When authority figures, politicians, clergymen, evangelicals and the media either start or fuel rumors of threats presented or crimes being committed by a specific religious grouping, labeling them negatively while also imposing their own take on what any of these labels mean – regardless of the truth of their religious affiliations, and these are circulated and supported by the public to the extent that it sparks a hysteria – this is Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA), also known as “Satanic Panic”. SRA typically consists of misinformation campaigns directed against Satanists, Pagans, traditional African healers, and somewhat like the rest of Africa following a 1980’s trend, this is increasingly becoming a feature of the media landscape in South Africa as well.
Being a feature of what some people consider to be “the occult community”, and considering the mention of vampirism in the recently leaked SAPS memo detailing the reformation of the Occult Related Crime unit, the phenomenon of “Satanic Panic” also affects our community directly.
While in South Africa few mainstream aka “respectable” newspapers plaster sensation-seeking headlines on their front pages screaming “Satanists this” of “Satanists that” – least of all every other day, there has recently been a dramatic increase in articles appearing in small local community based newspapers, which typically display a rather heavy one-sided religious influence in terms of outlook and content.
The result of people speaking or writing indiscriminately against alleged “Satanists”, are: a) an impression being created that ALL Satanists are the same, act the same, believe the same, and do the same harm – and b) in fact EXIST TO DO HARM. This is the premise and foundation of “Satanic Panic”, a.k.a. Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA).
The Daily Sun is one tabloid newspaper that made a name for itself by posting regular sensation-seeking articles about possession, paranormal events, “gay tokoloshe rapes”, the occult, hauntings, poltergeists, alleged cases of ‘vampirism’ – and of course, the ubiquitous “Satanism” – as though these were actual news items. Frighteningly, it seems most of the readership of this paper – claimed to be the most circulated in South Africa, take this sensationalized material seriously.
Articles such as the one which appeared in Look Local Lowveld – a small regional tabloid, on March 8, 2013 – “Local pastor tells of Satanic murder trends – Learners sometimes kill their own families as a sacrifice”. Although this article is a few weeks old now, it provides an ideal example which exhibits all the hallmarks of SRA and shoddy journalism which lends itself out to propaganda and “making news” instead of just reporting it.
When reading a news article which creates the impression that the journalist is running around in small circles while waving their arms hysterically, the intelligent reader should always be on the look-out for the sign-posts which seriously undermine any actual credibility of the article, the information it contains, and the publication itself:
1) “A pastor who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of being victimised has revealed to the Herald that Satanic killings are rife in Randfontein among school children.” – As is typical in most similar articles, an “anonymous pastor” or other evangelical figure makes claims that cannot be proved in any court of law because no evidence exists to support his or her claims. Also, subsequent to the article being published, nothing further is heard about these claims, either in follow-up news reports or police statements about arrests or investigations into these claims delivering evidence etc.
2) “This comes after the murder of Keamogetswe Sefularo (14) who was stabbed and killed by a schoolmate in a veld a few minutes away from Lukhanyo Secondary School.” – Reference is often made to actual cases which are currently being or were recently investigated, but which are in fact unrelated to the claims they make which are frequently vague and obscure. Often these cases themselves have not yet been resolved by police investigation or court action to deliver a definite outcome. Relevant to note in this case, the article is NOT about the case in which a teen was reportedly killed by “Satanists”, but appears to be about unfounded claims being linked by the journalist TO “Satanism” in a manner which can be best described as inciting fearfulness and intolerance. This is usually in an attempt to link them, by using the controversial nature of such cases to draw readership interest at the expense of journalistic integrity, relevance and accuracy.
3) “He has refused to divulge the identities of those who are apparently involved in the group, even though he is adamant that he knows who they are.” – More often than not, they will not reveal their sources or informants who quite naturally, will fear for their lives – which should raise suspicion in the mind of anyone requiring some kind of actual evidence to support a claim that actual crimes are being committed. Further, this helps to create the impression that the target group is prone to violence and generates fearfulness and also sympathy for the cause of the apparent “victims”.
4) “Possessed children tend to isolate themselves from other children and form their own groups.” – Normal teenage behavior is misrepresented as evidence of “involvement in the occult” or as in this case, “possession”. “Normal” (presumably Christian) teenagers of course would “never” form their own groups or want to isolate themselves from other children!
5) “Most children who are in this group are often not aware of what they are getting involved in.” – Neither it would seem, are the adults making these claims. They demonstrate a clear lack of first-hand knowledge about the targeted group. Assumption is made that there is some kind of organized conspiracy, and as is typical with SRA allegations, there is no proof to substantiate such conspiracy. Accusations are made with no evidence or proof, but solely on the basis of rumor and anonymous claims of wrongdoing.
6) “”In most cases, they are lured by evil spirits cast upon them,” says the Pastor.” – Claims of supernatural influence which typically cannot be proven in any form, are applied liberally by accusers in an attempt to justify the claims that there is something untoward or suspicious going on. A secular legal and justice system – as exists in South Africa requires PROOF of crime. Suspicion is not proof, accusation does not confer guilt.
7) ““Again they also tend to label themselves as Emo or even slit their wrists frequently,” says the Pastor.” – Benign yet misunderstood fashions and styles are ignorantly conflated with preconceptions of “occult” or harmful behavior. Is there any evidence of self-harm i.e. “cutting”, or is it an assumption that because someone dresses according to a certain style or listens to a certain style of music that they automatically self-harm? This is the same fallacious nonsense that blames music or computer games for people going out on shooting sprees. In this way, other sub-cultures are maligned in parallel to a targeted religion, allowing the critics of diversity to kill two birds with one stone.
8) “He says that they sometimes kill their own families as a sacrifice.” “He adds that children go as far as killing their own parents and siblings at times in order to drink their blood.” “Randfontein SAPS spokesperson Captain Appel Ernst says that despite the pastor’s allegations, the police have not seen any evidence to support his claims. “We have seen no evidence of an active occult related group in Randfontein, or of any murders that could be related to rituals or the occult,” says Ernst.” – Since there have been no confirmed media reports and no confirmed criminal convictions of that nature – or any evidence – to support such claims, even the police officer interviewed in this article denies that this is the case. As with most incidents of SRA, these usually turn out to be false or fabricated allegations based on nothing but ignorance and malicious and idle rumors.
There are so many recent examples of SRA reports in the media, where strange events and also allegations of crime are broadly alleged without so much as a thread of evidence or proof and loads of speculation. If these are spoofs or satirical pieces, then fine and well – but they are being presented as news in which religious groups and subcultures are portrayed piece-meal as a dangerous threat that should be dealt with by the police!
These articles will often feature commentary from a well-known “expert” in “the occult” and “Satanism”, who will do nothing more than to fuel the curiosity and hysteria – and hostility for alternative religious movements often accused of “Satanism”.
Since most of these so-called “experts” make a living from their consultations (whether directly or indirectly) it is only in their best interests to reinforce the public perception that they are needed and necessary and that they serve a useful and vital purpose. Naturally, this means putting an “occultic spin” on every little detail of a case allegedly involving “Satanism”, frequently even when the crime at hand is no more than a run of the mill criminal act where the religion of the perpetrator plays no part at all.
The public – and frequently also State officials, tend to forget Constitutional provisions for freedom of religion, and pretty soon there is a free-for-all in chat rooms, and in the comments threads of these articles, frequently condemning democratic human rights values, demanding the return of the death penalty – and often threatening vigilantism against perceived “Satanists” or witches.
Also a given in such media cases of SRA, is the tendency for journalists and editors to treat clerics making such outlandish and unproven claims as “reliable sources” without even considering for a moment the harm they are doing by perpetuating untruths and hearsay.
Consider replacing the word “occult” with “Jew” or the word “Satanist” in these articles with “Black”, “Muslim” or “Christian” and you will understand where the violation of human rights enters the equation.
Often, media will interview or consult with well-known “experts” in “the occult” or “Satanism”, who frequently turn out to be frauds who actually do not know much about either, except from the very narrow scope of an evangelical crusader who has taken on the mantle of a self-proclaimed “expert” in a sub-culture or religious movement which he or she works against. Giving these people publicity and allowing them to use media as a platform to perpetuate their own misunderstanding and to disseminate disinformation of these maligned groups lends them credibility and encourages them even more.
Frequently this unfortunate tendency results in others not wanting to accept the explanations or attempts to educate of these maligned groups, because people dogmatically refuse to believe them on the grounds that their explanations conflict with what “Pastor X” (or the newspaper under the leaky fridge) says about Satanism. And yet, nine times out of ten, if you will – “Pastor X” has never ventured outside of his own religion, but has learned all he knows about Satanism and the occult at Bible college, or from another pastor who held similar views – or in the case of the SAPS ORC unit operatives, a mere 5 day course under a former ORC Version 1.0 agent – most of which now run their own “Warfare Ministries” who specifically target perceived occult religions and Satanism. Does this not spell bias? And these people call themselves “experts”? Where is the PROOF of the things they claim? Are they impartial? No. Are they fair? Are they constitutional? I think you can see for yourselves that they are not.
And yet these “experts” and newspapers, and TV actuality programs that perpetuate the Satanic Panic phenomenon will lie with straight faces when they associate Pagans, Witches, self-identified Vampyres and even traditional African healers with “Satanism” and crimes which they claim were committed by “Satanists” – and the Press Ombudsman “will not entertain” our complaints.
In the past few months, the SAPS and other bodies, including at least one political party, have ignored attempts by the Pagan community in the form of the SAPRA to engage on the current issue of the SAPS ORC unit and its unconstitutional and prejudicial policies and cavalier dismissal of public objections. This failure of government to engage in public debate with the people is a deeply troubling trend in what is supposed to be a democracy, and one that was once optimistically called a “miracle”.
In recent South African history – in a time when oppression is supposed to be something of the past, blind eyes and deaf ears are being turned toward complaints about the deliberate demonization and scapegoating of individuals, and the impugning of their dignity based on their constitutional right to exercise their freedoms of religion, speech, association and expression.