Expert warns Hebrew High students and parents about cults

The Phoenix Jewish News October 24, 1997
By Stacey M. Ewert

Mom and Dad are lounging in the living room watching "Seinfeld." Meanwhile, their teenage son is in his bedroom surfing the Internet via his PC. It sounds like an innocent family evening, but unbeknownst to the parents, their son could be communicating with members of destructive cults right in their own home.


This scenario is one Rick Ross, cult expert and intervention specialist, said he sees more and more frequently in his work. Warning about the dangers of cults, Ross spoke to a group of more than 330 Phoenix High School of Jewish Studies (Hebrew High) students and 100 of their parents at Back to School night, Oct. 14 at Temple Solel in Paradise Valley.

Hebrew High Principal Myra Shindler said after the talk: "We got good feedback from the parents. They were made more aware of things that are going on in schools and groups the students are hearing about."

Ross, who is Jewish, has been "deprogramming" individuals who have fallen prey to destructive groups since 1982. He has testified as an expert witness in numerous court cases, advised law-enforcement officials in his area expertise, and appeared on many national television programs, including most recently the "Today Show, " "Geraldo," and "Web TV." He has been building a database of such groups for more than a decade.

Without any doubt, if they if they attend a major university within the United States, they will be confronted by cult recruiters," Ross said of students.

Therefore, young people must be taught how to identify these destructive groups so that they can avoid involvement from the onset.

When group members' perceptions of right and wrong are skewed by the influence of their leader, a red flag should go up, he noted.

Many of the names of cult groups can be deceiving. For example, Ross said the Unification Church, commonly known as the Moonies, has more than 300 [front] names that he is aware of. "It is more important to identify. the way [cults act] than their names, because they [often] change their names."

Although a group fits the definition of a cult, it may be benign, Ross added. He uses Webster's Dictionary's definition of a cult: "1. a formal religious veneration; 2. a system of religious beliefs and rituals, also its body of adherents; 3. a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious, also its body of adherents; 4. a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator; 5. a: a great devotion to a person, idea, thing; especially such devotion regarded as a literary or intellectual fad, b: a usually small circle of persons united by devotion or allegiance to an artistic or intellectual movement or figure."


This could include a broad range of groups from Barbie doll collectors and Deadheads to Heaven's Gate and [the] Waco [Davidian] cult members, ROSS said. But groups such as the Deadheads —followers of the rock group the Grateful Dead—generally pose no danger; "They just listened to Jerry Garcia [and likely listened when he said] why don't you buy some T-shirts and albums and have a good time."

Other groups that fit the cult definition, such as the "New Age" or [spirit]"channelers", might be considered eccentric, but that doesn't mean they are destructive, ROSS said. Even many self-proclaimed Satanists don't believe in hurting anyone. "We may be repulsed by what they do, but as long as they don't hurt people and it is between consenting adults, it is none of our business," he said.

Teens and young adults are vulnerable to cults because they are often seeking a place to fit in with society, noted John Crawford, an Arizona State University professor of communications and cult expert, in an interview with Jewish News.

"Groups that promise some kind of idealistic impact on the world are the biggest threat. That has big appeal to young people," he said.

These groups are not necessarily religious in nature, Crawford pointed out, but many-of the groups Ross investigates operate at least under the guise of religion. Some of the groups identified on his Web site at are not necessarily cults, but they [may] practice some form of misleading or dishonest tactics.

Ross emphasized to the students the importance of not getting involved with anything that they hadn't researched. "Students need to be wary of any group that approaches them," he advised. Don't go to a gathering without understanding what you are involved in."

Shindler said the presentation "was important because the students found out that it's not just weirdos that are being sucked into different groups, but it's kids just like them."


To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.