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Opening statements in the NXIVM trial: One crystal clear, the other ‘surreal’

[Tanya Hajjar and Marc Agnifilo]

Our correspondent VillageDianne just got out of the Brooklyn courtroom where she heard opening statements in the Nxivm trial, where Keith Raniere is now the sole defendant, facing racketeering and sex trafficking charges. Here’s the rundown she gave us…

Tanya Hajjar gave the statement for the prosecution, and VillageDianne said her performance was impressively to the point and well put together.

She said that Keith had exploited the trust of his victims. He said he was a mentor but he was really a predator, and he targeted young girls. And Nxivm was an excuse to groom them for sex. He pretended to be a guru, but he was a criminal.

It was a racketeering enterprise. His followers served him and they were loyal to him. Nxivm and DOS were both pyramid in structure, with Raniere at the top. People from all over the world were recruited. Keith compared himself to Einstein.

He used their trust for sex, power, and control. He used humiliation to break people down. One of the ways he maintained control was through isolation, and having them move to the Albany area.


In the early 2000s, there was a Mexican family with four children, three girls one son, and Raniere offered to mentor these children. They moved to upstate New York, but Raniere wanted the girls. He turned the family members against each other. When one daughter, Daniella , wanted another man, Raniere said she had made an ethical breach. So she was kept in her room and her family was turned against her. She slept on a mattress on the floor. The door was unlocked, but if she left, it was back to Mexico with no documents. She wrote notes to Raniere, saying, ‘I’m sorry, I’ll do better.’ But it was not enough, it was never enough. He called her a liar. When she finally left two years later on Keith’s orders, it was back to Mexico with a few dollars and the clothes on her back.

And she still had to work for them in Mexico in order to get her documents. The youngest daughter was Camilla, and at age 15, when Keith was 45, he took explicit photos of her that were similar to photos he took of other women, all posed in the same way. The photos were not just for sex, they were for coercion and control.

DOS: This sub-group of Nxivm was women recruiting women. It was a women only “sorority,” and most didn’t know Raniere was really at the top. They made a lifetime commitment of obedience to him. They were controlled through their diet, where they went, and by the “collateral” that they turned in — explicit photos, bank account information, etc. Raniere wanted this information to be so distasteful that the victims would rather die than see them released. The branding was done with a cauterizing pen, and the women didn’t know the brand was Keith’s initials.

One witness who will testify is Nicole, an actress in her 30s who was in in DOS. She will say she was in a room, blindfolded when a person was instructed to commit a sex act on her. She didn’t know who that third person was. But it turns out that third person was Camilla.

The women in DOS took care of Keith, bought his food, took care of his bills, and he called it empowerment.

We will hear from Daniella, Nicole, and other witnesses who will give an inside look at the organization, and there will be photos.

VillageDianne says attorney Marc Agnifilo gave the opening statement for the defense, and he wasn’t always easy to hear. But this is what she got from his words…

He made an analogy to the book To Kill a Mockingbird, that to know what is in a person’s head you have to walk around with them. In other words, he was setting up the idea that it would be important for them to know what Keith was thinking, to see things from his point of view, to understand why things went the way they did.

Victims were isolated in Albany? The Albany area is a serene and wonderful place, Agnifilo said. They played volleyball and had fun.

Everyone’s trying to be happy, and in order to be happy, you have to live up to certain responsibilities. The Nxivm curriculum was what made people happy. Seventeen thousand people took courses. People were working on themselves, these were best friends.

On the issue of control, Agnifilo focused on the intention behind the control. Why is Keith doing this? They are there to make their lives better.

He also made a point about “vulnerability.” Vulnerability is not a bad thing. It’s good to open yourself up, and it’s OK to get hurt. We all have issues with our bodies, but our bodies are nothing to be ashamed of, he said, in regards to explicit photos.

DOS: Why was it created? It was created to be a secret society for women. Men have had secret societies. Keith thought women should have a a secret society of their own.

And to belong to something like that, you needed to put something behind your word. As far as the explicit nature of the “collateral,” it was never released, and there was no intention of it ever being released.

VillageDianne says that Agnifilo’s arguments seemed to strike the reporters around her as strange. “I thought they were surreal,” she says.

Then Agnifilo talked about a Mexican woman who loved the classes, went to Albany, she and Keith respected each other, they had a relationship, and it meant a lot to both of them. But she became interested in another man, but the ground rules were that she wasn’t supposed to be with another man. Those were the ground rules. She was in a bedroom with an unlocked door. She wrote letters saying this was good for her, this was helping her. Her mother even went into the room. When she wanted to leave the room, she left the room and was driven to the border.

Again, Agnifilo referred to people being happy, having fun, and playing volleyball.

People say they were coerced but they really weren’t. There was lots of controversy in Nxivm, and there were multiple sex partners and numerous abortions. It’s OK if you don’t think this is all right, he told the jury. But I’m going to defend Keith’s good faith to my last breath, he said.

To emphasize that point, he brought up Churchill’s speech about never giving up. (“We shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…”)

I don’t have to defend everything that Keith did, he said. He asked the jury to study the texts, the emails, and ask themselves why Keith did what he did.

“You’ll find he was acting in good faith.”

And that’s the opening to this wild trial.


Posted by Tony Ortega on May 3, 2019 at 13:35

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Tony Ortega is a journalist who was formerly the editor of The Village Voice. He’s written about Scientology since 1995, and in May 2015 released a book about Scientology’s harassment of Paulette Cooper titled ‘The Unbreakable Miss Lovely,’ and more recently a compilation of his stories, ‘Battlefield Scientology.’ He continues to monitor breaking developments in the Scientology world, as well as other subjects at The Underground Bunker. You can reach him by sending him a message at tonyo94 AT (Drop him a line if you’d like to get an e-mail whenever a new story is posted.)


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