"I believed Keith Raniere's intentions were to help people, and I was wrong," actress Allison Mack told a federal judge on Monday. She pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering and one count of racketeering conspiracy, for threatening to release secret photos of two women if they didn't engage in "acts of love" with Raniere.
Mack was best known for her work on the TV series Smallville until last spring, when she was arrested along with NXIVM co-founder Raniere in what federal authorities widely described as a sex trafficking case. The truth about NXIVM—a sort of self-actualization group meets pyramid scheme meets cult—and its secretive women's club, DOS, was much more complicated.
At the time, it seemed to be another example of the FBI using its new favorite buzzword (and desperately trying to rack up actual prosecutions for the same) even when the charges were a huge stretch. This has held up.
There a lot to criticize NXIVM for, still, and evidence that Raniere is guilty of a host of ethical and legal transgressions. Mack may have been Raniere's prey initially, but she went on to coerce, mistreat, and exploit other women. Meanwhile Lauren Salzman, the dauther of NXIVM's president, recently confessed to illegally bringing a woman here from Mexico and threatening to turn her over to immigration authorities if she didn't perform domestic labor.
There's plenty of culpability in this crowd to go around.
Just not for sex trafficking.
There was no mandatory prostitution or other form of forced sex-work involved. Just a lot of seemingly sad, misled, and lost people, caught up in the schemes of a selfish and self-important man.
Raniere recruited Mack and other NXIVM acolytes to start DOS, which operated on a sorority (or scam, or cult) model in which recruits from the larger NXIVM organizaiton went through trial periods and hazing. According to the feds, Raniere made them put up damaging information about themselves, sexy photos, financial resources, or ruinous lies about loved ones as "collateral," then threatened to release it if they betrayed the group by talking about it publicly. Mack would allegedly go on to threaten lower-ranking members with the release of their "collateral," too, if they didn't perform all sorts of (non-sexual) chores and tasks for her and other women in DOS higher ranks.
Mack also pressured two group members to have a sexual relationship with Raniere, according to the initial complaint against her. One of these Jane Does did for some time, got a loan from him, and later left the group with no repercussions except that he said she had to pay back the loan, the complaint alleged. The other Doe did not have sex with Raniere, left the group, and suffered no repercussions from them.
The feds alleged that because Mack may have curried favor from Raniere or rose up the ranks of the organization if women agreed, she was guilty of forcing or coercing them into commercial sex. Mack was indicted for conspiracy to commit sex trafficking; attempting to establish peonage, slavery, or involuntary servitude; racketeering; racketeering conspiracy; forced labor conspiracy; wire fraud conspiracy; three counts of sex trafficking; and two counts of attempted sex trafficking.
As part of a plea deal, she copped to threatening the two women with the release of sexual images of them if they didn't consummate "acts of love" with Raniere, the group's leader. Blackmail? Extotion? "Revenge porn"? Sure. Wrong? Of course. But not the sex trafficking operation so many DOJ press releases and media stories have gleefully made this out to be.
As for others in the case:
- Raniere maintains that he is not guilty and is still in prison, with a trial date set for October.
- Nancy Salzman, NXIVM co-founder and president, pleaded guilty in March to conspiracy. Her daughter, Lauren Salzman, pleaded guilty to racketeering and racketeering conpiracy.
- Seagram's heir and NXIVM supporter Clare Bronfman has plead not guilty and is awaiting trial.
California Rep. Eric Swalwell has joined the ranks of Democrats seeking the party's 2020 presidential nomination. At 38, Swalwell is the third Democratic presidential candidate—along with Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard—who could be classified as a millennial.
Swalwell represents the San Francisco Bay Area, the same territory as fellow Democratic candidate and Californian-in-Congress Kamala Harris. Swalwell is best known among a national audience, however, as a guy who frequently went on television shows to spin tales about President Donald Trump and Russia. (He announced his presidential run on last night's Colbert Show.) Swalwell also gained a bit of national notoriety for tweeting that he would use nuclear weapons to confiscate guns from Californians, a comment he later clarified that he meant as a joke.
Content moderation laws are about the freedom of citizens, not about punishing tech companies. The companies are the tool, not the target. https://t.co/ow3NjrXizc
— Alex Stamos (@alexstamos) April 8, 2019
Union fees take huge hit after Janus. After the Supreme Court's ruling in the 2018 case Janus v. AFSCME, which prohibited forcing non-union employees to pay certain union fees, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCM) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) "lost 92 percent of their agency fee payers, reducing the number of agency fee payers to 5,800," reports Bloomberg Law. That's down almost 210,000 fee payers from 2018.
- An update on Yujing Zhang, the woman arrested at Mar-a-Lago last month for entering under false pretenses and carrying a suspicious flash drive.
- While Kamala Harris has "been consistent in her personal opposition to capital punishment, professionally she has both refused to seek it AND, as California attorney general, acted to keep it available," notes CNN. "Her actions have upset both people for and against the death penalty, though Harris has always stood by her decisions."
- Senator and presidential candidate Cory Booker (D–N.J.) just introduced a slavery reparations bill.
- The U.S. is enacting new tariffs on wine, cheese, motorcycles, and other goods from the European Union. The E.U. "said preparations were underway to hit back," reports Bloomberg. "While the EU hasn't disclosed the amount of American goods it would target, Airbus said the bloc would proceed with 'far larger countermeasures against the U.S.'"
- Not a good sign:
Yes, that's the same Hudson Institute that hosted Sen. Cotton's infamous "under-incarceration problem" speech. https://t.co/vu1qXp47bV
— Jason Pye (@pye) April 9, 2019