The satanic panic was a widespread phenomenon of moral panic that gripped the United States and other countries in the 1980s and 1990s. It was based on the belief that a secret network of satanists was infiltrating various institutions, such as schools, churches, daycare centres, and the media, and engaging in horrific crimes, such as child abuse, ritual murder, and human sacrifice.
The panic was fuelled by sensationalized media reports, dubious testimonies, false memories, and conspiracy theories. Many innocent people were accused, harassed, and even prosecuted for crimes they did not commit. The panic also had a lasting impact on the culture, politics, and law of the time.
The origins of the satanic panic can be traced back to the rise of the Christian Right in the 1970s and 1980s, which saw America as a nation under siege by secular and demonic forces. The Christian Right promoted a worldview that divided the world into good and evil, and saw Satanism as a real and present danger. They also used the panic as a way to mobilise their followers and gain political influence.
The panic was also influenced by the popularity of occult-themed entertainment, such as horror movies, heavy metal music, and role-playing games, which were seen as gateways to satanism by some conservative Christians.
The peak of the satanic panic occurred in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when several high-profile cases of alleged satanic ritual abuse (SRA) emerged. SRA was defined as the systematic abuse of children and adults by satanic cults for ritual purposes. Some of the most notorious cases were the McMartin preschool trial in California, the West Memphis Three case in Arkansas, and the Franklin child prostitution ring allegations in Nebraska.
These cases involved sensational claims of underground tunnels, human sacrifices, cannibalism, and mind control. However, none of these claims were ever substantiated by credible evidence, and many of them were later proven to be false or fabricated. The cases also relied heavily on the testimony of children and adults who were coerced or manipulated by therapists, investigators, or prosecutors into making false accusations. Many of these testimonies were based on recovered memories, a controversial technique that claimed to uncover repressed memories of trauma through hypnosis or suggestive questioning. However, recovered memories were later shown to be unreliable and prone to distortion or confabulation.
The satanic panic gradually subsided in the mid-1990s, as more evidence emerged that contradicted the SRA claims and exposed the flaws and biases of the investigations and prosecutions.
Several organizations, such as the False Memory Syndrome Foundation and the National Center for Reason and Justice, were formed to advocate for the rights of the accused and to educate the public about the dangers of false accusations and moral panics. Many of the accused were eventually exonerated or released from prison after lengthy legal battles. However, some of them still remain incarcerated or have their reputations tarnished by the stigma of the accusations.
The satanic panic also left a legacy of trauma, distrust, and division among families, communities, and society at large.
The satanic panic is an example of how fear, ignorance, and prejudice can lead to mass hysteria and injustice. It also shows how media sensationalism, religious extremism, and professional misconduct can fuel and exploit such hysteria for their own agendas.
The satanic panic is a lesson that we should always be critical and sceptical of extraordinary claims that lack solid evidence, and that we should always respect the rights and dignity of those who are accused of wrongdoing.
Geraldo video can be found on Enter The Dark Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/@EntertheDark
Seth Andrews video can be found on The Thinking Atheist Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/@TheThinkingAtheist
© Colin Lawson Books