Rick Ross is using the Web to counteract cults.
Known as one of the most visible experts on religious cults and "deprogramming," Ross has garnered attention across the nation and in the Red River Valley in recent years.
Now, he's on the information superhighway and his home page is a virtual library of religious groups, including the violent and peaceful, strange and secretive, devout and wacky.
"I have one of the largest Web sites regarding cults on the Internet," Ross said in a telephone interview from Phoenix, where he is based.
Ross stirred up Grand Forks controversy three years ago, when he was called in by ex-members of Victory Church to portray it as cult-like. Last year, he was in the news again for his role in "deprogramming," the daughter of a Grafton, N.D., couple who are concerned about the influence of a martial arts instructor on their teen-age daughter.
In 1991, he was in the middle of a stir caused by Fargo parents concerned about a Detroit Lakes, Minn., man and his "Master Path," group's influence on young people.
Ross has been tabbed as an expert by government and private sources on groups such as the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, and the Heaven's Gate suicide cult in California.
This week, Ross appeared on the Geraldo Rivera television show.
The topic was mothers who have rescued their children from cults or cult-like groups. Ross was one of the experts consulted on the show. Also appearing was the Grafton mother, who told of her family's effort to keep Michael Armbrust, a tae kwan do instructor from Minto, N.D., away from their daughter. They have won court protection and Armbrust spent several days in jail this summer for violating the court order. (Because her daughter is a minor, the Herald has not identified the family.)
Although the Geraldo afternoon talk show does not air in this region, satellite television users can pick it up, and KARE-II, the NBC affiliate in the Twin Cities, airs it at 3 p.m. each weekday.
The Grafton couple praises Ross for helping their daughter think through her life and relationship with her former instructor, and for offering to do some of the consulting free-of-charge. They say he seems genuinely concerned with their family's well being.
Ross also encourages families such as the Grafton couple to use the news media to make their case against their alleged foes. the Grafton woman said. That's one reason she agreed to appear on the Geraldo Rivera show, she said. Although she wants to protect her daughter from publicity on the one hand, she also is concerned about other possible victims, the woman said.
Ross has been fighting a long and costly legal battle stemming from a forcible deprogramming he did in the early 1990s. He no longer does such forcible deprogramming, but only works with willing adults, or minors with the approval of their parents or guardians, Ross said. He counts himself an expert on "harassment by the Church of Scientology," because the group has funded and led a multi-million dollar lawsuit against him over the 1991-deprogramming incident in the Pacific Northwest.
"The Church of Scientology tied me up in court for six years, [but] they failed in their goal which was to keep me from working."
The courts have basically thrown the case out and the original plaintiff, Jason Scott, settled with him, including asking Ross to give him 200 hours of consulting expertise, according to the Washington Post. The article is one of the legions available on Ross' Web site.
His Web site includes much about his own activity, but also has an amazing amount of reference material on groups ranging from New Age to fundamentalist. There are even somewhat eerie sound effects.