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I was almost seduced by a branch of the NXIVM cult. I learned that so as not to be fooled.

September 24, 2020

10 min read


In the series “My Worst Crisis”, entrepreneurs from all over the world tell us about their biggest test on their entrepreneurial journey and what they have learned from it.

I was almost seduced by a branch of the NXIVM cult. I learned that so as not to be fooled.
I was almost seduced by a branch of the NXIVM cult. I learned that so as not to be fooled.

I was fired from a job in mid-October 2016 as digital editor-in-chief at a well-known regional publisher. It was the third full-time online job this decade, each lasting less than half a year. This was difficult to reconcile with the long years he’d spent in three different print newsrooms. I was stuck in the corridor of a radical change in the way content was produced and consumed. Even a website I had created with a friend to criticize contemporary media couldn’t compete with contemporary media itself.

At that point my goal became the search for something pure and essential: journalism that was really in the public interest and was enlivened by a kind of entrepreneurship. At that point, I saw a provocative advert on the website with job offers Media bistrogenerally called reliable from something The knife or Aristotle’s knife (or, depending on who you ultimately notified by email, The knife media). The ad described some sort of scholarship opportunity at an independent journalism company overseen by radical thinkers. His Twitter bio proclaimed: “The Knife Media is the opinion of the news, so it’s just the news. We rate the sources so you know what to believe. After all, we show the media’s bias so you don’t get misled.”

The ad no longer exists, and neither does the knife side. Your social media channels, which announced the sudden closure of Knife in August 2018, can still be seen. It is no accident that they stopped posting a few weeks after hearing the news that a self-help organization based in Albany, New York had called NXIVM, which has now been declared a cult of all kinds of fraud, conspiracy and even sex trafficking, ceased its recruiting activities. This is because Knife was one of many NXIVM spin-offs funded by its wealthy benefactors and designed by the founder. Keith Raniere (convicted of extortion and sex trafficking crimes on October 27) to keep members. It was also the main focus of a recent episode of the HBO documentary series. The vow, who tells the story of NXIVM from the refugee perspective, including Mark Vicente who headlines The knife.

So if you are wondering if I became a student of NXIVM and The knife, The answer is no.

However, I responded to Mediabistro’s ad and was directed to the next steps in the application process. I had an email exchange with people who are members of the operation. However, I quickly became very skeptical. I started connecting the dots between the knife and the NXIVM. I spoke extensively with a blogger named Frank Parlato who had tried for years to expose NXIVM and is often quoted on The vow. I even made a half-hearted attempt to secretly ingratiate myself with them.

Unfortunately, my correspondence with Knife ended abruptly when I started asking some difficult questions before buying a train ticket to Albany for his introductory seminar. My alibi was actually discovered. In consecutive messages in late October 2016 from “The Knife Scholarship Coordinator” Analea Holland (née Analea De La Fuente, whose Facebook profile and praise to the NXIVM leaders as a shameful actress Allison Mack can still be seen) they reprimanded me like this: “It seems you believe what the internet is reporting about us is true. If so and you are unwilling to question, what the media generally reports then yes, you better not take this opportunity. We are looking for people who can classify dishonorable information and distinguish it from ethical reports. “In the end they told me,” You don’t seem to mean this as seriously Consider career opportunity, so we’d better leave it at that. “

It turns out that and as Vicente extensively in The vowThe Knife was specifically designed to discredit media that objectively reported about NXIVM’s dirty dealings and that was before the more serious discoveries of enslaved and sexually assaulted women were exposed.

From all of this, what did I learn about my career path, and when did I find one who was “too good to be true” (or in the case of NXIVM, something much more sinister)? A few things …

Place, place, place

I love albany. I studied at the University of Albany. It seemed unlikely, however, that an insurgent news organization with a raison d’etre from Knife and a subversive embassy would grow together in the humble capital New York, three hours north of Manhattan. It turns out that Albany and its adjoining suburb of Clifton Park were simply where Raniere, who grew up in Brooklyn and the state of Rockland County, settled in order to go unnoticed and attract people from Hollywood and other metropolitan areas to to enrich oneself. and encourage your messianic fantasies. So next time you’re attracted to a company or recruiter with a lofty mission statement but a remarkably simple base of operations, it might be worth considering if something is fishy.

Watch out for that Gas lighting

According to Psychology Today, “gas light” is summarized as “a tactic whereby a person or entity, in order to gain more power, induces the victim to question their reality”. In recent years, the term has developed from a relatively obscure shortened form of manipulation to a non-partisan catchphrase. But when, as in my interaction with Ms. Holland, a personable recruiter answers questions about her organization by implying that you are intellectually inferior, there is no other suitable term. You have the right to ask questions of any organization before doing business with or for them. No unlike your right to find a romantic partner before committing to more than the occasional flirt. If the designated representative for that organization takes a defensive stance before even entering into formal negotiations, it is likely a sign that your counterpart is incompatible and possibly unstable.

Google is your friend

Knife’s undeclared purpose was to dilute defamatory search results on NXIVM, but the internet is like an MRI of the soul of an organization. While NXIVM had not yet been studied by the New York Timeshad been the subject of reports on the website Albany Times-Union since the early 2000s. That, along with my efforts to contact Frank Parlato, required a minimum of my time before I believed anything else Ms. Holland or her employer had to say. We’re all looking for innovators and leaders who can inspire us to embark on something meaningful, but there is no excuse not to investigate anything that seems too good to be true.

Do not follow all of Elon Musk’s advice

Guess who loved The knife because they loved him?

Save and write everything down

If a strange new company makes you feel strange but you’re still curious about where it is leading, at least keep all correspondence. You never know when you might need him in court, or you step back and evaluate a situation or write an article a few years later about how he weighed the rightness of an obvious startup that turned out to be the conspiratorial arm of a psychopathic criminal cult.

Read the fine print

One of the big mistakes of knife – and ultimately NXIVM – was that there really was “nothing” in them. The first announcement of knife It was sensational enough to raise a wide variety of informative requests. But when I started looking for nuances that went beyond the general slogans, I realized that their rhetoric was a wall of smoke. In addition, Ms. Holland’s insistence on postponing further questions until they could be made available on Skype video and presumably recorded on was not particularly reluctant. The moral? Don’t let a fancy presentation fool you. If a company withers up at the slightest cross-examination and pales its search for substance, then it is likely a facade.

Get a second opinion

Two heads are emphatically better than one when it comes to a life decision, especially when you have difficulty distinguishing between legitimate suspicions and a natural tendency to be shy. When I asked my wife what she thought the original ad was for Media bistro from knifeHis idea was that if, in the worst case scenario, the company produces a story that’s worth applying, then it’s worth applying (who would have thought that was the right thing to do?). You don’t have to get into the privilege of pondering the superficial virtues of something or questioning what you’ve discovered on the internet when you can share all of these questions and information with someone who understands what drives you. Hell, ask your therapist if you need it. Just don’t ask me because I clearly have terrible judgment.

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