May 10, 2019

Mark Vicente: Within NXIVM, the word 'cult' doesn't exist

Mark Vicente
Los Angeles filmmaker testifying at criminal trial of Keith Raniere

Robert Gavin
Albany Times Union
May 9, 2019

NEW YORK — A former senior member of NXIVM broke down crying at the Keith Raniere trial Thursday, saying he was "bamboozled" while part of an organization he believes covered up "evil."

Mark Vicente, 53, needed to compose himself on the witness stand as he testified on the third day of Raniere's racketeering and sex trafficking trial in U.S. District Court.

"I'm as ashamed as I've ever been," Vicente, a Los Angeles filmmaker, testified.

He said many people joined NXIVM, a purported self-help organization based in Colonie, to better themselves or promote good in the world. They ended up being exploited.

"It's a fraud. It's a lie," Vicente said, choking up. "It's this well-intended veneer that covers horrible, incredible evil."

Vicente said when he first met Raniere, known within NXIVM as "Vanguard," the defendant suggested he move to Albany — an idea that didn't sit well.

"I said I had no desire to move to Albany. It was an ugly place," Vicente testified. "A lot of people wanted me to move there."

After joining NXIVM in 2005, Vicente rose through the ranks to eventually reach the level of "senior proctor."

Raniere, 58, faces a seven-count indictment that includes charges of sex trafficking, forced labor, wire fraud conspiracy and racketeering charges that include underlying alleged acts of extortion, identity theft, possession of child pornography, and sexual exploitation of a child.

Raniere, clad in a royal blue sweater over a dress shirt, watched the testimony of Vicente attentively with his head rested on interlocked hands. He took many notes while conferring with one of his attorneys, Marc Agnifilo. The defendant has been seated at the defense table between Agnifilo and Albany-based attorney Paul DerOhannesian II.

Vicente testified that it wasn't long after joining NXIVM, where he was recruited by President Nancy Salzman and then-financial officer Barbara Bouchey, that he became suspicious of the organization.

He said he approached Salzman, known as "Prefect" and the figurative mother of the organization, and made his thoughts known.

She quickly turned the tables.

"I said, 'I think you guys are up to something. I think there's something nefarious going on,'" Vicente testified. "She said, 'You just told me about yourself. You're the one with the nefarious intent. You're the one looking for evil.'"

He said he began to wonder if Salzman was right and if Raniere was, as he had been advertised, the most noble man in the world.

Salzman told him he was "disintegrated" and needed more NXIVM training, which he took.

Vicente explained that students in NXIVM could rise in rank through an educational hierarchy called "the striped path," which required students to hit benchmarks and take more classes, which cost as much as $20,000 for "intensive" sessions.

As the students progressed, they would be given sashes to wear to identify their status, once earned. Beginners wore white sashes; "provisional" coaches wore yellow; "proctors" wore orange; senior proctor wore green; blue for counselors and purple for senior counselors. Salzman wore a gold sash and Raniere wore a long white sash.

Vicente explained that certain sessions at NXIVM began with a routine: High-ranking members held their hands up while the rest of the room clapped. They would then bow to each other and exclaim, "We are committed to our success!"

"We would say, 'Thank you, Vanguard,' and begin the session," he said.

Vicente said he divulged his deepest personal secrets as part of a "Level 2" program in NXIVM, which was also called Executive Success Programs or ESP. He said the latter name was used more once negative media stories started coming out about NXIVM, much of it easy to find online.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Lesko asked Vicente how he feels about having shared his deepest, darkest secrets with NXIVM.

"I feel bamboozled," he replied. Vicente said he also feels vulnerable and stupid that he agreed to give up the information under the justification that ridding yourself of secrets was healthy.

It was a "horrible, twisted idea," he said. Vicente said he has no idea where his personal information currently resides.

Vicente said he also took what he though was an anonymous survey when he joined NXIVM. He learned many years later it posed the same questions used to find out if someone has a narcissistic personality disorder.

Vicente said he now believes NXIVM played with his moral compass.

NXIVM's curriculum, he testified, was hypocritical: It preached of speaking with honor and yet members would speak dishonorably of people when it suited the needs of the leadership.

Anyone who spoke out against Raniere was shunned and labeled "suppressive," Vicente said.

That included anyone who used the word "cult": Within NXIVM, members were told "the word doesn't exist," he testified.

"Anybody who uses the word is clearly suppressive as well," Vicente said.

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