A so-called “human potential” group that offers courses devised by the originator of a failed “pyramid scheme” is causing controversy through a proposed building project reports the Albany Times-Union.

Keith Raniere, known to his students by the title “Vanguard,” hopes to build a global headquarters for his latest venture called “NXIVM” (pronounced Nexium) or Executive Success Programs (ESP) near Albany.

But area residents don’t seem to appreciate his vision of an almost 70,000 square foot edifice in their neighborhood.

Raniere’s first foray into business failed badly.

His company called “Consumer Buyline” allegedly bilked members financially and was shut down after multiple lawsuits, numerous investigations and substantial bad press.

Raniere was restricted from starting another multi-level operation for some years and told plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit he was broke.

But now the self-proclaimed “scientist, mathematician, philosopher and entrepreneur,” assisted by his faithful “Prefect,” a registered nurse named Nancy Salzman, appears to be in the midst of making a comeback.

This time instead of selling memberships in a buying club the man they call “Vanguard” is selling courses to “allow for accurate, consistent measurement of human psychodynamic performance.”

However, Raniere and Salzman are not licensed mental health professionals, such as a board certified clinical psychologist or psychiatrist.

John Hochman, M.D., a forensic psychiatrist and professor of Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA described Raniere’s current enterprise as follows:

“The ESP Intensive appears to be a gateway that encourages participants to attend further training sessions or seminars, and get friends and family to do the same. In a general sense, the goal is integration of individuals into a subculture – however, a particular kind of subculture. It is a kingdom of sorts, ruled by a Vanguard, who writes his own dictionary of the English language, has his own moral code, and the ability to generate taxes on subjects by having them participate in his seminars. It is a kingdom with no physical borders, but with psychological borders – influencing how his subjects spend their time, socialize, and think. Increasing involvement serves to increasingly distance participants from their relationships in a manner that is slow and subtle, and thus not at all obvious to them.”

Paul Martin, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist who specializes in the study of destructive cults and the rehabilitation of former members offers these observations:

“The claim that ESP is a science. Raniere says it is, but that does not make it so. Science must meet certain requirements. There is nothing in the published scientific literature about ESP nor has an exhaustive search of the psychological literature base shown any publications by Keith Raniere…the workshop participant appears to have to accept these claims by faith. But this faith is a far cry from the scientific claims of ESP that Raniere asserts.”

Martin concludes, “The teaching and practices of the workshop contain elements that correspond to the eight themes of thought reform as described by Lifton” and the mental health professional then offers the following parallels to those criteria evident within ESP.

What then is Keith Raniere the “vanguard” of, a supposed science regarding “human psychodynamic performance,” or just another personality-driven cult?


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