TRIALS, TRUMPS, AND SATANIC RITUAL ABUSE: WHAT IF THE TRUTH DOESN’T WORK?
In 1992, FBI investigator Kenneth Lanning’s report about “Satanic ritual abuse” achieved the impossible and made hysterical Americans act rationally for once.
It wasn’t easy. “In response to accusations that I am a Satanist who has infiltrated the FBI, how does anyone disprove such allegations?” he wrote at the time.
Lanning’s report debunked essentially the entire SRA scare, you see. So of course the counter move from conspiracy assholes was to try to smear him.
“All I can say to those who have made such allegations is that they are wrong,” he continued. If that sentence sounded any more weary I’d probably die on the spot from reading it.
Even so, Lanning’s report—and denials—did work in the end. Most people in 1992 believed the truth when it was right in front of their faces. Increasingly often, I wonder if the same thing would happen today.
The Lanning report wasn’t the only thing that killed Satanic Ritual Abuse myths. There were other investigations, other reports, debunks great and small continuing to this day.
In 1994 the New York Times reported that “The National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect found more than 12,000 accusations of abuse based on Satanic ritual, but not one that investigators had been able to substantiate.”
Author Rich Beck notes that while working on his 2015 book We Believe the Children he tried to find even one real case of Satanic Ritual Abuse and couldn’t. “The book would probably sell better” if he had, says Beck.
So the prosecutions stopped. Geraldo apologized. Dungeons & Dragons kept publishing. Metal records kept selling, scary backwards messages and all. Something like normalcy prevailed.
But not for everyone. A handful of weirdos like psychologist Catherine Gould had too much invested in the bullshit to stop shoveling now.
“Skeptics such as Lanning choose to ignore eyewitness victim accounts,” Gould griped in the Journal of Psychohistory in 1995. For people like Gould, debunking the conspiracy only made the conspiracy seem deeper, murkier, and more potentially profitable.
Decades later, folks are still at it. In 2017 a video of a supposed “Pizzagate survivor” went viral on YouTube. Snopes says it was actually an old SRA scare interview from 1989, but that didn’t bother believers.
“This is happening everywhere!” says one credulous comment. “Makes me sick what these evil, sick people are doing.”
“What kind of world do we live in? Why isn’t the media investigating?” another complained. (A particularly boneheaded question, given that the video originally aired on 60 fucking Minutes…)
Like a self-fellating sex toy, the conspiracy just keeps going. And these days, bullshit has never been at a higher premium.
Writing for Vox this week, David Roberts notes that Americans seem more set on believing objectively wrong things than ever before.
“No one knows how to stop or counter it,” Roberts notes, with the breathless horror of a man describing a zeppelin wreck. “It’s all playing out like some morbid script that we can only watch, stupefied.”
Roberts was specifically writing about the Mueller investigation. What if we find the smoking gun that ostensible US President Donald Trump colluded with Russians, he wonders, and nobody even believes it?
But he could have been writing about almost anything. What if we debunk Pizzagate over and over again, but people ignores us? What if we prove there’s no Satanic Ritual Abuse, no Salem witches, no Freemason conspiracy, etc. but folks just keep pretending?
Well, we should note that those four things have already happened. Yes, even about the witches.
“There was real witchcraft at Salem, and it worked. It did real harm,” Chadwick Hansen argued in his surprisingly well reviewed 1969 book Witchcraft at Salem.
Because you can sell a book about anything, apparently.
For every debunking of every scare, a certain number of people just don’t get on board. “Americans prefer black-and-white problems with simple answers,” Lanning told Pacific Standard in 2015.
The only things that’s saved us in the past is that previously, the true believers in fake things were not quite numerous enough to really matter.
And if that ever stops being the case? What happens then?