The founder of an alleged New York sex cult was built up so that followers viewed him as “some kind of God” according to a former member of the group who is due to resume testimony on Monday.
Mr Raniere faces charges including conspiracy, forced labour, extortion, possessing child abuse images and sex trafficking - with prosecutors alleging that he exerted a huge amount of control over the members of the group. Mr Raniere has pleaded not guilty to all counts, his lawyers saying that all members joined voluntarily and were never forced to do anything against their will.
Mr Vicente said he was commissioned to create videos about Mr Raniere intended to combat what it called lies about him and to head off concerns that Nxivm, set up in the 1990s as a self-help group, was viewed as a cult. New recruits were not allowed direct contact with Mr Raniere, the former member said.
“I was awe-struck by the — kind of the — what I saw as this intellectual model,” Mr Vicente told court last week. “By the time you saw him, it was a little bit like you were seeing, you know, some kind of god.”
Among the alleged crimes of Mr Raniere - who was known as Grandmaster or Vanguard - is the forced branding of “sex slaves” who were part of a secretive sect within Nxivm. That sect was allegedly known as known as DOS, or Dominus Obsequious Sororium, Latin that roughly translates as “master of the obedient female companions”.
Nxivm members were offered the framework of a 12-point “mission statement” written by Mr Raniere, Mr Vicente told the court. It included statements like “I will choose not to be a victim” and “tribute is a form of payment and honour”.
That statement was “a fraud” and “a lie” said Mr Vicente. “This well-intentioned veneer covers a horrible evil”.
Members were split into ranks within the organisation according to Mr Vicente, with each level corresponding to a designated coloured sash. People were encouraged to rise through those ranks with what was called “the stripe path,” according to Mr Vicente. It involved things like enrolling others in classes, he said.
Mr Vicente told jurors that he was asked by the group's president, Nancy Salzman, to make videos showing Mr Raniere in a positive light.
“I really would love it if Keith Raniere does not die a criminal in the eyes of the world,” Ms Salzman is alleged to have told Mr Vicente, according to his testimony.
Five women, including Ms Salzman, Seagram liquor heiress Clare Bronfman and former Smallville actress Allison Mack, who were charged alongside Mr Raniere have pleaded guilty to related crimes.
Reuters contributed to this report
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