Editorial: The truth vs. the cult: How a journalist exposed Keith Raniere and NXIVM

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Supporters of NXIVM leader Keith Raniere speak to the media outside the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, New York City on Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. - Gardiner Anderson/New York Daily News/TNS

For hours Tuesday, victims of Keith Raniere paraded before Brooklyn Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis through the large ceremonial courtroom, telling of how the man about to be put away, called “Vanguard” or “Grandmaster” within his criminal sex cult NXIVM, coerced, tortured, starved, raped and stole from them. When they were done, Garaufis gave Vanguard 120 years in prison for extortion, racketeering, sex trafficking, identity theft, child pornography, forced labor and wire fraud.

Assuming the sentence holds, the Grandmaster will be out in 2140, when he’s 180 years old.

He’s the villain here. The story also has its heroes: defectors from the cult and journalists, chief among them Jim Odato, who put the sordid narrative together in the pages of the Albany Times Union.

For the better part of two decades, NXIVM, based in suburban Albany, New York, had Hollywood actresses and heiresses funding Raniere’s supposed self-help enterprise. It was a curiosity, and a glamorous one, that has generated several TV series.

Then Odato and his colleagues got on the case. In 2012, the Times Union ran a series of stories exposing the secretive, and vindictive, NXIVM and Raniere.

Of course, the truth was a threat, so the cult then went after the newspaper and reporter and went after them hard, seeking criminal charges, and most of all seeking silence.

From the moment the first expose appeared, law enforcement authorities should have dug into NXIVM and Raniere. If they had, and ended the conspiracy then, many future victims could have been spared. They did not.

Instead, with shades of Jeffrey Epstein and Harvey Weinstein, the intimidation worked. Over the years, Raniere grew bolder and branched into new areas of crime. Even to this day, some of his remaining followers cling to the aura the felon fabricated.

Odato’s articles are still worth reading. If only they had been acted on.

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