RJ Womack Comment: This is an absolutely must-read article for anyone who wants to know the truth about the satanic panic of the 1980s and 90s. The article goes into detail about cases that have overturned due to a lack of evidence or misconduct on the part of mental health professionals.
Jim Jones and David Koresh are among the small handful of men who remain even more infamous than the cults they led. Not every middle-aged American will remember the People’s Temple of the Disciples of Christ, but most know who Jones was. The Branch Davidians might not be a familiar name, even to those who remember the siege that claimed the lives of 76 of Koresh’s adherents—but his name, and that of Waco, Texas, survive in infamy. (The fate of Jones’ doomed commune is so widely known that the figure of speech “drinking the Kool-Aid,” a phrase describing the liquid poisoning of more than 900 people, has become a fixture in everyday discourse—a casual and rather sickening disavowal of the scale of the tragedy that unfolded at Jonestown.)
Satanism lacks a Jones or Koresh. Satanism has no Jamestown, no Waco, no Kool-Aid, no casual point of reference. This is because Satanic cults, as imagined in popular culture, do not exist. Still, some places across the country—West Memphis, Arkansas; Manhattan Beach, California; Edenton, North Carolina; Austin, Texas—belong to a brotherhood of cities united not by the stunned, silent grief of a tragedy like Waco’s, but by the shame of having left innocent families’ lives in ruin in the fervent pursuit of an imaginary evil.
After leaving a cult, apostates have to essentially re-learn how to think for themselves; to come back to reality and slowly re-build a broken sense of self. In a sense, America must undergo its own de-programming when it comes to Satanism and the occult.
Before she died at age 82 in 2003, Margaret Singer, arguably the world’s preeminent expert on cult psychology and brainwashing, estimated that there might be as many as 5,000 new religious movements—the term such groups prefer in favor of the widely maligned “cult”—operating in the United States alone. Not one of them is or was Satanic in nature, at least not in the most common understanding of the term. However, the myths surrounding Satanism in America are no less harmful in the absence of devious yet charismatic leaders or scenes of appalling tragedy. The “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s and early ’90s was arguably even more frightening than a typical cult precisely because of this lack of a central figure or place; anybody could have been involved, and nobody was above suspicion. The greatest danger, however, was the paranoia about Satanic cults abducting, sexually abusing, and murdering American children; this paranoia made it much harder to prosecute genuine cases of child abuse at a time when such cases were already viewed with skepticism.
The period of nationwide moral hysteria that came to be known as the Satanic Panic began in 1980 with the publication of Michelle Remembers, a biographical account of the repressed memories of the childhood ritual abuse purportedly suffered by Canadian psychiatric patient Michelle Smith. Written by Smith and her psychiatrist Lawrence Pazder, whom she later married, Michelle Remembers detailed the abuse that Smith alleged she experienced at the hands of her mother and other members of a Satanic cult during the mid-1950s in her native British Columbia. Pazder, who was originally treating Smith for depression following a miscarriage, helped Smith surface these memories by means of regression hypnosis, a highly controversial psychotherapeutic technique whose validity has been widely called into question by members of the mental health community.