BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – An admitted slave master in a secret sex cult within the purported self-help group NXIVM testified Tuesday that women were branded with the initials of NXIVM leader Keith Raniere when brought into the group.
Lauren Salzman, 42, was a “first-line master” in the group called DOS, which she said extorted its members into free labor and sometimes sex with 58-year-old Raniere.
The brands consisted of Raniere’s initials — K.A.R. — and were administered by a doctor named Danielle Roberts, who herself sported the same brand, Salzman said.
After receiving a brand herself, Salzman recruited other female NXIVM members into DOS and attended their branding ceremony, which she described in court Monday, at times using clinical language.
The women stripped naked and gathered in a circle around a massage table, she testified, and held down the woman being branded, pulling her arms above her head.
“Master, please brand me,” each woman had to say beforehand.
“It would be an honor, an honor that I want to wear for the rest of my
The first slave to be branded was a woman named Jimena, Salzman said, calling her “overtly very expressive” when the branding pen touched her skin.
“She demonstrated what she felt,” Salzman said, later adding, “It looked really scary … it was frightening to see, and it scared the other girls.”
Salzman testified she was proud of her slave Sarah Edmondson, whom she said practiced “yogic breathing” during the ceremony.
Edmondson later told the story of her branding on the CBC podcast “Uncover: Escaping NXIVM.”
Members were forced to submit collateral like nude photos before learning about the group, which was advertised as a sisterhood and a sorority.
Prosecutors and Salzman both say that collateral negated any knowing consent the women could have given to branding, labor or sex with Raniere.
“Once you have collateral over somebody’s head, the way they act in the situation is entirely different,” Salzman said. “It’s not consensual in the way that it appears.”
When Salzman herself agreed to join the group and turn over collateral, she said she received her brand within a few days.
At the end of proceedings Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tanya Hajjar played audiotapes turned over to the government by two DOS members: co-defendant, “Smallville” actress and alleged fellow “first-line master” Allison Mack; and one of Mack’s alleged slaves, India Oxenberg, whose mother is “Dynasty” actress Catherine Oxenberg.
The tapes captured what might be best described as branding brainstorm sessions between Raniere and several DOS first-line masters. He had big dreams for his new group, talking about having “a million” members who would engage in spy missions and have specialty skills like branding or handling collateral.
And despite Raniere’s denials that he had anything to do with the group after Edmondson told her story to The New York Times in 2017, he said multiple times in the recordings that the brand was essentially his label.
“The monogram as it is now is very directly related to my initials,” he told the women.
The brand as shown in court exhibits is literally Raniere’s initials.
Women who have been branded have said the mark is on their bikini line. At the brainstorm session, the women discussed putting the brands in discreet locations on their bodies.
“If you have a husband and now you have this thing, I think they’re going to try to figure it out,” one of the women can be heard saying.
“The secondary site … is on the top of the butt crack, or whatever,” Raniere said on the tapes.
Later he says: “I think in general it should be outside the [pubic] hair, because when the hair grows back it’ll cover it. … I think it needs to be visible but not visible.”
When Salzman and Raniere had a sexual relationship, she testified last week, he wanted her to keep her pubic hair natural.
The women heard on the tape seemed to support the idea of brands, although Salzman pointed out on the stand that nothing was a democracy with Raniere, whom she said constantly manipulated people into doing things they were reluctant to do.
“Like a cool hieroglyphic,” one of the women said at one point.
“Yeah, hieroglyph,” Raniere said, correcting her.
“Yeah, and also it seems like secret society, emblems and stuff, a lot of triangles. I like it,” the woman continued.
Salzman’s testimony has had a clear main theme, which she encapsulated in her own words.
“Keith’s suggestions weren’t suggestions,” Salzman said, they were orders. Positioning himself as the highest moral authority in NXIVM, she said he manipulated its members into sexual relationships and sometimes criminal activity.
On Tuesday, Salzman tearfully described how, under direction from Raniere, she helped hold a woman named Daniela, a Mexican national and NXIVM member residing illegally in the U.S., in a room for about two years.
Also Tuesday, Salzman described the police raid that ended in Raniere’s arrest. She had been visiting him in a gated community near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where he stayed after Edmondson’s story broke. The first-line DOS masters had gathered for a “recommitment ceremony,” which as Salzman described it would entail a group sex act for his pleasure.
But they never got around to it. Salzman and Raniere were napping in his room when the home was surrounded by federal police holding machine guns.
Raniere said to Salzman, “Ask them if they have a warrant,” she told the jury, “and [he] disappeared.” So Salzman spoke to the police through the door.
“The whole time, I just kept thinking, like, they could shoot in this door,” she said. “I kept [talking] with them because my higher priority was making sure Keith was okay.”
He’d hidden in the walk-in closet, she said. Eventually police entered the room and held Salzman on the floor, four machine guns pointed at her while Raniere was arrested.
Salzman said she felt betrayed. Everything NXIVM had done, learned, taught, and built all centered on principle of love, she testified.
“It never occurred to me that I would choose Keith, and Keith would choose Keith,” she told the jury.
Salzman is expected to be on direct examination through Wednesday morning.