"Satanic Panic" and the Media


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


The notion of "Satanic Panic" wouldn't have materialized without the media. From an accusatory expose on Satan's underground by Geraldo Rivera to a children's picture book which portrays situations of Satanic ritual abuse, the media went wild reporting on Satanism, sensationalizing every aspect of it that they could at any given opportunity.

I believe part of the reason Satanic Panic spread like it did was because it fed on one very distinct human emotion—fear. Suddenly, the news was reporting Satanism everywhere, only to be substantiated through pulpits across America. No one bothered to question the integrity of the supposed "experts" on the case, and thus the panic spread.

"Sensationalism is a type of editorial bias in mass media in which events and topics in news stories and pieces are over-hyped to increase viewership or readership numbers. Sensationalism may include reporting about generally insignificant matters and events that don't influence overall society and biased presentations of newsworthy topics in a trivial or tabloid manner contrary to the standards of professional journalism."

"Sensationalism" | Wikipedia

Um, WHAT? I've done a lot of research on this topic, read a lot of horrible things, and this is by far the most disturbing artifact I've come across. This freaks me out as an adult—I absolutely cannot imagine viewing this as a child, or showing it to a child. I'm tempted to buy all the used copies on Amazon just so I can burn them.

Remarkably, there didn't seem to be anything that was safe from Satanic Panic. Satan even had a hand in our household items. I remember when my church took a stance against Proctor & Gamble, and we were all asked to abstain from buying their products. And all because of a lie.

"Sally listens:
Rumor has it that the president of Procter and Gamble appeared on your show and said that he was associated with the Church of Satan. I would appreciate more information if you have any, perhaps a tape of the show if available. If this is a hoax, please let me know. 

Sally Sez:
The rumor going around that the president of Procter and Gamble appeared on The Sally Show and announced he was a member of the Church of Satan is not true. This a hoax that's been going around in one form or another for the past 20 years... only originally, it concerned the Phil Donahue Show...then evolved to the Jenny Jones Show ... and now it's evolved to The Sally Show. The president of Procter and Gamble has NEVER appeared on The Sally Show...NEVER. Nor has any other person in authority at P&G. Any president of a multi-national corporation (including the head of P&G or Liz Claiborne) would be immediately fired by the board of directors if he or she did such a thing. Also, profits from any such corporation go to the stockholders ... not a church designated by the president. Do not send money in to get a transcript. We do not provide transcripts or video tapes of our shows to the public. Frankly, this thing has gotten out of hand. If we had this man on our show, and he had said what it's alleged he said, we would have scored a broadcasting scoop and would have trumpeted it to all the newspapers. It would have been to the show's advantage. But there was no scoop, and there were no headlines."

— "Trademark of the Devil" | Snopes

Finally, to the good stuff. There is one single episode of television that is credited for the spread of Satanic Panic: Geraldo Rivera's harrowing prime-time special "Exposing Satan's Underground", which aired on October 22, 1988. Thanks to the advent of the Internet, the entire 90-minute horror show is on YouTube. "At the time, Geraldo's Satan scare brought NBC the highest ratings ever received for a two-hour documentary."

Highlights include:

  • As much sensationalism as you can imagine regarding the McMartin preschool trial.

  • An interview with Ozzy Osbourne, in which Geraldo tries to get him to admit that his music is responsible for turning kids to Satan. This wasn't Ozzy on his MTV reality show (of which I have seen every episode, #noshame), this was a very articulate, very rational Mr. Osbourne.

  • Geraldo's assertion that, "'Estimates are that there are over 1 million Satanists in this country...The majority of them are linked in a highly organized, very secretive network. From small towns to large cities, they have attracted police and FBI attention to their Satanic ritual child abuse, child pornography and grisly Satanic murders. The odds are that this is happening in your town.'"

"The truth about Satanism is they truly do use blood and they mix it with urine, and then they also use the real meat, the real flesh. This is what makes Satanism true, and this is what one thousand two hundred molested kids in the city of Manhattan Beach have told the sheriff's department, and it's an outrage that we are where we are with this case and these poor, unprotected kids... That's a third of the school system in Manhattan Beach that have been molested... This is the child molestation capital of the world." (48:08)

McMartin parent

"Some experts in human memory speculate that the Geraldo shows (and similar quasi-documentaries filled with misinformation) have convinced large numbers of people that they might also have been abused as children, and repressed the memories. One example may have been the Paul Ingram case in Olympia WA. His daughters had watched a Geraldo Rivera TV show on Satanic ritual abuse. Shortly thereafter a police investigator suggested that their father might have abused them during Satanic rituals. They 'enthusiastically agreed.' One sister recovered memories of being forced to watch the ritual murders of 25 people. She recalled her own aborted fetus being ritually dismembered. A medical exam proved that she had never been pregnant. No babies had ever gone missing. Ingram was convicted, in spite of his protestations of innocence, an absolute lack of evidence of his guilt, and an absence of proof that any crimes had actually occurred.

Geraldo hosted a program on CNBC with the theme 'Wrongly Accused & Convicted of Child Molestation.' The program was broadcast on the night of the acquittal of Pastor Roby Roberson and Connie Roberson in the Wenatchee, WA sex abuse scandal. Guests included Charlotte, 'Tookie,' and Violet Amirault of the Fells Acres Day School case, Georgetown Law School Professor Paul Rothstein and Loyala Law Professor Stan Goldman. During a discussion involving the legal panel, he stopped and said: 

'I want to announce publicly that as a firm believer of the 'Believe The Children' movement of the 1980's, that started with the McMartin trials in CA, but NOW I am convinced that I was terribly wrong... and many innocent people were convicted and went to prison as a result....AND I am equally positive [that the] 'Repressed Memory Therapy Movement' is also a bunch of CRAP...'"

 "Geraldo Rivera: Satanic Ritual Abuse & recovered memories" | ReligiousTolerance.org

Unfortunately, it wasn't just tabloid talk shows that were reporting the scandal. On May 16, 1985, 20/20 aired an episode entitled "The Devil Worshippers." 

"The problem that exists is we're getting the stories, but we don't have the victims. Once it's proven with one case, it's gonna add more credibility to each one of the other cases." (22:34)

— Sandi Gallant | San Francisco Policewoman, Leading Authority on Satanic Crime

This episode contains interviews from two individuals called in as "experts" on the subject matter: Dr. Larry Pazder, co-author of Michelle Remembers, and "Former Satanic Priest" Mike Warnke.

I won't add any more about Pazder, as I have already discussed him thoroughly in Part II. Here are his "expert" comments on the matter of "Devil Worshippers":

"Children are involved in graveyards and crematoriums and funeral parlors because one of the primary focuses of these people is death. All you think is attempted to be destroyed and killed in that child and in society, everything of goodness. And death is a major preoccupation." (18:04)

"One of the primary aims is to destroy the belief system within a child—to make a child turn against what they believe in in terms of who they are, who God is, and to desecrate all matter of flesh, all matter of church institution, all matter of sign and symbol that the child could in any way be attached to." (20:15)

"These people cover their tracks real well. When they dispose of a body, they use that body as well. They will use, as I said, they will cremate that body, they will use the ashes that will become part of what they will continue to present to that particular group, and they will disperse that. They're not going to do some simple murder and leave a body in a stream for you to pick up the pieces of." (22:03)

Now onto Mike Warnke. Warnke was a Christian comedian who I not only listened to growing up, but went to see in concert as a kid when he did a gig in Sioux Falls, SD. His back story, supposedly, was that he was a High Priest in Satanism who had a miraculous conversion experience. He mixed horror with comedy, and didn't flinch when the offering plate was passed. As it turns out, Warnke's conversion wasn't all that miraculous, as he'd made the whole thing up.

"In 1992, Cornerstone magazine released a cover story (and the longest article in its history) entitled 'Selling Satan: The Tragic History of Mike Warnke,' a 24,000-word expose of Mike Warnke, an alleged former Satanic High Priest and now a popular Christian comedian. Warnke’s ministry spanned nearly 20 years. 

'Selling Satan' demonstrated that not only was Warnke’s testimony fraudulent, but that Warnke raised money for projects that never materialized, was involved in serious immorality while in public ministy, and that several figures in the contemporary Christian music industry knew about the situation but failed to take biblical steps to resolve it."

"The Cornerstone series on Mike Warnke: an investigation into his testimony, with feedback and rebuttal" | Cornerstone magazine, vol. 21, issue 98 (1992) | Answers.org

"Former Christian comedian Mike Warnke is returning to the spotlight with his second autobiography. His first, readers will recall, was exposed as a hoax by Cornerstone magazine in 1992. Warnke's popular 1973 book, The Satan Seller, claimed that he spent his college immersed in drugs and alcohol, wore his hair long, and led a Satanist group of 1,500. Cornerstone's expose effectively ended Warnke's days as the top Christian comedian. Now, ten years after the piece that brought the Jesus People USA publication national attention, Mike Warnke is responding with Friendly Fire: A Survival Guide for Believers Battered by Religion, published by Destiny Image, a charismatic book publisher. The first chapter of Warnke's book, available for free at the publisher's site, talks about his 1992 experience:

At times the stress was so bad that I broke out in hives. I couldn't sleep, my hair came out by the fistful, and I was unable to eat anything that didn't upset my stomach. … Within two months, everything I had worked so hard for was gone. From a guy who had his own plane and 50 employees, I was reduced to the point of one day standing in a Kroger grocery store with a coupon for baked beans and a coupon for toilet paper but only enough money for one or the other. … Was I a fake, a charlatan, a deceiver, and a liar? No. I never lied about my testimony and I never ran a fake ministry. That being said, however, let me hasten to add that all was not right in the Warnke world. … My life was out of control. I had no spiritual accountability. Decisions concerning the ministry were based on the bottom line rather than on spiritual priorities. … When the storm of controversy hit, everything I had built for 22 years suddenly collapsed like a house of cards.

Cornerstone's Jon Trott has already issued a response to the book:

One waits in vain for any evidence of true repentance. … Warnke's response to our article was to set up the form of accountability without the power thereof, a group of pastors near Warnke who (when we asked) had no evidence contradicting our story. He has never admitted the truth about his alleged involvement with the occult, nor the false testimony he sold as a true autobiography in The Satan Seller and various recordings. His new book focuses on being allegedly wounded by fellow Christians, a classic case of bait and switch technique that one hopes won't work (but fears likely will). There's not much else we can say."

— Mike Warnke, Christian Solidarity International Respond to Hoax Claims. (Actually, They Don't.) | By Ted Olsen | February 1, 2002 | Christianity Today

"The Satan Seller did not directly reference satanic ritual abuse in regard to children, but it did establish some of the satanic themes and rites, and is a starting point for the panic that would follow, due to how it was widely shared along the Bible belt of America. He continued ideas popularized by the likes of Rosemary’s Baby–the novel and film that reached wide appeal a few years prior, as well as the emerging ritualism of LaVeyan Satanism–and boldly declared that he had spent years in a real Satanic cult."

"Satanic Ritual Abuse: 7 Fictions That Created A Mythology" | By Keelan Balderson

"Kidnapped into the Church of Satan after being shot, Warnke was saved by Jesus Christ. He came clean about baby sacrifices, summoning evil spirits, orgiastic perversions, rapes, Illuminati conspiracies, very long fingernails, ritual slayings, and magic spells. Mike, who billed himself a 'Christian comedian,' put out spoken word albums about his conversion and about the dangers of Halloween, among other things, selling millions of books and records. Warnke was by far the coolest testament to Christ’s awesome powers. Defying the powers of darkness, he told his story to Oprah, Larry King, and more.

More than mere witness for Jesus, Warnke was internationally renown as the foremost authority on Satanism and the occult. He was a trusted advisor in law enforcement on Satanic crime and ritual abuse."

"The Devil Made Me Do It: Mike Warnke’s Ministry of Lies" | By Lorette C. Luzajic | Patheos

I'd like to note here that both Mike Warnke and Dr. Rebecca Brown, discussed in Part II, had the same publisher—Chick Publications. Chick is most famously known for putting out tracts, some of which could be considered highly offensive. The most amusing one I found is entitled "First Bite," in which we learn that Jesus can save even vampires from the evil that lurks within them. Shockingly, there are Fundamentalist Christians who believe in vampires and werewolves. The reasoning, according to one such individual I've spoken with, is "we just don't know what the devil's capable of."

"Satanic ritual abuse has become the fastest growing and most controversial psychological phenomenon in the country." (2:45) —  Jay Schadler, two-time Emmy Award winning journalist | January 7, 1993

“I’m doing a number of reviews of patients who have been institutionalized for months, for years, they’re in and out, in and out, where they’re dealing with these Satanic ritual abuse experiences.” (6:00)

“These folks are like sponges, and in an altered state of consciousness they can absorb information from books and from movies, from magazines… sometimes from a therapist’s mouth.” (8:24)

“The question is, who is hoaxing who?” (10:11)

Dr. George Ganaway, MD


When asked how many victims there are:
“At least tens of thousands of victims, probably hundreds of thousands.”

When asked how many therapists he’s told about his particular methods:
“I suppose there have been over a thousand therapists that I’ve said something to in conferences.” (6:20)

Have you ever seen a sacrifice?
“No.” (6:40)

“We as therapists shouldn’t be responsible for providing evidence.” (6:52)

— D. Corydon Hammond, Ph.D. | Psychologist | University of Utah Health Care

In Satanic Ritual Abuse and Secret Societies, David Carrico, who boasts a "Master Teaching Certificate from [the] Church of God", explains:

"Since we know that all false gods are in reality demons, and all demons are following Satan, the scriptural evidence that Satanic ritual abuse has occurred is uncontestable."

This statement makes me wonder if Carrico has taken even one Hermeneutics class, or if he's using a literal English interpretation of the Bible. For those of you who didn't grow up going to church, the Old Testament of the Bible was written in Hebrew, the New Testament in Greek. In order to truly understand Scripture, one must interpret it from the cultural standpoint at the time it was written in its original language. Otherwise, you can take anything you want from the Bible and interpret it any way you want to fit your specific biases. But then again, good Christians wouldn't do that.

One of Carrico's arguments for the existence of Satanic ritual abuse was the cases of it popping up all over the country at the time. This film was made in 1995—5 years after the McMartin trial had ended, and all accused were fully exonerated. Many of the cases he mentions went on to be exonerated as well.

Of all the videos I've referenced throughout these posts, this was the only one I couldn't watch in its entirety. Once he started talking about Masons and the Illuminati, I mentally checked out.

One of the most interesting cases I came across was that of Roseanne Barr, AKA Roseanne Arnold, AKA Roseanne from the TV show Roseanne. You get the idea. 

"In a Vanity Fair photo spread, TV's most outspoken comedienne, Roseanne Arnold—who recently dropped her maiden name, Barr—has seldom lacked for attention or controversy. But whatever the result of her antics, her intent was always to be funny. That changed dramatically just days ago when she stood before an audience of 1,000 at Montview Boulevard Presbyterian Church in Denver and made a claim that was as shocking as it was serious: 'My name is Roseanne,' she said, 'and I am an incest survivor.'

The invitation-only gathering had been organized by Survivors United Network and was composed of adult incest survivors and therapists. They had no idea who the evening's guest speaker would be. During her 30-minute speech, Roseanne, 38, said she had been sexually abused during her childhood in Salt Lake City but had suppressed the memories until a triggering incident nearly two years ago caused them to come flooding back. She said she had since undergone extensive therapy. Inspired by former Miss America Marilyn Van Derbur Atler, an incest survivor who told of the experience in People earlier this year, Roseanne decided to tell her own story as a way of letting other incest victims throughout the country know that they were not alone. Arnold, who trembled visibly as she read her prepared text, was interrupted more than 20 times by applause. 

'It's a secret I didn't even know I had until two years ago. About that time, my husband, Tom, then my fiancé, went into a drug-rehab center. The third night he was there, he called me and told me about an incident that happened to him as a child. It was a story of horrible and painful abuse in which he had been sexually molested by his baby-sitter. Immediately after hanging up, I began to shake and sweat. Pictures started to appear before my eyes—surreal and frightening, looming large, then crystallizing into my mother's face. I remember being abused. I started to scream and cry, and I called one of my sisters. I got into my car and drove to the hospital where Tom was. I told Tom and a therapist what I had remembered. I cried and cried until I was dry.'"

"A Star Cries Incest: In a Stunning Public Statement, TV's Top-Rated Comedienne Claims She Was Sexually Abused as a Child" | By Roseanne Arnold | People Magazine Archive | October 07, 1991 • Vol. 36 No. 13

(Yes, I used this video in the last post, but it is pertinent here, as it discusses Roseanne's case.)

"'I wish I had done everything that I did in a different way. I think there are a lot of people out there like me now and I wanted to say that I wrote my book to talk about 'You can heal from the worst thing you've ever done and the worst place you've ever been and you can come back from it.

'It's the biggest mistake... Calling it incest... There's this book, Courage to Heal... and there's one part in it... It said, 'If you have the feeling that this happened to you, that means it did happen to you.' Barr told Winfrey that incest was not the right word to use. 

She added, 'I was in a very unhappy relationship and I was prescribed numerous psychiatric drugs... to deal with the fact that I had some mental illness... I totally lost touch with reality... (and) I didn't know what the truth was... I just wanted to drop a bomb on my family.'

But she still insists she didn't 'make it up,' adding, 'Nobody accuses their parents of abusing them without justification.' Her sister Geraldine Barr, who was in the audience for the Oprah show, revealed she was shocked when she saw the headline on the cover of a 1991 People magazine in a New Mexico supermarket. The incest revelation led to a rift between the sisters, and they didn't speak for 12 years."

"Roseanne Barr Regrets 'Incest Revelation,' Calling It Biggest Mistake" | aceshowbiz.com | February 15, 2011

In Roseanne's case, her accusations were solely of sexual abuse and did not deal with Satanism, but this wasn't a unique allegation. There were accounts all over the place of recalled memories of sexual abuse that were later recanted by the accuser.

"During the 1980s and 1990s, tens of thousands of Americans—most of them middle-class, 30-something women in big cities, like me—became convinced that they’d repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse, and then, decades later, recovered those memories in therapy.

In the years leading up to that mass panic, I was working as a feminist journalist, writing exposes of child sexual abuse, trying to convince the world that incest was more than a one-in-a-million occurrence. In the process, I convinced myself that my father had molested me. After five years of incest nightmares and incest workshops and incest therapy, I accused my father, estranging myself and my sons from him for the next eight years.

In the early 1990s the culture flipped, and so did I. Across the country, falsely accused fathers were suing their daughters’ incest therapists. Falsely accused molesters were being freed from jail—and I realized that my accusation was false. I was one of the lucky ones. My father was still alive, and he forgave me."

Meredith Maran | "'My Lie': Why I falsely accused my father" | By Michael Humphrey | Salon

There were several made-for-TV movies dealing with this topic as well, one of which I remember watching as a kid: Do You Know the Muffin Man? I'm pretty sure this one still plays on Lifetime from time to time, if you're inclined to watch it.

New York Magazine | March 11, 1996

Satan wasn't just lurking in daycare centers back in the 80s—he was also present in children's cartoons and toys. Turmoil in the Toybox, authored by Phil Phillips, points out how Satan has infiltrated the toy aisle. It was later turned into a documentary-type film, and the full-length version is available on good ole YouTube.

These beliefs were embraced by my church growing up, and I was banned from watching most cartoons and from playing with a number of toys. Sheltering kids like this usually has one of two effects—they become so reliant on the parent that it stunts their ability to mature, or they rebel and pull away. I'll let you guess which one I did.

"Most people don't realize that eighty percent of all cartoons deal directly with the occult, and forty percent of the toys on the market have occultic influence." (3:42) —  Phillips

"The Lord spoke to me about what happens when a child plays with a toy and how they project themselves with their imagination into a toy, and they give it life, character, abilities, talents, and they set the surrounding around the toy." (8:14) — Phillips

"People say, well, the Bible is a violent book. But if you look at the Bible, the violence took place over hundreds of years, not such in a compacted ninety-minute package with thousands of acts of violence." (1:11:55) — Phillips

What they have to say about Star Wars is particularly amusing... (1:02:03)

Amazon reviews for Turmoil in the Toybox

This is a Police training video from the 90's, which teaches individuals how to handle Satanic crimes. These were the types of films that used both Mike Warnke and Dr. Rebecca Brown as consultants. Talk about the blind leading the blind.

Here's the trailer. The full episode is available on both Netflix and Hulu.

And finally, nothing substantiates a story like having it made into an episode of the X-Files. "Die Hand die verletzt" (season 2, episode 14) originally aired on January 27, 1995. Although this is my all-time favorite episode of the show, I didn't realize until viewing it again last night that it's textbook Satanic ritual abuse.

This extensive review explains the episode so brilliantly that I won't dare add my thoughts. Thanks for your insight, Darren. Here are some very astute perceptions:

"Ausbury recalls his own heritage and tradition. 'My religion, my family, Agent Mulder, goes back in this town seven generations,' he tells Mulder. 'They fled persecution from people being persecuted, all in the name of religion.' He hits on one of the ironies of the American religious experience—as much as the traditional narrative about the foundation of America assures us that the Puritans came to the New World fleeing persecution, they also sought a land where they could persecute others freely.

Those Puritans were quick to persecute those different from themselves. As Ausbury implies, those perceived to subscribe to other more unorthodox faiths were among those persecuted—witch hunts were a common enough feature of Puritan life, with anything different quickly denounced as heretical and dangerous. The myth of the Puritans as pilgrims seeking liberty is repeated frequently and uncritically, to the point where it has woven itself into American folklore.

As my Political Science professor made clear to us, the only religious liberty the Puritans who came here were really after was their own freedom to persecute dissenters. Lest you think that our own religious forebears, the Church of England folks who landed in Jamestown, were much more benign, let me point to a couple of their rules. A first offense of failing to attend church services twice daily resulted in the loss of food for a day, the second a whipping and the third six months in jail. Missing church on Sunday the third time was a capital offence."

"Often enough in these situations, news organizations share blame. In the McMartin case, they were far from innocent observers. A pack mentality set in after a local television journalist first reported the allegations. Across California and beyond, normal standards of fairness and reasoned skepticism were routinely thrown to the wind, with news gatherers scrambling to outdo one another in finding purported examples of monstrous behavior by the principal defendants: Peggy McMartin Buckey and her son, Raymond Buckey."

"The Trial That Unleashed Hysteria Over Child Abuse" | By Clyde Haberman | The New York Times

While these are just a few instances of how the media instigated Satanic Panic, there's enough information out there to be overwhelmed by a simple Google search. The scary thing is how much of it's inaccurate. There are still plenty of people who believe that the Satanic ritual abuse promoted in the 80's actually happened despite the overwhelming evidence that it was a hoax. 

A moral panic comes down to one question: What about the children? This pushes the actions of a nation to be led by fear rather than logic, to place blame instead of asking questions. What, if anything, can we learn from the past? Stay with me, and I'll be back for Part IV.