"He is our Vanguard and we do what he says."

Will Raniere End Up Pleading Insanity Or Diminished Capacity?

By K. R. Claviger

Several recent commenters have raised questions about what was going on in Keith Raniere’s mind for the past 20 years as he transformed himself from a geeky RPI graduate (albeit one with a 2.26 GPA) running a company that specialized in bulk-buying retailing to the head of an international cult that brought him unlimited access to wealth and beautiful young women.

Paraphrased versions of some of those comments are as follows:
• Why did he have to claim so many “achievements” that were obviously made-up: e.g., He was able to speak in full sentences at age 1; He was East Coast Judo Champ at age 11; He tied the New York State record for the 100-yard dash)?
• Why was he so greedy?
• Why did he get involved in things like commodities trading that he knew nothing about?
• Why did he have to introduce “branding” as a new requirement for the women that wanted to be in his “inner circle”?
• Why did he always have to keep gambling until he lost?
• Why did he have to be so punitive against the people who chose to leave him (e.g., Toni Natalie, Joe O’Hara, Barbara Bouchey, Susan Dones, Kim Woolhouse, etc.)?
• Why did he promise so many women that they would have children with him?

Those questions have raised lots of interesting questions about who Raniere really is – and what motivated him to do things?

And they have also lead to lots of psychological terms being tossed about – sometimes correctly but oft times not – as people try to explain why Raniere did what he did?

Delusional? – Quite possible…

Psychopath? – Definitely a possibility…

Sociopath? – Almost certainly…

But even if all of those diagnoses turned out to be true, will they have any effect on his legal case? In other words, can any of those diagnoses be used to explain away his decades of criminal activity – and allow him to avoid spending decades in federal prison?

Probably not…None of those diagnoses – even if they were all proven to be 100% true – is likely going to save Raniere from being convicted and going to prison.

But it is equally true that his defense attorneys may try to use some of Raniere’s behaviors to craft an argument that could, in fact, stave off convictions on some/all of the charges he is currently facing – or at least reduce his sentence if he is convicted of any of those charges.

Without getting bogged down into too much legalese, let’s take a look at some of the underlying principles of the American legal system.

Right at the outset is the fundamental notion that most crimes consist of two elements: i.e., the actual action (which is referred to as the actus reus) – and the perpetrator’s awareness that the act they are committing is wrong (which is referred to as the mens rea).

A few crimes – which are often referred to as strict liability crimes – do not require mens rea on the part of the perpetrator. One example of such a strict liability crime would be statutory rape.

In the case at hand, it appears that all the crimes that Raniere is accused of committing will require the prosecution to prove that the underlying act was illegal and that Raniere knew it to be so at the time he was doing it.

This means that the defense attorneys will either have to prove that the underlying acts did not take place – or that Raniere was incapable of knowing that he was committing criminal acts.

I don’t see much hope for the defense attorneys in terms of proving whether the charged activities actually happened. This is where are that evidence that was seized from Nancy Salzman’s house is going to be a real problem for them. And then there are those damn brands that are unlikely to fade away before the date of the trial.

Instead, what the defense attorneys may try to do is prove that Raniere was incapable of understanding that what he was doing was wrong.

This is where “insanity” and “diminished capacity” come in to play. And in this context, both of these are legal concepts rather than medical diagnoses.

In order to utilize insanity or diminished capacity as a defense, Raniere’s lawyers would have to bring in expert witnesses to convince the jury that their client was insane – or, alternatively, that he was incapable of understanding that what he was doing was illegal.

If successful, an insanity defense would result in a verdict of “Not guilty by reason of insanity”.

A diminished capacity argument, on the other hand, would only come into play after Raniere had been found guilty of one or more crimes. More specifically, it would be used to argue that the judge should impose a lesser sentence than would otherwise be appropriate per the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.

To buttress a diminished capacity argument, the expert witnesses would likely try to prove that Raniere was suffering from some sort of mental disease at the time he committed the crimes. Among the ones that that are most commonly cited in these types of cases are the following:
• Dementia
• Dissociative States
• Intoxication
• Irresistible Impulse Disorder
• Manic-Depressive Illness (Bi-Polar Disorder)
• Mental Retardation
• Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
• Schizophrenia

So, buckle up, Frank Report readers because you may well be reading lots more stories about the nuances of insanity pleas and diminished capacity defense arguments over the next few months.

The only question, of course, is whether the great and mighty Vanguard could sit through several days of listening to expert psychiatrists and psychologists describing his various mental problems and diseases.

Somehow, I just don’t think that’s very likely…



Although some states still allow “diminished capacity” to be asserted as a defense, that is not allowed in federal court. There, “diminished capacity” can only be used as an argument for a reduction in the sentence to be meted out for someone who has been convicted.


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News and art, national and local. Began as alternative weekly in 1990 in Buffalo, NY. Publishing content online since 1996.


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  • We have to remember there are distinctions between actual mental illness and “personality disorders” such a narcisissim, borderline personality disorder (which also fits Keith, IMO), and sociopathy. I don’t think personality disorders are valid defenses for diminished capacity. If they were, we’d be in trouble since most thieves, swindlers and murderers fall into one or more of these categories.

  • Not to pull a Nancy Salzman and claim I know anything with no credentials — and maybe Festiger or Klaviger or someone can clarify — but I always thought the etiology or cause more so than symptoms or the way it’s manifest or the degree was what defined the disease.

    That sociopathy = a pathology caused by social environment and psychopathy = a pathology caused by the psyche.

    I used to think Keith was similar to people I know who are diagnosed bipolar but are not at all cruel or self-serving whereas Keith clearly is. That maybe the real reason Keith didn’t drive, never retook the exam, for instance, was because he was having those “Mothman” delusions or something and didn’t trust himself to drive. I often felt sorry for him those days to be perfectly honest. But that was long before his vile criminal acts were exposed, before Gina passed.

    Now, I think Keith more played at being delusional — at being an eccentric, mad genius — to mask his crookedness, narcissism and carry out his crimes.

    • You actually know and have spent a considerable amount of time with KAR so I will always have to defer to your observations. If you think he truly believed the outlandish claims he spouted, such as being like Mothman, then he could have some kind of delusional disorder.


      People with this disorder are hard to diagnose since they can walk among us in society and present themselves to others as perfectly normal. People will come up with ‘evidence’ to support their delusion and have no recollection of being the one who created this ‘evidence’.

      There is an excellent book called Run, Hide, Repeat: A Memoir of a Fugitive Childhood written by a woman whose stepfather suffered from delusional disorder.

      This is also very enlightening


      It’s interesting the author of the above mentioned book is Canadian.

      You can be completely correct that he put on these eccentricities to draw people toward him and he is either a sociopath or a psychopath. What does seem abundantly clear is the only person he cares about is himself.

  • We need to recognize evil does exist.
    It’s not a mental illness. Not insanity.
    Just pure, plain evil.
    Sociopaths are created. How and why we do not know.
    Psychopaths are born, created in the womb.
    Keith appears to be the latter, a psychopath and he attracted those easily swayed and those bent as he is.
    Keep that in mind when politicians want to house sexual predators in one apartment building in your neighborhood.
    It’s the perfect storm as we see has transpired in NXIVM.
    Add to Keith’s psychopathy the funds of the Bronfman’s and justice willing to be bought….

  • Raniere has access to preeminent legal counsel who are undoubtedly aware the success rate of an insanity defense is less than 26%. They are also on record claiming he is fairing well in prison. Smith anuary 5, 2019 at 3:07 pm

    The reality is grimmer than that.
    Very grim.

    According to an eight-state study, the insanity defense is used in less than 1% of all court cases and, when used, has only a 26% success rate.

    Of those cases that were successful, 90% of the defendants had been previously diagnosed with mental illness.

    And the Federal courts have extremely strict interpretations of insanity.
    This case is being tried in Federal court.

    Federal courts

    After the perpetrator of President Reagan’s assassination attempt was found not guilty by reason of insanity, Congress passed the Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984. Under this act, the burden of proof was shifted from the prosecution to the defense and the standard of evidence in federal trials was increased from a preponderance of evidence to clear and convincing evidence.
    Under this new test only perpetrators suffering from severe mental illnesses at the time of the crime could successfully employ the insanity defense. The defendant’s ability to control himself or herself was no longer a consideration.

    Has Keith Raniere already been diagnosed with mental illness?

    Has Clare Bronfman already been diagnosed with mental illness?

    Has Allison Mack already been diagnosed with mental illness?

    Has Nancy Salzman already been diagnosed with mental illness?

    Has Lauren Salzman already been diagnosed with mental illness?

    The very fact that these five criminal defendants organized a complex Conspiracy case involving violation of the RICO statute argues against any mental illness that would prevent a conviction.

    And the Federal courts don’t give a damn what psychiatrists say is mental illness.
    The Act also curbed the scope of expert psychiatric testimony

    The law determines what is mental illness, not psychiatrists.

  • I’ve never known the insanity plea or diminished capacity to be effective pleas. Can’t you think of any high profile case where they’ve been successfully used?

    Raniere and crew will have to face what they’ve sewn. I can, however, imagine that Raniere did not see his actions as criminal. Afterall, Agnifilo has proclaimed that DOS members voluntarily were branded and chose sex with Raniere.

  • Would Raniere, who presents himself as a perfect ethical saviour of humanity and may even believe that he is, actually accept and admit that he is mentally ill? Even if a psychiatrist diagnosed him with a mental illness, he would probably see himself as sane and the psychiatrist would be deemed to be at fault. He would have to weigh up the advantage of using that defence in court for a possible shorter sentence vs the disadvantage of presenting himself to his followers as an imperfect leader.

  • The two statements bracketed [ ] below are in direct opposition.

    In the case at hand, it appears that all the crimes that Raniere is accused of committing will require [the prosecution to prove that the underlying act was illegal] – and that Raniere knew it to be so at the time he was doing it.

    This means that [the defense attorneys will either have to prove] that the underlying acts did not take place – or that Raniere was incapable of knowing that he was committing criminal acts.

    A few points:

    1. The fact is that it is a very high bar to prove insanity and it is the defense’s task to prove it, so I’m not very concerned about this issue. In fact, since it hasn’t been mentioned by his lawyers yet, it is very unlikely to be raised. In almost any cases where it has been successfully used, it came to mind to most people quite early after the crime was revealed, such as the Texas woman who drowned several of her kids (she had to be crazy to do that!);

    2. Issues such as writing the draft letter to threaten various women via a Mexican lawyer would sink using a theory of insanity AND diminished capacity;

    3. The “damn brands” are already shown in the New York Times, the question isn’t whether the burning/cauterizing (damn brands) occurred, it’s whether it was voluntary or coerced/blackmailed.

    4. PTSD is listed twice, I don’t know what that means in terms of which of the listed issues Clavinger has, but this whole “story” is pure fantasy, trying to drum up concern/worry/controversy.

  • He’s not a psychopath.
    Psychopaths aren’t scared little boys inside like Raniere is.
    Psychopaths aren’t usually afraid of anything, at all. Ever.
    His self-preservation quotient is way too high.
    Same reason I don’t think he’ll kill himself after he is sentenced.
    Sociopath, sure.
    His image is everything to him, because it’s everything he knows he isn’t, so he can’t possibly sustain the damage to it of an insanity defence even if his desperate legal team wanted to suggest it.

    • Narcissistic Personality Disorder or something very like in the sociopathy spectrum. There was a video up at one time with him discussing unconscious sociopaths (who didn’t realize what they were) and conscious sociopaths to whom it was all a game, The way he giggled at that thought was chilling – he knows what he is and this was all some sick game to him and he is a pretty sore loser. Hard to know whether his ego protection will win out or whether a diminished capacity plea would be part of playing the game. And that is as far as I want to go in trying to get inside his head – break out the brain bleach.

      • I don’t see why he would have any better chance post-sentencing than Christian Maire.
        Raniere’s abuse of pre-teen girls and Mexican girls will probably be his death sentence.

  • Raniere has access to preeminent legal counsel who are undoubtedly aware the success rate of an insanity defense is less than 26%. They are also on record claiming he is fairing well in prison.

    They would only consider this path if his odds of being found not guilty are lower than 1 in 4. It’s a huge risk for the defendant that involves an admission of committing the acts as charged as well as compromising the integrity of the attorneys themselves.

    It’s far more likely one or more of his lieutenants would consider plea not guilty by reason of insanity. They could point to Raniere and the influence he wielded to claim their ability to make decisions was diminished through participation in the cult.

    • I don’t think the insanity success rate has much to do with the odds of being found not guilty. These are barely overlapping subsets. You used integrity and attorneys in the same sentence, that should result in you as having at least one of the diminished capacity issues listed above. Any underlings can’t blame Raniere for their own insanity or diminished capacity. That’s called brainwashing, which has been discounted in an earlier thread.

    • I do agree, Smith, his lieutenants would have a better chance of arguing some kind of diminished capacity defense if they were footing their own legal bills. Since the legal trust is filled with Bronfrom money it seems unlikely that would be a path they would be allowed to follow. She seems to have blind faith in KAR.

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