October 1, 2007 — His followers bow in his presence and call him “Vanguard.”
His detractors square off with him in court and call him a manipulative “brainwasher” who wrecks lives with his “extremely dangerous,” “cult-like” group.
Keith Raniere, leader of an Albany-based organization called NXIVM (pronounced nex-e-um), has built a lucrative empire with his Executive Success Programs.
NXIVM, run by Raniere, 47, and President Nancy Salzman, a 52-year-old registered nurse, claims to pull in at least $4 million a year. Big-name devotees like Seagram heiresses Clare and Sara Bronfman back Raniere – and “The Family,” as insiders call the group – despite his checkered past.
In the 1990s, the Brooklyn-born Raniere, son of New York adman and fund-raiser James Raniere, shuttered a multimillion-dollar marketing firm after authorities in several states alleged that it was an illegal pyramid scheme.
Today, devotees shell out as much as $7,500 to attend NXIVM’s 16-day motivational seminars, called “intensives,” where they are coached using Raniere’s patented behavior-modification “technology.”
Members, or “ESPians,” also bow to Salzman, called “Prefect,” and refer to nonbelievers to as “parasites” or “suppressives.”
Some who have left have turned against NXIVM and divulged its “secret” policies – only to find themselves mired in years of litigation with Raniere and Salzman.
In published accounts, ex-members and mental-health professionals call NXIVM a “cult-like” group that uses sensory deprivation, “brainwashing” and other mind-bending tactics – sometimes to the point of psychological breakdowns.
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