The making of Vanguard
The story of how NXIVM's Keith Raniere went from gifted child to self-help guru to accused sex-cult leader
CBC/September 12, 2018
By Josh Bloch, Kathleen Goldhar, Anita Elash and Dave Pizer
A lengthy article describing Keith Raniere and how one early recruit [felt after private sessions with him.
Three areas of interest in particular would have an obvious impact on Raniere's future projects. Hutchinson says he was fascinated by Scientology; with neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), a personal development discipline popular back then that focuses on using perception and communication techniques to change people's thoughts and behaviours; and with the multi-level marketing structure of Amway.
He saw potential in improving Amway's model, says Eric J. Roode, a close friend of Raniere's at the time. Raniere's admirers seemed to think he was on the verge of some great idea and somehow destined for greatness. And they wanted to be part of it.
Hutchinson painted the scene this way: "Pretty much everyone's lounging around, and Keith, he's got a notebook, or he's got a Rubik's cube or something. And there was planning and plotting and packaging of Keith as this guru going on."
A key part of that packaging, she says, was Raniere's famous IQ test. But Hutchinson says she was surprised the test that supposedly proved his credentials as one of the smartest men in the world was a take-home exam.
"If he's a genius, it's in sales and manipulation," Hutchinson says.
Power of secrets
Toni Natalie says there was something besides charisma in Raniere's ability to influence people.
She remembers, for example, when she joined the team at Consumers' Buyline in the early 1990s and Raniere discovered she was a smoker. He asked if she wanted to quit, and she said yes.
They went to his office. All Natalie remembers is he asked her questions about what makes her uncomfortable or nervous, and then started applying pressure on certain parts of her knuckles. He told her to do the same thing whenever she felt like smoking.
Natalie says she walked out of the office and her husband said, "What the hell were you doing in there all that time?"
Baffled, she asked what he meant. She had only been in the office for 15 minutes.
"He said, 'Toni, you were in there two and a half hours!'"
The upside is that she never smoked again. "But whatever went on in that two and a half-plus hours definitely was a point that completely changed my life," she says.
Within a year of meeting Raniere in 1991, Natalie's marriage was over, and she'd moved to Clifton Park to be with him. (She says Raniere convinced her that her husband was sleeping with the nanny.)
Natalie and Raniere opened a health products store in the mid-1990s, and that's where she says Raniere met Nancy Salzman, the woman who would help him develop the blueprint for NXIVM.
Salzman was a nurse as well as an expert in neuro-linguistic programming and a skilled hypnotherapist. Raniere, who had long been fascinated by NLP, was in awe of Salzman's talents and was determined to bring her into the fold, Natalie says.
In true Raniere style, he and Salzman had a marathon meeting of the minds in the café behind the health store, Natalie says. Salzman went in skeptical, she says, but emerged four days later eager to be mentored by Raniere and to work with him on a self-help training business.
Natalie says she became their guinea pig. She says her gruelling sessions with Raniere and Salzman, which included hypnosis, seemed to lay the groundwork for what would become the Executive Success Programs curriculum.
The sessions involved probing and rehashing Natalie's most painful secrets, she says, including the molestation she suffered as a child. When Raniere and Salzman held their first intensive training course, Natalie says she felt profoundly uncomfortable as she listened to students sharing their secrets. She says she knew how Raniere had used the secrets of her own life story to manipulate her and control her emotions.
As Natalie listened to the students, she started having flashbacks of her own sessions — moments during which she suspects she'd been in a trance. "I started looking around and thinking, This isn't a self-help group. This is therapy. What are we doing?"
Comments from Raniere's lawyer
Keith Raniere's epic daily walks through the streets and trails of Clifton Park have been replaced by miles and miles of circles inside a maximum security prison in Brooklyn as he awaits trial.
And his marathon discussions about life and philosophy with admirers have been replaced by hours and hours of chats about legal theory with his lawyer, Marc Agnifilo.
Raniere has always cast himself as the master of his own narrative, and given the charges he faces, it's not an exaggeration to say his life depends on the strength of the story his team tells in court.
"He's very smart. He studies a great deal. He has a lot of ideas about his case," Agnifilo says of his client. "He's adamant about his innocence. And I think that's part of what animates him."
Agnifilo has experience representing men who claim to be brilliant but find themselves in a legal mess. He previously represented Martin Shkreli, the convicted securities fraudster who became an international pariah for hiking the price of a potentially life-saving drug by more than 5,000 per cent.
"So this is probably my 10th client who is the smartest man in the world," Agnifilo says.
Another brief vignette from this lengthy and remarkable article:
ouchey says that during their lengthy conversation, James Raniere shared a remarkable story. When his son was seven or eight years old, he took an intelligence test that determined he was gifted. His father noticed a dramatic change in the boy's character when he learned the results, Bouchey says.
"He said it was almost like a switch went off. And suddenly, overnight, he turned into, like, Jesus Christ. And that he was superior and better than everybody, like a deity."
Adding to the legend
The first time Heidi Hutchinson saw Keith Raniere, it was around Christmas 1984 — and his 24-year-old rear-end was trying to squeeze through the window of her teenage sister's bedroom.
"I walked into the room. He was stuck in the window, butt toward the door," Hutchinson says.
She had no idea that her sister Gina, who killed herself in 2002, was romantically interested in anyone, let alone a man eight years older than her.
"She was caught. Keith was caught. And then they had some explaining to do," Hutchinson says.
Raniere excelled at explaining things. He managed to convince Gina's mother that he was interested in having a serious, committed relationship with her daughter.
But Raniere had other girlfriends at the time, and Gina eventually found out, Hutchinson says. Gina was heartbroken.
Hutchinson says Raniere had convinced his girlfriends that men are hardwired to be polyamorous but women are not, and that the only reason his romantic arrangement seems wrong to others is because people are brainwashed by society's flawed values.