NXIVM founder Keith Raniere, in his first interview since his 2018 arrest, said he was at first "embarrassed" and then honored by the female members in the cult who had his initials branded into their skin.
"In a way, [I felt] almost embarrassed," he told "Dateline NBC." "Well, if it was Albert Einstein's initials, no one would care. And then I thought, if it was Brad Pitt's initial maybe you'd have some jealous husband. But that's not what I'm like. So I took it as an honorary thing, a tribute thing. And that brand was going to be tattooed over anyway. It was symbolic."
While he denied being the mastermind behind the branding, he said he felt "responsible" for "all the damages" he participated in. "It's not just a matter of, 'Did I cause it all myself?' I'm involved in the cause of it. And for that, that haunts me forever," he said.
Raniere was convicted last year for racketeering, sex trafficking, sexual exploitation of a child and human trafficking, among other charges that accused him of coercing women into unwanted sex using systematic shame and humiliation. In March 2018, Raniere was arrested in Mexico, where he fled last fall after the New York Times published a report about alleged NXIVM practices like branding women. Raniere had initially pled not guilty to all charges, and was facing up to life in prison. Days prior to his sentencing, Raniere was denied a request for a new trial.
He was sentenced to 120 years in prison in October.
NXIVM was marketed as a "community guided by humanitarian principles that seek to empower people," and he offered self-help workshops, but it was more sinister than that. For example, he created a master-slave group for women where they were branded with his initials above their genitals and had to submit to sex with Raniere and had to give up "collateral" for blackmail.
Raniere managed to recruit members like "Smallville" actress Allison Mack and "Battlestar Galactica" star Nicole Clyne, as well as India Oxenberg, the daughter of "Dynasty" star Catherine Oxenberg.
The interview will air on Friday on "Dateline NBC" at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT. The two-hour episode will reveal new details about NXIVM and includes an interview with former member Danielle Roberts, who defended the female cult members' branding of Raniere's initials.