Mar 16, 2011

James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Day 12

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

Beverley Bunn Waits During Sidebar

I'm still contemplating why Tom Kelly's cross examination of Beverley Bunn really didn't sit well with me. It occurred to me late last night that, aside from his badgering and reducing a grieving woman to tears, what was really gnawing at me was that he dragged her personal issues into the court room and onto national television. I hadn't expected to have my hunch about what James Ray found so intriguing in her share, that he wanted to work with her one on one, so clearly affirmed. I hadn't expected to ever hear what she said. It's none of my business. That information is something she shared at a self-improvement seminar that she paid ten grand for and I doubt highly that she ever expected it to be blasted to the media. And I don't really see the reason for it.

How did it serve James Ray's defense to trot out her most personal reasons for having been at Spiritual Warrior? What was the probative value? If I were Kelly, I'd be a little concerned about how it makes Ray come off that the very common issues of codependency and difficulty setting boundaries required his personal attention. I kind of doubt that Kelly has that level of awareness and, sadly, I'm not expecting it of the jury either. But, to me, it says that she exposed herself as someone who could be manipulated. More than that, I think she's a formidable woman whose vulnerability to that kind of manipulation wasn't terribly apparent until she spelled it out. To a power thief, which I'm convinced Ray is, a very powerful person who is leaking power like that is very enticing. And he did what a power thief does. He started tearing her down in the name of building her up. I wish I had a nickle for every time I've seen that.

But what really alarms me, is that Kelly also exploited her personal vulnerability. In retrospect I see no reason for that line of questioning other than to psychologically terrorize a witness whose testimony and personal credibility was damaging to his client. He even started out this line of questioning by affirming that she's "a private person" and then proceeded to trot out her personal vulnerabilities and relationship issues in public. That's really low.

There is another kind of psychological terror that the defense is inflicting on the witnesses more broadly. This tactic of insisting that they were responsible for their choices has darker implications for people who survived a situation like this one. I've made numerous references to the work of Stanley Milgram in proving that we humans are very submissive to authority. Milgram's research, while highly valued, is no longer considered an ethical form of research. Current research standards don't allow for "subjects" who aren't told they're being studied, but rather willing, conscious participants. There were and are also concerns for the psychological well-being of people who were compelled to administer electrical shocks to people and hear them screaming, even though they learned afterwords that the people they thought were the subjects were acting and had not been shocked. The vast majority of Milgram's actual subjects -- all of whom had caved to varying degrees to authority figures who directed them to torture people -- were grateful for having been shown that about themselves. But not all them were so grateful. They were upset. And current ethical guidelines would not allow that kind of emotional risk to the research participants.

In this trial, the defense is actually exploiting exactly the same kind of emotional injury in people who weren't in the safety of a research environment. They were in a real life situation in which human beings died. I think it's apparent that everyone who's testified so far is visibly wrestling with guilt over their own submission to Ray's authority -- their helplessness and varying degrees of inaction when everything went to hell. These people are traumatized because they've learned the same ugly truth about themselves that every one of Milgram's research subjects did. Dennis Mehravar articulated it very clearly when he said that it wasn't logical but he didn't think he'd interrupt a round even if he knew someone was dying. The defense's approach is to twist the knife by insisting that they made free will choices and that they failed to respond to the threat and save the lives of three victims. That assertion reduced Beverley Bunn to tears. It was cruel. It will continue to be cruel every time the defense trots out this line of questioning to defend a man who did less than any of them to save lives even though he was in charge.

Truc Do Refreshes Stephen Ray's Memory

There are three major pillars to the defense's cross examination strategy: 1)You signed a waiver so you knew what you were getting into. 2) You are a grown-up and you are responsible for all your choices to participate in these activities. 3) Some questions may seem obscure but they lay the groundwork for the poisoning, as opposed to heat related death, theory.

Truc Do established that Stephen Ray was very impressed by James Ray's seminars. He liked Ray more than Tony Robbins who he had followed previously. He had been to many seminars which he found to be "very powerful." He also volunteered for some.

Do continues on this tangent, verifying James Ray's bona fides as "very powerful" teacher for some time before it becomes clear which of the three pillars of the defense strategy she's leading up to. It's the second; adults making choices.

After a long discussion about how Stephen Ray had had opportunities to network with many fascinating people she asks:

Do: Would you characterize these people that you met as being, um, strong thinkers?

Stephen Ray: Yes.

Do: Independent?

Stephen Ray: Yes.

Do: Uh, not people that are easily controlled?

Stephen Ray: Um. I wouldn't say that. Within the confines of the environment of the seminars, the seminars themselves are very controlled. [emphasis added]

Do: Sure. Uh, but in terms of providing you with the tools to improve your life, you're the one doing the work, correct?

Stephen Ray: Yes.

Do: Mr. Ray's not doing it for you.

Stephen Ray: No.

Do: And that would be the same true for all the other participants, correct?

Stephen Ray: Correct.

Do: So it takes a bit of independence. A bit of, uh, you know, free will, if you will, to apply those tools, correct?

Stephen Ray: Yes.

Got it? It takes independent thought and free will to do what James Arthur Ray tells you to do.

This brings up a point that was raised today by Sunny Hostin, of all people. That is that, arguably, what Ray did was a subtler form of manipulation than the prosecution has really been able to get across. He gets people to choose what he wants them to choose and those people think they've come to those decisions by themselves. This is nowhere more obvious than with Stephen Ray who, as I said yesterday, spouts James Ray jargon like he'd made it up himself.

Later, Do raised the issue of the many audio clips of Ray's lectures. She wanted to make the point that the excerpts Stephen Ray had heard thus far lacked context and wouldn't he appreciate hearing fuller versions. "Possibly." Because, Do explains, those excerpts that he'd heard from the prosecution make it sound like the seminar was all about death and, obviously, that's not the case. "Well, it seemed like there was definitely a death theme," but, yes, he did understand that it was a metaphor for getting the most out of life.

So, Do begins to play recordings of Ray reciting more of his warmed over Castaneda.

So you're gonna do some work on love and joy this week. And all of those, all of you who I've given assignments to, that's on top of a long list of assignments that I haven't given you yet, so, so just plan on you're not gonna sleep much [pause] Bill [laughter from group] Bill's like, at least I can sleep during meditation. [more laughter, including Ray laughing at his own joke listening in the courtroom] Okay! Let's talk about, um, what the ancients maintained are the four qualities of power. I mentioned this earlier. [rustling papers] Five, huh, I added one. Just for you. It's usually four, except for this group. Five qualities of personal power. The very first quality I want to talk about, I'm gonna call it Erase. Personal. History. How many of you have read Castaneda? All right. If you've read your Castaneda then this is a term that's very common to you. And what it means is that you've got a tremendous amount of energy that is consumed on a daily basis with upholding your past. I mean if you only have a certain amount of energy that you're able to access at this particular moment in your own evolution then imagine if you will that if you've got all this past you're carrying with you of who you used to be and how you grew up and how this happened and that happened. Then it takes energy just to hold onto that and just to continually recreate it. That make sense to you? And so erasing personal history is just about letting that go.

Note that the joke Ray still finds so funny is about how sleep deprived they're all going to be, including someone named Bill, who clearly needs more sleep. So, like so many abusers, he does it with a smile, but he's singling someone out who isn't complying with his rule about not sleeping and needling them to do things his way.

Do also played the excerpt Polk played yesterday. I've taken the opportunity to clean up, in that post,  what I transcribed from the live feed. I think there was a little more "context" in her clip, but not enough that I could tell a difference and it really didn't change what I thought about it. That is to say, it still reads as Castaneda on steroids.

But I guess what Do wanted to point out is that he said "life is precious." Maybe Polk cut that off. I don't remember. But, now it's clear. James Ray is a believer in life. He doesn't actually advocate death. Because, you know, someone might have thought that.

Now, more recycled Castaneda:

The second level up we call a warrior. And the warrior is an individual who begins to take a greater responsibility for his or her own existence. The materialist is pretty much at the effect of an external cause. The warrior is an individual who begins to say, hey, you know what? I'm gonna carve out my own identity. I going to set my own destiny. I'm going to choose my own intention. And I'm going to live it. I'm going to live that. And that's a good place to start. It's a good place to start. The next level up, and by the way, a lot of people are not there yet. If you look at what happens in society, a large portion of the people in society adhere to their language. Well it's the economy that's driving my results. The economy blew my business out. It's my husband. It's my wife. You know that's really a materialistic viewpoint. A warrior begins to to say, hey, I can drive my own bus to some degree.

The next one is scholar and the scholar is an individual, if a warrior is very emotionally driven, which they are, then a scholar is more driven by what part, you get a guess...

I just have to repeat what I said before on that pathetic co-optation of warrior ethos. A warrior is someone who is ready to put his or her life on the line for other people.

Stephen Ray does American Freestyle Karate. He's been studying martial arts since he was a child. He holds a third degree black belt. It's very physically challenging and he's had some minor injuries. Do asks if injuries could lead to death and he says it's a very remote possibility and in over twenty years  he's never seen anyone seriously hurt but, yes, it's theoretically possible. (Lesson for today: Martial arts training is much safer than a James Ray seminar.)

He's signed waivers, not years ago, but everything has a release now. (In other words, they're ubiquitous and perfunctory... which is no doubt why he didn't read them and why he had no idea there would be a sweat lodge.)

For the purposes of her cross examination on the second pillar of the defense strategy, waivers, Do played a game of let's pretend. In her imaginary James Ray seminar, Stephen Ray had to fill out a health questionnaire. But, since he was totally healthy at the time, that's what he would have written.

So, you see, it didn't really matter that there was no health questionnaire. Stephen Ray was perfectly healthy but he still wound up comatose in a hospital, with permanent physical damage.

Noted: Even very healthy, athletic people can face life threatening injury at a James Ray seminar.

Do then turned to Stephen Ray's hospitalization and to the third pillar of the defense strategy: poisoning.

He did not know that there are over 300 pages of medical records. He'd only seen 4-5 pages. The toxicology screen was for illicit drugs and alcohol; not poisons.

Stephen Ray was unaware that the ER doctors had initially suspected poisoning. This raises an intriguing question. If there were doctors who suspected poisoning, why wasn't he screened for poisons?

Do tried twice to make Ray agree that there were doctors who concluded that it wasn't heatstroke, even through two objections to the mischaracterization of external sources. Do highlights a couple of doctors' statements questioning that he had heatstroke? She does not, however, share what the ultimate conclusion was.

One thing I've noticed -- and I may learn otherwise when the defense presents its whole case -- is that they keep presenting preliminary opinions from doctors to cast doubt on heat related causes and invoke the possibility of poisoning, but avoid the ultimate conclusions. In emergency situations, doctors do a lot of spit-balling on their way to a diagnosis. (Hey. We've all seen "House.")

Stephen Ray did not agree with Do that events at Ray seminars weren't that intense in retrospect. Firewalking and other challenges were "incredibly intense." He says that was how he began to build trust with Mr. Ray. Things became increasingly intense, seminar to seminar. He trusted Ray more and more but will concede that it also built confidence in himself. So as Ray tested the limits of his students and, in some cases, scared them to death, he cultivated their trust in him. Some might read that more as a dependency fostered by breaking people down with numerous terrifying events, but I guess that's a matter of interpretation.

He enjoyed the vision quest and agreed that the location was not as remote as it was presented as being. It sounds like they made it sound like they were dropped in the middle of nowhere when in fact they weren't that far away from the camp. I don't know why anyone would think that this would make people feel secure enough to leave the vision quest if they so chose, considering that they thought they were in the middle of nowhere.

Do rather artfully slipped in the idea that the reason people were encouraged to leave only between rounds was that it was safer to move around when there was enough light to see. This makes sense and it's entirely possible that Ray explained that at some point. But that makes it even stranger that so many people interpreted this as being a hard-fast rule to maintain the sanctity of the temple. And that they were all so scared of making him angry by interrupting when a round was in progress. How could they have so misunderstood James Ray?

Unlike the reason for leaving between rounds, they all seemed to grok how important it was to encourage each other by saying: "You can do it. You're more than that." In fact, it was something of a group chant led by James Ray. He'd say it, according to Stephen Ray, and they'd all repeat it. That's because it was another "thought stopping" maxim. Those, people really seemed to get.

Do suggests that what Stephen Ray was experiencing before he collapsed in the sweat lodge was like "hitting the wall" that runners experience. No, he was "well beyond the runners wall. I was in trouble."

But Do struggles to make the point that only he could know when he's hit the wall or was in trouble. He answers that, in fact, he'd been to races before where a person needs help. Sometimes medical staff intervene and pull people out of races. In other words, the runner doesn't always know when he's in danger and a third party with some knowledge and perspective is called for to protect runners from their own determination.

So, being in choice to do something and listening to your own body isn't always enough. 'Nuff said.

All information on the trial comes from news articles with provided links or live courtroom footage on TruTV's "In Session" or CNN's live feed. All quotes and paraphrased statements that are not linked to a source document are my best attempt to transcribe material from live broadcasts.


  1. I think its interesting how the defense is such a strong projection of JAR. Its almost creepy. it seems he has "attracted" people similar to him to defend him.

  2. @ Michelle, Exactly. I really started to grok that yesterday. They even mirror each other's body language. Over on the Salty Droid, someone pointed out that Ray puts his hand over his mouth a lot, which may or may not be indicative of serial killer sociopathy. But I noticed at one point a few days ago that Ray, Kelly, and Li all had their fingers over their index finger over their lips at exactly the same moment. Jason thought it looked like they were trying to shush the witness. It really did.

    But what I saw in Kelly yesterday was a James Ray type of mind game. He went after Bunn on a personal level, exposed her in a way he knew she was uncomfortable being exposed, and was noticeably trying to break her down because he was frustrated with her sense of independence and autonomy. It's something to note and watch how much these attorneys ape Ray's tactics, consciously or unconsciously. And what effect it will have on these traumatized people.

    So, yeah, I guess Ray "law of attracted" himself some attorneys. So The Secret works. It really works. LOL

  3. After Ms. Bunn revealed her difficulties with men (at the mic session) Ray said he would be her supervisor or whatever, then he required her to write about her sexual experiences. Do I have this timeline right? I've worked with sex offenders for years and of course Ray is predatory. I'm just thinking about sexual predation as I see he sure dislikes females.

  4. @Susan, I'm being careful not to infer too much but I got a really creepy vibe when Bunn testified about Ray's special interest in her. I will say that the journaling assignment focusing on sex was the same for everyone. It was on a handout. And the journals, I believe, were to be kept private. But who knows how Ray might have pushed it in their private sessions? Kelly definitely zeroed in on her problems with men and resorted to the same kind of psychological terror and manipulation Ray did to try to break her down. At the very least they're both power thieves, deliberately hitting psychic pressure points. But I'm sort of waiting for another shoe to drop on Ray and possible sexual exploitation. It's just a whiff here and there; nothing solid. But it would not be so unusual for a guru-type to exploit his followers sexually.


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