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)

33 Responses

  1. One of the larger cult-abuse stories played out in Wenatchee, Washington, not far from where I live. It was watching the ballooning conspiracy claims there that first led me to doubt the recovered memory movement.

    Today, I wonder about the long term effects of this on the kids involved. First, one set of authority figures shows up to manufacture the most horrible memories and to tell them that another set of authority figures has committed vile crimes against their bodies. Later, yet another set of authority figures shows up to tell them that all these memories are lies, nothing happened to them, and that they have destroyed the lives of some people they might have once respected and loved.

    Aside from the obvious problems they are going to have with authority figures, trust and intimacy, what kind of grasp on reality are they going to have? Once false memories have been planted, they can’t really be removed. How much will these kids be able to trust the experience of their own senses? Did we just create hundreds of potential sociopaths?

  2. More in line with political, rather than religious, aspects of such things, there is the attempt to dramatically increase penalties on child sex abuse (not actually, but kinda) in Florida, and now actually here in New Hampshire.

    In fact, if the NH law passes, it will save a criminal a _lot_ of jail time if they kill the kid after raping it, assuming the killing wasn’t premeditated (only the rape, which they, by disposing of the body, hide).

    In Florida things are far weirder, where bad but not outrageous acts against kids (for example, one could possibly make a case against a granddad bouncing his grandkid on a knee) are greater crimes than firing missiles into building.

  3. […] dynamic? Have heavily-supernaturalist neo-Pentecostal teachings (and perhaps fundamentalist “Satanic conspiracy” literature) from abroad also played a role in this new […]

  4. […] deserve to have their part in the fiasco more widely known. I risk repeating a point I made quite recently, but I think it’s worth […]

  5. […] new booklet has been released at a somewhat inauspicious moment: as I noted just recently, a central figure in the 1980s Californian McMartin Preschool case is now admitting that he had […]

  6. […] decided to reinvent herself as a Jewish Holocaust survivor instead) – see my blog entry here for further […]

  7. […] part of a panic that had spread all the way from California (where the McMartin Preschool case has also unravelled). We would like to think that such panics are now a thing of the past; but the hysteria shows […]

  8. […] that pushed lurid Satanic conspiracy theories. I’ve discussed some of those responsible before. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Satanic Panic is Alive and Well on Planet […]

  9. […] I blogged the final unravelling of the old “Satanic abuse” cases in the USA and the UK here. […]

  10. […] Back in 2006 it was also announced that families accused of Satanic abuse in Rochdale in 1990 had decided to sue, but there hasn’t been anything in the public domain since. Around the same time, Kyle Sapp in California told reporters that he had been coaxed into lying about Satanic abuse at the McMartin Preschool in the early 1980s. I blogged on all this here. […]

  11. These filthy fantasies of Satanic abuse are a nightmare of innocent people.

  12. […] Fontaine’s book was written in the wake of the “Satanic Panics” which blighted a lot of innocent people’s lives in both the USA and the […]

  13. […] However, another strand stressed the idea that victims of Satanic Ritual Abuse needed therapists who would uncover “repressed memories” of abuse – an idea popularised in Michelle Remembers, by Lawrence Pazder (who eventually married his patient). This launched an industry that has apparently continued to grow despite the lack of any evidence unearthed by supposed “recovered” memories, and despite the fiascos of the 1980s and 1990s, when unabused children were taken into care by over-zealous social workers (blogged here). […]

  14. […] He Came to Set the Captives Free was written by Rebecca Brown, who is also the author of Prepare for War; her books were perhaps the most baroque concoctions to emerge from the bogus “Satanic Panic” Christian paperback genre of the 1970s and 1980s that led to so much misery and paranoia. […]

  15. […] revelation just happened to coincide both with the evangelical-inspired hysteria over Satanic Ritual Abuse, and with increasing public awareness of the reality of catholic priests who were child […]

  16. […] well-known bogus “Satanic survivor” fundamentalist paperbacks (of the sort I blogged here). Last year, his focus was on the “vampire lifestyle”. The website of trhe Oklahoma […]

  17. […] well-known bogus “Satanic survivor” fundamentalist paperbacks (of the sort I blogged here). Last year, his focus was on the “vampire lifestyle”. The website of trhe Oklahoma […]

  18. […] exposure to pseudo-experts is not encouraging: some of us remember how police and social workers in the USA and UK became caught up in a hysteria over “Satanic Ritual Abuse” in the 1980s and early […]

  19. […] bearing to pseudo-experts is not encouraging: some of us remember how military and amicable workers in a USA and UK became held adult in a violence over “Satanic Ritual Abuse” in a 1980s and early 1990s. Not […]

  20. […] gave an overview of the “Satanic Panic” saga here. GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", "other"); […]

  21. This is a really great post Richard and it is wise to try to redress the balance because for every freethinker who sees the Satanic Ritual Child Abuse allegations as a myth there are literally hundreds of thousands of gullible Christians who become sold on the idea and change their world-view to compensate. They then continue to spread the myth and give it gravitas so it is continually building behind the scenes. Its ramifications have affected far more than the religious arena in the past twenty years. For instance, Iraq and Afghanistan are a Holy War, the diminishment of parental rights in favour of State Parent mentality, a rise in institutional and subconscious racism and the victimisation of minorities, and a tremendous increase in social stress which has resulted in many socially divisive conflicts. All these have been helped along by this powerful set of ideas which justifies unilateral action against ‘evil’ which has massively strengthened the political right. The process was identified and laid out for objective observers to see in 1989 when Sara Diamond’s crucial source-work SPIRITUAL WARFARE- The Politics of the Christian Right, was published by Pluto Press (isbn: 9780745303741) and will shock agnostic and atheistic Americans to their roots at what has been going on behind their back. Anti-Capitalist protestors can find the source of their situation in this excellent book but it was somewhat buried and is now only read by academics. Please popularise it.

    It is absolutely necessary that your readers do not consider this scare over and done with. It is STILL continuing today in many quarters and will rise again to public prominence if freethinkers allow it to. It behoves us all therefore to network the facts as much as possible and I am surprised that you don’t have a link to the website of the SAFF which has been tracking the main players pushing this myth, both in the fundamentalist arena, political arena, and the social services of the U.S. and the U.K.

    Keep up the good work, Arnold Frampton

  22. […] the fiascos and tragedies that have followed in the wake of previous publications of this sort, one would have thought that Thomas Nelson would have shown a bit of interest in the need for […]

  23. […] – as fears about Satanic cults waned due to lack of evidence, exploded memoirs, and tragedies caused by false accusations, charismatic and neo-Pentecostal Christians have instead put a greater stress on “spiritual […]

  24. […] panic” hysteria whipped up by Christian fundamentalist paperbacks and supposed experts, as I discussed here. Other reports describe Flowers as having been the “vice-chairman” rather than the […]

  25. I always spent my half an hour to read this weblog’s articles all the time along with
    a mug of coffee.

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  26. Wow! After all I got a web site from where I be able to in fact take valuable facts regarding my study and knowledge.

  27. I spotted this excellent article of yours (and the kind mention of our website in other comments ) but in your search for the cause of the Satanic Ritual Abuse myth you may have overlooked the fact that it is enshrined in anti-semitism. The Jews historically being accused of sacrificing and drinking the blood of Christian children. We have just published a very extensive article on the history of these and similar accusations on our website and show how this Christian lie was brought into modern times with the Protocols of the Elders of Zion forgery, which was a driving force behind the Holocaust and the deaths of millions throughout history. The ‘Protocols’ gave a new spin to the Blood Libel accusations and have recently become enshrined within the Conspiracy Theory culture defined as the New World Order. Many tolerant folk who give credence to the New World Order idea do not realise they are nurturing a deadly form of racism. Obviously if people are ignorant of the source of this evil susceptibles in future generations will continue to be indoctrinated in the same way and perpetrate further persecutions, consciously or unconsciously, just as has happened recently with the Satanic Ritual Abuse Myth. Those who want to see the hidden history should go here:

  28. I’m sorry, I just typoed that link, it should in fact be:

    that is the correct one. Sorry for any inconvenience.

  29. Hal Lindsaey should be in prison, he has been instrumental in the destruction of many lives.

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