A mother arrives as the sun is setting and puts out a large deckchair for herself and a small one for her little girl. As they blows kisses towards the upper floors of the Metropolitan Detention Center in Sunset Park, a shadow in a window high above starts to tap a beat on the glass in response.
It’s a well-worn ritual for family and friends of prisoners who haven’t been allowed visitation since March, due to COVID-19. But recently, they’ve been joined by a nightly dance party organized by a group that says it wants to shine a light on the brutalities of the justice system.
Instead, the spotlight has turned on the group and their personal ties to Metropolitan Detention Center inmate Keith Raniere, a convicted sex trafficker and co-founder of Nxivm, a personal and professional growth, training and development group.
The Forgotten Ones
Former Nxivm teacher Eduardo Asunsolo, Nxivm member Nicki Clyne, Michele Hatchette and Suneel Chakravorty have been dancing outside the prison from 8:00pm – 9:00pm every night since July 3.
The dance parties started out of an inside joke between Clyne and Raniere one night, when she was visiting him from outside the prison. “One of my party tricks is doing a moonwalk,” Clyne said. “So I did a moonwalk, and a bunch of guys started banging on their windows.”
That evolved into a nightly show where the team directs prisoners with a sign to tune into 97.1 FM, puts on their car stereo and dances to the windows above. Clyne would also take calls and email from inmates, learning about their isolation and conditions on the inside.
On July 7, the group formalized their dance shows as a movement for prison reform by launching the organization The Forgotten Ones, with a website, mission statement and call to ‘Get Involved.’
Despite their mission to provide connection to prisoners, The Forgotten Ones leaders’ close ties to Raniere have stymied the cause. They’ve experienced media blowback for their actions, accused of not being forthcoming with their connections to Nxivm.
Asunsolo said they initially wanted to avoid the dancing being associated with the ‘sex-cult,’ but admits it has become inevitable. In an interview, he compared the “character assassinations” on his group to the persecution of Jews in pre-WW2 Europe. He told the BK Reader Raniere is a “good man” and decried the U.S. justice system.
But Nxium, a self-help organization, is also facing a civil lawsuit in which 80 plaintiffs say they were bilked of millions of dollars in a pyramid scheme.
Attorney Neil L. Glazer — who represent litigants in the claim brought in January against Raniere and 14 of his associates, including Clyne — said people should be skeptical of the group which continues to “unconditionally support and defend the conduct of a man who was convicted of heinous crimes including sex trafficking, document servitude and exploitation of a minor.”
He added that Asunsolo’s comments comparing the group to Jews or Black people facing racism were tone-deaf and offensive. “This group is less concerned with the plight of incarcerated individuals than they are with advancing the warped so-called “ethics” that enabled the perpetration of these horrific crimes.”
Raniere was convicted in June 2019 of crimes including racketeering, sex trafficking, conspiracy, forced labor, identity theft, sexual exploitation of a child and possession of child pornography.
Much of the trial centered around a secretive group within Nxivm known as DOS, within which women say they were recruited to have sex with Raniere, were branded with his initials in their pubic areas, asked to provide “collateral” in the form of naked photos and told to eat 500-800 calories per day to maintain svelte figures.
In the civil suit filed by Glazer and his associates on January 28, Clyne was accused of being a DOS leader. She denies the claim. “My name has been slandered, I’ve had all sorts of lies written about me,” she said.
“I think what is really sad is we are out here doing something really good that is helping a lot of people and people can’t get past this idea that we were in something called a sex cult, and I don’t even know what that is, I certainly wasn’t part of a sex cult.”
The group plans to keep dancing until the movement “catches fire.”