Cult Expert: Sedona, Arizona is a definite draw for cults - KMSP-TV

Cult Expert: Sedona, Arizona is a definite draw for cults

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PHOENIX (KSAZ) - If you watched the season finale of  "The Following" on FOX, you know it's a frightening fictional look inside a killer cult -- but it's not as far fetched as you might think.

According to researchers, destructive cults are on the rise -- right here in Arizona.

Dark and disturbing, "The Following" paints a picture of a man, Joe Carroll, who has garnered such power over people he can compel them to kill.

Sound impossible, unbelievable, far-fetched in this day and age?  Not really, says cult watcher Rick Ross.

"The Following reflects what cults can be like.  The character, the leader Joe, is a Manson-esque figure who has an intense desire to destroy, kill.. very much like cult leaders that I've dealt with over the years," said Ross.

Ross runs the Cult Education Institute in New Jersey, but he grew up in Phoenix, knows Arizona and says one city here is a definite draw for cult activity.

"Sedona, Arizona has been kind of a magnet for groups called cults," he said.

Beautiful, mystical Sedona, with its stunning red rock, but Ross says it's the greenery that draws cults -- the kind found in the wallets of Sedona residents.

"Demographically, there are a lot of people there who have extra money.  They have money to spend.  It's an affluent area and there are a lot of groups that are set up there, most notably James Arthur Ray," explained Ross.

Ray, the motivational speaker and self-help guru, charged as much as $10,000 per person for his retreats.  One of those retreats near Sedona in 2009 turned deadly.

Three dead, more than a dozen others sickened in a sweat lodge ceremony orchestrated by Ray.  Many could have left the sweltering makeshift lodge, but they stayed.

"That is how total the control was that James Arthur Ray had over these people psychologically and emotionally.  It was very cult like the way he was able to dominate them to death," said Ross.

Ray, who was convicted of three counts of negligent homicide, served 20 months in an Arizona prison.  He said he didn't mean for anyone to get hurt.  Released in 2013, he is again building his self-help business.

Sedona's business continues to boom for its red rock views and the so-called vortexes that enhance spirituality and energy.  It is that vibe that also draws cults, say some residents.

"There's a natural draw for healing and self-discovery in Sedona, so I think I disagree.. it's affluency that's drawing what cults do come here, but that natural draw of nature and everything else," said Arthur Baird of the Sedona Crystal and Sound Healing Center.

There is a stark difference between groups offering spirituality and self-awareness and destructive cults, like David Koresh's Branch Davidians of Waco, Charles Manson of the Manson Family, Marshall Applewhite's Heaven's Gate, Jim Jones' People's Tempe and in "The Following," Joe Carroll.

The horror of this show -- fiction yes, but real life lessons can be learned as well, says Ross.  One of them is to be careful who you follow.

"Many of these groups are quite deceptive.  No one knowingly joins a cult, so do your homework.. investigate about this group before you go into it," said Ross.

Online: www.culteducation.com


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