Rick Ross

From Academic Kids

Rick Ross (born November 1952) is a "cult expert" in the United States and a former deprogrammer. He was closely involved with the old Cult Awareness Network (CAN). He launched what is now one of the largest databases accessible through the Internet regarding cults, controversial groups and new religious movements and related research about "mind control." Ross, like much of the anti-cult community after the controversy and court cases against deprogramming, no longer advocates involuntary interventions for adults, preferring voluntary "exit counseling". Ross, who began his work in 1982, refers to himself as a "cult intervention specialist" and has been interviewed and quoted by the media in the United States and around the world. He has created a standard of ethics for intervention work. He has been called as an expert witness on several occasions.

After deprogramming hundreds of Americans and some Canadians, Ross made news in 1995 when a jury ordered him to pay over two million dollars regarding the unsuccessful deprogramming of Jason Scott, which resulted in the bankrupting of both Ross and CAN. Ross "deprogrammed" two Branch Davidians, contributed to a series on the group in the local newpspaper and was consulted by the BATF before the ill fated raid on the group's compound. He was also interviewed by the FBI during the Waco standoff at his own request. Ross is criticized for his lack of academic credentials, for a criminal record that predates his cult interest, and for his former deprogramming activities. Critics, particularly those within new religious movements, characterize Ross and others as an anti-cult movement.


Early career

Rick Ross was born in November of 1952 in Cleveland, Ohio. As a child his family moved to Arizona. His formal education extended through high school, which he completed in 1971. He was arrested for two non-violent crimes committed in 1974 and 1975. (Maricopa County, Arizona Superior Court vacated judgment and restored Ross' civil rights in 1983.)

Ross's work concerning controversial groups, movements and cults began in 1982. He was appointed during the 1980s to two national committees by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), one regarding cults and another concerning interreligious affairs. During the 1980s he was a member of the professional staff of Jewish Family and Children's Service and the Bureau of Jewish Education in Phoenix, Arizona. Ross also represented the Jewish community on the Religious Advisory Committee to the Arizona Department of Corrections and was later elected its chairman. He also served as the chairman of the International Coalition of Jewish Prisoners Programs sponsored by B'nai Brith in Washington D.C. Ross' work within the prison system included inmate religious rights and educational efforts regarding hate groups.

Jason Scott case

In 1990, Ross and associates abducted Jason Scott, then an 18-year-old member of the Life Tabernacle Church, affiliated with the United Pentecostal Church International. Scott's mother, Katherine Tonkin, had been a member of the church, but had left due to concerns about the means the church used to keep members in line, their focus on material donations to the church, and a relationship between an elder church member and one of her two minor sons, Jason's younger brothers. After leaving the church herself, and on the suggestion of the Cult Awareness Network (CAN), whom she called, she asked Ross to assist her in the deprogramming of her two minor sons. After speaking with Ross, the two minors chose to leave the church.

Tonkin then made an attempt, again with the help of Ross, to provide a similar intervention for Jason. This attempt was unsuccessful, and criminal charges were brought against Ross and two others for unlawful imprisonment of Jason during the deprogramming, charges that were filed, dropped, and then re-filed two years later. The trial ended in acquittal for Ross in 1994, but a civil suit was filed in 1995, with long-time counsel for the Church of Scientology Kendrick Moxon representing Jason Scott. The jury held Ross liable for conspiracy to deprive Scott of his civil rights of freedom of religion. The suit ended in Ross and the Cult Awareness Network being ordered to pay large judgments:

The jury awarded Jason Scott $875,000 in compensatory damages and punitive damages in the amount of $1,000,000 against CAN, $2,500,000 against deprogrammer Rick Ross, and $250,000 each against Ross’ two accomplices. [1] ([2] (

The suit pushed Ross into bankruptcy, from which he later emerged, and along with over 50 similar suits (most of them brought by Moxon) pushed CAN into bankruptcy, where its name, its logo and its files were considered assets, assets then purchased by the Church of Scientology.

In December 1996, Scott reconciled with his mother and settled with Ross for $5,000, and for 200 hours of Ross's services "as an expert consultant and intervention specialist". Moxon was fired the next day and Scott then retained long-time Church of Scientology opponent Graham Berry as his lawyer instead. Moxon, who had argued in the case that Ross and associates had hindered a competent adult's freedom to make his own religious decisions, immediately filed court papers seeking to appoint a guardian for Scott, whom he called "incapacitated", and rescind the settlement. That effort failed. [3] (

Branch Davidians

Ross deprogrammed two Branch Davidians prior to the raid at Waco, Texas. He was a major source for a series on the group in the local newpspaper. Prior to the raid the BATF consulted him. During the subsequent standoff he approached the FBI and requested that he be interviewed, which he was.

The Report to the Deputy Attorney General on the Events at Waco, Texas (February 28 to April 19, 1993) states that:

The FBI interviewed Ross only at Ross' request, and politely declined his unsolicited offers of assistance throughout the standoff. The FBI treated the information Ross supplied as it would any other unsolicited information received from the public: it evaluated the credibility of the information and treated it accordingly.

Nancy Ammerman contradicted the FBI's denial that they did not consult Ross and instead insisted they relied on him too much. In her official report to the Justice Department Ammerman wrote:

In late March, Ross recommended that agents attempt to humiliate Koresh, hoping to drive a wedge between him and his followers. While Ross's suggestions may not have been followed to the letter, FBI agents apparently believed that their attempts to embarrass Koresh (talking about his inconsistencies, lack of education, failures as a prophet, and the like) would produce the kind of internal dissension Ross predicted. Because Ross had been successful in using such tactics on isolated and beleaguered members during deprogramming, he must have assumed that they would work en masse. Any student of group psychology could have dispelled that misapprehension. But the FBI was evidently listening more closely to these deprogramming-related strategies than to the counsel of scholars who might have explained the dynamics of a group under siege. [4] (

Ammerman claims that the FBI interview transcripts on the Waco tragedy include the note that "[Ross] has a personal hatred for all religious cults" and would aid law enforcement in an attempt to "destroy a cult". Ross denies having talked about destroying a cult.

Carol Moore, author of "The Massacre Of The Branch Davidians A Study Of Government Violations Of Rights, Excessive Force And Cover Up" 1994 [5] (

Ross told the Houston Chronicle that Koresh is "your stock cult leader. They're all the same. Meet one and you've met them all. They're deeply disturbed, have a borderline personality and lack any type of conscience. . .No one willingly enters into a relationship like this. So you're talking about deception and manipulation (by the leader), people being coached in ever so slight increments, pulled in deeper and deeper without knowing where it's going or seeing the total picture."

Ross recounted his role regarding the Waco Davidian standoff in a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno [6] ( and responded to critics such as Ammerman in a statement published by the Washington Post. [7] (


Critics assert that hubris and personal financial reward are Ross' primary motive for his anti-cult activities. Such criticism typically originates from those associated with controversial new religious movements and often groups or organizations that have been called "cults" such as the Church of Scientology. The Church of Scientology, perhaps Ross' most severe critic, maintains a 17-page critique about him supplemented by a 196-page PDF document at "Religious Freedom Watch." [8] ( Other critics note that he has had conflicts with anti-cult figures such as Steven Hassan.

Current activities

Ross' resume lists lectures at Rutgers University, Penn University of Pennsylvania, Dickinson College, Baylor University, the University of Chicago, Carnegie Mellon University and Arizona State University. He has been a paid consultant for the television networks CBS, CBC and Nippon of Japan and retained as a technical consultant by Miramax/Disney for the Jane Campion film Holy Smoke. He has been qualified and accepted as an expert witness in eight states and has been deposed and/or submitted affidavits as an expert in an additional five states.

In 1996, Ross started an Internet-accessed database which is widely used as a resource for information about controversial groups and movements, some of which have been called "cults." The website's FAQ takes care to clarify that not all new religious movements are cults (nor all cults religious), nor all cults necessarily unsafe and/or destructive. Ross moved to New Jersey in 2001 and two years later he founded the "Rick A. Ross Institute" of New Jersey, a nonprofit, tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization. Its stated mission is "public education and research," largely done through Ross's website.

External links


  1. Shupe, Anson and Darnel, Susan E. - (2003) The Attempted Transformation of a Deviant Occupation into a Therapy: Deprogramming Seeks a New Identity. A paper presented at the 2003 annual meeting of the SSSR/RRA, Norfolk, VA, October 2003. Available online (
  2. US Department of Justice, Report to the Deputy Attorney General on the Events at Waco, Texas: Part IV, The Role of Experts During the Standoff, February 28 to April 19, 1993. Available online (

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Opposition to cults and NRMs | Christian countercult movement | Anti-cult movement
Religious intolerance | Post-cult trauma | Apostasy | Witch hunt | Bigotry
Cult of personality | Cult checklists | Charismatic authority
Mind control | Exit counseling | Deprogramming

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