and/or family members; and letters making damaging accusations (true or untrue) against friends and family members.”


Read more:
The rise and fall of NXIVM: How a so-called self-help company crumbled after allegations of being a secretive cult that abused sex slaves

The New York Times first reported on the details of the group in a disturbing exposé last year that described how Raniere allegedly used his female members as sex slaves, prompting the federal investigation and various arrests.

Who else was involved?

Last week, a US District Judge ruled that prosecutors could present images of suspected child porn – two nude images of a girl who prosecutors say was around 15 years old at the time, and who authorities believe Raniere had sex with – that were discovered on a computer last year, according to court filings. That computer also included sexually explicit photographs of other people affiliated with NXIVM, including former co-defendants Lauren Salzman and Kathy Russell.

Allison MackPhoto by Drew Angerer/Getty ImagesActress Allison Mack exits the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York following a status conference on June 12, 2018.

Salzman along with her mother, NXIVM co-founder Nancy Salzman, pleaded guilty in recent months to racketeering conspiracy as part of their involvement with NXIVM.

“Smallville” actress Allison Mack, Seagram’s liquor heiress Clare Bronfman, and Russell, who served as NXIVM’s bookkeeper, have also pleaded guilty to various charges.

Raniere has pleaded not guilty to all charges, and his attorney, Marc Agnifilo, described his relationship with women in the organisation as consensual, NBC News reported.

Throughout Raniere’s trial, several of his alleged “slaves” are expected to testify in court, according to Reuters. The first such witness, a 15-year-old girl from Mexico, testified on Tuesday, the New York Post reported.

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