Folks, I’d like to talk to you about the eighties.
It was a time when nobody sniggered at a character called Fisto appearing in a children’s cartoon. It was a time when sex had just become frightening again due to the discovery of AIDS. It was a time when a school teacher could chide you with “You need to learn how to work it out because you won’t have a calculator with you everywhere you go” and still be telling the truth.
It was also the time when what’s now called the “Satanic Panic” had well and truly taken hold. A few different factors had come together. Among them, children that were raised during the second Red Scare were now adults and had children, raising them in a climate where “Moral Majority” had become a strong political force. Along with that, groups such as the Church of Satan had started to become more public and there was less stigma attached to having “New Age” or occult interests. Along with “occult renaissance” came the rise of the “Countercult” movement, also referred to as the “Anti-Cult movement,” who opposed all New Religious Groups. Ironically, social work and child protection as government agencies were also becoming more prominent, which also provided more fuel for this eventual fire.
Books such as “Michelle Remembers,” an apparent memoir of a woman who had spent time in a Satanic Cult and had suffered all kinds of horrors, made the first connection between the “Satanic Cult” and child abuse. It had made the bestseller lists, providing a match that was eventually lit by one of the authors, Lawrence Pazder, who made a name for himself as an expert on the “Satanic Ritual Abuse” that was apparently supposed to be happening. Michelle Remembers became the training manual for finding and recognising these Satanists. This book had been discredited, yet ended up being used as a teaching tool into the nineties. It should also be noted that the Michelle named in the story, Michelle Smith ended up marrying Pazder. Until his death, he maintained that “whether the events occurred was less important than whether or not Michelle believes it to be true.” Michelle’s father and two siblings disagree wholeheartedly as they were able to point out the inconsistencies and outright falsehoods in the book. Michelle and Lawrence went on to become “experts in ritual abuse” based on nothing more than Michelle’s “recollections.” They were kept in business by such “reputable” groups as BADD (Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons, a group that buys into the idea that tabletop roleplaying games are an initiatory tool for Satanism) and the Cult Crime Impact Network (A anti-occult Christian group masquerading as a law enforcement resource). As well as that, they appeared in the 20/20 episode “The Devil Worshippers”. Their work, along with Satan entering pop culture, began to spark all kinds of allegations, such as the McMartin Daycare case, which ended up being one of the most expensive cases in US history.
In 1983, the mother of a child who attended McMartin Daycare alleged that her son had been sodomized by his father, one of the teachers at the Daycare. Her reasoning? Her son was having painful bowel movements. As well as this accusation, there were accusations of sex with animals, the murder of a horse, sexual acts performed on, and by the children, satanic rituals and the apparent levitation of teachers. It was also alleged that these things and more took place in tunnels underneath the Daycare. Many children were questioned, initially denying any kind of mistreatment, but due to being led by questioning, pressured into giving accounts of abuse that they had allegedly suffered, as well as intimating that the other children had already told them “yucky secrets”(for those playing at home, this is similar to the “everyone else is doing it” defense). All of these claims were investigated by the police.
There were no animal bones found where the animals were allegedly buried. There was no forensic evidence of any of the crimes committed, nor for that matter, of the locations where these crimes were meant to have occurred. The underground tunnels weren’t there. Long story short, a lot of allegations and accusations were made and not a single shred of evidence was found. The mother that made the initial accusation was later diagnosed with schizophrenia and died from complications stemming from alcoholism. In later years, many of the children that gave some sort of story in regard to the goings-on at the McMartin Daycare recanted their stories and admitted that they only said what they said to make their parents and the people questioning them happy. Meanwhile, the chap accused spent five years in jail due to the inability to raise bail and the Daycare was taken the elderly folks who owned it.
So we have a bestselling “manual” that is absolutely false (yet still made the authors “experts” who had by 1990 been speakers in over 1000 cases since the publication of Michelle Remembers) and a allegations of abuse brought to trial because of a woman found to have schizophrenia. The McMartin case is one of the longest in Manhattan history due to the scale of it, despite there being no evidence of a conspiracy and ample evidence of a mob trying to get the details on something that never existed. Despite the fact that these allegations were false, they stayed in the public consciousness as many more cases came forward with similar details. While common sense dictates that with so many people coming forward with similar stories must mean that there is some truth to it, it’s about here that I’d like to point out the difference between “common sense” and “good sense” in regard to these stories. Firstly, with all of the stories thoroughly investigated, there are a few common threads that occurred.
Almost all of the stories of Satanic Ritual Abuse have come from folks who have been treated for some sort of mental illness. It is during this treatment where the claims of Satanic Ritual Abuse first come to light.
Most of them were well aware of both Michelle Remembers and of the McMartin trial.
Films filled with Satanic conspiracies or occult imagery were becoming more common, such as The Omen and Rosemary’s Baby.
Most of the memories were recovered through long-discredited methodologies, or by extremely dubious methods such as leading questions that could only go in one particular direction.
Many, if not most, who initially gave their testimonies in have either since recanted their stories (due in no small part to guilty consciences)or gone the Jack Chick route, marketing their stories to a Christian-specific audience.
Despite all of these details, more than 10,000 stories have appeared in the US alone, along with the panic spreading to other English-speaking countries. Part of the reason for this is that many Christian groups used the Satanic Panic as a way to gain members for whichever churches they might represent. While there were never any actual cases of Satanic Ritual Abuse, there was an abundance of information provided which people simply accepted as true because the information was being passed on by churches (and they’d never lie, right?).
Earlier, I mentioned the rise of social workers and child protection services. Since the 1960’s and the sexual revolution that began there, people began talking more openly about sexuality. What this meant is that family secrets that some would have preferred buried also came out. People were able to talk about child abuse for the first time in an environment where they might be listened to without the judgement faced in previous decades. Enter the perfect scapegoats for this: Social Workers. They had access to children and were able to remove children from homes (with sufficient evidence, but why let that get in the way of a good story?) in a time when there was a moral panic about people taking children from their homes and place these children God only knows where. So we had a situation where people were afraid that their children might be abused (if they weren’t being abused already), people with the ability to remove children from homes, murmurs of a Satanic conspiracy and there you have it: the perfect situation for the Satanic Panic to root itself into the public consciousness.
While this moral panic largely died down in the nineties, it never fully went away and it still created distrust of people that were either openly non-Christian or even folks that were seen as outsiders of one sort or another. The perfect example of this is the West Memphis Three. In 1994, three young men (Damien Echols Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin) were accused of the murder of three children (Stevie Branch, Michael J. Moore and Christopher Byers). In miscarriage of justice after miscarriage of justice, the three were “tried” (I use the word very loosely) and convicted. This is despite coerced “witness reports” of the young men with the children, a false confession brought to the court as the result of unlawful interrogation and the complete lack of evidence. The fact that Damien Echols was interested in the occult was used as”evidence” that the children were killed as part of a Satanic ritual. As with the Satanic Ritual Abuse claims of the 80’s, there was not a single shred of evidence that the murders were committed in a ritualistic way. It took nineteen years for the West Memphis Three to be released.
This case serves as the perfect example of the potential harm that can be done when we allow the batshit insanity to invade our better judgement. Unfortunately, the Satanic Ritual Abuse charges have recently appeared again in a story that spans decades and apparently involves everyone from Nicole Kidman’s dad to Richard Nixon. I’ve looked at the information given and I’m not only unconvinced, but also slightly angry at the media for even touching this.
I will explain further in my next post.
Southern Howler, Signing out for a nap.