The trial of self-help guru James Arthur Ray, who is charged in the death of three people at a sweat lodge in Arizona, resumes Tuesday.
n Friday — the fourth day of the trial — a woman testified that Ray dismissed her alert about the failing condition of a fellow participant, who was one of three people who eventually died.
Speaking in Yavapai County Superior Court in Camp Verde, Laura Tucker said she twice — the second time, doing so more loudly and urgently — told Ray she was worried about Lizbeth Marie Neuman, whom she had helped support, during a brief break in the ritual.
“(Ray) said Liz has done this before — she knows what she’s doing,” Tucker said, claiming that Ray did not check on Neuman despite her concerns.
Neuman, 49, of Prior Lake, Minnesota, died nine days later.
Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown, New York, and James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee, died the night of the event.
During the defense’s cross-examination, Tucker said it would be wrong to characterize her and others who participated in the retreat as “cult followers” or “brainwashed” — noting that many were well-educated and successful.
“It was absolutely a massive distortion,” she said of media reports, such as that participants were part of a “cult” and subject to “mind control” by Ray.
At least 15 others who took part in the ritual fell ill, but more than 40 others were uninjured.
It should be noted that people who get caught up in cults come from all layers of society. Many are well-educated and successful.
“Nobody joins a cult,” Deborah Layton — one of the few surviving members of the Peoples Temple massacre — says in the documentary Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple
“You join a religious organization. You join a political movement. You join with people you really like.”
In their book Take Back Your Life: Recovering from Cults and Abusive Relationships cult experts Janja Lalich and Madeleine Tobias explain:
While we are at it, let’s shatter another myth: people who join cults are not stupid, weird, crazy, weak-willed, or neurotic. Most cult members are of above-average intelligence, well adjusted, adaptable, and perhaps a bit idealistic. In relatively few cases is there a history of a pre-existing mental disorder.
Anyone is capable of being recruited (or seduced) into a cult if his personal and situational circumstances are right. Currently there are so many cults formed around so many different types of beliefs that it is impossible for a person to truthfully claim that he would never be vulnerable to a cult’s appeal.
Cult recruitment is not mysterious. It is as simple and commonplace as the seduction and persuasion processes used by lovers and advertisers. However, depending on the degree of deception and manipulation involved, the resultant attachments can be even more powerful.
Prosecutors say that Ray psychologically pressured his customers to remain in the lodge even when they weren’t feeling well, contributing to their deaths.