#1525 Don't Panic: Irrational Fear and Panic in the US (Transcript)

Air Date 11/12/2022

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JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Welcome to this episode of the award-winning Best of the Left podcast, in which we shall take a look at a few types of panic that regularly strike within communities or across the nation, including various Satanic panics, Halloween candy panics and panic over kids being too inclusive and welcoming of all types of people.

Clips today are from Vox Quick Hits, The Politics of Everything, American Hysteria, Citations Needed, Soul Search, and The Majority Report, with additional members-only clips from Today Explained and American Hysteria. And stay tuned to the end where I'll describe even more irrational panic through the ages over the eternal struggle to police gender norms and the Protestant work ethic.

Why Satanic Panic never really ended | What's the Story? - Vox Quick Hits - Air Date 4-7-21

REBECCA JENNINGS - HOST, VOX QUICK HITS: So before we dive into the history of the Satanic panic, can you explain why Satan worship seems to be on people's minds right now?

AJA ROMANO: Oh, I think there are a lot of reasons.

Obviously we're seeing a lot of evangelical zeal in the US lately, and a lot of [00:01:00] ideological polarization, which also tends to breed lots of hysteria and social panic and moral panic. So we've got a lot of that going around.

But most recently, last week, Lil Nas X, who you probably know from his hit, "Old Town Road," turned a lot of heads with his latest music video, "Montero," which is subtitled, "Call Me By Your Name." In it, he basically performs his identity as a gay man. He's having fun in the Garden of Eden with Satan, in snake form.

LIL NAS X: I wanna sell what your buyin'/ I wanna feel on your ass in Hawai'i

AJA ROMANO: and later he goes to hell, and gives Satan a lap dance before killing that version of Satan and taking the throne for himself.

So obviously that's a very, very controversial video for a lot of reasons. The way it's filmed is very homoerotic. It's a celebration of queer identity in a lot of [00:02:00] ways, but also, it has a lot of references to classical religion. And so basically the idea is he's sort of claiming the sinful lifestyle that he's always been taught that, if you grow up gay, if you grow up queer, you're always taught that if you perform your identity are gonna go to hell, right? So the video basically celebrates his reclamation of his identity and his time in hell. So good times.

REBECCA JENNINGS - HOST, VOX QUICK HITS: So Aja, I imagine people's reactions to this video were very measured and polite and normal.

AJA ROMANO: Yeah, you could say that. No, they were not. It did help that he also released a limited edition collection of Nike shoes, not endorsed by Nike, but they contained drops of human blood, and he released 666 pairs. So obviously there's a lot of satanism going on there. He had prominent politicians and prominent evangelical leaders basically calling him a tool for Satan, and basically saying that he's an [00:03:00] example of why Christians are in a fight for the soul of the nation.

REBECCA JENNINGS - HOST, VOX QUICK HITS: So let's rewind for a second. Satanic worship has been around for centuries, right? But how did we get to something called the actual Satanic panic?

AJA ROMANO: Oh, that's a really good question. It was a confluence of a lot of things. First, you had the really shocking Manson murders back in the late sixties and 1969, which was the first time this sort of ritualistic killing idea made its way into the American mainstream, right? And the Mansons were a cult. Although we know now that, in retrospect, the ritual was basically a facade. It was a giant distraction. Manson made it looked like a ritual killing when it wasn't. But that idea really took hold in the American mainstream.

And then in the seventies you have all kinds of occult activity. You have the hit blockbuster, The Exorcist, which really, really put the idea of Satanic influence taking over our children, put that in the heads of every American.

TRAILER FROM THE EXORCIST: Somewhere [00:04:00] between science and superstition, there is another world -- a world of darkness.

Look, your daughter doesn't say she's a demon. She says she's the devil himself. I'm telling you...

AJA ROMANO: And I think for many people that film changed the way that they thought about the forces of good and evil. Right? So then you have all that playing out against this backdrop of psychosexual evolution in the way we thought about serial killers and murder and crime and all types of things happening in the seventies.

REBECCA JENNINGS - HOST, VOX QUICK HITS: So it seems like the seventies was full of all of this, like bubbling up of creepy satanic discourse. How did that become an actual moral panic in the eighties?

AJA ROMANO: So in the eighties, you have basically the first official stirrings of what became Satanic panic. You had a really famous memoir called Michelle Remembers that's since been completely discredited. But it was this story written by a woman and her psychotherapist who [00:05:00] basically induced all these false memories from her of being horrifically ritually abused by this dark Satanic cult, which obviously never happened. But this was called Satanic Ritual Abuse. And this book was a bestseller and it was used as a tutorial in law enforcement to teach officials about these scary cults and so forth. And it was just everywhere. And it led to this phenomenon throughout the eighties and nineties where law enforcement officials and psychotherapists would essentially interrogate children and induce all these fake memories out of them. And then they would prosecute people based on these false imaginary accusations.

The most famous example is the McMartin Preschool trial, which was a very long trial that took place in California throughout the eighties. It became the most expensive trial and still is the most expensive trial in California history. At one point, over 30 people were [00:06:00] alleged or were suspected of participating in "Satanic ritual abuse," but one by one over the years, the charges completely broke down because again, none of this was real, and the accusations were really, really off the charts, like people could supposedly fly, they were ritually sacrificing children, just all kinds of things. And so eventually all the charges against the preschool staff were dropped, and so nothing came of it. But it was this very -- it was this giant wave of essentially modern day witch hunting.

REBECCA JENNINGS - HOST, VOX QUICK HITS: And I mean, to take it back to Lil Nas X and his blood sneakers, like he's a huge pop star. The video has 90 million views in just a week or two. How concerned should we be about this movement of people who are stoking fears about him? Is this just a fringe movement or is this something that's gonna get worse?

AJA ROMANO: Well, I think the danger in assuming something is fringe. That's what people thought about QAnon, right? But you only need so many "fringe advocates" to storm the Capital, as we saw on [00:07:00] January 6th, right? It's not necessarily whether or not it's a fringe movement, but how intense the activity is, right? And what people are prepared to do in the name of purging the world of witches and the things that they fear.

When you have a lot of people getting on a board with the ideas and the ability to spread their message far and wide through social media, which is something QAnon has really benefited from, you run a higher chance of running into people who are really extreme and are prepared to go to great lengths to rid the world of evil.

Rainbow Fentanyl for Halloween? - The Politics of Everything - Air Date 10-19-22

LAURA MARSH - HOST, THE POLITICS OF EVERYTHING: We’ve been talking about so-called rainbow fentanyl—brightly colored fentanyl pills—and the fear that drug cartels are using it to target kids, especially on Halloween. The sociologist Joel Best has been studying fears of poisoned or contaminated Halloween candy for several decades. He calls the idea that strangers are deliberately handing out dangerous substances or items like razor blades “Halloween sadism,” and he’s tried to track down cases of it actually happening. He wrote a paper on his findings in [00:08:00] 1985, and he’s been updating that paper ever since. Joel, you’ve been studying fears about Halloween sadism since the 1980s. When did this all start?

JOEL BEST: Well, trick-or-treating is not as old as you think it is. Trick-or-treating really becomes widespread after the Second World War, and it’s an anti-delinquency measure. I’ve had people—people a little older than I am—tell me that they heard people would heat pennies in skillets and pour them into the outstretched hands of trick-or-treaters; that would be a story from the late ’40s or early ’50s. So almost as soon as trick-or-treating becomes widespread, it’s there.


LAURA MARSH - HOST, THE POLITICS OF EVERYTHING: You described trick-or-treating as an anti-delinquency measure. What does that mean? What were they trying to stop kids doing on Halloween?

JOEL BEST: In the good old days, in the first half of the twentieth century—Halloween, there was never one way to celebrate Halloween—but Halloween was often celebrated by adolescent boys who would go out and commit acts of vandalism. The prototypical example, which [00:09:00] isn’t very realistic today, is tipping over outhouses and doing things like that. There were people that were always complaining that this was out of control.

Some communities very deliberately said, “OK, this is what we’re gonna do for Halloween. Halloween is going to be something that’s done on a particular day, at a particular hour. Children are going to walk from house to house in costumes. Householders will give them treats.” It was intended to make it more of a domestic thing. The whole family was involved. Littler kids were involved. The older kids were expected to behave themselves.

LAURA MARSH - HOST, THE POLITICS OF EVERYTHING: So there was this effort to make it more orderly by having trick-or-treating, but the fears of something bad happening went back to the very beginning. You started studying this in 1985. What did you find?

JOEL BEST: I looked at press coverage going back 25 years, and at that moment, it was 1958. It seemed to me that it was very unlikely that this was happening, and I figured if it was, the news would cover it. So I looked at [00:10:00] the three biggest papers in the three biggest metro areas, The New York Times, the LA Times, and the Chicago Tribune, and I couldn’t find any evidence of any child having been killed or seriously hurt by a contaminated treat picked up in the course of trick-or-treating.

LAURA MARSH - HOST, THE POLITICS OF EVERYTHING: So what you see in the press is lots of stories about this, but they’re all warnings and reports of concerns being raised?

JOEL BEST: Yeah, you see very, very few stories. I’ve only found maybe 150 stories since 1958 where they specify a town and they specify how the treat was contaminated. And virtually all of these stories say, “Fortunately, nobody was hurt.” There just isn’t any evidence that this is happening. This is a folk tale. It’s a contemporary legend. Everybody’s heard this story. The National Safety Council and so on will put out lists of Halloween treats—“Make sure your kid can see through the mask, don’t have a costume your kid can trip over, and be sure and check the treats.”

LAURA MARSH - HOST, THE POLITICS OF EVERYTHING: What kinds of things are they warning against? What [00:11:00] typically are people worrying about popping up in the trick-or-treat basket?

JOEL BEST: Well, I think the theory is that there could be some sort of poison or drugs or sharp objects.

ALEX PAREENE - HOST, THE POLITICS OF EVERYTHING: I grew up with the razor-blades-in-apples story—we all kind of grew up with that, but I think some of the very few examples of this are kids doing pranks or, in one really tragic incident, a father poisoning his own child.

JOEL BEST: I think Ronald O’Bryan, who is the guy who did that, heard these stories and he thought, “Oh, there are lots of these. I will commit the perfect crime. I will poison my own child and no one will ever suspect me because there are all these maniacs out there poisoning kids.” In fact, the police actually fell for it for about two days, and then they discovered that O’Bryan had taken out a life insurance policy on his son and had purchased some poison. He was arrested, tried, convicted, and it being Texas, he was executed.

ALEX PAREENE - HOST, THE POLITICS OF EVERYTHING: That [00:12:00] speaks to something really interesting about the hold that these fears have on our psyche, or in our culture—we want to externalize the danger to children, while I think in a lot of cases minimizing the danger that comes from the everyday or from at home.

JOEL BEST: Sure, yeah. Halloween is the most dangerous holiday of the year in terms of emergency room admissions for children. The reason is that we send tens of millions of kids out into the dark one night a year, and they get hit by cars and they trip over their costumes, and they stumble over the curb, and they wind up getting injured. They are not showing up in the emergency room poisoned.

LAURA MARSH - HOST, THE POLITICS OF EVERYTHING: Do you see any changes in the way the stories are constructed over the years? Does it reflect specific things that people are scared of at that moment?

JOEL BEST: What happens is that it reflects recent news, usually September crime stories of one sort or another, and there are really five examples of this. In 1982, [00:13:00] there were the Tylenol poisonings, which occurred in September, and that led to a lot of worried commentary about what would happen. In 2001, in the aftermath of 9/11, there were a number of rumors about terrorists plotting something for Halloween. In 2014, which was the first year that Colorado had legal outlets for recreational marijuana, the Denver police released a video saying that you need to be very careful because these edible candies look like regular candies, and everybody got very excited about that. A couple years ago, there was a case where there were a couple people who had died vaping with THC-infused black market canisters, and that was a big story: “THC lethal.” Then police in Pennsylvania arrested somebody. They confiscated some edible marijuana, which would not have been legal in Pennsylvania at that time so it obviously was brought in from out of state, and it was [00:14:00] prominently labeled as “containing THC.” And those two stories were kind of coupled into a fear that there was going to be THC poisoning, which of course didn’t happen. Then this year, of course, we’ve got rainbow fentanyl.

LAURA MARSH - HOST, THE POLITICS OF EVERYTHING: Why do you think this idea endures? Why does it have such staying power? It just seems to circulate among people.

JOEL BEST: There are a couple things going on. One is that it’s a great story; we like to worry about vulnerable children, and it’s a vulnerable-child story. The other thing is, I think, it’s the best thing in the world that you can possibly worry about: There is somebody in your neighborhood who is so crazy they will poison little children at random, but they are so tightly wrapped they only do this one night a year. You can manage trick-or-treating, however you want to manage it: You can tell your kids they can’t go trick-or-treating; they can go to the mall; they have to go with you; you can only go to the houses of people you know; you can “trunk or treat” in the church parking lot: whatever you think you need to do to keep your kids safe. Then November 1, [00:15:00] the family gathers around the breakfast table and you count noses and everybody’s there, and you can go, “We don’t have to worry about that for another 364 days.” It’s a great thing to be worried about.


LAURA MARSH - HOST, THE POLITICS OF EVERYTHING: It’s kind of the difference between things that are spooky and things that are scary. Something that’s spooky is this fear of something that isn’t really gonna happen. What’s scary is like your kid getting hit by a car when they cross the street, which really could happen and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.

JOEL BEST: Right, and the whole point of Halloween, of course, is that it’s supposed to be spooky, and most of us have stopped believing in ghosts and goblins, but we believe in criminals. So we’ve just transformed the old Halloween threat into a more modern, more plausible version that gives us a little thrill as we go around risking our lives picking up treats.

Satanic Panic: Part One - American Hysteria - Air Date 12-10-18

CHELSEY WEBER-SMITH - HOST, AMERICAN HYSTERIA: Just a year before the Manson murders, Rosemary's Baby had been released, a horror film about a young woman's disturbing run in with a cult of devil worshipers run by her landlords, who secretly impregnate her [00:16:00] with a child of Satan. It was directed by Roman Polanski, who at the time was married to actress Sharon Tate, the most famous victim of the Manson family, who was stabbed brutally while pregnant with Polanski's baby that very next year. The story was an eerie coincidence that some believed was not a coincidence at all, but some kind of proof of the dangers of occult filmmaking.

Four years later, The Exorcist, a film about the demonic possession of a young girl and a priest attempted helping her and her family, terrified America, producing true fits of fainting and vomiting.

NEWS CLIP: I fainted like 10 minutes after the first beginning of the movie.

I passed out. -- You did? -- In about the first half hour. Yeah.

Oh God, I can't believe it. I'm just nervous.

CHELSEY WEBER-SMITH - HOST, AMERICAN HYSTERIA: Famous scenes include the young girl puking violently, her head turning all the way around, and of course, most shocking of all to delicate sensibilities, violently masturbating with a [00:17:00] cross while spitting out graphic blasphemies.

Rumors soon spread about the film's very own demonic curse. During a screening in Rome, a storm surged around the theater as the audience filed inside. Shortly after, a giant 400-year-old cross on top of a nearby church was struck by lightning, causing it to fall dramatically into the plaza below. An extra in the film, Paul Bateson, would go on to become a serial killer, murdering six men. Mysterious deaths seemed associated with the cast. Objects would move on their own. Phones would fall off the hook. Late in the filming, The Exorcist hired a real exorcist to cleanse the studio.

All these unexplained events led credence to the idea that Satanic films could actually hold real satanic power.

The supernatural seemed to be showing itself in a pop culture that had rejected traditional values, and the growing superstitions of a nervous nation allowed fertile ground for religious [00:18:00] hucksters to make some serious money.

ARCHIVE NEWS CLIP: I got saved in 1966. I have a three-inch scar on my wrist where my friends used to cut my arm and bleed my blood into a cup and mix it with wine and urine and drink it for communion to Satan.

I was involved as deeply as you can get.

CHELSEY WEBER-SMITH - HOST, AMERICAN HYSTERIA: Seventies Christian comedian Mike Warnke looked a little more flamboyantly rock and roll than his Christian contemporaries, sporting a single dangly earring and long, curly hair. After sharing his testimony on stage, he published his memoir, The Satan Seller, in 1973, in which he goes from orphaned teenage drug addict to satanic high priest to evangelical convert. This book has it all: child sacrifices, orgies, kidnapping, ritual murder, and magic spells. He even dedicates a few pages to the fourth level of working professional Satanists. That's right, the Illuminati. Thanks, Mike. And with that, the idea that there was a secret network of underground [00:19:00] Satanists became a best selling Christian sensation, and Mike, the trusted authority.

So if this book is indeed the truth, Mike Warnke publicly admitted to assisting in several murders, kidnappings, drug trafficking, and brutal sexual assaults, including one where he commands his friends to kidnap a woman and then stomp on her hands until she agrees to have sex with the members of his coven.

But of course, at the end of the book, he's born again and through the Holy Spirit is forgiven for all his crimes. The woman I just mentioned, well, she runs up to Mike in the street to tell him how much she loves him and forgives him because she herself has been born again. Mike then goes on to marry his childhood sweetheart, Sue, but then tries to strangle her to death in the night and in one dramatic scene, Sue finally casts away the demons forever. All is forgiven with no legal ramifications, no rehabs, no therapy, no discernible change except for of course, the [00:20:00] Holy Spirit. Then the couple, holy healed and hella holy and ready to influence the masses, start their own popular ministry to spread these very socially responsible and emotionally healthy messages.

The Satan Seller was not fully debunked until 1991 when it was revealed through an exposé in the Christian magazine Cornerstone that Mike's family and friends stated on record that during the time of the alleged Satanic cult activity, Mike was a clean cut young Christian, one who only hung out with other Christian students. At the time he claimed to have bleach blonde hair and six inch black fingernails, at the time he was allegedly drinking blood and eating pinky fingers, he was actually spending his time bowling, playing croquet and eating ice cream sundaes down at the local soda fountain. But before the official debunking, Mike would appear as an expert, not only on fundamentalist programs, but also on the most mainstream TV talk shows that existed, [00:21:00] including Oprah, Larry King, and 20/20, which all treated his outrageous story as indisputable fact.

His ministry was forced to close its doors only a hundred days after the exposé came out. And it was found that he was taking an $800,000 salary while claiming the ministry desperately needed more donations.

Mike still swears that much of what he wrote was the truth, and the effect the book had essentially made that so anyway, at least in the minds of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people who connected the rock and roll image of Mike's past Satanic self with a rising counterculture even scarier than the one that came before.

Fentanyl In Our Halloween Candy and Liberal Messaging Failures of the Overdose Crisis - Citations Needed - Air Date 10-28-22

ADAM JOHNSON - HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: There’s two kinds of parallel Halloween themed fentanyl related panics. There’s number one, there’s the rainbow fentanyl that we’ve heard about for a few weeks now, if not a couple months, about rainbow colored fentanyl meant to attract kids that they’re going to hand out on Halloween. And then you had this airport bust where allegedly Whoppers and Skittles packages were being used to put fentanyl in them. Of course, this was not an end [00:22:00] user thing. They were not going to hand out the Whopper packages with fentanyl, that would obviously be somewhat unusual, not very effective in terms of poisoning people, because you’d be like "what is this random pill doing in a Whopper bag?", but is in fact, was a sort of device to smuggle them in. So those are the two big ones.

This of course is a "vibes" story, right? These stories are being pushed out by county sheriff’s departments who are all uniformly anti-Democrat—I think that’s pretty much fair to say—and police unions who vote for Republicans about ten to one, nine to one depending on the election, and Republican media and Republican aligned media and Republican politicians running for Congress. We’ve heard everybody from US House Representative candidate Ronny Jackson to Ken Buck to Congresswoman Debbie Lesko, to Herschel Walker, who told Sean Hannity on his radio show, quote, “Halloween is right around the corner. Right now China, who’s not our friend, is trying to dress fentanyl up to look like candy. So we got to be very vigilant about that.”

ZACHARY SIEGEL: Friends don’t do that to other friends.


ADAM JOHNSON - HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: Right and so every single news media outlet has covered it, all the Sinclair broadcast stations, KSAN, KTIV, [00:23:00] KFVA, KWTX, Yahoo, News9, WGN, WHAS11, CBS Nightly News, like an official, ostensibly centrist news outlet did this sensationalist report.

[Begin Clip]

WOMAN: Security check at LAX Airport in Los Angeles led to a disturbing discovery. 12,000 suspected fentanyl pills were found inside what appeared to be bags and boxes of Skittles, Whoppers, and Sweet Tarts. The seizure of the deadly drugs prompted officials to warn parents to check their children’s Halloween candy after trick or treating this year.

[End Clip]

ADAM JOHNSON - HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: CNN did something, Fox News has been running it nonstop. Obviously, this is a vibe story because as we mentioned, there’s two things that dissect here. So I want to get to our guest, Zach, I want you to chime in here. Start off if you would with the sort of second phase of this moral panic, which was the alleged fentanyl bust at LAX, seemingly lending credibility to this idea that children are going to get on Halloween night—by the way, if a child dies of an overdose, this episode is not going to age [00:24:00] well—that is supposedly being given out to kids, presumably, while they’re transporting these very expensive drugs they forget, I guess, and then give the package to somebody? Start with that and the validity of that claim.

ZACHARY SIEGEL: I’ll try my best without having a brain aneurysm.

ADAM JOHNSON - HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: Okay please, I know it’s hard.

ZACHARY SIEGEL: The most recent airport kerfuffle, the drugs happen to be hidden, concealed away in boxes of candy, and I think rewinding back just like a week or two before that, there was a huge media event around fentanyl found in boxes of Legos, which are also fun things that children like. So what’s happening here is that the media or the police or just everybody seemingly has no idea or is just totally incompetent at their jobs, forget the fact that drugs are often [00:25:00] smuggled in innocuous things that don’t draw attention, like a box of candy, a box of Legos, or through ports of entry, they are in trucks full of avocados, tractor trailers, hauling lines. This is how drug trafficking works.

ADAM JOHNSON - HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: They’re not typically in a package marked drugs is what you’re saying?

ZACHARY SIEGEL: Typically not.

NIMA SHIRAZI - HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: So I should be very careful about guacamole at this point. That’s what I have now learned.

ADAM JOHNSON - HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: That is how Trump would do it because he would have emails being like “crime of the day,” but everyone else who has half a brain cell typically masks drugs. That’s the way smuggling works.

ZACHARY SIEGEL: Right. And we are talking about street fentanyl here, we’re not talking about lab grade, pharmaceutically manufactured, FDA approved stuff you get from a hospital or a doctor. This is bathtub gin-style fentanyl. It’s made somewhere off in probably a very rural part of Mexico where there’s barrels of [00:26:00] chemicals and a big witch’s stew of liquids, and this gets turned into fentanyl. To cross the border, it goes through ports of entry, and it’s hidden in, it could be in anything, literally it could be hidden in anything. And so the fact that suddenly the concealment has become an object of doom, basically —

ADAM JOHNSON - HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: Titillating headlines, yeah.

ZACHARY SIEGEL: Yeah, exactly. And so that’s really that kind of second whole wave that you’re talking about here. But with the LAX thing, what’s remarkable is just how dumb this drug trafficker appears to be, just sending pills through a carry on. That’s bonkers because TSA agents, they’re mostly looking for bombs and metal guns, that’s the stuff that triggers that alarm. So [00:27:00] to send 12,000 pills through airport security, can you imagine that? Walking through security with a bag of edibles or gummies or something. People get nervous and ditch it, right? This is so brazen to carry 12,000 pills through security, but maybe the guy’s really smart because they got away or this whole thing is fake and who knows what the fuck happened?

ADAM JOHNSON - HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: Right. Because this is very much vibes, which is obviously the goal is that this is, what we’re arguing in this episode, and when I’m arguing in an upcoming piece—if it hasn’t come out yet it will soon—is that obviously this is being pushed out by sheriff’s departments who are a hotbed of reaction and pro Trump sentiment. I think it’s fair to say, sheriff’s departments even way more than police departments, which is wild, when you think about it —


ADAM JOHNSON - HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: — are bastions of Trumpist sort of politics and panic around drugs, because the goal is to say, Halloween, drugs, October, two weeks before the midterms, week before the midterms, they want to create this general sense of disarray. So the goal is to just [00:28:00] put fentanyl and Halloween in the same headline because it’s about vibes. And so just at the risk of self plagiarizing, I don’t want to make this point twice, I’m actually going to read my tweet, because it’s really weird just because —


ADAM JOHNSON - HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: So I said, “In 2018 when a man was caught smuggling cocaine into Portugal using a fake butt we didn’t issue a warning to everyone who eats ass.” Which is a very vulgar way of saying that, I can’t think of any other time which the device for the smuggling has been presented as the device that’s going to go to some unsuspecting, I’ve never seen that before, right? Like you said, we have avocados, we have toaster ovens, we have coffee beans, we’ve never been like, watch your coffee after watching Beverly Hills Cop 2, watch your coffee that’s going to have cocaine in it.

NIMA SHIRAZI - HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: Beverly Hills Cop 1. 1 my friend.

ADAM JOHNSON - HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: Was it 1 i’m sorry. I have never, ever seen that happen until this week where it’s that somehow that these drug dealers are going to take what is, I assume, $200,000 worth of fentanyl in some package and just give it to Jimmy.

NIMA SHIRAZI - HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: Well, there’s also the idea here that drug dealers are going to fake our kids out by [00:29:00] dropping expensive drugs into Halloween candy, and then what? Why is that possibly a good business practice? None of this makes fucking sense. It is all based on panic, and to make this even more official, going beyond Sheriff’s Department panic, beyond cop panic, beyond political rhetoric, we saw in a US Drug Enforcement Administration, that’s the DEA, press release on August 30, DEA official Anne Milgram saying this quote, “Rainbow fentanyl, fentanyl pills and powder that come in a variety of bright colors, shapes and sizes, is a deliberate effort by drug traffickers to drive addiction amongst kids and young adults,” end quote. And so this is basically what was picked up on by everyone. Now Chuck Schumer is insisting that there be something like $300 million dedicated to [00:30:00] fighting rainbow fentanyl.

[Begin Clip]

WOMAN: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is warning about the dangers of rainbow fentanyl. He’s calling for an additional $290 million in funding to help in this drug fight. Senator Schumer says more drug dealers are pushing brightly colored fentanyl to make it more appealing to young teens and children.

[End Clip]

NIMA SHIRAZI - HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: So before we get any further, Zach, I’d love for you to talk to us about the kind of kernel of truth that then is allowed to pop into a full blown mass panic, the kind of mass panic pipeline. So what’s the real risk about fentanyl? It’s a high potency opioid, it is definitely responsible for many, many deaths, but talk to us about how that is then twisted and turned into this panic again and again, from everything from cops touching a pill to what we’re now seeing in the drug traffickers are out to get your suburban [00:31:00] kids addicted to drugs.

ZACHARY SIEGEL: So because this is like a Halloween special, we’ll go with the kind of urban legend theory here because this is a spooky story kind of a thing. It’s a vibe, like Adam is saying. And so in order for an urban legend, or a scary story, to have any pull in the real world, there has to be some actual horror happening in reality, to draw us, to pull us in, to make us believe it. And the horror here, in real life, is that more than 100,000 people in the last year have died from drug overdoses, and these deaths are totally preventable. These are needless, tragic deaths and they don’t need to be happening. Bad drug policy is no doubt, producing so [00:32:00] much of this mortality, and all of that is being totally obscured by the rainbow fentanyl panic and the Halloween candy scare stories and also with the police officers touching trace amounts of fentanyl and passing out.

The real harm in all these stories is completely obscured, hidden, unspoken, unnamed, and that’s why this stuff matters, and that’s why I spend time going batshit crazy trying to issue correctives and talk about it, because fentanyl is actually a serious crisis right now, and on the street especially, the drug market, in various places, is totally contaminated. If you’re trying to use cocaine, trying to take a bump at a bar, that could very well just fucking end it for you, and [00:33:00] that is new and scary and isn’t really being metabolized or messaged around in any way.

And so, the DEA, especially here, they could be issuing all kinds of pertinent public health information, they could be issuing very useful harm reduction messaging to the public, telling people to use fentanyl test strips, telling people where to get naloxone, it’s the opioid overdose antidote, it is how overdoses, specifically from opioids, get reversed. They reverse respiratory depression, naloxone knocks the opioid off of your receptor allowing you to breathe again.

So all of this information is not being communicated whatsoever, and instead we’re getting the cartels want to kill your children, there is a plot to poison the youth of America, and what do we need? [00:34:00] A more militarized drug war, we need the sheriff’s to audit your child’s candy this Halloween. We’re getting totally batshit useless directives.

Satanic Panic — Dungeons & Dragons and Harry Potter - Soul Search - Air Date 9-22-22

DR. JOSEPH LAYCOCK: The Satanic Panic was basically a sort of conspiracy theory that living amongst us hiding in plain sight was a conspiracy of people who worship Satan and who do terrible things to children for the sole purpose of worshiping Satan. In some versions of the conspiracy theory, they ritually abuse children to the point where their mind forms a second personality, a kind of split personality, as a defense mechanism so that the child doesn't even remember being abuse d and then they have this alternate personality who becomes a Satanist. And then another part of this conspiracy is that we have no evidence of the conspiracy because the Satanists are so powerful they have infiltrated the police, they've [00:35:00] infiltrated the media, and so, weirdly, the lack of any evidence that this is happening is itself the evidence, right?, that we are surrounded by a Satanic conspiracy.

ROHAN SALMOND - HOST, SOUL SEARCH: Joseph is an academic now, but he played fantasy role-playing games growing up, which caused concern among a lot of the adults in his life. The most popular game at the time was Dungeons and Dragons, commonly called D&D. He writes about it in his book, Dangerous Games: What the Moral Panic over Role-Playing Games Says about Play, Religion and Imagined Worlds.

DR. JOSEPH LAYCOCK: When I grew up in Texas in the 80s it was sort of the height of the so-called Satanic Panic, and as a child I met adults who believed that this game was something very dangerous, that was connected to the occult, and to murder, and that might somehow result in me killing myself for some reason. And as a child, I knew that this was nonsense, and this was kind of my first suspicion that adults ran everything, but they [00:36:00] didn't always necessarily know what they were talking about. So that's an interest that sort of stayed with me ever since.

ROHAN SALMOND - HOST, SOUL SEARCH: Tell me, Joseph, what is a fantasy role-playing game?

DR. JOSEPH LAYCOCK: So, a fantasy role-playing game is a game where you pretend to be someone else, and there really isn't a hard line between children playing house and imitating their parents or playing cops and robbers on the schoolyard and a fantasy role-playing game. The only difference is that published games like Dungeons and Dragons have a lot more rules and game mechanics, because if you've seen children playing cops and robbers, someone will say, I shot you, and someone will say, No, you didn't, you missed. And so the game mechanics are really just there to make sure everyone is in agreement about what's happening in this story that's being created

ROHAN SALMOND - HOST, SOUL SEARCH: And what kind of mechanics are used in these games?

DR. JOSEPH LAYCOCK: Well, most people who have seen Dungeons and Dragons have seen the funny looking dice, and those dice were originally created to teach probabilities to children in mathematics [00:37:00] classes. But there is a 20-sided die, an 8-sided die, and then so on. Uh, and other games use similar types of mechanisms that introduce random chance so that no one knows quite exactly where the story is going to.

ROHAN SALMOND - HOST, SOUL SEARCH: Right. So what was the opposition to you playing them? Like, what did the adults around you say to you?

DR. JOSEPH LAYCOCK: Well, it was always, you know, I have heard a story, or I've heard, right?, no one was ever citing studies or something like that, but they had heard rumors that these games were sort of so immersive that they caused a kind of psychotic break and that people forgot about the real world and forgot who they really were and sort of became their character forever and became a, basically became insane. So those were the kinds of urban legends that seemed to be fueling the panic, at least when I was a kid.

ROHAN SALMOND - HOST, SOUL SEARCH: Were there public figures who were saying this kind of thing?

DR. JOSEPH LAYCOCK: Absolutely. So in the the 90s, a woman from Virginia named [00:38:00] Patricia Pulling, formed an organization called Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons, or BADD. And she, and of course this was, based on similar names, groups, like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), that were, that were popular in the 80s. And she began doing talk shows and presented herself as an expert on the dangers of the occult. She actually began holding workshops for police departments, producing documents for the police to interrogate teenagers who played Dungeons and Dragons. And at the height of this people were running for political office and their campaign platform was that if elected, they would make this game illegal. So this really was, something that people were very afraid of for a period in the 1980s.

ROHAN SALMOND - HOST, SOUL SEARCH: I'm interested about Patricia. What was her background?

DR. JOSEPH LAYCOCK: Patricia Pulling had a two-year Associates degree, so she really had very little formal education and often made claims, [00:39:00] you know, about things like statistics that were frankly embarrassing. So, for example, she said once that 8% of the town of Richmond, Virginia were Satanists and that caused a journalist to ask her, So there's more Satanists in Richmond than there are Methodists, how are you getting these numbers? And she said, Well, 4% of the adults are Satanists and 4% of the children are Satanists, so that's 8% of the town. Which of course is not how statistics work. But her son had committed suicide and her son had played Dungeons and Dragons, actually only ever for a few hours, as part of his honors English program in high school. And the story that she came to tell was that game had caused her son to commit suicide. So her authority came not from any formal expertise, but from her story as this bereaved mother who was trying to help other mothers protect their children where she wasn't able to. And that was very compelling to audiences in the 1980s. [00:40:00]

ROHAN SALMOND - HOST, SOUL SEARCH: So, I mean, there is a tragic backstory to this opposition in a way. Is that where the moral concern came from?

DR. JOSEPH LAYCOCK: That's right. The other big case was a boy named Dallas Egbert who disappeared from college and his parents hired a detective named William Dear who held a press conference and said, This child is basically in a fugue state. They've lost their connection to reality and they're wandering around somewhere believing that they're in a fantasy role-playing game. Uh, this of course was not true, but Dallas Egbert eventually committed suicide as well. So you have these two suicides that really don't have a satisfying explanation. And for some people, the explanation that this game somehow caused the suicides was perhaps comforting.

Deranged Parents FREAK OUT Over Mural During School Board Meeting - The Majority Report w/ Sam Seder - Air Date 10-21-22

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: The Republicans are running on transphobia. It is really a beginning to have material impact on people's lives, not just trans kids, we see it impacting girls and women in women's sports and this and that because now you have to prove that you're a [00:41:00] woman. Do you have too many male hormones? Let's see your sexual organs. Of course it's having devastating effect on trans kids. You've got in Michigan, other states we've seen this already pass where it is basically outlawing parents being able to provide gender affirming care for their trans kids.

Here is another example coming from the local ABC news affiliate in a Michigan high school. A student, her name was Evelyn Gonzalez paints a mural for the local middle school, and you're not gonna believe what happens next.

NEWS CLIP: And we begin tonight with the controversial painting by a Grant high school student. It's on a wall in the middle school building.

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: Pause it. Right there you know society has gone off the rails. Keep it up there so that people can also see [00:42:00] the "controversial" mural that's going on there. If you're in high school or elementary school, you're gonna notice a lot of those icons and those figures and this and that, cuz it's for kids stuff, but there's something very dark going on there, ladies and gentlemen. And the fundamental. Who live in that area are going to find it for you.

MATT LECH: You coded vigilantly.

NEWS CLIP: It's on a wall in the middle school building, and tonight some parents complain to the school board about its messages. 13 on your Side's Nate Belt was at tonight's meeting and has details.

I put my art up there to make people feel welcomed.

That's how Grant High School student, Evelyn Gonzalez, describes this mural. She painted it inside the middle school's teen Health Center, and parents are concerned about some of its content.

Now, this here is the mural in question. That was a. Hot topic tonight at the school board meeting here at Grant Middle School. Now, the, some [00:43:00] of the things that the parents were closely paying attention to included the trans flag on this T-shirt here. This symbol, which the artist says comes from a video game as well as this symbol here, which she says is a Hispanic sign of protection.

I feel like she did a really good job finding excuses to defend the things she put on. None of us are that stupid.

MATT LECH: Oh my god.

NEWS CLIP: Parents alleged the video game character is actually a depiction of Satan, and that the hand symbol is demonic with, several even using the word witchcraft to describe it.

That's not what I'm a part of. That's not what I'm trying to put out there.

As for the transgender flag, one parent implied it's a sickness.

When adults pretend things that are like real life, it's a mental illness. We need counselors. We need the medication that's gonna help bipolar disorder, fix their brains.

With another saying, it's discriminatory against Christian belief.

We and our administration should embrace that and get all of this hate material out of our [00:44:00] schools, because it is hate material.

Not everybody was opposed to the mural. One parent was appalled by some of the words used...

I am a conservative, right wing, gun loving American, but I have never seen more bigoted people in my life

...and wants to see more acceptance in her community.

We have an array of people in this little town. And I'll be the first one to support our Christian families, but we're not the only ones here.

A student and friend of the artists who describe themself as queer says they were bullied throughout middle school and into high school. They say the mural makes them feel included.

Maybe you should be more concerned with your children's behaviors instead of what art is on the wall.

While some parents called for the mural to be removed or altered, Grant Public School's handbook includes a nondiscriminatory policy, saying, in part, any form of discrimination or harassment can be devastating to an individual's academic progress, social relationship, and or personal sense of self-worth. No decision was made on [00:45:00] the future of the mural at Monday's meeting. In Grants. Nate, Belt 13 On Your Side.

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: If you are under the impression that there has been some type of dramatic change in our culture, where the trans ideology is taking over, you need to start getting out more, and start reading outside of the very narrow, either right wing or I, don't know, contrarian circles that you're reading, and see what's happening in the country.

EMMA VIGELAND - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: The people that spoke at that school board meeting could not have been more caricatures of the kind of person that you know is speaking against trans kids and inclusion of non-white people in a school board meeting. And you just notice how worked up they get about their own projection. Never seen something so hateful. Really? Are you looking in the mirror? Cuz that's how it feels. It's just amazing. I'm sure that they hate her [00:46:00] for a variety of reasons, probably due to her ethnicity, because the idea that you would feel righteous in going to a school meeting to critique a child's piece of art on the side, and "why she satanic?" to her face, in the nurse's office. You are deranged, yeah, and you are hateful, cuz there's something about her that makes them feel like, and of course probably the fact that there was a trans flag and the conditioning from conservative media, but there's something about her too that makes them angrier.

MATT LECH: I looked up that three finger hand eye symbol. There's a Wikipedia, the Hamsa. There's a palm shaped alet popular throughout North Africa and in the Middle East, and is commonly used in jewelry and wall hangings depicting the open right hand. An image recognized and used as a sign of protection. Many times throughout history, the Hamsa has been traditionally believed to provide defense against the evil eye. So actually, if this is doing anything, it's protecting people from that spooky thing.

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: And here's the other thing, who cares?

MATT LECH: Even if it was like, this is how you open the portal for trans demons, I'd be like, Well, [00:47:00] you know what? Let the kid express themselves.

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: It's just a mural, folks. It's just a mural.

EMMA VIGELAND - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: And when the mural says stay healthy in the middle of it, you know what healthy is code for?

MATT LECH: It's questioning your gender, even if you've never done it before.

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: And of course all the furries up there.

MATT LECH: The litter box under the...

EMMA VIGELAND - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: The demons think healthy means injecting that 5G vaccine.

SAM SEDER - HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: This is the implications of even this alarm of, like, I want to go back to when boys were boys and men were men and girls were girls. They were parroting this stuff 30, 50, 60 years ago in All in The Family for God's sakes. And I know that 75% of our audience has no idea what I'm even talking about, but they were doing sitcoms where they were parody this attitude 50 years ago, and it's coming back.

Our annual Halloween hysteria - Today, Explained - Air Date 10-28-22

STACY ST. CLAIR: My name is Stacy St. Clair and I'm a reporter with the Chicago Tribune. And along with my colleague Christy Gutowski, we have been digging into the Tylenol [00:48:00] murders in advance of the 40th anniversary this year.

SEAN RAMESWARAM - HOST, TODAY, EXPLAINED: And though this really didn't have anything to do with Halloween, it did have a serious impact on Halloweens across the country that year. Is that right?

STACY ST. CLAIR: That's right. The murders took place in late September of 1982, and they sent the country into a panic.

CBS 2: I think it’s terrible. Somebody, somebody’s crazy. Has to be.

GUY: I think what bothers me more than just this incident is, if it can happen with this, what else can it happen with? That’s the part that really gives you the creeps.

STACY ST. CLAIR: We talked to 150 people as part of the project and I would say 50% of them talked about Halloween and how Halloween loomed so heavily over this sort of national crisis because people didn't know where the killer intended to strike next. And so you saw it [00:49:00] in communities canceling Halloween.

WLS CHANNEL 7: If you’re concerned about safety this Halloween, instead of trick or treating, consider having a party at home. If you do decide to send your kids out, keep these tips in mind…

SEAN RAMESWARAM - HOST, TODAY, EXPLAINED: Well, I want to ask you more about that later, but walk us through what happened 40 years ago in Chicago.

STACY ST. CLAIR: So, on September 29th of 1982, seven people in the Chicago area took Tylenol that had been laced with cyanide. The acetaminophen that was in the capsules was poured out and potassium cyanide was put in its place and then put on the store shelves.


STACY ST. CLAIR: And there was nothing about the way the capsules looked or the bottles looked that could have warned people about what was inside. And each capsule contained at least three times the minimum dosage to kill somebody. So [00:50:00] once the people swallowed it, they didn't have a chance of survival. Even if the doctors knew what they had ingested, there was no chance of saving them. It is a violent, horrific death.

SEAN RAMESWARAM - HOST, TODAY, EXPLAINED: Give us a sense of the seven people who died.

STACY ST. CLAIR: So the seven people include a 12-year-old girl named Mary Kellerman, two young mothers, Mary Sue McFarlane and Mary Reiner. Mary Reiner had just given birth to her fourth baby less than a week earlier and was taking Tylenol per her doctor's orders during her recovery. There was a flight attendant named Paula Prince, who was the last person found. And then there was three members of the same family. And they were the key for medical investigators to figuring out what was killing young, healthy people so randomly. And what happened was a man named Adam Janus, a young father, was [00:51:00] home from work. He took some Tylenol. His wife found him unresponsive and his family gathered at the hospital to hear what happened and try to figure out, you know, what to do next. So they get the tragic news about Adam. They go back to Adam's house and start planning a funeral. And Adam's brother and his new sister-in-law had headaches…


STACY ST. CLAIR: … from just the day's grieving. So they went into the bathroom and they took some Tylenol and both died.

SEAN RAMESWARAM - HOST, TODAY, EXPLAINED: How much of a panic did this stir up in the country? I mean, this was a thing that was happening in Chicago. But when you say someone's put cyanide in Tylenol pills, I imagine people are probably freaking out all over the world, if the story made it that far.

STACY ST. CLAIR: Yeah, people did freak out all over the world. When it first happened, Johnson & Johnson on the first day recalled about 170,000 bottles of Tylenol.

ABC NEWS: Here in [00:52:00] Chicago, what started as a series of mysterious, unrelated deaths 48 hours ago has resulted in the biggest drug warning in U.S. history.

STACY ST. CLAIR: A few days later, under pressure from law enforcement, they recalled 31 million bottles.



SEAN RAMESWARAM - HOST, TODAY, EXPLAINED: Is that all the Tylenol? <laughs>

STACY ST. CLAIR: It's all the Tylenol capsules. Yeah.


STACY ST. CLAIR: And it was the first time that a product had ever been recalled at a widespread national level like that.


STACY ST. CLAIR: It was news all over the world. It's widely regarded as an early act of domestic terrorism. That wasn't even a word people used or knew at the time.


STACY ST. CLAIR: But it so pierced the veil of security that people felt around their families that its shockwaves were felt everywhere, including Halloween.

SEAN RAMESWARAM - HOST, TODAY, EXPLAINED: Yeah. Tell me more about how this affected Halloween in 1982.

STACY ST. CLAIR: One of the [00:53:00] people we talked to was Chuck Kramer, and he was the fire lieutenant who first identified that, Hey, these aren't heart attacks at the Janus house, like this is something bigger.


STACY ST. CLAIR: He talked about all the different ways these deaths changed the way we live. And he told us, You're going to hear a lot about how this impacted Halloween.

CHARLES KRAMER: Halloween's changed forever. Prior to 1982, I don't think the parents went through the candy. They just let the kids take it. But today parents are going through, ‘That's not wrapped. That's not wrapped. That's not good,’ you know. I'm sure they do.

STACY ST. CLAIR: Communities were canceling Halloween, encouraging their children not to go out. And another person we spoke with, his name is Sam Adam Jr., and he's a prominent defense attorney here in Chicago who's studied the case.

SAM ADAM JR.: I had just turned 10. There were rumors at the time and had just come out that people were putting razor blades, I remember this so vividly, in apples. And so parents were really, really on this idea of [00:54:00] people doing crazy things at Halloween time.

STACY ST. CLAIR: His parents didn't want him to go out because they were so scared.

SAM ADAM JR.: I have vivid memories of not going trick or treating that year. We were not allowed to go because we didn't know what was gonna happen.

STACY ST. CLAIR: People stopped giving apples out. You know, you used to go trick or treating and you could get apples and home baked cookies and popcorn balls and people would just wrap them in their own Saran wrap and that sort of put an end to that.

WAVY 1982 REPORT: On the surface, trick or treating in Virginia Beach tonight seemed normal. But underneath the outfits and masquerades and even more within the parents, there was an underlying tension.

PARENT: No, I really didn't want to take the children out. And my daughter told me that she'd rather just go trick or treating and throw everything away. That's really what she wanted to do. Just to go out.

STACY ST. CLAIR: I think it also was the birth of coupons being given out. People talked about the McDonald's coupons that were given out that year because that seemed so much safer than [00:55:00] the typical candy bar.

WAVY 1982 REPORT: Wally Sale and his wife were giving away coupons for ice cream at a local Baskin Robbins.

WALLY: We've been relying mainly on these because this way the children and the parents know that what they're going to get a good deal and they're not to worry about having to check it and deal with it and so forth and so on.

STACY ST. CLAIR: It made you second guess everything.


 We're going to talk more about the sort of annual Halloween panic later in the show. But do you think the Tylenol murders had a lasting impact on people's, you know, paranoia, hysteria, every October 31st?

STACY ST. CLAIR: I think it absolutely did. The Chicago Tribune articles from the time talk about this novel idea of set trick or treating hours and this novel idea of, like, going trick or treating at the mall.

WAVY 1982 REPORT: Thanks to the scare created by Tylenol poisonings and the barrage of copycat criminals, alternatives to trick or treating cropped up instantly. Malls in Virginia Beach offered trick or treating at their stores with all the [00:56:00] candy pre-checked.

STACY ST. CLAIR: And those are commonplace today. Those are sort of standard things we do just to ensure safety or make us feel safer.


STACY ST. CLAIR: And here we are still doing it, you know, 40 years later. All of that was introduced as part of the Tylenol scare.

SEAN RAMESWARAM - HOST, TODAY, EXPLAINED: Did they ever catch whoever perpetrated these murders? Whoever put cyanide in Tylenol pills?

STACY ST. CLAIR: Nobody has ever been arrested or charged with the Tylenol murders. And as part of our investigation, we did find that police investigators have brought a case to prosecutors.


STACY ST. CLAIR: Saying they have a circumstantial, chargeable case against a long-time suspect, and now it's in prosecutors hands as to whether they're going to charge the case or not.

SEAN RAMESWARAM - HOST, TODAY, EXPLAINED: Huh. Are you allowed to say who the suspect is?

STACY ST. CLAIR: [00:57:00] Yeah, the long-time suspect is James Lewis. He was arrested and convicted of sending an attempted extortion letter to Johnson & Johnson.


STACY ST. CLAIR: He said he had spent about $50 so far in poisoning the capsules and, you know, he said he would stop the killing if they wired $1,000,000 to a bank account in Chicago that belonged to his wife's ex-boss. And he claims he sent the letter because he was upset with his wife's boss for her last paycheck bouncing, and he wanted to call law enforcement's attention to what he thought was that man's bad business dealings.

SEAN RAMESWARAM - HOST, TODAY, EXPLAINED: That seems pretty suspicious. How is that not enough to prosecute this guy 40 years ago?

STACY ST. CLAIR: They've never been able to put him in Chicago or in one of the stores. He had left Chicago [00:58:00] about three weeks before the killings occurred.

SEAN RAMESWARAM - HOST, TODAY, EXPLAINED: Do you have any sense from your reporting on why this person may have wanted to kill innocent people, families, children?

STACY ST. CLAIR: The working motive, according to documents we reviewed, is that the suspect's daughter had died in 1974 after a heart surgery in which sutures used to repair a heart defect tore and those sutures were trademarked by Johnson & Johnson.


STACY ST. CLAIR: And investigators have told prosecutors they believe that was the motive behind, and records we reviewed said that was the motive behind the killings. I should say we have tried several times to speak to James Lewis about this motive and about this allegation from police and [00:59:00] he has not responded.

Satanic Panic: Part Two - American Hysteria - Air Date 1-7-19

CHELSEY WEBER-SMITH - HOST, AMERICAN HYSTERIA: Only about 90 years ago as the Great Depression hit in America, did the world of children transform into anything resembling what it is today. Child labor laws passed nationwide as desperate adults became unwilling to give away scarce jobs to 10 year olds.

No longer contributing to the economy, children began to occupy a sentimental, symbolic place in society. And with the influence of romantic-era ideas about the spiritual innocence of children, adults created a new, special and separate world for them. A world without any trace of sin, taming the predators of the old one -- the lions, the tigers, and bears -- into stuffed animals with large, loving eyes, hearkening back to a time before death, before pain, back to Eden itself, before the fall of man, before the perfect world was ruined by the single sin of Eve, seduced by Satan in the form of serpent to destroy the rule of God.

But come the [01:00:00] 1970s, many mothers for the first time were rejecting that biblical origin story for good, leaving their roles as homemakers to start careers, some by choice and some out of a new economic necessity. And the massive turning over of children to daycare centers, as well as the new, more powerful position of women in society, caused our culture to simmer with an underlying anxiety.

As Nixon vetoed a federal daycare bill designed to aid working mothers and alleviate the strain on the welfare system, the need for childcare only continued to grow, and private daycare centers opened all over the country.

Bolstered by the stories of the milk carton kids who'd been kidnapped by murderous pedophiles, a new, even more terrifying super villain started to form in the fires of pop fundamentalism, one who would desecrate children's Eden of innocence profoundly and terrify them into silence by sacrificing those most beloved animals right in front of their eyes. Because just like adults once wrote children a paradise in the [01:01:00] 1980s, they would also write them a hell.

ARCHIVE NEWS CLIP: The local fundamentalist church held an extraordinary service. There's been a lot of questions about are there any witchcraft, occultism, Satan worshipers in the area? And the answer is obviously yes. The preacher asked his flock to protect themselves with their faith, but some chose a more down-to-earth method. Doug Blunt, I believe in the Lord and I believe in you. But I'm still gonna carry my gun because I'm scared.

CHELSEY WEBER-SMITH - HOST, AMERICAN HYSTERIA: The work most often credited with sparking the Satanic ritual abuse panic is another one of those evangelical hoax memoirs. Much like Mike Warnke's The Satan Seller that we talked about in part one, this book was published in 1980 and was called Michelle Remembers, written by a woman named Michelle Smith and her psychiatrist, Dr. Lawrence Pazder. This book -- how can I even describe this book? -- Michelle Remembers is like a [01:02:00] Pentecostal fever dream made into an especially lurid Lifetime movie. Through 600 hours of hypnotherapy with Dr. Padzer, Michelle recovers an avalanche of repressed memories from her childhood of extreme ritual abuse by a Satanic cult. The book alleges that her mother surrendered her to a satanic leader named Malachi, who, along with his cult, used six-year-old Michelle in an 81-day devil summoning ritual called The Feast of the Beast. Michelle was covered in spiders, covered in the blood of dead fetuses that she'd watched being crucified, and in the blood of kittens she'd watched being slaughtered. She was physically, emotionally, sexually, and spiritually abused, made to have sex with snakes and even had horns and a tail surgically fused to her body.

But then, in a crescendo of glittering light, Jesus, the Virgin Mary and the archangel Michael all show up and save Michelle from the chaotic grindhouse horror, erasing [01:03:00] all the memories of those terrible events, tucking them away in a corner of her mind so that she could rediscover them only when the time is right. Conveniently, they also remove all the scars of the abuse from her body, the scars from the horns and the tail, all the physical evidence magically dissolved.

It may be shocking to us now, but this book blew up with Michelle and Dr. Padzer touring the US and appearing on all the most popular talk shows, eventually leaving their own spouses to get married to each other.

The book was, of course, debunked several times throughout the 1980s, with interviews from siblings that Michelle claimed never existed; her father and schoolmates that knew her as a quiet student during the times she claimed to be in the constant throes of a satanic cult. It was clear from the taped interviews that Dr. Padzer had fed -- for the mentioned 600 hours -- false information to a vulnerable patient under hypnosis. Those who've studied the tapes closer note the many [01:04:00] similarities to the apparent west African cannibalistic religious rights that Padzer claimed to have witnessed while working abroad, and by all accounts like to bring up quite often.

Recovered memory therapy has since been seriously questioned by scientists and psychologists alike, as it is extremely easy for therapists to help create false memories with suggestive techniques, even if they don't mean to. But the thorough debunking of Michelle Remembers and the techniques it involved hardly mattered to a freaked-out public.

This book also had a very clear agenda. Written largely in the helpless voice of a child, Michelle is continuously abused by the female members of the cult, which she calls "the mommies." The conclusion of the book then alludes, very unsubtly, that the real villain of the story is Michelle's mother, because it was her that originally abandoned Michelle to the cult. By extension, all women who put their children in the hands of strangers are suspect.

There is a pointed [01:05:00] call for the return to the moral nuclear family system, the only hope against this kind of organized abuse, and of course, a return to fundamentalism itself, as it was Mother Mary that appears magically to become the mommy that Michelle had been missing.

ARCHIVE NEWS CLIP: The author of a popular book on satanism, Dr. Lawrence Padzer: "One of the primary aims is to destroy the belief system within a child. To make a child turn against what they believe in, in terms of who they are, of who God is, and to desecrate all manner of flesh, all manner of church institution, all matter of sign and symbol that a child could in any way be attached to."

CHELSEY WEBER-SMITH - HOST, AMERICAN HYSTERIA: All of a sudden, hypnotherapists all over were helping patients recover horrifying memories of satanic abuse. Michelle Remembers was used to train social workers in conferences on child abuse all over the country, nevermind the magical claims of divine intervention. And as [01:06:00] these social workers returned from these trainings, a shocking number of new allegations of child sexual abuse began to surface, and over time became more and more bizarre, more and more impossible, more and more like the outrageous stories of Michelle Remembers.

In August, 1983, a woman living in an LA suburb named Judy Johnson told the local police that she believed her two-year-old son was being molested at his daycare center, called the McMartin Preschool, specifically by a teacher named Ray Bucky, the grandson of Virginia McMartin, who owned the business.

Judy was adamant, noted Matthew's red and irritated rectum. After interviewing Judy, the Manhattan Beach Police sent letters to 200 current and former parents of McMartin saying they had reason to believe that children were being used for pornography, molestation and oral sex based on the claims that Judy Johnson had made.

And of course, the parents freaked out. Why wouldn't they? Very quickly, [01:07:00] scores of parents got in touch with the police saying their children had admitted to being touched inappropriately or photographed. The police began speaking with these children, but had no special training in the handling of such a delicate situation, so they referred families to a place called the Children's Institute, where licensed social worker and psychotherapist Key McFarland began interviewing the children with her personal therapy invention: anatomically correct dolls complete with sexual organs. You know the ones where someone says, Show us on the doll where he touched you. Key McFarland told investigators that the kids had accused not only Ray Bucky, but also his mother, 66-year-old Peggy Bucky, and his grandmother, Virginia, who was in her eighties at the time. They were all charged with sexual crimes against children based on these interviews, along with four other teachers from the daycare. Children's genitals were inspected by doctors who claimed to be able to spot tiny signs of molestation, [01:08:00] and this was used as physical evidence during trial.

But it wasn't just McMartin. Throughout the decade, ritual abuse cases were raging in Texas, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Washington state, Florida, and North Carolina, among other places. And soon the accusations took a turn into the extreme, into the bizarre. As Dr. Padzer and Michelle Smith were hired to spend time with the children and parents of McMartin, kids had started remembering rituals, black masses, dead animals, and baby blood, just like Michelle had once remembered.

Here's a list of just a few of the allegations made from all over the country, often during official testimony at trial: babies, dogs and cats were drowned and dismembered and boiled and eaten. Children were forced to eat feces, drink urine, and defecate on the Bible, and then forced to lie naked in the shape of a pentagram. They were forced to sit in a kiddie pool full of baby-eating sharks. [01:09:00] Tiger kittens were sacrificed in cemeteries, giraffes and elephants were cut open. A horse was slaughtered in the middle of a playroom. A parrot was trained to peck at children's genitals. Someone cut the arm off a gorilla at a local zoo. Workers dressed as pumpkins shot children in the arms and legs with bullets. Kids were forced to carry around the bones of exhumed corpses, and passers by were dismembered with a chainsaw. Teachers flew through the air in witch capes. Children were flushed down toilets into secret underground tunnels. They were flown around in hot air balloons to secret locations and sold to politicians or flown in airplanes to Mexico and abused by Mexican soldiers. At one point during the McMartin trial, Chuck Norris was identified as one of the abusers, circled in red crayon by a little boy for the entire jury to see.

ARCHIVE NEWS CLIP: Jimmy talks about having a gun held to his head, about being shown a skeleton, about having to touch the skeleton. [01:10:00] He has drawn pictures of a child being sacrificed. He's talked about animal sacrifices. He's disclosed molestation.

When the children started talking, they started talking about robes and candles. They described an Episcopal church. Truth about satanism is they truly do use blood, and they mix it with urine. And then they also use the real meat, the real flesh. This is what makes satanism true, and this is what 1,200 molested kids in the city of Manhattan Beach have told the sheriff's department and it....

CHELSEY WEBER-SMITH - HOST, AMERICAN HYSTERIA: The lines between entirely different professions, between religion and science, were all blurring together. Christian psychotherapy and exorcism were recommended by clinical therapists to their patients. Cops were playing the role of child psychologists. Social workers were becoming criminal investigators. A poll of California social workers found that 45% believed in a national conspiracy or [01:11:00] network of multi-generational perpetrators where babies, children and adults are sexually assaulted, physically mutilated, or killed.

For activists in the rising victims' rights movement, the most important cultural shift that needed to happen was for victims of sexual assault to be believed, and for justice to be brought against their abusers. But the dominant culture, and especially those in the Moral Majority, weren't interested in the more credible accusations of women. So when these fundamentalist groups started to believe children who had claimed sexual abuse, it felt like a victory.

This is where we start to see a strange allegiance form. But there was a serious problem: only those abuses that fit into a fundamentalist narrative with the abusers being satanic cult members in daycare centers, and the victims helpless children who'd been abandoned by their newly-working mothers, were taken as real.

Victims' rights advocates had long fought to expose the silent problems in the nuclear family [01:12:00] dynamic to face the fact that the majority of sexual crimes against children are committed by male family members, often fathers, but trashing the reps of the dignified spiritual leaders of that nuclear household wouldn't have fit into their pro-family stance.

Satanic child abusers, however, also called for an increase in the influence of fundamentalism in politics as the evil transcended what could be stopped with just an earthly criminal justice system.

Final comments on policing gender norms through the ages

JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: We've just heard clips today, starting with Vox Quick Hits, discussing the resurgence of satanic panic in modern conservatism; The Politics of Everything explained the rainbow fentanyl scare surrounding Halloween candy; American Hysteria looked back to some classic panics over the Exorcist and the book, The Satan Seller; Citations Needed explained the terrible business model of giving kids fentanyl when they have no way to pay for it; Soul Search delved into the panic over fantasy games such as Dungeons and Dragons; and The Majority Report discussed the [01:13:00] parent panic over a mural that some Christian parents deemed to be so inclusive that it was hateful to their hateful exclusionary beliefs. Of course not all Christians agreed.

That's what everyone heard, but members also heard bonus clips that further explore two stories we heard mentioned today: the first from Today, Explained doing a deep dive on the Tylenol cyanide deaths that sparked modern fear of Halloween candy; and the second from American Hysteria, diving in on the Michelle Remembers story of memories implanted in children under hypnosis.

To hear that and have all of our bonus content delivered seamlessly to the new members-only podcast feed that you'll receive, sign up to support the show at BestoftheLeft.com/support or shoot me an email requesting a financial hardship membership, because we don't let a lack of funds stand in the way of hearing more information.

And now, as promised, people have been panicking over policing gender norms in our culture for, you know, pretty much all of [01:14:00] time. And so I just wanted to share a few examples from the archives. Paul Fairie on Twitter put together a thread of article excerpts starting from just within the past couple of years, and going back to the late 18 hundreds. It's titled, "A Brief History of 'Men Today Are Too Feminine and Women Too Masculine'." So I'm just gonna read through lots of examples cuz they're a hoot.

Skipping past a few most recent ones, going back to 2004, "It's a social evolution. There's even a new name for this category of guy: Metrosexual. He's a man who's not afraid of Celine Dion or a little hair gel." And I just love the implication that manly men are afraid of Celine Dion.

Skipping past examples from 1997 and '84, now to 1977: "Living in high rise apartment buildings helps make men effeminate. A man with no garden to dig or an opportunity to carry [01:15:00] out masculine activities, becomes passive and effeminate, helping his wife with her chores."

Skipping past '65 and '50 going back to 1940: "At the meeting of the American Medical Association, a speaker maintained that the American people are getting less vigorous, the men more feminine, and the women more masculine, because we don't eat raw meat." Classic concern; I don't know why we don't bring that one back.

Skipping again past 1934, '32 and '25, here's the one from 1922: "Feminine tendencies in masculine clothing were excoriated in Judge Carl Hawkins court. 'Where is your vanity case?' stormed the judge. 'All that is lacking in your makeup are some ruffles on your cuffs and a ribbon in your hair.'" And that was directed at a defendant who was then fined $25 when he admitted to executing a suggestive dance at a local dance hall.[01:16:00]

Skipping 1920 to 1910: "If the American woman persists in her undue athletic sports, there will soon be little difference between the masculine and the feminine." Just as -- because I know I'm reading the years by number -- just keep in mind that's 112 years ago that that was said. Just to help wrap your mind around how long that argument is being made, and if you were to ask people today, when do you think men were men and women were women, they wouldn't say 112 years ago, they would say much, much more recently than that.

And then the last one is from 1902, I think this is my favorite: "I notice a certain style among young men in almost every locality. A style so repulsive and weak as to shock the intelligence of people, the hateful style of parting the hair in the middle. Notice it whenever you please and differ from me as you will, [01:17:00] my observation is that nine young men out of every 10 who part their hair in the middle are useless to the church and worthless to society."

And then it goes on, and there are a couple more examples from the 18 hundreds that I'm skipping past.

And the same guy on Twitter also created a separate thread of articles, also going back as far as 1894, with articles and excerpts of capitalists complaining incessantly that, quote, "People just don't want to work anymore." It became an instant classic and went viral.

And to wrap up, I'll just give one example 'cause it's the earliest one I can remember of having my gender norms policed. It was in third grade. I remember sitting in class in school and crossing one leg over the other, and another boy in class policed my behavior and told me that I was crossing my legs the way girls are supposed to, and he taught [01:18:00] me the correct way of crossing my legs where, you know, only the ankle is on the knee. I think you'll know what I'm talking about. And I took that advice as, you know, whether it was totally legitimate, and I thought that that was like the best idea I had ever heard because it made so much sense. I don't think that was the thought that I had at the time, but it was mostly, I don't want boys to think I'm doing it wrong.

And then of course, I'm sure there was some like, the last thing I would want is to be doing something a girl is supposed to be doing. And so I maintained that behavior for at least a decade beyond that time before I realized that it was bullshit.

So I'm curious if people have stories, experiences of gender policing. It could be from your childhood like mine was or could be from yesterday. Any interesting and illustrative stories you wanna tell, I would love to hear them.

As always, keep the comments coming in at [01:19:00] 202-999-3991 or by emailing me to [email protected].

That is going to be it for today. Thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks to Deon Clark and Erin Clayton for their research work for the show, and participation in our bonus episodes. Thanks to the Monosyllabic Transcriptionist Trio, Ben, Ken and Brian for their volunteer work helping put our transcripts together. Thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work on our social media outlets, activism segments, graphic designing, web mastering, and bonus show co-hosting. And thanks to those who support the show by becoming a member or purchasing gift memberships at BestoftheLeft.com/support, through our Patreon page, or from right inside the Apple Podcast app. Membership is how you get instant access to our incredibly good bonus episodes, in addition to there being extra content and no ads in all of our regular episodes, all through your regular podcast player. And if you want to continue the discussion, join our Best of the Left Discord community to talk about the show or the news or the elections that just happened, or anything else you like. Links [01:20:00] to join are in the show notes.

So coming to you from far outside the conventional wisdom of Washington, DC, my name is Jay!, and this has been the Best of the Left podcast coming to twice weekly, thanks entirely to the members and donors to the show from BestoftheLeft.com.

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  • Jay Tomlinson
    published this page in Transcripts 2022-11-12 23:22:23 -0500
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