Satanism As Media Hype
From the Phoenix Gazette 24 June, 1989
SCAPEGOAT: Satanism scareis mostly hype, experton cults says....
by Michelle Bearden
Judging by Satan's popularity in news accounts and police reports
these days, you'd think Satan had been elected to Congress or won the
Pulitzer Prize. But it's not true, says J. Gordon Melton, director of
the Institute for the Study of American Religion in Santa Barbara,
Calif. and one of the country's leading experts on cults. In fact,
there is no surge at all in Satan's popularity. "The only surge we're
seeing is the spread if mis-information," Melton says. "Malicious,
suspicious, and ritualistic acts are being attributed to satanism, and
people are buying into it."
Melton has launched a one-man crusade to get what he considers the
truth out to the public. Using an extensive survey he completed in
1986 as his guide - "The Evidences of Satan in Contemporary America" -
Melton makes his case frequently before groups and in interviews. Most
misinformation regarding satanism comes out of police agencies, Melton
maintains. That's because, in the absence of true satanic groups, law
officials have to blame "something concrete," he says.
"What we've got is creation of imagination, paranoia, and general
ignorance," Melton says. "We've got wild speculation and jumps in
logic. What we don't have is the truth. One story perpetuates another,
and, before long, 'experts' in police departments are conducting
seminars on a topic they don't really understand."
At the Phoenix Police Department, police spokesman Andy Hill says
the agency analyzes every incident that has satanic overtones. He
blames a majority of these crimes on "kids caught up in experimen-
tation." "It's safe to say that most of it isn't hard-core. We're
usually dealing with copycat crimes," he says. " I wouldn't consider
satanism a big problem here in Phoenix. We know it exists, but it's
more underground than anything else."
According to Melton, onlythree established satanic cults exist:The
Church of Satan, a San Francisco based group headed by founder Anton
LaVey; a splinter group, the Temple of Set, also in San Francisco and
headed by Michael Aquino; and the Church of Satanic Liberation in New
Haven, Conn., led by Paul Douglas Valentine. Total membership in all
three groups is "probably less than 3,000," Melton says. Those fol-
lowers are the true satanists, and their numbers haven't varied much
in the last two decades, he says.
Many of the acts blamed on satanism are committed by teenagers who
are bound together b drugs and violence rather than demons. While they
may use satanic imagery in their deeds, Melton says they are "play-
acting" the role of worshipping the Prince of Darkness. "It's true
we're hearing a lot of satanic references in today's music, but that's
pure commercialism," he says. "Just because your teenager gets wrapped
up in certain rock'n'roll doesn't mean he's into the occult."
Someof the conclusions that support Melton's studies to combat the
theory of international satanic conspiracy include:
* The existence of a large number of nonconventional religions, such
as cults, that have nothing to do with occultism, much less
* The growth of witchcraft as a new religion and how it is confused
with satanism. Melton labels contemporary Wicca as a nature
religion that places great emphasis upon the preservation of life
and non- violence.
* Reports of cattle mutilations, which ignore the facts that most
are mistaken observations of predator damage.
* The discovery of common symbols, such as an inverted cross,
pentagrams, and bloody altars, which lead investigators to con-
clude that satanic activity has taken place. However, no evidence
of any conspiracy involving the kidnapping and transportation of
children for ritual purposes has emerged.
* Fantasies of people who make "confessions" of their involvement on
satanic cults.Typically, they cannot supply independent corrobora-
tion of the stories.
Moreover,a good portion of the mis-information on satanism - which
Melton says is really a "parody of religion" - comes out of evangeli-
cal Christian publishing houses. With that bias, "it;s easy to see how
misinformation breeds," he says.
Melton contends that opensatanic groups pose no publicthreat. If
there is cause for concern, it would be the small, ephemeral satanic
groups, mostly consisting of young adults or teenagers and possibly
led by psychopaths or sociopaths. "These are the groups that cause
immediate danger to themselves and society at large. That's where
police should be concentrating their efforts," he says. "In the
meantime, we've got to get out of this satanic mentality and get our
Next: Why I don't Believe the "Survivors" (R. Moonsone)