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Mike Warnke (1946–) is the author of the 1972 book The Satan Seller, a notoriously fraudulent "memoir" of his "life" as a "Satanist". He is also a preacher and a lying dirtbag, who, like many such lying dirtbag preachers (like, say, Jimmy Swaggart or Peter Popoff), has fooled people into supporting his "ministry" despite the fact that he was exposed years ago -- by other Christians, no less -- as a lying dirtbag.
The story goes, Warnke led a large Satanist "coven" in California in the late 1960s. He left Satanism (or was kicked out) after, he claims, he got too high in the "organization" and learned too much, including his claim to have learned about a shadowy group called the "Illuminati" at the top levels of Satanism. He joined the Navy as a medic, converted to Christianity during boot camp, and served six months in Vietnam. Warnke had a long, lucrative career from the early 1970s to the early 1990s as both a "Christian comedian" and a purported expert on Satanism, and was (at least publicly, anyway) part of the Baptist, Pentecostal, and evangelical Christian world.
The real version
Cornerstone Magazine finally investigated his ex-Satanist claims and found that he was never involved in Satanism. The bombshell article in 1992 effectively put an end to his popularity, although he continues to run a "ministry" and continues to stand by his story in The Satan Seller as true. He further claims he was the victim of a smear job by Cornerstone.
What Cornerstone uncovered: during the time he claims in his book to have led the Satanist coven and had long, unkempt hair and fingernails painted black, a college yearbook photo shows him as a clean-cut student. He was involved in Campus Crusade for Christ before joining the Navy, making his story of converting during boot camp false too. Interviews with his friends from his college days all revealed that his Satanism story was nothing more than a tall tale. He also raised large amounts of money during the 1980s claiming it was for an underground network to rescue kids caught up in Satanism, but these funds were instead used to fund a lavish lifestyle, with no evidence he ever had such an underground network except on paper.
As a side note, while fans assumed he was still Pentecostal or Evangelical, Warnke had privately converted to Eastern Orthodoxy, going so far as to be ordained in his own independent denomination called the Holy Orthodox Church of Kentucky, Inc.
During his 1980s Christian-comedy concerts Warnke would change topics in the middle of the concert from comedy to telling gory, sickening stories about kids he had supposedly rescued out of Satanism (complete with tall tales of human sacrifice) and follow that up by passing the buckets around for donations for his ministry; this is corroborated by other eyewitness accounts of those concerts.
The Satanic Panic largely grew out of Mike Warnke's book The Satan Seller and his subsequent status as a media go-to "expert" on Satanism. Even today, belief in a widespread Satanic underground as first claimed by Warnke persists. His book still retains a following among the more paranoid, New World Order oriented conspiracy believers.
When another self-proclaimed "ex-Satanist" Christian, John Todd, was widely exposed as a fraud in 1979, Mike Warnke (who had run-ins with Todd in the early 1970s when Todd accused Warnke of stealing "his" testimony about the Illuminati) wrote the introduction to a book exposing Todd, The Todd Phenomenon. In the introduction Warnke warned that Christians should always be wary of hucksters and liars coming in the name of Christ -- hypocritically, as it turned out. Despite Todd being exposed as a fraud early on, books by purported "ex-Satanists" became a lucrative cottage industry in the Christian book publishing business during the 1980s, with authors like Lauren Stratford and Rebecca Brown spinning increasingly gory and improbable tall tales all building on the claims made by Todd and Warnke. Lauren Stratford and Rebecca Brown were both quickly exposed by other Christian ministries as frauds. Yet it didn't occur to these ministries to investigate whether the man who started it all, Mike Warnke, was a fraud himself, until Cornerstone Magazine investigated and found that he, too, was making the whole thing up.
Perhaps, if Christians had a bit more guile towards Bible-thumping sociopaths, they would have realized that some of Warnke's more outlandish claims -- for instance, that his watching the TV series Bewitched (which premiered when he was 18) as a kid sucked him into witchcraft and later Satanism -- were too outlandish to be true.
The whole affair is detailed in the exposé Selling Satan: The Evangelical Media and the Mike Warnke Scandal by Mike Hertenstein.
On the whole, Warnke is as much an authority on Satanism as Arlo Guthrie is a turnip.
- Fellow author, Tom Brown, Jr.
- Speak of the Devil: Entry on Mike Warnke