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Sex cult leader sentenced to 120 years for child exploitation, sex trafficking and racketeering

If you've watched HBO's documentary The Vow, you're familiar with Keith Raniere. The 60-year-old founded and ran NXIVM (pronounced "nexium"), a sex cult that masqueraded as an expensive, exclusive self-help group, but which appears to have served as a way for Raniere to get his rocks off while controlling and manipulating young women.

Raniere was convicted by a jury in July of 2019 of a host of crimes that include racketeering, sex trafficking, and sexual exploitation of a child, according to CNN. On Tuesday, he was handed a sentence of 120 years in prison by a federal court in Brooklyn. U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis also forbade Raniere from having any contact with NXIVM associates and fined him $1.75 million for his crimes, which Garaufis described as "cruel, perverse, and extremely serious."

The Daily Beast described the bizarre NXIVM cult as "an ultra-secretive organization that preached personal growth through sacrifice" and that had amassed an estimated 17,000 members since it started in 1998. Raniere was a charismatic leader who used the lure of the organization to indoctrinate women, pressure them into have sex with him, and engage in various forms of abuse. In a disturbing twist, the organization was largely run by women, and five of them—including Smallville actress Allison Mack and heiress to the Seagram's fortune Clare Bronfman—were charged along with Raniere, some pleading guilty to the racketeering and forced labor charges.

More than a dozen victims either spoke out or issued statements at Raniere's sentencing, including a woman who was just 15 years old when Raniere began having sex with her—or more accurately, raping her, based on her age. She said psychologically and emotionally manipulated her, leading her to cut herself off from her family. He also took nude photos of her, which led to his child pornography charge.


"While he hid our sexual relationship from others, he explained it to me by telling me that I was very mature for my age. And I know now that it was false—I was a child," her victim impact statement read. "He used my innocence to do whatever he wanted with me—not just sexually but also psychologically."

Another woman who spoke out, Kristen Keeffe, has a 13-year-old son with Raniere. She worked in NXIVM's legal department for a decade, and once she broke away from Raniere's grip, she went into hiding with her son for four years. "My child will never get back the years we spent in hiding," she said.

Testimonies included stories of "women's empowerment group" within NXIVM, which victims allege was a master-slave program in which women were forced to obey, have sex with Raniere, and to brand his initials into their skin with a cautery pen without anesthesia. Followers referred to him as "Vanguard," and saw him as an "evolved" guru of sorts, according to NPR. He promised women that he and the organization would help them get control of their lives, but then ended up controlling their lives.

"You're a liar and a sadist for getting pleasure watching our skins burn," India Oxenberg, daughter of Dynasty actress Catherine Oxenberg and NXIVM member for seven years, said to Raniere at the sentencing. "I may have to live the rest of my life with Keith Raniere's initials on my skin." She also called Raniere a "racist" and a "sexual predator," and said that he had forced her to lose so much weight that she stopped menstruating.

For his part, Raniere maintains that he is innocent of the charges. Prosecutors wrote that in his communications with his supporters (yes, he still has some), Raniere "repeatedly attempts to cast himself as a victim of persecution and harassment from the government and from unknown enemies."

According to CNN, Raniere wrote in a November 2019 email shared in a prosecutors' memo "It is tragic the current organization has been stymied by a few envious men abusing position of power in government, media, and film; some women who didn't live up to their sacred honor and vows; and people in general who just feel threatened by this idea."

At Tuesday's sentencing, Raniere expressed vague remorse for the pain of his victims, yet still maintained his innocence. "I am deeply sorry and I see that where I am is caused by me I am deeply remorseful and repentant," he said. "It is true I am not remorseful over the crimes I do not believe I have committed at all. But I am deeply remorseful of all this pain."

The pain runs deep and the descriptions of the victim's statements here are just the tip of the iceberg. "I can still hear his voice in my head" one victim said in her statement as her voice shook. "He robbed me of my youth. He used my innocence to do whatever he wanted with me."

With 120-year sentence, Raniere thankfully won't have the opportunity to victimize any more women for the rest of his life.

10/10. The Mayyas dance.

We can almost always expect to see amazing acts and rare skills on “America’s Got Talent.” But sometimes, we get even more than that.

The Mayyas, a Lebanese women’s dance troupe whose name means “proud walk of a lioness,” delivered a performance so mesmerizing that judge Simon Cowell called it the “best dance act” the show has ever seen, winning them an almost instant golden buzzer.

Perhaps this victory comes as no surprise, considering that the Mayyas had previously won “Arab’s Got Talent” in 2019 and competed on “Britain’s Got Talent: The Champions.” But truly, it’s what motivates them to take to the stage that’s remarkable.

“Lebanon is a very beautiful country, but we live a daily struggle," one of the dancers said to the judges just moments before their audition. Another explained, “being a dancer as a female Arab is not fully supported yet.”

Nadim Cherfan, the team’s choreographer, added that “Lebanon is not considered a place where you can build a career out of dancing, so it’s really hard, and harder for women.”

Still, Cherfan shared that it was a previous “AGT” star who inspired the Mayyas to defy the odds and audition anyway. Nightbirde, a breakout singer who also earned a golden buzzer before tragically passing away in February 2021 due to cancer, had told the audience, “You can't wait until life isn't hard anymore before you decide to be happy.” The dance team took the advice to heart.

For the Mayyas, coming onto the “AGT” stage became more than an audition opportunity. Getting emotional, one of the dancers declared that it was “our only chance to prove to the world what Arab women can do, the art we can create, the fights we fight.”

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Of all these people, the co-worker who can’t stop talking may be the most challenging because you see them every day in a professional setting that requires politeness.

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