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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 1/15/20

The Great Satanic Panic

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Silly episodes of religion flare occasionally and America's Satanist hysteria of the 1980s and '90s was especially ludicrous.

Many fundamentalists thought the moon-and-stars logo on Procter & Gamble soap signified a secret pact with Lucifer. P&G sued born-again Amway dealers who spread the absurd tale.

Some evangelicals thought the blue-faced "Smurfs" cartoon show was a ploy to lure children into Satanism. Ditto for the Dungeons & Dragons game.

Still others thought that heavy metal records played backwards conveyed messages from the devil.

A few declared that Satanists kidnapped and sacrificed children at Halloween, although no kids were reported missing and no bodies found.

All this might have seemed comical fodder for late-night television jokes except that an ugly wave of prosecutions ruined many lives: Dozens of day-care workers were falsely accused of using pre-school tots in bizarre Satanic rituals, complete with human sacrifice, sex orgies and mystical mumbo-jumbo.

Police, prosecutors and courts were sucked into what has been called the "Satanic Panic." Criminal charges were filed against a string of child-care centers and their staffs. There was no actual evidence, only lurid tales told by small children. In fact, some of the tales were impossible such as claims of seeing Satanists fly in the sky, or watching a Satanist sacrifice an elephant and giraffe but that didn't stop the witch-hunt.

Eventually, it became clear that the toddlers had been enticed to concoct weird stories by supposed "counselors" who used suggestive tactics such as employing anatomically explicit dolls and asking children to point to body parts that were violated. Meanwhile, some adults under hypnosis by a few therapists allegedly recalled "suppressed memories" of victimization they had suffered in the past.

The peculiar saga started in 1980 when a psychiatric patient named Michelle Smith wrote a book titled Michelle Remembers. It said her psychiatrist (later her husband) helped her recall how she was abused in a Satanic cult. Today, the book is considered rubbish but it had power at the time.

Soon afterward, a schizophrenic woman accused the McMartin Preschool in Manhattan Beach, California, of being a secret den of Satanism. Interrogators enticed tiny pupils to describe devil-worship, sex orgies, animal sacrifice, travel through hidden tunnels, and being flushed down toilets into torture chambers. Operators Peggy McMartin and Ray Buckey were indicted on 65 counts, and their trial became the longest and most expensive in American history. In the end, both were cleared, and the whole affair was deemed a fantasy. The schizophrenic woman was found dead of alcoholism.

Meanwhile, other Satanic allegations erupted at more than 100 day-cares across America. Prosecutions and horrific charges filled newspapers. Television shows alleging Satanism were hosted by Geraldo Rivera, Oprah Winfrey and others.

One case involved day-care operators Dan and Fran Keller of Texas. They were convicted in 1992 after tots said they were flown on airplanes into Mexico for murderous rituals, then returned in time for their unsuspecting parents to pick them up after work.

A star witness for the Texas prosecution was cult "expert" Randy Noblitt, who later wrote that 500 American Satanist cells were sacrificing humans, and that President Bill Clinton was the Anti-Christ.

Finally, in 2015, the Texas supreme court voided all charges in the idiotic case. The Austin American-Statesman reported:

"The Kellers spent more than 22 years in prison after three young children accused them of dismembering babies, torturing pets, desecrating corpses, videotaping orgies and serving blood-laced Kool-Aid in Satanic rituals at their home-based day care."

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James A. Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia's largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail.  Mr. Haught has won two dozen national news writing awards. He has written 12 books and hundreds of magazine essays and blog posts. Around 450 of his essays are online. He is a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine, a weekly blogger at Daylight Atheism, (more...)
 

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