Imagine my surprise (and delight) when I got to work today and found waiting in my inbox a link to the latest NXIVM-related adventure. For those of you unfamiliar with NXIVM, and its founder/leader Keith Raniere, the long story short is that the Capital Region is home to this international, multi-million-dollar organization that specializes in pricey, abstruse self-help seminars. And some people who have been involved call it a straight-up cult.
I wrote an extensive piece about NXIVM in 2006, which played part in a 2007 Village Voice article, and have been kinda obsessed with the exploits of this peculiar group since. There is plenty of information on NXIVM and Raniere out there, just Google them. When you do, you might come across this enlightening, fascinating, and at times riveting (yes, riveting) thread on an a cappella discussion board. (I kid you not. Raniere is a fan of the sans instruments musical style, and in the past year has organized two a cappella festivals at the Egg.)
Now, that brings us to today, when I was alerted by an email to the World Ethical Foundations Consortium's Web site. According to the site, the WEFC is "a highly directed initiative promoting the understanding and application of compassionate ethics in the world community." The WEFC was founded by Raniere, co-founded by Sara and Clare Bronfman, the heiresses to the mighty Seagram's fortune, and has been endorsed by Edgar Bronfman, Sr. and Virgin Group billionaire Sir Richard Branson. The site is claiming that it will host its "inaugural event" right here in Albany at the beginning of February with a special guest appearance by none other than the Dalai Lama.
And it looks like Mayor Jerry Jennings is on-board.
Considering the wealth that backs NXIVM, and the WEFC, it is not hard to imagine how they got the opportunity to sit with Jennings to discuss the consortium's grand opening, but it is hard to imagine how anyone got Jennings to say this:
The visit of the Dalai Lama to the City of Albany and the Capital Region truly represents an historic occasion. The teachings of His Holiness: the promotion of human values; religious harmony and understanding; and justice for all, are certainly tenets by which we should all subscribe in order to make our world a better place. I am honored that we will have a first-hand opportunity to both hear his message, and, more importantly, internalize his words.
Jennings is going to internalize words? Well, that's the official quote his office provided. According to the mayor's executive assistant, Robert VanAmburgh, the mayor is on-board philosophically with the Tibetan holy man, as it is hard to argue with the Dalai Lama's proclaimed support of religious tolerance and general peacefulness. And according to VanAmburgh, the mayor's interactions with the WEFC have been limited to discussions with Clare Bronfman, in attempts to firm up a date and location for the inaugural event.
Great. But what about Keith Raniere's philosophy? Is the mayor on-board with him? After all, Clare Bronfman might be the public face of the consortium (and might be financially backing the effort), but Raniere is the founder, and therefore, his is the driving ideological force.
Shouldn't Raniere's past exploits and reputation have played a part of the mayor's equation when deciding whether or not lend his endorsement? The allegations of strange and abusive behavior about NXIVM and Raniere should be enough to make anyone pause and consider the ramifications of increasing their legitimacy, but not so for Jennings. And why should he pause? The Bronfman sisters and Raniere have access to vast amounts of money, the only thing a politician can really appreciate, and a visit from the Dalai Lama to our little region would sure be a neat little boost of positivity and maybe grab some headlines for Jennings.
As VanAmburgh told me, the mayor sees the opportunity for Albany to host such a notable international figure as the Dalai Lama as a positive event, and isn't interested in looking "beneath the surface" at the circumstances that are providing for this opportunity.
Partnering with the controversial founder of NXIVM: another great opportunity thanks to Jennings.