Big Technology

Cult Deprogrammer Rick Alan Ross on NXIVM, QAnon, and What Makes Us Vulnerable

“We predispose ourselves into being vulnerable because we dismiss cults as crazy”

Alex Kantrowitz
OneZero
Published in
20 min readDec 23, 2020

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Rick Alan Ross

OneZero is partnering with the Big Technology Podcast from Alex Kantrowitz to bring readers exclusive access to interview transcripts with notable figures in and around the tech industry.

This week, we’re joined by Rick Alan Ross, a professional cult deprogrammer. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Community as we know it is in a state of decline. People today have fewer friendships than ever, they are lonelier than ever, and religious participation is at an all-time low, with 23% of people in the U.S. declaring themselves as having no religion. Technology has played a big role in this decline in community, with most people preferring to sink into the internet instead of strengthening physical bonds. And with such a gaping hole in our lives, cults are filling the void.

Joining us to discuss what’s happening is Rick Alan Ross, the world’s preeminent authority on cults and head of the Cult Education Institute. He recently appeared on HBO’s The Vow, which examined NXIVM, a self-help organization-turned-sex cult.

Kantrowitz: Do you think the decline of in-person, physical community has played any role in the appeal of cults in general?

Ross: The nuclear family has deteriorated, the divorce rate is certainly substantial. There are single-parent households, there are parents that both work and are not home with their kids, and people grow up feeling somewhat socially isolated. When you see people interacting through their smartphones and not really meeting people in person, you become isolated and feel perhaps more vulnerable.

A consistent thread that pulls through so many narratives of people who become involved in cults is that they’re going through a difficult time in their life and they need something. They may have had a recent breakup with a romantic relationship, they may have lost a…

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Alex Kantrowitz
OneZero

Veteran journalist covering Big Tech and society. Subscribe to my newsletter here: https://bigtechnology.substack.com.