How Cults Work & Deprogramming Former Members, FSS Inductee, Rick Alan Ross

We sit down with one of the premiere experts in how cults operate and how to help someone get out. You can currently catch him on “The Vow” on HBO. With us, we discuss his work with escaping NXIVM members & his work with the Branch Davidians and FBI in Waco, plus creating the Cult Education Institute.

The majority of our members are storytellers, but you know I always really love our inductees who are researchers, documentarians and investigative journalists.  We are very excited to induct a new member who is one of the absolute foremost experts about a shady element of society.  The work he does cannot be overstated for its value, in both rescuing people and, like this episode, even just getting the word out and raising awareness.  He has worked closely with both the Branch Davidians and the FBI during the standoff in Waco, Texas in the ‘90s and much more recently, with survivors of the NXIVM cult.  You can check out his massive resource, the Cult Education Institute, free and open to the public, at and you can pick up his comprehensive book, “Cults Inside Out: How People Get In and Can Get Out.”  And as we induct a new member, it is a good time to point out that you are free to leave at any time, there is no punishment for leaving and I, personally, lack the charisma to be considered a charismatic leader.  We welcome the newest member of the Fantastic Story Society, Mr. Rick Alan Ross! 

Rick is currently featured in the second season of HBO’s “The Vow,” which is now airing. Check out the season 2 trailer below:

Search for the Fantastic Story Society on any of your favorite podcast apps & please do let us know if the show isn’t appearing for you. Or, stream directly from one of the following links:

Time Stamps:
0:00 – Intro, past ep mention – Heaven’s Gate
0:59 – Who is Rick Alan Ross?
2:00 – Why are cult stories fascinating?
4:50 – Cults are around us frequently
9:50 – INDUCTION: Rick Alan Ross
11:35 – Definition of a cult
13:50 – Destructive Vs non-destructive cults
18:18 – Exit costs
20:30 – How does deprogramming work?
23:35 – Exiting a cult
24:35 – The Vow, Keith Raniere, NXIVM
28:00 – First working with NXIVM survivors
32:00 – Rama Behera / Avraham Cohen
32:35 – Cults & the internet
34:05 – Is QAnon a cult?
37:15 – Is Trump a cult leader?
40:19 – Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh / Osho, Ma Sheila
43:13 – Allison Mack / NXIVM
47:29 – What would’ve been next for NXIVM?
49:17 – Taking down Keith Raniere & NXIVM
52:50 – Best cult movie: “Martha Marcy May Marlene”
54:55 – Consulting on “Far Cry 5”
58:05 – Writing mistakes in cult films (Satanic cults)
1:04:10 – Working with the Branch Davidians & FBI in Waco
1:17:22 – Heaven’s Gate
1:23:30 – Message board for people who might need help

Rick mentions the most accurate cult movie he’s ever seen. Here’s the trailer for that (Martha Marcy May Marlene):

Cults & cult leaders mentioned in this episode include Children of God, Branch Davidians, David Koresh, Victor Houteff, NXIVM, Keith Raniere, Allison Mack, Nancy Salzman, FLDS, Warren Jeffs, Charles Manson, Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, Rama Behera, Avraham Cohen, QAnon, the taliban, Osama Bin Ladin, Isis, Symbionese Liberation Army, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, Osho, ma Sheila, Teal Swan, Heaven’s Gate, Marshall Applewhite, solar temple, Church Universal and Triumphant, Elizabeth Clare Prophet, Paul Schäfer, Colonia Dignidad, Dignity Colony, Villa Baviera, Aum Shinrikyo, Shoko Asahara


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