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Sex cult trial witness says he turned against another sect before NXIVM

Mark Vicente, a former top NXIVM official, was hesitant to talk about Ramtha, saying he feared repercussions from speaking about the Washington-based group.

Portrait of Keith Raniere that hung in the

Portrait of Keith Raniere that hung in the NXIVM facility and was entered as evidence in the trial. Photo Credit: U.S. Attorney's Office

Before Vanguard, there was Ramtha.

Mark Vicente, a former top official in the Albany-based alleged sex cult NXIVM and a key government witness at the Brooklyn federal court trial of its leader Keith Raniere, testified Thursday that before he became an adherent of NXIVM he was a devotee of an even weirder sect.

For about 10 years before joining NXIVM, Vicente said during cross-examination, he followed a Washington-based group led by a woman named JZ Knight, who claimed to be able to channel the teachings of a “35,000-year-old warrior” named Ramtha.

Vicente said he actually was a true believer in the “enlightenment school” based on the teachings of the “spiritual entity” for a “few years,” until he began to question the word of Ramtha. “It didn’t make much sense in the end,” he said.

He eventually wrote a letter criticizing the way Knight’s organization was run, he testified, and she gave a speech in front of 1,000 “very zealous” followers denouncing him and predicting “I’m going to die a horrible death.”

He was asked if that scared him. “You could say that,” he said. “The organization turned against me.”

Raniere, 58, is charged with promoting NXIVM as a self-help group, offering courses to an estimated 17,000 followers after its founding in the 1990s, but turning it into a group that psychologically abused members and coerced women into giving up nude pictures and having sex with him.

Known in the group as “Vanguard,” he is charged with racketeering, conspiracy, sex trafficking and forced labor, and faces up to life in prison. The trial started last week. Vicente finished his testimony Thursday after four days on the stand.

Vicente, a documentary film maker, was hesitant to talk about Ramtha, saying he feared repercussions from talking about the group. “There may be legal repercussions,” he said, asking if he was protected for everything he said in testimony.

He joined NXIVM in 2005, becoming a loyal adherent and serving on the executive board. But starting in 2016, his wife left the group after becoming alienated, and then in 2017 Vicente went to the FBI after learning a “master-slave” sub-group was using nude pictures to make women to have sex with the leader.

He said that after his wife started having concerns about the group, she went on a walk with Raniere to discuss her issues.

Raniere told her she was creating too many “boundaries,” Vicente testified, and urged her to run toward a nearby tree and not stop until she ran into it. Or lick a puddle on the ground.

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