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Satanic Panic

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Because Heaven sounds lame anyways
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God's own scapegoat
A devilish plan

In sociology, Satanic Panic is a phenomenon characterized by widespread fear about the presence of Satanic ritual abuse in one's community, state, or country. The recent phenomenon of Satanic Panic originated during the 1970s[note 1] and gained traction during the 1980s and 1990s, when a widespread belief took hold within American[note 2] evangelical Christianity that a vast underground network of Satanists is in control of secular society. Satanic Panic seemed to have faded to some extent sometime during the early 21st century, perhaps because fundamentalists now had some other things to panic about. In the late 2010s, however, it has seen a resurgence and rebranding as QAnon.


Satan, oscillate my metallic sonatas!

The 1972 publication of The Satan Seller by Mike Warnke played a large part in launching this scare. Warnke continued to be referenced by the mainstream media as an "authority" on Satanism until his story was exposed as fraudulent in 1992. Unfortunately, this revelation has had little effect on the majority of those who choose to believe in the power of Satan — i.e., fundamentalist Christians. During the late 1970s, John Todd became a brief sensation speaking in fundamentalist churches claiming witches, druids, and the Illuminati were in control of world politics, media, and even most churches. Todd and his claims were likewise exposed as fraudulent, but he continued to be promoted by fundamentalists like Jack Chick. The scare was given another boost with the popularity of the 1980 book Michelle Remembers by Michelle Smith, an alleged memoir of Satanic ritual abuse which was also exposed as a fraud. (Seeing a trend here?)

Other claims proliferated during the early 1980s, including backward masking of Satanic messages in rock music, Dungeons and Dragons and heavy metal music as occult recruiting tools, disappearing pets and poisoned candy at Halloween as part of a larger conspiracy, and most significantly, underground movements of Satanists engaged in human sacrifice, "breeding" of children for same, ritual child abuse, and other crime such as sexual assaults to children.

The Satanic panic spread to society at large when law enforcement agencies began taking the wild claims made by evangelical Christians at face value. They used — and, on occasion, still use — such allegations as a basis for investigations of occult activity on the assumption that these activities (often committed by harmless neopagan groups or teenagers) are part of a broader conspiracy. Or, worse yet, that these activities are precursors to major crimes like kidnapping, rape, and murder.[note 3]

As law enforcement linked more and more crimes to Satanic rituals, the popular media took notice. Something that would have been considered ridiculous a decade or two earlier now had the authority of government behind it. Soon, hundreds of books, newspapers articles and TV stories helped spread Satanic panic throughout North America. An early example of this was when Geraldo Rivera did a 1988 TV special on alleged Satanic activity and it became the most widely viewed documentary ever aired on NBC,[1] even as more responsible media editorials panned it as sensationalistic trash, and panned NBC for airing it.[2][3] Occasionally, certain popular media outlets will still run a "Did Satanism play a role in this crime?" story.

Stereotypical characteristics of Satanists and Satanism[edit]

Evangelicals and the police and prosecutors that they influence usually believe that the network(s) of Satan worshipers are characterized by the following:

  • There are families of devil worshippers, and they tend to be multigenerational.
  • Teenagers are enticed to join Satanic cults.
  • Human sacrifice.
  • Organized wide-spread pedophilia.Wikipedia
  • Disappearing pets are used for animal sacrifice.
  • Ritual child abuse.
  • Satanist networks are part of a broader conspiracy, e.g. the Illuminati.
  • Wiccans and other neopagans are Satanic in nature.
  • Wiccan symbols such as the pentacle are signs of Satanic activity. Some Christian books on Satanism (and materials provided to law enforcement) included the peace symbol and the anarchy symbol in their lists of "Satanic symbols" to watch out for. Warning! There are pentagrams in the American flag and in the EU flag.
  • Some parts of popular culture are functioning as recruiting tools for Satanism, including heavy metal music and the game Dungeons and Dragons.
  • Halloween is a Satanic holiday; urban legends and scares over poisoned candy were claimed to be the work of Satanic cults.
  • Some towns, agencies, or even major corporations (e.g. Procter & Gamble) are secretly under the control of Satanists.
  • Satanist "infiltration" of the military.
  • Washington, D.C. is infested with Satanic symbols designed into the city.
  • Atheists are really satanists.[note 4]

Recent crimes blamed on Satanic rituals[edit]

Since the 1970s, many people have been officially accused of crimes linked to the practice of Satanic rituals. Some have been tried and convicted.

McMartin Preschool abuse cases[edit]

In 1983, the mother of a McMartin Preschool student (later discovered to be schizophrenic) accused her estranged husband and a teacher at the preschool — located in Manhattan Beach, California — of molesting her son. The arrests, investigations, and trials lasted until 1990, when all charges were dropped. There were no convictions in this trial, the most expensive in history at the time. Among the allegations were that the preschool staff practiced Satanic rites where they flew through the air and drilled holes in the children. One child even accused "actor" Chuck Norris of being one of the abusers.[4]

Monster of Florence[edit]

Il Mostro was an epithet given to a serial killer who gunned down and mutilated sixteen known individuals in Florence and its surrounding countryside over a period of seventeen years (1968 - 1985). At the height of the killing spree in the early 1980s, hysteria, initially created by the media, was that the serial killings were the work of a satanic cult. Police investigations led to Pietro Pacciani, a Florentine local who had a violent criminal history, and he was later arrested by police after a bullet casing matching those found at the crime scenes was discovered at his home.[5] Two other individuals, Mario Vanni and Giancarlo Lotti, were also arrested after they confessed to assisting Pacciani. Due to a technicality with the evidence presented by the prosecution, Pacciani was released by the Italian Supreme Court.[6] Pacciani died in 1998 before he could be retried, while Vanni and Lotti were jailed. There has been no conclusive evidence that Pacciani, Vanni, and Lotti were members of any Satanic cult.

Murder of Kimberly Simon[edit]

Teenager Kimberly Simon was last seen walking near her home in Oneida County, New York on 19 September 1985. Her body was found soon afterwards.[7] Steven Barnes spent 20 years in prison for the crime. He was exonerated in 2009 thanks to DNA testing. Now[note 5] the Oneida County Sheriff's Department (OCSD) is focusing on — drumroll, please — a coven of Satanic teenagers. This story comes from a witness who testified against Barnes in 1989. She now says that (1) the OCSD coerced her original testimony; (2) she was the girlfriend of one of the boys in the coven; (3) after her boyfriend ditched her, she snuck up on the group at night and could clearly see a drugged Kimberly laying on the ground by the bonfire. Honestly!

Anyway, America's Most Wanted is on the case of them dirty Satanists.[8]

West Memphis Three[edit]

At about 6 p.m. on 5 May 1993, three young boys who lived in West Memphis, Arkansas, disappeared from their neighborhood. Their bodies were found the following day in a nearby drainage ditch. The population of West Memphis includes a rather large contingent of Southern Baptists who have been preached to for years that many Satanic covens are hidden in plain sight within decent society. A neighborhood teenager named Jessie Misskelley — who had the mental abilities of a ten-year-old — was coerced by the local police into confessing to the crimes. He then implicated two other neighborhood teenagers, Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin, claiming that the murders were part of a Satanic rite. Misskelley and Baldwin were sentenced to life without parole. Echols received the death penalty. Later, evidence showed no traces of DNA from Misskelley, Echols, or Baldwin. However, DNA evidence from the stepfather of one of the victims was found on the ligature that was used to hogtie one of the victims; further investigation revealed that the father had a history of violence against women and children, and his alibi was also discredited. For 18 years, the appeals of the West Memphis 3 remained unsuccessful.[9] They were finally released on 19 August 2011 after entering a brokered "Alford plea"Wikipedia deal that allowed them to plead guilty and go free while declaring their innocence of the crimes.[10]

San Antonio Four[edit]

In 1994, Elizabeth Ramirez and three of her friends, all openly lesbian, were accused of gang-raping Ramirez's two nieces. A medical examination concluded that the two girls had been forcibly penetrated with objects, and the examiner testified that this was a common ritual among lesbian Satanists. Despite a lack of evidence identifying any perpetrator and multiple inconsistencies in the girls' testimony, all four women were convicted between 1997 and 1998.

In 2012, one of the alleged victims recanted, saying that her father had pressured her to make the accusation so he could win a custody battle. The medical examiner from the original trial also recanted on the grounds that new research showed that the injuries she'd seen could occur naturally. All four women were released by 2013.[11][12]

Jimmy Savile[edit]

Since his death, numerous allegations about Jimmy Savile'sWikipedia apparently extensive paedophilia and bizarre sexual activities (allegedly including rape and even necrophilia) have led to a huge number of claims against his estate for every category of sexual crime. Given his rapid metamorphosis from his country's favourite eccentric uncle to Britain's most sinister public memory, it was perhaps inevitable that someone would "recall" Satanic practices in association with his name. The Daily Express dutifully found one such person under the care of Dr. Valerie Sinason,Wikipedia whose work informed the Satanic Panic in Britain of the early 1990s.[13] Despite the good doctor's history of pushing this earlier Satanic panic,[14] The Daily Express chose to splash its front page with allegations that Savile had abused a girl in a secret vault under Stoke Mandeville hospital[15] while chanting in Latin. Backwards.[16]


The Satanic Panic, in the forms of Qanon and Pizzagate, has made a comeback in the late 2010s, partly as a result of the election of Donald Trump in 2016. While he didn’t directly promote the idea, his election gave the fringe right that promoted the panic a platform.

Major promoters[edit]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Earlier occurrences are, of course, typified by the Salem witch trials. Tellingly, many of the claims made about Satanism in the last few decades of the 20th century echoed earlier scares from anti-Catholicism and anti-Semitism, all of which share the same claims of ritual child abuse and human sacrifice. See, for example, blood libel.
  2. Although — as demonstrated by the Meredith Kercher murder case — Christians in other countries are also being influenced by Satanic panic.
  3. In reality, most violent crimes are not committed by strangers but by people who know the victims: lovers/spouses, friends, business partners, even casual acquaintances and family members.
  4. Admittedly, some of them are, but their brand of Satanism is largely harmless (or at least harmless to anybody whose head isn't lodged firmly up their own rectum). See Anton LaVey and The Satanic Temple for more details.
  5. As in today, the second decade of the 21st freakin' century!!!!!


  1. "Satanism, Skeptics Abound". Los Angeles Times. April 23, 1991. 
  2. "Devil Made 'Em Do It At NBC". Chicago Tribune. October 27, 1988. 
  3. "NBC's Obscene Masquerade". New York Times. October 28, 1988. 
  4. See the Wikipedia article on McMartin preschool trial.
  5. Blundell, Nigel (ed.) (1996) Encyclopedia of Serial Killers. North Dighton, Mass.: JG Press, p. 135
  6. Jewell, Keala Jane (ed.) (2001) Monsters in the Italian Literary Imagination. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, p. 69
  7. "America's Most Wanted to air Kimberly Simon case on March 13", WKTV website, posted 8 March 2010, accessed 16 March 2010.
  8. "Unknown Kim Simon killer: Cops Seek New Links To Old Case" America's Most Wanted website, posted 16 March 2010.
  9. Steel, Fiona. "The West Memphis Three", TruTV Crime Library website, accessed 28 February 2010.
  10. Gray, Madison. "'West Memphis Three' to Go Free After Plea Deal", Time Magazine website, posted and accessed 19 August 2011.
  11. Grinberg, Emanuella. "'San Antonio Four' Exonerated in Child Rape Case", CNN website, posted November 25, 2016, accessed December 11, 2016.
  12. Lang, Nico. "San Antonio Four Exonerated After Two-Decade Long Fight", The Advocate website, posted November 24, 2016, accessed December 11, 2016.
  13. Jimmy Savile was part of satanic ring, Daily Express, January 13, 2013
  14. Private Eye In the Back: 20 Years of Satanic Panic, Private Eye (from the Eye archives), September 1, 2009
  15. I was raped at 13 by Jimmy Savile in satanic ritual, Daily Express, January 20, 2013
  16. Jimmy Savile's Satanic Ritual, Daily Express, February 24, 2013; in which the headline ignores one of the article's sources who said: "From what I understand, this was not so much serious Satanic ritual, but celebrities and local dignitaries dancing around naked with a Satanic theme going on." Ah, quality journalism, that...
  17. Jeff Franks. P&G alleges Amway spread Satan rumors. Reuters. 1999 May 4.