A woman who said she recruited six branded "slaves" and admitted to confining someone for nearly two years as part of her role within NXIVM testified at length about the self-help company’s inner workings Monday. Among other startling revelations, the court heard a so-called "sex cult" within NXIVM had more members and employed even more violent tactics than previously reported, and that it may have been on the cusp of operating some kind of dungeon.
Lauren Salzman, 42, is a cooperating witness in the sex trafficking and racketeering trial of NXIVM’s founder, Keith Raniere, who has pleaded not guilty on all counts. She previously pleaded guilty to racketeering and racketeering conspiracy, and told a Brooklyn courtroom about how quickly the alleged slave group within NXIVM, known as DOS, was expanding before it was made public.
DOS was active as early as 2015, according to former members, but is said to have begun growing exponentially in January 2017. Women initiated into the group handed over damaging collateral to prove their lifelong commitment to the cause: Salzman testified the material she handed over personally had to be bad enough that she would rather die than see it made public.
Salzman also offered up the names of eight women she described as the inner circle of DOS, which included actresses Nicki Clyne and Allison Mack. She testified that the two women were married to each other in 2017, and both had a sexual relationship with the leader.
Salzman said DOS members who did not complete assigned tasks were physically punished for their failures, usually by whip or paddling. She said she knew of one DOS slave master, Daniela Padilla, who was kicked by Raniere while on the ground, apparently because she was acting "prideful."
A short time before DOS was exposed to the wider public starting about a year and a half ago, Salzman said, the group was working to build a dungeon in the basement of what she called a "sorority house" owned by Mexican media heiress Rosa Laura Junco, a woman described as one of eight original DOS slaves. She said that there were a number of devices planned for the space, including at least one cage.
"It was a type of surrendering," Salzman said of the prospect of a cage, which she feared she would one day be locked in for hours or even days. "You were [going to be] in there until whoever was going to let you out."
Suffice it to say "collateral" women provided before they were involved in sexual punishments allegedly directed by Raniere called into question their ability to consent. "There should never be something hanging over your head, where you have to do something—or else," a BDSM educator told VICE last year when asked about the NXIVM allegations. "That totally violates free will and consent."
Salzman read from a DOS rulebook that she said enforced the master-slave relationships. "Your sole highest desire must be to further your Master from whom all good things come and are related," read an opening passage of the book, which was displayed to the court.
"The best slave derives the highest pleasure from being her Master's ultimate tool," read another passage. "It doesn't matter what the command is, it matters that you obey. It doesn't matter that you understand the command, it matters that you obey."
Raniere told Salzman that he envisioned DOS recruiting thousands of members, according to her testimony. She added that he said she should work towards having 100 slaves under her, and that they would work toward eventually electing a DOS candidate to public office.
In one of the more explosive bits of testimony so far in the federal trial, Salzman also said Monday that the first thing she provided as collateral was a confession she had participated in a crime that implicated her mother, Nancy Salzman, as well as NXIVM founder Keith Raniere. She said a woman who was taking one of NXIVM’s self-help programs had a psychotic break during the course and grew agitated. Salzman said that she was part of a crew that, under Raniere's instruction, drove her around, force-fed her Valium, and avoided taking her to a hospital. Salzman said she chose the confession because it had the potential to damage all the important relationships in her life, including with her mom and Raniere.
But Salzman said she was told the collateral couldn't be used because it would hurt Raniere if it were ever released—instead, she told the court, she was instructed to hand over nude pictures. She recalled providing three photos on a USB drive. But DOS members were told to give new collateral every month, and Salzman recalled pledging everything of value in her life, including investments, two homes, two cars, and a commitment to resign from her high-ranking positions within NXIVM if she ever broke her vow to secrecy.
Salzman further testified that she learned it was Raniere's idea that slaves should be branded, despite Mack taking credit for it in an interview with the New York Times Magazine last year. When Salzman asked about it, she recalled Monday, another slave told her: "Who would ever choose it? None of us would ever come up with the idea of branding ourselves. That's crazy."
Salzman is the highest ranking member of NXIVM to take the stand so far in the trial. There were still several weeks of testimony expected, which could include Mack or Lauren's mother Nancy, both of whom have pleaded guilty to federal crimes in connection with the case.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.