MK10ART's portrait of Marc Agnifilo
General News NXIVM

Former Nxian: Agnifilo’s Opening Arguments Fell Flat as Will His Closing

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.

Keith Raniere speaks to Nancy Salzman, Clare Bronfman, and others.

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.

MK10ART’s intriguing sketch – A cold Raniere. The Vanguard may spend many years in prison.

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.

Marc Agnifilo Cross-Examines Dani

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.

MK10Art’s splendid painting of Keith Raniere and Allison Mack planning to take more naked pictures.

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.




About the author


News and art, national and local. Began as alternative weekly in 1990 in Buffalo, NY. Publishing content online since 1996.


Click here to post a comment

Leave a Reply

  • In a “kinder, gentler” way, this is how Amway and other MLM scams attract and rip off people. This is why I was drawn to this website a little over a year ago, I noticed remarkable similarities between NXIVM and my Amway experience, as well as my extensive research into Amway and other MLM scams.

    When I found Raniere started his MLM “career” with Amway, and later probably a couple of other MLM scams and eventually CBI, along with the resulting settlement to never be involved in another MLM scam again, all of the pieces fit together perfectly.

    The damage done to millions of new people in the U.S. alone every year by Amway and other MLM scams makes NXIVM look like a walk in the park by comparison. It’s the celebrities and rich people who drew readers to this website like flies to a piece of sh!t to NXIVM, which is very unfortunate.

  • Nxivm was not about good intentions. Good intentions takes into account the needs, psychological and physical being and goals of all the participants. Good intentions respects others boundaries and protects their safety at all costs. Good intentions means you partner with your folowers and listen to their feedback on what is useful.

    Nxivm was about control. Personal, social and financial control for the benefit of Rainiere and the upper levels of the inner circle including Nancy and Lauren Salzman, Allison Mack and the Clare Bronfman. Nx damaged others with the control and coercion.

    You are correct. Nx made promises of self fulfillment, inner peace and humanitarian ethics but controlled people via fear, coercion and non-effective, punitive techniques.

    Your summary is good and rings true. Rainiere did not himself live up to the lifestyle he promised. He was a fraud, a liar, an abuser, a pornographer and pedophile.

    Thanks for your honesty and insight. I know it is not easy recovering from lies, abuse and control. Your clarity shows you have a good handle on what happened and you are regaining your humanity.

  • Keith has 100 percent chance of acquittal. Why do you think the defense did not even call witnesses ? The government failed. Keith, Clare and Nicki are the best !!!!

    • Yolanda, It’s so good to hear from you.
      I hope “Pea Onyu” and Nicki Clyne are doing well.
      I hope Nicki finds a room mate to help share her “Big Ass Haus.”
      (my big ass haus ok)

      My take on the trial is a little different from yours.
      I believe there is a chance for a mistrial, especially on some of the charges.
      Many of the sexual encounters Keith Raniere was involved in concerned consenting adult women.
      As a result the jurors, even though they were disgusted and nauseated by the conduct, might write off those sexual encounters as private behavior.

      And I note that four of Raniere’s five co-defendants chose not to testify.
      Clare, Nancy, Kathy and Allison did not testify.
      And Allison’s allocution was particularly weak and half-hearted.
      Words to the effect that, “My application of Keith Raniere’s teachings was supposed to help people. I was wrong.”
      That is hardly a ringing condemnation of Keith Raniere.
      It is mealy mouthed and wishy-washy.
      Only Lauren Salzman really testified against Raniere and her testimony was an admission that she was neck deep in wrong doing.

      I might note that I believe the testimony of Dani, the woman locked in a room for 18 months and the testimony of “Nicole” and “Jaye” were effective.
      But these three women were never in the NXIVM DOS.

      I believe there is little chance of a total acquittal but I also believe that if one juror has any doubts there could be a mistrial on some charges.

      This video from Saturday Night Live shows how I think most of the jurors feel about the trial and the testimony.
      C-SPAN Booknotes: All In – SNL

  • “I’m going to ask you, you need to crawl inside his skin and walk around in it.” No, in fact the jury has no obligation, legally or ethically, to do any such thing. Agnifilo’s client has made everyone’s skin crawl, I’ll grant him that.

    What is this with referencing “To Kill A Mockingbird”, anyway? Does Agnifilo not know that the Atticus Finch, the lawyer in the book, LOSES the case? His client is convicted of rape. I suspect the hand of the “smartest man on Earth” behind this little gem of elocution. “Mockingbird” is the kind of high school level reading material that he would find profound. Probably had one of his minions send him a book report on it.

    “A lot of the Government witnesses, I think, are going to take the witness stand and say “NXIVM was wonderful…”

    Holy cow, there’s a prediction that didn’t come true!

    “Every downhill skier who won a gold medal was controlled by some ski coach. Every 18 year-old kid… who becomes a marine, is controlled by a drill instructor.”

    Given the Olympic gymnastic team doctor getting about a million years jail time for molesting underage gymnasts, and the military’s ongoing revelations about sex abuse of female soldiers, I’m not sure this was a clever tack to take by the defense. Might as well have brought up the subject of the Catholic Church and altar boys.

    “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.”

    The last desperate line of defense when his wife finds his browser history.

    “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… ”

    “But darling, it’s not porn I swear! It’s art! Look at the lighting…” Forget it fella. Start packing a suitcase and book a motel room, ’cause she’s kicking you out.

  • Wayne Howell,

    I greatly enjoyed your illuminating article.

    I find the fact that Raniere had NXIVM applicants carefully filtered and vetted interesting.

    “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 sales person asking questions and vetting potential enrollees every step of the way.”

%d bloggers like this: