Frank, I am writing this as personal closure. Hopefully, my testimony will help someone. I am giving you my consent to publish my testimony as long as you keep it intact (you may do a spell check/grammar correction if necessary).
My suggestion would be to publish it in 6 different parts in order not to make it too long, but I understand it is your blog and it would be your decision.
I am a Mexican male. That is all the personal details I will share as nothing else is necessary.
Before I tell you my story, I want to say that during the time I attended ESP courses, and when I mingled with people who belonged to ESP, I did not witness anything illegal. Neither did I have the suspicion that something illegal was happening.
I will try to be as objective as possible in my recollection of the facts.
PART 1 – THE 5 DAY INTENSIVE
More than 13 years ago, I met a girl. She was joyful and smart and we started being friends. I will call her Jane. As we started to trust each other more, she invited me and another friend to an ESP introductory session, in which a high-ranked member explained vaguely what ESP was about.
They mentioned who Keith Raniere was and they talked about all the already known ‘selling points’ about him: He was among the top three best problem solvers in the world, he had an IQ off the charts, he was a child prodigy, he had created a very innovative technology based on physics and mathematics, etc.
My friend and I thought that it was a bit too much and seemed like brainwashing. We did not talk about it afterward.
Jane, however, used to swear by ESP. She was a coach (yellow sash) at the time and was very convinced about the organization and was constantly taking courses (and giving them) and hanging out with people from ESP. She even mentioned that she had achieved much of her personal growth due to ESP and was constantly talking about it to everyone.
As time passed, Jane and I started dating, but after some more time, things did not go as expected and in an attempt to revive the relationship, I told her that I would attend an ESP intensive of 5 days. Her whole face lit up as she had been wanting me to join ESP for some time.
She immediately took out an application for me to fill out (I now guess she always carried one).
If I had not fully trusted Jane, I would never have attended ESP — but that is how they recruit… through personal trust.
I attended the 5-day intensive with 9 other people. I guess there were as many staff as attendees.
I cannot complain about super-long hours (although at the end of the day it felt like it feels after a hard day at work), harassment, unusual temperature, sleep deprivation or bad food.
On the positive side, it was refreshing to spend 5 days among individuals (the attendees) who shared similar values and ideas about the world. The classroom environment was safe and I felt I could share anything with the group without being judged. Everyone was very relaxed, joyful, positive and helpful, including staff members. I did not witness any discomfort from anyone.
During those 5 days, it was as if we were taught the definitions or the foundation under which ESP operated. Overall I felt as if I had a positive experience, but in retrospect, I now realize that there were some details that I ignored:
- We were introduced to the ranking system (sashes) and I found it strange that the highest ranked member was about 5-6 ranks below Nancy Salzman and it seemed impossible for anybody to go through all the ranks as if it was designed to have people always looking for more.
- They told us that Keith should be addressed as Vanguard because he was the head of a new philosophical movement, which I thought was loony…
- They talked about taxes as if they were justifying themselves on the fact that they were not paying them. At the time, I thought that no serious organization would openly talk about this topic.
- They talked about money and why it was important to make more – as it was a reflection of you as a person.
- Throughout the 5 days, Ayn Rand was repeatedly quoted. I had never heard about her before, but she was cited with such arrogance and authority that I thought she was an important philosopher. When I later read Ayn Rand and investigated more about her, things started to feel weird.
- We were taught about disintegrations and when I asked if Keith had zero disintegrations, the head trainer told me that no one knew, but what was important was to focus on myself rather than on other people (I now realize that he skillfully avoided the question).
- We went through the module in which they explain why ESP is not a cult. Basically, they told us that you cannot be brainwashed if you do not consent to it. To be honest, I did not give this module much thought.
- During the 5 days, I was bombarded with love and praises by the staff members. Perhaps everyone was, but I did not notice it. This made me feel very important and appreciated and left a very good impression on me.
I finished the 5-day intensive and moved on with my life. I learned some concepts that I liked and helped me become more productive at work. My overall assessment of the course was positive.
Since, at the time, I had not been exposed to any other personal growth methodologies and did not know anything about PNL, some of the concepts that we learned were innovative to me (and ESP never discloses that some of those tools-concepts-skills were not invented by them).
After the intensive, I did some research on Keith, Nancy and ESP (there were no smartphones at the time, so I had to do it from a computer at home) and found the “Cult of Personality” article from Forbes. The article surprised me when it mentioned that someone had had a mental breakdown at an intensive.
Although we reviewed a lot of material, I did not think that someone could have had such reaction from just taking the course. I found the claims by Tony Natalie exaggerated. The fact that Keith had been involved in a MLM company with a pyramid schemed raised a red flag inside my head.
I do not remember if I read a Rick Ross article at this time or if it was later on, but I found some articles about Nancy a bit troubling.
I confronted Jane about the articles that I found and she told me that there were many things on the internet that were not necessarily true and that in the case of the Forbes article, Edgar Bronfman was so angry at his daughters that he had arranged to have the article published (some rich families are unusual…). She also told me that I should take whatever I found useful from the course and apply it in my life. She also encouraged me to recruit more members to ESP in order to move up through the rank system.
At this point, I had never met Keith or Nancy (just Nancy through the videos) so they remained abstract figures. But my small investigation left me with a somehow bitter taste in my mouth…
[To be continued]…