The prosecution in the case against NXIVM leader Keith Raniere has filed notice that it plans to call psychiatrist Dr. Michael Welner as an expert witness at trial to help establish that NXIVM is similar to a cult.
NXIVM is a multi-level marketing company based in Albany, New York, that offers personal development seminars. NXIVM has been accused by former members of the organization of being a recruiting platform for a cult operating within it that was known as DOS or The Vow where women were branded into sexual slavery.
In early 2018, NXIVM founder Keith Raniere and his associate Allison Mack were arrested and indicted on charges including racketeering conspiracy, forced labor conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, sex trafficking conspiracy, sex trafficking, attempted sex trafficking, and conspiracy to commit identity theft.
Dr. Michael Welner’s Background
Dr. Welner is a clinical and forensic psychiatrist and Chairman of the Forensic Panel. He has acted as a lead forensic psychiatric examiner in many criminal proceedings. Dr. Welner is also known for innovations in forensic science, forensic psychiatry and justice, and protocols for prospective peer review in forensic medicine consultation.
Dr. Welner is best known for his work on cases including the Etan Patz disappearance and murder, the Elizabeth Smart kidnappers, the Xerox mass murders in Hawaii, and Andrea Yates’ trial for the murder of her five children.
Dr. Welner has also consulted for courts and examined defendants who have been involved in mass shooting and attempted mass shooting cases including Colorado’s James Holmes; NBC gunman William Tager; corrections officer George Banks, who killed 13; Tavares Calloway; and bias-hatred mass shooters Richard Baumhammers, Ronald Taylor, and Ronald Crumpley.
The prosecution’s filing indicates that Dr. Welner will testify about how Raniere and his associates engaged in practices that are similar to other cult-like groups. These practices include: aggressive recruiting tactics that are intended to lure recruits and foster their dependence, grooming the members’ moral and value systems to comply with the group, undermining the members’ senses of self, leveraging emotional vulnerability and trust to control the member, creating extreme power imbalances, isolating members from friends and family, and controlling the sex lives of members.
The filing states, “Dr. Welner has studied … cult-like organizations, large-group awareness trainings, the ‘human potential movement’, religious sects and chain-marketing organizations (the ‘comparative groups’), including financial and sexual exploitation and the psychological dynamics within the comparative groups. This includes the techniques of how intense attention and recruitment contributes to special relationships within which such exploitation takes place, and then to isolation through which recruits are controlled and exploitation perpetuates. As a clinical psychiatrist, Dr. Welner also has experience treating people who have left organizations like those described above.”
The prosecution also indicated that it is planning to call other expert witnesses to testify about: the psychiatric and physiological effects of social, perceptual, and occupational isolation; the behavior of victims of sex crimes including common misconceptions about victim behavior; and the psychiatric and physiological effects of lack of sleep and severe calorie restriction.