Cults, Psychology, public figures, True Crime, Uncategorized

#NXIVM: Catherine Oxenberg Says Daughter “Will Be Fine…More Than Fine”

Catherine Oxenberg is many things. She’s enviably beautiful. She’s intelligent and she’s kind. She’s also “royal” – her mother is Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia – in addition to having played royalty on televisions as an actress.

But these days Catherine Oxenberg is known for more than her television roles, most notably for starring on Dynasty, and her lineage. These days she’s known as a fierce crusader and a fighter, one who took on a cult and didn’t back down until she knew her daughter was safe. It is a group that has threatened its detractors, terrorized them via bogus litigation, and maligned former members. Yes, it is the cult that is the subject of many conversations and is currently all over the media. The one that fronted as a mainly innocuous, but money-sucking, professional empowerment/self-help group and has changed names many times, but is now known by one represented by Roman numerals. The cult that – it was subsequently discovered – had a unique division devoted to the sexual slavery of women. That division, called DOS, called for fierce loyalty pledges from members, requiring the handing over of “collateral” (incriminating information/pictures that would mortify the individual should they defect from the sorority) and branding in the pubic region.

As Catherine details in her new book Captive: A Mother’s Crusade To Save Her Daughter From a Terrifying Cult, she and her daughter India went to a meeting for what appeared to be a self help group back in 2011. Catherine’s then-husband made a somewhat offhanded and jokey remark, following some creepy observations about the group’s leader Keith Raniere. He suspected aloud to her that Keith was involved sexually with the group’s women. Catherine remembers the comment (which would prove to be a confirmed truth) in hindsight, but it was stated in such an off-the-cuff manner that she didn’t focus deeply on it. She had also only briefly met the cult leader.

Following that fateful meeting, Catherine took some NXIVM courses that promised success in business and taught about the tools and skills to excel. She reflects now: “A lot of what you hear Keith say about NXIVM’s philosophy sounds like gobbledygook when you listen to him on YouTube and see how captivated (former Smallville actress) Allison Mack is by his words. He has this ability to break you down and then reel you in.”

Catherine said that she gets annoyed by how people undermine those who are susceptible to brainwashing: “Anyone is susceptible because the person doing it is clever and has a strategy. It’s about appealing to an individual’s interests and goals. India is a confident and self-assured woman. There were prominent, highly intelligent people who took NXIVM courses. It’s very insulting when people criticize and judge how one can be taken in by this group. Aside from offering community, NXIVM offers the promise of doing something and being a part of something special that will make a difference in the world.”

When they were first introduced to the group, India was committed to improving her own business skills following a failed food-related venture. Catherine describes India as someone who sees the kindness in people and who is committing to bettering humanity.

“That is something that this group looks for in individuals,” says Catherine, explaining that India was a prime recruit for the group because of her uniquely innate desire to help people and contribute to society. “They slowly convince people – there are brilliant people who have become involved! – that they are part of something that is going to make a huge difference.”

Catherine took some overly pricey NXIVM courses and despite initial interest, became more skeptical and more disenchanted over a three year period. She gave up on NXIVM, but India only became more committed. Then she moved to Albany to be with the group and surrounded by its members.

In Catherine’s book, and on a recent episode of Dateline (in which Megyn Kelly is the interviewer), Catherine speaks about the former NXIVM member who reached out furtively and fearfully to alert her that her daughter was in danger. Catherine was then provided with evidence and became invested in amassing more evidence – which she eventually turned over to the New York State General Attorney’s office.

Although the authorities had been repeatedly pointed to the unethical practices of the group (including shady financial transactions and Keith Raniere’s sexual relationships with women under the age of consent), it was Catherine’s diligently collected mountain of evidence that helped spur law enforcement to serious action.

I ask her if she thinks her status as an actress and coming from royalty helped with her being taken seriously. She laughs: “I think they were tired of being hounded by me and knew I was this mother who wasn’t going to give up!”

While all of this was happening, India had essentially estranged herself from a mother pleading for her return. Mother could not get in touch with daughter or be sure of her whereabouts for a lengthy period of time, and while India was now an adult, Catherine knew the dangers of NXIVM and saw no choice other than to speak out publicly.

This was a move that would have repercussions for Catherine, with India further evading her and ensuring more secrecy regarding her whereabouts.

Going to the media was something that pained Catherine to do, but it was a last resort and a desperate measure called for by a desperate time. Having been in the limelight many years before as an actress and as the daughter of a princess, she would much rather have avoided the media than begged them to shine a spotlight on something.

But in this case, there was a singular goal in mind: getting her daughter out of harm’s way as quickly as possible and to safety.

You will have to read Catherine’s book to see how complicated this journey was. Her daughter India has asked for privacy during this time. We do not know if and how she was culpable in NXIVM’s illicit activities, but few question that she was a victim of Raniere’s intense mind control.

I ask Catherine if India now knows she was “brainwashed.”

“She does not like that word, Catherine states adamantly, “That’s definitely not a word that gets a good reaction so I stopped bringing it up. India feels for the ordeal that I’ve been through. She feels for the ordeals of others.”

By “others”, I privately hope that in time, the empathic India Oxenberg will have little to no sympathy for Keith Raniere.

For now, mums the word, but India has told her mom that she’ll tell her story her way and specifically, in her own time.

To hear India’s carefully crafted statement to the media, you’ll have to check out the Dateline episode. Catherine was able to share with me (and with Megyn Kelly) that she recently reconnected with her daughter and India is safe. The media has reported that she’s away from NXIVM (or what’s left of it currently) now.

When questioned by Megyn Kelly about India’s future (with the allusion of possible lingering effects of NXIVM), Catherine smiled at the interviewer. It was an authentic and heartfelt smile that she hadn’t exhibited publicly in a long, long time. “She will be fine,” she replied, then paused as her smile widened a bit: “…more than fine.”

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#RHONY, Bravo TV, public figures, Reality TV

#RHONY: Crap with the Countess…& Chicago?

A source tells me that Luann De Lesseps’ personal publicist recently fired her. This is ALLEGED, please note, but the source goes on to add that it was because Lu wasn’t being totally truthful about her troubles — and was, generally, a handful to deal with.

This report explains why Bethenny Frankel stepped into the role of spokeswoman for Lu, and why she was the one to give Dave Quinn at People talking points for an article about Luann not attending the reunion (to undergo round two of rehab for alcohol addiction).

The source adds that the folks at Bravo “don’t want to handle her shit anymore.” An interesting Twitter handle to follow that keeps up with the RHONY-Lu shenanigans, and appears to be impressively in the know and legitimately well-connected is @myfeetonfleek.

Celebrity gossip columnist Rob Shuter (The Naughty Gossip) recently expressed to podcast host Kate Casey (Reality Life with Kate Casey) that Luann is at a point where she doesn’t “need” RHONY and has a very full life outside of the show with friends, a packed itinerary and a successful cabaret show.

He said fans should not be surprised if Lu departs the RHONY franchise to focus on family, health and sobriety. Shuter also mentioned that producers from the longstanding Broadway production of Chicago were at one of her #CountessAndFriends (cabaret) performances.

Luann De Lesseps starring in Chicago in the near future? Could that actually happen?

For now, without official personal PR representation, the best person to ask might just be Bethenny!

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Celebrities, public figures

This Week in Celebrity Train-Wrecks: Pete Hits “Delete”

I’ll admit I haven’t thought much about Pete Davidson and Ariana Grande, but my Millennial friends seemed to be obsessed with this odd couple. He’s the quirky SNL comedian who, notably, lost his dad on 9/11, and she’s the high-pony adorned pop star who shows us one side of her face.

She was also thrust into the global spotlight when her concert was attacked by a suicide bomber in Manchester, resulting in 23 fatalities. Both have been exposed to the light and the dark, the comedy, music and absolute horrifying tragedy. Perhaps that makes their pairing more suitable than the untrained eye might assess.

Comedians aren’t strangers to attacks on the tastefulness of their brand of humor, and Davidson hasn’t escaped public ire for his own questionable comments and jokes. He’s never really been my “cup of tea”, but perhaps I would change my mind if I saw a solo performance in a club.

When it comes to Ariana, I think of her licking donuts without planning to buy them and proceeding to call America fat. That flashback is redeemed by the recall of her returning to Manchester much later on, post tragedy, to show her support for the people and raise money for the victims.

Otherwise, I cannot name a single song of hers, but I was born in 1974 and I still think Queen and Erasure are two of the best popular music groups to exist – I may not be the best judge.

Pete and Ariana’s engagement had been a thing that had fans speculating and gossiping daily. It all seemed like a whirlwind and folks were placing bets on how long this duo would last. Then “news” broke earlier today that Pete had hit delete on his Instagram. “No more Ariana posts?!” one onlooker exclaimed in a Facebook group devoted to celeb gossip.

Pete’s Instagram activity coincided with a tweet from Ariana:

Fans, particularly those avidly tuned in to celebrity shit-shows, are speculating that the couple is kaput and are on their edges of their seats waiting to see what happens next.

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Judaism, public figures, Religion

Martin Luther King’s Impact on Judaism

Not too long ago, I was trying to think of ways to teach my young children about Martin Luther King. While searching online for books about Rosa Parks and “I had a Dream,” a certain Facebook thread caught my eye. A close friend had just seen Rabbi Capers Funnye – an African American convert to Judaism and the head rabbi of a Chicago synagogue – in a local restaurant. Rabbi Funnye, who according to The New York Times used to hear the joke “Funnye, you don’t look Jewish,” is also a cousin of Michelle Obama.

Apparently, he was in the neighborhood speaking about African American Jewry as part of a series of similar lectures taking place across the country.

In addition to being the first African American “Head Rabbi” of a synagogue, Funnye co-founded the Alliance of Black Jews in 1995. I thought how appropriate it was that my friend’s sighting took place the night before Martin Luther King Day. According to Funnye, King is his hero, the predecessor who set the groundwork for the Rabbi’s tremendous efforts and strides.

In recent times, Rabbi Funnye has brought a lot of positive attention to the African American Jewish community, one that is being embraced by Jews across the nation and finally getting the recognition and respect it deserves. Despite encountering some initial hesitation as the first and only black “Head Rabbi,” Funnye contends in the New York Times article, “I am a Jew, and that breaks through all color and ethnic barriers.”

While reading about Funnye and how he decided to convert to Judaism after extensive exploration into religion (converting is no easy feat for anyone regardless of race, nor is being born Jewish!), I decided I had something to add to what I was teaching my children. Martin Luther King Jr. did not just impact the world, he did not just pave the way for other African American leaders who we respect today, but he impacted the Jewish community as well. Rabbi Funnye is evidence of that. Imagine how much harder the rabbi would have had to work to represent the African American Jewish community had there been no King. Funnye’s continuous, tireless efforts might be fruitless today had it not been for his influential predecessor.

It is my hope that my children have the opportunity to meet Rabbi Funnye at an upcoming talk and see how far not only our country, but our religion, has come since Martin Luther King Jr. spoke and shared his dream.

Originally published here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/shira-hirschman-weiss/martin-luther-king-impact_b_810063.html.

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Bravo TV, Psychology, public figures, Reality TV

An Abundance of Ashleys

Between the years of 1983 and 1988, “Ashley” was a top choice for American parents naming baby girls. It was, in fact, the second most popular girl’s name in the nation in 1985, which means if you are a Millennial, there’s a good chance you know an Ashley or two…or seven as I currently have programmed in my phone.

On reality television now, there are three Ashleys – within the aforementioned cohort – who have people talking. Perhaps there is a special formula for all Ashleys to crack (one I wish I knew!) because each of the three Ashleys I’m about to discuss have either had to overcome hurdles in the maze of reality TV, perception and reality, or are still bumbling through that complicated labyrinth.

Let’s begin with Ashley Iaconetti from The Bachelor franchise. This Ashley first came to our collective attention during Chris Soules’ season of The Bachelor. She was the emotionally overwrought Kardashian lookalike who seemed to cry on a whim. She also quickly became known to us for another more notable characteristic: being the virgin and was rapidly embraced by Bachelor Nation, the dysfunctional franchise-family that feverishly recycles favorites in spinoffs. So of course, Ashley appeared, and shed a ton of tears, on Bachelor in Paradise and later found lust on Bachelor Winter Games.

After many overly emotional scenes and plenty of loud sobs regarding being relegated to the “friend zone,” Iaconetti’s long-time pal and crush from Paradise finally started to reciprocate her feelings. She had cried over him in Paradise and had been encouraged to give up hope by their mutual friend (former Bachelor) Nick Viall. Years and too many tears later, after baring her soul to cameras ad nauseum, Ioconetti has been publicly vindicated, I guess: The object of her documented obsession, Jared Haibon, recently proposed. The perpetually pining princess will need to be recast as the fiance who turned her commitment phobic pumpkin into her prince.

Another Ashley who some of you are familiar with is Ashley Borders of Southern Charm Savannah. I wasn’t wild about the show, a sentiment not uncommon among Bravo fans, but I found this Ashley endearing even before I had the chance to meet her in person and confirm this.

A crowd of white, somewhat wealthy Savannians were introduced to us as a group of friends – except immediately, we got the sense that Borders was more of a free spirit. This was especially so when juxtaposed with the more traditional, snooty Southerner cast mates. They seemed stuck in the past and we witnessed how they were so bothered by Borders’ bathing suit-clad bod and the effect it might have on the taken men. It was clear that Borders was merely an on-camera friend to those who shunned her on the show, and we got a glimpse of the more liberal Savannians who accepted her, like the cute jewelry designer who appears in one episode.

According to one of my sources in Savannah, Ashley was demoted from a main cast member to a “friend of” for the soon to be airing Season Two. This was because the least likable, most stodgy and snobbish cast mates refused to film with her. Luckily enough, not all of them are total dicks, so although Borders will not get the redemption season she deserves after cast mates lambasted her last season, she will appear in a few scenes this time around.

Last season, while focused on her fashion career, she had a side gig with Delta airlines that afforded her travel opportunities. Her cast mates made a big deal about the side gig, calling her dishonest because she didn’t talk as much about it. In doing so, they unwittingly brought attention to their elitist and classist notions about career choices.

Ashley Borders’ liberal views and openness towards those from all walks of life, made her a breath of fresh air alongside this catty and cliquish crew. It will be interesting to see if she gets some redemption in her diminished role this season. Perhaps refraining from having to hang out too much with elitist cast mates is vindication enough for anyone.

The last of the Ashleys on my mind is the most talked about currently. Ashley Jacobs of Bravo’s Southern Charm (the original Southern Charm, as Savannah is a newer addition to the main franchise) is getting a lot of attention for her missteps on the show, as well as backfiring efforts to repair her image via social media.

Jacobs has had a really tough season and is in over her head as a reality television rookie. The hospice nurse attached herself to a paramour with a personal baggage, including the fact that he and his ex (the mother of his two kids) film together seasonally. It has not gone well for Jacobs who clashes on camera during the current season with Kathryn Dennis, mom to her beau Thomas Ravenel’s children.

While initially welcomed by the rest of the crew, they have taken several steps back from Jacobs and rallied around Dennis. The shifting allegiances, and the apparent disdain for Jacobs that has grown since cameras stopped rolling, attest to several complicated off-camera storylines.

The gossip blogs have played their own part in pitting the Charmers against one another.

While everyone loves a comeback and a redemption tale, many fans feel she is beyond reproach and that the influences behind her behavior, the motives and some of the individuals who nudged her behavior along (i.e. those bloggers), will never be revealed to the public.

To me, it would be a shame if we don’t get to see how bloggers contributed, how Jacobs’ relationship with Ravenel factored in, and whether or not Jacobs will acknowledge her bad behaviors after the upcoming reunion airs…Even more so, when ample time passes and realities (beyond reality TV) set in.

Whether Jacobs will have her opportunity to turn the tide and change the minds is something that seems more uncertain than what is likely for the other Ashleys. Her words seemed more astounding, more regrettable and her actions post-filming more shocking. However, when a person takes major initiatives to revamp their life and starts to see things differently, it’s a beginning towards healing all that has been greatly damaged. Having seen young reality stars mature and become more humbled by public reaction, who knows what could happen in the future after life changes offer new perspectives….In the United States of Amnesia, (to borrow the late Gore Vidal’s term) I’ve witnessed fans change their minds when it previously seemed impossible.

Perhaps there is some formula for all Ashleys to follow in order to become successful – especially in this arena of reality television. Or maybe you don’t believe there’s anything significant about a particular name. Rather, that the three Ashleys above coincidently had rough starts, and faced the challenge of being scrutinized by cast mates, viewers and the world of social media.

In the event that it’s not a fluke, here are Things To Know About the Name Ashley if you happen to be an Ashley yourself or know someone who is.

(The title of this post was inspired by the title of John Green’s novel, An Abundance of Katherines.)

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#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.

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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)

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