May 13, 2019

Alleged New York sex cult leader disciplined followers -witness

Brendan Pierson
Joseph Ax
May 13, 2019

NEW YORK, May 13 (Reuters) - The leader of an alleged New York sex cult maintained strict discipline over his followers, forcing those who questioned his leadership to undergo training and excommunicating those who went against the group, a 12-year veteran said on Monday.

The longtime member, filmmaker Mark Vicente, resumed testifying at the criminal trial of Keith Raniere, whom federal prosecutors have accused of using his organization Nxivm to facilitate sex trafficking and child pornography.

Vicente previously told jurors in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn that Raniere's recruits came to view him as "some kind of god," thanks to a sales pitch that portrayed him as a genius of unparalleled insight.

Prosecutors say Raniere traded on that status to force female "slaves" to have sex with him, be branded with his initials and follow near-starvation diets. Women were required to submit "collateral," such as nude photos, that Raniere then used as blackmail to coerce their compliance, according to authorities.

Raniere's lawyer has argued at trial that Nxivm's members, including the "slaves" of a secretive inner sorority who submitted themselves to Raniere's sexual demands, joined voluntarily and were never forced to do anything against their will. Raniere faces life in prison if convicted.
Vicente, who became a self-described whistleblower after leaving the group in 2017, said the controlling atmosphere inside Nxivm successfully intimidated members.

"Many of us became very, very careful of the words we used," he said on Monday.
Once members attained a certain rank, they were expected to accept "feedback" from higher-ranking members - essentially negative criticism, Vicente said. Those who questioned Raniere in any way were accused of acting out of "pride" and required to undergo special training.

Vicente, who became the group's unofficial videographer, told jurors last week he was asked by the group's president, Nancy Salzman, to make videos showing Raniere in a positive light.

"I really would love it if Keith Raniere does not die a criminal in the eyes of the world," Salzman told Vicente, according to his testimony.

Nxivm, which started under another name in 1998 and is pronounced "Nexium," was based in Albany, New York, and operated self-improvement centers across North and Central America.

Five of Raniere's co-defendants, including Salzman, Seagram liquor heiress Clare Bronfman and former "Smallville" television actress Allison Mack, have pleaded guilty to related crimes.

The jury has already heard from one of Raniere's alleged "slaves," and prosecutors have said other victims will testify at trial. (Reporting by Brendan Pierson and Joseph Ax; Editing by Scott Malone, James Dalgleish and Jonathan Oatis)

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