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Rick Alan Ross

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Rick Alan Ross
Rick Ross 2014 retouched and cropped.jpg
Cleveland, Ohio
OccupationDeprogrammer, cult specialist, founder and executive director of the Cult Education Institute
WebsiteThe Cult Education Institute

Rick Alan Ross (born 1952) is an American deprogrammer, cult specialist, and founder and executive director of the nonprofit Cult Education Institute.[1] He frequently appears in the news and other media discussing groups some consider cults.[2][3] Ross has intervened in more than 500 deprogramming cases in various countries.[4][5]

Ross faced charges of unlawful imprisonment over a 1991 forcible deprogramming of United Pentecostal Church International member Jason Scott; a jury acquitted him at trial. In 1995, a civil lawsuit filed by Scott resulted in a multimillion-dollar judgement against Ross and his co-defendants. Later, Ross and Scott reached a settlement in which Ross agreed to pay Scott US$5,000 and provide 200 hours of professional services at no charge.

Ross was the only deprogrammer to work with members of the Branch Davidians prior to the Waco siege; some scholars later criticized his involvement with the siege.


Ross was born in 1952 in Cleveland, Ohio, and moved to Phoenix, Arizona in 1956.[6] His mother worked for the Jewish Community Center[7] and his father was a plumber.[8] He was raised and went to school in Arizona with the exception of one year that he was sent to the Camden Military Academy in South Carolina[6] after skipping too much school during high school.[9] He graduated from Phoenix Union High School in 1971.[6]

After high school, Ross worked for two years at a finance company and at a bank, but then got into legal trouble in his early 20s during a time period that he was in between jobs.[9] In 1974, he pleaded guilty to trespassing after being charged for the attempted burglary of a vacant model home with a friend,[9][5] and was sentenced to probation.[8] In 1975, he was charged with grand theft, again with a friend, for embezzling from a jewelry shop where the friend worked.[5][10] He returned everything, pleaded guilty,[11] and was sentenced to 4 more years of probation,[9] which was terminated early.[11] While he was on probation, he worked for a cousin's car salvage business.[8] During an interview with the New York Daily News in 2004, Ross said, "I was young and foolish and made mistakes that I deeply regret. I did whatever the court required, completed my probation in 1979, and the guilty verdicts were vacated in 1983. I have gone on with my life and never again got in that kind of trouble."[10]

Ross became concerned about extremist organizations in 1982 when he learned that a fringe religious group had encouraged missionaries to become employees at his grandmother's nursing home where they were targeting elderly residents[12][5] for conversion to Messianic Judaism.[9] According to Ross, the missionaries were threatening Jewish residents, many of whom had survived persecution in Europe, that they'd burn in hell if they didn't convert.[11] Outraged, Ross brought this to the attention of the home's director and of the local Jewish community and campaigned to have the group's activities stopped.[9][7]


Following the incident at his grandmother's nursing home, Ross continued his involvement in the organized Jewish community and worked with the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix to write a brochure on the cult phenomenon in Arizona.[13][14] This led the Union for Reform Judaism to appoint Ross to two national committees focused on cults and inter-religious affairs[7] and he also volunteered as a lecturer and researcher for the denomination.[8][6]

In 1983, Ross started working for Jewish Family and Children's Services (JFCS) in Phoenix as the coordinator for the Jewish Prisoners Program, which he founded.[7] His work in the prison system covered social services for Jewish inmates, advocating for their religious rights, and providing education regarding hate groups.[15][11] In addition, he chaired the Coalition of Jewish Prisoners Programs, the umbrella organization for an international group of human services agencies providing assistance to Jewish inmates and their families.[15] He also served on the religious advisory committee for the Arizona Department of Corrections and was later elected as its chairman.[16] From his work in the prison system, Ross discovered that prisoners were a prime target for cult groups and through his role on the religious advisory committee, he helped develop a policy on proselytizing to inmates.[7] He also worked for Phoenix Bureau of Jewish Education, designing a curriculum and teaching about destructive cults.[6]

In 1986, Ross left JFCS to become a full-time private consultant and deprogrammer,[8][6] In this capacity, he worked with the Cult Awareness Network (CAN).[17]

In 1989, the CBS television program 48 Hours covered Ross's deprogramming of a 14-year-old boy, Aaron Paron, a member of the Potter's House Christian Fellowship.[18][19] According to his mother, when she distanced herself from the church, Aaron began viewing her as "possessed by the devil"; he became suicidal and ran away from home, refusing to leave the organization.[19][20] Aaron's mother had made multiple calls to the police and, prior to filming, Potter's House entered into an agreement that they would not have contact with or harbor the minor, entice him away from his mother, attempt to influence his behavior, or take any action that would interfere with his mother's parental rights.[19] The program focused on Ross's efforts to persuade the boy to view Potter's House as "a destructive Bible-based group" which took control of its members' lives. According to a review in The New York Times, the 48-hour intervention apparently persuaded Aaron that his mother was not possessed by the Devil and that Potter's House was not what it seemed. In a closing scene filmed three weeks later, Aaron's psychologist assured his mother that Aaron was "back in the land of the living now".[18]

Waco siege

In 1987, Ross deprogrammed two former members of the Branch Davidians in upstate New York, and in 1988 began receiving calls about the Davidian group led by David Koresh in Waco, Texas.[9][21] Ross was the only deprogrammer to work with Branch Davidian members prior to the 1993 siege at Waco.[22] The CBS television network hired Ross as an on-scene analyst for their coverage of the Waco siege and he was consulted by the FBI as well.[9][5]

Criticism of government agencies' involvement with Ross has come from Nancy Ammerman, a professor of sociology of religion, who cited FBI interview notes which stated Ross "has a personal hatred for all religious cults". She further stated the BATF and the FBI did rely on Ross when he recommended that agents "attempt to publicly humiliate Koresh, hoping to drive a wedge between him and his followers".[23] Other scholars of religion also criticized Ross' involvement.[21][23][24]

Jason Scott deprogramming

Ross faced unlawful imprisonment charges over a 1991 forcible deprogramming of United Pentecostal Church International member Jason Scott, whose mother was referred to Ross by the CAN.[25] Ross was acquitted of these charges by the jury at trial.[26][25]

Scott later filed a civil suit against Ross, two of his associates and CAN in federal court. In September 1995, a nine-member jury unanimously held the defendants liable for conspiracy to deprive Scott of his civil rights and religious liberties. In addition, the jury held that Ross and his associates (but not CAN) "intentionally or recklessly acted in a way so outrageous in character and so extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency and to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community." The case resulted in an award of US$875,000 in compensatory damages and punitive damages in the amount of US$5,000,000 against Ross, US$1,000,000 against CAN, and US$250,000 against each of Ross's two other co-defendants. The case bankrupted the CAN, and a coalition of groups that were attacked by the CAN bought its assets, and ran a new version of the CAN which become active in religious freedom causes.[27][28][29] According to Eugene Gallagher, the Scott case marked a watershed for non-traditional religions in North America.[28][30]

Scott later reconciled with his mother, who had originally hired Ross to deprogram him. Scott terminated his lawyer, Kendrick Moxon, a prominent Scientologist attorney,[31] and was persuaded by his mother to settle with Ross. Under the terms of the settlement, the two agreed that Ross would pay Scott US$5,000 and provide 200 hours of his professional services.[32]

According to the book American Countercultures, Ross and others forwarded the notion that charismatic leaders were able to brainwash college-aged youths, and that such cases were in need of forcible removal from the cult environment and deprogramming.[33] In a book that Ross self-published in 2014, he wrote that after the Scott case he stopped involuntary deprogramming work with adults,[34]:196 advising against such interventions with adults because of the risk of legal consequences.[34]:XIV


Ross started a website with his archives in 1996.[1] Launched under the name "Rick A. Ross Institute for the Study of Destructive Cults, Controversial Groups, and Movements", it displayed material on controversial groups and movements and their leaders, including Charles Manson, Jim Jones, David Koresh, as well as the Westboro Baptist Church on which Ross had been collecting data since 1993.[1] Content from the website and Ross' opinion surrounding it has been cited in books such as Andrew Breitbart and Mark Ebner's Hollywood, Interrupted in which Ross is quoted as forwarding the notion that Hollywood and the entertainment industry is rife with connections to controversial groups, and that celebrities as role models may influence people by their endorsement of such groups.[35] According to Ann E. Robertson, the Institute "is an unusual source of considerable information about rather obscure groups".[36]

In April 2004, NXIVM sued unsuccessfully against the Institute in NXIVM Corp. v. Ross Institute, claiming copyright infringement.[37] In June 2004, Landmark Education filed a US$1 million lawsuit against the Institute, alleging that the Institute's online archives damaged Landmark Education's product.[3] In December 2005, Landmark Education filed to dismiss its own lawsuit with prejudice, purportedly on the grounds of a material change in case law after the publication of an opinion in another case, Donato v. Moldow, regarding the Communications Decency Act of 1996.[3]

The website was renamed in 2013 as the "Cult Education Institute for the Study of Destructive Cults, Controversial Groups and Movements", published under an educational nonprofit corporation of the same name.[38][39]

Other activities

By 2004, Ross had handled more than 350 deprogramming cases in various countries [8] and testified as an expert witness in several court cases.[8][40][41] He has also contributed to a number of books, including a foreword to Tim Madigan's See no Evil[42] and a chapter to Roman Espejo's Cults: Opposing Viewpoints.[43]

In 2014, Ross self-published the book Cults Inside Out.[34] The book has been translated into Chinese and Italian.[44][45]


  1. ^ a b c Jason Nark for March 12, 2011 Cults are Jersey man's bread and butter
  2. ^ Gina Tron (October 22, 2020). "Who Is Rick Ross, The Cult Expert That NXIVM Spent Millions Suing And Allegedly Surveilling?". Oxygen. Retrieved May 16, 2021.
  3. ^ a b c Toutant, Charles Suits Against Anti-Cult Blogger Provide Test for Online Speech, New Jersey Law Journal, January 10, 2006
  4. ^ Henry, Joanie Cox (July 20, 2015), "Palm Beach woman at center of explosive new book, 'The Unbreakable Miss Lovely'", Sun Sentinel
  5. ^ a b c d e Zinsli, Christopher (April 14, 2007), "He ain't afraid of no cults", Jersey City Reporter
  6. ^ a b c d e f "Biography". Cult Education Institute. Retrieved June 3, 2016.
  7. ^ a b c d e DeRosa, Elaine (February 1989), "Challenging Cults, Cultivating Family", Greater Phoenix Jewish News
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Johnstone, Nick (December 12, 2004). "Beyond Belief". The Observer. London. Retrieved October 24, 2008.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h Ortega, Tony (November 30, 1995). "Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlatans. Clients of deprogrammer Rick Ross call him a savior. Perhaps that's why people he's branded cult leaders want to crucify him". Phoenix New Times. Retrieved April 27, 2006.
  10. ^ a b Grove, Lloyd; Lipsky-Karasz, Elisa (January 13, 2004), "Busting on the 'cult buster'", New York Daily News
  11. ^ a b c d Narinsky, Judy (November 1, 1995), "Q & A Brainwashed: Rick Ross talks about deprogramming members of religious cults", Willamette Week
  12. ^ Willis, Stacy J. (August 24, 2001), "Arrival of cult specialist in Las Vegas stirs debate", Las Vegas Sun
  13. ^ Lessner, Richard (1982), "Taking Aim: Efforts to convert Jews draw fire from interdenominational group", The Arizona Republic
  14. ^ "Cult Expert Rick Ross watching Kabbalah Centre Closely", Cleveland Jewish News, July 29, 2004
  15. ^ a b "Three Nation Umbrella Org. to Aid Jewish Prison Inmates, Families", National "Jewish Press", April 1986
  16. ^ "Ross to head religious committee for state corrections department". Greater Phoenix Jewish News. March 12, 1986.
  17. ^ Howard, Robert Glenn (2015), "The Anti-Cult Movement", in Gina Misiroglu (ed.), American Countercultures: An Encyclopedia of Nonconformists, Alternative Lifestyles, and Radical Ideas in U.S. History, Routledge, p. 191-192, ISBN 9781317477297
  18. ^ a b Goodman, Walter (June 1, 1989). "Review/Television; Trying to Pry a Youth Away From a Cult". The New York Times. Retrieved October 24, 2008.
  19. ^ a b c Enge, Marilee (March 23, 1989). "Mother fights church group for her son". Anchorage Daily News. Anchorage, Alaska.
  20. ^ "CBS News' 48 Hours Takes Viewers Inside the Deprogramming of a 14-year Old Boy May 18 on CBS". CBS News. New York. April 1989. CBS.
  21. ^ a b Tabor, James D.; Gallagher, Eugene V. (1997). Why Waco?. University of California Press. pp. 93–96, 138–139, 233. ISBN 0-520-20899-4.
  22. ^ Baum, Michele Dula, "Dangerous cults focus on leader, Deprogrammer Says", The Chattanooga Times, April 30, 1994
  23. ^ a b Stuart A. Wright, ed. (1995). Armageddon in Waco. University of Chicago Press. pp. 98–100, pp. 286–290. ISBN 0-226-90845-3. Armageddon in Waco.
  24. ^ Chryssides, George D. (1999). Exploring New Religions. Continuum International Publishing Group. pp. 55–56. ISBN 0-8264-5959-5.
  25. ^ a b Haines, Thomas W. (September 21, 1995). "'Deprogrammer' Taken To Court -- Bellevue Man Claims Kidnap, Coercion". The Seattle Times.
  26. ^ "'Cult Buster' Acquitted In Abduction". The Seattle Times. January 19, 1994. Retrieved January 8, 2016.
  27. ^ James R. Lewis Cults: A Reference and Guide: Approaches to New Religions. Routledge, 2014 ISBN 9781317545132 pp. 97–98
  28. ^ a b Gallagher, Eugene V.; Ashcraft, W. Michael (2006). Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 139. ISBN 0-275-98712-4.
  29. ^ Mark L. Goldstein, editor. Handbook of Child Custody. Springer, 2015. ISBN 3319139428 p. 287
  30. ^ Kaplan, Jeffrey (1997). "The fall of the wall?". Nova Religio. 1 (1): 139–149. doi:10.1525/nr.1997.1.1.139. Retrieved January 15, 2009.
  31. ^ Goodstein, Laurie (December 23, 1996). "Plaintiff Shifts Stance on Anti-Cult Group; Scientology-Linked Lawyer Is Dismissed in Move That May Keep Network Running". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on October 22, 2012. Retrieved August 29, 2015 – via HighBeam Research.
  32. ^ Tony Ortega for the Phoenix New Times. December 19, 1996. What's $2.995 Million Between Former Enemies?
  33. ^ American Countercultures: An Encyclopedia of Nonconformists, Alternative Lifestyles, and Radical Ideas in U.S. History. Routledge. March 26, 2015. p. 192. ISBN 9781317477297.
  34. ^ a b c Ross, Rick (2014). Cults Inside Out: How People Get In and Can Get Out. CreateSpace Publishing. ISBN 978-1497316607.
  35. ^ Breitbart, Andrew; Ebner, Mark C. (2004). Hollywood, Interrupted: Insanity Chic in Babylon-- the Case Against Celebrity. John Wiley and Sons. ISBN 0-471-45051-0.
  36. ^ Ann E. Robertson, with contributions by James O. Ellis. Terrorism and Global Security Global Issues. Infobase Publishing, 2009. ISBN 1438109040 p. 267
  37. ^ Pankaj. E-commerce. APH Publishing, 2005. ISBN 8176488054 pp. 207–208
  38. ^ "About Us". Cult Education Institute. Retrieved July 9, 2014.
  39. ^ "The Ross Institute has officially changed its name". Cult News. August 2, 2013. Retrieved July 9, 2014.
  40. ^ Mindy Bond for The Gothamist. July 18, 2005 Rick Ross, Cult Expert Archived May 7, 2015, at the Wayback Machine
  41. ^ Hennessy, Molly (July 14, 2001). "MINISTER SUES CULT EXPERT". The Palm Beach Post. Retrieved May 19, 2011.
  42. ^ Ross, Rick Alan (1993). "Foreword". In Madigan, Tim (ed.). See No Evil: Blind Devotion and Bloodshed in David Koresh's Holy War. Summit Publishing Group – Legacy Books. ISBN 1-56530-063-7.
  43. ^ Ross, Rick Alan (2012). "Ex-Cult Members Can Be Deprogrammed". In Espejo, Roman (ed.). Cults: Opposing Viewpoints. Greenhaven Press. pp. 165 ff. ISBN 978-0737739954.
  44. ^ Frank, Howard (2017). "Cult expert: Pocono Dome church has cult markers". Pocono Record. Retrieved May 16, 2021.
  45. ^ "和平圖書". Peace Book Company. Archived from the original on January 15, 2016.

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