From McMartin to Rochdale, Satanic Panic Reckoning Underway

Long after the tragic events of the 1980s and 1990s, the repercussions of the Satanic panic hysteria continue to make headlines. Here’s the latest, from the UK:

A DOZEN of the children who were snatched from their parents by Rochdale social workers in the so-called “Satanic abuse” scandal in 1990 are seeking compensation.

I’m actually pretty shocked that no action for compensation was taken on their behalf years ago, but there it is:

[Lawyer Richard Scorer] said: “When these events happened in 1990 these people were children who had no idea what was happening to them as they were being taken away from their families. Now they have all reached adulthood they are coming forward to speak about what they went through and they want the record put straight, which has led to this legal action.

“When they were eventually returned home, they had to put up with bullying and taunts from other children, massive family upheaval and, in some cases, parents splitting up.

“It has caused them enormous damage. This legal action is being brought because they want a proper apology from Rochdale council, and because they deserve compensation for the psychological damage, disruption to family life and long-term suffering caused by events which they did not understand and were never explained to them.”

This comes just weeks after Kyle Sapp, a former preschooler in California, admitted that he had been coaxed into lying about Satanic abuse at the McMartin Preschool in the early 1980s. The Revealer noted that accusations from Sapp and other children

…shape-shifted into a national panic that eventually leached beyond McMartin to include other preschools and child care centers. Tales of sexual abuse by teachers morphed into hair-raising claims of satanic ritual abuse and an ever expanding sex ring with victimized children at the center. Accusations of animal slaughters, visits to “devil land” and “Devil House,” and the forced touching of corpses flew through the air like witches on broomsticks.

However, this wasn’t just a “national panic”; it was actually international. The Fortean Times has a good survey:

…the SRA [Satanic Ritual Abuse] panic that gripped the USA, Britain, Holland, Australia and elsewhere can be clearly traced back to Michelle Remembers [see below] by way of the McMartin case. And, once again, there were never any two reports that matched, in the sense that two witnesses claimed to have been present at the same ritual, or even appeared to describe the same Satanic Order.

In 1987, the British Evangelical magazine Prophecy Today declared to its readers: “Information we are presently receiving suggests the reintroduction of infant sacrifice into Britain”. 12 Although they did not disclose their sources, their most tangible was an interview by the Reverend David M Woodhouse, the vicar of St James Church, Clitheroe, with a ex-Witch turned Christian who claimed that: “Witches also pray for the breakdown of Christian marriages. I used to take part in that.”

Prophecy Today is published by Clifford Hill, a Charismatic prophet who also blamed a 1989 plane crash on witches; his “evidence” was a vision he’d had. And while the US and the UK have now got over the hysteria, the legacy of this fundamentalist Christian paranoia is still being played out in countries as diverse as Cyprus and Zambia.

So who’s to blame? The easiest targets, of course, are the incompetent, credulous investigators who so betrayed the trust and authority that had been vested in them. Similarly, there are the bogus “recovered memory” experts (see my blog entry here), so-called therapists lacking in even the most basic self-awareness that they were manipulating children and some adults to say what they wanted them to say. The most notorious of these was the Canadian psychiatrist Lawrence Pazder (who died in 2004), who claimed to have recovered memories of Satanism from his patient Michelle Smith and published them as Michelle Remembers in 1980. Smith went on to divorce her husband and marry Pazder, which shows just what kind of a professional he was. Richard Webster notes that Pazder was brought in as a special consultant at McMartin, which he claimed was part of an international conspiracy.

But where did the idea of a Satanic conspiracy spring from, and why did it spread? Step forward a list of infamous liars, whose paperback books of Satanic survival spread the idea of a Satanic conspiracy through Christian bookshops and into the general public consciousness: Americans like Mike Warnke, Rebecca Brown (helped by Jack Chick), and Lauren Stratford, and Brits like Doreen Irvine and Audrey Harper.

Warnke set the ball rolling, but although his 1972 bogus memoir The Satan Seller has been comprehensively demolished by two Christian journalists, Mike Hertenstein and Jon Trott, Warnke continues with his “ministry“, while his co-author, David Balsiger, has gone on to a (mostly) successful media career making sensationalist pseudo-documentaries. Rebecca Brown’s royalties for books like Prepare for War (1987) appear to have provided for a very comfortable life-style, judging by her website. Trott also helped to expose Lauren Stratford‘s 1988 Satan’s Underground – bringing him and co-authors Bob and Gretchen Passantino into conflict with none other than Hal Lindsey, whose sister-in-law Johanna Michaelsen had been championing Stratford (notes in original):

From the beginning, we were led to believe that substantial validation for Laurel’s testimony exists. Laurel’s book contains a moving portrayal of how safe she felt when Hal Lindsey publicly warned satanists to stay away from her because he had the goods on anyone who might retaliate.[60] (Johanna Michaelsen, however, told us that Hal was “bluffing” when he said this.[61]) Laurel claimed she had passed the untold facts (e.g., Victor’s name, etc.) along to people like Johanna Michaelsen and Ken Wooden.[62] Harvest House told us they possessed documentation more than sufficient to prove her story.[63]

Lindsey denounced the investigation; to quote from Hertenstein and Trott’s book Selling Satan (pp.277-8):

Hal Lindsey asked his radio audience why someone, especially a Christian, would possibly want to investigate Lauren. He ignored the obvious reason: because Stratford’s story was a lie.

When Harvest House eventually withdrew her book, Lindsey arranged for its redistribution, and his endorsement appears on the later reissue by Pelican Books. Stratford later went on to reinvent herself as a Holocaust survivor, of all things, but despite this sign of obvious mental instablility there was no retraction or apology from the best-selling “prophecy expert” and current WorldNetDaily columnist (in which position he has continued to peddle the panic).

Those who first paved the way for the Satanic panic scare are pretty sad individuals; most likely, inadequates suffering from personality disorders of some kind. Anger at those who acted on their claims can be tempered with acknowledgment that they may have been well-meaning fools. But what of their cynical enablers – those who found their lurid stories useful for promoting their own careers or fear-mongering political agendas? Are not they ultimately most responsible for the lives and childhoods ruined by the hysteria? Lawrence Pazder is dead, but Clifford Hill, David Balsiger, Hal Lindsey: J’Accuse.


(Tipped from The Anomalist)