Keep Hope Alive: A Father Celebrates Freedom and Reunion

July 28, 2008

We are so excited to be able to share our story with families who have turned to Rick Ross and his website as we did almost 10 years ago, in desperation for help with a loved one involved with a cult. After over nine years of losing our son to a manipulative group, he has reunited with us.

We are not only celebrating his return, but also how mentally and emotionally well adjusted he is after his ordeal. He is so happy to be with us again as we are with him, and equally important, he seems to clearly understand what happened to him, and is taking constructive steps to right the wrongs that were done.

You can read our original stories (see Personal Stories) under the section "Friend’s Landing," or "Whitewind Weaver." Weaver, who has gone by many different names, was/is the leader of a small cultic group, characterized by Rick Ross as a "new age, shamanistic psychotherapeutic group". But like most other cultic groups, its true purpose is to serve the personal needs of its leader, in my opinion.

When our son was tricked into becoming involved with Weaver, then gradually descended into isolation from and repudiation of his family, we were devastated. We struggled hard to understand what happened to him, seeking advice from everyone we could, including Rick Ross. We even tried a "voluntary intervention," but by the time we set it up, our son was so deep into the group that our efforts were fruitless.

It is hard to describe the emotional upheaval the loss of a loved one to a cultic group has on the family. We all missed him so much, his parents, brothers and extended family. All our efforts to reach him, to talk reason with him failed miserably. We were without hope and without options. We asked each other, "What can we do?" We soon got to the point of realizing we were helpless to retrieve him. So do we sit silent and wait for his contact, or do we become pro-active?

Many families initially feel shame and guilt in these instances. It is hard not to be introspective and blame yourself. Was my parenting wrong? Did I somehow alienate this person? What will my friends, neighbors and family members think?

Also many families are gripped by fear for the welfare of the loved one, and also for possible retribution by the group and its leader if they speak up. And it is just those emotions, fear, guilt and shame that are the very weapons used by the leader to silence the family, so that he/she can have the loved one all to themselves to do their bidding.

Fully understanding these risks, we tried desperately for the first few months of our son’s "captivity" to reason with him. It was to no avail, and the group and its leader isolated him even more from us. Then one day I was commiserating with a friend who had spent many years in law enforcement. His view was that the most threatening thing to a cultic group leader is to be thrust into the public eye. These types succeed best when they do their dirty deeds in secret.

My wife had thoroughly researched Weaver’s background and discovered a "rap sheet" a mile long. This woman is no stranger to the civil court system. So with heavy heart, and no small concern regarding the possible negative repercussions of our actions, we chose to fight openly for our son’s life, and to inform the community about the dangers we saw with Weaver. We printed and mailed thousands of brochures, testified at hearings, interviewed with the media, picketed cult property, and showed up uninvited at many cult recruiting events.

This was an arduous, expensive, time consuming and stressful battle, but our objectives were clear:

  1. We wanted our son to know that he was never out of our thoughts or our hearts.
  2. We wanted Weaver to know that we were never going away as long as she was involved with our son.
  3. We wanted to prevent this tragedy from repeating itself in any other family by making Weaver’s background and behavior public knowledge.

Also, the activity itself seemed to salve the pain of missing him, and gave us something to do that made things seem less futile. Somehow it kept our hopes alive. And it definitely gave us a positive feeling knowing we were helping to keep others from becoming involved with Weaver.

As the years ticked by, we had our moments of hope dashed soon thereafter by some bitterly crafted action prompted, we believed, by Weaver. And getting anyone in the media or education interested in exposing the group was like pulling teeth. On one of my many trips to Oregon (where the cultic group was located) to meet with the press, I left for the Portland airport deeply discouraged. Every person I talked to seemed so disinterested. My last scheduled meeting that day was at the airport with an ex-Moonie member, now a successful attorney. As I described to him my frustration, he strongly encouraged me not to give up. His father fought the Moonies the whole time he was in, and it was so helpful when he came out. That convinced me to "carry on" no matter what.

It is also important to note that no one understood our family’s tragedy more completely, and gave us support most consistently over those terrible nine plus years than Rick Ross. In the darkest hours, late into the most terrible nights, it was Rick Ross that I turned to, not only for advice, but solace. And always, no matter how busy he was, he returned my calls or emails, always being encouraging, empathetic and wise in his advice, counsel and guidance. He is more than just a "cult expert" in my opinion. He has a passion for helping those families who are confronted with cultism, and also to inform the community about this terribly underreported phenomena. No other cultic resource was as helpful or supportive to me.

In 2004 four group members, including my son and Weaver sued us. While very expensive and frivolous, it did result in some re-contact between our son and his family members, and email addresses were exchanged. At the encouragement of Mr. Ross, my sister-in-law made it a point of staying in touch with our son after the trial, no matter what. This proved to be a most valuable help and important contact for the next three years, especially once our son decided to leave the group. It turns out she was the only family member he was regularly in touch with during those crucial last three years.

Then the first momentous clue appeared. During the previous month or so, our son had been emailing our sister-in-law with greater frequency, and indicated to her that "major changes" were happening in his life. At about this same time the group had created a website labeling us as "mentally ill" and publishing comments mostly from group members. Our son was depicted as the "sponsor" of the site.

Suddenly our son posted an entry on this site entitled "Farewell." He stated he does not support the tenets of the site and wishes to have no part of it. We were flabbergasted. Is he out? Could this be the sign we have been hoping and waiting for all these years?

All this time, communications between our son and sister-in-law were heating up. Then she called us and said our son would like to get together in person with her! This was the first time in years that our son actually invited a family member to meet with him. My sister-in-law got together with him alone, and the two of them met for almost 2 hours over lunch. She came back so excited. She said he was open, engaging and happy to see her. He told her he was out of the group, but was not yet ready to see his parents, but that time was soon approaching.

Then sure enough, a couple of months later I came home from the office, opened my email and there it was, a letter from our son inviting reconciliation!

We had waited so long to hear from him, we at first were concerned that it wasn’t real. But after hearing so much recently from our sister-in-law, and talking in a friendly way with one of our son’s close friends, we knew it had to be real. We were, and still are elated.

It has, as of this writing, been about 10 months since our first reunion get together with our son. We have seen him in person almost weekly since then, and we talk with him by phone or email every day. It is a heady time of incredible love, sharing and discovery. It seems that the longer our son is away from the group, the more he recalls and shares with us. He seems so comfortable to discuss his experiences, yet acknowledges some "post-traumatic stress."

In fact, one recent highlight of our reunification (there have been so many) happened on our way back from dinner in the car. During all those years that we spent fighting the cult, we often questioned if it was right, and if it might bring more harm, not less, to our son. Well in the car he mentioned how we recognized how well, and quickly he seems to have recovered from his cultic experience. He attributed much to our fight, in that he always knew we were there for him, what we stood for, and that we never gave up on him. He also said that by fighting her, it helped him to see another, very unappealing side of Weaver, which may have helped him to make a decision to leave.

So my message for those families who have lost loved ones to a cultic group is to keep hope alive, do not give up on them, and make sure that they know you are there for them. And while many so-called cult experts (Mr. Ross excluded) will tell you not to fight the group for your loved one, our experience says otherwise. But we did fight carefully, wisely and legally.

It is also important to note that our fighting of the group appears not to have been a major factor in our son’s decision to leave. He made that decision for reasons only he can share. We are just celebrating his strength to do so, and our reunion with him, every day.

Postscript: A Father's Day note received by the author of this article in 2009 reads, "I love you, Dad. I am just so damn proud to have you as my father. Every day is so great because you are in my life. You fought for that every day so really we never lost each other because of your strength and love. That makes me a better person, your actions have made ME a better man, a stronger man. If that isn't the spirit of fatherhood, then what the hell is."

Copyright © 2008 The Rick Ross Institute.

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