When Mexican federal officials raided a Puerto Vallarta villa with machine guns drawn to arrest Keith Raniere, the enigmatic founder of an alleged sex cult, he was hiding by himself in a walk-in closet — while one of his top lieutenants monitored the police rounding up their colleagues outside.
Lauren Salzman, who helped lead DOS — a subgroup of the group NXIVM, where women allegedly entered “master” and “slave” relationships — testified in federal court on Tuesday how she helped hide Raniere when police arrived to arrest him.
She testified that her instinct in that moment was to protect Raniere, so she hid with him in a suite and closed the blinds as police searched the property. Peering outside the window, Salzman said she saw some of the other DOS members lined up outside and handcuffed.
When authorities kicked in the suite’s door with their machine guns drawn, Salzman said Raniere barricaded himself in a walk-in closet.
“It never occurred to me that I would choose Keith, and Keith would choose Keith,” Salzman said of that moment. Around the time of the raid, she and the other women of the group were planning a “recommitment ceremony” to Raniere.
Raniere has been charged with sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy, racketeering, and conspiracy to commit forced labor. Salzman previously pleaded guilty to her involvement in the case and is awaiting sentencing.
She testified on Tuesday that she went to Mexico to visit Raniere, who had fled there following an October 2017 New York Times report that highlighted the group’s ritual of branding women with Raniere’s initials using a cauterizing pen.
Earlier this week, Salzman described how members of DOS were paddled, whipped, and forced into brutal drills, including being locked in a cage, as they were trained to become “sex slaves” to Raniere.
In Mexico, Salzman said she and other women of DOS were planning a “recommitment ceremony,” as a way to prove their loyalty to Raniere and NXIVM. She said she believed this meant they would be engaging in group sex.
“There has to be a way that I can grow that isn’t this,” Salzman said she thought to herself at the time. “I have no way of growing except [by participating in] a group blow job?”
The “recommitment ceremony” never happened, Salzman testified, as officials showed up, arrested Raniere, and extradited him to Brooklyn.
On Tuesday afternoon, the prosecution continued its direct examination of Salzman and played an audio tape of Raniere speaking to several first line DOS members about the specifics of the brand, which covertly included his initials.
Raniere, according to the tape, wanted the symbol to be visible but not obvious.
Some of the other women on the tape, which did not include Salzman, expressed concern about people connecting the brand to the group. Raniere said the symbol would "become known," offering the example of several women going to a gynecologist and the specialist noticing that they all have a similar mark, insinuating that it wouldn't cause the person who saw it to become alarmed.
Another person wondered how they would respond if a member of the Albany, New York, community in which several DOS members lived noticed the marking and became suspicious, which caused many of the individuals on the more than 40-minute-long recording to discuss whether women should get the branding on their breasts or buttocks area as a way of being more discreet.
The conversation on the tape later turned to a discussion about Camila, who Raniere has been accused of raping when she was a teenager. Raniere seemed to suggest that Camila should be brought into the fold of DOS, and joked about some of the nicknames he'd given her, including "Semi-Cami" and "Cami-Kaze."
This portion of the tape hinted at Raniere's alleged coercion of getting women to do things they weren't comfortable with. Other DOS members on the tape said they weren't up to asking Camila to join the group.
"People have all sorts fears, all sorts of resistances," Raniere said. "If I was a certain type of master, I would tell you to just suck it up."
He went on describe DOS as a group: "This is not a democracy."