NXIVM: Creating a cult leader

Special Reports

Often when looking into the world of Keith Raniere, one is left with more questions than answers.

How does a boy born in Brooklyn grow up to be the esteemed, feared, and now incarcerated “vanguard?”

“He’s dangerous, he’s a sociopath, and he’s evil,” said Raniere’s former girlfriend, Toni Natalie.

According to Keith Raniere’s self-proclamations, he was an extraordinary child.

“It’s an inarguable fact that Keith Raniere is a genius,” said freelance journalist, Chet Hardin.

Constructing sentences by age one, reading by the next year, and the East Coast Judo champion when he was 11.

“That he is wonderfully talented. That he is wonderfully gifted,” said Hardin.

Then, Raniere came to the Capital Region. He graduated from RPI in 1982 with degrees in biology, math, and physics.

“That he is one of the world’s smartest men. That he has a 240 IQ,” said Hardin.

Raniere held the Guinness Book of World Records spot for highest IQ in 1989, a record that was discontinued the next year.

“It’s that calling card that he puts out there that gets people to listen,” said Natalie.

This PDF contains confirmations of several claims made by Keith Raniere. This includes his college education, Guinness World Record claim, and a response to his alleged East Coast Judo Championship.

Natalie met Keith Raniere in 1991 when he was running a company called Consumers Buyline. She says the man she met was nothing like what she expected.

“Very unassuming, almost shy in demeanor at times,” said Natalie.

She asked him why he would use his intellectual gifts to run a multi-level marketing company. He told her he was using it to change the world.

“And this is my platform and this is how I’m going to start. Don’t you want to come along?”
She did.

“Keith went from being my friend to help me through some personal situations, some personal things I was dealing with, to helping me right out of my marriage and into Clifton Park,” said Natalie.

The pair lived together here in the Capital Region and Natalie was happy running a vitamin company.

That’s when Consumers Buyline began to crumble.

“As quickly as the company grew, because it was fast and furious, it failed,” said Natalie.

The company was under investigation by several states and shut down in 1997 after settling with the New York State Attorney General. That’s when Raniere met Nancy Salzman.

They created Executive Success Programs, the nucleus that would later become NXIVM.

“He was creating this new company with Nancy,” said Natalie.

That’s when Raniere became violent.

“Screaming at me, spitting in my face, backing me into a corner. Don’t you know who I am I’m the smartest man in the world, I have total retention, you don’t even know what you said,” said Natalie.

Natalie saw Raniere for the last time in April of 1999, but she was far from free of his grasp.

“It wasn’t a breakup. It was a run for your life,” said Natalie.

Raniere began coming after Natalie through the court system, tying her up in litigation from the time of their breakup until he was arrested earlier this year.

“People didn’t want to listen. Because it was easier to blame the victim than to look at the crazy man behind the curtain,” said Natalie.

Toni Natalie, the ex-girlfriend of Keith Raniere, offers her thoughts toward the future, plus advice to those with loved ones still under the control of NXIVM.

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While Natalie was living a nightmare NXIVM was flourishing.

“The whole dysfunctional aspect of their curriculum was cleverly disguised,” said Susan Dones, a former NXIVM member.

In 2000, Susan Dones was running a wellness center at her home in Washington state when she found out about NXIVM and Raniere.

“I was curious enough to spend the money and go back to Albany and take a 16-day course,” said Dones.

She delved into the intensive program and brought the teachings back to form the NXIVM Center in Tacoma.

“It wasn’t until I was later on involved that I started to get red flags,” said Dones.

Dones says she and others realized Raniere was sleeping with the executive board of the company.

“He was overly affectionate with certain women, and that bothered me,” said Dones.

And borrowing large sums of money from the clients.

“I didn’t like the way they doted on him. The leadership of NXIVM,” said Dones.

So, she avoided him at all costs.

“I never spent a lot of time with Raneire. I actually found him to be a little creepy,” said Dones.

And she wasn’t the only one. In 2006, Chet Hardin was working for the now-defunct Capital Region newspaper Metroland.

“Its that mythology of Keith that NXIVM is able to sell,” said Hardin.

Hardin discovered Raniere was using wealthy backers to bring the Dali Lama to town and started investigating. This didn’t sit well with Raniere, so he threatened a $65 million lawsuit against Hardin and the paper.

“With the threat of that lawsuit hanging in the air, I was invited by Keith to play volleyball at midnight out in the country,” said Natalie.

It was at Hayner’s off Route 9 that Raniere held “court” in the form of a game.

“I found him very charming. I tell people, had I not gone into that night armored with what I knew about Keith Raniere and NXIVM, I would have liked it,” said Hardin.

Raniere was determined to stop Hardin’s investigations.

“The point when he peeled me aside to talk to me one on one, it was hard not to notice the rest of the room, the demeanor of the rest of the room. Everyone went quiet,” said Hardin.

Hardin had been granted a rare look at the inner workings of NXIVM, and been party to Raniere’s orbit.

“And its charming, and its fun, and it’s exciting and I can easily see getting caught up in it,” said Hardin.

As Hardin was getting a closer look, Dones was trying to escape. In April 2009, she and several others decided to meet with Raniere about leaving NXIVM. Raniere allowed Dones to videotape those meetings.

“After the second day, I decided that there was no way he was going to change,” said Dones. “I think he became angered by that and figured he needed to have a tighter rein on people.”

Dones kept that video clip because after leaving, she feared for her life.

“He might consider that I was a threat. And he might decide to do away with me. To kill me,” said Dones.

A feeling Natalie knows all too well. She believes she was a guinea pig for Raniere’s agenda, and when she left, she was touted within NXIVM as the anti-Keith.

“They were taught to learn that I was the devil,” said Natalie. “Yeah, yeah, I’m the devil.”

Little did she know over the next several years things would become much worse.

“I was broke and broken and tired and fried,” said Natalie.

While Raniere was still waging war on Natalie through the court system, NXIVM continued to grow.

Court documents allege he formed DOS in 2015. DOS is the secret society of women within NXIVM that brands its members and operates as a master and slave system. All of it happening in several Halfmoon harem homes.

“They were young women, young women. Yeah, they were. I never saw, I’ll tell you, I never saw a man. It was all women,” said a closeby neighbor who wishes to remain anonymous and asking to be referred to as Anne.

The only man she ever saw, was Raniere.

“He said, you know you shouldn’t be walking alone at night with your dog. I kind of looked at him and I said why I’ve been here forever. He said because there’s a lot of weirdos out,” said Anne.

She describes him as charismatic, a gentleman, and remembers his blue eyes.

“Then when I got the call that he was arrested. I just flipped out and I was like oh my God what could have happened?”

That question will never be answered, but Natalie has an idea of what the future looks like for Raniere and NXIVM.

“He’ll become a martyr. And they’ll just recreate this somewhere else,” said Natalie.

Even so, she has faith that the Eastern District prosecution team will prove what she knows is true.

“They know that they’re dealing with a monster. They’re dealing with someone who is diabolical and evil and manipulative. And they see that,” said Natalie.

She says this will be the fall of Vanguard.

“There’s only God,” said Natalie. “And it’s certainly never going to be Raniere.”

Over the past several weeks, NEWS10 has been keeping an eye on several Halfmoon properties with connections to Keith Raniere and NXIVM. This surveillance includes two men moving Allison Mack’s belongings out of her Knox Woods condo, items being moved out of one of the homes raided on Oregon Trail by the FBI, and two known NXIVM members at a Knox Woods residence.

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