Rick Alan Ross on How Cults Work, & How to Get Out (Deprogramming, NXIVM, Waco, Heaven’s Gate & more)

Our season 3 finale was one of my favorite episodes of “The Fantastic Story Society.” We were able to get into the nitty gritty of the variety of ways cults operate and some of the most famous and/or unusual cuts of all time. The biggest point of this episode was to bring awareness that 1) cults exist and they’re more ubiquitous than one might imagine 2) literally ANYONE is susceptible to getting pulled into a cult 3) and most importantly, it’s possible to get out. That’s where Rick Alan Ross and the Cult Education Institute comes in.

Rick is a fascinating guest as he’s been working in the field for several decades and has been a part of the story of some of the largest cults in recent memory, from working with both the Branch Davidians and the FBI in Waco, to working with the Oxenberg family in helping free Catherine’s daughter India and helping take down Keith Raniere and the NXIVM sex cult.

We could tell from the first contact that he’s interested in the creative field and had fun discussing what screenwriters get wrong when creating a cult-oriented film. He also enjoyed shining a positive light on the film that did the best job in accurately reflecting what it’s like to go through the experience of being in and escaping a cult, “Mary Marcy May Marlene.” I get the feeling he enjoyed his time working on Far Cry 5, the video game he consulted on, helping craft the game’s villain based on a number of past cults and leaders. I may be picking up a copy of this game to check it out for myself now.

Trailer for Far Cry 5

Rick Alan Ross’s induction:
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 CultEducation.com 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!

YouTube link below and podcast links at the bottom

Time Codes:
0:00 – Intro: Why We’re doing an episode on Cults
2:11 – Why do we find cult stories interesting?
4:50 – Cults are close to pretty much everyone
9:57 – Inductee: Rick Alan Ross (interview start)
11:34 – Defining a Cult, 3 core elements
13:45 – Are there non-destructive cults? Arcosanti, AZ & Paolo Soleri
16:18 – Range of destructive cults
18:18 – Cult exit costs (FLDS, Children of God, Scientology)
20:30 – Deprogramming cult members
23:18 – Do people ever try to self-deprogram themselves?
24:35 – Mark Vicente, getting out of NXIVM
28:00 – How to cults still exist in the Internet age? (NXIVM, Landmark)
31:10 – Risks of Rick’s work (Scientology, Rama Behera, SIST, NXIVM)
32:30 – Internet & social media + cults
34:11 – Political Groups as cults (QAnon, Isis, Taliban, Symbionese Liberation Army)
37:20 – Is Trump a cult leader?
40:30 – Rajneeshpuram, Ma Sheela & Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh / Osho
43:10 – Keith Reniere, Allison Mack, Nancy Salzman & India & Catherine Oxenberg
52:50 – Best cult movie & why: Mary Marcy May Marlene
54:44 – Consulting on Far Cry V & Inspirations (David Koresh, Church Universal & Triumphant, Paul Schäfer Schneider, Colonia Dignidad)
58:00 – Mistakes in cult movies (Satanic cults, Rosemary’s Baby)
1:04:10 – WACO – Working with the Branch Davidians & the FBI
1:08:57 – ATF & FBI mistakes in Waco
1:17:20 – Heaven’s Gate & Marshall Applewhite + Aum Shinrikyo
1:23:00 – Cult Education Institute & helpful message boards

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:


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