The Satanic Panic was Built on Lies | Satan Wants You | On Docs Podcast

♪ Sean Horlor and Steve J. Adams, it’s good to see you guys in person. You were on our show a couple years ago for your last film – Someone Like Me – and now you’re here for Satan Wants You. Really excited to talk to you. Before we get into it,

Let’s just show a clip from the trailer. This is a clip from Satan Wants You. Joining me now from Victoria is Michelle Smith – a one-time victim of abuse by a Satanic cult – and Dr. Lawrence Pazder – the psychiatrist who helped her come to terms with that nightmare.

NEWS ANCHOR: The book is called Michelle Remembers. VALERIE PRINGLE: Michelle Remembers. BOTH: We wrote it together. VALERIE: The first publicized account of such rituals. They would put me in cages, sacrifice animals. VALERIE: Eating feces, and orgies, and dismembering fetuses, these were things that you experienced? MICHELLE SMITH: That’s right.

INTERVIEWER: Who are these people? Well, they’re a secret organization, they’re a secret society. Satan. When that book came out, I mean, all hell broke loose. It was a theory that there’s a Satanic conspiracy, and there are children who were kidnapped, stolen, and sacrificed. MAN: It’s known as “The Satanic Panic”

From the 1980s and ’90s. (Sighing) Sean and Steve, hoo-ah! That’s just a little bit of the documentary, but, in the trailer, it mentioned a book called Michelle Remembers. Can you tell us about that book, Michelle Remembers, Sean? Yeah, I mean, I grew up in Victoria,

So, Michelle Remembers is by two authors from Victoria. It is set in Victoria. For me, I mean, my family moved there right after the book was published, while the Satanic Panic was unfolding, and, they were everywhere, Michelle and Larry. They were on TV. They were on the radio. They were in the newspapers.

It was this story that everyone knew about in Victoria, and, like, layer, upon layer, upon layer, of it too, right? Like, stores downtown had Satanic altars in the back, and you had to look out for these people in black, and “Don’t go to the cemetery at night.”

What was it like to grow up in that environment as a kid? Scary. Right? And this, I mean, for me too, the thing about this is, like… you know, it’s how many? Forty years later? So it’s like you forget about all of this stuff until this came back into our life.

And I had no idea, as a kid. Like, you sorta– you’re like, “Oh, yeah, they’re connected to the Satanic Panic.” But I had no idea that the story touched millions and millions of people around the world. Sean, could you just tell us a little bit about who Michelle Smith and Lawrence Pazder were?

Michelle Smith was a young woman in Victoria, in the ’70s, who started seeing her psychiatrist – Dr. Lawrence Pazder, who everyone refers to as “Larry” – when she had a bad dream after a miscarriage, and this is sorta like the genesis for this book. They go into therapy. They–

And it goes from, like, you know, once a week to every day for eight hours at a time. And then, as they start going deeper and deeper into therapy, more and more memories start– are being recovered from Michelle about this terrible abuse she suffered at the hands of a Satanic cult

When she was five years old, in Victoria, BC. NAM: And Larry actually recorded those sessions. He recorded them. There’s actually video, as well, which, apparently, was burnt, but we got one of the tapes anonymously. One of the therapy tapes that no one has ever heard is in the film.

NAM: Wow. There was video?! STEVE: He recorded everything. He was, like– like, he– He wanted to be famous, didn’t he? One hundred percent. Didn’t he learn anything from Nixon? Like… Don’t– don’t leave– don’t– I mean, don’t, like, tell on yourself like that, man. He wanted to be famous, though. Like, he wanted to be known. Yeah. Yeah, I guess so. Steve, for people who may not remember this, the Satanic Panic, it was in the ’80s and ’90s.

What exactly happened? What was it about? It was a lot of just, like, wild accusations of people who were, basically, like, taking children and sacrificing them. That was, like, the main thorough thread of what the Satanic Panic was. Many people were definitely accused of it. It happened through daycare centres, anywhere where people really had, like,

Contact with children is where you seemed to see a lot of these cases begin to erupt. And, like, a lot of the people– I just have to say this too, right, like, if you were at all different in the ’80s, this is something that you could’ve been accused of.

Like, so, I mean, we’re both queer men. So many of the people who went on trial in a lot of these daycare cases were queer, right? Or, a single woman in her 20s who wasn’t married. You know, like, these people who were not

Just part of the mainstream culture, and that sort of like, “normal,” let’s just say “American family life,” like you could’ve faced this accusation. How do you defend yourself, right? Yeah, and, Steve, you know when Colin asked you that question, you kind of laughed, and I think you laughed because it’s–

When we hear “Satanic Panic” now, in the framework of, like, 2023, it’s kind of like, “That’s ridiculous.” But when we watch the documentary– and like you mentioned, people’s lives were impacted to the point where people ended up in jail, losing their jobs, losing their livelihood.

So, looking at it from, like, a 2023 viewpoint, how did people not know that this was kind of like, “We needed to ask more questions”? STEVE: I think the questions were being asked. I think you had media that was perpetuating what was, like, thought to be happening.

Valerie Pringle, who was like one of, like, Canada’s– NAM: A very serious journalist. Right? She’s on air asking Michelle if she was eating feces. Like, it was very– and, like, it was like, the noon newscast. Like, it was very– like, it was all over the place, and, it just–

I don’t know. Like, you had law enforcement who were participating. You just had all these authority figures within our society that were saying, “This is happening. This is true.” And so, everybody just– how can– how can you deny that, right? I think police officers who were specifically, like–

Like, that was “their beat” in a way. Like, they were occult specialists, which, it just sounds kind of wild to think about it now, but that’s what they were actually assigned to do, right? It’s like an X-Files episode. (Laughing) Mm-hmm, cops for Christ. Yeah, exactly. Cops for Christ.

Can you talk about what their families were going through while they were on tour with this book? You know, I mean, this is like, for us, you know, there’s several ways to approach a doc, right? So, like, we started with the book. That’s sort of where you start,

And then you expand out from that to sort of talk to all the other people who are around that. And when we started reaching out to the family, and also doing our research and realizing that, you know, we can’t find any interviews with a single family member,

Who, at that time, came out and said, “No, this– you know, this is my version of this “and it’s not correct at all.” So, for us it’s, like, reaching out to Larry’s first ex– first wife, ex-wife, his daughter, Michelle’s sister, Michelle’s best friend. This was a, like, new territory,

A brand new territory for a doc, which is so exciting. And also, like, it was so important for us knowing how big this book was, and how far it spread, and how much media it gained for 15 years, 20 years, and people still talk about it today, to have these family members

And get that story, and create a platform for them to actually be like, “This is the truth.” Well, Blanche Barton says it, right, in the doc, when she’s talking about the talk shows and the people that come on, and it’s all the people who are victims. And, she just says, like,

“Why didn’t they bring out the family members? “Why didn’t the family members ever come on stage and actually say, like, hold them to account?” ‘Cause it would make for bad TV. However, it makes for a great documentary, so… And were they excited to finally talk to you, to someone about this? Oh, yeah. I mean, when we– you know, I was a little nervous, too, doing this, knowing that there is a lot of trauma to this film as well, right? For them, for the other victims of the Satanic Panic.

It’s like, you laugh ’cause it’s, you know, Satanic Panic, but there’s also a real serious side to this. And when we called Larry’s ex-wife, Marylyn, for the first time, I mean, that was nerve-racking. And the funny thing is, like, just said, “Hey, listen, we’re gonna do–”

“we wanna do a film and we wanted to talk to you.” (Snapping fingers) Hour-long. It was like 40 years hadn’t passed at all. She had all the stories and just really wanted to talk to us. NAM: Well, how did you approach that? Because you mentioned that people hadn’t spoken to them.

So, like, Steve, when you call them up, what do you say to them to say– to get them to trust you? You know, you mentioned it’s very traumatic. How do you get them to open up and trust the process that you’re trying to do? I think with a lot of the people

That actually participated in the doc, we contacted, of course, like, other people that were close family members, and it’s just kind of you’re testing the waters, right? You’re seeing who wants to talk, who feels like they have something to say. And like with Marylyn, she’s helped, like, multiple investigators.

She’s kept binders full of just everything, like newspaper articles, anything to do with her divorce. NAM: She recorded one of the bishops, I think. STEVE: She recorded everything. She was like– She was savvy. She was really good. Like spy thriller, right? And so, really,

It was just like the path of least resistance for us, and who felt like they wanted to stand up on the stage and do it, and that’s kind of like the path that we took. Also helped that I was from Victoria for a lot of–

’cause, I mean, a lot of the story is set there, and especially for the family, it’s a shared experience that at least I have some understanding. You know, not at all to the level that they went through, but at least what the city’s like and what actually happened there. Were you kinda surprised

That this started in Victoria, in Canada? I mean, this went on to become very influential, especially in the United States. NAM: They even met the Pope. Well, yeah, and they met the Pope exactly. I mean… (Laughing) This all started in Victoria, BC. Yes, I was surprised. Victoria’s so snoozy. It’s not that kinda city, you guys. It’s not that kinda city, so… COLIN: I guess ’cause I don’t really think– I don’t know. I guess we don’t associate Canadians with ever having that kind of, like, influence on the global stage like that, except for maybe hockey, but–

You know, I mean, one of the claims in Michelle Remembers, of course, is that Victoria was one of the Satanic capitals of the world, right? Victoria, and Geneva, Switzerland, and that was– for a time in the ’80s, that’s what some people thought, so…

And so, it just– doesn’t that kind of make it so, you know, like, people are like, “Victoria is the capital of Satanism?” And it’s like, it just makes it, like, that much more believable because it’s just not believable at all. Like, you know? It felt like that kinda had a play happening.

I appreciated the fact that you, um, let the viewer kind of make up their mind on what’s happening. Who would you say whose fault it was, ultimately, this happened? That’s tricky. COLIN: Satan, obviously. Right? COLIN: I mean, those are the traits of the Devil, right? I mean, greed, influence, power. I think that there was so many different, like, social changes that were happening at the time. Um, like, religion was much more popular. It was much more through the culture. And they had a book that just dropped at the right time, and it kinda just, it clicked.

So, trying to place blame on people, I find it really tricky, because– It’s also hard though, ’cause it’s almost like everyone’s responsible. I mean, it’s like, A, the two authors, plus the institutions, plus the Church, plus the media for participating, plus people who didn’t speak up and say, “You know…”

For me, in our film, one of the takeaways is that moment when the Wiccan police detective Charles Ennis finally says, you know, like, “We, basically, all have a responsibility “to stand up and say ‘This is a lie.’ “And even if it– you know, can’t just say it once,

“you have to say it over, and over, and over again “until, you know, everyone realizes it is a lie.” But nobody realizes it. I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful. COLIN: Do any of the people, though, who were kinda, like, promoting this idea of Satan, like, Satanic ritual abuse,

Like the journalists at the time, like the media figures– like, you know, Maury Povich was around, was popular at this time, Geraldo, Oprah. I mean, I don’t know. Do any of them– have any of them ever come out and said, “Yeah, we messed up here. “This was not, like, credible at all

“and we shoulda done a better job”? Geraldo did give an apology, so I mean, he– you’ll see in the film, there’s– he did one very notorious show that influenced, you know, according to the sociologists– NAM: It was like a three-parter, right? Yeah, that the sociologist that we spoke to said,

“You know, this spread this, “you know, from just being sort of a rumour “into 12 million households, “or 40 million households in the US suddenly were like, “‘Oh, my God. There’s Satanists everywhere.'” Like, he played a big role in that, but he did apologize in the ’90s, which is something.

I mean, ’cause people were really hurt by this. You mentioned daycare. There was a woman by the name of Margaret Kelly Michaels. What happened to her? Oy. (Sighing) Again, she was working in a school, um, with young children, and a parent had accused her, right? SEAN: Mm-hmm.

And it went on to be a super long trial. She went to prison for five years. She was accused of heinous stuff and, like, basically, she was tarred and feathered. She’s had to carry that around with her for the rest of her life, and her life has kind of been ruined by it.

Like, it’s– these types of accusations, like, when people are calling other people, or accusing them of being pedophiles, um, it really– like, it ruins your reputation and it can ruin your life, and Kelly Michaels definitely has felt that. And we should say, I mean, these cases are still being brought to justice,

These false accusations. The film premiered at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, and there’s a case literally right now that is unfolding for a man who has been– you know, this is like 30 or 40 years of his life, and they’re saying, “No, this is not true now.”

Right? Like, it’s not just something from the distant past either, right? These people are still alive. There’s still people in prison. And, furthermore, you know, it’s easy to be like, “Oh, this is just the ’80s and ’90s.” This is happening right now. NAM: In what ways? Through QAnon and Pizzagate,

So that’s sort of the most recent iteration. The Satanic cult conspiracies now involving political figures and Hollywood actors drinking the blood of children to get adrenochrome, or whatever the magical chemical is, right, in the basements of pizzerias and all that stuff in the US.

And for us, I mean, this film, just this past week, there was an article, I think in The Epoch Times. Did I say that right? I don’t think I did. NAM: I think so, yeah. Yeah, did I? NAM: ‘E-P-O-C-H’, yeah, yeah. That basically there’s a Satanic ritual abuse survivor

Talking and saying– referencing our film and saying, “No, I’m actually a victim of Satanic ritual abuse.” And this is 2023, right? So, it is kind of scary. Like, this is something– I was looking for therapists– (Clearing throat) excuse me– last week, and I found a woman, downtown Vancouver,

And one of the things that she treated was ritual abuse. I was like– like, people are still– they’re still treating this. Like, it’s still, like– it’s still within society right now. Like, it is wild. You know, we’re repeating the mistakes of the past now, because a lot of people believe QAnon and Pizzagate.

People have been actually harmed by these theories. I mean, for us, this is another, like, layer to this film. I mean, what does it mean to be human? And why do we believe in things even when there’s no basis, or concrete evidence, or no basis in reality, right?

And this whole thing about storytelling constructing reality is definitely an element to this story, too, and all the different ways storytelling works, right? Like, you share information with a story, you educate somebody. But, you know, if you don’t like somebody, you can also make up a story to ruin their life and their–

You know, like, storytelling is great, it’s terrible, it’s part of being human. Mm-hmm. It truly– like when we can’t explain the things around us that are happening in our life, the easiest thing to fall back on is, a lot of the time, Satan, right? So, it’s just part of who we are.

The big thing that we saw was, like, it happened once, it’s happening again, and it’s probably gonna happen in the future. You mention, though, that, you know, I guess the first Satanic Panic of the ’80s and ’90s, when that was going on, there was a lot of social changes happening.

I think it was more visibility about LGBTQ folks, for example, and I think even now, we’re seeing, you know, more visibility of, like, trans individuals, and LGBTQ folks are also, you know, getting more acceptance, right, and I wonder if that’s playing a role. Just that, you know, the more–

The more we’re seeing changes to, like, gender, ideas around gender and race, if that’s somewhat, maybe, having a role in getting people to go down these kind of dark paths, like QAnon and that sort of thing. Well, definitely. I mean, typically, those are the people who have the devil in them, right?

Right, yeah. You know? And I think technology, too, is also another factor in this, right? Like, daytime TV, talk TV, was the thing in the ’80s and ’90s that spread this everywhere. You know, Facebook, Twitter, social media did it for QAnon and Pizzagate.

And Steve and I always talk now that where AI is, you know? We’re right at the cusp of it. Like, “What is gonna happen?” Comin’ in hot. We were just watching a video, actually, before we started, of an AI-created political commercial. And it looks real, like a hundred percent real.

STEVE: For the Republican Party? Yes. Oh, you knew exactly what I was talking about. Crazy, right? Yeah, yeah, it’s scary. Yeah. Yeah. Well, you mention– like, when I was watching the documentary, ’cause we’re talking about Satan, there’s an actual Church of Satan. What is that?

‘Cause I didn’t know what it was until I watched the documentary. The Church of Satan is– like when they try to distill it down, it’s basically, instead of following these rules, like in Christianity, of the things you’re supposed to be, they just celebrate humans as a whole. So, we have greed,

We have all of these kind of things that are considered negative parts of our lives, but the Church of Satan looks at humans as a whole person, as a whole thing, and that’s– they wanna celebrate that. Yeah, and what I love is– So, we have a former high priestess

Of the Church of Satan, Blanche Barton, as one of the participants in the film, and she says, you know, basically, “Satanism is not a tolerance of your differences. “It’s a celebration of differences,” right? It’s like, “We celebrate how different everyone is.” And I thought that was such a, like,

“Oh, who doesn’t wanna be part of that?” And it’s a complete opposite of what we’ve come to know as Satan. Mm-hmm. NAM: Right? And I thought it was really interesting that insurance companies played a role in Michelle Remembers. Do you wanna go down that– like, can you explain to us how that happened?

Because I was like, “Of course.” (Laughing) SEAN: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Money’s involved. Yeah, I mean, it’s an interesting thing. Like, both in Canada, the US, the UK, this happened, right? So, it’s like, you know, especially in Canada and the UK where there is public– what’s the word I’m looking for? Healthcare, obviously,

Where doctors are billing, like, the government. In the US, it’s different, too. But these doctors are billing and they’re bringing you in for, like, seven sessions a week, for hours, or maybe eight hours a day, and billing for it, and then the insurance companies are on the hook for it, right?

STEVE: And they were talking like millions of dollars, like, over the course of a year. And so, they kind of look at it and they’re like, “Wow, I have one of these patients. “Now, I can bring in their family members.” And all of a sudden, they’re making, like, five million dollars a year,

And so, it really turns into a scam. And this had to do with the therapists that were talking to people who were having these memories that these awful things had happened to them as part of the Satanic Panic. Yeah, I mean, here in Canada, we should say too, like, so you know, Victoria,

Michelle Remembers, that’s one thing. There was a case– like, cases in Southern Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and a really big one in Saskatchewan. It’s not just a US thing. This happened here, too, all at the same time as the US, the UK, Europe, Italy, Brazil, like, it’s Australia, New Zealand.

This was a worldwide thing. And Larry, I mean, we found one newspaper article. He consulted, it said, close to a thousand cases. A thousand of these cases. That’s a lot of money. And it really seeped into popular culture, right? Because I think, you know, Dungeons and Dragons– NAM: Music.

COLIN: Yeah, music, heavy metal. I remember an X-Files episode referencing the Satanic Panic. I mean, how– this was really widespread. Like, it really affected the public imagination in a lot of ways, didn’t it? Mm-hmm. I mean, I think it was hard not to. You hear these wild things

And your mind can just go wild with it, right? You can think of anything and it just– it really seeped into all parts of culture at the time. Like, religious horror was gigantic at the time. It’s funny because, in the book, you can actually see references to, like, The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby.

Like, somebody’s head’s spinnin’ around. Oh, yeah, you know, halfway through Michelle Remembers, there’s a woman who comes to one of the Satanic rituals and her head spins, like, it’s– Right. STEVE: Yeah. What’s funny about that book is the cover looks so much like a Stephen King novel. Right? Like Misery.

Yeah. Yeah, any, like Pet Sematary, one of those. Yeah. I think something that struck me is that people were believing this, like, Satanic ritual abuse is happening. You know, millions of children are being abducted, but, at the same time, you know, we learned in,

I guess, the early aughts, that the Catholic Church has been– you know, there’s a huge sex abuse scandal with children and priests and they’re covering it up. Women, for years, were not believed if they came forward with sexual assault, but people would believe in Satanism. Like, it’s just– it’s ironic, right?

Like, why do we go to this extreme thing and not the most logical thing? It’s weird. I mean, we’ve talked about that a lot, right? Like, it was– like, they were basically pointing their fingers saying, like, “Look over there. Look over there.”

While it was actually the Church that was doing all the things that they said that everybody else was doing. Like, it was, like, really crazy when you actually, like, look at it from that. It’s interesting. I mean, in Austin, at South By Southwest, we had an Indigenous journalist actually in the audience

For our world premiere, and it was the final question of the night, and he just started, you know, talking about residential schools and the Catholic Church, and that was a connection that we hadn’t made. But this was literally the Catholic Church stealing children and abusing them, and then neglecting them

To the point of death, right? Like, this is what the Satanists were accused of, but it was happening… For sure. …within the Church. It was just– yeah. NAM: Well, since we talked about that– we mentioned that Michelle and Larry– was he a psychiatrist or a psychologist? A psychiatrist. Psychiatrist.

They actually met the Pope. What was in it for the Church to be a part of this book, and this, what was happening with Michelle Remembers? I mean, it just got more people into the pews, right? And one of the priests, you know, thought he was gonna make a million dollars, you know? Like, they saw this as actual, like a best-seller like Jaws, right? Their editor in New York actually was the editor for Jaws. So, it’s like, all you see, you dig into this–

And that wasn’t in the movie, but it was just there’s so many layers to this story that you can’t even fit it into 90 minutes, you know? That was the main thing. So, many people just came up to us and were like, “Why can’t this be a three-parter

“or four-parter?” They just wanted more. NAM: Yeah, yeah. Well, one of the people, that was– well, Michelle wasn’t part of it. Did you ask her to be a part of it? STEVE: Yeah. And she said? She didn’t wanna participate. We contacted her twice over the course of about six months,

And she didn’t respond to the first email that we sent. And then, six months later, she did respond and she said she doesn’t wanna participate, which I understand. I mean, it’s been– I think it’s a weird part of your life to dive back into and especially if she doesn’t wanna recant, or, like,

You know, if she– What would you have asked her? Oh, God. I would’ve asked her– Like, literally, I just wanted– like this, at least in my head, was to create a space for her to tell her side of the story. Like the last piece of–

The last interview that we could find of them actually talking about this was in 1990. And then, after talking to all the family, from what we understand, Michelle has never said, “No, this is a lie.” or, basically, or “This is true.” So, it’s this grey area where I just would–

You know, if it wasn’t us, maybe there’s somebody else who can do it, but just to get what happened to her, you know? And I’m also really curious about how, you know, when you start something and you end it, from your point of view, as people were telling the story,

What did you learn at the end that you didn’t know going in, when you decided to make this project? For me, I just didn’t understand how widespread it was. I didn’t understand the Satanic Panic. I’m 42, so I, like, grew up through the ’80s, and I just didn’t know.

I didn’t know how many lives it touched. I didn’t know how widespread it was. It was just one of those things that you look at it and you’re like, “Wow, just had no idea.” And it’s, like, not that far away. If there’s one, I guess, like, takeaway

You want people to have from watching this film, what is it? And I’m thinking in the context of like we’ve talked about with QAnon and these kind of, you know, conspiracy theories. I mean, Trump’s still talking about losing the election. People are really, like, still are susceptible to this sort of thinking.

So, I guess– I don’t know. What do you– is there any, like, thing that we can do to, I guess, convince people not to go down these kind of rabbit holes? You know, I personally come from a really cynical, skeptical family. So, like, there’s a couple characters in the film

That I think people can learn a lot from – the FBI agent Ken Lanning, and the investigative journalist Debbie Nathan. I think everyone needs some more skepticism in their lives. Ask people questions. Ask “Why?” Right? And also take the time to think about rumours,

When you hear them, instead of just jumping on the bandwagon and riding off into the sunset, so… It’s really tricky though. There’s so many influences in our lives and I think it’s really hard to kind of navigate through and figure out what’s real and what’s not real.

And I think just as we go into the future, it’s gonna get harder and harder. NAM: Well, it’s a terrific documentary. How I started it is not where I ended, and then I still had a lot more questions. So, yes, maybe another two-parter? But where can people find the documentary? Do you have plans for distribution? We do. We’re gonna be playing Hot Docs. Right now, we’re finishing our festival run through spring, and then we’ll be doing our theatrical run in August. And it’ll be ready for streaming– Available on CBC starting this fall,

With a date to be announced. So, you can look for, like, We have all the dates, if it might be playing at a film festival in your city, or your region, and also on Instagram. If you wanna see all the Satanic stuff, follow us on Instagram. Awesome, Sean and Steve. Congratulations.

Yeah. Thank you so much for joining us today. This was great. BOTH: Thanks for having us. NAM: Thank you. ♪

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