I'm a cult hunter and here's how ‘narcissistic' leaders recruit their followers & what you can do to save loved ones

I’m a cult hunter and here’s how ‘narcissistic’ leaders recruit their followers & what you can do to save loved ones

A CULT buster has described how “narcissistic” leaders recruit their followers and described what loved ones can do to save relatives they are worried about.

Rick Ross told The Sun those in charge of the groups often exhibit similar characteristics and prey on vulnerable people “who are going through a bad time.”


Ross has more than 35 years experience in helping victims to escape cults after witnessing an attempted infiltration of his grandmother's nursing home in 1982.

He said cults prey on the vulnerable.

And they are often led by people Ross describes as ” deeply narcissistic and ego driven.”

He added: “They have no conscious about what they do or who they hurt. They do not have empathy about someone feeling pain. 

“They are driven by their needs and desires and part of that is to be the center of attention and adored.

Ross told The Sun those vulnerable to joining a sects are “going through a bad time”.

He added: “I think there is no specific profile – it could be anyone. “But there is a narrative which reoccurs.

“Someone is at a time in the life that they are not happy. They are going through a bad time – they are depressed or sad.

“At the point where they are vulnerable someone comes along and offers to help them.

“They introduce them to the group and they agree because they are looking for change or relief.”

People who are happy “aren't looking for change,” he adds.


But there is hope that people can escape their clutches, he says.

“I would say don't be confrontational. Do your research. Ask what this leader and its group are about.

“Take a deep breath, do not rush in, do some digging,” he said.

The interventionist says he has helped more than 500 people escape from extreme groups – including Keith Raniere's NXIVM and Waco's Branch Davidians – since beginning his work with victims in the 1980s.

In an exclusive interview with The Sun, Ross told how he works with families concerned about their loved ones and detailed the four stages involved in trying to help someone escape a cult.


He said: “I started in 1982 in Phoenix, Arizona as an anti cult activist. 

“My grandmother's nursing home was infiltrated by a group targeting and attempting to indoctrinate the home.

“I was concerned about my grandmother. That led to me joining committees and the work evolved from there. 

“Then I started the intervention work. I have now done over 500 interventions across the US and around the world.”

Since starting his work a number of the cults have reached infamy, including some of those Ross has helped victims to escape.

But many more exist and and there are thought to be at least 10,000 cults across the US, according to 2018 data.

Merriam Webster defines a cult as “a small religious group that is not part of a larger and more accepted religion and that has beliefs regarded by many people as extreme or dangerous.”

It adds it can also be a “situation in which people admire and care about something or someone very much or too much.”


Ross' website, the Cult Education Institute, is said to have gathered “one of the largest archives of information about controversial groups” with an A to Z listing of the groups.

Ross – who released a book Cults Inside Out: How People Get In and Can Get Out – added: “The hope of the invention is that at the end of it the person will decide to take a break from the group.”

One cult which captured Ross' attention early on was NXIVM, run by Keith Raniere.

In October last year Raniere was sentenced to 120 years in jail for charges including sex trafficking, forced labor, and racketeering.

He was accused of running a sinister master-slave group called DOS where women were starved, branded on their groins, forced into sexual acts, and made to hand over damaging collateral such as naked pictures.

But Ross said he had been worried about the group as far back as 2001.


He said he helped a number of people escape before being sued by Raniere over his allegations.

That resulting legal action – which lasted 14 years – ended with Raniere's arrest, he said.

“I testified at Keith Raniere's trial as an expert witness,” he added.

“I had a long history of dealing with him dating back to 2001. A family came to me concerned about a family member involved with Raniere. 

“I staged a series of interventions and I was successful in getting three out of four out.”

Ross said he “became convinced and concerned that this was a destructive group who hurt many people.”

He added: “I put information about the group online and he sued me for 14 years. The case was dismissed shortly after he was arrested.

“He spent about $5 million suing me, he had surveillance, private investigators, people going through my garbage. He harassed me for many years.

“During that time I helped many people leaving NXIVM.

“So by the time he was on trial I knew him quite well.” 


Another cult to reach notoriety was Waco's Branch Davidians, led by David Koresh.

Again, Ross helped those involved – but also spoke of his heartbreak after the 1993 siege ended in a fiery blaze that killed 76 men, women and children.

On February 28, 1993, agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) tried to carry out a “dynamic entry” into the compound.

They suspected leader Koresh was in possession of illegal firearms and explosives.

Authorities alleged the religious sect began shooting first as the confrontation became a firefight, in which six members and four federal agents were killed, but the Branch Davidians claimed they acted in self-defense.

The ATF retreated, but later returned with FBI agents who began using psychological warfare, blasting loud noises during the night to keep the inhabitants awake.

As the days stretched into weeks, only a few dozen people had been persuaded to leave, and eventually the FBI ran out of patience on April 20 and mounted a second, and final, deadly raid.

The group believed Koresh, the self-proclaimed “lamb”, was the Son of God. He fathered a number of children with up to 19 wives, some as young as 12, while the other men remained celibate.

Ross said: “I was involved with the Davidian group led by David Koresh in Waco, Texas five years before the stand off. 

“I consulted the FBI and dealt with many families.

“At Waco there had been people who hoped their family members would get out.

“And then they died in the fire. There have been a number of cases that I have handled that have been heartbreaking.”


Ross also revealed how the leader behind the Jonestown 'Kool-Aid' massacre brainwashed moms into poisoning their babies and then themselves.

“Those children didn't want to drink the punch or didn't know what they were drinking,” he told The Sun.

Jim Jones is one of the most well-known cult leaders who brainwashed thousands even before he convinced 918 people to drink poison on November 18, 1978.

The press began to expose Jones, so he took his most loyal followers to a secluded area of the the South American nation of Guyana and cut off all communication with the outside world, Ross said.

“This is a standard technique of cult leaders,” he said. “The more extreme the group is, the more extreme the isolation is, but the children were not willing participants.

“The choice was made for them. They were given the the poison. And some parents who saw their children die, felt like they had nothing to live for,” Ross said.

The nearly 1,000 people who died 50 years ago was the direct result of a “narcissistic psycho-path who became unhinged after so much drug use,” Ross told The Sun.


Rsss has seen some huge successes in his work.

“One of my biggest successes”, he said, was the closure of a church in North Dakota which was closed after he worked with Oprah Winfrey on exposing it.

But he added: “Another case I worked on involved a couple who had 13 children.

“The mother had wanted to get out of the cult and the husband did not.

“She divorced him and got the children out and he then murdered her. 

“I was then hired to work with the children. Some of whom ultimately made a life outside the church. Some of whom went back to the church.”

“I thought that was heartbreaking,” Ross added.

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