Michelle Remembers

A NATION HOODWINKED:
THE POWER OF MORAL PANIC
Part II

This blog series contains content that is not suitable for children.
If that's you, go outside and run around and enjoy your youth.


PART I  |  PART III  |  PART IV


Every great myth has an origin story. When I began researching how Satanic ritual abuse had spread across the country, source after source kept pointing to one specific book. Michelle Remembers, co-written by Michelle Smith and her therapist-turned-husband Dr. Larry Pazder, is the harrowing account of one woman's emotional, physical and sexual abuse not only at the hand of her mother, but also by an entire coven of devil worshippers. Smith's tale seemed too good to be true—and it was. Though it's now known that Smith's account was not only influenced by Dr. Pazder, but entirely fabricated, they were believed at the time and were both called in to consult on the McMartin preschool case.

Through my studies of Smith and Pazder, I realized how crucial Smith's account actually was to the McMartin case. Her book was the first known reference of "ritual abuse," and its influence certainly shows in the moral panic that frenzied our nation for more than a decade.


"'In the beginning I wondered if she had made things up,' [Dr. Larry Pazder] says, 'but if this is a hoax, it would be the most incredible hoax ever.'"

"A Canadian Woman's Bizarre Childhood Memories of Satan Shock Shrinks and Priests" | By Kristin McMurran People Magazine Archive | Sept. 1, 1980 • Vol. 14 No. 9


"Why did psychotherapists and investigators conclude that these fantastic allegations [of Satanic ritual abuse] were true? Because at the time, pretty much everyone else in America did.

The seeds of the panic were planted with the 1980 publication of Michelle Remembers, the best-selling account of a Canadian psychotherapist [Dr. Larry Pazder]’s work with a woman named Michelle Smith, who, under his care, began recalling forgotten memories of horrific childhood sexual abuse at the hands of her mother and others who were part of a devil-worshipping cult. The book, though riddled with fantastical claims (for example, Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and the Archangel Michael healed Smith’s physical scars), launched a cottage industry in recovering memories of Satanic ritual abuse."

— "The Real Victims of Satanic Ritual Abuse: The dangers were imaginary, but the consequences were not" By Linda Rodriguez McRobbie 



"'Many child care experts believe [Michelle Remembers] was the 'seed work' which began the current wave of hysteria about Satanists. Robert Hicks of the U.S. Justice Department said: 'Before Michelle Remembers, there were no Satanic prosecutions involving children. Now the myth is everywhere.”'

"It was Dr. Pazder who coined the phrase 'ritual abuse.'"

"Dr. Pazder himself admits he is working in areas that are difficult to define. 'It’s an area where if you jump in too quickly, you get hysteria. People start seeing Satanists around every corner.'”

—  "Michelle Remembers: The Debunking of a Myth – Why the original 'ritual abuse' victim may have suffered only from her childhood fantasies"


"What we're seeing in recovered memory therapy is the most dramatic, the most politically correct, the least substantiated madness that it's possible to imagine in the mental health profession." (2:40)

Dr. Richard J. Ofshe, PhD | Professor of Sociology, University of California Berkley | Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, 1979
 

"It's very, very difficult to tell the difference between a genuine memory and one that is a product of suggestion. And the reason is that with enough suggestion, people can start to remember things that didn't happen, they can be quite confident, they can be quite detailed, and so these false recollections have all the characteristics of some of our real memories." (6:12)

— Elizabeth F. Loftus, PhD | Distinguished Professor of Social Ecology, and Professor of Law, and Cognitive Science, Stanford University


"Now discredited, [Michelle Remembers] was written in the form of an autobiography, presenting the first known claim that child abuse was linked to Satanic rituals. Pazder was also responsible for coining the term 'ritual abuse.' Michelle Remembers provided a model for numerous allegations of SRA that ensued later in the same decade. On the basis of the book's success, Pazder developed a high media profile, gave lectures and training on SRA to law enforcement, and by September 1990 had acted as a consultant on more than 1,000 SRA cases, including the McMartin preschool trial. Prosecutors used Michelle Remembers as a guide when preparing cases against alleged Satanists. Michelle Remembers, along with other accounts portrayed as survivor stories, are suspected to have influenced later allegations of SRA, and the book has been suggested as a causal factor in the later epidemic of SRA allegations."

— "Satanic Ritual Abuse" Wikipedia



"Smith and Pazder describe the process by which they dredged up Michelle's long-buried 'memory' of an infernal childhood—and a pact with the Devil. At about the age of 5, Michelle says she was subjected by her mother to a group of Satanists in her quaint, gingerbread hometown of Victoria. Through therapy, Michelle recalled being subjected to a merciless succession of physical and psychological tortures. She claims to have been imprisoned in a mesh cage layered with live snakes, forced to eat a soup of worms and to watch cultists slaughter kittens. She also insists that she was wrapped in a shroud and lowered into a cemetery grave. The Satanist high priest, Michelle says, once attached horns to her skull and a tail to her spine. In her recounting, the torment continued for months until—filthy, starving and bruised—she began seeing the Devil in the bonfire of the Satanists' Black Mass. 'He always came out of the fire, and his shape was constantly changing,' she says. 'You never saw a whole person at once—just a huge gigantic foot or a long, hairy leg.'"

—  "A Canadian Woman's Bizarre Childhood Memories of Satan Shock Shrinks and Priests" | By Kristin McMurran | People Magazine Archive | Sept. 1, 1980 • Vol. 14 No. 9


"One of the thoughts about how a false memory gets constructed is that some of the raw material comes from books, and stories, from television, from the talk shows." (0:06)

— Elizabeth F. Loftus, PhD | Distinguished Professor of Social Ecology, and Professor of Law, and Cognitive Science, Stanford University
 

"As far as evidence is concerned for Satanic cults in particular—there is no more evidence found for them than was found for the witch trials in the sixteenth and seventeenth century. There is no bag of bones, no pot of blood, no robes, no anything having been discovered. It rests purely on the testimony of individuals subject to suggestion." (1:24)

— Paul R. McHugh, MD | University Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry, Johns Hopkins Medicine


"The social ramifications of the false memory phenomenon are a huge, substantial waste of healthcare dollars, and the unnecessary infliction of pain—first upon the patients of these practitioners, and then upon their families." (6:21)

— Dr. Richard J. Ofshe, PhD | Professor of Sociology, University of California Berkley | Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, 1979


"[Michelle's] mother died when Michelle was 14; her father then signed over custody to her maternal grandparents. After attending a convent school, she first consulted Pazder for conventional young-adult neuroses while she was at the University of Victoria. Her story of possession surfaced much later, after her marriage to a surveyor began to falter.

The supernatural element of her tale is impossible to substantiate. Michelle says that she was miraculously rescued through the intervention of an unearthly woman dressed in blue, who identified herself as 'Ma Mère' ('My Mother' in French). Michelle claims that while in therapy she recognized the woman's son, 'Jésu,' a young man clothed in white, and realized that the woman was the Virgin Mary. 'I know it's really odd to be talking about it,' Michelle admits, 'but I can't deny that she stood there and held my hand.' Not religious before psychotherapy, Michelle was baptized as a Catholic three years ago and now sleeps with a rosary beneath her pillow. She reacts with dismay to questions about the credibility of her spiritual experience. 'I'm being accused of having had encounters with Mary, Jesus and Satan. Is that so awful?' she demands. Accompanied by Dr. Pazder, Michelle visited the Vatican in 1978, and Bishop Remi de Roo of Victoria is now awaiting a final transcript of her taped interviews with Vatican officials before deciding whether to recommend a full church investigation. 'I do not question that for Michelle this experience is real,' the bishop says judiciously. 'In time we will know how much of it will be validated.'

Meantime, the American Psychiatric Association, the Jungian Institute and the Menninger Clinic have expressed a more secular interest in Michelle's case. Her therapy has ended and she plans to continue to cooperate with religious and secular investigators. Dr. Pazder, now 44, suffered some personal and financial hardships because of his devotion to Michelle's case. The possibility of a movie intrigues both Pazder and Smith; they would like to see Christopher Plummer as the Satanist priest and Dustin Hoffman as Pazder. Michelle hopes someday to put the whole Satanic period behind her—although she is planning a coast-to-coast publicity tour for her book first. 'When it's all over, I will be very, very happy to do absolutely nothing for at least six months,' Michelle says. 'Not getting dressed until 11, propping my feet up and watching soap operas, and having nothing more complicated to do than going grocery shopping.'"

—  "A Canadian Woman's Bizarre Childhood Memories of Satan Shock Shrinks and Priests" | By Kristin McMurran | People Magazine Archive | Sept. 1, 1980 • Vol. 14 No. 9



"The Wiccan Information Network and other groups found that much of the book content was ultimately derived from Dr. Pazder's (1936 - 2004) personal studies of African native rituals, rather than from Michelle's memories. When the accuracy of his book was questioned during a seminar, Dr. Pazder allegedly stated that he and Michelle had never claimed that the events in the book actually happened. He has more recently promoted 'Sadistic Ritual Abuse' as the new definition of SRA. He allegedly believes that no massive Satanic conspiracy exists. He has been reported as believing that recovered memories of SRA during childhood are often based on real memories of incest to which a false overlay of Satanic ritual has been added."

—  "ALLEGED FRAUDS IN RELIGIOUS BOOKS which deal with Satanism, Wicca, etc." 


"The people who believe in their memories are not liars. They are people who have been persuaded to hold these views out of their therapist. They are in a sense victims of their therapists."

— Paul R. McHugh, MD | University Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry, Johns Hopkins Medicine


Though I have not read Michelle Remembers, I did read another book of the same sort in high school that I believed to be true, but later realized was a hoax—He Came to Set the Captives Free by Dr. Rebecca Brown.

"In 1979 Brown was a well respected registered nurse. Bosses and Co-workers have stated that over the next three years Brown's behavior and personality changed with Brown becoming more obsessed with religion and the topic of demons. Brown was eventually asked to resign after complaints that she performed exorcisms on patients. Brown would later set up her own practice.

Brown's personal problems where complicated when Brown began an unhealthy relationship with one Edna Moses, identified only as Elaine in Brown's books. Elaine claimed she was a High-Priestess in a satanic cult and had actually married and had sex with Satan. Elaine moved in with Brown and even shared a bed with her. Brown even went as far as trying to legally adopt Elaine as her daughter.

In 1984, Brown had her medical licence revoked over accusations she purposefully misdiagnosed patients, advised patients their conditions were caused by demons, and prescribed high levels of dangerous and addictive drugs to both her her patients and herself. If these accusations weren't serious enough, Brown was also accused of telling patients that only she could properly diagnose them, failing to properly document her patients records, stating certain doctors and nurses she worked with where in fact demons in human disguise, and claiming to have the power to share her patients diseases, pain and afflictions with demons in order to cure them.

In 1986, Brown released He Came To Set The Captives Free, a book detailing the story provided to her by Elaine, as well as her own involvement in Elaine's rescue from the Satanic cult and of Elaine's subsequent transition to Christianity. Many of Brown's subsequent books have been geared toward her supposed fight against Satanic cults and demons.

At the board hearing that ended with the revocation of Brown's medical licence, witnesses testified that Brown claimed she had fought with a demon and decapitated it, as well as made accusations she advised one person they were being attacked by a tentacled demon resembling an octopus. Brown also believes that vampires and werewolves exist, even going as far as recounting a frightful experience she claimed she had with a werewolf that threatened to kill her.

'Then he looked straight into my eyes and told me, 'You can't go anywhere—see, I have stopped your car and there's nothing you can do about it. Now I'm going to enjoy ripping your throat out and drinking your blood. You have been interfering with Satan too long; I am going to punish you. You cannot stand against my power.'' — He Came To Set The Captives Free, p. 238

Rebecca Brown continues to use the 'M.D.' title because this represents her degree and not a medical license."

"Brown, Rebecca (Ruth Bailey) 1948 - Present" | The Demoniacal: Blogging The Demons, Monsters & Mysterious Creatures That Allegedly Haunt Our World


"Having divorced Satan and her second husband too, Elaine helped Dr. Brown foil Satanic assassins and rescue other cult victims. The duo claimed to have saved about 1.000 witches from dangerous covens in the first half of the ’80s alone. Brown published a second book about her battles with darkness, Prepare for War, in 1987. That same year, she and Elaine appeared on one of Geraldo Rivera’s shows about Satanism.
In 1989, writers G. Richard Risher, Paul R. Blizard, and M. Kurt Goedelman delved into the backgrounds of Rebecca Brown and Elaine for the Personal Freedom Outreach Newsletter. What they found was deeply disturbing. Brown was really Ruth Bailey, and she had been stripped of her medical license five years earlier, after colleagues discovered she had been giving massive (potentially fatal) doses of prescription painkillers to one of her patients, Edna Moses. Edna Moses was “Elaine”. The two women had been living together in a filthy house for years, telling neighbours they were sisters. Bailey was known for her violent, unstable, paranoid behaviour.

Edna/Elaine died in 2005. Bailey/Brown left Edna in 1989 to marry an ex-con who claimed he was tortured by Swiss rabbis as a boy, and the couple now runs a small ministry called Harvest Warriors."

— "Wednesday Weirdness Roundup: The Bogus Christian Memoir Hall of Shame" | By ESSEMEE | Swallowing the Camel | July 31, 2013


"Brown lists a number of 'doorways' to satanic power and demon infestation. These include fortune tellers, horoscopes, fraternity oaths, vegetarianism, yoga, self-hypnosis, acupuncture, biofeedback, fantasy role-playing games, adultery, homosexuality, judo, karate, and, of course, rock music, which is identified as 'a carefully masterminded plan by none other than Satan himself.' This book has been recommended as a serious reference in law enforcement training material. With all of the problems modern police agencies have to face, one would not think that 'demon infestation' would be high on the list.

[Brown] had her medical license removed by the Medical Licensing Board of Indiana for a number of reasons. Among the board's seventeen findings are: Bailey knowingly misdiagnosed serious illnesses, including brain tumors and leukemia as 'caused by demons, devils, and other evil spirits'; she told her patients that doctors at Ball Memorial Hospital and St. John's Medical Center were 'demons, devils, and other evil spirits themselves'; and she falsified patient charts and hospital records. The board's report states that:

Dr. Bailey also addicted numerous patients to controlled substances which required them to suffer withdrawal and undergo detoxification, and that she self-medicated herself with non-therapeutic amounts of Demerol which she injected on are hourly basis.

A psychiatrist appointed by the board to diagnose Bailey described her as 'suffering from acute personality disorders including demonic delusions and/or paranoid schizophrenia.'"

Shawn Carlson, Ph.D. | "Giving the Devil More than His Due" | By David Alexander | Reprinted from The Humanis | March / April 1990


Both He Came to Set the Captives Free and Prepare for War were passed among my friends in the Christian high school we attended. Not once did anyone in authority, including my ultra-religious mother, question the integrity of the text. It was more than okay for me to read this crap, but Stephen King? That dude's "of the devil." 

Shockingly, Brown and her husband, Rev. Daniel Yoder, are in the ministry today in Clinton, AR. There is a special section on their website explaining their tax status: "We have had to make the difficult decision not to be entangled with the government in a 501(c)(3) corporation. This way we have greater freedom to preach and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ." Interestingly enough, one must have this particular tax status to be defined as a religion by the IRS. That's right—our government is the one who deems whether or not a particular belief system can be considered a religion protected by the constitution.

"As the case of United States v. Ballard, 322 U.S. 78, 64 S. Ct. 88 2, 88 L. Ed. 1148 (1944), demonstrates, the Supreme Court must look to the sincerity of a person's beliefs to help decide if those beliefs constitute a religion that deserves constitutional protection. The Ballard case involved the conviction of organizers of the 'I Am' movement on grounds that they defrauded people by falsely representing that their members had supernatural powers to heal people with incurable illnesses. The Supreme Court held that the jury, in determinig the line between the free exercise of religion and the punishable offense of obtaining property under False Pretenses, should not decide whether the claims of the 'I Am' members were actually true, only whether the members honestly believed them to be true, thus qualifying the group as a religion under the Supreme Court's broad definition."

"Religion" | Legal Dictionary, TheFreeDictionary.com


Thinking about Brown now makes me angry. Angry that I was fooled by her story, and angry that she tricked so many others. Just read the Amazon reviews of this book, and you'll see how many people still support her. One reviewer boasts "PERSONAL EXPERIENCE TELLS ME THIS BOOK IS EFFECTIVE!!" 

Apparently, the truth really only seems to matter to those willing to believe it.


"Never attribute to Devil-worshipping conspiracies what opportunism, emotional instability, and religious bigotry are sufficient to explain."

Shawn Carlson, Ph.D. | "Giving the Devil More than His Due" | By David Alexander Reprinted from The Humanis  March / April 1990