Who you gonna call? Cultbusters!

McCall, from The Morning Call/October 7, 2005
By Jessica Berthold

Cult News is to shady religious leaders what the Ghostbusters were to demons. An offshoot of an educational Web site about cults, the blog reports news on fringe groups and gurus, all with the belief that sunlight makes the best disinfectant. Rounding out the coverage are topical essays on subjects such as whether Elvis followers constitute a cult.

Since updates on the blog (www.cultnews.com) can be sporadic and infrequent, readers who crave daily dish can head to a companion site, Cult News Network, which has a reader-submitted list of links to breaking cult news.

Q & A, Rick Ross, Creator, Cult News

Rick Ross never thought twice about cults until, he says, one infiltrated the staff of his grandmother's nursing home and tried to indoctrinate her. Ross says he exposed the cult and the workers were fired … and a career was born.

That was back in 1982. Since then the Jersey-based consultant has made a career of researching, testifying and lecturing about cults, as well as performing interventions with victims.

Q: How do you get the info about cults on your blog?

A: People call me and tell me things. I've been doing this a long time and I have a lot of sources.

Q: Did [you initially]...have a long-standing interest in cults?

A: Not at all. It was something that just came up, and as I became more involved, I realized it was a serious problem.

Q: Are there more or fewer cults now than when you started?

A: When I started in 1982 there were nowhere near the number there are today.

Q: Why are more people joining cults?

A: The groups have become more sophisticated. They have learned how to use the Internet and have refined their persuasion techniques. In addition, people feel overwhelmed by an increasingly complex world and these groups [seem to] offer a solution.

Q: Is there a certain type of person who is susceptible to cults?

A: No, I wouldn't say so. [Though] when people are vulnerable, going through a transition, depressed or having personal difficulties, they are more vulnerable. I've worked with people from 5 years old to age 92.

Q: What happens when you do an intervention with a cult member?

A: I present information about the group that the member may not know. I will bring out file after file about the leader. I'll also bring out material about how the group influences people, the techniques they use, how they dominate and subvert [people's independent thinking].

Q: How long does the intervention last?

A: I work with [cult victims typically 8 hours a day] for 24 to 32 hours. That is usually sufficient to get someone out of a group. The key is having enough time. In the cases where I fail, the group is able to interfere and [cult member] abruptly break[s] off the intervention.

Q: Do most people respond to the intervention?

A: 75 percent end up leaving the group.

Q: You used to do ''involuntary'' interventions. What happened there?

A: The only difference [essentially between an involuntary and voluntary intervention] was that the person wasn't free to leave. Typically the family would trick the person into meeting somewhere, then they would block the door, or they might restrain the person in an extreme circumstance. I stopped doing [involuntary interventions] because [cult] groups became quite litigious and I spent [much of] my time in court.

Q: What are your toughest cases for an intervention?

A: The toughest cases I've handled are children who grew up in a [cult] and had no other frame of reference.

Q: How do you differentiate a cult from a legitimate non-mainstream religion?

A: The single defining element is that the group is defined by a living leader, who is the organizational glue. Without that person, there is no cohesiveness. Second, there is a process of indoctrination that leads to impaired thinking [and dependency]. And third, the group is destructive, not benign.

Q: Are you religious?

A: I'm Jewish.

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