Keith Raniere, the leader of NXIVM, claimed that women in his cult chose to be branded with his initials as ‘an honorary thing’ and ‘tribute’ in his first interview since being sentenced to prison for 120 years.
NXIVM’s Keith Raniere, 60, is speaking out in prison for the first time since being found guilty of federal sex trafficking and forced labor charges. The cult leader insisted he “didn’t come up with” the idea to carve his initials, K.A.R., above the bikini lines of the women involved in the secret master-slave group Dominus Obsequious Sororium (DOS), and is “against tattooing”, in an interview with Dateline, which aired on Feb. 26. He claimed the women themselves chose to be branded with the letters as “an honorary thing” and a “tribute” and it made him feel “almost embarrassed.”
“I didn’t come up with the branding. If you look at my long-term partners, I’m even against tattooing,” he said in the interview. “I don’t have tattoos. None of my partners have tattoos. If my partners want to get them, that’s up to them. But I am dissuasive of it.”
He also claimed the women refused to take painkillers during the branding so they could “feel it.”
“They even chose to do it without anaesthetics so that they would feel it,” he said. “No, no ordering whatsoever. Someone being branded they agreed to it as one of the four conditions to even be considered for entrance into the sorority and that was said in testimony,” he continued.
“No [I didn’t try to stop it] but I was slightly in a way almost embarrassed,” he added. “At first I thought ‘well if it was Albert Einstein‘s initials then no one would care.’ And then I thought ‘If it was Brad Pitt‘s initials, maybe you’d have some jealous husband.’ But that’s not what I’m like so I took it as an honorary thing – a tribute thing. And that brand was going to be tattooed over anyway. It was symbolic.”
Raniere, who was nicknamed “Vanguard” in his inner circle, spoke by phone from a maximum security federal penitentiary in Tucson, Arizona, where he is serving 120 years for turning sex cult followers into slaves and sexually abusing a 15-year-old, in the interview.
After starting NXIVM, which claimed to be a self-help group that offered personal development, in Albany, NY in the 1990s, Raniere formed DOS, a secret master/slave club in which women, including India Oxenberg and Sarah Edmonson, were branded, turned into sex slaves, and allowed to only eat 500 calories a day while obeying their “masters” for a lifetime.
In addition to discussing the branding with Dateline, he denied using “collateral” to blackmail women after some cult followers testified in court that he forced them to give him embarrassing documents and naked photos of themselves.
“I did not take the collateral at all. I did not have possession of the collateral whatsoever. Not not seen but did not possess,’ he said while also adding that he does “apologize” for participating in the “horrible situation.”
“Yes I apologize for my participation in all this pain and suffering. I have clearly participated… this is a horrible situation,” he said while also denying that he was not the “cause” of it. “I say damage I’ve participated in because I don’t believe we’re always the cause of all of it. We are the cause more or less but all the damages I can fathom I participated in, I feel responsible for. It’s not just a matter of ‘did I cause it all myself?’ I’m involved in the cause of it and for that that haunts me forever.”
Although he admitted to his wrongdoing, Raniere still claimed his innocence. “Well, being innocent of crimes and being innocent if you will of any wrongdoing or you know, people cause damages inadvertently and well-intentioned damages… and they don’t mean to damage but it happens,” he said.
Raniere was sentenced to prison in Oct. 2020 after 15 of his victims spoke out or had statements read in court. Actress Allison Mack, 38, who was also involved in the cult, was charged with sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy and forced labor conspiracy in Apr. 2018. She pleaded guilty and is now on house arrest while awaiting her sentencing, which could have her spending up to 40 years in prison.