Investigative journalist Chet Hardin was one of the pioneer journalists who helped uncover the deeply disturbing secrets of NXIVM and laid it out on the public record. I was NXIVM’s publicists when Hardin was working the beat at Metroland, Albany’s alternative weekly – now defunct. I considered Hardin a true professional and an honest actor in the business. I attempted to give him what I thought was the truth at the time. I later found out Hardin was closing in on a truth I was unaware of at the time.
The Alt published this excellently written insightful piece on Keith Raniere, his cult NXIVM and Hardin’s work.
Here is an excerpt:
For Chet Hardin, a former resident of Troy and news editor for Metroland, the area’s now-defunct news weekly, the story has become very personal. He’s seen people’s lives destroyed by what he calls the group’s “brainwashing,” their “abusive litigation” and their dedication to silencing and defeating critics absolutely.
While other local news outlets were covering Raniere’s business savvy and his training programs, Hardin was approached by concerned individuals about what they saw as a very disturbing trend: The success training group was being run as a cult, they said, people were asked to give over their possessions to Raniere, and radical brainwashing and therapy techniques were used that would leave participants convinced they were somehow personally responsible for atrocities they had nothing to do with. One woman was convinced she was responsible for the Challenger disaster, another the Holocaust.
A source provided Hardin with a report by New York-based espionage group Interform that detailed the bank deposits and financial history of cult deprogrammer Rick Ross. The source said it had been commissioned by NXIVM. Hardin called Ross and read him the list of transactions.
“He verified it was his account and that the report contained information about his own finances he wasn’t even aware of,” Hardin said. “He said, ‘They better get a good lawyer!’”
Around this time Hardin was introduced to former NXIVM member Toni Natalie.
Natalie was converted personally by Raniere after meeting him through his company Consumer Byline. After eight years of what she claims was full of mental abuse, she negotiated her release from NXIVM. But, in many ways, it was just the beginning of her relationship with the group.
“The story Natalie told me was just absolutely insane but she seemed so sincere. There was something about her that just seemed so true,” says Hardin. So he kept digging.
“I knew that they were dangerous but I didn’t know the scope,” says Hardin. “I knew Keith essentially had a harem. I started hearing the stories that began trickling out more in 2010, I knew they were very eccentric and they were going to get what they wanted, I knew about their donations to Hillary Clinton and close connections to Rensselaer County politicians but I didn’t have the full scope and really no one did until these women began to speak out about how they were treated.”
It wasn’t long before Hardin would get a lot closer to the center of NXIVM—closer to the soft-spoken, glasses-clad, flannel shirt-loving man they called “Vanguard.”
In October 2006, Hardin turned in his narrative feature on NXIVM, detailing how Natalie had first been recruited by NXVIM (she wanted to quit smoking and soon instead found herself leaving her husband for Raniere), why she left the group, and Rick Ross’ contentious relationship with NXIVM.
“They do everything they can to destroy your life, to keep you quiet. Especially me, because I know so much about them,” Hardin quoted Natalie as telling him. “I know what was done to me. I know what was done to my family. I know what they are doing to other families. I know how they mind-fuck people. I know how dangerous they are. I know how dangerous Nancy Salzman is, and Keith Raniere. They are very, very dangerous, scary people,” Natalie continued.
Hardin recalls his editor didn’t believe what he’d submitted. “I was summoned to his office and on the way there I remember overhearing him ask another editor, ‘Do you believe any of this?’” Hardin admits it was hard for him to believe, but it was all true.
The article ran and soon representatives of NXIVM who he says previously ignored his entreaties were reaching out—forcefully. Hardin recalls being summoned to meet Nancy Salzman, Raniere’s second-in-command at Professor Java’s on Wolf Rd. in Colonie.
Salzman, dressed professionally, struck Hardin immediately as having an overwhelming presence. She quickly demanded to know who had tipped him to the story. “I’m not going to reveal my sources,” Hardin says he replied. Saltzman’s demeanor swiftly changed from outgoing and professional to angry and mocking. “I’m not going to reveal my sources,” she spat back at him the way an older sibling would belittle a younger.
A minute later she was offering Hardin a job at $70K a year. An impressive sum for a reporter—let alone a reporter working at an alt-weekly where paychecks routinely bounced. But Hardin declined and unceremoniously departed.
At the time, NXIVM was not used to being covered critically—especially Salzman, who was seen as Raniere’s fixer and confidant. It was a few years before the Times Union began running stories featuring alleged victims of the cult.
“The number of people in the region NXIVM touched, that went through their success training in the Capital Region is mind-blowing,” says Hardin. “It was really seen as a valuable executive success training program.” Raniere was able to build up thousands of affiliates around the country. “Everyone who went through it wanted to network and Salzman had a very good reputation,” said Hardin.
Raniere had an obsession with a cappella music. He sponsored shows at The Egg and Crossgates Mall. Seeing Raniere sitting in a folding chair in the middle of a mall surrounded by his followers leading polite applause was something to behold.
Hardin at one point witnessed a meeting between Nicki Clyne and Ally Mack and former Troy Mayor Harry Tutunjian to discuss setting up a nonprofit in Troy related to NXIVM. For a few years the actresses were fixtures in Troy and began hanging out with Hardin’s friends.
“There’s Ally Mack and Nicki Clyne trying to recruit my friends and I’m like, ‘This is not going to happen!’”
Read the entire story at The Alt
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