Danielle Roberts branded the women of NXIVM’s elite society known as Dominus Obsequious Sororium (DOS) — and says she has no regrets.
“I think Keith is a brilliant man and that DOS is a tremendous organization,” she told The Post during an exclusive interview.
“Keith” is Keith Raniere, the leader of the notorious sex cult based in Clifton Park, NY, that purported to deliver members self-empowerment. But, as US Attorney Richard Donoghue said in a 2018 statement, Raniere “created a secret society of women whom he had sex with and branded with his initials, coercing them with the threat of releasing their highly personal information and taking their assets.”
Between January and May 2017, Roberts used a cauterizing tool to brand 18 of her fellow female followers as part of an initiation ritual. The women lay nude as Roberts permanently stamped — scarred — them just below their bikini line with an insignia incorporating Raniere’s initials, KR.
In her book “Scarred,” former NXIVM member Sarah Edmondson refers to the video-recorded ceremonies as “a sadistic type of conditioning.”
But Roberts disagreed. “It was beautiful,” said the 40-year-old, who herself was branded with the insignia. “It was about trust. They would come in … and give me a hug. It was a very meaningful initiation ceremony.”
Raniere, 61, is now serving a 120-year prison sentence, convicted of sex-trafficking and other crimes, and some of the organization’s higher-ups — including “Smallville” actress Allison Mack, 39, and Seagram’s heiress Clare Bronfman, 42 — have also been ordered to prison.
The women being initiated did not know until they entered the room that Roberts would be the one to brand them.
“A big part of DOS was learning to surrender, to overcome fears of letting go, to trust other women,” said the osteopath, who has since been stripped of her medical license. “Most of the information was confidential and on a need-to-know basis.”
There were four or so other women in the room — all naked, except for Roberts and the group’s “master,” a high-level female who oversaw the proceedings and who included Allison Mack.
“I wore a blouse and a nice pair of slacks,” Roberts told The Post. “I looked presentable because it was very meaningful to me.” The other women were necessary in order to hold down the person being branded. “There would be people stabilizing the person. On occasion, you can get a small electric shock from cauterizing. You wouldn’t want to be kicking or jumping, so as not to mess up the brand.”
She added: “The women getting the brand wanted to be secured.”
In her book, Edmondson describes the branding as “permanent trauma to my consciousness.” But Roberts claims that Edmondson has “run a fear campaign and convinced [former members] that they were abused.”
The ceremonies took place in the Clifton Park, NY, townhouse of Mack, in a room that “was [formerly] an office or bedroom,” Roberts said. “We took the furniture and pictures out. There was ambient light. We had a massage table in there with sterile coverings, the cauterizing machine and other materials for branding.”
Officially, cauterizing machines are designed for the largely antiquated medical purpose of killing skin cells through targeted applications of heat, nearing 2,200 degrees, in order to stave off infections. Roberts purchased a cauterizing machine for the sessions.
Roberts began by stenciling the insignia, using carbon paper and a stylus, just “below the woman’s left hip,” she said. As she traced the image with the cauterizing tool, “for every line [branded], there was an intentional reading. DOS was creating teachings to help us develop love and devotion. Love and care. There were [readings] about [the women’s] commitments to their masters and to their selves.
“Tolerance for pain impacted the time I would spend [with the cauterizing stylus on her skin],” Roberts explained. “It might be five seconds per line. Or three seconds. It was maybe two minutes of pain all told.”
She admitted that some of the women “needed breathers” mid-branding, but said this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. “You can be excited about overcoming pain. This was a way to help women surrender and realize that they can take pain. They were empowered. They felt bad-ass after enduring the pain. That was the point.”
Besides, Roberts added: “With the 18 I did, none backed out.”
Roberts grew up in East Moriches, NY, in Suffolk County, the studious daughter of a homebuilder father and waitress mother. She was a serious gymnast for nine years, but stopped at 13 due to ankle injuries, and struggled with compulsive eating as a teenager.
She overcame her challenges and worked her way through New York College of Osteopathic Medicine, finishing her residency in 2011 and partnering in an alternative-medical practice in Long Island. Robert later went on to work at various hospitals as an osteopath, including St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany, where she met Dr. Brandon Porter in 2013.
“At the time I was interested in what could measurably help people to be more joyful,” Roberts said. “Dr. Porter had moved from Iowa to Albany so he could work on measuring the emotional and physical effects of Mr. Raniere’s programs.”’
Introduced to the group by her co-worker, Roberts joined up with NXIVM, moving to Albany in late 2014 and taking classes. By 2016 she and Raniere developed a workshop series that claimed to relieve physical ailments, such as chronic back pain, “by re-patterning clients’ bodies through different postures, exercises and manual adjustments.”
She describes her relationship with Raniere as platonic, but did say: “He kissed me romantically once. I loved him deeply in a lot of ways. I was open. I respected him. If something developed between us, I would have been open to it.”
In 2016 Roberts joined DOS. “As part of being together and being comfortable in our own skin, [she and the other women] would be naked together and take photos of ourselves naked,” said Roberts. “I experienced it as more of a bonding and freeing experience than a sexual experience.”
One year later, she herself received the group’s brand, done by a body-modification specialist in Brooklyn. “Having a brand symbolized my commitment to the women of DOS and to myself. The brand symbolized permanence,” she said. “It was a tribute to Keith. I thought it was beautiful.”
So much so that when Roberts got tapped by Mack to be the group’s brander in 2017, she accepted. A branding artist in Brooklyn provided tutelage. Though one does not learn branding while studying to be a doctor, Roberts said, “Did going through medical school give me certain skills? Absolutely. Did I call on those skills? Absolutely.”
By 2018, her old co-worker Porter would find himself under investigation by New York state’s medical oversight board, charged with conducting “fright studies” for Raniere and NXIVM. He was accused of showing subjects ultra-violent movies of “horrific and brutal murders and dismemberment.” The New York State Health Department revoked his medical license in 2019.
Things had begun unraveling for NXIVM and for Roberts herself in 2017. Edmondson, who was a member of the group from 2002 until 2017, filed a New York State Department of Health complaint against Roberts for practicing medicine negligently. (Roberts said that branding was not associated with her medical work and Edmondson was not a patient.)
In a letter dated July 11, 2017, and seen by The Post, the department opted to not take action because “the information you have described is not medical misconduct.” Months later, Edmondson took her story to The New York Times and a Web site called the Frank Report. Soon after, the complaint was reconsidered. Roberts lost her license earlier this year; she is appealing the decision. The Department of Health would not comment for this story.
“Before Sarah broke her word, went public and started scaring the daylights out of people, everything was fine,” Roberts told The Post. “I was working my butt off on things that were meaningful. Then a patient [at the hospital where Roberts worked] saw what Frank [Report] had posted and sent it to a supervisor. I was mortified and told him that it was not truthful in how they spun it.” Nevertheless, she added, “My employer would not renew my contract.”
NXIVM suspended operations on June 12, 2018. Roberts’ employment options dwindled.
She insists that Edmondson is revising history. In her book, Edmondson describes the branding pain as causing her to “disassociate myself out of my body.” But Roberts claims to possess proof of something else: “I have the video of Sarah [being branded] … She was so moved at the end that she kissed her teacher Lauren [Salzman, who avoided jail time by testifying against Raniere]. Tears came down her eyes. Sarah makes it sound horrible, worse than childbirth, with burning flesh. [But] Sarah was making fart jokes during the branding. She talked about being branded after going on a Hallmark audition.”
When asked for comment Edmondson told The Post via e-mail, “My lawyer asked me to refrain from doing any media right now.”
Roberts said she sold her Westbury, NY, home to make ends meet in February 2019. That August, she lost her job as an aerobics instructor “after a client I tried to help with a shoulder injury said that I tried recruiting her daughter into an organization; this is untrue.” Roberts turned to selling life insurance in October 2019.
She currently resides in Wisconsin, living rent-free in a sympathetic friend’s home.
Roberts has no regrets about the branding or her own involvement in the cult. In fact, she is miffed that she escaped prosecution during the cult’s federal criminal trial.
“The fact that Moira Penza [the lead government attorney in the Raniere trial] did not consider me as a subject of the investigation is somewhat of an insult to me,” said Roberts. “It means, in this court case, she considered me a victim. She did not consider the third possibility: that nothing wrong was done and that we were consenting adults participating with full agency. Some people were willing to take responsibility for that while others claimed to be victims of their choices.”
She added The Post that Edmondson and some 80 NXIVM participants are launching a civil lawsuit against her and others in the organization.
“They took my medical license, which cost me $300,000 in schooling. They destroyed my career and my reputation. These are the hardest years of my life,” Roberts said. “But I am proud of who I am and who I am becoming by staying true to myself despite tremendous forces to turn against my friends or claim to be victims.”