Daily Notifications
Sign up for free emails to receive the feature story every morning in your inbox at


Where it all began for us: Rick Ross, David Koresh, and the Church of Scientology


Twenty years ago today, the new weekly edition of the Phoenix New Times featured a man named Rick Ross on its cover, and a byline that was printed there for the first time: “By Tony Ortega.”

Yes, it’s been 20 years to the day since our first cover story appeared, and that first story just happened to be about a man, Rick Ross, who was battling the Church of Scientology. (Inside, the clever headline on the piece, written by our editor Jeremy Voas, was “Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlatans.”)

Our story about Ross was also our first story about Scientology, and one that would lead us to others, and then others, and then, well, this is where we are today.

Rick was already well known nationally as a deprogrammer when we wrote the story. And one of the things we found interesting was that Scientology had expended so much energy trying to “dead agent” him and otherwise make things difficult for him when he only rarely worked with families involved in Scientology. He actually specialized in Bible-based groups.


One of them was a group in Washington State, called Life Tabernacle. An intervention Rick attempted with an 18-year-old member of that church, Jason Scott, had resulted in a lawsuit and a $5 million judgment against Ross and the Cult Awareness Network. It was a result of that judgment that saw CAN declare bankruptcy and Scientology take control of its assets. After that, when unsuspecting parents called CAN for information, they didn’t know they were calling Scientology itself. Talk about creepy.

Anyway, the thing about this old story we’re still most intrigued by was that we managed to document a real connection between Scientology’s Fair Game retaliation schemes and, oddly enough, David Koresh and the Branch Davidians in Waco. A private investigator hired by Scientology confirmed to us that yes, Scientology made sure that Koresh heard that Rick Ross was deprogramming one of Koresh’s former followers in Los Angeles. Rick has always assumed the point of that operation was to put him in harm’s way of Koresh, who was unpredictable.

Over the years, we’ve kept in touch with Rick, who now lives across the Hudson river from us in New Jersey. Recently, we caught up with him at some length to find out what he’s been up to in the last twenty years.

Shortly after that 1995 article was written, Rick launched a website in order to provide an online depository of information about the groups he watches. Today, the Cult Education Institute (CEI) is a massive database of information and a nonprofit organization of its own.

Rick tells us that CEI and its previous incarnation, the Rick A. Ross Institute, has been sued five times over the years by groups that are named in it. They include Church of the Immortal Consciousness (which was mentioned in our Phoenix New Times article), Pure Bride Ministries, Landmark Education, Gentle Wind Project, and NXIVM.

Rick says that he’s now done some 500 interventions, and in almost every state in the union. He’s qualified as an expert in 20 court cases in 10 states, including the prosecution of “sweat lodge guru” James Arthur Ray, who was convicted of manslaughter in the death of three people.

Rick has appeared in countless magazine articles, radio shows, television programs, and he’s also consulted in documentary features. Last year, we told you about his new book, Cults Inside Out: How People Get In and Can Get Out.

But Rick reminded us that the 1995 Phoenix New Times cover story came at a difficult time in his career.

“I was then facing off with Scientology and its brutal legal machine headed by Kendrick Moxon. I went through six years of legal wrangling in both criminal and civil court that ended with a startling settlement, which seemed to make Moxon crazy,” he says. With his legal troubles behind him, and Moxon in his rear mirror, Rick went on to thrive.

Meanwhile, we’d found a niche. This Scientology stuff was really intriguing.

So we kept at it. And wow, 20 years sure went by quickly.

And we want to thank Rick, who helped us mark the occasion by posing for photos in his office with his copies of the article, which he still has framed on his wall.



Babywatch, day twelve: Lisa McPherson in Room 174

November 30, 1995 was a Thursday. Rita Boykin came back to work another shift as Lisa McPherson’s caretaker after a few days off. What Rita noticed was that Lisa wasn’t so active now. She wasn’t pacing the room and talking incessantly. Now, Lisa was spending more time sitting on the bed and staying quiet. Rita noted that Lisa still wasn’t eating much, and seemed to be weak. She also noticed that Lisa appeared to have lost weight.

Rita noted in a statement that she helped Janis Johnson, the chief medical officer, inject Lisa with chloral hydrate, a sedative. But another caretaker, Heather Hoff, said that by the 29th, Wednesday, Janis had said not to use it on Lisa anymore. Whatever the exact date, at around this time, they give up on chloral hydrate but continued to give Lisa valerian root capsules to make her drowsy.

That night, Rita noted, Lisa was “scooting around” on the floor, moving her limbs, talking, and groaning. The next day, Rita and Heather would both notice that Lisa was now seriously showing signs of deterioration.



We didn’t get a chance to include photos in our book, so we’ve posted them at a dedicated page. Reader Sookie put together a complete index and we’re hosting it here on the website. Copies of the paperback version of ‘The Unbreakable Miss Lovely’ are on sale at Amazon. The Kindle edition is also available, and shipping instantly.

Our book tour is concluded for now. (But you can re-experience it through this nifty interactive map!) We’ll let you know about future appearances. Previous events: Santa Barbara (5/16), Hollywood (5/17), Orange County (5/17), San Diego (5/20), San Francisco (5/22), New York (6/11), Chicago (6/20), Toronto (6/22), Clearwater (6/28), Washington DC (7/12), Hartford (7/14), Denver (7/17), Dallas (7/20), Houston (7/22), San Antonio (7/24), Austin (7/25), Paris (7/29), London (8/4), Boston (8/24), Phoenix (9/15), Cleveland (9/23), Minneapolis (9/24), Portland (9/27), Seattle (9/28), Vancouver BC (9/29), Sydney (10/23), Melbourne (10/25), Adelaide (10/28), Perth (10/30)


Posted by Tony Ortega on November 30, 2015 at 07:00

E-mail your tips and story ideas to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. Here at the Bunker we try to have a post up every morning at 7 AM Eastern (Noon GMT), and on some days we post an afternoon story at around 2 PM. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…

BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of LA attorney and former church member Vance Woodward

UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists

GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice

SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts

PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer
The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill
The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ

Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield


Share Button
Print Friendly, PDF & Email