Cult expert tries to help girl

An "exit-counselor" says Caraway was brainwashed like others who join cults

The Missoulian/April 9, 1989
By Ruth Thorning

Hamilton, Montana -- A deprogrammer specializing in cults yesterday finished five days for working with Caraway Seed, a young woman who was brainwashed by former Corvallis counselor Steven Rundquist, according to that expert.

Rick Ross, a soft-spoken, 36-year-old exit counselor, said the case was a classic common instance of mind control.

"Caraway is going through a process of inoculation," Ross said. "In the future she won't be a vulnerable target for a cult group. I'm here to stimulate her to reach her own conclusions and when she does, those values will be Caraway's - not Steven Rundquist's."

Rundquist carried on a secret relationship with Caraway Seed for four years. Ross said there is no doubt Rundquist intended to make Caraway his polygamous wife.

"He made that very clear on the tapes," Ross said, referring to a series of cassettes that Rundquist sent Caraway. "He took her from counseling to friendship to leader/disciple, deeper and deeper into his situation."

When Caraway's parents, David and Linda Seed, discovered the situation, they removed their daughter from high school, keeping her home for more than two months as they tried to deal with the family crises.

At the end of what Linda Seed described as a "very intense week," things have changed radically. Caraway plans to return to school Monday, taking up the threads of her life again.

"We feel very positive," Linda Seed said. "He (Ross) came to do a job and he did it well. Before he came we didn't know what was going to happen or what to expect. He ties up all the loose ends. He sorts things out."

Ross' services are not cheap. In addition to an hourly fee, all his expenses, including plane tickets, are paid by the victim's family. That cost is a minor item, compared to the results, according to Caraway's father, David Seed.

"even if it didn't help, it was worth it to try," Seed said. "But we have seen a difference."

The Seeds have mortgaged their property to pay counseling fees and engage an attorney. They have asked the Corvalles School District, where Rundquist was employed and met their daughter, for help. So far, both of the district's insurance carriers have refused to consider paying for Seeds' expense until a summons and formal complaint have been filed.

Ross, who began working with cults and deprogramming in 1982, said Rundquist is not unique.

Ross' credentials to make such a judgment are strong. Over the past seven years he has established himself as one of the country's leading experts on cults.

Ross has served on many state and national religious and community committees, written books and school curriculum on cults, taught courses on cults, testified as an expert witness in trials, and, for the past two years, worked exclusively at deprogramming people involved with cults and mind control.

Ross said that of the more than 125 cases he has worked with in the past two years, he has been about 80 percent successful.

"Even if the case I work with doesn't come out well, at least the person I worked with had an opportunity to do some critical thinking and make their own decision about what to do next," Ross said.

Critical thinking is what deprogramming is all about. Ross' work is not religious-based although he often works with church people of organizations.

"I do not substitute any other religion or belief for the ones held by thought reform victims," Ross said. "I don't attack their beliefs. I just show them how they came to hold those beliefs and offer them a chance to critically analyze how they got to where they are."

Ross said most brainwashed people never have all the facts before them at one time.

As an analogy he pointed out that if one drops a frog in a pot of boiling water and the frog realizes the danger and hops right out. If one places the same frog in warm water and gradually heats the water to boiling, the frog remains in the pot, unaware of the danger, until it is boiled to death.

"The victim never realizes what is going on," Ross said. "It's a 'spoonfeeding effect.'" A potential member is brought in by a series of indoctrinational efforts until they are finally ready to receive the big picture."

"Thought reform is thought reform," Ross said. "The techniques are always the same. Based on his tapes and letters I absolutely believe Steven Rundquist used thought reform, mind control and psychologically coercive techniques to indoctrinate and control Caraway Seed."

Ross pointed out that on at least one tape Rundquist's voice has rhythmic quality and he uses frequent repetitions of phrases. Ross called the tone and pattern a hypnotic induction frequently used to indoctrinate people.

"Steven Rundquist has grossly violated any trust a school system or community has placed in him," Ross said. "I absolutely believe he is an inherent danger to any young people who come in contact with him."

Ross said Rundquist's pattern of behavior dating from the time he worked in the Victor school system show an unchanging pattern. At Victor, there was a parental complaint about his attentions toward a then 13-year-old girl. While at Corvallis Rundquist became involved with Caraway and at least one other female high school student.

"There's no doubt this man is not learning from his mistakes, that he's not doing anything to correct his behavior," Ross said. "He denies all allegations. The Tok, Alaska, superintendent will eventually have to take full responsibility for whatever happens in Tok, (where Rundquist is now employed as a school counselor). Authorities have to recognize this; if they do nothing to stop Steven Rundquist, they are responsible for the situation."

Ross said there were two issues in the Rundquist/Seed case which made it a serious one.

"First, Rundquist is using the public system as an arena of recruitment," Ross said. "Something is going on here that is very sad. What kind of position does a school counselor hold? People who have problem, who are most vulnerable, pour out their problems to a counselor. Being a school counselor is being placed in a position to get the most productive people for recruitment.

"The other main issue is the total abrogation of a paternal authority by an adult in a position of responsibility with a minor. The Seeds never knew what was going on. Rundquist was deliberately breaking Caraway away from a loving and supportive family. She couldn't compare ideas or consult with anyone. He wrapped her in a vacuum of secrecy. That's been pierced now."

Ross said Caraway has gradually come to realize through comparing contradictory statements made by Rundquist to her and to others that Rundquist is a liar. Understanding that helps break the mystique Rundquist created with her, Ross said.

"Caraway is beginning to realize he's not an ethical or trustworthy individual. She's beginning to realize she's been taken advantage of," Ross said.

Ross said his ability to work as a deprogrammer comes in part from convincing the person he works with that he is not there for their parents, or a particular church group or organization but specifically just for them.

"I'm not on a crusade against a person's beliefs. I'm an ally, one who helps a person think things out," Ross said.

"The issue isn't theology. It's thought reform, mind control. It's whether or not that's an ethical way to recruit someone into a lifestyle."

Ross does not involve himself with groups or individuals who see deprogramming as a religious crusade, calling that behavior as unethical as the initial mind control.

"That's using a crisis for recruitment," he said.

Instead, he helps the victim look at facts, at the reasons for emotional attachments, at what has happened and the methods which have placed a person in their situation. He asks the victim to think independently and to critically evaluate those methods.

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