Editor’s Note: Wayne Howell, a fictitious name, is a former Nxivm member who is known to me. On the eve of closing arguments in the criminal case against Keith Alan Raniere, Howell thought it appropriate that a former Nxivm member offer arguments in response to what Raniere’s attorney, Marc Agnifilo, might make.
Howell chose to go back to Agnifilo’s opening arguments to rebut some points since it is entirely possible that Agnifilo will repeat and reinforce some of the same themes and arguments in closing that he used to open the case. Selections from Agnifilo’s opening statements are in italics. Howell’s rebuttal is in regular typeface.
By Wayne Howell
Raniere the Parasite
Agnifilo [from his opening statement:] Probably the single greatest thing, at least in my humble opinion, that’s ever been said about empathy and looking at the world through someone else’s eyes was said in the book To Kill a Mocking Bird.
[Atticus Finch, the defense lawyer] says to [his daughter] “Scout, you know, you can’t really understand a man until you crawl inside his skin and walk around in it.” And one of the things I’m going to ask you, and right now as you sit here you might be saying” I don’t want to do it,” but I’m going to ask you, you need to crawl inside his skin and walk around in it. From the jury box, you will walk through Keith Raniere’s life.”
Howell: Marc Agnifilo is asking the jury to do what Raniere didn’t seem to do for women he controlled. Was Raniere crawling inside their skin when he had them on 500 calorie diets?
Meanwhile, by the looks of him, Keith did not hold himself to the same standards. Judging by testimony, emails and text messages, he lived a life of satiation, primarily sleep and sex. If we really crawl inside Raniere’s skin, we find someone that demands of others what he himself doesn’t honor.
In the ESP [Nxivm] curriculum, Raniere said people should not be “parasites,” while he himself, a self-proclaimed “renunciate,” lived entirely off the women around him. They fed him, satiated him sexually, clothed him, drove him around, and took care of every detail of his life. Given that a number of the women who supported Raniere were heiresses, in reality, it was a series of wealthy fathers that sustained him for 30 years.
Raniere was the biggest parasite of them all, living off the backs of men and women who actually produced.
Raniere Never Wanted to Help People
Agnifilo: The Government says that “Well, a lot people believe in NXIVM and now they don’t.” A lot of the Government witnesses, I think, are going to take the witness stand and say “NXIVM was wonderful, NXIVM helped me.”….
They’re going to say basically… if I had to dumb it down, ‘NXIVM for Dummies,’ … basically: What makes people happy? …. the premise of what makes people happy is when they develop a theory of their own ethics, when they have a strong sense of their own ethics. You want to be happy? Keep your word. You want to be happy? Do what you say you’re going to do. You want to be happy? Live up to your responsibilities, because you get a form of self-confidence when you realize you’re being a good person.
Howell: NXIVM may have helped people in some ways. This is not all black or white. If you want to cheat someone and get the most out of that person, you don’t just show up and take all you can. You might not get very far. What Raniere understood is that you can get much more if you get people first to trust you. To gain that trust, Raniere created useful tools, under the guise of “ethics” and humanitarian endeavor, to reel people in.
Granted, he probably stole the basic concepts behind the tools. I’m not sure that anyone that ever took part in Landmark, Tony Robbins or Scientology actually ever got admitted into an intensive. Enrollment was selective, with someone on the stripe path or a salesperson asking questions and vetting potential enrollees every step of the way.
One reason many people believed the material was original is because it was new to them. Another reason is they were lied to. Raniere claimed he invented the concepts, and everyone around him believed him and perpetuated the lie.
Raniere might have appeared to want to help people. But look at his actions and the actual results. It’s a goals setting program and Raniere was all about getting results. How then is it possible that so much widespread destruction happened to everyone around him? Attempted suicides, cancer deaths, bankruptcies, eating disorders, destroyed careers.
After the first one or two failures, if Raniere had good intent, don’t you think he would have re-evaluated the efficacy of his tools, and whether there was something wrong? In the end, who was better off, feeling more free in their own lives – truly more joyful? Name one person – other than Raniere.
People Who Took Nxivm Wanted to See Good in It
Agnifilo: The fact is that you’re going to hear that 17,000 people took NXIVM courses, all sorts of successful people: CEO’s, executives, actors, actresses, and they took them not because they were all bamboozled and fooled. They took them because they got something out of them and you’re going to hear this not from me, you’re going to hear this from the witnesses who testify on the stand.
Howell: There are some who will get something out of anything. Make a simple statement like “Plant a seed and a tree will grow” and there will be someone who will think it’s a deep and profound metaphor for life. Why? Because that’s the nature of that person! Some people, through their own positivity, projections and good intent, will just see the good and maybe get good results. It says more about the person, and less about whether Raniere had good intent.
But understand, too, that in order for Raniere to gain power and control, and grow the organization, there had to be a perceived value that outweighed any negative outcome – otherwise the whole thing would blow up. Like it did once DOS was exposed: the horror outweighed any perceived value.
In addition, the 17,000 people who took the course most often did so because someone they knew, liked or admired told them it was incredible.
Once a person believed it was incredible, [with a few thousand dollars invested] he or she showed up to the course and looked to see that they made the right choice. It’s called “confirmation bias” – where people look to see how they made the right choice especially when big spending is involved.
People Suffered When They Were in Nxivm
Agnifilo: “It’s sort [of] an odd case when the defense lawyer says “pay attention to the emails, look at the emails, look at the text messages.” That’s your reality, because a lot of things have happened between 2017 and today …. people have a change in perspective. And one of the things you are going to see about this case, a lot of it is about perspective: “I liked it at the time. I was having fun at the time. These were my best friends.”
Howell: Why did Nxivm and DOS people change their perspectives? Because they were lied to, and then later discovered the deception. People are allowed to change their minds about how they feel about past events once they get more information. Everyone does that.
However, in his opening statement, Agnifilo was mistaken. There weren’t any people on the witness stand saying they were having fun at the time. If you ask people now whether they had a good time being part of NXIVM, they will probably tell you that they did have some good friendships and a lot of punishing ones. They had some special moments with people at events, and many bad moments where things were horrible.
Yes, maybe people feel they benefited at times. However, it doesn’t negate the fact that, overall, many people suffered in Nxivm. At the time they justified the suffering as “building character,” or conscience, or a better world.
Raniere Controlled Through Coercion
Agnifilo: Every downhill skier who won a gold medal was controlled by some ski coach. Every 18 year-old kid who comes from Biloxi, Mississippi or Hauppauge, Long Island who becomes a marine, is controlled by a drill instructor. The issue isn’t the control; the issue is the intention. The issue is always the intention, and this is going to be a theme that I come back to again and again. The issue isn’t the control; the issue is the intention.
What’s behind the control? Control can be very, very bad. Control can also make marines. Control could also bring gold medal winners. What’s behind the control? So… I… always ask the why…. Is he being controlling? Well, a lot of times he is…. Ask the why. What is happening?”
Howell: Raniere always had a way of redefining things. Blurring lines and omitting distinctions in some places, and making finer distinctions in others, depending on how he wanted a person to buy into his beliefs.
The example of control illustrates this point. A gold medalist can be, but is not necessarily, controlled by a coach. In some instances, a coach may cross the line and become controlling. But, hopefully, a coach is uplifting, positively motivating, inspiring. Most people would call this mentorship or guidance, based on the fact that the coach has been there and is passing on lessons learned.
What’s the difference between control and guidance? Whether or not fear is instilled.
A drill sergeant may be controlling. Through fear, the commander is able to get a soldier to achieve certain results. By creating a type of negative motivation for a soldier, a motivation away from some negative outcome, the sergeant may get the soldier to do things like to respect the fact that he or she could die on the battlefield.
In joining the military, this is understood upfront. While it’s true that the soldier’s life is committed fully to this kind of control/obedience for a period of time, the soldier understands what the commitment will entail (extensive training and possible injury and/or death). There is a clear exchange: usually a salary for a period of time. After a soldier’s term ends, he or she has the option to re-enlist or terminate the relationship altogether.
On the other hand, DOS women were enrolled with promises, then controlled through fear. With the exception of top line slaves, women believed they were joining a woman’s empowerment group. They didn’t join thinking their collateral would enslave them into producing more and more collateral… and eventually being enslaved to low-calorie diets, unpaid labor (“acts of care”) and seducing Raniere.
There may be some that believe that the women who made commitments to DOS should “follow through” on their commitment to obedience. The moment her own principles, no matter what they actually were, were traded for Raniere’s “principles,” the contract was broken. The moment the women were deceived, it became coercion. And, as the collateral demands multiplied, the coercion in everything the women were required to do was intensified.
Naked Photos of Women Weren’t Meant to Help Women
Agnifilo: The naked photographs are the same thing [not shameful], there’s nothing wrong… with your body, there is nothing wrong with you, there’s nothing to be ashamed of and it should be celebrated. It’s not sexual. And when you look at the pictures, look closely, look at everything, looking at the lighting; there’s nothing that changes sort of the simple fact that this is just a body. That’s all it is; it’s not sexualized, it is none of those things. It is just a body, a natural body, in its natural state. That’s what you will see.”
Howell: If this is true – that the photographs were taken as a demonstration that there’s nothing shameful with a woman’s body, then why did Raniere shame women’s bodies, calling them “piggies” and the like?
Why make degrading comments about how he thinks some women smell, like “a-fish-hole”? Why did he require that women lose weight, rather than let women’s “natural body [be] in its natural state”?
Raniere may have told Agnifilo all of the above, but his actions and behavior suggest he does not care anything about women being in their natural state, unless it’s a state he likes.
Collateral Was Based on Bad Intentions
Agnifilo: And you’re going to hear that collateral didn’t start with DOS, collateral started way before DOS. It is a very mainstay concept in a lot of the NXIVM teaching that Raniere then applied to DOS. It is very simple. I mean let’s say, for instance, I was a guitar player and I wanted to lose weight and… I come to one of you and say, “… I’m having the hardest time losing weight… I’m just not doing it.” And you say to me, “you know what, I’ll tell you what, [if] you don’t lose two pounds in a month, give me your guitar.” That’s collateral, that’s all it is. There’s nothing more than that. It is a way of basically backing up my promise to something I want to do, and you’re going to hear this; it doesn’t have a bad intention, it has a good intention.
Howell: Perhaps this is the kind of example that was used to enroll DOS women. The “I-want-to-lose-weight-so-I-give-my-beloved-guitar-as-collateral” example. That’s the lie. This kind of exchange never happened in DOS. Once in, women were required to do things that were clearly not what they wanted to do, not aligned with their principles, and not in their best interest. Even if you want to lose weight, doing so in a healthy way is in a person’s best interest. A 500 calorie diet is not in her best interest. Eating disorders, losing hair and suspended menstrual cycles are clear indicators that something is very wrong, that a woman is badly abusing her body. Except the abuse was ordered and her collateral will be released if she doesn’t obey.
The Power of Collateral Lies in Not Releasing It
Agnifilo: Now, one of the things I think is important, none of collateral was ever released all this time. You know, some of the women are giving naked photos, some of the women are writing things about, you know, family members that are false or true or whatever. None of it was ever released ever, not a single bit, not a single time. You know how they say never say never? I’m saying never, it was never released. It what that means is they never had any intention of releasing it.
Howell: The collateral was also never returned and/or destroyed. Which means it still serves the purpose. As long as they have the collateral, they can still threaten the women. The moment it’s released, two things happen: the crime of extortion is exposed and the collateral completely loses its power. But, by keeping it, not returning it – or destroying it or releasing it, it still holds all the same power that it did before. Which means that every woman who gave collateral can still fear that it will one day, maybe out of the blue (kind of like the recent release of a branding video in Mexico) be released.
By the way, for all of the ladies that didn’t think they (Raniere and cronies) meant business, the branding video release lets you know they absolutely do.
Agnifilo can claim that technically her video wasn’t actually collateral. Maybe that’s true. But the purpose was accomplished: every woman that gave incriminating confessions (true or false), nude photos and videos might wonder if she’s next.
DOS Women Who Enrolled Already Had Collateral on Them
Agnifilo: There is going to be a lot of talk that this was sex trafficking because women were bringing women into the group. Let me tell you why, as you hear the evidence, this isn’t going to make any sense to you. These are best friends.
These women love each other. They trust each other, they’re best buddies. For you to believe the Government’s core premise on this, you would have to conclude, somehow, that these best friends, one of their hearts darkened to the other one and rather than being their best friend, rather than looking out for their self interests, rather than doing this out of love and because they love each other and are close and are best friends, something else entirely, something inexplicable is happening, and instead they’re looking to hurt their best friend. It’s like they become a vampire, you know. Now they are looking to harm their best friend; “we are not really best friends anymore, now I’m looking to hurt you.” You know what? You’re not going to believe it. You are not going to believe it because it doesn’t make any sense.
Howell: Not true! How does Agnifilo stand by these statements? Yes, these women did love and trust each other in most cases. But you don’t have to conclude that “one of their hearts darkened to the other one” at all. What you could conclude instead is that one was lied to and believed she was doing a “good” thing for her friend.
Remember, by the time one was enrolling the other into DOS, she (the Master) already had layers of collateral held on her. She was already coerced and manipulated. The lines got blurred (possibly due to sleep deprivation caused by 24/7 Readiness Drills and low-calorie diets) and she needs to enroll to save her own ass, literally. (Think paddling.)
With the exception of a few who might have “darkened,” these women did not become “vampires” looking to harm people they cared about. Agnifilo is right about one thing, the conclusion he drew doesn’t make sense because that’s not how it went!
Women were led (commanded and deceived) into sex trafficking and were never informed that that’s precisely what they were doing.
It Does Not Make Sense
Agnifilo: You will listen to all of this, step by step, and if it doesn’t make sense, if it doesn’t make sense, it probably means it didn’t happen that way.
Howell: If it doesn’t make sense, it means information is missing. It’s possible it means things didn’t happen that way.
Agnifilo fails to explain that there are other reasons it might not make sense. One reason is it’s really hard for well-intended people to imagine destructive intent. Maybe a person can’t believe someone would get pleasure out of wanting control and power over someone else. That alone could confuse things. I mean, most people don’t want power and control above all else.
Did Dani Have Choice?
Agnifilo: So when [Daniela] wanted to leave [the room after almost two years], she left.
Howell: Agnifilo says Daniela always had choice. Which ultimately is true – but there’s a difference between making a decision to stay in that room with no looming threats – and making that decision because you will lose it all (friends, family, identity documents, and any way to eat/survive). One is not like the other.
Seducing Raniere Is Not Sex?
Agnifilo: One of things that happened in DOS is the women are given an assignment to seduce Raniere. Seduce him. They can be very clear that the assignment was not to have sex with him.
Howell: When you are told to “seduce” someone, what else does that imply? It doesn’t imply having lunch. It implies sex. Crafty one, Raniere. He worked hard to cover his intentions, didn’t he? Always with the goal of covering his tracks with many layers: let’s call sex “seduction;” let’s have someone else “command” it; let’s get the women to agree to being told what to do.