Debatable cult label hangs over Dr. R.C. Samanta Roy's group

One expert says he's received complaints about organization, property purchases have parallels

The Shawano Leader/October 15, 2004
By Tim Ryan

Followers of Dr. R.C. Samanta Roy say little if anything about their beliefs to those outside the group, and in the community where they have gathered on weekends for some 30 years, people still wonder about what they believe.

Whispered under the breath of that question is another that has nagged at many people since the group came here. Is it a cult?

It has not always been a whisper. Sometimes it has been shouted in newspaper headlines and television news reports, and the group has gone to court to defend itself and deny the label.

Yet the question has not gone away.

The founder of an institute that studies groups considered to be cults said that, in his opinion, Samanta Roy's group does fit the profile.

Rick Ross is the founder and executive director of the Rick A. Ross Institute in New Jersey. He has been studying so-called cultic groups since 1982, has testified about cults in court cases across the U.S., and has lectured about them at the college and university level.

"I've received very serious complaints about the group," Ross said, though he steered away from labeling the group a cult himself. "It has been called a cult," he said.

Though Rama Behera has changed his name to Samanta Roy, Ross still refers to group - also known as The Disciples of the Lord Jesus - under the religious leader's former name.

The Cult Education Institute database includes hundreds of listings of groups considered by some to be cults. The wide-ranging list includes everything from the Branch Davidians of Waco to Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network.

Ross said that he attended a meeting of about a dozen ex-members of the group a few years ago in Minneapolis.

"Former members, their children and parents talked about how badly the group had hurt them, how it has estranged them from their family, and caused just an enormous amount of misery," Ross said. Despite those stories - and an investigation by the Shawano County Sheriff's Department into allegations of abuse - there has never been a full investigation by authorities into the group's so-called cult-like behavior. Ross said that's because there's technically nothing illegal about it.

"It is not against the law to brainwash people in the United States," Ross said. "If you have undue influence, if you gain undue influence over people by manipulating the Bible and acting as a leader over a flock, it's protected by the First Amendment."

Ross said that Samanta Roy, "has the right to teach and preach and people have the right to succumb to his teachings and submit to his leadership even if others see it as abusive and exploitive."

Members have been willing to submit to his authority, Ross said, because they believed that by serving Samanta Roy they were serving God.

"To that extent, God and Behera became fused in the minds of his followers. They saw it as choosing God," Ross said. "Many people would say that believing that Behera and his organization were synonymous with God reflects brainwashing."

Ross said there are a number of reasons why a group could be considered a cult.

"A group could be called a cult if there are a group of people intensely devoted to a person or thing," Ross said, adding, however, that doesn't necessarily make it a bad thing. "It could be a benign group," he said.

A destructive cult, on the other hand, has a number of other criteria.

"That would be a group that typically has an authoritarian leader who has no meaningful accountability," Ross said. The leader not only controls the group but defines it, he said.

"That is a typical pattern for destructive cults," Ross said.

Another indicator, Ross said, "is an indoctrination process in the group in which people suspend independent and critical thinking and often become almost totally dependent on the group leader and leaders designated to think for them."

The third indicator, he said, is that the group harms people in some way.

"That could range anywhere from financial exploitation to physical abuse to emotional and psychological abuse, and you see a pattern of complaints from members of the group that are consistent and carry these themes," Ross said.

Based on his discussions with former members, Ross said that Samanta Roy's group might fit that description.

"I have seen a disturbing parallel between what could be considered cult activity and the Rama Behera group," Ross said. "So I can understand why former members have called the group a cult."

Ross also sees a parallel between Samanta Roy's property purchases in the Shawano area and activity seen by at least two other groups.

Ross could not speak directly to the reasons for Samanta Roy's property purchases, and he said the purchases might be nothing more than harmless activity meant to increase Samanta Roy's investment portfolio.

His comments were directed at other groups that seemed to have a similar pattern but not necessarily the same motives. He said one example of the property purchases can be found in Clearwater, Fla., involving the Church of Scientology - viewed by many as a legitimate church despite its listing in the institute's cult database.

"They now have 200 Scientology-owned businesses in downtown Clearwater," Ross said. "Then the church took over the core real estate of downtown Clearwater and now wields phenomenal influence in that area."

Another group called the Twelve Tribes has been buying up real estate in small towns in upstate New York. "They like to come into small towns where there's less infrastructure to watch them," Ross said.

"What I've seen is so-called cult groups coming into relatively small communities where they can really buy up and dominate a core of that community, and have disproportionate influence and protection at times from the prying eyes of government agencies that might otherwise look into their affairs," he said.

"They find they are not bothered by officials because they're looked upon as power brokers in that particular community by virtue of their portfolio of investments and the people they have," Ross said. "Many of these groups will run businesses, group members will run staff businesses, and the money flows back to the leader or various corporations or companies controlled by the leader. That's the way Twelve Tribes operates."

An article in the May 7, 2004 edition of the Patriot-Ledger detailed a recent property purchase by that group:

"A controversial religious sect hopes to expand its presence in town and is negotiating to buy another downtown building and open a café.

Twelve Tribes, a group described by critics as a cult, has a tentative agreement to buy the building that's been home to Stevens the Florist for 28 years.

Kevin Gadsby, a Twelve Tribes spokesman, said the group wants to open a storefront café and serve salads, sandwiches and soup as an expansion of its Common Sense Wholesome Food Market next door on Main Street."

That group is run by Elbert Eugene Spriggs, aka Yoneq, a one-time carnival barker who is now "super apostle" of Messianic Communities, according to the Rick Ross web site.

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