How the Nxivm Sex Cult Leader Tore One Family Apart

She walked into a hushed courtroom on Tuesday, turning to face the man who had sexually abused her as a 15-year-old and slept with her older sisters as well, sometimes at the same time. He had ensnared her entire family with his pseudophilosophy of self-fulfillment and pitted them against one another.

The woman, identified only as Camila, began by telling the court that it was difficult for her to utter the name of the bespectacled man in prisoner clothes at the defense table: Keith Raniere, the mastermind behind a cultlike group called Nxivm, who later in the day would be sentenced to 120 years in prison for his crimes.

Camila’s mother, brother and a sister watched her from the audience, a rare reunion after Mr. Raniere had strained their relationship for years. Camila, now 30, said that when she finally left Nxivm in 2017, she struggled to trust them.

“I still don’t have a normal concept of family because of how he manipulated us away from each other,” she said.

Her father, who still supports Mr. Raniere, did not attend the sentencing.

The split within Camila’s family was one of the most devastating examples of how deeply Mr. Raniere had indoctrinated his loyal followers, turning husbands against their wives and children against their parents. To this day, some Nxivm defectors are still trying to pull their own family members out from the fog of Mr. Raniere’s ideology.

Former Nxivm members have said Mr. Raniere deceived them into believing that adhering to his purported curriculum would solve all of their problems. He taught them to distrust the media, doctors, experts — and any family members who called Nxivm a cult.

Camila was the first victim to speak at Mr. Raniere’s sentencing on Tuesday, where he effectively received a life sentence after his conviction last year on sex trafficking, fraud and other crimes.

Mr. Raniere began sexually abusing her when she was 15 and he was 45, she said. Their relationship lasted for 12 years and left her with lasting physical and emotional scars, including the trauma of getting an abortion at Mr. Raniere’s direction, she said.

Despite what happened to Camila, her father, Hector, wrote a letter to the judge in support of Mr. Raniere.

“I will always honor, be respectful and be grateful to Mr. Raniere,” he wrote. “When I think of him the words that come to mind are: honest, whole, brilliant intelligence, always ready to help, cheerful and in love with humanity.”

The judge, Nicholas G. Garaufis of Federal District Court in Brooklyn, called the letter a “disgrace,” expressing disbelief that a father would support the man who abused his own daughters.

Marianna, the oldest sister in Camila’s family, had a son with Mr. Raniere and stayed in contact with him after his trial. She was living with him in Mexico when he was arrested in 2018.

Mr. Raniere’s inner circle had arranged for Marianna to receive $500,000 in 2017 and set up a trust to provide funds for her son, prosecutors have said.

Mr. Raniere “raped and denigrated my three daughters, lying, manipulating and deceiving them,” their mother, Adriana, told the court on Tuesday. She said she believed that Marianna and her father would “one day be themselves again.”

Mr. Raniere’s lawyer, Marc Agnifilo, said in a statement: “My heart goes out to them, and I hope that they can be a family again.”

The family, once happy and close-knit, lived in a small ranching town in central Mexico. The father founded a company that manufactures mining tools.

Then, in the early 2000s, the parents were introduced to Nxivm. One by one, each of their four children were recruited into the group.

Nxivm had headquarters in upstate New York, but its operation in Mexico was particularly influential because it was led by the son of a former Mexican president, attracting a large number of powerful and wealthy Mexican families.

Eventually, the entire family relocated from Mexico to Albany, N.Y., close to Mr. Raniere and other Nxivm leaders.

Camila said she met Mr. Raniere when she was 13. In their first conversation, they talked about her eighth-grade spelling bee. When he made her uncomfortable, she tried to avoid getting close to him, but was scolded by other adults for being rude, she said.

He told her to keep their relationship a secret from her family, leading to her complete isolation from them.

He took naked photographs of her, which resulted in his conviction at trial for possessing child pornography. He asked her to weigh herself every day, setting a goal below 100 pounds. She was branded with his initials, which he suggested would deter her from seeing other men, she said.

She said that when she attempted suicide, he reacted by worrying about his own exposure and asking: “Do you know how bad it could have been for me if you had killed yourself?”

In court filings, prosecutors showed how much Mr. Raniere controlled the relationship through messages he sent to her. “If you want me to come tonight, I will under these conditions: there will be no talking,” he said, according to prosecutors. “You will meet me at the door in the outfit you think I would find sexiest.”

Camila was later recruited into a secretive group within Nxivm that Mr. Raniere created in 2015. The group was promoted as a women’s empowerment sorority, but former members testified at trial that they were called “slaves” and forced to participate in a ceremony in which Mr. Raniere’s initials were branded near their pelvises.

The women were assigned to have sex with Mr. Raniere and required to hand over nude photographs and other collateral that they feared would be released if they were disobedient, according to trial testimony.

Camila had previously refused to cooperate with prosecutors on the advice of a lawyer who was recommended to her by Mr. Raniere’s legal team. The lawyer had been paid for by Clare Bronfman, heiress to the Seagram’s liquor fortune, who has since pleaded guilty to her role in Nxivm and been sentenced to over six years in prison.

Camila left Nxivm in 2017 as a 27-year-old with no work experience or higher education. She struggled to find a job with such a large unexplained gap in her résumé.

Judge Garaufis was visibly moved by Camila’s speech, citing her testimony several times before he sentenced Mr. Raniere.

Camila said she finally parted ways with Mr. Raniere at the urging of her sister Daniela, who did cooperate with the government and testified as a key witness at his trial last year.

Daniela began a sexual relationship with Mr. Raniere soon after she turned 18 and became pregnant. Another girlfriend of Mr. Raniere arranged for Daniela to get an abortion, which Mr. Raniere said was a good opportunity for her to lose weight, prosecutors said.

But when she developed feelings for another man, he ordered her confined to a room in her family’s house for nearly two years. She was told that if she left without permission, she would be cut off from her family. She slept on a foam pad on the floor and went months without human contact.

In the letter that Daniela’s father, Hector, wrote to the court, he called her a liar and a thief.

Judge Garaufis told Daniela on Tuesday, “What happened to you is not your fault, and I am deeply impressed with your courage and resilience.”

Adrian, the brother in the family, told the court that one of his biggest regrets was participating in Daniela’s torturous confinement. He was so loyal to Mr. Raniere that he shunned his mother for three years after she left Nxivm.

He described a long journey to unlearn Mr. Raniere’s indoctrination, which he said haunts him to this day.

“Keith, your time has come,” Adrian told him on Tuesday. “I look forward to the day your name will be forgotten.”

Source: Read Full Article