NEW YORK—In dramatic testimony on May 21, a former member who was part of NXIVM leader Keith Raniere’s inner circle detailed how federal police surrounded Raniere’s Mexico hideout to arrest him in 2018—and how the “grandmaster” tried to hide in a walk-in closet rather than protect her.
Lauren Salzman, 42, told jurors in a Brooklyn federal court that she and Raniere were alone in a bedroom in the Puerto Vallarta house, where other female inner-circle members were also present, when authorities suddenly showed up to arrest him. She recounted that her first instinct was to protect Raniere.
Salzman is the daughter of the group’s president, Nancy Salzman; both have pleaded guilty to related charges, as have the other three co-defendants.
Raniere, 58, sat at the top of the pyramid scheme group, which presented itself as a self-help organization. He is accused of having sexual “slaves” as part of an internal secret society called DOS, an acronym for the Latin phrase “dominus obsequious sororium,” which loosely translates as “master over the slave women.” He has been charged for sex trafficking and racketeering conspiracy, among other crimes.
Wearing a white top and black pants, Salzman, who appeared melancholy throughout her testimony, broke down in tears at times as she described her experiences in the group; her long-term relationship with Raniere, buoyed by his promise of having a baby with her; her role in keeping another member locked up in a room for two years; and her lies to the public as a spokeswoman for the group.
Raniere stared at Salzman intently during her testimony, often with his right hand resting on his chin.
Salzman recounted that on the day of Raniere’s arrest, Mexican police officers in bulletproof vests searched the property before approaching the bedroom where she and Raniere were hiding. When the police started knocking on the door, she said, Raniere told her to ask whether they had a search warrant while he attempted to hide. Earlier, she had tried to get Raniere to flee out the window, but he had refused.
In her testimony, Salzman described going back and forth across the room as she answered the officers’ questions through the door.
“The whole time, I was thinking, ‘They could shoot in this door. I might get shot right now,'” she testified. “My highest priority was making sure Keith was OK.”
Officers eventually kicked down the bedroom door and held her down as she called out Raniere’s name. Raniere was arrested and extradited back to the United States.
Salzman said that looking back now, she can see that Raniere failed to act on what he had taught throughout the years as part of NXIVM’s self-improvement curriculum.
Such classes, she said, often talked about how men were noble and should act like real men in tough situations. Much of the curriculum, former members testified, was aimed at minimizing morality and tearing apart traditional male and female relationships.
She told jurors she was surprised to see Raniere not practice what he had preached; instead, she was the one protecting him.
“Everything he taught us was this … what men do, what women do,” Salzman said. “He didn’t do it—and then I did it.
“It never occurred to me that I would choose Keith—and Keith would choose Keith.”
Before testifying about the arrest, Salzman detailed how she was forced to act as a spokesperson of sorts after reports came out that the group had branded women. The brand was a symbol incorporating Raniere’s initials that was burned onto the skin of DOS members with a cauterizing pen, during a process that took “20 to 30 minutes,” according to court documents.
Salzman said she had to do interviews with the media and release statements asserting that all of the group’s activities were consensual. She herself was directly under Raniere with six other women who were so-called “first-line masters”—slaves only to him.