Barbara Bouchey insisted there was some good to be found in NXIVM before it became recognized as a sex slave cult by the world.
“There were hundreds of coaches that were there for the right reason and that doesn’t get conveyed,” the former follower told Fox News. “They get lumped in with the sex cult slave thing and that’s not an appropriate description of the majority of people that were involved.”
Prosecutors say guru Keith Raniere was a con man who peddled expensive self-fulfillment courses for the once-thriving organization based in upstate New York as a cover for mentally and sexually abusing female followers through shame and humiliation, including some in a secret society of brainwashed “sex slaves” he had branded with his initials. The defendant lawyers claimed that the 58-year-old had no criminal intent and that his interactions with the women were consensual.
Raniere was arrested in 2018 and was charged with sex trafficking, racketeering conspiracy, child exploitation and child pornography.
Bouchey said she joined NXIVM in March 2000 and began dating Raniere that same year, but ended the relationship in March 2008. She would go on to leave NXIVM in April 2009.
Bouchey, a successful financial planner, insisted she never witnessed any alleged sex slaves during her time with the organization.
“It existed for about 20 years,” she explained. “Seventeen thousand people came through the door… I have seen many people come through the door and get amazing benefits. To say that NXIVM was just a master/slave organization or a sex slave cult is not an accurate description of what it was for 20 years.
"It’s only in the last few years that this very small group of women joined this secret women’s society," she continued. "It was not broadcast and it didn’t include everybody… It paints those of us who were the good people, who wanted to do good work as these Kool-Aid-drinking idiots who are part of a sex cult. It’s not accurate… It just makes people think, ‘Wow, I would never be a fool and fall for that.'"
Bouchey was one of several speakers who participated on Oxygen Channel’s weekend-long CrimeCon 2019. The event, which was held in New Orleans, featured interviews and panels with true crime experts. She came forward to share her story on how she became involved with the now-infamous group.
Bouchey said she had known NXIVM co-founder Nancy Salzman for 12 years when she first learned about the group.
“I had great trust, respect and admiration for her,” Bouchey recalled. “She was very thought-of in the Albany area. My husband and I had been going to marriage counseling for two years. And my best friend from childhood had committed suicide. She was trying to convince me to do a workshop, but I wasn’t interested… [Then] I had asked my husband for a divorce. Nancy finally said to me, ‘Now that you’re no longer going to marriage counseling and are now separating from your husband, I think the workshop can help you in this transition.' And that’s what finally convinced me.”
NXIVM was founded in the 1990s and was recognized as a self-help group. About 16,000 people took NXIVM courses, which cost thousands of dollars apiece, The New York Times previously reported. Raniere, its leader, professed to be a philosopher who was determined to create a better world. He persuaded audiences that if they followed his teachings they too would become stronger, more empowered individuals and enjoy more meaningful lives.
Bouchey, who suffered a turbulent childhood, said she was quickly captivated by what NXIVM had to offer for someone like her.
“I found the curriculum was far more effective, efficient and thought-provoking,” she explained. “It helped me move through some conflicts and limitations in a faster fashion than things I’ve done in the past. That was really compelling… I admired their mission, what they were hoping to accomplish, their wanting to empower people and raise awareness on being humanitarians of the world… [And] I was being encouraged very strongly on multiple levels to get engaged and immerse myself in the program.”
Still, Bouchey admitted she wasn’t immediately impressed by Raniere.
“My first thought was, ‘This guy doesn’t look like he sells out stadiums so people can just listen to hear him talk,'" she said. “I found him to be very unassuming. He would walk right by you and you wouldn’t even notice him. He was kind of nerdy. He had a bashful, college look about him. I didn’t find him physically attractive at all. But I was intrigued based on what Nancy had shared with me about him.”
Despite his surprisingly ordinary appearance, Bouchey said she quickly grew to admire Raniere and the work he was trying to achieve. By the end of that summer, she claimed they started an intimate relationship.
“It wasn’t normal,” she said. “I didn’t see him a lot. The times I saw him weren’t long. It didn’t take on what I would call a traditional kind of relationship. And he was immersed in NXIVM… I wasn’t necessarily bothered at first because I was 40 at the time and a self-made millionaire. I was a workaholic. So I understood what it was like to be passionate about something… I wanted to align myself with the organization and make a difference in the world. I also wanted to work on myself.”
Bouchey would take on several leadership roles during her time in NXIVM. But over the years, Bouchey said she began to question the group’s business model. And its teachings weren’t as positive as they once claimed to be.
“I didn’t think people were paid properly,” said Bouchey. “The tools and technology that used to empower people, I noticed those were being used to manipulate us in ways I found abusive or punishing. Suddenly you’re not doing enough. You’re not working on your issue enough. You’re not thinking deeply enough. You’re not seeing your limitations enough. It felt punishing to me. And then there was favoritism going on… People were being put in leadership roles when they didn’t deserve them. Nancy was an amazing teacher and trainer, but she was a lousy business person. And she was not skilled as a president. So this started to cause problems.”
And it took a year for Bouchey to learn she wasn’t the only woman in Raniere’s life.
“I had learned there were a few other women,” said Bouchey. “By then, I was really aligned with the philosophy of trying to work through anything that causes me to be angry, fearful or have lack of compassion… They taught, ‘Don’t you want to be free of being jealous or angry?’ For a while, I believed that. I did want to be free of it. But I am a monogamous person and it wasn’t in my nature. I started to suspect other women, but they would always poo-poo me… I was surrounded by all of these wonderful people, learning of this amazing philosophy. They said I was going to throw all of this away.”
Bouchey claimed she confronted Raniere about her allegations concerning other women, as well as Salzman’s poor leadership role. She suspected Raniere was intimate with at least three other women.
“He wasn’t happy about that,” she alleged. “He didn’t speak to me for months… Unbeknownst to me, he put into action a smear campaign against me and began to quietly propagate in the community that I was a troublemaker and that I was going to destroy the company… He would give you the silent treatment, blame you, twist your words, accuse you of things you didn’t do, point out issues that you didn’t have and then send his inner circle to tell you the same thing… It was very abusive and I was subjected to that a lot… That was his form of abuse towards me. But now we’re learning his abuse ran far deeper and was more inhumane.”
Bouchey said she met “Smallville” actress Allison Mack in 2006, who would go on to become a client of hers as a financial planner from 2007 until 2009. The Hollywood Reporter shared that same year, the 36-year-old attended a two-day introduction to Jness, a program billed as a “women’s movement” within NXIVM. Mack, who became friendly with Salzman’s daughter Lauren, accepted an invitation to meet Raniere and was told the leader could help boost her acting career.
“I thought Allison was a very positive, optimistic, happy person,” said Bouchey, who added she did not introduce NXIVM to Mack. “She was very successful and was very happy with ‘Smallville.’ In the beginning, she just came for personal growth when she was able to manage some time off [from acting]… She loved the program… but she wasn’t an integral part of the organization.”
The New York Times reported Mack has since pleaded guilty to racketeering and racketeering conspiracy charges related to her role in the group. However, it's still unclear if she'll testify.
The Times-Union previously reported that since leaving NXIVM, Bouchey has been struggling financially as she has been the target of several lawsuits orchestrated by Raniere. Bouchey told the outlet she was reportedly being harassed through the courts to prevent her from revealing details of her time with Raniere.
“My personal opinion is that he’s mentally unstable,” said Bouchey. “He must suffer from some sort of delusion. We were clueless about the things he was doing. We just wanted to do the good work… We didn’t know about the corruption… We just wanted to make a difference. That’s how women like me got involved… Had I know anything like that was going on, you can be sure I would have done something about it… I didn’t see Keith as a master guru. He was my boyfriend. I thought he was a brilliant entrepreneur with a great mission.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.