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Nxivm A 'Wonderful Humanitarian Organization,' Definitely Not Sex Cult, Leader Says

Marc Agnifilo, attorney for alleged sex cult leader Keith Raniere, at his client's arraignment in April.
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Marc Agnifilo, attorney for alleged sex cult leader Keith Raniere, at his client's arraignment in April. Kevin Hagen/AP/Shutterstock

Nxivm, the purported "self-help" group whose leaders branded members and subjected them to forced sex acts, has been widely misunderstood, according to its leader. It's not a sex cult, as repeatedly alleged; rather, it's a "wonderful humanitarian organization," the "polar opposite of an organized crime family."

So goes the argument outlined in a motion leader Keith Raniere's lawyer, Marc Agnifilo, filed Friday, requesting that Brooklyn federal judge Nicholas Garaufis dismiss charges against his client and the women who helped run Nxivm. Raniere stands accused of forced labor conspiracy and sex trafficking, along with a slew of racketeering charges, and would spend a minimum of 15 years in prison if convicted on sex trafficking alone.

Last fall, the NY Times published a damning article detailing the alleged abuses rampant in Nxivm, which billed itself as a group dedicated to helping women advance their careers. According to court filings from February 2018, published by the Times Union, it also bore the trappings of a pyramid scheme, offering members incentives to recruit others into the fold. Leaders, self-identified as "masters," inducted some of those women into a secret "sorority" called DOS (an acronym for Dominant Over Submissive), where they became "slaves." Many slaves received brands that incorporated Raniere's initials, and many attested to coerced, non-consensual sexual contact with Raniere, who called himself the group's "Vanguard." Leaders allegedly obligated DOS members to hand over compromising personal material, which either demonstrated their loyalty to the order, or served as a kind of blackmail, depending on whom you ask.

Raniere has consistently denied that he was running a cult, and has claimed that any and all sex stuff, branding included, was always consensual. Agnifilo's memo supporting the dismissal plea characterizes the alleged sexual abuse as "manifestations of each member's commitment to the group." It also reiterates the idea that government investigators bullied former "slaves" into retroactively changing their minds about "choice[s] they made on their own without any coercion, threats, or manipulation."

Further, Agnifilo argues in the memo, "Nxivm is a wonderful humanitarian organization," even if "DOS is not for everyone."

"DOS addresses inner emotional struggle, particularly in women," he writes, framing the sorority as a free alternative to mental health services and opioids. "[DOS] relies on the most basic ingredient of achieving inner peace: being supported by people who you love and who are committed to you." Attempts to represent it as anything but a targeted self-improvement program are part of the government's "inexplicable" drive to destroy the group, Agnifilo said.

This latest dismissal request comes close on the heels of Agnifilo's ask that Raniere be allowed to wait out his trial date in home confinement, rather than behind bars. In a plea filed Wednesday, Agnifilo compared his client to Socrates, a teacher who challenged "[Nxivm] participants to question, rather than blindly accept, the fundamental content of their lives." Raniere's trial is scheduled to begin in March.

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