Tuesday, July 19, 2011
In the 1980s, a bizarre phenomenon began in the United States that captured my attention and held it for more than a decade. The information you’re about to read is the result of research and hindsight. When it was actually happening, the truth about all of this got little or no attention, and although I followed the news stories, I did not yet have all the information. Even when I wrote Shackled, I wasn’t aware of the whole story. While it was going on, cameras and microphones were focused on the shocking details and the accusations and claims that sounded like something from a horror movie.
Like everyone else, I first became aware of it in 1983 when it was reported that Judy Johnson, mother of a student at the McMartin Preschool in Manhattan Beach, California, claimed that her child had been sodomized by her estranged husband and one of the McMartin teachers, Ray Buckey. An investigation began. But Johnson repeatedly contacted the District Attorney’s office with accusations that were increasingly macabre. She claimed that people at the preschool were having sex with animals, that preschool administrator Peggy McMartin Buckey had “drilled a child under the arms,” and that “Ray flew in the air.” Here is an excerpt from a summary of an interview with Johnson, reported by the Deputy District Attorney:
“Billy describes having communion in a church. A prayer similar in sound to the Lord's prayer was recited. A goat climbed up higher, higher, higher. Then a bad man threw it down the stairs. It woke up later. ... Ray picked his rt. pointer finger. It bled. Ray put it in the goat's anus. Nobody had clothes on under the robes. Billy had a robe on too. They put a Band Aid on his finger. ... Lots of threats were made against Billy and his family. It is unclear whether it was a doll or real baby (Billy says real baby) but the head was chopped off and the brains were burned. Billy said Peggy [McMartin] killed the baby. Peggy had scissors in the church and she cut Billy's hair. Billy had to drink the babies [sic] blood. Ray wanted Billy's spit. He put it on the altar. The baby was big like Billy. It screamed. When Billy's bottom was bleeding Ray put a tampax in his bottom to stop the bleeding, then he took it out. The red circled people in this ad [referring to a newspaper ad for a local health club] are all familiar to Billy. The 3 women are witches."
Johnson had been diagnosed with and hospitalized for acute paranoid schizophrenia, but that information was withheld during the trial. When it was finally revealed, the prosecution maintained that Johnson’s mental illness was brought on by the stress of the trial, although it was later revealed that she had admitted to prosecutors that she’d been mentally ill before the whole sensational case began. In 1986, she died in her home from complications of chronic alcoholism. But by then, the snowball of accusations, rumors and media frenzy had become gigantic and unstoppable. The initial accusations were made in 1983, the preliminary hearings began in 1984 and the trial lasted until 1990 and cost a total of 15 million dollars. It was the longest and most expensive trial in American history.
Accusations made by the children were every bit as bizarre as those made by Judy Johnson. Satanic rituals were described during which children were sexually abused in tunnels, secret rooms and at airports and car washes. Children claimed to have been taken away in hot air balloons and airplanes, to have seen witches fly through the air, and one child identified movie actor Chuck Norris as one of the Satanic child abusers. But investigations turned up no physical evidence of anything described by the children.
One of the initial prosecutors, Glenn Stevens, claimed that his fellow prosecutors had withheld vital evidence from the defense and he left the case. During the trial, Michelle Smith and Lawrence Pazder met with the children and parents involved and Stevens claimed that Smith and Pazdar influenced the testimony of the children. Who were Michelle Smith and Lawrence Pazdar? I’ll come back to them in a moment.
Videotapes of the children being interviewed by people from Children’s Institute International, a child abuse clinic in Los Angeles, revealed that the method of questioning was highly suspect. The questions were extremely suggestive and coercive and led children to make false accusations. Some believe the method of questioning led to false memory syndrome. The trial ended in acquittals and dismissals, but even so, the lives of those in the McMartin family were destroyed.
The McMartin case was not the only one, it was just the most prominent. Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, accusations of Satanic ritual abuse — some at preschools and daycare centers, as in the McMartin case — swept across the country like a wildfire. Nearly all of them involved the same lurid and horrifying details of Satanic rituals, necrophilia, cannibalism, human sacrifice, children being urinated and defecated on and other mind-blowing atrocities that came up in the McMartin case. Also present were the same leading, coercive questioning techniques used on the children in that case. With no substantial physical or corroborating evidence, arrests were made, trials were held and people were convicted.
Volunteer activist groups like Believe the Children were formed to educate people about the widespread problem of Satanic ritual abuse. Organizations of therapists published material to inform other therapists and law enforcement of the symptoms of what became known as SRA. Out of this came the revelation that a worldwide conspiracy of multigenerational Satanists who were extremely well-connected and powerful was kidnapping children and abusing them in horrible ways and using them as sacrifices in their rituals, which allegedly increased their supernatural power. Stories arose of Satanists who were actually summoning Satan. This worldwide conspiracy also included Satanic messages and supernatural powers involved in popular rock music and role playing games. It seemed that Satan’s agents were lurking around every corner, waiting to pounce on America’s children.
But none of this appeared spontaneously. All of it sprang from just a few sources. The first two were a couple of men who became very popular in Christian circles during the 1970s.
Mike Warnke was a Christian evangelist and comedian who claimed that, before converting to Christianity, he was a Satanist who climbed the religion’s ranks to the position of high priest. He told tales of Satanic rituals and explained how Satanists kidnapped and raped children and young people, using them in rituals that brought them, the Satanists, supernatural power. He talked about women who were used as breeders to provide babies for the Satanists to sacrifice in their rituals. His book The Satan Seller was published in 1973 and became a huge Christian bestseller. As a result, Warnke became a popular speaker who was in demand all over the country, and his Christian comedy records sold in big numbers. For two decades, Warnke was a Christian star who was respected as an “expert” in Satanism. In 1985, he was even featured on the May 16, 1985 episode of the ABC news magazine 20/20 called “The Devil Worshipers.”
Another popular speaker in Christian circles during the 1970s was a man named John Todd. Like Warnke, he was an in-demand speaker who claimed to have been a high priest in what he called the “Satanic Illuminati.” He claimed to have been John F. Kennedy’s “personal warlock” and told stories of being present for the ritualistic dedication of master recordings of popular rock albums to Satan himself, who often made an appearance at these ceremonies. He spoke of a vast Satanic conspiracy to take control of the United States and the world. He claimed that Ayn Rand was the mistress of one of the Satanic Illuminati’s highest ranking members, Philip Rothschild, who ordered her to write a novel that outlined their plan to take over the world. The result was Atlas Shrugged.
These two men helped lay the foundation for what was to come. The actual structure was built by a woman named Michelle Smith and her therapist, and later husband, Canadian psychiatrist Lawrence Pazder. In 1980, their book Michelle Remembers was published and became a bestseller.
Michelle Remembers tells the story of how Smith’s mother, part of a multigenerational Satanic cult in the city of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, forced Smith to participate in rituals beginning when she was five years old. It claims Smith was kept in a cage, sexually molested and tortured, rubbed with the blood and body parts of sacrificed babies and adults whose murders she had been forced to witness. The last of these rituals allegedly lasted 81 days and included the actual summoning of Satan himself. Smith claims that Jesus Christ, the virgin Mary and Michael the archangel intervened during that ritual and not only healed all of the physical scars she bore from years of abuse but removed all of her memories of those horrible events until the time was right for them to be revealed again. (As Saturday Night Live’s Church Lady would say, “How conveeeeeenient!”) According to Pazder, that time came when he began treating her for depression and recovered these “repressed memories” while Smith was under hypnosis. Pazder claimed that Smith had been a victim of the Church of Satan, a worldwide cult that predated Christianity.
In spite of the book’s many irrational claims — not the least of which was that the Church of Satan, founded by Anton LaVey in 1966, predated Christianity (which is a little like saying bumper stickers predated the invention of the automobile) — Michelle Remembers was published as nonfiction.
When reports of Satanic ritual abuse began to surface all over the United States in the next few years after the publication of the book, Pazder was consulted by law enforcement as a Satanic “expert.” He, too, became a popular public speaker and TV guest. In 1984, he was called in to consult with law enforcement on the McMartin Preschool case. That’s when prosecutor Glenn Stevens, who left the case because of the egregious way it was being handled by his fellow prosecutors, claimed that Pazder and Smith were given access to the children and influenced their testimony. So it’s no surprise that their testimony frequently mirrored the ugly details in Michelle Remembers.
In fact, the testimony of the accusers in all of the Satanic ritual abuse cases that followed were repetitions of the details in that book, and the idea that a global conspiracy of Satanists was not only reinforced but it started a panic. Michelle Remembers was routinely used as a guidebook by law enforcement in profiling cases of Satanic ritual abuse.
Most of the details of Smith’s story are identical to details given by Mike Warnke in his book about his experience with Satanism, and Pazder’s claim that there existed a worldwide conspiracy of ultra-powerful Satanists who were kidnapping, torturing and sacrificing people, especially babies and children, and that breeders were having babies specifically to be used in Satanic sacrifices, mirrored John Todd’s tales of the Satanic Illuminati.
That might be a significant fact in their favor if all of these people — Warnke, Todd, Smith and Pazder — were later revealed to be greedy liars and utter frauds.
The Great Satanic Panic of the Late 20th Century was greatly aided by a media eager to showcase the sensational stories that included plenty of sex, violence and jaw-dropping horror. And no one jumped on the Satanic express faster and in a bigger way than synthetic journalist and slavering media whore Geraldo Rivera — or, as I like to call him, Horrendo Revolta. He did a number of TV shows on the subject that only poured gasoline on the fire. In 1988, his 90-minute primetime Halloween special, Devil Worship: Exposing Satan’s Underground, borrowed it’s name from Satan’s Underground, the book by Lauren Stratford (also published as nonfiction), who claimed to be a survivor of Satanic ritual abuse and whose book launched her career as a public speaker and “expert” on the subject. The book was a Christian bestseller and she appeared on Geraldo’s special.
You can watch Geraldo’s special on YouTube in nine parts. I strongly recommend that you give it a look because you can see the number of completely unsubstantiated claims that are made — wild claims about cannibalism and infant sacrifice — and the out-of-context soundbites Geraldo runs as if they are hard news. The show accepts at the outset the existence of a vast Satanic network. When Geraldo starts talking about “breeders” who provide Satanic cults with babies to sacrifice in their rituals, what does he use to support the idea? A clip from the 1968 horror film Rosemary’s Baby — which never claimed to be nonfiction.
The most articulate guest on the show is Michael Aquino, founder of the Temple of Set, and one of the primary boogie men in the country according to Christian conspiracy theorists. He makes some extremely valid points about the real philosophy behind his religion and other Satanic beliefs, which bears no resemblance to the claims made by Christians about Satanism. He also points out that others on the show claim to have been involved in Satanic cults that routinely engaged in human sacrifice, but not one of them has ever identified a single guilty party for law enforcement or provided the names of anyone else involved in those cults. At one point, he says, “Who are they? Name them. Identify them and arrest them.” Aquino’s calm, rational responses are virtually ignored by Geraldo in favor of the feverish, outlandish claims of his other guests.
When Aquino calls for names and arrests, the response by the alleged “survivors” is that no one will believe them. One woman claims that no bodies are found because the Satanists “consume them.” Really? Bones, too? “Satanists ate my evidence!”
Former FBI agent Ted Gunderson claims that nothing can be done by law enforcement. Since retiring from the FBI, Gunderson has worked as a private investigator and claims that the worldwide conspiracy of Satan worshipers has been responsible for a host of high-profile crimes and incidents, including the Oklahoma City bombing and the accidental skiing death of Sonny Bono. He also claims the United Nations is poisoning the population with chemtrails as part of the Satanic Illuminati's effort to decrease the population. The only evidence we have here, of course, is the evidence that Ted Gunderson is a fucking loon.
Geraldo strung together a list of unrelated crimes committed by deranged people who possessed Satanic paraphernalia or claimed to be Satanists and concluded that an enormous network of Satanists were killing people all over the country. He paraded in front of the camera people who appeared to be drug-addled or mentally ill or both — some of whom were so dysfunctional that they could hardly speak — and pointed to their inarticulate claims as hard evidence of this network. It was a low point in television, a field where low points are common — but this was lower than usual because of the disgusting claims being made without any evidence and the damage those claims did to so many over the years.
A big culprit in all of this was the unreliable and damaging “repressed therapy movement,” a form of therapy that attempted to extract repressed memories from people, sometimes under hypnosis. As many as one in five people who have memories “recovered” using this kind of therapy have memories of Satanic ritual abuse, including the elaborate details outlined above. But hypnosis is not always necessary. Sometimes all you need is ... Geraldo Rivera.
Rivera’s shows on the Satanic Panic were not just bad TV, they did real damage. Paul Ingram lived in Olympia, Washington with his two daughters who one day watched one of Rivera’s Satanic ritual abuse shows. They ended up accusing their father not only of abusing them, but of leading a Satanic cult and overseeing the sacrifice of 25 babies. Using sleep deprivation and hypnotic interview techniques, interrogators from Ingram’s church, the Church of the Living Water, convinced him that he suffered from multiple personality disorder and had repressed the memories of the abuse and his Satanic activity. With no evidence, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
In 1995, Geraldo apologized for publicizing what he came to realize was a complete fraud that had damaged so many lives and he recanted on CNBC, adding that he thought the “repressed memory therapy movement is also a bunch of crap.” But after all the manipulative disinformation he had aired over the years, his brief apology on a little-watched cable channel was hardly sufficient.
In the 1990s, most of the biggest names in the Satanic ritual abuse business — and it was a business, and still is! — were soundly exposed as liars and frauds. People like Mike Warnke and John Todd and Lauren Stratford and the Satanic conspiracy team of Michelle Smith and Lawrence Pazder — and much of that exposing was done by the Christian magazine Cornerstones. And yet, despite being exposed as frauds, these people — with the exception of Todd, who died in 2007 in the Behavioral Disorder Treatment Unit run by the South Carolina Department of Mental Health after serving half of a 30-year prison sentence for rape and child molestation — are still at it! And there are still plenty of people who believe everything they say, people convinced that the Satanic conspiracy is growing and that countless people are still being harmed and killed by devil worshipers.
Why do the Satanic Panic stars keep going even after they’ve been debunked? Because there’s money to be made and attention to be drawn to them. One can make good money as a public speaker, and then there are books and videos and audio recordings to sell. After all, there are still plenty of people who believe them in spite of the overwhelming evidence that they're full of crap. These are people who place their religious beliefs above the reality in front of their faces, people who prefer a scary fantasy to an unpleasant, mundane reality. They need something to fear and blame. These people are all Christians, of course, because Satan is specifically a Christian deity, and a Satanic conspiracy makes more sense to them than the possibility that greedy fellow Christians might use their belief to bilk money out of them.
Christianity played a big role in the SRA scare. The accusers, therapists and activists involved were mostly fundamentalist Christians who identified as “Satanic” anything their religion condemned and anything that smacked of the “occult.” The word “occult” originally referred to something that was secret, hidden from view, concealed or beyond understanding. But it has come to mean primarily anything relating to the supernatural, and to Christians, it is synonymous with “evil,” even if the true meaning of a particular symbol — like the pentagram, for example — is actually benign. In order to take those stories seriously, one first must believe in an evil being called Satan who is actively involved in people’s lives. I’m not trying to belittle the people who believe that ... because I was one of them.
During the 1970s, I heard the recorded lectures of Mike Warnke and John Todd — and another Christian teller of Satanic tales, Bob Larson (who’s also been discredited by Cornerstone as a liar and fraud) — a lot. They were played for me and my fellow classmates in the Seventh-day Adventist school I attended. Warnke’s talks were always funny, but what he was talking about was not — he joked about Satanism and being privy to kidnappings and the ritualistic abuse and sacrifice of young people, which aren’t what you would normally call comedy gold if you’re claiming those things actually happened. For one entire week in 1977 at what was then Lawncrest Junior Academy (now Redding Adventist Academy in Redding, California), Mr. Currier’s math class was devoted solely to listening to a series of cassette recordings of John Todd outlining the whole Satanic Illuminati conspiracy.
(Incidentally, my math teacher Mr. Currier later got into trouble for molesting the young wheelchair-bound girls with muscular dystrophy he’d taken into his home as foster children. To the best of my knowledge, he was not a Satanist — he was a Christian school teacher. But Satan still got the blame because later, Mrs. Currier explained to me that the devil was responsible for the whole thing. See? Satan is very convenient because you can blame him for everything!)
You know what? Those guys — Warnke and Todd — scared the shit out of me. My parents could never understand why I enjoyed watching horror movies on TV so much. They just couldn’t get it through their heads that the vampires and werewolves and ghosts in the old movies I watched on Creature Features every Saturday night were a relief from the nightmarish horrors instilled in me at school and in church. I’ve been writing horror fiction for a living for the last 27 years in part because of the fear-mongering paranoia I was taught by guys like Warnke and Todd.
You have to understand that I was raised to believe that Satan was an active threat to me at all times. As far back as I could remember, I had always been taught that I had to pray to god for help and be good to get his approval, but Satan’s attention was always focused on me. He was constantly peering over my shoulder, breathing down my neck, tempting me, goading me, threatening me, deceiving me. Because of my interest in forbidden things like novels, comic books and horror movies, I was told he was working through me, that he was using me. I was taught that god would always win, but at the same time, I was taught to fear Satan. When I watched a horror movie like Rosemary’s Baby on TV as a kid, it was like watching a documentary! It merely confirmed everything I’d been taught.
By the time I graduated from high school in 1981, I was seriously questioning everything I’d been taught to believe. A lot of years would go by before I would finally be free of the fears and superstitions that came with those beliefs, but that was when the serious thinking began. When I started hearing the stories of Satanic ritual abuse, I nearly wet myself! This wasn’t Rosemary’s Baby or The Brotherhood of Satan on TV — this was the news! My first thought upon hearing those stories?
Holy shit, everything Mike Warnke and John Todd said was TRUE!
I had grown up believing in all kinds of conspiracy theories that are simply taken for granted among Seventh-day Adventists in particular, and many among Christians in general. They’re so common that no one thinks of them as “conspiracy theories,” but simply as the truth with which they live. Seventh-day Adventists believe that there are ongoing back-room meetings in the U.S. government in which the Catholic church is trying to get the “Sunday law” passed, which would make Adventists criminals for observing the Saturday sabbath rather than going to church on Sundays. There are plenty of Christians, besides Adventists, who believe the Catholic church is the beast of Revelation. Some Christians believe Jews are conspiring to rule the world and wipe out Christianity. Many believe that all of science has conspired to bury the truth of creation with the lie of evolution and, depending on who you talk to, that either Satan planted fossils to fool us or god planted them to test our faith. So a Satanic conspiracy to molest and sacrifice children wasn’t exactly a big leap.
When I wrote Shackled in the mid-‘90s, I still didn’t have all of this information. The Satanic Panic was just beginning to calm down. But I had some very serious doubts, because the information I had did not add up and carried the unmistakable scent of bullshit. But I did what every writer of speculative fiction does — I asked, “What if?” What if something like this were really going on?
Shackled is about tabloid reporter Bentley Noble, who works for the Global Inquisitor. While researching a story about a woman who talks to the late Liberace, Noble stumbles onto something so horrible, so unspeakable, that he’s not sure if even his own tabloid will report on it because it’s so unbelievable. Children are disappearing and what’s being done with them is almost too awful to accept. With the help of a true crime writer and Pastor Ethan Walker, whose own son Samuel has been taken, Noble goes into the dark underworld of human trafficking and discovers that there is no limit to the evil that men can do.
A lot of people have told me that Shackled is one of the scariest and most upsetting books they’ve ever read. That, of course, is music to my ears. But some mistakenly believe that the book is based on actual events, and that misconception stems from the fact that the Satanic Panic was widely reported on, but the truth behind it received very little if any coverage. The truth is seldom sensational enough for the media. Shackled is entirely a work of fiction inspired by what has turned out to be a contemporary legend, like Bigfoot and alien abductions (complete with anal probes). I did not write it, as some think, to make people aware of a real problem. I wrote it only to entertain ... and to terrify. I hope it does its job.
Shackled is available in paperback and for Kindle and Nook and as an audiobook from Audible. Please visit my website at RayGartonOnline.com