#politics, Cults, Psychology, public figures

#NXIVM: A #Trump Supporting Conspiracy Theorist’s Wet Dream

Frank Parlato, the man who is responsible for bringing NXIVM to your attention through his tenacious and brave blogging – the “whistleblower” who alerted The New York Times to the cult- is generous enough to share others’ wild stories on his blog. He’s also clever and cautious, prefacing those accounts with the disclaimer that they are alleged, rather than confirmed as absolute facts.

Months ago, Stormy Daniels denied, through her rep, that she had ever had anything to do with NXIVM and it’s sexual slavery sorority DOS. Nevertheless, one young man brought forth a rambling tale that sounds like a conspiracy theorist Trump supporter’s wet dream…or a hallucinogen-induced, mania-fueled rant.

Per Parlato’s The Frank Report, FrankReport.com:

The story claims that Anthony Weiner, Huma Abedin, James Alefantis, Eric Schneiderman, and Stormy Daniels joined sex slaver and pedophile Keith Raniere, Allison Mack and the Bronfman heiresses, Clare and Sara, at a NXIVM party to recruit young women to be nannies for children.

Big League Politics’ Patrick Howley writes:

“Ben Szemkus details an experience he had at a 2007 NXIVM party in Hamden, Connecticut. Szemkus, an independent citizen, testifies that he saw porn star Stormy Daniels, and Clinton adviser Huma Abedin and Anthony Weiner.

“NXIVM is a Satanist sex cult that sees its leaders Keith Raniere and Allison Mack standing trial for human trafficking and child sex trafficking.

“’I attended a NXIVM Recruitment Party/Mixer in February 2007 in Hamden, Connecticut in which I met Stormy Daniels as Well as some High Powered Political Figures and NXIVM Founders, Major Supporters and Members. Here is a written statement detailing My experience that night,” writes Ben Szemkus, detailing that Yale University female students were in attendance at this party.’

“Transcripts from Szemkus’ account are presented below. He describes the party as being “The Belly of the Beast.”

You can read more here: https://bigleaguepolitics.com/sex-cult-party-guest-stormy-daniels-schneiderman-huma-and-weiner-were-all-there/.

If it sounds too insane to be true, it probably isn’t…But, sadly, I do know people who will eat this story up voraciously without hesitation.

Reality TV

#TheProposal: What Was Mike Fleiss Thinking?

I am completely perplexed by The Proposal, a show that aired after the two hours usurped by other mindless drivel, something that’s nevertheless a guilty pleasure, TheBachelorette. When people commit 120 minutes of their Monday night to a vapid reality dating program, it’s bad enough. For ABC to tag on another hour for a program that goes so much lower than The Bachelor franchise ever would (and that’s saying something!) is a crime…As is the premise of The Proposal.

In the premiere episode, a guy named Mike sat behind a partition where he could see everything going on, but no one could see him. There was a stage fit for a pageant (we’re getting there shortly) and the host was Jesse Palmer, a former athlete and ABC Bachelor-turned sports host. Palmer could not have looked more uncomfortable for what lay ahead, and if you didn’t notice that, a source tells me he’s currently vacationing in Europe – which makes sense because I too would flee the country as this show started airing if I had his gig.

Palmer introduced a few young ladies to Mike and announced to the audience that at the end of the night, Mike would choose one special woman and there could be a proposal.

Did creator Mike Fleiss not learn from the disastrous fiasco of Rick Rockwell and Darva Conger? https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Who_Wants_to_Marry_a_Multi-Millionaire%3F.

The women were introduced with taglines befitting first day of school intros. There was a baton twirler who also happened to be a neurosurgeon and someone named Alona who didn’t “want to be alone-a anymore.” I kid you not, the show was just that dumb.

There was even a swimsuit portion because of how important physical attraction is (the host made a deliberate point of stating this) – it’s especially important if you want to propose to someone in under an hour when there are other prospects to choose from, and you’re only getting to hear a few sentences out of each of their mouths.

From behind the partition, Mike issued questions that were neither deep nor probing. They were certainly not enough to get a person past a first date (especially since multiple women were fielding these questions) let alone to the wedding aisle. But in the end, Mike clearly picked the woman he found most attractive after another attractive candidate said she wasn’t open to having kids. Then there was the runner-up who might have lost out to the winner’s sparking effervescence (and perhaps, if I’m being candid, bigger chest).

Mike proposed to the sparkly, cute looking lass – whose name escapes me because this truly was the worst show on television and a wasted hour I’ll never get back. Then they kissed for the first time. Two strangers kissing on a stage before an audience…..

“You’re a great kisser,” he remarked after getting down on bended knee, proffering a Neil Diamond sparkler and hearing her accept his tres awkward proposal. The entire debacle was incredibly forced and that included panned shots of the badly-acting audience who had been coached to oooh and aaah and appear charmed by this….love story????

Here’s the thing: I felt this was the worst show I had seen in a very long time with the most ridiculous premise…but People magazine is reporting that this couple is still together months later. Yes…after only meeting for a matter of minutes on stage and getting “engaged.” I did notice there was no ring on her finger in the update video, so that’s something that needs to be explored. The couple do seem to be dating at the very least and may even be cohabiting.

I predict their relationship will last longer than this show runs.

The Proposal airs Monday nights at 10 PM EST on ABC with brand new contestants and suitors each week…but seriously, don’t bother watching it!

(Photo credit: Bryon Cohen/ABC)

Bravo TV, Reality TV

#SouthernCharm: Shep Rose & The Wendy Williams Mantra

“I’m a woman and I’m allowed to change my mind.” It’s a quote often uttered by popular talk show host Wendy Williams and one I find myself using this season of Bravo’s Southern Charm. I interviewed Shep Rose at the beginning of last season for Huffington Post Contributor platform and I may have (mis)interpreted his confidence for arrogance. I see a kinder, gentler Shep this season, especially with regard to his treatment of one-time-underdog Kathryn Dennis, who is currently having a stellar redemptive season.

I read the Vulture recap analyzing the Chelsea and Shep dynamic of last season and wondered about it myself in a post. I wondered if Shep was being too grabby and feeling too entitled with Chelsea during a drunken moment. Perhaps I was too hard on Shep because I do know that with reality television, there’s editing, slicing, dicing and “franken-biting” (where parts of two different sentences are joined together). I know that contexts are often unseen.

A Bravo employee hinted to me (after the fact) that I had gotten the wrong take on Shep, that many people had gotten the wrong impression last season.

So Shep, if you’re reading this little blog (which I doubt you are), I apologize if I judged you too harshly. In my Huffington Post articles, I often gave my perspective as contributors do, but I like what I see of you this season. You seem sincere, humbled and determined to treat women, and all people, respectfully. This season, you appear to be a mensch. I’m a woman and I’ve changed my mind.

For old time’s sake, here’s an article with an interview that I conducted with Shep Rose early last season. It was published in my Huffington Post Contributor archive:

Shep Rose….He’s the guy I once dated. Well not literally, but many years ago before I was married, I met my own cultured playboy who seemed fearful of commitment. We quickly went from dating to just friends and I watched and observed his social antics wryly. I teased him about his many many dates and short-lived conquests, his incessant bar hopping, his seemingly unlimited freedom and how others had to maintain a demanding day job and stick to limited alcohol consumption.

Well, my own version of Shep Rose – the actual Shep being a main character on Bravo’s reality show Southern Charm – is not someone I stayed in touch with as my circles inevitably changed. However, the familiarity from this past friendship endears me to the person I see on TV. My own acquaintance was a New Yorker rather than a Charlestonian, but in many ways Shep reminds me of him.

Southern Charm is mostly about entertainment and observing a different way of life for me, but it’s also sort of a walk down memory lane with a major location change. Also, to be fair, many (but not all) of the surrounding characters in my experience were not as wealthy as the Charlestonians. (I personally was living paycheck to paycheck in a low-rent shoebox of a room in an Upper West Side Manhattan apartment). Watching this show is also a way for me to get to know the South and specifically, a part of the country I’ve never visited.

The notion of “Southern Gentlemen” is a puzzling one when you look at the eclectic male characters on Southern Charm – especially Shep. Thomas has a political as well as criminal past and now also has two children with his gorgeous ex-girlfriend Kathryn – who temporarily lost custody.

Craig was on his way to becoming a lawyer and the rest of the cast is harping on what happened to his aspirations (he recently purchased a sewing machine and we see him embroidering a lot). Austen is the new guy and he’s cute. He seems to have snapped up Shep’s prior love interest Chelsea.

As the biggest charmer, Shep doesn’t seem happy about this on the show. Whitney, who was a main character in prior seasons, now seems to sit on the periphery stirring up drama. (He is actually the one who introduced the Southern Charm concept to Bravo.)

The guy to get the most questions from viewers and to get me scratching my own head was Shep because things have taken a drastically different turn for him this season. As a longtime fan of the series, you can imagine how excited I was to have the opportunity to ask Shep a few things viewers wanted to know.

SHW: Fans of the show wonder why you seem to pick on Craig for not being ambitious enough and not having finished on his path to becoming a lawyer. Viewers express how it seems like you’ve never really needed to work-

SR: Not true. I’m certainly not set for life! I have bills to pay and incoming and outgoing cash. My question to those critics and people on Twitter: How does that have anything to do with Craig? I don’t get the correlation. I do get guff about that on the Internet, but what is the connection between my 9 to 5 status and Craig?! I’m tough on him personally. I never mention finances. Craig begs to be ribbed. You don’t even know the half of it. He’s a sweet guy and a nice guy and I really like him. He just begs for it with the things he says and does and we ALL give him a hard time – Cameron and Whitney too. I don’t really have any problems with Craig and my relationship today. There are things you don’t see on TV. If they showed the extent of Craig’s insanity, you’d know he got off so easily. He was very defensive which is one thing I wish he wouldn’t be. I want him to be happy and it just so happens that he recently passed the bar exam. I’m very proud of him. There’s no conflict there and I apologize that there was.

SHW: We saw that you were interested in Chelsea, had hung out with her romantically and then Austen swooped in. The podcast Watch What Crappens just brought up that you said something in the first season about being “over-educated and under-motivated.” Could that be why you’re not meeting women with long term potential for you?

SR: No. it’s in MY mind. I’m not your Ozzie and Harriet person and that’s all I have to go by. I’m not that “Hi Honey, I’m home” conventional man and it’s something I grapple with. I think I need to find someone who is unconventional as well. I love this city and there are drop dead gorgeous women here. I’ve been in love before and I’m a big proponent of it, but the world of relationships is changing Things are different than they were even 15 years ago in this regard. You can be ready for a serious relationship but still not meet somebody. I’m certainly not going to force anything. I know what it feels like when you should get married and I’m not going to sell myself short.

SHW: So that actually brings me to the question of whether or not you think Patricia is telling Landon and Thomas to settle for one another?

SR: Um, I don’t know. They both can tell you all about themselves…a lot! Maybe that’s good. They can sit at home and be enamored with one another…I do think there were unrealistic attempts…to force them together. Ultimately, I don’t think it would work. I don’t know who would be perfect for Landon, but I think Thomas is too alpha and there would be a butting of heads down the road.

SHW: Did you really want to go after Chelsea – even a bit after Austen first started seeing her and we didn’t know if it was anything beyond a first date – or was that Cameron’s prodding?

SR: I’ve known Chelsea for a while. I know a handful of guys that have dated her so when we kind of made out before I went off to my friend’s wedding, I decided to explore potentially seeing her. I didn’t reach out enough when I was on the trip. I know what to do to hold someone’s attention but I just didn’t do it. It kind of bothered me that I was the last one to know about Austen and her. I mean, you see that we were all out and I was whispering in her ear. He saw that and didn’t say anything. I’m a free love guy so I certainly didn’t tell him to back off. Had I known initially, I would have said ‘if she likes you then I don’t want to stand in her and your way.’

SHW: So that actually brings me to the question of whether or not you think Patricia is telling Landon and Thomas to settle for one another?

SR: Um, I don’t know. They both can tell you all about themselves…a lot! Maybe that’s good. They can sit at home and be enamored with one another…I do think there were unrealistic attempts…to force them together. Ultimately, I don’t think it would work. I don’t know who would be perfect for Landon, but I think Thomas is too alpha and there would be a butting of heads down the road.

SHW: Did you really want to go after Chelsea – even a bit after Austen first started seeing her and we didn’t know if it was anything beyond a first date – or was that Cameron’s prodding?

SR: I’ve known Chelsea for a while. I know a handful of guys that have dated her so when we kind of made out before I went off to my friend’s wedding, I decided to explore potentially seeing her. I didn’t reach out enough when I was on the trip. I know what to do to hold someone’s attention but I just didn’t do it. It kind of bothered me that I was the last one to know about Austen and her. I mean, you see that we were all out and I was whispering in her ear. He saw that and didn’t say anything. I’m a free love guy so I certainly didn’t tell him to back off. Had I known initially, I would have said ‘if she likes you then I don’t want to stand in her and your way.’

SHW: Going into this season, were you at all nervous due to the political environment? There were some reactions to Thomas and Kathryn’s (pro Trump) Twitter posts.

SR: Oh my god! The opinions expressed there were not my own. Everything is out there so you can find out exactly what I think about the political situation. People who will agree with me will agree with me, and others, I can’t change their mind anyway! It’s just crazy today. That’s what I think.

SW: Do you see Kathryn regularly? I know she was going through very hard times. How is she doing these days?

SR: I don’t know. I sent her a message about someone wanting to find a dress store in Monk’s Corner, but didn’t hear back. I have no problem with her and when we see each other, it’s hugs and we kind of go into the corner and talk. But she keeps to herself. I am concerned about her well being as always and if she reached out, I’d be happy to talk to her. I think she’s doing fine, but I couldn’t fully answer that right now.

(Shep’s headshot courtesy of Bravo)

Bravo TV, Reality TV

#ShahsOfSunset: Shervin no longer Swervin’ Our Way?

Tamara Tattles has a ton of new tea on one of my favorite Bravo reality shows Shahs of Sunset: http://tamaratattles.com/2018/06/19/exclusive-tamara-tattles-has-the-tea-on-shahs-of-sunset-season-seven/.

According to her sources, Shervin Roohparvar wasn’t wiling enough to share details of his private life after personal scandals last season…And that girlfriend from Down Under, Annalise? She may just have been for show – an on-air squeeze “cast” as his girlfriend rather than the real deal. Attach a big red A for ALLEGEDLY to that.

As Tamara points out in her post, Shervin isn’t even mentioned in the press release announcing the new season. This may actually have come as a shock to him that scenes he filmed were cut out. Asa Soltan had also filmed for the upcoming season, but she too was demoted during the editing process to a “friend of” and we will only see her pop in from time to time.

Expect a mini storyline about Asa not being invited to MJ’s wedding, as Tamara mentions in her post.

When and where Sherv may swerve this season, if at all? Right now, it’s anybody’s guess.

(A link to my interview with Shervin from last season: https://www.google.com/amp/s/m.huffpost.com/us/entry/us_59828bbee4b094ff5a3f0bc7/amp.)

Photo source for Shervin’s headshot: Bravo TV

Bravo TV, public figures, Reality TV

#ShahsOfSunset: Asa Soltan Not Returning Full Time for Season 7

Today, Asa Soltan announced via Instagram that she will not be returning full time for Season 7 of the hit Bravo reality TV show Shahs of Sunset. You may occasionally see her visiting her cast mates, but she will not be a regular.

The reality TV personality/entrepreneur/girlfriend of a famous Jackson – yes, that family! – became a mother recently (She reminded us continually that she was pregnant last season, lest you forgot!) and motherhood is the reason she gives for her departure from the franchise as a cast member.

Asa was incredibly private about her romantic relationship and chose to keep that part of her life off camera in past seasons, a point of contention for many of her cast mates. In their defense, they probably do deserve an Emmy for baring their souls. I should add: baring their souls to the point of TMI..if you remember that cringeworthy and you over-the-top anal waxing scene.

I agree with Asa’s decision to keep her baby away from the cameras and protect her tot from media scrutiny. However, this is totally on brand with Asa’s old routine and therefore, (yawn) predicable. Many viewers complained last season that Asa shared so little of her life and presented too much of a happy-go-lucky, hippie demeanor to be believed. On Twitter, fans urged her to go deeper, open up more about her romantic partnership and discuss the challenges of being a woman with modern views from a traditional Persian household.

Fans are now saying they won’t miss the cast member who didn’t deliver enough of a storyline, especially as compared to Mercedes (“MJ”) Javid, Mike Shouhed, Reza Farahan, Golnessa (“GG”) Gharachedaghi and Shervin Roohparvar.

Oh!! I also don’t want to forget my personal FAVORITE cast member, the one I did an impression of on Sirius XM’s Reality Checked with Amy Phillips, Vida Javid. I’m OBSESSED….It goes without saying that Vida was way more exciting than Asa.

Are you looking forward to a new season of Shahs? Will you miss Asa, or do you agree with fans and her cast mates that she wasn’t “bringing enough to the table”? Well, let me rethink that particular expression: She certainly showed us lots of exquisite Persian foods to make our mouths water like crazy…but you know what I mean!

You can peruse my Huffington Post archive which features interview with MJ, Mike and Shervin from last season. Here’s the first of that series, a chat with MJ: https://www.google.com/amp/s/m.huffpost.com/us/entry/us_596179afe4b0cf3c8e8d593c/amp.

(Photo of Asa Soltan courtesy of Page Six)

Bravo TV, Psychology, public figures, Reality TV

#SouthernCharm: Bashing Ashley Isn’t My Thing

There’s something I’ve been wanting to address for a while about Southern Charm. Yes, Ashley Jacobs is the villain of the season and she’s done some godawful things that have been captured on camera, but when it comes to her dramatic weight loss, her past escapades, or the rumors about her being an escort, I’m not going overboard in the discussions.

I feel that Ashley has approached Kathryn Dennis all wrong and I feel indignant about her scathing commentary on Kathryn as a mom, but I’m not going to respond by dredging up every salaciously “slutty” (please note, I use quotation marks) photo from her college years, or mocking her boob transformation. I understand the notion of “people who put themselves on reality TV are fair game,” but I feel these tactics are not only somewhat ludicrous and overboard, but also…besides the point. I can drag Ashley for telling Kathryn she’s nothing but an egg donor, but I wouldn’t feel good about myself ragging on the appearance of her hair texture in response, or hopping on her Instagram page to suggest she eats a hamburger.

Some of the “Trashley” posts seem a bit too much to me, targeting someone who – in my opinion – appears to be suffering physically and psychologically from doing this stressful show (she wasn’t paid either). And look, I’ve certainly lambasted reality stars in the past (I didn’t even pause after one reality star called me a “pussy” three times in a phone call and felt anything was deserved after that) and I’m not telling YOU not to do it. You all have free will and are afforded free speech, but I personally am trying to keep my commentary about Ashley linked to what we see on television and will call her out for rantings about others when cameras aren’t rolling.

I feel terrible for Luzanne Otte, a private woman who got dragged into the Ashley and Thomas story and I wrote about that, but I tried not to go too much further in saying anything disparaging beyond what was exhibited. I also did write a post about how the cast suspects some random Twitter accounts belong to Ashley as that’s been a major topic of discussion on social media prompting the hashtag #HiAshley. I try to address things that are happening in real time, but without getting carried too far away.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, in a few episodes, Ashley will make the offhanded remark to Shep Rose “Would you date me?” (Meaning: because things are rocky with TRav, are there hypothetical scenarios and options so she won’t have to leave the Charleston area.) This is not something that is said in earnest necessarily, but it’s a comment that is sure to lead to tons of Ashley bashing on social media. There’s no way this is an incorrect prediction. I can see that the stress is already taking a toll on this woman. Is she desperate? Perhaps. Misguided? Possibly. Evil? I’m not so sure.

I think Ashley may one day have the hindsight to say she behaved badly on television. I think that we see her clinging to this relationship with Thomas Ravenel for one reason of another. Whether it’s money or fame, as people have concluded, I sense she is incredibly stressed out. Her alarming weight loss signals to me that she’s trying to maintain control over a situation that she feels, frustratingly, she has little control of.

I can’t help feeling some sympathy as I rage-watch her on TV and sometimes want to slap her for what she’s said to KD. This is the reason why I won’t tweet out the gifs and caricatures mocking her, or resort to name calling on Twitter. Something about it doesn’t sit right with me intuitively, but as a reality TV anthropologist, I’ll snark and weigh in on what’s said on the show.

I’ll feel a lot better about writing this post if/when we see a reflective Ashley, one who looks upon this past season and her time with TRav and realizes where she went wrong, when she spoke out of turn, and who she hurt while trying to protect herself.

Documentary, True Crime

#Netflix: “The Staircase” & the Peterson Name

With a variety of different spellings, a number of Petersons (all unrelated to one another) have been in the news for murder charges. Some people think the sketchiest Peterson (my opinion), Scott, is innocent or not guilty of killing his pregnant wife Laci and have posed alternate theories. There may be some reasonable doubt in that case, but because of all the lies Scott told, I have a problem believing him when he says he’s innocent. My friend Jennifer Lewin Yates was consulted for her psychic prowess on the Reality Life with Kate Casey podcast and she feels strongly that Scott should be absolved of the murder, that Lacy met her fate independently of him.

There’s been little to no question about Drew and the evil attached to his name. He married several much younger women and when his fourth wife Stacy mysteriously disappeared and was never found, it was after his third wife had met a sinister demise. There’s nothing “sketchy” about him – it’s blatant. He went on to be charged with soliciting a hit man in an attempted murder-for-hire of Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow.

The one Peterson who is not in prison now is featured on the very popular series The Staircase, now available on Netflix. He is American Novelist Michael Peterson who discovered his wife Kathleen at the bottom of their staircase bloody, after a fatal fall. However, there might have been more than simply a fall as her injuries included a “fracture of the thyroid neck cartilage and seven lacerations to the top and back of her head.” (Wikipedia)

As with Scott Peterson, so much was made about Michael Peterson’s double life, specifically the fact that he was bisexual and emails discovered on his computer that were written to a male escort. Michael claimed that Kathleen knew he was bisexual, that they loved each other and had an idyllic marriage despite that, and only discussed his sexual proclivities “obliquely” and infrequently.

Friends who were interviewed described their marriage as appearing to be the perfect one, that they never fought (a claim that would arouse my own suspicions. Arguing – here and there – with one’s spouse has always been the norm to me) and seemed like the couple every other couple wanted to be. The “secret” of Michael’s bisexuality was as much on trial as the man himself. Kathleen’s sisters and daughter from her first marriage turned on the once beloved Michael. I should refrain from spoiling every last detail of the documentary, but let’s just say I began to have my doubts about whether Michael was guilty or not. He’s a very charming, seemingly benign older man (74 today) whose children, save for that one stepdaughter, adore him. There’s something endearing about this intellectual, who I think some viewers will deem cocky, and after serving eight years in prison that severely aged him, I don’t personally see him as a danger to society.

Kathleen’s sisters and daughter are understandably livid that an initial “life in prison” sentence didn’t stick. However, after hearing about evidence tampering and incorrect statements regarding the alleged murder weapon (a blow poke to the head), I am left with reasonable doubt.

There is so much detail to this case and generally, a ton more involved than I described above. It is very likely that the producers of this film manipulated viewers by showing Michael with his children and grandchildren as the doting, elder, grieving family man. And then later: the doting, elder, grieving family man severely broken down by his eight year prison stint. Because of how the prosecution and it’s witnesses botched the presentation of evidence, it’s hard to argue against reasonable doubt and whether Michael is or isn’t where he should be now.

This is the type of post in which I’d love to see readers weigh in. If you’ve seen The Staircase or are all caught up on the Michael Peterson case, please share your thoughts in the comments.

I’m also curious to know if there’s any other surname in history that has sparked as much attention as the Peterson name has within the arena of True Crime.

(Photo credit: Netflix)