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October 22nd, 2009
11:47 AM ET

James Arthur Ray is selling, but not talking

The sweat lodge in Sedona, AZ organized by James Arthur Ray.
The sweat lodge in Sedona, AZ organized by James Arthur Ray.

Ismael Estrada
AC360° Producer

At 6:30 pm on Wednesday night, people were lining up at the Heritage Ballroom inside the Antlers Hilton in Colorado Springs. About 125 people filled the ballroom to listen to James Arthur Ray. He was here to sell and promote his beliefs, teaching people how to “enrich their lives and their pocket book in the process.”

Gary Tuchman and I were there for another reason. We were trying to speak with Ray about a homicide investigation surrounding the deaths of three people at a sweat lodge Mr. Ray organized and attended in Sedona, AZ two weeks ago.

Authorities at the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office say they would like to speak with Ray about his involvement in the sweat lodge ceremony and have said the incident is now considered a homicide investigation. Family members of those who died also say they would like to speak with him. While he may not be talking to them, Ray has kept very busy, sticking with his schedule -  stopping at various cities across the country over the past two weeks trying to drum up business.

Last night, Gary was finishing a phone interview with Beverly Bunn, a woman who was inside the sweat lodge two weeks ago, while I was sitting in the lobby waiting for Ray to arrive.

Bunn told Gary that the group was encouraged by Ray to fight through the pain of sitting inside the hot conditions of the sweat lodge. She told Gary people were passing out and people started shouting names to see check if anyone else had passed out. Bunn says a woman passed out and the group wasn’t sure if she was breathing. When it was brought to Ray's attention, Bunn said, “He said the door has now closed and the round has begun.” Bunn says Ray told the group “we’ll deal with that at the end of this round.”

When Gary came down to the lobby, he and photojournalist Kevin Myers were approached by Hilton Security and a police officer and were told they were not allowed to take any video of Ray. I was inside the ballroom, where the self–help promoter was about to take the stage. Ray was introduced and immediately addressed the crowd saying that the past 10 days had been the toughest days of his life because of those who passed away. He also said there were many things being said about him that were very disparaging.

It was then that I introduced myself as a reporter with CNN and asked him how he could justify touring from city to city, earning money, not two weeks after three people had died in a sweat lodge he organized.

He told me that the event was not a press conference, and I kept repeating my question asking why he hadn’t spoken with anyone about these issues. I was then asked by security to get up, and was escorted out of the ballroom never getting an answer.

soundoff (27 Responses)
  1. Gerald

    It is the tradition here that no human "owns" a Sweatlodge and the selling of Medicines and Sweatlodge for money will be dealt with by the Grandfathers. I hope the public understands that this is not about the healing powers of the Lodge which there are many and many witnesses of these powers. It is about the disrespect of, one man's greed, toward the Creator and what happens when they try to profit from the lodge.....forgetting they are only a caretaker.

    October 22, 2009 at 7:47 pm |
  2. Star

    It IS really unbelievable that he could continue with these seminars to drum up potential customers when he has to know he hasn't a got a future in this business anymore. I just don't know how anyone in their right mind could continue with this farce after what happened. Do you think he is in such shock of how the life he created is completely over? Is it just his own denial holding on until they drag him off the stage?

    October 22, 2009 at 7:40 pm |
  3. Darrell Revok

    Charles Manson was a cullt leader. He was not a guru. Gurus are public figures. Ray is not a cult leader. He is a guru like Dr. Phil, Carl Jung, and Sigmund Freud. All three play off the gullibility of their followers. They knowingly decieve their followers. Ray's practice cannot be defended and justified by saying that it came from Native Americans. After all, one might wonder just how many Native Americans died in this ritual.

    October 22, 2009 at 7:35 pm |
  4. Sharon

    I agree with the poster Belkie about the concern that Ray could flee. He is scheduled to speak in Toronto, Canada on Oct. 28. I don't understand why authorities can't seize his passport, as he may definitely be a flight risk. I suppose it's because he would have to be formally charged before having to surrender his passport.

    Surely, though, even if they can't arrest him right now while they wait for more evidence (forensics, etc.), don't the police have the power to bring him in for questioning? Probably wouldn't do any good, as he would likely just plead the fifth.

    I hope the police are moving on this...because once he's out of the country, it would be easy for him to skip off to somewhere that has no extradition treaty.

    As well, as distasteful as Ray is to most of us in this thread, we do have to remember that in both the US and Canada, people are considered innocent of a crime until proven guilty, so even though his actions have been disgusting, dangerous, and self-serving, and quite possibly criminal, he is still entitled to due process of law. I just wish the cops and forensic scientists would get on with it!

    October 22, 2009 at 6:51 pm |
  5. carolyn

    Ray's God-complex is appalling. And he's playing the victim? Give me a break. His ego caused three deaths and he blames people for saying disparaging things about him!?! Outrageous. If he is going to appropriate another culture's ceremony he should honor the tradition, not turn it into a brainwashing event, Not turn it into murder. As far as I'm concerned, with these deaths he crossed the line from manslaughter to homicide when he ignored people who were in distress.

    October 22, 2009 at 6:44 pm |
  6. YLM

    Humm, 10K for every mindless follower. What a racket...you pay to die.

    October 22, 2009 at 6:26 pm |
  7. Been There

    Ray is a classic narcissist - and no expert of any kind except in perpetrating cons. Note that all of his comments about the tragedy are how it has afffected HIM! How hard this has been on HIM! Not once has he apologized to the families of those injured or dead, expressed grief about the deaths, or even acknowledged that he was in charge when these deaths occurred. Most telling, rather than stay to help with the investigation and meet with families, his first move was to flee the state, leaving others to clean up the mess.

    October 22, 2009 at 6:21 pm |
  8. Monica

    I'm thinkin'... criminal negligence, manslaughter, if not 3 counts of murder... in the very least. The man IS responsible... TOTALLY! Lock him up! And he is STILL sending out emails to his "loyal followers" in which he is moaning about having to "take heat" for this! Is he JOKING???? TAKING HEAT? How about the heat he gave his followers which killed them? Lock him up for life. On so many levels the man DISGUSTS me!!!

    October 22, 2009 at 6:02 pm |
  9. Elizabeth

    At least an honest and brave heart came out talking about what happened inside the sweat lodge. This is such a tragic event butfor us outside the US it is amazing to watch how calm and relaxed people behave in situations so horrible as this! You people have no heart? Where are the other participants-sufferers of this tragedy? Why haven´t they complained? Isn´t US the land of the free? Did Ray make them sign contracts not to keep secrecy? How can he keep on going? Is it greed?

    October 22, 2009 at 5:55 pm |
  10. Vicki in Chicago

    Hector: I suspect he has business liability insurance that will cover a lot of his legal expenses. I'd also bet he has his business incorporated, which would provide a wide veil of protection for his personal assets.

    October 22, 2009 at 5:44 pm |
  11. denverjan

    Thank you CNN for exposing this hypocrite-charlatan. .

    October 22, 2009 at 5:40 pm |
  12. sharon

    This is unspeakable. This man should be locked up.
    The lady that said this same thing happened before.....someone should realy be talking with her.

    Also........if any news outlet wishes correct information you NEED TO GO TO THE NATIVE AMERICAN COMMUNITIES. This is their way.
    their life. They have the knowledge. They do not charge.

    This ray person is a preditor.
    He mixes anything and everything and charges for this mess.

    October 22, 2009 at 4:34 pm |
  13. Rob K

    i think James Arthur Ray belongs behind bars. if it was a enrolled native american who was doing this, he would have ben shut down right away and put behind bars.

    October 22, 2009 at 4:33 pm |
  14. Eileen

    Why can't James Ray be stopped and picked up for questioning?
    His teachings and practices are shockingly similar to those of Jim Jones who led more than 900 of his followers to their deaths by drinkiing cyanide-laced Kool Aid in Jonestown, Guyana in 1978.
    I know we have freedom of speech in America, and military people are willing to die to defend this freedom for us. . Yet some peple abuse this freedom and should be held accountable for their actions.

    October 22, 2009 at 4:04 pm |
  15. Belkie

    Ray should be sitting in a jail cell; I hope the authorities are taking time to get all of the pieces of the puzzle they need for a conviction
    I want Ray to be arrested before he has a chance to leave the country, seeing that he definitely has the financial means. Authorities should confiscate his passport at once.
    I wonder how Ray was unaffected by the conditions in the 'sweat lodge'. My guess is that he was well-hydrated; well-fed and had some source of oxygen/air that was not visibile in the darkness inside. I am certain Ray would never put HIMSELF in harm'sway–
    he thinks too much of himself, and, tragically, so little of others.
    Any person who would partcipate in ANY program this man puts on now is simply delusional.
    I hope he spends the remainder of his life in prison and that his ill[-gotten gains are distributed to those who have been harmed by him.

    October 22, 2009 at 3:54 pm |
  16. redinkdot

    Hey, when I went to one of his events, he had two "bodyguards" at the stage below the pedestal he sat on. Would this be the security that was asking press to leave or has this man attained more security and for what purpose? This has GOT TO STOP. What if...what if this man banks and flees...

    October 22, 2009 at 3:24 pm |
  17. Duff

    We got the same response in Denver when I and a friend confronted Ray at his promotional seminar. I can hardly believe Ray has not yet been arrested, given the accusations from seminar participants.

    October 22, 2009 at 2:48 pm |
  18. Sharon

    Similar to Cindy, I too wonder why people are still willing to pay big bucks for any of Ray's seminars, in light of the tragedy that recently happened. It's really disturbing that people in his audiences were cheering for Ray and dissing the dissenters. Some people seem so reluctant to give up the perception of the guru as being perfect, such that when he demonstrates that he has feet of clay, they just can't believe it and will go to great lengths to continue to believe.

    I'm also wondering why the police investigation is taking so long. I'm sure the families of the ones who died would like to get an indication from the police as to what kind of accountability Ray will be held to.

    Ray must be one cold-blooded kind of guy. That he can just blithely go about upselling his seminars and shows no sign of either compassion or humility (despite his crocodile tears) raises the question: Has this man been so warped and indoctrinated by self-help schlock himself that he cannot even see his own basic humanity anymore? Increasingly, I see the self-help movement as an indoctrination into selfishness and narcissism. Are these the kinds of values we wish to pass on to our children?

    October 22, 2009 at 2:24 pm |
  19. rr

    Thank you to the smart, courageous journalists at CNN like Mr. Estrada, Mr. Tuchman and Mr. Myers for staying with this story and pressing for answers.

    This story should be making national headlines, but James Arthur Ray's high-powered PR man knows that if Ray won't say anything, most news outlets will let the story die instead of following it and investigating it and keeping it front and center.

    You've got our respect and appreciation. Please stay with this story, and pieces like it.

    October 22, 2009 at 1:26 pm |
  20. Hector Gonzales

    Hey probably needs the money for his defense fund.

    October 22, 2009 at 1:16 pm |
  21. Sandra

    James Arthur Ray is a dangerous man who needs to be stopped. He preaches to his followers that they should surround themselves with supporters. Maybe if he would have been open to critics he wouldn't have made this deadly mistake.

    October 22, 2009 at 1:06 pm |
  22. Tony

    This guy has been advised by legal counsel not to speak about the deaths in AZ. That's how it works.

    Yet he is still yapping, trying to drum up business...let's hope in his arrogance enough beans get spilled to stop him.

    October 22, 2009 at 1:04 pm |
  23. Bahiyyih

    This particular speaker was the one that I listened to most in connection to The Secret. I thought he struck a positive chord. However, I think over time being the recipient of so much admiration and devotion has made him forget that he is NOT the power he speaks about. If he understood this he would have stepped back into the real world out of the coccoon he has apparently woven around himself to answer for the lives lost to their loved ones while under his tutelage. Words and ideas are seperate from the speaker/writer that is why they COME OUT OF US.

    October 22, 2009 at 12:45 pm |
  24. JAS

    This man Needs to stop playing, Deaf, Blind and Dumb. If they can Bring Charges on BALLOON Family, They can DEF Bring Charges on this man who by Brain Washing Murdered 3 people. They trusted Him with their lives, He promised them a better life, and they believed him, therefore He is responsible.

    October 22, 2009 at 12:44 pm |
  25. Elizabeth Peterson

    Nearly 30 years ago I was involved in Lifespring in Phoenix as a participant. It sounds just like this cult, only different names,etc. Nearly 20 years ago I owned and operated a cafe and store in Antelope, Ore. where the Baghwan Rashneesh set up his famous cult. It somehow all ties into predators like Ray feeding off educated and professional people's insecurities, and desires to become more and better. Guys like him offer the world, then just as quickly, begin administering the kool-aid. Remenber Jim Jones? And the cult in San Diego back in 1977? Lifespring is now long gone, as is the Rashneesh in Oregon, but in it's sad, tragic wake lies the bodies and spirits of many unfortunate innocent believers who never had a clue.

    October 22, 2009 at 12:18 pm |
  26. leroy smith sr.

    been watching the sweatlodge incident. The sweatlodge within my tribe is to clean the boby, as an everyday shower would,to most peole would everyday. however some people make it to be a religous ceromony. which it was never was, but with modern times as they are anyone could make it a relgion. and make money . but not me its still process to cleanse the body.

    October 22, 2009 at 10:21 am |
  27. Cindy

    I just can not believe that people are still willing to listen and to give money to James Arthur Ray after three people died under his care at the sweat lodge scam. Are people that dang stupid and blind!?

    The man won't even talk to the people whose family members he helped kill but he'll yap to a bunch of nuts willing to fork over cash huh? RIDICULOUS!!

    These people really need their heads examined if they buy into his trash after these deaths.

    Cindy...Ga.

    October 22, 2009 at 10:19 am |