Barbara Bouchey — a high-ranking member of the self-help group NXIVM and ex-girlfriend to leader Keith Raniere for nearly nine years before leaving in 2009 — told the audience at CrimeCon 2019 in New Orleans that watching court proceedings involving the group “horrified” her.
Bouchey tried to explain how someone like herself — strong-willed, intelligent, and a self-made millionaire by age 40 — could be drawn into the world of Raniere. The leader of the so-called sex cult is facing charges of racketeering conspiracy, identity theft, extortion, forced labor, money laundering, wire fraud and sex trafficking.
Raniere denies all charges.
When Bouchey first got involved with the group in the early 2000s, Raniere was known as a brilliant and successful businessman. He did not have an overpowering presence, Bouchey said. He was quiet and unassuming. But she was taken by Raniere’s self-help curriculum, finding it “profound and life-changing.”
“His mind created the curriculum and, because it’s so powerful, you start to think differently of him,” Bouchey told the CrimeCon audience. “I began to admire and respect what he created, the overall philosophy of wanting to better yourself, be a more peaceful, loving and compassionate person. As a woman that becomes very interesting and intriguing.”
Bouchey told Oxygen Correspondent Stephanie Gomulka that with each 10-hour self-help workshop, her admiration and respect for Raniere grew.
“He’s an incredibly powerful speaker,” she said. “He’s very charismatic. He’s funny. He has great wit. He’s an intelligent man, so he can converse on a lot of subjects. He’s a great listener. He’s a calm and composed person. He always speaks very respectfully.”
“You have to understand, I fell in love with the guy,” Bouchey admitted to the CrimeCon audience. “I didn’t know he was the devil.”
Bouchey said he had a way of pulling you into his universe; of seeming to be, at first, innocent and sweet.
“He would play the piano and bring tears to your eyes,” she said. “He slept in my bed. I made breakfast for him in the morning. I sat on the couch with him and watched Star Trek. But don’t let that fool you.”
As Bouchey has watched the trial unfold in Federal District Court in Brooklyn, she said she finds it difficult to come to terms with the secrets that are now coming to light.
“I have moments where I want to barf, moments I can’t speak,” she said. “I’m crying myself a river in the back aisle of the courtroom. I’m hearing things I can’t even comprehend, and my mind is racing so fast to try and understand what happened during my time there and why.”
Raniere is accused of founding and running NXIVM, which framed itself as a self-help group but which prosecutors say was really a cult-like organization that coerced female members into sexual fealty to Raniere. Last month, a former high-ranking member of the alleged cult testified, accusing him of whipping and beating members of the organization.
Prosecutors alleged that some women "slaves" in a secret NXIVM sorority were branded as part of their initiation. Prosecutors claim others were threatened with the release of their collateral - nude photos and other embarrassing material that female members turned over to their "masters" to ensure obedience and silence - if they didn't have unwanted sex with him.
Bouchey could never comprehend a group that started off as a self-help group could have turned so dark. She feels badly for anyone who felt victimized.
“My compassion and forgiveness and empathy deepens every day,” she said.
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