Rick Ross interview with Hurontaria

Hurontaria - Canadian Czech-out Monthly/June 1999
By Jan Hurych

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is an internationally recognized consultant on religious cults. He is considered a leading expert on destructive cults, including the Branch-Davidians, whom he began studying in 1988. Prior to the standoff, Ross was successful in bringing four Davidians out of their groups (two from the Waco compound) as a result of his intervention work and during the tragic standoff in Waco, he was consulted by both the ATF and the FBI.

Ross also found serious problems caused by cults and radical groups within the prisons and jails of Arizona. In response he founded a statewide Jewish prisoner program and his work as a program coordinator and resource person regarding cults was well recognized and culminated with his election as chairman of both the Religious Advisory Committee, for the Arizona Department of Corrections and the International Coalition of Jewish Prisoner Programs, sponsored by B'nai B'rith. In 1986 Ross left the staff of Jewish Family Service to become a full time private consultant, lecturer and intervention specialist concerning destructive cults and radical groups. He also has been qualified and testifies as an expert witness in court cases that typically involve child custody and personal injury, related to such groups.

As an intervention specialist, Ross typically works with people who have come under the influence of destructive cults, usually at the request of family members who are seeking to break a group's hold on a loved one. Through interventions that typically last three to five days, Ross tries to help individuals look at their cult experiences objectively. This process is often followed by psychological counseling, and in this connection, Ross frequently consults and works with mental health professionals. He states that over the years about 75% of his clients have broken free from their cult domination.

Ross has been quoted in such publications as Newsweek, The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, The Associated Press, Globes, and Davaar. He has appeared on The Today Show, Good Morning America, 48 Hours, Day One, ABC News, Nightline, Dateline, as well as on numerous radio shows and television spots in Japan and Canada. Rick Ross has been interviewed by some of the most well-known figures in the media, such as Phil Donahue, Geraldo Rivera, Ted Koppel, Joan Lunden, Oprah Winfrey and others.

Mr. Ross has lectured at such prestigious institutions as the University of Chicago, Carnegie Mellon, Baylor, and the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. His lecture venues have included universities, colleges, private schools, community events, seminars and educational conferences. Further information is provided on his page / as well as the direct link to contact an agent for arrangements regarding booking him for a future lecture. There are also several links in the interview which follows.


The main purpose of cult "programming" is of course to gain control over their members, that is over their free will as well as financial reserves, I presume. So more and more people get lured into different cults and societies than ever before. Could you tell us what methods of deprogramming you recommend most?


At one time, due to the reluctance of cult groups to allow members to dialogue with their families and professionals about their involvement (or even to allow families access to a loved one) --"involuntary deprogramming" became the choice of some families as a last resort. That is, they held their adult children involuntarily for brief periods of a few days to hear their concerns, specific information about the group and analysis about its persuasion techniques. However, today due to civil litigation funded by cults this option for families has been eliminated. Instead, the only form of cult intervention now practiced is voluntary--with the exception of minor children under the direct supervision of a custodial parent.

"Voluntary deprogramming" is sometimes referred to as "exit-counseling", "thought reform consultation", "intervention therapy" or simply cult intervention. This is similar to a drug or alcohol intervention and consists essentially of a family and/or concerned individuals, sitting down with an involved adult and discussing their concerns. In a cult intervention information is presented about the group that the member is most often not aware of. This is typically facilitated by a professional cult intervention specialist--sometimes called an "exit counselor", "thought reform consultant" or most commonly a "cult deprogrammer" who works within an ethical framework.

This consists of a series of meetings that may last several days through which information is provided that may include reviewing documentaries, news programs, court records and certain reports about the group in question. This might also involve a former member of the group offering personal insights. An intervention can be seen as somewhat of an educational seminar. It is focused on the group, personal involvement, the specific methodology certain groups may use to influence people and how that process of persuasion takes place.


While reading for instance the book about "Heavens Gate", I was surprised how many intelligent and highly educated people could get under the spell of cult programmers. How does that indoctrination works and is it possible that the people with higher education can be even more prone to their influence?


Typically cult groups target universities and colleges. Most likely those schools that maintain campus housing. This represents an opportunity to approach young people (usually 18-26) who are often away from familiar surroundings and support systems for the first time.

There are many myths about cults. Perhaps the most prevalent is that they only successfully can recruit emotionally disturbed or unintelligent people. This is a false assumption and often appears to be a form of denial. That is, "they could never get me." In fact, many groups are largely composed of sophisticated, educated people--who are often the most useful and productive.

Wayne Martin, the second in command at the Waco Davidian compound under David Koresh was a Harvard Law School Graduate. Steve Schneider, the next in line under Wayne Martin--was a seminarian. Within one group led by the "Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh"--85% of the members were college graduates, 25% possessed postgraduate degrees and 15% had doctorates.

Cults look for often naïve, young and perhaps isolated people that may be experiencing a difficult period or situation in life. They offer clarity, answers and seeming solutions to virtually any question or dilemma. Their leaders are most often strong charismatic compelling figures.

Today many celebrities are involved in controversial groups that have been called "cults"--such as Scientology and the Kabbalah Center. Historically Hollywood and the entertainment industry have been rife with such connections to controversial groups. Many people view celebrities as "role models" and may be influenced by their endorsements of such groups.


Contrary to programming, the deprogramming methods are directed towards freeing of such persons from their bondage. Some people are afraid that after deprogramming, there is some void left in a person's mind or even that the deprogramming can go too far. Is there any truth in it?


No. Through "deprogramming" or cult intervention the only issues that are addressed focus upon the specific group and group involvement. The subject of such an intervention subsequently may leave the group and go on with their life reassuming their own basic individual values and beliefs. They may retain certain aspects of the group's worldview such as vegetarianism, meditation, pacifism or other human interests. But they typically will integrate these convictions/commitments into their own unique blend of ideas as opposed to the rather cloned/closed worldview of the cult leader.

There may be some difficulties during a period of adjustment. Specifically, picking up their life again and making their own truly independent decisions. But this recovery period will typically pass and is often assisted by helping professionals such as psychologists and counselors.


Are deprogramming methods more effective at early stages of indoctrination? Are there any simple methods, which will help parents or friends to stop the programming process or reverse it earlier while the damage is not that extensive? And what should they do in later stages?


Most often the earlier a cult member is approached through an intervention the more likely they are to be responsive. Specifically, the group has had less opportunity to indoctrinate and influence that person and they probably have less personal entanglements within the group.

The best method for preventing destructive cult involvement is preventative education. If students and the public at large are more aware of destructive groups beforehand they may better understand and resist their recruitment efforts.

Parents should encourage discussion and reading about controversial groups likely to recruit on a campus their child will attend. This should be done before sending them off to school.

Also, schools share some responsibility and should offer helpful orientations that include general information about such recruitment efforts on their campuses. This can be done effectively without naming certain groups, but instead by simply offering information about the techniques they may employ for recruitment, possible approaches and easy to understand "warning signs".

When families observe a later, deeper stage of cult involvement they may find it necessary to consider the involvement of a professional such as myself in an intervention effort.

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