Expert says MasterPath fits definition of a cult

By Paul G. White

Rick Ross, the professional cult deprogrammer brought to Fargo by three local families, says the activities and methods used by the MasterPath fit the definition of a cult.

"This group has quelled the mind and anesthetized the brain," he said.

"They have caused the individuals to think only in subjective terms."

He said his deprogramming method is an objective process of bringing the individuals back in touch with reality.

"I come in with the facts about the group. They have been deceptive in their initial contact with these people, their lack of financial disclosure and their ability to review these facts."

He said cult groups control thought by denigrating the minds and encouraging them to alienate their families.

"The group has an agenda, and that agenda is to program their mind," Ross said of the group and its spiritual leader, Gary Olsen of Detroit Lakes, Minn.

In working with the families in Fargo, Ross said he tries to "look at the family and who the family is."

He also brings along books about different cult groups and videotapes of people reduced to a trance-like state by repeated chanting and rituals.

He attempts to illustrate the addictive and dehumanizing nature of many cults across the United States. "It's comparable to drug and alcohol intervention," he said.

Also crucial for a successful deprogramming, Ross said, is an attempt to bring in an ex-member of a cult group to talk with his clients.

While in Fargo, Ross brought in Janet Ackerman of San Diego, Calif., who had been involved in ECKANKAR, a cult from which Olsen had obtained many of his doctrines and teachings, Ross said.

Ackerman had been involved in ECKANKAR for about 10 years before withdrawing from the group. She can offer the perspective of one who has experienced a cult's destructive influences.

Ackerman said it is common for cult leaders to deny that they are a cult because prospects would be prone to shy away.

"They don't say, 'Oh, this is a cult, I think I'll join,'" she said.

Ackerman, 35, said she was drawn into the ECKANKAR group when she was 17. She learned about the group from a co-worker. When she began "asking too many question," he gave her a book about ECKANKAR, which "seemed to have answers for seemingly bizarre experiences" in her life.

"I thought he had some special power," she said. She later married the man and had two children, but they separated when he became involved in Scientology.

After she had children, Ackerman said she became more responsible and concerned about the environment in which she was raising her children.

"Something about the group had made me resent myself," she said.

"I know now what it feels like: It was a trick," she said. "That cult robbed me of 10 years of my life."

Ross, 37, is considered one of the top deprogrammers in the nation and has been featured on several nationally syndicated talk shows including Donahue, Oprah Winfrey, Geraldo and the CBS news program 48 Hours.

Ross' work with cult group victims began in 1981 when a radical group infiltrated a nursing home in Phoenix where his grandmother was a patient, he said.

In 1986, he opened a private practice and traveled across the nation deprogramming cult members. He said he charges $45 an hour or $450 per day per individual plus expenses.

He added that his fees are based upon the family's ability to pay and he has offered his services without charge.

Ross said there are at least two organizations that offer assistance with identifying cults. They are the Cult Awareness Network (312) 267-7777 or the American Family Foundation at (617) 893-0930.

    [Note: WARNING! The Cult Awareness Network (CAN) was recently bankrupted and bought up by Scientology. We strongly recommend you do not contact them for assistance.]

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