• First published in 2004 as Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion (BNOR).

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Remembering “Lauren Stratford”, Fake Satanic Ritual Abuse Victim and Bogus Holocaust Survivor

Fake memoir Satan’s Underground still being sold by publisher

At the Daily Beast, Pat Blanchfield compares the ethnic fraud of Rachel Dolezal to Bruno Dössekker, a Swiss man who posed as “Binjamin Wilkomirski”, a Holocaust survivor:

Reading between the lines of Bruno Dössekker’s actual biography, you can’t also help but notice several early traumas, from his abandonment by his mother to numerous, extremely plausible suggestions of abuse while in that orphanage. It’s here that Wilkomirski/aka Grosjean/aka Dössekker’s story and that of Dolezal converge—and where we can get a hint of what might have motivated both of them, if only in part.

Both figures present themselves as persecuted individuals, horribly victimized—and they co-opt the experiences of the victims of actual historical traumas to that end. Why? Because our compassionate and proper first impulse should be to believe them first and vet them later—as our own country’s history of moral panics over Satanic Ritual Abuse underscores, for better or for worse.

In fact, one of Wilkomirski’s biggest defenders, a woman who claimed to have met him in the camps, actually turned out to be a fake survivor of both the Holocaust and Satanic Ritual Abuse

The link takes us to the Wikipedia entry for Laurel Rose Willson, who posed firstly as Lauren Stratford, and then as Laura Grabowski. The material in the entry is derived from investigative articles (here and here) by Bob & Gretchen Passantino and Jon Trott, published by the evangelical Cornerstone magazine in the 1990s. Trott was also the co-author (with Mike Hertenstein) of Selling Satan: The Evangelical Media and the Mike Warnke Scandal, which exposed how Warnke had lied about his past in a best-selling Christian paperback in which he had claimed to be a former high-level Satanist. Selling Satan also contains an account of Willson’s Satanic Ritual Abuse claims (on pages 271-279).

Dössekker’s bogus memoir and its subsequent debunking received considerable journalistic and literary interest at the time; however, his association with Willson for the most part gained only passing attention. The two corresponded, and it would be fascinating to know the dynamic: clearly, Willson recognised Dössekker as a fellow-fraud, and by allying with him she was also helping herself – but was this ever explicitly acknowledged between them?

Willson’s first book as Lauren Stratford was entitled Satan’s Underground, and it was published in 1988 by Harvest House, a well-known US evangelical publisher. She was championed by Johanna Michaelsen, who claims to be an ex-occultist and who is related by marriage to Hal Lindsey. Lindsey himself had achieved fame as the best-selling author of The Late Great Planet Earth, which linked current affairs and the Cold War to Biblical prophecies, and he had followed up with Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth, on the evils of occultism. Evidence that Stratford’s book was a hoax provoked bitter criticism from Michaelsen and Lindsey, who asked why evangelical journalists would want to debunk an evangelical book that had led people to Jesus.

However, as Trott and Hertenstein relate (page 278):

…as public pressure mounted, the publisher backed down and – after printing 133,409 copies of Satan’s Underground – withdrew the book and its sequel, I Know You’re Hurting. A statement released on January 26, 1990, failed to mention any reason for removing the books from circulation other than they were controversial… Some time later, Harvest House quietly released the rights to Satan’s Underground to Pelican Books, a Louisiana publisher.

And a look at the website of the Pelican Publishing Company shows that Stratford’s books are still available, along with a rather partial bio-blurb that hasn’t been updated since her death several years ago:

Agencies such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the Cult Crime Impact Network, and the National Coalition Against Pornography have used Ms. Stratford’s expertise and experience in recognizing satanic ritualistic abuse. Ms. Stratford also provides valuable assistance in the counseling and treatment of survivors of satanic crimes and child abuse.

…Ms. Stratford, a member of the Los Angeles County Women’s Commission Task Force on Ritual Abuse, helped edit the country’s first government-sponsored information booklet on the topic. She is also a member of Make Today Count, an international support group for people with life-threatening illnesses, and has organized a support group called Victims Against Sexual Abuse…

I have a copy of the Pelican edition of the book, printed in 1993: it comes with a foreword by Michaelsen and an Aferword by three clinical psychologists: Lyn Laboriel, Catherine Gould, and Vicki Graham Costain. There are also a number of endorsements: from Kenneth Wooden, a reporter with ABC (“a work of national importance”); Hal Lindsey (“absolutely incredible and true”); Judith Reisman, the notorious anti-Kinsey obsessive* (“only too credible… it is even more crucial that we listen to her story”); Mike Warnke (a “story… that needs to be told); Larry Jones (“literally a godsend); and the psychologist Gould, who described her as “a survivor twice over. She has survived not only the horror of ritual abuse, but also a vicious backlash aimed at discrediting both her and her story”.

This was before Willson/Stratford reinvented herself as Laura Grabowski, which one would have thought would have been the last straw for even the most bone-headed enthusiasts. Yet so far as I can see there have been no mea culpas from those who promoted the original fraud and attacked the investigators, and the blurbs are still visible on a 2003 re-issue viewable on Amazon. Pelican also sells her follow-up book, which comes with a Foreword by Stormie Omartian, author of the best-selling Power of a Praying… series.

Satan's Underground

Footnote

*Reisman’s anti-Kinsey polemics have brought her into an association with the British journalist Tim Tate, and the two shared a platform in Croatia in 2013. Tate’s 1991 book Children for the Devil: Ritual Abuse and Satanic Crime recently came under renewed attention due to a passage featuring an interview with a vicar about allegations of ritual abuse against an unnamed MP.

Election Petition Challenging Nadine Dorries: Some Context

UPDATE (30 July): The election petition has been rejected by the court, on the grounds that notice was served to the wrong location. Notice was delivered to Dorries’ constituency office, which was the official address given on her election materials (aside from the one leaflet which, illegally, did not have any address).

The best account so far is an article by Chris Green in the Independent. It includes the detail that:

Gavin Millar QC, acting for Ms Dorries, told the court that Mr Ireland’s solicitors had been labouring under the “misapprehension” that the election petition could be served on a place of work. “It seems to us that a straightforward error was made by the petitioner’s solicitor,” he said.

Dorries’ lawyers also argued that this address is usually unmanned.

It should be noted that (a) her “address for service” in relation to her company, Averbrook, is a virtual office in London, indicating that she does not want to be served at home; and (b) that although she maintains a residence in her constituency, she has also been reported as living with her partner in Surrey. It seems that the two judges – Mr Justices Baker and Popplewell – were unswayed by these considerations, and others.

Of course, Dorries and her associates (including her lawyers, Clifford Chance) are misleadingly attempting to portray the outcome as evidence that Tim’s complaint had no merit, when in fact it was not tested by the court.

 

***

Barrister Greg Callus announces on Twitter:

Two parliamentary election petitions have been issued in England & Wales, challenging Tory victories in (1) Mid Bedfordshire; and (2) Woking / The respective MPs are Nadine Dorries and Jonathan Lord. The petitioners (both candidates) are Tim Ireland and Ruth Temple respectively.  [12]

The petition relating to Dorries is a subject of some interest to me, for reasons that I previously explained here.

In response to the news, Dorries has pointed to the fact that she won the election with a majority of 23,000, whereas Tim received just “a few hundred votes”. In the same Tweet, she has mocked “bitter losers”. Meanwhile, Tim has drawn attention to Section 159 of the Representations of the People’s Act, which is concerned with “any corrupt or illegal practice in reference to the election”.

Candidates who stand for election are required to follow certain rules designed to protect the integrity of the electoral process. Voters should not be misled by disinformation about candidates; and those who wish to stand for election ought to be able to do so without being intimidated by the threat of vilification based on lies. There is no exemption from these rules for candidates whose success is virtually guaranteed because they are running for a particular party in a safe seat; nor is “open season” allowed on independent candidates who are unlikely to win or affect the final outcome.

Dorries’  behaviour during the election

As I have written previously, Dorries did not respond well when Tim announced his decision to stand for election earlier this year. It should be noted that this wasn’t a campaign fixated on Dorries – his theme was against corruption in politics, as manifested, for example, by the failure of the Conservative Party to remove activists who had smeared a Liberal Democrat as a paedophile in earlier election, and by the dishonesty of the Conservative Party chair, Grant Shapps.

However, Dorries claimed that Tim was standing in order to stalk her: she laid out a series of allegations on her blog, in which she named me as Tim’s “accomplice”. Much of her post consisted of claims made by other individuals, although nothing was documented properly and these other accusers remain anonymous (those of us in the know, though, are aware that the accusations are without substance).

She also lobbied for him to be excluded from hustings events, and when she was rebuffed by Churches Together in Shefford she declined to take part in one event. She did, though, send supporters (including two of her adult daughters), who made a scene and attempted to distribute a scurrilous leaflet lacking contact details (a breach of electoral law) – this extraordinary disruption has been described by Tim’s partner Sue, who blogs and Tweets as Humphrey Cushion, here. One of those involved in the stunt (a former intern who had worked for Dorries in Parliament) published a justification on Twitter, although he later deleted his Tweet, during a police investigation into the matter.

The police investigation (updated)

News of the on-going investigation was reported a few days ahead of the election by the Sunday Mirror, although the article was quickly deleted; Dorries said that it had been taken down because it contained “mis information” (sic), although she didn’t make clear what was meant by that exactly. It turned out that she had lodged a complaint with IPSO, the press regulator, which was in due course thrown out – full details here.

The Sunday Mirror later reported the outcome:

Tory MP Nadine Dorries has settled a row over her election campaign after a complaint against her was rejected by the Crown Prosecution Service.

The complaint was referred to the CPS, who this week decided there was not sufficient evidence to proceed.

Dorries has referred to this outcome as evidence that the petition does not have merit, despite previously having lamented the CPS’s failure to bring prosecutions. She has also stated, in reference to the second Sunday Mirror article, that she “didn’t even know until SM told me”, which again is a rather ambiguous comment.

Tim has lodged the petition despite having a received an anonymous threatening message warning him not to so, as he explains here.

Excursus

I know nothing of Ruth Temple or why she has filed complaint against Jonathan Lord; however, Lord has featured on this blog previously, in relation to his failure in 2006 to deal with two activists who he knew had smeared a Liberal Democrat election candidate as a paedophile. Coincidentally, that was also a matter that Tim first brought to light.