Accused sex cult leader 'wanted to break slaves'

| REUTERS 15 May 2019

Several women members of an alleged New York sex cult, including Smallville actress Allison Mack, became dangerously thin after following near-starvation diets at the direction of the group's leader, a 12-year veteran of the group testified.

Filmmaker Mark Vicente is a key prosecution witness at the trial of Keith Raniere, who is accused of forcing female slaves within his Nxivm organization to have sex with him, lose weight and get branded with his initials.

Vicente, who left Nxivm in 2017, said he told Raniere that Mack seemed broken, and Raniere responded "I'm trying to break her."

Mack, who starred in the television series Smallville for a decade, was one of five co-defendants, including Seagram liquor heiress Clare Bronfman, who previously pleaded guilty to Nxivm-related crimes.

Women were required to submit "collateral," such as nude photos, that Raniere then used as blackmail to coerce their compliance.

Vicente told jurors in US District Court in Brooklyn that the women would push their diets even further, limiting themselves to a few hundred calories a day, as penance if they slipped up.

"There seemed to be kind of a club of young women gathering around Allison Mack, and they just didn't look healthy," he said.

Once members attained a certain rank, they were expected to accept "feedback" from higher-ranking members - essentially negative criticism, Vicente said. Those who questioned Raniere in any way were accused of acting out of "pride" and required to undergo special training.

Vicente previously told jurors that Raniere's recruits came to view him as "some kind of god," thanks to a sales pitch that portrayed him as a genius of unparalleled insight.

Raniere's lawyer has argued at trial that the women joined voluntarily and were never forced to do anything against their will. Raniere faces life in prison if convicted.

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