Cult expert Rick Ross lectured on the proliferation of cults in the United Sates in a COUP-sponsored event Thursday night in the Biological Sciences Building.
"I'm going to take you on a guided tour of the world of cults," Ross told the audience, noting that college campuses are among the prime recruiting spots for various cult groups, especially in Chicago.
Ross worked as liaison between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agents, and Branch Davidian cult leader David Koresh from February 1993 until the devastating fire in the Waco compound over the summer.
Ross has also worked on two national committees for the reform of Judaism, and is a nationally-known cult member deprogrammer. "I've been called the Anti-Christ or Satan," said Ross who describes his works as "unraveling a program that has been instilled in the mind."
"[18-26 is] the most targeted age group…by cult recruiters," he said. Most recruiters do not recruit under their own group names; rather, they use various legitimate-sounding front organizations to disguise their true nature.
The Cult Awareness Network, based in Chicago, has counted more than 2,500 cults nationwide. These cults have a combined strength of 1.5 million members. However, groups such as Jehovah's Witnesses, which do not allow members to have blood transfusions and who have shady child care practices, are also included in the count. The Witnesses have approximately 750,000 members in the country.
In addition to the expansion of cults is this country, Ross pointed out that they are also expanding across the world. "The United States could be said to have a trade surplus in cults," he said. We're exporting our cult groups."
Cult groups are recognized by their tyrannical leadership. "Members give up their ability to think critically," Ross said. "Whatever [the leaders] say, that becomes the law of the group."
People most at risk to be recruited are those who are new to campus, looking for new friends; those who are depressed, having lost a loved one, or had a recent breakup; or those battling substance abuse problems, said Ross.
"Along comes a group of people who are totally loving," he said. "We're all looking to belong somewhere, and these groups prey on that…they move in on our vulnerabilities."
Among the characteristics defining cult brainwashing and mind control is 'milieu control,' where the leader controls where the members live, such as the Branch Davidian compound in Waco.
The second distinguishing factor is 'mythical manipulation.' "Directed from above, it seems to arise spontaneously from the environment," Ross said. This includes the leaders revelations or words from God.
The "demand for purity" is also a characteristic. This demand, says Ross, strips "from you completely everything the group wants to eradicate."
The "cult of confession" is where members are encouraged to confess everything about themselves, often in front of the group. "This can fuel into mystical manipulation," he said, because it gives the leader more information about the members to prey on.
'Loading the language' is described as the jargon of the group. "[They are] highly-reductive, though-reducing clichés," Ross said. "What you have is people blocking out their critical thoughts."
These phrases are designed to prevent the members from thinking critically about the group, and include such colorful phrases as "Turn or burn."
The 'doctrine over person' means that the member subjects everyone he or she knows to the teachings of the cult. The 'dispensing of existence' allows the members to ignore non-believers, counting them as non-people, said Ross.
In his ten years experience of deprogramming cult members, Ross says that he succeeds 80 percent of the time. Of his attempts to deprogram, 90 percent are voluntary deprogramming situations where members are free to leave whenever they want. The other ten percent are at the request of family members or friends, and the member is not free to leave.
Both types of deprogramming involve simply discussing with the member information that otherwise would have been filtered out by the "milieu of control" ; legal problems that the leader has, the history of the group, financial problems, and incriminating tapes and videos. The family is also present, and they express their concerns for the member's safety.