Greed, fear, envy, anger -- the mob is usually driven mad by the vices. But almost as often, it can go out of its mind from fits of virtue as well. It seems as though even morality, when it is taken up by a mass of unthinking human beings, becomes corrupt.
Why this should be so is not hard to figure out. The man way-laid on the road in the Gospels was not picked up and cared for by a mob of Good Samaritans, but by one.
There was only one widow who dropped her mite into the collection plate at the synagogue. Only one leper out of a dozen came back to thank Jesus for healing him. Goodness, gratitude, or generosity needs effort. It needs a man to rise to his best, not sink to his worst. But the mob is nothing more than a group of men sinking to their worst.
And nothing makes it easier for men to sink to their worst than the newspapers, because everyone, everywhere reads them. They are ubiquitous. You could as soon avoid them as you could put a halt to your breathing. And they crawl with every half-baked idea and claptrap sentiment around in the same way a hospital teems with germs. You are bound to catch something just by putting your nose into one.
Newspapers, you see, do not simply give you the news, as they are said to, in the way that you are given a bunch of apples at the grocer’s or fresh fish at the market. You would recognize a granny smith or a slab of hake no matter where you found them. But how do you tell news from anything else? News is simply what the newspapers tell you it is.
If, tomorrow, the Times of London decides to write about the employment rate among teenagers in Birmingham, then that is news. Teenagers have always been around in Birmingham, but until they got into the Times they were not news. That is to say they were not considered worthy of being served up with breakfast to half the population of Britain. Why they should now be served up is an entirely arbitrary matter. The Times might as well have served up Icelandic folk dancing or the Pope’s views on transubstantiation or the contents of the yellow pages for all it really matters to you.
But once something shows up in the papers, it immediately becomes of the greatest importance to every literate adult in the area -- and most of the illiterate ones as well. They forget their own private affairs -- the loan that must be repaid, the garden that must be mowed, the friend who must be visited -- and instead they give themselves over to earnest cogitation over matters about which they know nothing. Then, they come to believe whatever humbug is being dished out by the guardians of public morals in the press. And before you know it, there is a full-blown moral panic in swing, with every good citizen looking for devils in his closet and under his bed.
We turn to a moral panic of the past, those who write the stories of yesteryear have no more of a grip on it than those who keep us up to date with pending business. In history, we encounter a genre of fiction so bizarre that we would wince if we found it within the covers of a book.
Such was the case of witchcraft in 17th century Europe as told by novelist Aldous Huxley.
The Devils of Loudon
Urban Grandier, priest of the parish of Loudon in France, is a handsome, proud man. With a secret. He is a successful seducer of women, who has already gotten one woman, a local nobleman’s daughter, pregnant. It is a time of trouble: France is being laid waste by plague and war; Catholics and Protestants are fighting each other, and the walled Protestant strong hold of Loudon had just managed to make a tentative peace with the rest of Catholic France. At the court of Louis XIII, the power-mad Cardinal Richelieu is using the situation to consolidate his control over the country. Richelieu tries to force Loudon to tear down its walls, so that he can claim the city for the Catholics and wipe out its Protestant population. Only an old agreement and the defiant Grandier stand between Richelieu and Loudon.
As Huxley tells the tale, in the feverish atmosphere in the town, sexual tension builds up. Almost all the parish nuns are in love with the handsome priest. One, Sister Jeane, is even given to bouts of self-mutilation to keep her feelings in check, since her deformed back makes her passion twice as futile. Then, the priest finds his true love in a devoutly religious woman and marries her in a secret ceremony he conducts in his own church. Sister Jeane goes completely mad, spreading accusations that Grandier is a sorcerer. She accuses him of raping her, in league with Satan. An exorcist is called in, but things grow worse. Soon, Jeane’s hysteria has spread to the whole convent and all the nuns now claim to be victims of satanic molestations. Grandier is tried, tortured, and burnt at the stake as a sorcerer, although he protests his innocence to the end. Four years later, the nuns are still being subjected to exorcisms to get rid of their demons and the city has fallen to the Catholics.
Loudon is thought to be the worst case of mass possession and sexual hysteria in the western world. As the modern world emerged from the old feudal one, there were hundreds of similar cases, the Salem witch trials in 1692 in colonial America, being the most notorious today. All told, the European witch hunts -- the worst of which began around 1450 and continued until the mid-18th century -- killed between 40,000-100,000 witches at the least, with many more accused but not executed.
The persecution of witches -- the Great Burning, it was called -- had all the hallmarks of an episode of mass mania. There was popular hysteria and unpopular victims; there were sensational pamphlets, misbegotten theories… sex, lies, and… devils. It could have been mistaken for a session of Congress.
A Mythology of Witches
The witch hunts soon sprouted a rain forest of explanations and theories by historians . . . and, as always in a public spectacle, they were the most entertaining part of the whole business. For, just as it is a fib that newspapers deliver the news as immaculately as the virgin birth, it is as much a fib that history brings back the past as accurately as a truth serum.
Instead, the preferences, passions, and politics of today creep into yesteryear’s old story and distort it until it is unrecognizable.
So too for the witch hunts. For a long time, one popular theory was that they were simply a campaign run by the Catholic Church against heretics and pagans. We were told that the whole thing was sanctioned and propelled by that monstrous medieval creation, the Inquisition. We were supposed to think of the Great Burning as a kind of Catholic Final Solution, the sort of thing we could expect from a covey of irrational and superstitious old fogies in colorful drag, in the days before Progress showered her blessings on the planet.
But the closer that historians have looked at what happened, the more this fraud -- so flattering to modern minds -- has fallen apart. In fact, (although Loudon itself was not a typical case), the prosecuting officials at most witch trials were usually secular. And politics, rather than religion, was what drove most prosecutions. Almost all the witchcraft trials took place in areas where there was a loosening of central authority, where there were frequent border disputes, and where Protestant-Catholic tensions were heightened.
Then, too, very often it was the secular courts that dealt the most extreme punishments to those who were convicted, not the church courts. Indeed, from the earliest times, Christian kingdoms were urged to protect men and women from charges of witchcraft, which were felt to be un-Christian. Of course, the Church did forbid the practice of magick, but it usually assigned relatively mild penalties to those convicted of it. The witches were seen as deluded more than wicked.
For instance, this is what the Confessional of Egbert (England, 950-1000 A.D.) recommends: "If a woman works witchcraft and enchantment and [uses] magical philters, she shall fast [on bread and water] for twelve months... If she kills anyone by her philters, she shall fast for seven years."
Now, admittedly, there were always laws allowing the aristocracy to persecute witches all through Western Europe, right from the early middle ages. Under the barbarian codes (such as the Salic laws and the Norse codes), witches who committed magical harm paid a fine. This was very similar to the fine imposed on people who committed any sort of physical attack. And later, when Europe was Christianized, the stakes -- in a manner of speaking -- did get higher. Roman law brought in the burning of witches; then, along came punishment by drowning and the use of red hot irons. Even so, during this earlier period of persecution, actual trials of witches were less widespread; and when witches were tried, they were tried as heretics, as Joan of Arc was. They were treated as erring believers and given the chance to recant and repent. Only if they did not were they put to death. The civil courts were in the business of “protecting” society by punishing and killing convicted criminals, but the Church's court system, at least in theory, was supposed to "save" them. It was meant to rehabilitate them into good Christians. Execution was only for the most hardened sinners.
The result was that large-scale witch hunts only really became common later, during the Renaissance. The very fiercest hunts took place in the 1620s and 1630s, in German-speaking areas, not in the strongholds of the Inquisition, in Italy and Spain, as you would otherwise think. In fact, it was only where the central authority of the church or the state had broken down because of religious war that witch hunting was popular.
Where does that leave us? Instead of a neat fable about progress, modernity, and the spread of reason and light, we get an unsettling paradox: The worst frenzies of witch-hunting took place not in the Dark Ages, not in a murky fog of superstition and irrationality… but in the clear dawn of Enlightenment, in the Century of Genius, in the days of Descartes, Locke, and Pascal.
Then there is Myth Number Two. Many modern pagans like to argue that the Great Hunt was intended to stamp out pre-Christian religions. Satan was really one of the old horned gods who had been, literally, demonized by the Church, they claim
Here, too, the facts trip us up. For most of the Middle Ages, the Church saw witchcraft not as a separate religion, pre-Christian or anything else, but simply as a heresy. It saw witchcraft as a mistake made by people who were otherwise believing Christians. The names of pagan deities did crop up in the language of the witches, but by the time of the mass hunts, witchcraft had become associated with the devil, not with natural forces. Witches were pitiful tools of Satan, not powerful magicians casting spells with nature.
It looks much more likely that the churchmen were not really attacking pagans so much as defending Christianity. They wanted to make sure that people didn’t think they could really conjure and cast spells on their own; otherwise, they might stop believing that the Christian God was all powerful. That may have been the real reason why Satan got dragged into the whole business -- to make it black and white: one powerful devil and one even more powerful God. If you let planets, stars, faeries, hexagrams and wee green men into the thing, people would get confused and simply stop believing altogether. So, the priests had to “black”-wash magic. They had to make sure people saw that it was diabolical… serious business… not simply long haired women in muumuus playing ring-a-roses in the moonlight. And, since it was during the Renaissance that people were most fascinated with things like astrology and fortune telling, that may be why the first mass trials of witches in Europe took place then -- when Christianity had begun to fade out -- and not in the Middle Ages, when it was powerful.
Mind you, what is interesting in all this is not the exact details of who struck John when… half a millennium ago. What is puzzling, instead, is how intelligent people should have overlooked the possibility that historians might have their own reasons for rewriting history too. No one seems to have thought to ask if anyone stands to gain anything today by depicting the church back then as the eternal foe of sweetness and light.
It is not as if we have a dog in this fight. We have no particular reason to believe that the churchmen were any better than they have been painted. They might even be worse. But if we are unwilling to take the church in the 17th century at its face value, we wonder why we should be expected to take feminist historians in the 20th at theirs.
Especially when it comes to the war of the sexes, where they might have an axe to grind.
Take Myth Number Three, that the witchcraft craze was an attack on women healers and midwives by a male hierarchy that was threatened by their skill. We are inclined to think that that theory, too, can be put to rest. The record seems to show, to the contrary, that whenever suspected witches were found to have had healing powers or to have been midwives, they were actually less likely to have been brought to trial. And though the majority of witches were older women, we also now know that some of those who were tried, like Father Grandier, were males. And that, like Sister Jeane, the accusers were often females.
If it was misogyny that drove the trials as some historians like to argue, then a good number of the worst misogynists seem to have been women. Which is what we have always suspected.
In any case, although there was plenty of misogyny on display at the trials, a much bigger reason for what went on was that that there were all too many witches eager to blame their rivals for whatever calamities visited their community. In short, there was professional rivalry. Inter-witch office politics. Not to put too fine a point on it, some of this boiled down to cat-fighting.
How can one be sure? Well, of course, one can’t. One can hardly be sure what happened a day ago under one’s own roof, much less five hundred years ago in a remote village in France. No, one can’t be sure. But the problem is, practically everyone else writing history seems to be. And that is what creates public spectacles in the first place -- the delightful certainty with which ordinary people read history or the front pages of their newspapers, convinced they know about fifteenth century Wurzberg what no one could possibly know about twenty-first century Washington. Which is how it has been possible for some feminists to create… and maintain… the dogma that the witch hunts were nothing more or less than a gender holocaust of women.
But, the truth -- if one can ever come up with a fixed truth in such matters -- is that a significant number of witches killed in the Great Hunt were men, up to 95% in one country: Iceland. And, there never was a time or a place where the majority of witches killed were healers. In most places, only around 20% of accused witches were even healers or midwives. And, often, it was the presence of the church that checked the persecution.
It was not Spanish chivalry, for instance, that was behind the low level of dead witches in Spain. Instead, it was the presence of the Spanish Inquisition, which tended to take a lighter and more circumspect approach to conviction than the secular courts. In fact, when the Inquisition lost control, Spanish men killed several hundred witches. So much for Don Quixote. Nor did the Germans kill more witches because of an innate Germanic tendency to mass slaughter. The real reason seems to have been a good deal less exciting. Unlike the rest of Europe, Germany was made up almost completely of local courts -- and since local courts killed 90% of all accused witches (versus 30% in the national courts), German witches suffered more than most (26,000 deaths).
Why local courts? Because, witchcraft cases were rife with panic and public hysteria, so the courts closer to the ground tended to be more infected by mob psychology. National courts were simply more insulated.
Witness for the Persecution
But, then we are left with another problem. If the witchcraft trials of early modern Europe were not a purge of women healers and moon-worshipers by patriarchal, Catholic inquisitors, how did they ever come about? What made whole villages turn on elderly women -- most witches were over the age of fifty, which in those days was a fairly advanced age -- and accuse them of the most bizarre behavior?
In Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, Charles Mackay describes a typical manifestation of witches in the south of France:
In 1619, Pierre de l’Ancre, member of the parliament of Bourdeaux, came to the town of Labourt at the foot of the Pyrenees to inquire why there were so many witches there. The number of persons brought to trial was about forty a day and the acquittals did not average even five percent.
The numbers themselves indicate a kind of contagion of feeling. And Mackay’s description of the lurid confessions proves this:
All the witches confessed that they had been present at the great Domdaniel, or Sabbath. At these Saturnalia, the devil sat upon a large gilded throne, sometimes in the form of a goat; sometimes as a gentleman, dressed all in black, with boots, spurs, and sword; and very often as a shapeless mass, resembling the trunk of a blasted tree, seen indistinctly among the darkness. They generally proceeded to the Domdaniel, riding on spits, pitchforks, or broomsticks, and on their arrival indulged with the fiends in every species of debauchery.
But how could all the witches have concurred in such extraordinary detail? Isn’t that more than a little strange? Why, at a traffic accident, can one hardly get three witnesses to agree to what happened? One swears he saw nothing, the other two will tell you tales as far apart as the innards of their wrecked cars are scattered. But here, all involved seem to have undergone the same experience down to the finest detail.
Common sense tells us they could not have… and, indeed, they did not. What the witches are repeating, Mackay tells us, is simply what they have heard from somewhere else. But where did they hear it? Not from the local superstitions of peasants in the Pyrenees, as one might think:
No, quite the contrary. As Mackay writes:
Several who were arrested confessed, without being tortured, that they were weir-wolves, and that at night they rushed out among the flocks and herds killing and devouring… Such criminals were thought to be too atrocious to be hanged first and then burned; they were generally sentenced to be burned alive, and their ashes to be scattered to the winds. Grave and learned doctors of divinity openly sustained the possibility of these transformations, relying mainly upon the history of Nebuchadnezzar. They could not understand why, if he had been an ox, modern man could not become wolves by Divine permission and the power of the devil.
And there it is. The grotesque details had filtered down to the witches not from ignoramuses and illiterates but from intellectuals and doctors of divinity, from pointy heads of the pointiest headed variety… who were themselves going by no more than what they had read in the story of Nebuchadnezzar in the Bible. Talk about “blowing in the wind”!
Then, the most gullible, impressionable minds picked up the rumors and repeated them ad nauseam till the craze had spread like a typhus epidemic through the breadth and length of the continent.
What was extraordinary also was that no outside evidence was needed. So powerfully had the old stories about the devil put down roots in the minds of the mob that what the witches confessed was alone enough to convict, even if the confession came only after bouts of torture:
They also contended that, if men should confess, it was evidence enough, if there had been no other. Delrio mentions that one gentleman accused on lycanthropy was put to the torture no less than twenty times; but still he would not confess. An intoxicating draught was then given him, and under its influence he confessed that he was a weir-wolf. Delrio cites this to shew the extreme equity of the commissioners. They never burned any body till he confessed; and if one course of torture would not suffice, their patience was not exhausted, and they tried him again and again, even to the twentieth time!
What’s more, even when it was well known that an innocent person was being tried and that his accusers were only motivated by the desire to ruin him, the trials were allowed to run their course… like some kind of incurable fever. It seemed that the troublemakers knew their audience well. They knew that the very absurdity of some of the hysterical charges made it easy to believe they were the work of the devil:
Here is Mackay again on what he calls, “The trial of the unhappy Urbain Grandier” for “an accusation resorted to by his enemies to ruin one against whom no other charge could be brought so readily”:
This noted affair, which kept France in commotion for months, and the true character of which was known even at that time, merits no more than a passing notice in this place. It did not spring from the epidemic dread of sorcery then so prevalent, but was carried on by wretched intriguers, who had sworn to have the life of their foe. Such a charge could not be refuted in 1634; the accused could not, as Bodinus expresses it, “make the malice of the prosecutors more clear than the sun;” and his own denial, however intelligible, honest, and straightforward, was held as nothing in refutation of the testimony of the crazy women who imagined themselves bewitched. The more absurd and contradictory their assertions, the stronger the argument employed by his enemies that the devil was in them. He was burned alive under circumstances of great cruelty.
Which only goes to show that mob stupidity is never the sole force behind moral panics or manias. It takes much more than a credulous peasant to start things going, to give the little shove that sets the snowball of accusations avalanching down the slope to general panic. What you really need is a credulous pedant, a half-baked professor, armed with damp formulas and moldy evidence out of a dog-eared textbook; what you need are dusty manuals that no one has read but that everyone knows by heart; you need catchy phrases that spray around and lodge themselves like bird-shot in the fuzzy neo-cortexes of the masses.
It was only because clever chaps in Paris already believed in a cloven-footed fiend dressed in black that dunces in the Pyrenees who thought they spotted something funny going on could do a double take and find the devil –literally -- in the details. And then, after that, it only took rumor and mimicry before the panic took over.
As Jenny Gibbons, a revisionist historian of the Great Hunt, writes: “It was the combination of learned thought with real factors on the ground (as there really were heretics and people claiming magical powers) that turned deadly.”
And this was true even earlier in the Middle Ages, when the accusations were of heresy. It was not illiterate fools who drove the persecution of the witches. It was the bigger, literate, fools. Once more, it was not what people did not know that proved their undoing, it was what they thought they knew… that wasn’t so. And what the devil did was one of those things that wasn’t so.
So we end up with a conundrum: the rise of the Enlightenment, far from destroying belief in the devil, might actually have strengthened it in the beginning, because as we have seen, if you didn’t have a devil to kick around, whom could you blame magic on? Blaming magic on magicians would undermine belief in the omnipotence of god. And even those who accepted the new science -- people like Thomas More -- still wanted to believe in God. Why, even free thinkers like the atheistic political theorist, Thomas Hobbes, felt witches needed to be tried for the intent to commit maleficia (malevolent acts), even though he didn’t really believe they were really capable of doing much of anything. “Reason” -- with a capital R -- amounted to just one more reason -- small r -- to try witches.
Meanwhile, as with all public spectacles, the details of what people imagined the devil to be up to increased in inverse proportion to their actual encounters with him. Precisely because no one had actually run into Satan, he proved to be a convenient nail on which to hang every twisted fantasy, repressed desire, and foul imagining that ever swirled in bookish, anemic heads.
The Hammer of Witches
But there was one more way in which misbegotten words managed to fan the flames of mob madness. And that was through the book that, rightly or wrongly, came to symbolize the Great Hunt, The Malleus Maleficorum (The Hammer of the Witches).
“All wickedness," runs this little gem, "is but little to the wickedness of a woman. . . . What else is woman but a foe to friendship, an unescapable punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a desirable calamity, domestic danger, a delectable detriment, an evil nature, painted with fair colours. . . . Women are by nature instruments of Satan -- they are by nature carnal, a structural defect rooted in the original creation."
Not a lady’s man, the author. It turns out that this one book not only affected the trials but changed the way historians for the next several centuries would see them.
The Malleus was largely written by Heinrich Kramer (along with Jacob Sprenger), two German inquisitors. Kramer’s views on witchcraft were actually outre and extreme by the standards of most of clerics. In fact, at one of Kramer’s trials, in 1485, the local bishop was so outraged with the inquisitor’s lurid fascination with the sex life of the witches that he ended the proceedings, claiming that the only devil around was inside Kramer.
The real reason The Malleus ever became popular was because Kramer managed to talk Pope Innocent -- who had never read it -- into writing a bull endorsing it. The pope was inordinately scared of witches and eager to oblige. Kramer then forged a recommendation from the Inquisition’s theologians, even though the Inquisition actually condemned him a few years after The Malleus was published. They thought his theology was all wrong and that he knew nothing about demons to boot. Because of the condemnation, most of the church courts actually ignored the book. But the civil courts were fooled. They took up The Malleus with so much glee that when witch burning hit full-stride in the middle of the 16th century, it was the one manual witch hunters automatically reached for. It became one of the hottest items off the new printing presses, and it skewed historians’ views the trials forever.
How? Because The Malleus was so drenched with Kramer's sexual obsessions and misogyny that it made generations of readers believe that the witches and their prosecutors were also steeped in perversion. And it fed the imaginations of the prosecutors and the witches -- many of whom simply regurgitated the book’s obscene drivel in their coerced confessions. And drivel it was. Kramer apparently suffered from the delusion that his private parts were capable of midnight perambulations. He even devoted seven chapters to the grotesque things he thought witches were liable to do to them.
Nonetheless, while The Malleus might tell you precious little about what went on inside 16th century witches’ heads, you get a panoramic tour of the demented interior of one inquisitor’s skull.
Like most books since, The Malleus turns out to be more about its author than about its subject matter.
But there’s another sense in which the witch trials really do turn out to be about sex, after all. How could they not have been when they were such a popular mania for so long? For, isn’t it the case that much of what happens in life is about reproductive fitness? The male at the head of the pack gets the female, we said earlier. Daily life seems to be all about strutting one’s stuff, butting one’s antlers up against someone else’s, sending out pheromones, looking buff and flashing gaudier colors… more seductive scents… than the next fellow. A public spectacle is no different, only grander, with more people, and played out on a bigger stage.
But what complicates things in a public spectacle is that the mating rituals, the cockfights, the testosterone displays are all obscured by soothing rationalizations. They get smothered in a thick layer of verbiage. So, instead of seeing the spectacle for what it is, we get misled by the blather of the popular press or the preenings of would-be intellectuals… deluded by the ravings of ideologues. No much of what any of these soothsayers have to say has much substance in it, of course. Most of it is mere hot air, the wordy palaver of the neo-cortex, busy rationalizing and justifying the preferences of the libido. But the problem is that confronted with clever words, we start to think we really do know what is going on in public or in the papers, as though it were all a little ruckus on our front lawn or a squabble between first cousins. We begin to think we understand what the problem is, and before long, we even start to think we know how to set it straight. And then, of course, we shoot ourselves in the foot.
The witch hunts certainly fit into the general scheme of a mass mania; they, too, are a variation of the reproductive game. But in their case, the game is not about winners -- the tall CEOs, comely models, and flashy Hummers of the modern world. It is about the losers of the late medieval world.
Who, after all, were the victims? Not the well endowed, the rich, the intelligent, or the educated. No, the witches were mostly losers in the mating game. Older women, who were unmarried and poor. Women made single by choice or need. Childless. Dependent on the charity of contemptuous relatives. The kind of people it would be easy to pick on, to poke fun at and to blame if anything did go wrong somewhere. Most witches were also alienated from ordinary family life; there were seen as "different" by their neighbors; they were disliked and feared. They did not fit easily into any part of society but moved freely outside them. It was easy for a happy housewife to imagine that the barren crone in the shack outside her home was eaten up inside with envy and only waiting to cast an evil eye on her more prosperous neighbors.
After the horrible ravages of the Black Death (1347-1349), especially, rumors of this sort multiplied. Stories about malign outsiders conspiring against the Christian kingdom quickly become popular… growing in intensity especially toward pariah groups like Jews and lepers, Moslems and witches.
Witches were feared as plague-spreaders, as poisoners, as workers of black magic on the community. They were the losers in the reproductive game.
Then at the heights of the Reformation, when central authority broke down, it was natural that the rumors would grow thicker, spread and burst into wild, cyclical panics.
And that is the problem with the glib little neo-cortex. It can always find plausible reasons, cunning justifications, impeccable logic… to do what it means to do anyway, and means to do for the most senseless of reasons. There would be nothing wrong with any of that, of course, if we could only see through the rationalization.
But then, we would not have a public spectacle on our hands, would we?
Satan in America
In his research on the witch hunt, historian Norman Cohn thinks he sees a single persistent theme of paranoia centering around the idea of the infiltration and destruction of a larger group by a small, well-organized, and clandestine sub-group given to diabolical practices. He is not the only one. Elaine Pagels, a professor of religion at Princeton University, reaches a similar conclusion in The Origin of Satan. She examines how the earliest Christians made their opponents out to be the devil. First the Jews demonized Christ; then, the Romans persecuted his followers; finally, it was the turn of Christians to harass those who disagreed with them -- by accusing them of being in league with Satan.
Pagels finds this an enduring pattern in Western culture, “especially,” she says, “when we are thinking politically and socially.”
Looked at this way, the myth of the diabolical conspiracy appears first during the second century, where it is directed against the early Christians. Next, it shows up again in the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany. And then, with a leap and a bound, it comes calling in the satanic child abuse cases in America in the 1980s and 1990s.
With a difference. The child abuse panic had two elements, not just one. Fear of child abuse and fear of Satanism. For that reason, it was doubly poisonous.
And doubly useful. Mass panics are, after all, useful to society. Finding an out-group to hate seems to be one way in which groups solidify the bonds between their members. Getting every one inside to point and cackle at the odd fellows outside seems guaranteed to make them feel superior. The more they feel one up on the loathsome outsider, the more they confirm their own standing in the group. It almost seems as if aggression against other people might be a survival strategy as deeply coded into our genes as the desire to reproduce with the fittest specimens we can attract or as the urge to protect our offspring.
If so, a realist might ask with a shrug, why bother? If war and persecution are part of our genes, the human race will just have to get used to it. After all, we’ve been around for thousands of years and haven’t wiped ourselves out yet. Perhaps periodic bouts of carnage are a way of keeping our numbers down, expelling our aggressive instincts and forging closer ties with our own cultural groups. May the best man win.
“War is the health of the state,” wrote Clausewitz. Maybe it is even more than that. Maybe it is the health of humanity. Maybe a periodic blood-letting is as needed by the body politic as it was once believed necessary to keep the human body healthy.
We have no way to say if that is really the case or not. But it does occur to us to ask why -- if aggression is hard-wired in our brains -- we have managed to go long stretches without it? If war is so inevitably a part of human nature, you would expect to find every epoch equally drenched in blood. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.
In the nineteenth century there was a long bout of peace in Europe after the defeat of Napoleon in 1815. In 265 BC, during the classical period of India, the emperor Ashoka, became appalled by his slaughter of over a 100,000 people at the battle of Kalinga, laid down his sword and never took it up again. Except for two wars in the seventeenth century, the Edo Period (1603-1867 AD) in Japan, under the Tokugawa Shogunate, was a remarkable age of peace, prosperity, and scientific and technical achievement. And witches, for instance, seem to have been coexisting with Christians during the Middle Ages, if not lovingly, at least with less blood shed than during the Great Burning. And after those two hundred years of persecutions, witches once again went back to coexisting with society in relative peace.
That tells us something. Even if our genes do flex their muscles automatically, like Popeye on spinach, it seems to take a lot more than just genetic predisposition to bring about actual carnage in the world. What undid the witches seems to have been not genes but a combination of things. First, there seems to have been a series of stressful events in the environment -- the Black Plague, the break up of Christendom into Catholics and Protestants and the wars that followed. Then, there was the presence of outsiders -- unmarried elderly women -- who did not fit into the community; finally and most importantly, it took a set of idea -- bad ideas -- percolating down from the intellectuals to the masses and infecting them. Once it got going, the panic was also exponentially increased by the invention, earlier in the Renaissance, of printing.
Printing was what made possible the one single event that pulled it all together and forced the panic to move along faster. And that was the publication of The Malleus Maleficorum. There, in one book, you got everything -- the figure of the envious footloose crone, an orgy of sex hatred and perversion that threatened to devour not simply the family unit, but pater familias’ private parts, and the diabolism that was then fashionable among the intelligentsia. Not surprisingly, when a match was put to that tinderbox, Europe exploded.
The match came in the shape of the devil. The image of the devil preying on innocent children was enough to start an avalanche of revulsion and hatred in the mob.
In the witch-hunts, the devil was the trigger, as animal behaviorists would say.
Ethology provides plenty of cases of how such triggers work. Take the mother turkey and its natural enemy the polecat. When a mother turkey sees a polecat, it automatically starts squawking, pecking, and clawing in anger. Even a stuffed polecat elicits the same rage from the turkey. However, what animal behaviorist M. W. Fox found was that if you put a tiny tape-recorder inside the faux cat and let it play the cheep-cheep sound characteristic of baby turkeys, mama turkey not only welcomes the pole cat but even gathers it underneath her. Turning off the tape recorder, on the other hand, sends her back into a frenzy of rage.
The mother turkey is exhibiting what animal behaviorists call a “fixed-action” pattern, a sequence of intricate behaviors of the type involved in a mating ritual, for instance. Fixed-action patterns always run the same way and in the same order, as though they have been pre-programmed into the animal’s behavior. What is especially interesting, for our purposes, is that they are triggered by specific parts or attributes of the enemy, not by the enemy as a whole. For instance, a male robin’s territorial instincts are provoked by nothing more than the clump of red breast feathers belonging to its rival. Sans red fluff, another male robin can sail through without a challenge. But the threatened male will pounce on red feathers even if they are just lying around on the ground or even if they are attached to another species of bird. The red fluff, not the bird, is the trigger.
As Homo sapiens, we smugly believe that we are above such robotic behavior. When men goes off their collective rocker or act in a frenzy, we assume they have more complicated reasons, profounder causes . . . they must, we imagine, be suffering from some deep-seated maladjustment. Generations of scholars charge off to the archives to look for structural defects in society, for failures in the economy, or even in weather conditions. They are sure that some kind of tectonic shift underground must have produced World War I, that it was a change in ocean currents that set off the industrial revolution… a virus threat that lurked behind the rise of the Pharaohs. None of them, it seems, look to so simple a mechanism as an automatic animal response.
And fewer of them consider what sorts of ideas or events or figures might trigger such automatic responses.
Old McMartin Had a Creche
The Devil seems to be one of them.
As a trigger, he shows up several times in history.
Even quite recently in the U.S.
The McMartin Satanic child abuse trials, which cost taxpayers more than $13 million, were the most expensive trials in U.S. history, far ahead of the O.J. Simpson trial, at $8 million. The preliminary hearing took 18 months; the whole case took 7 years, 6 judges, 17 attorneys and hundreds of witnesses, including 9 of the 11 children alleged to have been molested. One of the defendants was retried after the first jury deadlocked, but the second jury also deadlocked and a mistrial was declared. Hundreds of Manhattan Beach children grew up thinking they were once abused grotesquely. The 7 adults charged -- some elderly women -- were bankrupted and turned into social pariahs. McMartin preschool itself was closed and razed and the other 8 schools involved were closed down forever. The pastor of the St. Cross church was the victim of harassment and death threats. "He had to close his church and move to another part of the country." Copycat trials erupted all across North America.
What provoked the hue and cry was a police complaint on August 12, 1983 by a woman called Judy Johnson. She claimed her son had been molested by Ray Buckey of the McMartin preschool. Ms. Johnson, it turns out, had also accused her ex-husband of child abuse and her claims against the McMartins were -- on their face at least -- delusory. She charged that people had flown through windows, killed lions, and had sexual encounters with giraffes. Buckey, she alleged, had beaten a giraffe to death with a baseball bat. This was a woman, mind you, who had been diagnosed with acute paranoid schizophrenia by the University of California Irvine Medical Center at the time she first made her allegation that "Satanic sex rituals" had been practiced on her child.
You’d think the poor creature would have been hauled off to the nearest psychiatric clinic or at least given a stiff dose of haldol. Instead, 97% of adults polled about the case, who had an opinion on it, believed that Buckey was guilty, while 93% believed that Peggy McMartin -- then a grandmother -- was a satanic child molester.
A year later, 208 counts of child abuse involving about 40 children were handed down against 7 adults: the McMartins, Ray Buckey, and 4 school teachers.
Thus began a modern public spectacle.
It took more than two decades before it wound down. That was in 2005, when the Los Angeles Times finally got around to publishing the first retraction from one of the student victims. Kyle Zirpolo (then known as Kyle Sapp) confessed that he had made come up his accusations at the age of eight because of pressure from his family and the social workers who interviewed him:
Anytime I would give them an answer that they didn't like, they would ask again and encourage me to give them the answer they were looking for. It was really obvious what they wanted. I know the types of language they used on me: things like I was smart, or I could help the other kids who were scared.
Kyle also revealed where the nasty details of the “crimes” came from:
I think I got the satanic details by picturing our church. We went to American Martyrs, which was a huge Catholic church. Every Sunday we had to go, and Mass would last an hour, hour and a half. None of us wanted to go: It was kicking and screaming all the way there. Sitting, standing, sitting, standing. What I would do was picture the altar, pews and stained-glass windows, and if investigators] said, “Describe an altar,” I would describe the one in our church. Or instead of, “There was a priest in a green suit'”--someone who was real -- I would say, “A man dressed in red as a cult member.” From going to church you know that God is good, and the devil is bad and has horns and is about evil and red and blood. I'd just throw a twist in there with Satan and devil-worshipping.
We understand why a rambunctious eight year old with a precocious imagination might be so fascinated with Satan that he mixes him up with the fellow on the corner. But how do you account for the way adults all over the land gobbled up the story?
Could it be that, just as with the witchcraft hysteria, there was already a set of stressful events in place that made people more vulnerable to a moral panic?
The seventies had been a particularly difficult time for Americans. There was an oil crisis and stagflation on the economic front. New social movements in feminism and environmentalism were threatening traditional attitudes. The numbers of immigrants were increasing. And in politics, there was escalating conflict in the Cold War, the growth of the black power movement, and the rise of third world nationalism, especially in the Middle East. The country was in need of a bogeyman on which it could pin all its anxieties.
Along came the McMartin story. It was just the first of what police were soon calling Multi-Victim Multi-Offender (MVMO) child abuse cases in North America. In essence, these were cases where accusations were sprayed around as wildly as paint on a Jackson Pollock canvas. In both instances, the result was a mess. Other cases followed -- in Bakersfield and Kern County, where two couples were given centuries-long jail sentences. Only after they had spent 14 years in prison in isolation from each other were their conviction overturned.
Alexander Cockburn, writing in The Nation, gives a brief survey of the national hysteria:
Children in more than a hundred cities, from Fort Bragg, California, to Grenada, Mississippi, came forward. In June 1984 children in Sacramento told of witnessing orgies, cannibalism and snuff films. Two months later in Miami children reported being made to drink urine and eat feces. In Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in March 1985 two children said adults had forced them into having oral sex with a goat and eating a dismembered deer's raw heart. In November 1985 in Maplewood, New Jersey, a 24-year-old woman was indicted on 235 counts of "repulsively bizzare acts" alleged by infants, such as assaulting children with tampons, playing the piano naked and licking peanut butter and jelly off their bodies. In April 1986 children in a preschool in Sequim, Washington, charged they had been taken to graveyards and forced to witness animal sacrifice. In Chicago children said they had been made to eat a boiled baby.
The madness that began with Bakersfield and Manhattan Beach in 1983 ended with the Wenatchee, WA case in 1994-95.
43 adults were falsely arrested on 29,726 fabricated charges of child sex abuse involving 60 children. Parents, Sunday school teachers and a local pastor were indicted and many were convicted of raping their own children and the children of other members of a sex-ring. Innocent people went to prison, and their children were sold into foster care.
History of a Hysteria
What on earth had gone haywire in America? What allergen could have set off such a rash of insanity? Was there something, some narrative, that had evoked deep-rooted archetypes in 20th century minds much in the way that the The Malleus had stirred up the nightmares of 16th century minds?
Evidently so. It seems that in 1980, just three years before Judy Johnson made her zoological accusations, a Canadian psychiatrist, Lawrence Pazder, published the book Michelle Remembers. In it, he and his wife, Michelle Smith, charged that she had been abused by Satanists when she was a child. There were the usual sordid experiences, but in this case, the victim had been so traumatized that she had repressed her memory of it until she had had sessions with Pazder's "therapy."
Pazder was called in as an expert in the McMartin case and the story at once got the public’s attention. Here was the trigger that the public needed. A pretty twenty year old, who was a victim of horrors too horrible to tell; a therapist-cum-lover who wakes her up from her trauma and heals her. There was a princess. Finding the dragon wasn’t too hard. Before Michelle Remembers, there had never been a Satanic child abuse case in America at all. After it, there were to be two decades of nothing but. The entire sordid hysteria was set off by nothing more than a colorful yarn from the modern equivalent of the magic flying carpet -- the therapist’s couch.
And, Michelle Smith’s story soon began to fray like a cheap rug too. In 1990, London's Mail on Sunday newspaper exposed the book as a fraud. There was an extensive investigation, including interviews with her father, an alcoholic who had abandoned his family. The reporters found that it was only after a miscarriage in 1976 that Smith had begun the psychiatric treatment during which she first recalled her abuse. And it also found that her descriptions of what went on, including visits from no less than Satan himself, were nothing like actual satanic rituals, at least, according to the experts.
By then of course, the book had already done its damage, spawning a whole cottage industry of yammering abuse advocates, recovered memory mavens, and victims advocates. Other books had joined it on the talk circuits, notably one by Lauren Stratford. Statford’s opus, Satan’s Underground, published in 1988, claimed that its author had been used to breed sacrificial victims for Satan. This, too, was later exposed as a fraud, but not before noted fundamentalist apocalypse-monger Hal Lindsey -- the best-selling author of The Late Great Planet Earth and a close personal friend of President Reagan -- had given it a blurb. Other evangelists and professional "recovered Satanists" jumped onto the gravy train, only to be shown up for frauds as well. Defrocked physicians, raunchy talk show hosts, a mother who blame the popular game ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ for her son’s suicide, and even the ubiquitous Lyndon LaRouche -- who thinks the Queen of England is a shape-shifting reptile -- joined in. The whole business was soon reeking like a Cantonese fish stew.
Cockburn describes how cases were prosecuted:
[I]nfants as young as 2 and 3, permitted in fifty states to testify without corroboration from adults or physical evidence; without cross-examination in many states; to have their charges merely reported by adults as hearsay in many states. These infants had themselves been interrogated as many as thirty times by social workers or other investigators, told they would remain separated from their parents if they retracted their charges, held in sterile environments during questioning, to a degree that one critic described as kindred to "brainwashing" in the Korean War.
Social workers would use anatomically correct dolls sometimes named after the defendants and repeatedly subject the children to leading questions, often suggestive, at times so explicit and ugly that asking them could only constitute abuse of its own. Children who gave the answers the social workers wanted were rewarded. Those who didn’t were scolded or warned darkly that they were hurting their friends and families. No physical evidence showed up, but that was fine. The do-gooders were still able to diagnose the symptoms of abuse in what, until then, most people would have considered the normal behavior of healthy tots.
“One California doctor of the mind claimed to have identified symptoms in children abused by satanic cults -- said symptoms including "fear of monsters," making farting noises, and laughing when other children farted.”
The hysteria was bipartisan. The right contributed Christian fundamentalists who were eager to use the scandals to discredit recent New Age religions like Wicca and the Church of Satan and to push home schooling. The left did their part with feminists like Gloria Steinem and Catherine McKinnon and Bill Clinton’s new Attorney General Janet Reno, who found in child protection the perfect racket to increase bureaucratic budgets and make a name for themselves.
In fact, Reno shot up to the national stage because of her prosecutions of alleged child abusers. Her most famous case took place in an upscale suburban Miami development and was notable for the extreme brutality with which her office went after a confession from a 17-year-old Honduran immigrant. Ileana Fuster, who was held eleven months in a isolation cell, often drugged and nude in front of everyone, was subjected to so much stress that the pretty black haired girl “came to look as if she were 50, her skin covered with sores and infections.” She finally cracked and “confessed” to the usual farrago of bizarre crimes, but her husband Frank never did. He got 6 lifes plus 165 years and remains in jail today. But the satanic abuse cases were only a dry run for Reno. Her real moment came when she led the FBI’s facedown against the Branch Davidian cult at Waco in where she demonstrated -- the perfect way to rescue abused children and their abusers -- incinerate them.
Janet Reno had her predecessors in the witchcraft trials. But they seem to have been luckier than poor Frank and Ileana.
A singular instance of the epidemic fear of witchcraft occurred in Lille, in 1639. A pious but not very sane lady, named Antoinette Bourignon, founded a school or hospice, in that city. One day, on entering the schoolroom, she imagined that she saw a great number of little black angels flying about the heads of the little children. In great alarm she told her pupils of what she had seen, warning them to beware of the devil… At last the whole of them, to the number of fifty, worked upon each other’s imaginations to such a degree that they also confessed they were witches -- that they attended the Domdaniel, or meeting of the fiends -- that they could ride through the air on broomsticks, feast of infants’ flesh, or creep through a keyhole. . . . they [the majority of the clergy] strenuously insisted that the confessions of the children were valid, and that it was necessary to make them an example by burning them all for witches. The poor parents, alarmed for their offspring, implored the examining Capuchins with tears in their eyes to save their young lives, insisting that they were bewitched, and not bewitching . . . Antoinette Bourignon, who had put these absurd notions into the heads of the children . . . hastened out of Lille and escaped pursuit. If she had remained four hours longer, she would have been burned by judicial sentence as a witch and a heretic.”
Mind you, we are not suggesting that child abuse is not a problem in America. It is. More than 100,000 cases are reported every year and an FBI report to that effect in 1984 may actually have been responsible for throwing a bit of gasoline onto the wildfire of charges. But, the real cases, say the experts, usually don’t involve a predatory stranger -- they involve the family. Maybe it was because people couldn’t quite come to terms with that fact that they latched on to the figure of a child molester hovering around the schoolyard, a figure that quickly morphed into Satan.
Soon Satanic cult killings were said to be disposing of some 50,000 to two million American children a year without the knowledge of law enforcement.
Whether one believes in the existence of mass cult killings or not, that is an extraordinary number. If one takes the higher figure, it means about 10 million deaths in 5 years, which is a little under the number of people that the Nazis killed during the World War II, and for which he needed half a dozen major concentration camps, like Buchenwald and Auschwitz as well as hundreds of minor camps. All told, the Nazis had to employ over 150,000 people to do their dirty work. Since the total number of Satanists in the country is not more than a thousand or so, one might have been thought that would have effectively put a crimp in the ritual crime business.
Even if we take the lower number, recall the Vietnam war that killed around 50,000 Americans and at least 2 million Vietnamese and was one of the most traumatic events in American history and think of how severely that loss was felt through out the population. Figure just the logistics involved in carrying out such an operation openly, let alone in secret.
What’s more, how could such hordes of people be vanishing off the face of the nation, unknown to the police (as some claimed), when the entire murder rate in America is only about 20,000 a year? And when, according to figures given by the Child Safety Council (a branch of the Department of Justice), the number of children who are kidnapped by strangers is lower than 100 a year? How could otherwise sane people have come to believe that Satanists were killing hundreds of thousands, if not millions a year?
But they did. They were perfectly able to believe that a small group of self-styled occultists (most satanic churches numbered no more than a few hundred members) were capable of feats of evacuation and extermination that would have turned the SS pea-green with envy. In truth, between 1985-1990, fewer than one hundred credible reports of ritual child abuse have been filed nationally. None of those accused were members of any satanic church or identified devil-worshipping cult.
Cardinal O'Connor himself went on record that there were only two exorcisms in the whole of the New York archdiocese in 1990, a poor showing, one might be forgiven for thinking, for members of such a monumental conspiracy.
It didn’t matter to people that most Wiccans (modern witches) and many Satanists do not even believe in Satan and followed a rather bland form of paganism that differs very little from Christianity in their ethics, expressly forbidding criminal acts.
It didn’t matter to people that the founder of the main satanic church, Anton LaVey, was more of a PR man, a former circus trainer, who once kept a lion on the back porch of his home in San Francisco. And that while La Vey may have liked to shave his head, call himself "the Black Pope," and dress the part to the nines, his Satanic Bible, explicitly rejects both the Christian version of God and of the devil.
It didn’t matter to them that if you added up the numbers, far more human beings -- several orders of magnitude more -- have been murdered by people acting in the name of mainstream religions like Christianity and Islam than have ever been killed in the name of Satan.
And, it didn’t matter that only four months before the McMartin trial started in 1987, police found the woman who started it all lying naked and face-down in her son's bedroom, dead of alcoholism-related liver disease.
Journalists had found a crusade, one that got them instant attention and came along with an off-the-rack patter of pseudo-scientific jargon that allowed everyone to keep a straight face while wallowing like pigs in obscene pornography.
At the height of the frenzy, even the original “cult cop” who first milked the whole carnival by selling lectures and video/audio tapes pimping the abuse, came out with the admission that Satanism and neo-paganism might not, after all, be the criminal organizations she’d depicted them as. By then, the San Francisco police commission had actually found her guilty of defaming Satanism in public and to law enforcement. But that didn’t stop the Prince of Darkness from continuing to show up, like Elvis, on the programs of every hick gathering of oddball educators and law enforcement misfits. Seminars on the occult were money-spinners, especially among those fundamentalists who thought the Antichrist was about to show up any moment and set off a nuclear show down.
And then, as suddenly as it began, the satanic child abuse craze died down, leaving a trail of devastation. Innocent people had been carted off to jail, careers and reputations flushed down the toilet, thousands of children had grown up traumatized by the interrogations they went through, believing wrongly that unspeakable things had been done to them. Suddenly, statements started being retracted, conclusions hurriedly withdrawn or contradicted. The interrogation techniques became discredited. The show was over.
Then they sent in the clowns. Even after the fraud had been uncovered, these were the people who argued that, yes, it had all been a pack of nonsense, but it could not have been that bad because it had been for a good cause. Who could object to their children being protected from abuse, after all? Why bother waiting for such trivia as physical evidence or witnesses? Anyone who criticized the spectacle could have only one reason for doing so -- they too were pedophiles!
On the Self-Importance of Scribblers
“SENTENCE first -- VERDICT afterwards," said the Queen.
"Nonsense!" said Alice loudly.
"Off with her head!" the Queen shouted at the top of her voice.
And there you have the typical mob reaction. From the protection of children to the jailing of grandmothers is a smooth and natural step for him. Children, he thinks, are innocent. From that he infers that they can do no wrong. Which means that if they say their teachers are molesting them, then in fact their teachers must be molesting them. And since an adult who molests children is prima facie a monster of the most monstrous sort, hanging would be too good for him and a proper hearing quite out of the question.
Thus does the mob mind splutter in fits and starts from dubious assumptions to preposterous conclusions with nary a whisper of doubt in between. And only a man capable of committing logic is liable to such an absurdity.
Of course, even as logic, the thing does not hold together. The innocence of children is more in the nature of a statement of dogma than an assertion that can be falsified. Innocent of what? Innocent compared to what? Our lumpen-logician can give no answer between his rants. Nor can he tell us when childhood ends. Are eight year olds as innocent as two year olds? And when does the age of innocence end? At 14? 16? 18? And what is it that signifies that adulthood has arrived? Is it the driver’s license or the marriage license? Is it making love or making war?
And even if children were as pure as the seraphim and cherubim, how does that make a crime against them any more or less heinous than a crime against, say, an old woman or a cripple? But we have yet to have a public panic about paraplegics. You might begin to wonder whether the child abuse hysteria had as much to do with moral palpitations as it had to do with sexual titillation. And you would be right.
Sex, after all, not only drives the human race, it also drives newspaper headlines.
Given the option between a compelling story about the fall of interest rates on one hand and the rise of Jenna Jamieson on the other, the pulchritudinous Ms. Jamieson wins hands down. Sex sells. Even when it is perverse and ugly. Even if it is a middle-aged exhibitionist faking a confession that he was responsible for killing a child star ten years cold in the grave. Or a fifty-year-old senator with an eye for buff young pages. The story will still bump war with Iran off the front pages seven days a week.
Next to sex, even death is not always a very interesting business to our pillars of the fourth estate.
Take one leading cause of fatalities in America. Nationwide there are probably 5000 deaths a year from asthma. That makes it two and a half times deadlier than the murder of children by their parents -- which is the most common and deadliest form of child abuse around -- and fifty times more prevalent than the kidnapping of children by strangers. Yet, there are no headlines about asthma, no seminars about the dangers of walking around alone without an inhaler, no FAQ sheets discussing the best way to have cortisone injections.
No, asthma is not something that the mob mind is very interested in. There is no pizzaz in the thing. You merely either have it, or not. And the remedy is available for you to purchase, or not. There is no program, world historical project, or second international involved in tackling it. A year’s supply of medicine for all 5000 victims of asthma every year would probably not put a dent in the child protection budget of one state.
But child abuse comes with so many perks and angles attached to it that it’s hard for the average scribbler, with his eye cocked to a Pulitzer, to take a levelheaded approach.
First, there is the sex angle. Then, as if that were not enough, he gets to preen in self-congratulation as a defender of the defenseless. Even if no abuse is found, no one is likely to remember the luckless daycare worker in jail. He is a mere adult after all. Then, even more satisfying, our scribe gets to take hold forth on any number of Burning Issues of the Day: Is day care A Good Thing . . . or A Bad Thing? Should women work outside the home… or in? How much Satanism turns you into a pedophile? How much pedophilia turns you into Satan?
He does not know any more than you do but that does not prevent him from puffing up like a swamp toad before he delivers his bit on each subject. He gets to save the family . . . or is it the child? He becomes a guardian of public morality . . . a defender of the American way of life! It matters little which it is. He is cast in the role of savior. St. George rolled into Sonny Bono. Sex, self-importance, salvation -- all in one. What more could any do-gooder want?
Lila Rajiva is a freelance writer in Argentina, and the author of the must-read book, The Language of Empire: Abu Ghraib and the US Media (Monthly Review Press, 2005). She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright © 2007 by Lila Rajiva.
Other Articles by Lila Rajiva
Shape-Shifting of a Hitman