Religion & Crime / "Satanic Conspiracy" Series #008
Posted in alt.atheist in four parts.
From the Los Angeles Times, Tues. 23 Apr. 1991
SATANISM: SKEPTICS ABOUND
Worry about devil worship has spread rapidly. But many lurid claims of
ritual abuse and human sacrifice by cults do not stand up, some experts
say. By John Johnson and Steve Padilla Times staff writers.
(this article is being reprinted in its entirety, and is (c) 1991 Los
Angeles Times/Times Mirror Corp. All Rights Reserved.)
Jacquie Balodis is talking softly about her bad childhood. How bad was
it? It was unbelievably bad.
"I was born into satanism," the 49-year-old Garden Grove (CA) woman
said. As she describes it, her early years in Pueblo, CO included
devil worship, human sacrifice and cannibalism.
She said as a teenager she was twice impregnated by her stepfather, now
deceased. Both fetuses were aborted and used in rituals, she said.
"Part of me believed it was my privelege to give my child to Satan."
The memories were supressed for years, she insists, then recovered in
Balodis admits that it sounds weird. Weirder yet, such tales are
becoming common. Across America, people say they have regained
memories of abuse by parents who belonged to a worldwide network of
Authorities say America is witnessing an epidemic of concern over Satan
and his minions, especially among adherents of fundamentalist
Christianity. So-called ritual abuse is only part of it.
But are these stories of incest and human sacrifice true? Many mental
health experts think not. At least two law enforcement officers with
the FBI and San Francisco PD, say they have looked into some of the
claims and found nothing.
Some real events probably lend credence to the idea that Satan
worshippers are everywhere.
For instance, there is a self-styled Church of Satan. It was founded
in 1966 by [the deceased Anton Szandor LaVey] a former lion tamer and
revival-show organist. Preaching the pursuit of pleasure, it employs
satanic symbols such as [the Goat of Mendes inverse] pentagram and
black robes in its rituals. It has not been linked with criminal
In a just-concluded Orange County [CA] case, two self-proclaimed
victims took their elderly mother to court and accused her of having
been part of a child-murdering cult. A jury found IN THEIR FAVOR
(emphasis mine --.\\<-H--) this month, although it did not award them
Some jurors said the verdict did not mean they believed the satanism
story, only that the women had been somehow abused. One of the women's
supporters said after the decision; "It's a grand day for victims.
Somebody believed them. It's now going to encourage more victims to
A lot of people already are talking.
"The Satanism scare has at various times approached panic levels," said
David Bromley, a sociologist at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Bromley is co-author of the forthcoming book, "The Satanism Scare."
Jeffrey Victor, sociologist at Jamestown Community College in New York,
has tracked 33 "rumor panics" in 24 states in the late 1980s. One
occured in Breathitt County, KY, where parents kept their children from
school amid rumors that Satanists were plotting to kidnap blond,
blue-eyed children. Another caused scores of Jamestown, NY citizens to
arm themselves with clubs and scour the forests for a chimerical band
Moreover: * A 1989 telephone survey of 1,000 Texans by the Public
Policy Resources Library at Texas A&M University found that nearly 80%
of respondents thought that Satanism had increased over the previous
five years and said they were concerned about it.
*Illinois, Louisiana, Idaho and Texas have outlawed violence committed
during a religious ritual. (A question: has anyone in these states
attempted to prosecute the Franciscan monks who flagellate themselves
as a way of repenting their perceived sins? --.\\<-H--)
* The Los Angeles County Commission for Women has produced, at
taxpayers expense, a handbook called "Ritual Abuse." It says Satanists
"frequently function together in groups in the operation of preschools,
day-care services and baby-sitting services."
* The handbook was a product of the commission's Ritual Abuse Task
Force, whose job is to warn the public, therapists and police of the
signs of Satanic abuse, said Myra B. Riddell, taskforce chair. Last
year, 7,500 copies were distributed in the United States and Canada.
10,000 more were printed last month.
* In October, the Ritualistic Crime Task Force, an information
clearinghouse in Rialto [CA] held a news conference in L.A. to warn
parents that devil-worshippers were plotting to kidnap and sacrifice
trick-or-treaters on Hallowe'en. None did.
* In 1988, when Geraldo Rivera devoted a program to "Exposing Satan's
Underground," 19.8 Million homes tuned in. It was the highest-rated
documentary ever aired on NBC.
* Organizations give law enforcement seminars on ritual crime.
Speakers discuss everything from the game Dungeons and Dragons to human
sacrifice. The privately funded Cult Crime Impact Network in Boise ID
(Recognize them? They're the mo-fos responsible for File 18!!!
--.\\<-H--) is a clearinghouse on supposed Satanic crimes. It
publishes a newsletter with 2,000 subscribers --mostly, it says, police
* Two researchers at Texas A&M sampled the attitudes of 153 police
officers who had attended a seminar on cult crime or subscribed
to...[File 18]. The consensus among those officers was that Satanism
is responsible for 1 out of 10 homicides and 1 in 3 teenage suicides.
No-one has comprehensive statistics on the self-proclaimed "survivors"
of ritual abuse. Believers and scoffers agree that their numbers reach
into the thousands. Balodis said a support group she started hears
from at least 40 survivors a month. She said she knows of at least 500
Sandi Bargioni (nee Gallant? Anyone know?) a San Francisco police
officer who specializes in ritual crime, said she has received scores
of calls from women claiming to have been abused in Satanic rituals as
children. Not one of the stories could be proved, she said, and she is
among the skeptics.
So is Kenneth Lanning, who works in the FBI's Behavioral Science unit
in Quantico, VA. Considered an expert in cult crime, he has advised
police departments on more than 300 cases, many involving survivor
"In the early '80s, the first few times my phone rang, I was inclined
to believe it." he said.
Then the cases began piling up. There were lots of reports of cults,
but no bodies. Lanning said airplanes with heat-seeking equipment
sought out mass graves on the theory that decomposing bodies would give
off heat. No bodies were found. Lanning stopped believing.
"What are the probabilities of this?" he asked. "Two or three people in
Southern CA may be able to do this a couple of times and get away with
it." But when all the claims of Satanic sacrifice were added up, it
amounted to thousands of people murdering thousands more. "It was the
totality of it that caused me concern."
The stories have caught the attention of scholars in mainstream
academic and medical circles.
Papers and workshops on claims of Satanic abuse have been given at
conferences sponsored by the American Psychiatric Association and other
In August, a session of the APA convention in San Francisco will be
devoted to Satanic-cult claims. The panel's chairman, Philip Shaver,
psychology professor at SUNY-Buffalo, said he does not know whether any
of the claims are true. He adds: "I know it's being blown out of
proportion." With a research grant, he plans to study 100 Satanic
A professional organization called the International Society for the
Study of Multiple Personality and Dissociation has established a task
force on cult claims.
One member, George Ganaway, who teaches psychiatry at Emory University,
is highly skeptical. "The likelihood is that this is going to turn out
to be urban legend, but I can't say for sure. I certainly don't
believe there is a Satanic cult conspiracy."
The stories of survivors began appearing in the wake of the 1980 book,
"Michelle Remembers." Written by self-proclaimed survivor Michelle
Smith and her therapist, it describes life in a Satanic cult that
supposedly operated in the 1950s.
One of the better known "survivors" is Lauren Stratford, a middle-aged
San Fernando Valley [CA] woman who claims to have been turned over to
pornographers and Satanists by her parents. She became a sensation on
local radio and television talk shows after her 1988 book, "Satan's
Underground," described her experiences as a "breeder" impregnated by
Satanists to produce children for sacrifice. (Satan, being purely evil,
is said to prefer innocent victims.)
"As the flames began to consume the sacrifice, I yelled, 'Satan, you
didn't get Joey. Joey went to be with Jesus. He fooled you all. You
may have gotten his heart, but you didn't get his soul,'"she reports in
chapter 10. [Sounds like dialogue from a bad horror film! --.\\<-H--]
A small Christian magazine, Cornerstone [Hi to all out there in
Chicago!!! --.\\<-H--] investigated her past and questioned
ex-schoolmates about her alleged pregnancies. It concluded that her
book was "gruesome fantasy." The book, which has sold 140,000 copies,
was pulled by its publisher, Harvest House of Eugene, OR. Stratford
insists it is all true.
More retiring than Stratford is a group founded by Balodis called
Overcomers Victorious. It holds sessions for about 45 women in Los
Angeles and Dallas. Balodis will not allow visitors, saying three
Satanists once tried to infiltrate the group.
Believers and skeptics agree that typically the survivor is a
middle-aged woman who, during therapy for a psychiatric problem, is
found to be suffering from MPD caused by some childhood trauma, often
sexual abuse. Parents, even grandparents are said to be involved.
As therapy continues, the patient begins talking about altars, robes
and animal and human sacrifice. The therapist calls the police.
"That's when my phone rings." the FBI's Lanning said. Except for one
case in Washington State [Twin Peaks and the Black Lodge? 8-)
--.\\<-H--] it appears that none of the reports has resulted in a
Believers say no evidence is uncovered because the Satanists are so
clever. [L.A.] County's "Ritual Abuse" handbook puts it this way:
"Explanations for the absense of found remains include cannibalism,
cult access to mortuaries and crematoria, frozen storage of body parts,
and the retention by cult members of bones and body parts for further
Lanning says disposing of bodies is not as easy as some think, and some
remains should have been found if cults were systematically sacrificing
The only known criminal conviction stems from a bizarre case in which
Paul Ingram, a sheriff's deputy and former head of the Republican Party
in Thurston County, WA, pleaded guilty to 6 rape charges in 1989. He
is serving a 20 year prison sentence.
Two relatives had accused him of attacking them for 17 years during
rituals that included killing 2 dozen babies. Ingram has tried to
withdraw the guilty plea, saying he was coerced into it.
Wayne Fricke, his lawyer, said the police interrogation of Ingram
included a jailhouse exorcism. Ingram was so malleable, according to
Richard Ofshe, a UC Berkeley sociologist who interviewed him as part of
the case, that he was able to confess to a crime that Ofshe made up.
Despite the expert opinion against them, the "survivors" draw support
from several sources.
Foremost are FUNDAMENTALIST CHRISTIANS. [emphasis mine...--.\\<-H--]
The major publishers and producers of books and videos dealing with
Satanism have strong fundamentalist ties.
Hal Lindsay, author of "The Late Great Planet Earth" has been a major
supporter of "survivors" -- notably Stratford -- and has linked the
alleged rise in Satanism to the Last Days prophesied in the Book of
Revelation. "This story is absolutely incredible and true." Lindsay
said of "Satan's Underground."
Many of the conferences for so-called "cult cops" are organized by
church-affiliated groups, such as North American Conferences, which in
turn is affiliated with the Calvary Chapel of West Covina.
J. Gordon Melton, director of the Institute for the Study of American
Religion in Santa Barbara [CA], dismisses the stories as mostly
distorted memories of childhood sexual abuse.
If the stories are true, he said, "...this means a generation ago there
were at least 400 or 500 satanist groups in the country, functioning,
doing things and able to keep their existence not just hidden, but even
hidden from the rumor mill. That, to me, is pretty far-fetched."
Support also comes from feminists, as suggested by the [L.A.] County
Commission for Women booklet. They point out that society once refused
to believe women who said they were victims of rape and incest.
"We have seen enough evidence across the country that it is a factor,"
Tammy Bruce, head of the Los Angeles chapter of N.O.W., said of ritual
abuse. "We must admit that it does occur."
Finally, there are the therapists. Bromley, the skeptical VA
sociologist, estimates that 250 therapists are working on ritual abuse
cases. [How many of these therapists are linked with Fundie
"Ghostbuster" ministries is not stated in this article...--.\\<-H--]
Catherine Gould, who treats ritual-abuse "survivors" in the San
Fernando Valley, said she had seen 15 children who have been ritually
abused in day-care centers. She denies that the stories could be
"I can certainly tell you it usually goes the other way," she said.
"The therapist has to struggle to believe."
In the widely-publicized McMartin Pre-School case, Satanic practices
and ritual abuse were alleged by some children, but no-one was ever
convicted. [NB: the therapists who examined most of the McMartin kids
were linked with a "Ghostbuster" ministry in Orange County, CA...Need I
say more? --.\\<-H--]
At a 1989 conference sponsored by the National Center for Child Abuse
and Neglect, a federal agency, Dan Sexton, director of the National
Abuse Hotline, said: "I don't need to see evidence to believe."
Bennet Braun, who operates a clinic in Chicago that treats purported
Satanic abuse victims, said of Satanists in a 1988 speech: "We are
dealing with a national-international type organization that's got a
structure somewhat similar to the communist cell structure."
Critics say some therapists are helping to cause the problem.
"What has happened is a number of therapists [who ya gonna call?
Ghostbusters! --.\\<-H--] have chosen to take one side of the issue, to
assume everything a patient remembers must in fact be true," Emory
University's Gannaway said.
Writing in a professional publication in 1989, Ganaway said a
suggestion from a therapist can create "an entire belief system" in a
patient. He said he has encountered "memories" that included having
one's heart removed and replaced with an animal's.
Other skeptics say reports of a Satanic conspiracy are neurotic
fantasies conjured up in stressed-out communities that want a simple
explanation for everything from drugs to moral decline.
"The Satanic legend says, in symbolic form, that our moral values are
being threatened by evil forces beyond our control, and that we have
lost faith in our authorities to deal with the threat," said Jeffrey
Victory, the Jamestown Community College sociologist.
This is not the first time that stories of human sacrifice were widely
Romans accused early christians of child sacrifice. [christians, in
turn, accused the Druidic Clergy of the Keltoi tribes and later Jews of
the same thing. In the case of Jews, the "blood libel" continues even
now in rural Eastern Europe and in some enclaves in Islamic countries.
--.\\<-H-- ] Today's Satanic stories resonate eerily with something
that happened in 1836. A woman named Maria Monk stirred fears in the
United States and Canada with a book recounting her supposed escape
from a cult that bred babies for sacrifice.
The cult, Monk charged, was the Roman Catholic Church; her tormentors
Monk's "Awful Discoveries of the Hotel Dieu Nunnery of Montreal" sold
300,000 copies and prompted incensed Protestants to ransack the
monastery. No evidence was found. Even so, said Penn State folklorist
Bill Ellis: "Other women came forward and claimed to have been in
similar convents and corroborated her stories of sexual orgies and the
killing of children."
Jeffrey Burton Russell, a historian at UC Santa Barbara who has written
a four-volume study of the idea of the devil, sees a parallel between
fear of satanism and witch trials of the past, "brought on by
Of modern Satanists, he said: "I know they exist, but I tend to think
they exist less than the media or law enforcement or psychologists
think they do.
"My one wish is people would play this down and it will go away."
(End of article, published originally in the Los Angeles Times,
Tuesday, 4/23/91. Article (c) 1991 The Los Angeles Times/Times Mirror
Corp. All Rights Reserved under domestic and international law and