This is Part 3 of a BuzzFeed News investigation.
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Tony Robbins was filmed repeatedly using racial slurs and describing how he shocked a woman fan by kissing her after she said his techniques didn’t work, BuzzFeed News can reveal.
The video shows a young Robbins making a presentation to a small crowd in the 1980s, and describing a “intense” encounter with what he called a predominantly “militant black” audience at a previous event. The self-help coach said that after audience members challenged him about why he only used “white examples” in his teachings, he explained to one man that if he didn’t stop taking offense about matters of race he would “never be free.”
The audience at the videotaped presentation gasped, laughed, and clapped as he went on to describe how he had addressed one upset attendee in a discourse about overcoming racial differences. “As long as someone calls you a nigger and gets that kind of response I’ve seen right now, where you’re ready to explode, and what you've done is given that person absolute control of you,” he recalled saying. “You have no control in your life. You are still a slave.”
Robbins said he had then told the whole audience to “just do what I do just for a minute if you really want to be free and if you want to have some fun.” He proceeded to perform a dance in front of the crowd while singing, “I’m a nigger, you’re a nigger, be a nigger too.”
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He said the technique worked to change the mood of the room and that eventually audience members were also singing “I’m a honky” and black and white people were hugging. “Black, white, doesn’t matter to me,” he added.
Robbins' lawyers said in a statement that "the presentation was positive and was accepted in the context in which it was conducted: a passionate discussion about racism and how to rise above it." They added: "any suggestion that Mr. Robbins is somehow racist or insensitive to the African-American community is absurd and false. Indeed, one of Mr. Robbins' event partners for 25-plus years is an African-American."
Robbins is the world’s most famous self-help coach, and he claims to have helped millions of fans overcome their darkest difficulties, while building a multibillion-dollar business and working with celebrities including Oprah, Serena Williams, the Kardashians, Donald Trump, and Bill Clinton. He has spoken openly about his use of “taboo language,” humor, and other shock tactics to try to shake fans out of emotional stagnation — often swearing and talking graphically about sex.
BuzzFeed News revealed Friday that Robbins has berated victims of rape and violence, while former staffers and fans have accused him of groping audience members, exposing himself to women assistants, and sexually harassing fans.
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Earlier in the video of Robbins’ presentation, he described how he had reacted to a woman audience member who stood up in the middle of another of his events and declared, “This isn’t working for me.”
“I went over there and I got in her face,” he said. “I was like, boom, boom, boom. There was a point where I amped her and amped her and amped her and then right at the moment I amped her I stopped and I reached out and I gave her a kiss. You know that? She didn’t know how to deal with it at all.” He said he had decided to change tack and kiss her after their heated exchange as a way to “break her pattern” of negativity. “I pushed her even further, right when I got her right at threshold — Wham! Snap in other direction. No way to deal with it.”
Robbins has vehemently denied “engaging in any alleged ‘inappropriate sexual behavior’” with audience members or employees. He dismissed the allegations from former fans and staffers in a YouTube video in which he accused BuzzFeed News of "flat-out lying." But he added that he was a "better human being than I was in my twenties and thirties" and apologized for any offense his actions at that time had caused.
In response to questions about the video of Robbins' presentation in the 1980s, which was posted on YouTube in 2014, the self-help guru's lawyers said: "It is evident that after the BuzzFeed article authored by you regarding our clients was so thoroughly rejected and ignored by the public, that BuzzFeed has now resorted to scouring the internet for any historical content featuring Mr. Robbins that you can attempt to spin a negative fashion."
BuzzFeed News discovered the video after receiving a tip from a reader.