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Behind the Footnotes, Jamestown Satanic Panic Founded in a Deluded Evangelical Zeal

Satanic Panic by Jeffrey S. Victor is a great book for its empirical thoroughness, tracking the spread of rumors about Satanic cults across the United States in the 1980s, documenting a complete lack of evidence for actual cult activity, and working to explain how an utterly fictitious threat could have aroused a vivid campaign of rhetoric, harassment, death threats and even incarceration targeting innocent people. Here’s a video of Irregular Times’ J. Clifford sharing his thoughts on the book in 2008:

Victor leaped into the research project as a professor in Jamestown, when a panic regarding the supposed activities of a satanic cult and the supposedly imminent abduction of a blond-haired, blue-eyed virgin swept the city in southwestern New York in April and May of 1988. He quickly tasked his undergraduate class with the task of collecting community interviews while he collaborated with journalists and law enforcement officials to uncover all available evidence, artifacts and other information about the supposed events. The result is an impressive chronology of the events comprising the moral panic sweeping through Jamestown.

I found the events of April 16-18, 1988 to be especially interesting. From Satanic Panic pp. 34-35:

April 16-17, 1988. Event. 1) Two out-of-town religious “experts” on Satanism speak at a local fundamentalist church, where they were invited to speak to teenagers in response to concerns of several parents about teenage Satanists in the area. One of these “experts” claims to have been a former member of a Satanic cult.

Event. 2) The two “experts” on Satanism are taken by some church youth to be shown a purported ritual meeting site, in a wooded area called “the hundred acre lot.” While there, they are stopped by police, who are also there investigating the rumored “ritual site.”

Event. 3) The Jamestown police investigate the rumored “ritual site.” The site consists of a campfire, surrounded by trees which are spray painted with the words: “Get Stoned,” “High Times,” and “ZZ RATT,” and symbols including a flower and a five-pointed star. (Note: High Times is a drug-oriented magazine and ZZ RATT is the name of a heavy metal rock band.)

April 18, 1988. Event. College custodians go to the “hundred acre lot,” in back of Jamestown Community College, after learning about the police investigation. There, they find twenty-five pamphlets in plastic envelopes around the alleged “ritual site.” Some people who learn about the pamphlets assert that they were left there by the Satanic cult as propaganda. (These pamphlets were actually cartoon gospel tracts, published by a fundamentalist press and having an an anti-Satanist message. — Footnote 5)

Footnote 5 refers us to a Christian tract (like the sort you often find left in highway restrooms) written by Jack Chick entitled “The Poor Little Witch.” It just so happens that Jack Chick’s Christian tract business is still in operation 23 years later; you can read the whole tract for yourself online. “The Poor Little Witch” is not just any old Christian tract, and it has more than an anti-Satanist message. The entire subject of the tract is the supposed presence of secret Satanic cults in American communities, cults that ritually sacrifice innocent babies:

Excerpt from Jack Chick tract The Poor Little Witch, depicting a Satanic ritual sacrifice

With teachers seeking to recruit impressionable schoolchildren:

Excerpt from Jack Chick Christian tract The Poor Little Witch depicting a teacher recruiting a student into a Satanic cult

This was the tract found in the woods by the college custodians after church youth and the pair of “experts” on Satanic cults visited the site. And who is this pair of “experts,” one of whom claimed to have been a former member of a Satanic cult? Jeffrey Victor doesn’t name them in Satanic Panic. But a number of sources (+see here, here, here and especially — if your library has a newsbank — the Hamilton Spectator news article of August 28 1999, “Love Offering not Big Enough to keep Demon Warrior in Town,” and Jeffrey Victor’s expanded analysis in New York Folklore volume 15 number 2) point us to the answer:

  • Jack Chick based his tract “The Poor Little Witch” on interviews with “Dr. Rebecca Brown” (born Ruth Bailey) and “Elaine” (real name Edna Moses)
  • Jack Chick also published books by “Dr. Rebecca Brown” and “Elaine” in which “Dr. Brown” plays the part of the “expert” and “Elaine” plays the part of the former Satanic cult member
  • Through the late 1980s, Chick Ministries made “Dr. Rebecca Brown” and “Elaine” available for community visits to churches “to assist with interpretation of signs and symbols, to answer questions, or be of assistance should you have an emergency need in the ‘rescue’ of a Satanist.”
  • Before changing her name to “Dr. Rebecca Brown,” Dr. Ruth Bailey lost her medical license for obtaining multiple prescriptions on false pretenses and administering large doses of Demerol and Phenobarbital to herself, “Elaine” and “Elaine’s” 15-year-old daughter
  • No verifiable evidence for the existence of the satanic cults described by “Dr. Rebecca Brown” and “Elaine” has been produced

As the Hamilton Spectator article explains, “Dr. Rebecca Brown” continued to obtain money for her itinerant talks to churches on the danger of Satanic cults into the late 1990s, making trips to Jamaica as late as 2002 when demand for her conspiracy sermons dried up in the United States and Canada. “Dr. Rebecca Brown” continues to operate through a website called “Harvest Warriors Outreach Ministries”, part of a for-profit enterprise called Solid Rock Family Enterprises, Inc.

The Satanic Panic of Jamestown, New York in 1988 was not a spontaneous outburst of anti-cult fervor that came out of nowhere. The episode, which Jeffrey Victor documents produced harassment and significant destruction of property carried out against non-Christians, was the product of evangelistic Christian media and deluded church-sponsored fervor.

The social dynamics that reached their peak in the Jamestown panic of 1988 didn’t end in 1988. In 1991, Jamestown area parent Marcia A. Ryan (see Jeffrey Victor, p. 159) led a wave of Christian activism to ban the Impressions curriculum from her local elementary school’s curriculum. The danger, as Ryan explained it:

We want to trust our teachers, but it only takes one teacher to teach Satan and ruin a child.

Where would Ryan have gotten an idea like that?

Excerpt from Jack Chick Christian tract The Poor Little Witch depicting a teacher recruiting a student into a Satanic cult

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