DiscoverSmoke Screen: I Am Rama
Smoke Screen: I Am Rama

Smoke Screen: I Am Rama

Author: Neon Hum Media

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Rama was a spiritual teacher in the 80s and 90s who inspired many of his students while helming what many of his detractors would describe as a cult. He defied society’s archetypal vision of a New Age leader, eschewing minimalism for wealth and celebrity. He was also a man ahead of his time, encouraging his students to develop careers in computer science before that was mainstream.

For some, following Rama's lead worked out spiritually, and financially too. But for others, Rama's actions contradicted his cool persona; some eventually came forward with accusations of abuse, others vanished, whistleblowers went to the media, and the group began to shrink and splinter.

In this 10-part investigative series, Jonathan Hirsch explores the life, death and impact of Rama.
21 Episodes
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For 30 years, a man claimed to be a priest. He performed baptisms and took confession. Every time he ran into trouble, Father Ryan would move on to another small Midwestern town and start his scheme all over again. Followers who once worshiped him, now accuse him of exploitation, fraud and abuse. In season one of Smoke Screen, join Alex Schuman as he unravels this con and gets answers from this white-collar criminal himself. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Investigative Reporter Julie K. Brown exposed Jeffrey Epstein’s crimes to the world. Now his survivors are fighting for the truth. This season, host Tara Palmeri follows the women who are making their own justice. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
For the past 6 years, someone — or some group — has been terrorizing a certain class of Hollywood workers. Strivers — day players and physical trainers and make-up artists and security guards — receive a phone call or email offering the job of a lifetime. A key role on a major film, or TV show. This offer comes from a powerful woman — one of the biggest producers or studio executives in the industry. All these strivers have to do is get on a plane, for Jakarta, immediately. But when they land, there is no producer. There is no movie. It’s all a fraud. This is the incredible true story of one the longest and strangest cons in history. Tag along as two long-time journalists untangle the story of the Hollywood Con Queen scam, and embark upon an obsessive quest to figure out who’s behind it. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Two young Silicon Valley entrepreneurs set out to rid the world of smoking with an incredible new product. The device stands to disrupt the tobacco industry and make them rich, until it falls into the wrong hands and lives are ruined. From classrooms to hospitals, boardrooms to the Oval Office, what can be done to protect teenagers? And is it too late?  From Laura Beil, the reporter behind Dr Death and Bad Batch, comes The Vaping Fix, the inside story of the rise of Juul and the making of a crisis. Listen to THE VAPING FIX at: wondery.fm/VF_SmokeScreen Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Introducing: Cheat!

Introducing: Cheat!

2021-05-2407:572

Have you ever wondered about those people in life who don’t play by the rules? Maybe it was the person who looked over your shoulder in that exam. The person who got the job instead of you because they lied on their application or the nice fella on the phone who said he was from the bank and ended up taking all your money. We have a name for these people. We call them cheats. People who cheat the system, largescale cheats, social media cheats. We are fascinated by them. We read about them in paper. Or watch news stories about them on TV. We marvel at their rise and take a weird pleasure in their fall. But do we ever ask what makes these cheats actually do the bad things they do? What makes them cheat? From Somethin’ Else, makers of ‘Power: The Maxwells’ and ‘The Fault Line: Bush, Blair and Iraq’, hosted by storyteller Alzo Slade, ‘Cheat!’ tells the inside stories behind some of the biggest scandals in contemporary history and the flawed protagonists at their heart: controversial and contentious figures from the world of pop culture, business, sport, music, politics. Why do people cheat? Is it ever justifiable? And most importantly are cheats – these people we think of as the dregs of our society – actually not so different from ourselves? A Somethin' Else production. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Episode 1: An Unholy Priest

Episode 1: An Unholy Priest

2020-08-1334:49217

Investigative reporter Alex Schuman hears about a guy accused of swindling millions who has travelled the Midwest for decades pretending to be a priest. Alex starts his journey talking to two people who have long tried to expose the truth. Alex is hoping to finally figure out why anyone would try to pull off such an elaborate con. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Episode 2: Coming Home

Episode 2: Coming Home

2020-08-2036:4926

Alex tracks down Father Ryan’s son, Jonathan Brady, and discovers Father Ryan was a scammer and manipulator long before he wore a priestly robe. Turns out he had plenty of practice committing fraud before he opened his first church in Wisconsin.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Episode 3: The Teacher

Episode 3: The Teacher

2020-08-2735:2423

Even con artists need mentors. Meet the false prophet who teaches Father Ryan how to perfect his con. Father Ryan evades criminal charges again and Alex learns about an unspoken reason prosecutors could let many criminals go free. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Episode 4: Llama Drama

Episode 4: Llama Drama

2020-09-0336:0211

After Father Ryan steals a follower's money, her property and even her husband's ashes, she hires a lawyer. A legal battle ensues over unpaid loans and a herd of llamas that Father Ryan leaves high and dry. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
A sheriff deputy arrests Father Ryan for taking more than $70,000 from an elderly follower. It's looking like he might get 7 years in prison, but then he meets a father-daughter pair of private investigators who change everything. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
The father-daughter investigator team discovers the cop who arrested Father Ryan may have an ulterior motive. They defend Father Ryan tooth and nail - until they get a troubling surprise of their own. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
In his autobiography, Father Ryan connects himself to two priests who died suspiciously. One he accuses of molesting children. The other? He says he teamed up with to publicly shame pedophile priests. What's the truth? Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Episode 8: Origin Story

Episode 8: Origin Story

2020-10-0139:108

Alex Schuman finally has his showdown with Father Ryan. But things don't go as planned because Father Ryan has something to confess about his past that sheds light on why he wanted to become a "priest" in the first place. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Until now, Father Ryan has mostly escaped punishment for stealing money from followers under false pretenses. What would it take for him to face a jury of his peers? Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Coming Soon: I Am Rama

Coming Soon: I Am Rama

2021-06-0803:38

Rama was a spiritual teacher in the 80s and 90s who inspired many of his students while helming what many of his detractors would describe as a cult. He defied society’s archetypal vision of a New Age leader, eschewing minimalism for wealth and celebrity. He was also a man ahead of his time, encouraging his students to develop careers in computer science before that was mainstream. For some, following Rama's lead worked out spiritually, and financially too. But for others, Rama's actions contradicted his cool persona; some eventually came forward with accusations of abuse, others vanished, whistleblowers went to the media, and the group began to shrink and splinter.  In this 10-part investigative series, Jonathan Hirsch explores the life, death and impact of Rama. "I Am Rama" drops June 22.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Chapter 1: Golden Light

Chapter 1: Golden Light

2021-06-2238:243

Rama was a man of many faces: teacher, tech entrepreneur, friend - and to some, a scam artist. This episode introduces Rama, examining the world from which he came, the way he shaped those who entered his orbit for better and for worse, and the mysterious circumstances around his demise.  I Am Rama is a Neon Hum original podcast.  Host and Executive Producer: Jonathan Hirsch Producer: Kate Mishkin Editor: Vikram Patel Executive Editor: Catherine Saint Louis Sound Designer: Scott Somerville Fact Checker: Justin Kloczko Production Manager: Sammi Allison Theme Song: Dolphin Dance, by Tangerine Dream. Other tracks in this episode are from Epidemic Sound and Blue Dot Sessions.  You can find out more about this series and all the podcasts we produce at Neon Hum by visiting our website: Neonhum.com.  You can also follow the show (@smokescreenpod) and Jonathan (@jonathanihirsch) on social media.  For more information on this show and all other Sony Podcast shows, follow @SonyPodcasts. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Chapter 2: Becoming

Chapter 2: Becoming

2021-06-2230:042

This episode follows Frederick Lenz III from his early days and education through his introduction to spiritualism with his mentor, Sri Chinmoy, at the dawn of the New Age. Young Freddie  becomes “Atmananda,” a recruiter for his mentor, until it becomes time to strike out on his own, as Zen Master Rama.  I Am Rama is a Neon Hum Original podcast. Host and Executive Producer: Jonathan Hirsch  Producer: Kate Mishkin   Editor: Vikram Patel  Executive Editor: Catherine Saint Louis  Sound Designer: Scott Somerville  Fact Checker: Justin Kloczko  Production Manager: Sammi Allison Theme Song: Dolphin Dance, by Tangerine Dream. Other tracks in this episode are from Epidemic Sound and Blue Dot Sessions. You can find out more about this series and all the podcasts we produce at Neon Hum by visiting our website: Neonhum.com. You can also follow the show (@smokescreenpod) and Jonathan (@jonathanihirsch) on social media. For more information on this show and all other Sony Podcast shows, follow @SonyPodcasts. If you want to know more about Rama’s early years, you can read more from the people who we interviewed for this episode. Liz Lewinson’s book is called “American Buddhist Rebel The Story of Rama, Dr. Frederick Lenz.” Mark Laxer's books is called “Take Me For a Ride, Coming of Age in a Destructive Cult.”  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Rama’s growth as a spiritual teacher in the mid-80s starts in California but takes him and his students all over the country. Rama defines his doctrine, turning his attention to the potential of the computer industry. But for his students, it’s not always easy to keep up with their teacher, or stay in his good graces.  I Am Rama is a Neon Hum Original podcast. Host and Executive Producer: Jonathan Hirsch Producer: Kate Mishkin Editor: Vikram Patel Executive Editor: Catherine Saint Louis Sound Designer: Scott Somerville Fact Checker: Justin Kloczko Production Manager: Sammi Allison Theme Song: Dolphin Dance, by Tangerine Dream. Other tracks in this episode are from Epidemic Sound and Blue Dot Sessions. You can find out more about this series and all the podcasts we produce at Neon Hum by visiting our website: Neonhum.com. You can also follow the show (@smokescreenpod) and Jonathan (@jonathanihirsch) on social media. For more information on this show and all other Sony Podcast shows, follow @SonyPodcasts. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Will Arntz is a man of many talents, from filmmaker to laser physicist. In this episode, Will relives the time he spent studying with Rama and how it changed his life.  I Am Rama is a Neon Hum Original podcast. Host and Executive Producer: Jonathan Hirsch Producer: Kate Mishkin Editor: Vikram Patel Executive Editor: Catherine Saint Louis Sound Designer: Scott Somerville Fact Checker: Justin Kloczko Production Manager: Sammi Allison Theme Song: Dolphin Dance, by Tangerine Dream. Other tracks in this episode are from Epidemic Sound and Blue Dot Sessions. You can find out more about this series and all the podcasts we produce at Neon Hum by visiting our website: Neonhum.com. You can also follow the show (@smokescreenpod) and Jonathan (@jonathanihirsch) on social media. For more information on this show and all other Sony Podcast shows, follow @SonyPodcasts.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Chapter 5: Brenda

Chapter 5: Brenda

2021-07-1339:473

A young woman follows Rama to New York, and mysteriously vanishes, leaving behind many to wonder what happened. In this episode, people who knew and loved Brenda Kerber piece her story back together.  Contact White Plains Police Department I Am Rama is a Neon Hum Original podcast. Host and Executive Producer: Jonathan Hirsch Producer: Kate Mishkin Editor: Vikram Patel Executive Editor: Catherine Saint Louis Sound Designer: Scott Somerville Fact Checker: Justin Kloczko Production Manager: Sammi Allison Theme Song: Dolphin Dance, by Tangerine Dream. Other tracks in this episode are from Epidemic Sound and Blue Dot Sessions. You can find out more about this series and all the podcasts we produce at Neon Hum by visiting our website: Neonhum.com. You can also follow the show (@smokescreenpod) and Jonathan (@jonathanihirsch) on social media. For more information on this show and all other Sony Podcast shows, follow @SonyPodcasts.  If you have any information about the death of Brenda Kerber that wasn’t reflected in this episode, please contact the White Plains Police Department in New York at https://whiteplainspublicsafety.com/submit-a-tip/ or 914-422-6111.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
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Comments (31)

Richard Tseng

Wonder if Rama spiked everyone’s drinks with microdoses of LSD before they went walking…

Jul 24th
Reply

Christian Hobbs

r esdzx

Jul 23rd
Reply

Sweetiepie Shuga

just believe it wackos

Jul 19th
Reply

April

flavor aid. journalistic investigation in this podcast is sorely lacking. I'm not just referring to the flavor aid mistake either .

Jul 19th
Reply

April

Dude! You were in a CULT! Period. Stop it. You are still semi brainwashed!

Jul 15th
Reply

Rebecca Butcher

Bummer, the podcast ends mid sentence. I would have liked to know the closing thoughts.

Jul 14th
Reply

Rebecca Butcher

Jawdropping!!! #smokescreen #fakepriest #iamrama

Jul 9th
Reply

Old man

what the hell is wrong with Will? For such a smart guy he is pretty dumb.

Jul 8th
Reply

Spoorthi Pema

How can one be "spiritual" and then your only measure of success is wealth, expensive villas and wall street success??? capitalism is spiritual now?

Jul 6th
Reply

Old man

Mark stayed with Rama when rama nixed his girlfriend? Mark is a schmuck.

Jul 1st
Reply

Adonay Brand

The vibe don't lie but it can change! it's the duality and polarity of life

Jun 30th
Reply

Todd Jarman

72o0 Aw2a

Jun 24th
Reply

Jovanka de boer

This is everything a podcast should be: extremely entertaining and serving a greater cause at the same time. Well done from Amsterdam.

Jun 20th
Reply

Vicki Camacho

Excellent 💥💥💥💥💥

Oct 13th
Reply

Andrew Stimpson Gee

Also drop the ageist crap, anyone can be victimized. Look at the Browns it ain't cause they are old.

Oct 13th
Reply

Andrew Stimpson Gee

The Browns got what they deserved. I think it's ridiculous that you trust him about priest abuse and that he had a relationship with the police officer but the rest is lies. B.S. He is full of B.S. I don't believe anything from the snakes mouth.

Oct 13th
Reply

Zach Bartels

Great job, Alex! I hope to hear your next podcast in the future.

Oct 10th
Reply

April

I just want this son of a bitch to be confronted with his bullshit and put in jail.

Oct 8th
Reply

Tony

I really enjoyed this podcast I appreciate the hard work you guys put into it keep up the good work 👍🏾

Oct 7th
Reply

Andrew Stimpson Gee

What a waste of an interview! Didn't ask about all the abuse at his hands just listened to his BS story.

Oct 3rd
Reply
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