BY SARAH BERMAN | VICE.COM
Given the relentless news cycle of 2020, you’d be forgiven for forgetting about NXIVM, the disgraced cult-like self-help company. It was just last summer that the organization’s founder Keith Raniere was convicted of sex trafficking for his role in orchestrating a secret blackmail and branding scheme, but it feels like decades have passed since.
Canadian actress Nicki Clyne (Battlestar Galactica) has not forgotten, and doesn’t seem to want the rest of us to forget, either. She and a handful of other NXIVM associates who remain loyal to Raniere have launched a quick-pivoting “movement” called The Forgotten Ones or We Are As You, depending on what week of July you checked their social feed. The campaign claims to shine a light on terrible prison conditions via nightly dance performances, but only made its connection to Raniere public last week. So far the group’s main accomplishment seems to be having the prison move Raniere to a new cell.
Clyne was named as a co-conspirator at Raniere’s trial, and witnesses testified that she recruited at least three so-called “slaves” who were at first told about a secret women’s empowerment group, propositioned to hand over life-destroying “collateral” to hear the details, and then initiated into a master/slave relationship in which speaking out or going against Clyne’s orders were grounds for collateral release. Clyne has not been charged with any crime in connection with the scheme.
Lauren Salzman, the daughter of NXIVM’s president, told a Brooklyn jury Clyne’s involvement as a “first-line master” of the now-infamous “sex cult” DOS predated Smallville actress Allison Mack’s, and that both Clyne and Mack gave “seduction assignments” to their slaves, in which they were told to have sex with Raniere under the threat of collateral being released. At trial DOS “slaves” said they handed over letters falsely accusing their parents of sexual abuse, deeds to their property, and naked photos as collateral. The so-called collateral, which prosecutors called blackmail material, was leveraged to elicit yet more collateral, Salzman testified.
Clyne and her lawyer did not respond to VICE News’ request for comment.
Former members of Raniere’s inner circle are furious that Clyne is positioning herself as an activist interested in prisoner rights. The group has used Black Lives Matter-associated hashtags to entice families of incarcerated people to join their dance performances outside the Metropolitan Detention Center where Raniere is being held.
“Stop this fucking @WeAreAsYou nonsense,” Ivy Nevares, a longtime Raniere girlfriend who left the group, tweeted on July 15. “Tell us who #KeithRaniere really is and what he’s done. Tell us who YOU really are and what you’re doing. Above all: tell us why you continue supporting him.”
Nevares, a dance choreographer and writer from Mexico, asked why the NXIVM loyalists didn’t throw their support behind Black-led protests like Justice for George demonstrations at nine New York prisons, including the Metropolitan Detention Center.
The performance group first launched in early July with a colourful website, swirling graphics and “the dance must go on” messaging. Days after the Albany Times Union published a report pointing to NXIVM links, the group rebranded as “The Forgotten Ones” with a drab backdrop and logo resembling the slashes that might count out days on a prison wall. The group released a statement on July 15 claiming Raniere was punished for his apparent association, and was moved to a cell out of view of the dancers. VICE could not independently confirm if he was moved.
Clyne is featured extensively in posts and videos streamed on Instagram Live, along with a Black woman whose full name was redacted at Raniere’s 2019 trial. The woman was one of Mack’s “slaves” according to trial testimony. Former members VICE spoke to say only about 20 NXIVM loyalists remain. The group once boasted 17,000 self-help students.
Police and prison abolition have become mainstream political ideas in the wake of global protests calling to defund the institutions that enforce systemic racism. The protests have pushed many cities and states to enact serious and sweeping criminal justice reforms.
Beyond NXIVM’s troubling association with slavery and long-term confinement, former members say The Forgotten Ones campaign doesn’t seem to have a firm grasp on these issues. The website positions limits on visitors due to COVID-19 as injustice rather than a public health precaution, and makes no mention of the disproportionate incarceration of Black people or other marginalized groups. A press release describes the violence and lack of medical treatment as “worse than what most people would accept for their pets.”
When a Good Morning Bushwick podcaster recently asked campaign co-founder and NXIVM coach Eduardo Asunsolo whether the dancers would make any specific demands for improvements, like heat in winter, Asunsolo countered that the first step was to acknowledge prisoners are in fact humans. “Once there are humans in there, the press and the people won’t allow these crimes to be committed to them,” he said. “The reason why they occur is because nobody cares.”
Asunsolo described anti-Black racism as “horrible campaigns of defamation for decades that have rendered them (Black people) criminals,” and added that the same thing is happening to Raniere’s followers.
“That is the most awful thing that can happen to a race, and that is happening to people in NXIVM now.”
The Forgotten Ones campaign has shared short messages from inmates who say they are uplifted by the dancing. “I Would like to thank and send a shoutout to Niki and all the people who come with her,” reads a July 20 posting from “N on the 5th floor.”
In a statement, the group called out “prejudice in the media against Keith Raniere and his friends” for trying to “hijack this peaceful movement and make it into something it’s not.”
Raniere’s lawyer Marc Agnifilo did not respond to questions about the dance campaign or Raniere’s status at the Metropolitan Detention Center, where Jeffrey Epstein associate and accused sex trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell is also being held. Raniere’s motion for a new trial was denied on Monday.