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WHAT’S Satanic Panic? Debunked ’80s Conspiracy Theory Is Creating a Return

The “satanic panic” conspiracy theory was referenced in the most recent season of Stranger Things. Though in true to life, the satanic panic fears were thoroughly debunked, the claims are unfortunately gaining steam on social media marketing once more.

Anna Biller, the writer and director of films like The Love Witch and Viva, recently took to Twitter to market the conspiracy theory, as did Robert J. Mariani, editor of online magazine Return.Life. Biller and Mariani focused primarily on the McMartin Preschool case, among the highest profile types of the conspiracy theory in the mainstream.

Satanic Panic and Stranger Things

In Stranger Things Season 4, Eddie Munson, played by Joseph Quinn, reaches the biggest market of a plot where members of the city accuse him of murder due to his love of metal bands like Metallica. The fictional community also casts aspersions on the youngsters playing Dungeons & Dragons.

The community’s reaction mirrors that which was happening in true to life through the 1980s, enough time the Netflix series is defined.

satanic panic mcmartin preschool anna biller debunking
“Satanic panic” was a conspiracy theory in the 1980s that led visitors to believe a massive network of satanists was abusing childrenbut the “evidence” provided was shaky at best and frequently downright absurd. Above, a representation of the devil.iStock/Getty

WHAT’S Satanic Panic?

“Satanic panic” may be the name directed at a moral scare in the 1980s that devil worshipers were hiding in plain sight throughout American society, secretly indoctrinating children in to the occult and ritually abusing them.

The book Michelle Remembers by Michelle Smith and Lawrence Pazder, published in 1980, is frequently credited with starting the panic, since it was the initial modern book that linked satanic rituals to the abuse of children. It is also the book that coined the phrase “ritual abuse.”

Michelle Remembers was a best-seller, kicking off several similar stories and allegations of satanic ritual abuse. There were over 12,000 unsubstantiated claims of satanic ritual abuse, and the book was even utilized by prosecutors in cases against accused satanists, in accordance with journalist Shirley Downing. However, of these cases, there is absolutely no proof any organized abuse by cults, in accordance with THE BRAND NEW York Times.

Despite too little evidence, the lurid nature of several of the accusations captivated the media and became a frequent subject of talk shows through the entire 1980s. A particular prime-time bout of Geraldo, hosted by Geraldo Rivera, called “Devil Worship: Exposing Satan’s Underground,” premiered the week before Halloween in 1988.

The panic also led visitors to condemn other occult-adjacent media properties, like the roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons and rock music.

Finding cultural scapegoats is nothing new, nor are fears of satanic cults. The pattern has repeated itself over and over, with probably the most famous historical cases being the witch hunts of the 1500s and 1600s, when around 80,000 Europeans were sentenced to death after being accused of witchcraft. Texts just like the Malleus Maleficarum compiled by Heinrich Kramer in 1486 were purported to become a “guide” to spotting witches among others who have been supposedly in league with the devil.

Rumors of satanic cults have persisted throughout historyand were later utilized by modern proponents of the conspiracy theory as evidencehowever, academics David Frankfurter and Richard J. McNally explain that there surely is no credible evidence that devil-worshiping cults actually existed.

Today, you can find indeed satanist groups like the Church of Satan, which are mostly atheistic groups that religious scholars like Amina Olander Lap link more with the brand new Age movement. Though modern-day satanists embrace the label, they don’t have confidence in a literal Satan, nor worship him, academic Joe Abrams writes. “Satan” is treated more as symbolic of liberty and individualism, in accordance with research from Gabriel Cavaglion and Revital Sela-Shayovitz.

Satanic Panic and “Recovered-Memory Therapy”

Michelle Remembers was presented as Smith’s autobiography, and used “recovered-memory therapy” to go over abuse she claimed to suffer as a kid.

Recovered-memory therapy is really a technique in which a therapist uses hypnosis along with other ways to make patients “remember” memories that they had forgotten about, claiming that the subconscious will sometimes bury traumatic memories.

To be clear, it’s possible for abuse victims to your investment specific instance of abuse, with studies suggesting that may be the case for at the very least 10 percent of victims. However, a later study by criminologist Linda Meyer Williams, where she interviewed women with verified histories of sexual abuse, said that while 38 percent of the ladies did not remember the incident, 88 percent said they knew that they had been abused.

In recovered-memory therapy, however, the subjects didn’t know that that they had been abused until it had been revealed in their mind by way of a therapist.

Despite used because the basis for several “satanic panic” trials, recovered-memory therapy was itself placed on trial in 1994. Regarding Ramona v. Isabella, Gary Ramona sued councillor Marche Isabella. Isabella have been seeing Ramona’s daughter Holly to take care of bulimia and depression.

Isabella told Holly that bulimia was usually the consequence of incestwhich isn’t true, in accordance with physicians. Following Isabella’s treatment, using sodium amytal to recuperate memories, Holly accused her father of repeatedly raping her between your ages of 5 and 8. The accusation led his wife to divorce him and caused him to reduce his job. Ramona sued Isabella, saying the sexual abuse never occurred, and won $500,000 in damages.

Ricky Kasso

Among the earliest cases of satanic panic associated with a crime has been Ricky Kasso, who killed his friend, Gary Lauwers, in Northport, NY. Kasso had a passing fascination with the occult, telling friends about Anton LaVey’s The Satanic Bible. However, in the documentary The Acid King, Kasso’s friends dismissed claims he previously any deep interest or understanding of the occultand speculated it had been more about being edgy and offending people locally.

Reports at that time also labeled his band of friends who called themselves “Knights of the Black Circle” as a satanic cult, though there is absolutely no evidence that the Knights actually participated in virtually any occultism. Friends dismissed these claims in The Acid King aswell, saying the Knights mostly just sold marijuana.

Before the killing of Lauwers, Kasso have been arrested for digging up a colonial-era grave in an area cemetery, which also fed rumors of satanic activity. Kasso’s reported true motivation for the killing was that Lauwers had stolen drugs from Kasso while he was passed out at a celebration. Though Lauwers returned 1 / 2 of the drugs and promised to cover another half, Kasso is thought to have held a grudge.

Kasso later bragged concerning the killing to friends, even revealing Lauwers’ body to friends. Kasso died by suicide a couple of days after his arrest.

The McMartin Preschool Trial

In 1983, Judy Johnson told police her young son have been molested by both her estranged husband and by Ray Buckey, among the teachers at McMartin Preschool in LA. Some reports say that Johnson’s son confirmed he have been abused by teachers, others say the young boy denied his mother’s claims.

Johnson also made a great many other accusations, claiming that administrator Peggy McMartin Buckey, Ray’s mother, had “drilled a kid beneath the arms,” that other workers had had sex with animals and that “Ray flew in the air.”

Though Ray Buckey had not been initially prosecuted because of insufficient evidence, police sent an application letter to other parents of McMartin students informing them that police had arrested him. In doing homework, police requested parents ask their children should they had seen anything untoward or been victims themselves.

Through the investigation, Children’s Institute International interviewed several hundred children, though a report later published in the Journal of Applied Psychology described the techniques interviewers used as highly suggestive, and said they encouraged children to pretend or speculate in what happened. Following a interviews, 360 children were thought to have already been abused, in accordance with THE BRAND NEW York Times.

Medical exams were conducted and seemed to show minute scarring of the anus, that your examiner, Astrid Heppenstall Heger, said was due to penetration. Heger’s analysis has been questioned by journalists, however.

Along with Johnson’s initial allegations, a great many other absurd and impossible allegations were created by the children. The kids claimed that they’d seen flying witches and were led through tunnels, though no such tunnels were found after several excavations of the website. Other claims included children being flushed down toilets to abusers looking forward to them.

Two trials were conducted lasting between 1987 and 1990, and even though there have been 321 counts of child abuse involving 48 children made against seven defendants, including Peggy McMartin Buckey and Ray Buckey, all charges were dismissed, though Ray Buckey had spent five years in jail by that time.

Johnson was later identified as having acute paranoid schizophrenia. She passed on prior to the end of the preliminary hearing.

satanic panic mcmartin preschool ray buckey mistrial
Ray Buckey holds a copy of the ‘Los Angeles Times’ close to his lawyer, Danny Davis, after being acquitted on July 27, 1990.Bob Riha Jr./Getty

Biller and Mariani’s Tweets

Within the last couple of days, Biller and Mariani made threads concerning the McMartin case, saying justice was not done. Biller has since deleted her tweet thread.

*steps from the shadows*

The “satanic panic” was largely justified and there actually was widespread abuse in the 80s btw

Just thought I’d share. I’ll see you on the timeline.

Rob (@houellebecq_2) July 23, 2022

“Once I transpired a deep Satanic Panic rabbit hole and I learned that the children/toddlers in the McMartin Daycare Center had STDs and genital scarring, there have been really tunnels, etc. The perpetrators weren’t charged since they couldn’t prove which adults abused them,” Biller wrote.

In Biller’s thread, available via, she said that she found a note board where among the McMartin mothers shared more info concerning the case, saying that parents had hired a team to find out the institution site and found tunnels, in the same way the kids said.

“The case have been debunked on every news outlet since they never found tunnels through the trial, nonetheless it seems they didn’t try very difficult. And then if they did discover the tunnels, no news outlet would cover the story,” Biller wrote.

This is apparently a mention of E. Gary Stickel’s investigation. In 1990, parents hired Stickel, an archaeologist, to find out if the tunnels described in the testimony of the kids existed. Stickel used ground-penetrating radar and said he found proof the tunnels.

Stickel’s claims have already been repeatedly called into question. Journalist John Earlwho was also critical of Heger’s analysissaid that the institution had a concrete slab floor. Within the slab, there have been no materials discovered that would have organized the tunnels under the school. Earl also wrote that, if the tunnels had existed, the concrete floor showed that defendants could have been struggling to secretly fill them in before trial. He also dated fill under the slab to 1940.

A 2002 report by W. Joseph Wyatt said that any proof tunnels were likely garbage pits utilized by the prior owners of the website, created before the school’s construction in 1966. The excavation found material that dated to the 1930s and 1940swith only three items dated past 1966: a plastic snack bag fragment Wyatt believed was likely dragged in by an animal, and two other items likely left by way of a plumber.

Biller also compared the supposed McMartin “cover-up” to the “Trump scandal cover-ups” as “too large to prosecute.” She also says that a few of the “key witnesses… were ‘Epsteined,’ like the mother of a toddler.” That is likely a mention of Johnson’s death.

Biller cites the web site, a niche site founded by Neil Brick’s Stop Mind Control and Ritual Abuse Today (S.M.A.R.T.) organization. Brick says he could be a survivor of ritual abuse, and the website catalogues what it sees because the “cover-up” of the McMartin case. In addition, it promotes Michelle Remembers as a good tool. However, mainstream outlets usually do not may actually have cited any work by Brick or S.M.A.R.T., in accordance with a cursory Google search.

Mariani, however, cites The Witch-Hunt Narrative by Ross E. Cheit. Cheit’s work has been criticized in an assessment for the Journal of Interpersonal Violence for having “omitted or mischaracterized important facts or ignored relevant scientific information.” The review also condemns the book for arguing that “most defendants in child ritual abuse cases were guilty or probably guilty,” deeming the book “often factually inaccurate.”

“Scholars should approach the book with caution,” the review says.

QAnon, “Groomers” and Satanic Panic

Though thoroughly debunked, satanic panic unfortunately hardly ever really went away. The far-right QAnon conspiracy theory posits a Satan-worshiping cabal of pedophilic elites who torture and kill children to harvest adrenochrome. Other QAnon adherents have accused figures like Hillary Clinton of experiencing a cannibalism-related disease because of the usage of children.

The primary difference between satanic panic and QAnon is that while satanic panic adherents tended to believe the bogeymen were seemingly normal people within their everyday lives, QAnon blames high-profile figures, from politicians to actors.

Satanic panic can be echoed in today’s right-wing accusations of the LGBTQ communityparticularly teachers and drag queens who read to children at librariesas “groomers.” In its standard use, “grooming” identifies the process where an abuser makes a kid more accepting and receptive to future overtures of abuse.

However the bulk of the existing accusations are increasingly being leveled at LGBTQ teachers who’ve turn out in the classroom and discussed LGBTQ issues in a child-friendly languageor regarding drag queen story hours, simply dressed up in clothes that don’t match traditionally male outfits.

Unlike QAnon, the groomer accusations concentrate on people locally and, specifically, educators and folks dealing with children. But much like satanic panic, the proof large-scale groomingin the real definitionis nowhere to be observed.

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