Rick Ross made a living as one of the most active deprogrammers of the 1980s and 90s. Ross now promotes himself as a so-called “cult expert.”
The late Rev. Dean Kelley, Executive for Religious Liberty for the National Council of Churches and one of the most persistent critics of deprogramming, called it “protracted spiritual gang-rape” and “the most serious violation of our religious liberty in this generation.”
Ross blatantly admits on his website that he has committed more than a dozen involuntary deprogrammings (kidnappings) of adult individuals, mainly Christians, and at least that many more on minors. Ross neatly omits these matters when establishing himself with media as a self-professed “cult expert.”
A review of Ross’ educational background shows that quite apart from being anti-Christian (he refers to Christians as “Bible bangers”), he has no educational credentials in religion. To the contrary, his only formal degree is a high school diploma. Self-aggrandizement and personal financial reward seem to be Ross’ primary motives for his attacks on Christians and members of other faiths.
The underlying problem with Ross professing to be an “expert” was best expressed by Nancy Ammerman, a preeminent religious scholar and one of the experts tasked by the Justice Department to evaluate the BATF’s (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) and FBI’s handling of the Branch Davidians in the tragedy at Waco, Texas. Ross claims to have acted as a behind-the-scenes “consultant” for the FBI.
In her September 1993 report to the Justice and Treasury Departments, Dr. Ammerman was particularly critical of the government’s consultation of Rick Ross and the now-defunct Cult Awareness Network:
In their attempt to build a case against the Branch Davidians, BATF did interview persons who were former members of the group and at least one person who had ‘deprogrammed’ a group member. Mr. Rick Ross, who often works in conjunction with the Cult Awareness Network (CAN), has been quoted as saying that he was ‘consulted’ by the BATF.… The Network and Mr. Ross have a direct ideological (and financial) interest in arousing suspicion and antagonism against what they call ‘cults.’ These same persons seem to have been major sources for the series of stories run by the Waco newspaper, beginning February 27. It seems clear that people within the ‘anti-cult’ community had targeted the Branch Davidians for attention. Although these people often call themselves ‘cult experts,’ they are certainly not recognized as such by the academic community.
The activities of the Cult Awareness Network were viewed by the National Council of Churches (among others) “as a danger to religious liberty, and deprogramming tactics have been increasingly found to fall outside the law.”
Instead of providing factual data and constructive advice, which might have defused the Waco situation and saved lives, CAN and Ross exploited and inflamed tensions to further their own anti-religious agenda. In the end, dozens of men, women and children died.
An unbiased review of Ross’ activities overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that Ross systematically engages in antisocial and often illegal activities. Deprogramming, which appeared to be his main source of income until he faced a multimillion-dollar judgment in a case brought against him by one of his deprogramming victims in 1995, is such an activity.
Ross’ criminal activity… brought about the demise of the Cult Awareness Network, which was exposed as a criminal referral network for kidnappers. The jury also issued a finding against CAN for $1.8 million, which bankrupted the group.
Through violence and intimidation, Ross and his cohorts kidnapped parishioners of various faiths and held them for days against their will in an effort to force them to recant their religious beliefs. By the time Ross and CAN were finally called to account for their actions in a court of law, the damage to the individuals and their families had been devastating.
Ross specializes in garnering media attention to create fear and suspicion among family members of individuals in religious groups. He then exploits this fear to get them to pay him thousands of dollars in fees to coerce people out of their chosen religious faith. Close scrutiny of Ross’ “successful” deprogrammings very often finds broken families and dehumanized individuals who were coerced, lied to and degraded by deprogrammers into renouncing their religious beliefs.
Public records reveal that Ross has been the subject of at least three arrests, including an attempted burglary, embezzlement of $100,000 worth of jewelry, and kidnapping. Two of these arrests resulted in convictions. In the third, Ross’ co-conspirators pleaded guilty to lesser charges while Ross evaded a guilty charge. Ross was sued civilly by the victim in the same kidnapping incident and was punished by the jury, ordered to pay over $3 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
Burglary: On December 22, 1974, 22-year-old Rick Ross and Jeffrey Ward Nuzum attempting to commit burglary were caught in the act by Phoenix police and arrested. Ross pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy and was sentenced to 10 days in jail and placed on probation for a period of one year.
Grand Theft by Embezzlement: On July 23, 1975, Ross held up a jewelry store in Phoenix, Arizona, making off with approximately $100,000 in diamonds and “precious paraphernalia.” He had given the clerk a note threatening to detonate a bomb that he had brought into the store if the clerk didn’t hand over the diamonds.
It was later discovered that Ross and the clerk had set up the robbery together and split the stolen property. Both confessed to the crime after police overheard them bragging about the heist, and they were arrested and charged with grand theft by embezzlement.
Ross also confessed to the police that he had been plotting the crime for three months prior to the robbery and that during this time, he had associated with many criminals, bought and used stolen credit cards and had also stolen furniture and appliances from model homes.
In light of his new crime, Ross’ probation from his previous arrest was revoked on July 29, 1975, and his probation was extended to four years.
Deprogramming: In the 1980s, Ross became involved with the Cult Awareness Network, a clearinghouse for deprogrammers. In a letter to CAN’s executive director, Priscilla Coates, dated July 30, 1987, Ross complained about not getting enough deprogramming referrals from CAN and that “some parents are so cheap they prefer to let their kids ‘bang the bible’ than pay.”
In another letter from Ross to Coates, dated April 28, 1988, Ross describes his strategy to manipulate the media to promote his business as a deprogrammer. He told Coates about his idea to get on television as someone that “had deprogrammed fundamentalist Christians” in order to “stimulate some [deprogramming] cases in California.”
The kidnapping incident that led to the multimillion-dollar judgment against Ross took place on January 18, 1991. Jason Scott, an 18-year-old member of a Pentecostal Church, arrived at his family home in Bellevue, Washington, and was jumped by three men hired by Ross. They wrestled him to the ground and dragged him inside.
As described by Anson Shupe and Susan Darnell in their book, Agents of Discord, the kidnapping team “handcuffed his wrists, tied his ankles with rope and gagged him from ear to ear with duct tape. He was finally thrown onto his stomach, his hands beneath him while one of the deprogrammers, weighing 300 pounds, sat on his back…. Jason’s back, legs and upper body were bruised and sore from being dragged across the floors, stairs and a cement patio….”
On January 23, the kidnappers, believing that they had successfully “deprogrammed” Scott, took him to a local restaurant to “celebrate.” Scott fled, called the police and was rescued. Two of the deprogrammers were arrested that day. Rick Ross once again evaded criminal charges.
In 1994, Scott filed a civil lawsuit against Ross that also named the Cult Awareness Network. A jury found Ross and the other defendants liable for civil rights violations and negligence. Jason Scott was awarded $875,000 in compensatory damages and $4 million in punitive damages. An additional award of $1 million in punitive damages was levied against the Cult Awareness Network. After CAN lost its appeals, it filed for bankruptcy and closed down its operation.
The verdict issued by the jury stated that Ross had “recklessly acted in a way that is so outrageous in character and so extreme as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency and to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.”
As a further note on Ross’ predisposition to criminal behavior and violation of the rights of others, when Ross challenged the finding in the civil kidnapping case, the Court upheld the punitive damages award and observed:
A large award of punitive damages is also necessary…. Specifically, the Court notes that Mr. Ross himself testified that he had acted similarly in the past and would continue to conduct ‘deprogrammings’ in the future.
Ross’ criminal activity in this kidnapping case brought about the demise of the Cult Awareness Network, which was exposed as a criminal referral network for kidnappers.