This piece was written in collaboration with Sarah Ponto Rivera
Where the Witch-hunters are: Satanic Panic and Mental Health Malpractice
By Douglas Mesner and Sarah Ponto Rivera
“I have met many demons, devils, evil characters, representatives of Satan, and Satan himself in my MPD [Multiple Personality Disorder] work.”
— Colin Ross, MD, 1994
Past President, International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD)
“I remain troubled about the matter of transgenerational satanic cults.”
— Richard Kluft, MD, 2014 Past President, ISSTD
It is with an ironic sense of disdain that we can now look back upon the day-care sex-abuse hysteria of the 80s and 90s, with its imaginary conspiracy of pedophilic Satanic cult activity, and remark that one of its primary instigators was a devout Catholic. A foundational text for the “Satanic Panic”, as it came to be called, was co-authored by the pious psychiatrist Lawrence Pazder who, with his client-turned-wife, Michelle Smith, wrote of Smith’s alleged early ritual abuse at the hands of a secret Devil-worshipping society. Michelle Remembers (1980), billed as a true story and humored as such within the talk-show circuit of the time, was a ludicrous supernatural horror story in which both Christ and Satan made dramatic guest appearances. The senseless, confabulatory ramblings upon which the “facts” of the book were constructed, were gleaned from hypnotic regression sessions, in which Pazder claimed Smith had recalled horrific events that had previously been “repressed” deep within her unconscious mind.
It doesn’t take any lofty credentials in psychology to whiff some air of projection in Catholic claims, that yet persist, against their imaginary enemy’s loathsome proclivities. And while the Satanic Panic witch-hunt extended well beyond the Catholic Church, and beyond political boundaries — even at times finding its paranoid claims prosecuted, without credible evidence, in the hallowed halls of secular “justice” — one can still easily sense that same guilty projection in all of the twisted, grotesquely detailed child abuse fantasies of that era. In passionate tones of moral outrage, self-appointed occult crime authorities and Ritual Abuse experts gathered at informational meetings and conferences to revel in sadistic child abuse tales, similar in transparent latency to angered pulpit-pounding outcry against the “homosexual agenda”.
Those who remember the more laughably dated ideas that arose from the panic — e.g. the demonization of Dungeons & Dragons as a gateway to secretive underworld depravity, or the fear of insidious ‘backward masked’ subliminal calls to suicide and Satanism in popular music — will find it hard to believe when we say that the Satanic Panic is still alive and well… in fact it’s never gone away. But this is the case. The Satanic Panic never died, it just faded from mainstream attention. Many of the old purveyors still propagandize to insular, dedicated groups and, in another twisted irony, they mostly spread their delusions in the name of mental health itself.
Just last year, an eating disorders clinic known as “Castlewood”, in St. Louis, MO, settled four lawsuits brought against them by former clients who claimed that during the course of their “treatment” at the center, they had been led to believe that they had repressed memories of traumatic abuse, including that of the ritualistic, Satanic kind. The author of these delusions, it was claimed, was one Mark Schwartz, co-founder and former clinical co-director of the facility. In 2004, on his Curriculum Vitae, Schwartz listed “Dissociative Disorders” as one of his “Clinical Specialties”. Where one finds “Dissociative Disorders”, one tends to find a belief in the mythic “Multiple Personality Disorder” (MPD), now rebranded as “Dissociative Identity Disorder” (DID). And where one finds this alleged disorder, one invariably finds notions of concealed, “repressed” trauma, and therapies devised to draw forth hidden memories from the unconscious. Where one finds such therapies, one finds the most hysterical subcultures of conspiracist delusion imaginable.
Just a few years ago, in 2012, Satanic Ritual Abuse charges against a family in Missouri were eventually dropped, with the prosecutor, Kellie Wingate Campbell stating to the Associated Press, “Whether or not I believe the allegations is an independent question from whether or not I believe I can prove each and every element of the case beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.” Clearly she felt she could not. What Campbell failed to mention is that many charges were already disproven when alleged physical evidence, including buried bodies, failed to manifest in a massive excavation of the family’s property. Medical records subpoenaed from the accusers also failed to provide record of alleged injuries that the Judge himself noted “would have certainly required critical care.” Also left unsaid was that the accusations were the result of the accusers’ “recovered memories”.
The accused, financially ruined by legal fees, and stigmatized by the accusations, can never recover from the episode. Campbell, of course, need have no fear of being so much as reprimanded for prosecutorial misconduct. Even Lael Rubin, the prosecutor in the seminal Satanic abuse daycare case of McMartin Preschool — the longest, most expensive case in American history, marred by false testimony and concealed exonerating evidence — escaped any official censure. Martha Coakley, the Massachusetts Attorney General who, as District Attorney, fought hard to keep a clearly innocent victim of the hysteria, Gerald Amirault, in prison for 18 years, just barely lost a bid for Governor in the most recent election.
The perpetrators and purveyors of the Satanic Panic, who destroyed countless lives and families, never experienced justice for their cruel stupidity, and many of them still operate with smug impunity exactly as they did during the height of the hysteria.
Just a year ago, Nov. 26th, 2013, a former day-care worker named Fran Keller was finally released from prison after 21 years spent for crimes she could not possibly have committed by any reasonable interpretation of reality. With no physical evidence to support the accusations (which included claims of graveyard rituals, cannibalism, and medically undetected limb transplants) Fran, and her husband, Dan, were convicted on the most dubious of child testimony drawn from coercive and incompetent interrogations by zealous witch-hunters. The children were ignored when they claimed they were not abused at all (as happened even in testimony) — and the impossibility of the claims was dutifully ignored as irrelevant to claims of a greater truth.
Dr. Randy Noblitt’s expert testimony was instrumental in the conviction of the Kellers. Noblitt, an old-school anti-Satanist buffoon of the subliminal message-divining kind, explained away the lack of physical evidence by invoking the conspiracy’s magnitude: police officers and other officials were involved in the cover-up. The children had been systematically traumatized as a means to brainwash them into repressing the memories. Following the trial, Noblitt revealed in an interview that he had caught Mr. Keller using vague hand signals in an effort to communicate to secret fellow Satanists in the jury.
In a letter to the Court on behalf of the Keller’s eventual successful appeal, Associate Professor Dr. Evan Harrington, of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology noted that “the world portrayed by Dr. Noblitt is one in which thousands of cult abusers have infiltrated respectable society, and specifically daycare centers, in order to operate a clandestine subculture engaged in massive levels of felonious criminality, all based on mind control triggered by secret handshakes and hand signals.” The letter, bearing signatures of support from various esteemed social and behavioral scientists, concludes by stating that Noblitt’s “opinions have been scientifically discredited, and are not shared by the vast majority of clinicians and researchers within the field of psychology.”
But where is Randy “L’il Knob” Noblitt today, now that social conditions aren’t nearly so amenable to the tin-foil hat Torquemada whose doctoral thesis was on The Celestial Concomitants of Human Behavior, more colloquially known as Astrology? He’s a professor of Clinical Psychology at Alliant University where his faculty profile lists his primary expertise as “Cult and ritual abuse”, and among “courses taught” we find “Ritual Abuse” as one of but three.
L’il Knob could be found in attendance at last month’s conference of the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD), “an international, non-profit, professional association organized to develop and promote comprehensive, clinically effective and empirically based resources and responses to trauma and dissociation and to address its relevance to other theoretical constructs.”
Despite its inclusion in the 5th edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V), DID doesn’t enjoy general support among psychiatric professionals as a legitimate disorder. Before its publication, the DSM-V task force received a letter signed by top psychiatrists, urging them to remove the condition from the manual. Dr. Allen Frances, task force chair of DSM-IV, lamented the continued inclusion of DID in the DSM, referring to the disorder as “complete bunk” in a 2013 Wall Street Journal interview. Nonetheless, it remains.
The ISSTD struggles to maintain the appearance of an “empirically based” outfit, despite zero scientific support. Retrospective surveys of the DID-diagnosed are quantified into statistics, and presented as evidence of the condition’s legitimacy. Bad data is used, and good data is abused. In his 2003 book, Remembering Trauma, Dr. Richard McNally of Harvard University meticulously debunks primary DID literature. The actual substance of his findings are dutifully ignored by the faithful.
Some among the ISSTD utilize treatments insurance companies won’t even cover, leading therapists like Sebern Fisher (MA, BCN), to recommend creative billing. (“Stop recording…” Fisher demanded at the conference before confiding to the audience, “I bill psychotherapy code…I don’t want that on the record. …There’s a code for biofeedback, assisted psychotherapy, which no insurance company acknowledges.”)
Su Baker (MEd), also speaking at the recent ISSTD conference, recognizes that DID is quickly being recognized as a simple renaming of the debunked MPD, so she recommends easing new minds into the concept through courses in “complex trauma”. “We can’t use the word dissociation… So we use complex trauma knowing that down the road you lead people into the dissociative field and the way of thinking about that.”
Colin Ross, an ISSTD past president and recipient of their “Distinguished Achievement Award”, has devised standardized interview schedule to make DID sound ‘sciency’. With the Dissociative Disorders Interview Schedule (DDIS), according to Ross, one can say, “Well, I made a clinical diagnosis and I confirmed it,”… “And so, in the United States, that is a little bit […] legally protected.”
Ross fully understands the importance of legal protection. In Manitoba, he was accused of malpractice — the worst case of medical malpractice one expert witness claimed to have ever seen — by a former patient, Roma Hart. She claimed Ross had instilled her with bizarre and perverse delusions, including the belief that her family was involved in a Satanic crime-ring, and that Hart herself had been forcibly impregnated by extraterrestrials, even birthing a hybrid infant. Overmedication brought Ms. Hart to the precipice of death on several occasions. Ross relocated to Texas where almost identical claims were brought against him by one Martha Tyo. The hospital settled, and Ross now runs his own research foundation “to further the understanding of psychological trauma and its consequences.”
In 2008, Ross beclowned himself by claiming he could demonstrate “paranormal” eye-beams, measured in EEG. When it was pointed out (by a real scientist) that his readings were merely picking up artifact from blinks and muscle movement, Ross agreed, though he continued to insist his eye-beams were real.
The DDIS contains a series of questions related to “Supernatural/Possession/ESP Experiences/Cults” which, if authored by anybody but Ross, one might reasonably assume to be an attempt to measure delusional beliefs. However, given Ross’s history, and the history of “dissociative disorder” studies in general, it’s not outrageous to wonder if the supernatural claims are taken at face value.
In 2012, a book entitled 22 Faces carried a forward by Ross and an endorsement from ISSTD past president Joyanna Silberg. Marketed as the “true story” of a woman who recovered memories of Satanic abuse, the book was an absurd tale of superstitious paranoia. In it, the protagonist experiences ESP, demonic possession, is abused by levitating Satanists, and is ultimately saved by way of divine intervention when Jesus himself intercedes on her behalf. Silberg writes that she and her peers “are all too familiar with the kinds of crimes and disorders described in 22 Faces.”
And this is where today’s Western, somewhat secularized, witch-hunters currently reside: among psychology’s pseudoscientific fringe; feeding delusion to the mentally vulnerable behind the protection of therapist-client privilege, and under the guise trauma therapy. While they revel in their disturbed pornographic fantasies of child-rape and extreme abuse, they proclaim their critics to be demented defenders of pedophilic assault. They co-opt the narrative of victim’s rights to conceal their absurd conspiracy theories from criticism and scrutiny. To question the validity of DID, or even the reality of a Satanic conspiracy, is — according to this defensive ploy — to question the very existence of child abuse itself. In this way, actual victims of abuse are used as human shields to defend our modern inquisitors as they engage in the most outrageous and under-investigated mental health scandal of our time.
Between the two of them, the authors have attended conferences, seminars, and workshops, spanning Recovered Memory subcultures from Alien Abduction support groups, Ritual Abuse seminars, Past-Life regression sessions, and ISSTD lectures. As they sift through their findings and transcribe their audio, the results will be posted at www.dysgenics.com. They hope to bring reform to the Mental Health field, and promote general awareness of Recovered Memory quackery.