In the last 90s, a Canadian man named John de Ruiter got famous in Alberta, being considered by his followers as the “Master”, the “Mentor”, the “Savior” and the “Messiah”
Blue-eyed savior▲John and his ex-wife Joyce
Born in November, 11, 1959, John was once a young Catholic and attended the Lutheran Church after grown up and studied to be a priest in Bible school. He claimed he had his first awakening when he was 17: a "flowering inside that made everything in this existence pale in comparison.” It took him several years to find it again.
After being a priest in a church in Edmonton, John clashed with church leadership for his unwillingness to be constrained by the bounds of the church. Finally he left the church with a handful couple of followers and began to preach to them in his home.
He met his first wife, Joyce, in 1981. Joyce said he was 22 years old, tall and handsome, and she was drawn by his blue eyes.
▲Joyce, john’s first wife, was drawn deeply by his blue eyes
Back then, John’s profession was shoemaking, a craft he took up from his father. But in his follower’s eyes, he was the incarnation of God. It was not until 1996 when John gave up shoemaking. He was pretty influential at that time, and headlines of his reports reads like:"Messenger of Beingness: Believers think Edmonton man is conduit from Jesus Christ," and "Blue-eyed savior: Followers of this charismatic guru say he's the real thing and Edmonton may be the new Jerusalem."
Totally different from the traditional messiah, John is a long-haired man who liked monster trucks and drove a motorcycle. But his followers grew into the dozens, then the hundreds, and their devotion is rabid—sometimes his followers wept and clung to him, kissed his feet, supplicated themselves before him on the floor.
▲One of de Ruiter’s followers lays herself at his feet.
▲A follower Anina
Anina had moved to Edmonton to be close to John de Ruiter. Like many others, Anina often stared at John in the hope of him staring back.
Anina disappeared later and her body was found several weeks later near the training camp founded by John de Ruiter. Although the police investigation was closed as "non-criminal," her family later found in her journals that the influence of John de Ruiter was so huge that she had devoted all herself into him.
John once described meeting Jesus on a highway, and said Jesus then appeared to him thousands of times and "transferred him over to me." He was "re-immersed in the benevolent reality of pure being"—a recurrence of his childhood experience long after the first.
John’s way of preaching is of great specialty—he would spend at least half an hour staring at his followers’ eyes. It is called “silent connection” by his followers who said having visions, hallucinations and transcendent experiences after looking at his eyes.
As he got famous, John moved his preaching place from his home in Edmonton to a book store, and then rented a special office. He preached four times a week with hundreds of followers paying $2 a meeting to attend.
▲John’s preaching publications
▲John sit up on the stage with his followers underneath
▲John’s schedule around the world
He made pamphlets, cassettes and videotapes while preaching. He published the book—“Unveiling Reality” in 1999 and “The Intelligence of Love: Manifesting Your Being in This World” in 2005. These publications described him the “incarnation of truth” and promised that he “can subjugate anyone by telling them what is truth and who you really are.” He also travelled around the world from Canada to Hawaii, Australia and Europe. His followers continued to grow and many moved to Edmonton to be near him.
Ex-wives who turned against him
▲Left: John de Ruiter and his ex-wife, Joyce, are married in 1982. Right: Joyce embraces her husband in 1998, the year before he announced he would take two additional wives from among his followers.
In 1999, Ruiter told Joyce that after 18 years of marriage, he was called by God to have three wives, with each one "a complete physical, emotional and sexual relationship."
The new wives were sisters Benita and Katrina Von Sass, both followers of John. Benita is a law student, and Katrina is a former star of Canada's Olympic volleyball team
▲The von Sass sisters, Benita (left) and Katrina (right)
Joyce had questioned and confronted her husband about the relationships. On the last occasion, she began reading aloud a letter she'd written in front of other followers:
"I am the only one who loves John the man. Everyone else loves John the god. My sweetie, you are not god, you are not deity. You, more than anyone, have been sucked into a powerful deception. Sex with Benita and Katrina is not truth. Can you just, for a tiny moment, look at what is happening to you?"
She left the meeting alone after the break up.
The couple's rift became front page news. John insisted continuing his relationships with the von Sass sisters, saying they were not affairs because of his deep spiritual bonds with the women. He even defended: "To me, it's not infidelity. It's not unfaithfulness because my heart is still completely with Joyce."
But this explanation wasn't enough to appease everyone, least of all Joyce, who saw it as a proof that her husband was neither the man she had once known, nor the messiah he now claimed to be. She initiated divorce proceedings, and went to United States and took part in anti-cult counseling to try to make sense of her experience and feelings.
After that John divided his time between the von Sass sisters. They worked for him, and travelled with him. At that time, John was 53, Benita was 34 and Katrina was 26.
But in 2009, John abruptly split from the von Sass sisters and legally married another follower, Leigh Ann Angermann.
▲John and his wife Leigh, in 2014.
Like the drama happened before, after his new marriage, the sisters filed lawsuits against John claiming they and the sponsors of those publications owed significant amounts of money by John. The sisters also allege John used spiritual pressure, even fear, to manipulate those who believed in him for sex, power and financial gain.
In court documents, Benita, who once described de Ruiter as "goodness and purity personified," now called him "an opportunist and a huckster." "Having been drawn in by the Defendant and initially convinced that he was an entirely honest man with deep and great integrity and knowledge, I have come to learn that the Defendant is fraudulent. It has taken me years to come to understand this."
"The defendant convinced me to sexually submit to him, reminding me that this was 'God's will,'" she said. "The Defendant stated he was the 'Christ on earth' and that defying him was to defy truth, goodness and God. Accordingly, I obeyed and submitted."
She alleged that when john talking about having affairs with married female followers, he told her: "his 'burden from God' was to act against his own message and to violate his own marriage so as to prepare him inwardly for his upcoming battle with Satan."
Katrina portrayed John as a persuasive, controlling, but charismatic man.
While John admitted his sexual relationship with the sisters, he denied calling it a “marriage” and saying that they are his followers.
Stories of sexual relationships between de Ruiter and his followers have quietly persisted within the community for years.
In the beginning of this year, a woman from Denmark posted a statement on Facebook describing being approached for sex by John last fall. The woman said John's wife was beside him as he said, "For some years now, the calling has moved me to be with other women sexually and now the calling is moving towards you."
This Denmark female follower declined the offer because something seemed out of "alignment" with the situation, including that it was not being discussed openly within the group and that John—"the living embodiment of truth"—repeatedly asked her not to tell anyone. She recalled him saying, "The world is not ready for this. People will not understand. I will seem like a cliché."
"Several spiritual teachers and even masters have done this. Some openly, others behind the curtain. No surprise here". "It has to be said though that I really hope that each and every woman John has approached in the way he approached me is equally fairly mentally and psychologically sound as myself. Otherwise, this Calling of John's would suggest a power abuse and then the whole issue is taking on very different dimensions."
After the post, a second woman came forward within the community with allegations of unwanted sexual advances by John, and said she, too, had been told to keep it secret. In an e-mail shared with members of the group, the woman wrote: "Living in this split of having to choose between what my natural movement is and what you are telling me to do is leaving me unhappy and confused." "I love you and when you clearly stand against what I am saying, I follow you but it leaves me in a very dark place."
The Oasis centre
In the followers’ eyes, John is an innocent and humble teacher who has no idea of the worship around him. But he is also a businessman owning an extremely profitable multi-million dollar enterprise.
Oasis was the headquarters of de Ruiter's College of Integrated Philosophy, a house situated in the West Edmonton built especially to house his meetings. A newspaper column at the time of its opening described the building as "something out of Italy, or The Great Gatsby," with an "upper floor worthy of a New York five star hotel." On days it wasn't in use by the group, it was available for public rental for weddings and events, staffed by a legion of volunteers who provide free labor including scrubbing toilets to maintain the Mall’s operation.
In her 2009 affidavit, Benita estimated John de Ruiter's personal assets at nearly $9-million, including his equity in the Oasis Centre, a $75,000 monster truck, and personal income estimated at $232,000 a year.
Attendees pay $10 to attend a meeting with John. With 350 people or more attending four times a week, meetings alone could bring in over $56,000 a month.
John’s books and special seminars all cost extra. Full registration for the winter seminar with John is $870 a person. The Oasis Centre can charge $13,000 for a single day of public rental. Some people also give donations directly to de Ruiter or Oasis. Katrina Von Sass once gave him $60,000 for a single time. Others estimate their involvement cost thousands of dollars a year, on top of their volunteer labor and sponsorship for all kinds of activities.
John de Ruiter has sued his ex-wife Joyce and former followers for videotapes, photos and possessions, and threatened lawsuits against journalists writing about him, and Joyce previously told reporters their divorce documents included a clause preventing her from doing anything that would hinder his earning potential.
Warnings from scholar
Dr. Stephen Kent, a University of Alberta sociology professor specializing in alternative religions, has watched John for years. As a young man in university in the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Dr. Kent had watched with fascination the rise of groups like the Unification Church in Korea and The Children of God in United States, and had devoted himself to the study of their structures and successes, and he saw the power in their leaders to transform people and rob them of independent, rational thought. In Johb de Ruiter, he saw the beginnings of a powerful movement, even the seeds of a new religion.
▲Dr. Stephen Kent warned that John has embarked on a dangerous path
In the early years of John’s evolvement, Dr. Kent urged John and his inner circle to build safeguards against the temptations of power abuse and over devotion, to be cautious with psychologically troubled converts and ensure followers maintain the right to question and criticize de Ruiter.
"John has embarked on a dangerous path, one that promises great rewards but can lead to terrible tragedy," Dr. Kent warned in the media in May of 1997.
Back then John was expanding international operations to bring people together. Dr. Kent says an increase in talk about the apocalypse could be a way to draw the community closer and shut out any questions and doubts, which make it far harder for them to leave than to stay.
"The more you invest in something the harder it is to walk away from it." Dr. Kent warns. "The consequences for the people who have devoted themselves to him and thought he was beyond human can be devastating."
As it turns out, the belief in John is powerful enough that some who have lost faith in John remain unwilling to discount his abilities. The followers see him as an extraordinary being who has become corrupted, rather than an ordinary human with a lucrative act.
▲De Ruiter’s followers sometimes weep when they feel his gaze, while he stays uncannily still for hours at a time.
▲John sits silently with his followers, gazing out of them with them starring back.
About his famous gaze, some said John had studied hypnotism for two years. According to the ex-wife, Joyce, every night in the early 1990s, John had been staring at Joyce and their children until they saw visions.
Scientific studies have shown that concentrated staring can have profound effects, leads to persuasion and seduction—capable of inducing significant changes in perception, a sense of being detached from the world or in a dream.
Stanford University hypnotism Professor Dr. David Spiegel says there is also clearly a "hypnotic-like potential" at de Ruiter's meetings. Dr. Spiegel says he was personally able to replicate a profound religious experience in a patient through hypnosis. "And believe me, I'm not Jesus," he stressed. "You can interpret an unexpected ability to change the way your body feels as a sign of some great religious significance, or not."
Joyce, who lives in Holland currently, has been waiting for others to understand what she saw clearly nearly two decades ago. That her ex-husband is not a god but a man, and that worshipping him is not right.
"Nobody would believe it, but I do care. I really do care about John," said by Joyce.
▲Joyce once confronted John, saying: "I honestly see the best thing for John is for this to collapse. Somewhere there is just a normal guy who should be living just a normal life…I think that the best thing we can do is to help to pull the curtain back. Very detrimental, of course, but ultimately good for him."
She says she hopes his followers will at least be willing to listen to their doubts, no matter how difficult it is. "To be willing to consider, even though your world will fall apart, that everything you wanted to believe for however long may not be so."