Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Devil You Say! The Satanic Panic/Clinton Body Count Nexus

[Note: This blog post is reprinted from the March 21, 2007 edition of Scoobie Davis Online]

On Monday, a federal jury in Salt Lake City awarded the Procter & Gamble corporation over $19 million in its defamation lawsuit against several former Amway distributors who spread the rumor that P & G was controlled by Satanists. On the surface, it was justice applied to unscrupulous people who tried to get ahead by spreading baseless rumors about a competitor. On another level, one could say that it was logical for the Amway distributors to spread this longstanding rumor about P & G because Amway/Quixtar/Alticor is a quasi-religious cult and it made sense--at least from their perspective--to view the competition as being in league with the devil.

When the Amway/Satan verdict came in, I was working on a post that noted that many of the people involved in the "satanic panic" that had its heyday in the 1980's were the same people who promoted the "Clinton Body Count" in the 1990's. Let's discuss these phenomena:

Satanic Panic
During the 70's and 80's, a group of self-described experts on Satanism emerged--some of the more prominent of these "experts" were Mike Warnke, Lauren Stratford, and Michelle Smith. They and lesser-known fundamentalists spread sensational tales of highly organized satanic covens engaging in horrifying acts of Satanic ritual abuse (SRA). These highly questionable reports were reported in the mainstream media by journalists such as Geraldo Rivera and Tom Jarriel (who interviewed Warnke for a 20/20 report in 1985). In many areas around the country, this lead to what social scientists call "a moral panic." Tales of satanic ritual abuse fueled real charges of child abuse. However, a 1992 FBI report found that claims of organized covens of Satanists coordinating abuse and sacrifices were completely unfounded.

The Clinton Body Count
Soon after Bill Clinton entered the White House in 1993, reports emerged, mostly in the fundamentalist Christian and right-wing media, that Bill and Hillary Clinton were cold-blooded killers who were bumping off dozens of political enemies and political friends (e.g., Vince Foster and Ron Brown) who knew too much. These incredible tales became known as the "Clinton Body Count" (CBC). The Clinton Body Count was spread on web sites like the Free Republic and on right-wing talk radio (notably on Rush Limbaugh's and G. Gordon Liddy's shows). Jerry Falwell sold CBC-themed VHS tapes on his Old Time Gospel Hour television program. Billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife also funded efforts to spread this hoax. Although much of the right wants to forget about it, CBC is still a staple on Internet sites like Free Republic and on talk radio. (8/07 Update: Sean Hannity has revived the Vince Foster canard on his radio and television shows).

Overlapping Conspiracies
What I find interesting is that many of the people responsible for creating a wave of fear and hysteria in the 1980's regarding supposed satanic sacrifices were the same people in the 1990's who claimed that Bill and Hillary Clinton were killing people left and right. This makes sense because both the Satanic panic and the Foster conspiracy theories are both examples of urban legends. Here are some of the main players involved in both modern legends:

  • Patrick Matrisciana and Jeremiah Films. Matrisciana runs Jeremiah Films, a company that produces fundamentalist and right-wing videos. Some of the satanic-themed videos include Devil Worship: The Rise of Satanism and--no, I'm not making this shit up--Harry Potter: Witchcraft Repackaged. However, Matrisciana became well-known in political circles when he produced a series of anti-Clinton tapes--the most being The Clinton Chronicles-- that claimed that the then-president was involved in murder, drug smuggling, and other heinous crimes.

  • WorldNetDaily. WorldNetDaily is run by Joseph Farah. Farah was one of Scaife's main operatives. Farah has openly endorsed the CBC--even recently. WND is one of Matrisciana's top supporters On of WND's columnists is Hal Lindsey who, back in the 1980's, cashed in on the satanic panic with the book Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth. Lindsey is the brother-in-law of Johanna Michaelson, an alleged former shamanic healer, who now works to expose the nonexistent worldwide satanic conspiracy.

  • Representative Robert K. Dornan (R-CA). During the Clinton years, Dornan was a substitute host for Rush Limbaugh and, like Limbaugh, Dornan spread rumors that the Clintons were behind the death of Vince Foster. Back in the 1980's, in order to deal with the problem of "backwards masking" (many fundamentalists believed that rock music had backward messages that sent subliminal messages to American youth to worship the Devil), Dornan introduced HR 6363 which would have required suspect rock albums to have a label that read "Warning: This record contains backward masking that makes a verbal statement which is audible when this record is played backward and which may be perceptible at a subliminal level when the record is played forward."

  • Representative William Dannemeyer. Dannemeyer, like Dornan, was an extreme right-wing member of Congress from Orange County. He appeared in The Clinton Chronicles and advocated the impeachment of bill Clinton. Also, "[i]n 1994, in a letter to congressional leaders, former Rep. William Dannemeyer listed 24 people with some connection to Clinton who had died 'under other than natural circumstances' and called for hearings on the matter." More recently, Dannemeyer wrote a letter to California Attorney General Bill Lockyer claiming that convicted murderer Scott Peterson was innocent and that the real killer was a member of a satanic cult.

  • Marlin Maddox and Bob Larson. Maddox and Larson did fundamentalist radio shows in which they railed against supposed satanic conspiracies during the 90's and 90's. During the 1990's, both men devoted entire programs to many of Matrisciana's anti-Clinton conspiracies.

    And finally, a mixed bag:
  • Geraldo Rivera. On the one hand, Rivera was one of the key figures in the mainstream media who gave credence to implausible tales of SRA. On his syndicated talk show, Rivera gave credence to wild claims of satanic sacrifices. Rivera wrote the forward to Jerry Johnston's sensational book, The Edge of Evil: The Rise of Satanism in North America. On Rivera's 1988 TV special Devil Worship: Exploring Satan's Underground, he made unfounded claims about the supposed satanic threat. However, in the late 1990's--especially during impeachment--Rivera was a voice of reason against the anti-Clinton hysteria of the American right. However, it wouldn't last for long: in 2001, Rivera joined the Fox News Channel, headed by Roger Ailes, one of the more prominent of the Clinton conspiracy theorists of the 1990's.

  • UPDATE: Eric Rauchway has a good article in the New Republic on how the GOP is demonizing the Democrats.

    UPDATE II: In a 1987 episode of Geraldo Rivera's syndicated talk show Geraldo, Rivera made the following panic-inducing claims:
    Estimates are that there are over one million Satanists in this country. The majority of them are linked in a highly organized, very secretive network. From small towns to large cities, they have attracted police and FBI attention to their Satanic ritual abuse, child pornography, and grizzly Satanic murders. The odds are that this is happening in your town.
    (Source: Satanic Panic: The Creation of a Contemporary Legend by Jeffrey S. Victor, pp. 32, 33.)

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