Lying for Death Ray – Crappy PR for James Ray presented as journalism (Part 1)

April 23, 2016

This is a long post and it probably won’t interest all that many people, so I’ve put it below the fold.

Enter failed self-help teacher and deadly criminal, James Ray.

Enter struggling film maker Jenny Carchman, and struggling journalist Lizzie Crocker….

James Ray, convicted of three counts of homicide and greatly responsible for a fourth death (see sidebar), is out of jail now, and having another crack at looting people’s credit accounts in exchange for lying to them about quantum physics and the non-existent law of attraction.

Helping him is Jenny Carchman, who has made a PR film about him, which poses as a documentary. She did not interview any of the people whose lives Ray ruined, nor any of the victims’ families. (Ms Carchman did not respond to my question about whether she plans a film about Bernie Madoff that doesn’t mention fraud.) 

…And Lizzie Crocker, who has written what amounts to a press release for Ray, but presents it as a journalistic article. She covers the film and has “interviewed” Ray (or rather taken dictation from him). I haven’t seen the film, but Crocker’s article is such a crock of blatant lies, transparent deceptions and disgraceful omissions, that hardly a sentence deserves to stand. To set the record straight, I will have to take a very deep breath and go through it in detail.


Sweat Lodge Guru James Arthur Ray: I’m Not a Murderer

Ray was never accused of murder. He was charged with manslaughter and the prosecution argued persuasively that his actions fulfilled the criteria for a manslaughter conviction. He was convicted of the lesser charges of negligent homicide.

In 2009, three people died and dozens hospitalized after a sweat lodge ritual James Arthur Ray organized went tragically awry.

Factually wrong, incompetent journalism.

This is really really basic. Had the jury thought it went “tragically awry” (as opposed to being due to criminal negligence), they would have found him not guilty. Ray’s $5 million defense team tried to argue it was a “tragic accident”, but the jury rejected it. “Journalist” Lizzie Crocker, however, thinks she is justified in re-writing history in the criminal’s favor. 

What’s more, it was not a sweat lodge. Ray told participants that he had been trained by Lakota people to run sweat lodges. He was lying. So it was, at best, a fake sweat lodge, fraudulently exploiting the the cultural identity of the Lakota. 

The reason why the prosecution referred to it as a “heat tent” and not a sweat lodge  throughout the trial was because Ray deliberately used heat in a deliberate attempt to induce heatstroke in participants. That is why the jury convicted him. Ray had instructed them to ignore the first symptoms of heatstroke (nausea, loss of consciousness). Based on police witness interviews, sworn testimony, and recordings of Ray’s words to participants immediately before the heat event, it appears that he may have been trying induce the kinds of hallucinations that could pass off as a kind of spiritual experience. In other words, deliberately trying to induce heat stroke in participants in order to make his event more spectacular. It didn’t go “tragically awry”. It went exactly to plan.

If it went “tragically awry” why did Ray send out a general email to his followers immediately after the event, describing it as “successful, despite a few people having taken ill”? (This when already two people had died in front of him, and more than twenty people had been rushed to hospital, some not expected to survive the night.)

If it went “tragically awry” why did Ray leave the disaster scene where two people were dead and dozens were rolling on the ground either unconscious or in severe distress, and go off to his cabin to have a shower? The police later found him in his cabin, sitting in his underwear munching on a sandwich.

If it went “tragically awry” why did Ray lie to Sgt Barbaro, that “Ted” the firekeeper had been leading the event? (Awareness of own guilt is one of the many criteria for manslaughter that ‘Ray fulfilled.)

Now, as a self-help guru, Ray still wants to help people.

Ms Lizzie Crocker probably thought at some time in her life she wanted to be a journalist. Now she’s wound up writing puff pieces for homicidal con-men and labeling it journalism. For this deceit, her work deserves what it is getting here — being utterly demolished by an amateur blogger. But what the heck, it’s a good career move to find a formerly famous person in a difficult spot who still has a network of contacts including Oprah and Larry King, and give them a leg up.

Do I need to say that Ray can’t “still” want to help if he never wanted to help them in first place?

Does James Arthur Ray think he’s a murderer?

As noted above — fake question from a fake journalist.

In October 2009, more than 50 people traveled to a ranch near Sedona, Arizona, for a five-day “Spiritual Warrior” retreat with Ray, a self-help superstar at the time.

Well “at the time”, Ray had also just been busy lying to police about his involvement in the death of Colleen Conaway at his June event. He concealed the death from other participants, and some staff members, two of whom only found out about it after the next three deaths two months later.

Many of Ray’s devotees had spent over $10,000 to participate in his most physically and emotionally challenging program, which promised them personal transformation.

There, they completed a series of exercises—shaving their heads; fasting; a Samurai Game—that Ray said would help them take their lives “to the next level.”

A “Samurai Game” that Ray claimed he was qualified to lead, but wasn’t. Just as he claimed to have been trained by Lakota people to run a sweat lodge, he also claimed to be trained to run a copyrighted “Samarai Game”.  He was lying, as Ms Crocker should have known. Worse — as Crocker also should have known — he had distorted the game so make it self aggrandizing. He invented the role of “God” for himself and turned it into a demeaning and harrowing endurance event in which participants were publicly humiliated, and subjugated to his will and authority. This was a central part of the trial, and included a recording of one of the later victims describing what she went through in this exercise. Why doesn’t Ms Crocker know any of this?

Another part of what Crocker terms “a challenging program” was a breath session in the style of Stanislav Grof, from whom Ray claimed he had received personal training. He was lying. And the event was again skewed to make it dangerous for participants and slowly break down their personal defenses and build up Ray’s authority. And again, Ms Crocker is ignorant of the facts.

The final “catalyst” for transformation was a Native American-inspired sweat lodge ceremony—a symbolic death and rebirth, Ray told followers—where temperatures hovered around 200 degrees.

See above — Ray lied about his connection to the Lakota. He exploited their identity and culture, and Ms Crocker is ignorantly perpetuating that exploitation.

And, Ms Crocker, just how often do Native American sweat lodge ceremonies require the attendance of

four helicopters
three fire engines
six ambulances
a dozen or more police officers
several hospitals’ intensive care units
trauma intervention volunteers
and a Hazardous Materials Team?

Do you really think that is what the average Native American sweat lodge ritual looks like? That’s what Ray’s looked like. A “tragic accident in a sweat lodge that went awry”. Could happen to anyone, couldn’t it, Ms Crocker. 

Ray crammed more than sixty people into a low roofed, cramped heat tent with a pit full of hot rocks in the middle. The sides of the tent were secured with pegs, and Ray controlled the tent flap that was the only source of air, and the only exit. During the “several hours” about which Lizzie Crocker says nothing, people could barely move and were unable to leave. Ray controlled the heat, controlled the air supply, controlled the length of the rounds, and controlled when people could leave. Ray also had a secret water supply to drink from and cool himself with, and spent much time lying with his head outside the tent enjoying the fresh air.

Beforehand, Ray warned that the “intense heat” would make them “feel like you’re going to die.”

…And he said “Don’t worry if you pass out. Our crew will carry you out.” It’s on tape. Ray taped himself saying it. He tried to get it suppressed and not played in court, but failed. It was a vital piece of evidence that helped get him convicted. But Ms Crocker’s readers are not deemed worthy of knowing about that.

Several hours after participants entered the lodge, two were dragged out unconscious and declared dead when they arrived at the hospital.

Factually wrong — is Lizzie Crocker lying or just incompetent?

Firstly, dozens were dragged out. James Shore, who although suffering terribly from the heatstroke Ray deliberately induced in him, managed to drag out several people while Ray did nothing. He returned to try to save another but collapsed and died. It could have been half a dozen or more dead if participants, who were themselves in extreme distress, had not rescued others. Ray did nothing.

Months later, after Ray was charged, his lawyers stated “Mr Ray would have ended the sweat lodge, had he known anyone was in distress or heard any cries for help.” That would have been a reasonable argument to use in the trial too, but they didn’t use it. “Not breathing? Really?” “We’ll get her out later, door’s closed, next round starts now.” Those are some of the words Ray was reported in court witness testimony to have said in response to reports that people were dying.

So that’s why Ray’s lawyers decided not to pursue that line of defense. But Lizzie Crocker is still using it, because why would a journalist care about courtroom testimony when the convicted criminal himself is there to give his own version of events?

A third who was struggling to breathe inside the lodge died from organ failure nine days later. Dozens more were hospitalized.

Factually wrong.

“Struggling to breathe” makes it sound like she was conscious. She wasn’t. This was the person about whom Ray said “Leave her, she’s done this before, she knows what she’s doing.” And, incidentally, her family had to decide to turn off the life support system. It had become clear that she would never emerge from the coma Ray put her into, and her family were concerned someone else might need life support. Lizzie Crocker could have allowed this family to have a few words in this disgraceful article she has written, but decided not to. Fake journalists don’t do that kind of thing. The story might not go in the direction they want. Facts might come out.

In 2011, two of them testified in a criminal trial…

Misleading and deceitful.

Crocker makes it sound like only two out of more than fifty participants testified in the trial. When the police opened their investigation, Ray’s staff started calling participants, telling them “Don’t talk to the police” (because the police don’t understand the nature of Ray’s spiritual mission). But dozens did talk, and dozens were prepared to testify. About a dozen did get to testify, but many didn’t because of the time wasting tactics of Ray’s defense team.

…testified in a criminal trial that found Ray guilty…

Deceptive use of language.

The “trial” didn’t find Ray guilty. Rather a jury found him guilty, for reasons that Ms Crocker will not tell her readers about. The same reasons, incidentally, why it is factually wrong to say that something “went tragically awry”. Tip for Ms Crocker: normal journalistic practice is to accept a court’s finding as fact. Once convicted, you may have noticed, a criminal is no longer referred to as “the accused”.

…found Ray guilty of three counts of neglectful homicide…

Factually wrong.

They convicted him of negligent homicide. But “neglectful” sounds a bit less homicidey. Again, either incompetent journalism, or deliberate deceit.

…but acquitted him of manslaughter. He was sentenced to two years in prison, but released after 18 months.

Correct! This is a factual fact! Well done.

Although you could have mentioned that the jury went for the lesser charge because they were uncertain of Ray’s motives. They couldn’t believe that anyone in Ray’s position would deliberately be so reckless with his customers’ lives, so they decided he was merely incompetent, stupid and utterly unfit to be leading such an event.

And they didn’t know about Colleen Conaway’s death two months earlier, nor the sweat lodges from previous years which were also life threatening and where emergency responders also had to be called. One juror told the media they were shocked when they learned of Colleen’s death and probably would have convicted him of manslaughter had they known.

And no, he does not believe that he is a murderer.

Again — the fake journalistic non-question. No one has ever accused Ray of committing murder. Not even me. But it makes it sound like he is facing up to what he has done, and has a conscience — which he clearly does not.

Ray, now 58, is the subject of a new documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival, Enlighten Us: The Rise and Fall of James Arthur Ray.

Directed by Jenny Carchman—an award-winning filmmaker who produced Public Speaking, Martin Scorsese’s documentary about Fran Lebowitz—the film traces Ray’s life and career from awkward, introverted son of a charismatic Protestant minister to self-improvement guru endorsed by Oprah Winfrey.

Enlighten Us features never-before-seen clips from his wildly popular seminars, as well as interviews with a cast of characters that includes Ray’s former agent and four former devotees who were at the 2009 “Spiritual Warrior” retreat.

…But none of the victims’ families were interviewed, despite them all being highly articulate and frequently interviewed by the media. Nope — the nightly news might find time for the victims, but not a freaking feature length movie. And it is a “documentary” in the same way that Lizzie Crocker is a journalist.

Much of the film focuses on Ray’s life after the sweat lodge tragedy as a once rich and renowned self-help leader who lost everything but his resolve to help people.

Again, Ms Crocker, you accept Ray’s version as fact, despite vast amounts of evidence to the contrary. Look at his business practices — the no refund policy, the constant up-selling, his breath-taking indifference as his customers died in front of him….

…Speaking to The Daily Beast by phone from his home in Los Angeles, Ray said that he still does group life-and-business coaching and is “available for appearances and presentations,” but is more focused on one-on-one work over the Internet, which gives him an “opportunity to teach worldwide.”

You write as if it’s a press release for the now defunct James Ray International.

Ray has kept out of the media spotlight since he got out of prison, with the exception of an interview on Piers Morgan Live in 2014.

Or “Pierce Morgan” as the semi-literate Ray — who is too arrogant to get a proof reader to check his spelling — calls him.

“My main reason for doing the documentary is that I really want to be able to help people in their life,” Ray said. “I feel like if I’m able to turn around, then I can be better equipped to help others turn their lives and businesses around.”

This is his whole scam — he will only be able to “turn around” his life from the quagmire he himself made it, if people give him their money. And we know what his “helping people” looks like: he’s financially ruined countless people, including himself, and even when they are dying in front of him he won’t lift a finger. Then he uses the money he took from them to pay for his defense lawyers to protect him from them in court.

While he’s tweaked his teaching style…

In fact he completely contradicted his earlier bombastic claims, pretending he never made them, and replaced them with even more extreme claims based on miracle teachings.

…the teachings themselves are still largely based on a blend of psychospiritual…

Ray told participants that he was trained in Holotropic Breath Work by its inventor, Stanislav Grof. But he was lying. And, true to style, Lizzie Crocker simply repeats the lie to her readers.


Like when Ray told his customers that he had spent years learning from a South American shaman. But he was lying. The man turned out to be simply a tour guide, and knew nothing of the scam. But Lizzie Crocker simply repeats the lie to her readers.

…and quantum physics…

Hahahahahahahaha. Here’s James Arthur Ray on quantum physics:

“Physicists have proven that there are 11 dimensions. Now, 3D is only one of them.”

But Lizzie Crocker is prepared to believe him, and can’t wait to tell her readers about it too. She could also tell them he was rated as 8th grade level for math and literacy on his prison entry test, but yeh sure, he really understands physics. And Lizzie Crocker really cares about telling her readers the truth about a dangerous criminal.

….—the same tenets he espoused as a motivational speaker and spiritual guru who led three people to their death.

As if, gee, how could it have happened? Ray won people’s trust by building up an image based on a long string of lies. The lies were repeated by dozens of stupid breathless journalists who never questioned him and gave him a platform to spread his lies. And it is happening again, with Lizzie Crocker sacrificing her readers to this deadly dangerous homicidal con-man. 

…Ray discovered he was a good teacher and leader. Things fell into place more when he was asked to teach a program AT&T had licensed from Stephen Covey, a businessman and keynote speaker, based on his mega-selling Seven Highly Effective Habits of People.

…So says Ray. So says Lizzie Crocker. But five seconds on google would have told her it’s a lie. As Wikipedia notes, Covey has no recollection of Ray and his company has no record of him. She’s building up quite an errata list for her article.

….He struggled financially until 2006…

So what happened to all that success with Steven Covey? He was struggling financially while he was having great financial success? Crocker is highly talented at not smelling rats.

…when he appeared in the movie The Secret about “the law of attraction” and how positive thoughts translate to positive things in one’s life. The film became an Oprah-approved book that has sold 19 million copies and been translated into 46 languages.

Ray is probably the only one of The Secret mob who really ever believed in the bogus miracle claims of the law of attraction. It’s because of such magical thinking that he thought his deadly heat tent would run as “the universe” wants it to. Otherwise, there is no explanation for why he would take such idiotic risks with his own business and personal freedom.

In Enlighten Us, Ray becomes teary-eyed when recalling the day that Oprah asked him to appear on her show. He was attractive, charismatic, and telegenic—so much so that agencies began knocking on his door to get him his own show.

Very moving I’m sure. He didn’t become teary eyed when, onstage at an event merely 9 days after the deaths he caused, a staffer informed him that a third victim had just died in hospital. He simply kept on with the show.

….Ray told me he’s always been attracted to ancient religions and spiritual traditions and has studied most of them. He pored over books like the Tao Te Ching and the Tao of Physics while in prison…

Okay, but someone who “studied quantum mechanics for ten years” should have progressed beyond simple half-baked text like the Tao of Physics by now. And how Taoist is it to be on steroids?

….particularly during the six weeks he spent in solitary confinement.

Well that is interesting! Six weeks in solitary confinement??? I know of one disciplinary measure for failing to respond during roll call, but you don’t get six weeks solitary for that.

Ms Crocker, what did Ray do to get six weeks solitary? Please tell me — I’m genuinely curious. It might also be kinda relevant to understanding his character, don’t you think?

…Or was he, just to make a random guess, perhaps…………. lying?

To be continued.

Part two covers Lizzie Crocker’s parroting of James Ray’s lies about the death of Colleen Conaway. Part three will have some pictures and deals with Death Ray’s obsession with death.

Posted by Yakaru


  1. Nice. I started doing this last night … and then I got all mad and stormed off in a huff.

    “8th grade level for math and literacy on his prison entry test”

    I’m not so sure now. I refuse to look into it … but if JAR wants to tell me that that form gave an inaccurate impression, then I’ll correct myself. I’m inclined to believe that it did.

    But also, maybe it’s true. It’s tricky getting to exact actual facts.

    How many hours did it take you to get to the point where you could instantly recall this many facts about a situation not personal to you? Because I’d be afraid to hear the answer in my own case. Is it fair to demand that much commitment from anyone else?

    I think Ms. Crocker, and Ms. Carchman, are assuming their audiences are sophisticated enough to see that everything this guy says is idiotic and loathsome (a terrible assumption) … and that fact checking him isn’t necessary because he’s obvs a psycho?

    Is that it? I don’t know.

  2. Reblogged this on theoreticalgrrrl.

  3. I have participated in a sweat lodge. It is NOT an endurance test. I only made it one round and I was respected when I bowed out from continuing, and was not told I wasn’t playing “full on” for not going through with the four sessions. Four sessions. The people who ran the sweat lodge I attended would have stopped the whole thing if anyone passed out.
    JR had no idea what a real sweat lodge entails. Can he provide proof that he was trained by Lakota people?

  4. @RayShouldPay
    I did wonder if I was being too hard on Ms Crocker. I don’t like writing undiluted criticism and personal accusations like this, and it is certainly a difficult case to understand. But both of them seem to have a very good idea of exactly where NOT to look and exactly who not to interview. I’m not surprised Crocker doesn’t know some of the details of the trial, but she could have noticed that he was actually convicted!

    They are both doing a repeat performance of

    I will try to find my screen shots of his jail records, and post it again (with a correction if I remembered it wrong).
    I would be curious to know if you had heard anything about Ray spending 6 weeks in solitary. I instantly suspect a lie, but I know more about Ray than I do about the US prison system.

    (Meant to include a hat-tip to you for tweeting about that article, BTW, but forgot.)

  5. @theoreticalgrrrl,

    Your experience sounds more like what I would associate with a sweat lodge. Ray’s went for fifteen rounds and his staff were physically pushing people back in and humiliating those who left.

    Ray is on tape saying that he was trained by the Lakota. There is a police interview with the relevant Lakota people saying they’d never heard of him. It seems Ray’s staff had started scouting around for a Lakota to say they’d trained him. Here’s a bit of the police transcript:

    Det. Diskin: Okay. Well, the reason I am interested is because he had told all the participants that he had been trained by Native Americans then the question is why would he contact tribes to get him to try and get somebody to validate his ceremony, why not he use the people that trained him allegedly. And so I would like to track that down and find out exactly who it was that he called and who they talked to.
    Lee Plentywolf: Yeah, that’s the same thing I am trying to do is that try to find out of course she heard that from and if it was true, I am going to get names to see if somebody did contact him.

    Det. Diskin: So you know how it needs to be run correct?
    Lee Plentywolf: Yeah, and I have been trained by a medicine man and he has been trained by a medicine man. So there are certain people that are chosen not by other humans but by the creator. And so not just anybody can run, nowadays there are a lot of people, here in Colorado there is a lot of people that have sweat lodges, run sweat lodges, and a lot of them are there for either profit or recognition and that’s not even what it’s supposed to be.
    Det. Diskin: You guys charge for your sweat lodges?
    Lee Plentywolf: No.
    Det. Diskin: Okay.
    Lee Plentywolf: No. You can’t be paid for prayers. In order for a prayer to help people, you have to be really humble….

    Death Ray ran one in (I think) 2004, which was way too hot and someone wound up having an “out of body experience”, aka symptom of heatstroke, and thinking he’d died and come back to life. He wound up with brain damage but Ray was really impressed with his commitment. It seems like that was what gave him the idea of trying to cook people within an inch of their lives. (That is all according to a police interview with the victim’s wife.)

  6. Stunned. Great work, Yakaru. I want to say more, but I’m kind of speechless.

  7. Thanks for commenting!
    Yeh – it’s a kind of “through the looking glass” experience with this dude. And then when you think you’ve seen it all, there’s another looking glass to crash through. I could easily have written ten times as much just to correct this article.

  8. @RayShouldPay

    The Status Quo Maintains Itself

    (please ignore if I’m speaking out of turn, or if it seems like I’m talking about stuff I know nothing of like a foolish person)

    At a certain point, in the past, you said something about how it seemed like there was a lot more sociopathy in the journalism field than you had previously thought.

    I haven’t had a lot of personal one-on-one converstations with reporters as you have, but my general opinion of these things is:

    A lot of people in the world make rushed decisions based on only handfulls of facts, and then they spend a lot of time on the back-end making any new facts fit that belief that they already have.

    We may expect this from the general public, but I’m saying I think this is the case for, e.g.: reporters, talk show hosts, basically the entirety of the promotional daytime “news” crowd, documentary film makers, and police officers as well:

    1. Get one or two facts
    2. Rush to judgement and build a STORY of it inside the mind
    3. Cherry pick additional facts to support judgement/story
    4. If/when any pesky contradictory facts surface, sub-consciously employee Cognitive Dissonance Handling mechanism to bury those facts, or if need be incorporate them into a minimally modified narrative.

    The folks that are busting their butts to fact check everything to the nth degree? Yeah, they’re not making much money*. Because they get out-yelled and over-run by all the ones that don’t have to do any fact checking or only minimal fact checking. Whoever gets there first gets the clicks / gets the views / gets the ratings.

    *I know you don’t care about the money, and that is to your credit. All I’m saying is: people pay attention to what is popular. And what is popular is what people pay attention to. And skepticism and caution and not jumping on the bandwagon never sound cool or appealing or exciting or interesting, so it’s never popular.

    If you look at the reporter and the documentary filmmaker under discussion through this model, you can see how it’d be self-servingly in their own best interests to not “know” just how fucking twisted and evil J. Ray is. It is a kind of intentional naivety. It’s not strictly evil, but it allows them to be used for evil purposes. (Like the promotion of James Ray and all he stands for.)

    If the reporter had spent more time fact checking, she might have gotten scooped. If the documentary film maker had, had to *Really* see who J. Ray is, she would not have been able to make the movie she really wanted or “needed” to make. So it goes.

    If you’re trying to decide how such people should be treated, I’d say it’s complicated. It’s been said that guilt and shame don’t work very well as a means to try to change someone’s behavior. But to not say anything at all is to let the problem continue to exist indefinitely.

    I believe that the problem is “fixable” or at least “improvable” in the very long run. The trouble is, is, the people that really know the best about how to change someone’s mind or opinion are the marketers, i.e. the people Bill Hicks said should kill themselves.

    Furry cows moo and decompress.

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