Prosecutors left jurors with Keith Raniere’s own words as they rested their sex-trafficking case Friday against the founder of the NXIVM sex cult.
Raniere had laid out his theories on rape and sex with children in a talk to the NXIVM women’s group, according to a transcript read by FBI agent Michael Weniger in Brooklyn federal court.
He elaborated on his theories, Weniger testified, in an NXIVM curriculum titled “Rape as a Metaphor for Orgasm,” observing that women “report an unexpected experience of freedom which occurs during rape” where the “issue of it being bad or inappropriate doesn’t exist.”
Weniger told jurors the NXIVM guru’s teachings grew “more misogynistic, as well as sexual” as the women took higher-level courses with the group.
Raniere, 58, founded NXIVM in the 1990s and sold personal growth courses based on his philosophy of “rational inquiry” to an estimated 17,000 students, but prosecutors claimed during the six-week trial he was a charlatan who called himself “Vanguard” and developed a personality cult to exploit women.
According to testimony from six ex-members, he eventually started a secret “master-slave” group promising women-to-women mentoring in which victims provided mortifying nude shots and sex tapes as "collateral" to ensure their loyalty and then were branded and blackmailed into sex with Raniere, the ex-members said.
Raniere faces up to life in prison for racketeering, conspiracy, sex trafficking and possession of child pornography. U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis rejected a defense motion after the prosecution rested Friday to dismiss the charges. The judge scheduled closing arguments to begin Monday after Raniere declined to testify.
Raniere’s attorneys have contended throughout the trial that thousands of NXIVM students joined willingly because they found Raniere’s philosophies rewarding. No one was forced to remain, and Raniere had a “good faith” belief that participation in the slave-sex group was voluntary.
"The government presented a very small slice," defense lawyer Marc Agnifilo told reporters Friday.
Along with other charges, Raniere is also accused of possession of child pornography — a nude picture of an underage Mexican girl named Camila, whom Raniere had a sexual affair with and eventually became a “master” in the master-slave group, according to testimony from her sister.
On the final day of testimony, prosecutors also presented an NXIVM training manual titled “Abuse, Rights and Injury” and a video of Raniere drawing a connection between the definition of abuse and the age of consent.
The training manual encourages teachers to ask their students whether someone who comes to the U.S. from a country where adult “stimulation” of children is common has been abused. The right answer, according to the manual: “The abuser is our culture, our society.”
Prosecutors closed with the video of Raniere that he had made for NXIVM members. He talked about the relativity of abuse to acolytes and referred to the different customs of ancient Rome. His closing words: “We’re not in Rome. And we should know that.”
Five members of NXIVM’s upper echelon, including Seagram’s heiress Clare Bronfman and former “Smallville” actress Allison Mack, have pleaded guilty to related charges.