It’s been said that America is strongest when its people are brought close together by a common enemy. Historians might point to American behavior during the first and second World Wars to show what can truly be accomplished when the American machine acts with all of its parts in accordance. However, if Americans don’t have a unifying foe to fight against then someone will try to make one up. The “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” fiasco in Iraq is very telling in that the common threat drove so many Americans to come together over something that previously was a cause with a lot of disagreement. The Satanic Panic, which spanned over most of the 1980’s, was a period of such extreme paranoia that a large part of America rallied against a mysterious enemy that, looking back on it, was obviously nothing more than a bogeyman.
The short version of the events of the Satanic Panic doesn’t take long to tell. During the rise of the Christian Right Americans were getting bogeymen fired at them from all over, and of course Satan always fits the bill. Americans were told to be vigilant so that Satan’s servants wouldn’t be able to sneak into their communities. This fiery rhetoric caught on in many circles, and people attempted to be more watchful, more vigilant. Like with the witch hunts in the past, sooner or later people started seeing what they were looking for and hundreds of people were accused of being Satanists and of performing acts that ranged from worshiping Satan to ritually abusing and murdering children.
It seems strange, but like frenzies from Lady Gaga to Twilight, no one can really say why it is that Satanists fit as such a perfect bad guy. But according to books like “Evil: A Primer,” and “You Are Being Lied To,” as more “Satanists” were identified, people started trotting out witnesses and extremely flimsy evidence to show that these modern-day witches were guilty. The evidence offered was in fact some of the weakest in American court history. There were people who had, “remembered,” being horribly and ritualistically abused by Satanists during hypnotic regression for instance, a technique which isn’t considered to be reliable or factual under even ideal circumstances. Additional testimony, from very young children mostly, was allowed. The problem was that further study showed that the children had been coached to give certain testimony, and that when asked without the coaches present what happened the children didn’t know. Some accusations of ritual Satanic abuse was even leveled at divorce trials when parents were fighting for custody. There was little to no physical evidence shown, and even the genuine Satanists who were accused of crimes were accused of things that would embarrass Jerry Springer (such as one Satanist who came forward on day time TV who claimed he had sacrificed over 300 children, but offered no names or description of them).
While this period in American history is thankfully over, we’re still left with many cultural relics of it. The Satanic Panic attempted to explain how people became vile, devil-worshipping heathens who committed depraved acts of sex, violence and sexual violence. As an explanation for the supposed subliminal messages of Satan infecting the populace, those at the pulpit who had started the hysteria pointed out several sources. Cartoons, particularly “occult” ones such as the popular Thundercats urged children to be Satanists they claimed. Other sources were alternative styles of music, from the offensive Beastie Boys to the more classically evil toned Black Sabbath, both rap and heavy metal were painted with the brush of evil. Lastly, one of the biggest stigmas that still lingers was attached to the fledgling video game and role playing game industry. Dungeons and Dragons still hasn’t wiped off the accusations of the Satanic Panic, in large part due to sensational stories in the media as well as movies like the short lived but popular “Monsters and Mazes,” which depicted a player losing himself in a schitzophrenic fantasy world that looked like Alice in Wonderland if it was written by J.R.R. Tolkien.
As a result of all this bad press even today you’ll hear rumblings about the youth who play too many games, listen to too much music and who watch the wrong movies. Even in tragedies that happened after the Satanic Panic, such as the Columbine massacre, the voices from the past stood ready to accuse violent first person shooter video games for the school shooting, rather than troubled teens with no outlets for their aggressions. The Satanic Panic, if you stand back and look at the facts, was just as ridiculous as the Red Scare and various other panics that have gripped the American people. However, there are still rumbles from it that leave scars over the social consciousness, and more distressingly, there are still people who will point to the “facts” from the 1980’s as proof that modern social problems are in fact still being caused by Satan and his servants.
“What is the Satanic Panic?” by Catherine Beyer at About
“The ‘Satanic Ritual Abuse’ Scar,” by Diane Vera at Theistic Satanism