Since leaving his prison cell, James Arthur Ray has quite predictably been working on a comeback. My biggest concern about a post-incarceration Ray has never been that he would once again ascend to the dizzying heights he attained as part of The Secret. It's that he would consolidate a small, devoted following, without ever becoming big enough to invite much media scrutiny. If I had to guess, I'd say that this is precisely his strategy.
Ray is not courting media as he once did. He's avoiding all but the most sycophantic and controllable outlets. If they won't lob him softballs like the thoroughly compromised media whore Piers Morgan, he's not interested. So, when Bloomberg reporter Matt Stroud came calling, Ray declined to be interviewed on the record.
The result is a fairly even-handed article about Ray's appearances in small rooms anywhere he can scrape together an audience. Unlike Morgan, Stroud also interviewed Ginny Brown, who lost her daughter Kirby to Ray's sweat lodge inferno. The writing is dispassionate. The facts are damning.
Ray no longer commands huge auditoriums at thousands of dollars a head. Stroud caught up with him at the Tatum Ranch Community Center teaching "around 30 name-tagged men and women who last week shelled out $495 for his daylong presentation." The event is ironically titled "Resources for Epic Living."
According to Stroud, Ray spent half the event talking about personal responsibility.
“I. Am. Responsible,” Ray begins to his captive Phoenix audience, pausing between each word for effect. “You’ve got to think to yourself, ‘What would happen if I took complete and total responsibility?’”
It's kind of a neat trick, a little verbal sleight of hand, talking endlessly about taking responsibility, while avoiding taking any real responsibility for his own actions and inactions.
Ray says he initially blamed everyone but himself after his arrest. He felt betrayed—as though he were an unfair target for something he couldn’t have prevented. It was the first case in U.S. history in which “adults participated willingly in an event and then the organizer of the event was brought up on charges,” he says. He vividly describes his time in prison, which he says was the “worst time in my life," and he always returns to his idea of responsibility.
“This is the dark side of pursuing your power and your passion. Sometimes life out-and-out freaking sucks. But if you never had a bad day, what would a good day be? ... The fact is, it happened. I messed up. I missed some things."
But he's still blaming everyone but himself and painting himself as a hapless victim of circumstance, pimping himself out to any outlet willing to carry his water with self-pitying copy like this?
In 2009, after rising to the top of his industry, James was involved in a terrible accident that claimed the lives of three people he cared about deeply. The anguish of that event would have been enough… but it didn’t end there.
James subsequently lost his business that took 20 years to build, his entire life savings, his home, his reputation and many so-called friends and colleagues deserted him. Simultaneously, his Mother was diagnosed with cancer, his Father with dementia… James eventually lost his freedom.
Ray did not simply miss a few things. He ignored repeated pleas, year after year, to stop risking the health, safety, and lives, of his followers, with outrageously hot sweat lodges. He even ignored the concerns of a medical doctor who attended Spiritual Warrior in 2008 and who probably prevented deaths that year. He obstructed attempts to get timely medical care when people like Daniel Pfankuch were injured by the excessive temperatures. He didn't just "miss" obvious signs of heat related illness. He willfully denied them.
As Ginny Brown told Stroud, "The question I would ask him is, if he’s responsible, why hasn’t he paid restitution?”
Ray has not only failed to compensate the families in any way, or even return the funds the dead and injured paid for this horrible event, he has never even reached out to them. When asked, he apparently lied to Stroud, claiming that Ginny Brown has a restraining order against him. She says no.
None of this sounds like a man taking personal responsibility. If anything, he's just finding new ways to exploit the people he killed. He's repeatedly used their deaths to garner pity. He's convinced his fans and followers that he's been made stronger and wiser, for having survived a tragedy that took three lives – all without ever mentioning their names. They're just three nameless sacrifices to Ray's grand vision.
The numbers are small, but he has devotees. Their excuses for Ray's history range from the oblivious to the odious.
“I don’t think it was fair ... what he went through,” adds Kevin Steele a marketer who also attended the Phoenix presentation. “It was just an accident. People were adults, were in adult situations, having given adult consent and signed agreements. Did anyone set out to murder three people that day? Absolutely not. So it’s water under the bridge today.”
You really have to wonder about someone who considers the deaths of three people in the prime of their lives, the grieving of their families, the children left fatherless, as "water under the bridge."
So what is Ray offering these folks?
According to his own Twitter posts, he spouts meaningless platitudes about meaningfulness to small groups of bored people.
He also does online seminars, works with private clients, and offers lots of products and fire imagery, because he's tactful.
Every so often I take stroll down his Facebook page. Most recently, I was curious to see if he'd mentioned this Bloomberg News article. He hadn't. But, aside from the near media blackout, he's the same old James.
He's still trying to make the universe his bitch.
He still has little use for friends as anything other than a means to an end.
He's still thinks of love as a thing to be leveraged.
He's still a bully. The schoolroom chalkboard is a nice touch. You'd think at some point these people would tire of being insulted and condescended to by a press-dodging ex-con.
So what does it take?
He still sounds an awful lot like the man who intimidated exhausted, depleted followers out of leaving an "hellacious hot" sweat lodge because greatness requires sacrifice and it's all "mind over matter."
So, you're just gonna have to get in that space where hey, you know, it's just like holdin' the books or doin' anything else, I'm gonna have to transcend my physical body. And you can do this. You can do this. Regardless of whether you think you can or can't, you can. I know you can... It's just a matter of whether or not you will. And there's gonna come a time when you're gonna wanna run; you're gonna wanna bolt. I know 'cause I feel that way, too. And it's in those moments where you get to say, hey, this is my chance to live integrity. This is my chance to live honorably. And to live my values above and beyond my moods because mood says get the hell outa here.
This is why relative obscurity is Ray's friend. He can keep right on saying incendiary things, pushing past people's boundaries and the bounds of good taste, insulting the people who pay to keep him afloat, and dangling the prospect of some elusive "mastery" that has completely evaded his own grasp.