Keith Raniere cultivated an environment of extreme paranoia inside his alleged sex cult, Nxivm, according to one of his former "slaves." In her second week of testimony at Raniere's trial, a woman named Daniela—the same woman Nxivm lieutenant Lauren Salzman admitted to trapping in a room for two years—took the stand, recalling obligatory abortions, Raniere's fits of jealous rage, and an extended campaign to hack critics' computers.
According to the NY Times, Raniere charged Daniela—a self-taught hacker, per Raniere's orders—with monitoring Seagrams chairman Edgar M. Bronfman. The liquor mogul became a prominent target after describing Nxivm, a purported self-improvement group, as a cult in an interview with Forbes. Bronfman's daughters, Clare (who allegedly bankrolled the group, and who pleaded guilty in April) and Sara Bronfman, enrolled in Nxivm courses in the early aughts, Clare going on to occupy a prominent role within the alleged cult's upper ranks. Following her father's public criticism, Clare allegedly installed spyware on his computer, allowing Daniela to read his emails and report their contents directly to Raniere.
"I would read all of his correspondence. I would methodically check email by email," Daniela said, according to the Times. She testified to keeping up the surveillance campaign for "a really long time."
Between 2004 and 2006, she added, she also had access to Raniere's "list of enemies," which reportedly included cult expert Rick Ross (who once described Nxivm as "one of the most extreme groups [he had] ever dealt with, in the sense of how tightly wound it is around the leader" in an interview with the Times Union) and attorney Joe O'Hara (a former member of the group who clashed with the Bronfman sisters in court and sued Nxivm over alleged civil rights violations). In one case, Daniela said, Raniere paid $24,000 for a disappeared member's email password, believing her rumored death to be a hoax; a conspiracy to generate bad publicity about his organization.
Daniela reportedly testified that Raniere and his legal counsel, Kristin Keeffe, worked to steal opponents' personal information, including bank records, with the acknowledgment that "some of what they were doing ... was not kosher."
"We're going to do unethical things ethically," Daniela recalled Raniere telling her.
Malleable ethics reportedly extended past Raniere's hacking tactics: According to Daniela, he instigated sexual relationships with her and two of her sisters (one of whom was underage) but blew up at her for kissing another man. The NY Post reports that, after Daniela told Raniere about the encounter, he threw a fully fledged tantrum.
"He locked himself in the bathroom, which I thought was very childish," Daniela reportedly testified. "Then he sneaked out and ran upstairs, and I chased him." When she confronted him, Raniere allegedly told her she "wasn't pure anymore" and threw her across the room. For the next three years, Raniere refused to speak to her in person, instead sending her "crazy" emails that pried for details and hammered on what he saw as the other man's shortcomings.
Raniere, meanwhile, allegedly presided over a sort of harem full of sex "slaves," anointing himself their "Grand Master." As members of a secret society called D.O.S. (for Dominus Obsequious Sororium, Latin that translates roughly to "lord over the obedient female companions"), these "slaves" observed wildly restrictive diets dictated by Raniere, who allegedly subjected them to beatings and torturous punishments for perceived disobedience. And according to Daniela, if and when they became pregnant through coerced sex with Raniere, the "Vanguard" made it understood that "an abortion would be necessary."
Daniela reportedly discovered she was pregnant in 2006, the Daily Beast reports. Although initially scared and "nervous to tell Keith," he allegedly responded in a "calm and collected" manner, coolly informing her that her older sister, Mariana—also a member of Nxivm—had terminated a pregnancy years earlier.
"I was shocked. I had no idea that Mariana, who was once my best friend, was ever pregnant," Daniela testified, according to the Daily Beast. "[Keith] told me that it was no big deal and that he would pay for the abortion. "
Raniere stands accused of sex trafficking, child pornography, identity theft, forced labor conspiracy, money laundering, extortion, racketeering, and wire fraud. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.