LANNING'S GUIDE TO ALLEGATIONS
OF CHILDHOOD RITUAL ABUSE, PART 8
LAW ENFORCEMENT PERSPECTIVE
The perspective with which one looks at satanic, occult, or ritualistic
crime is extremely important. As stated, sociologists, therapists,
religious leaders, parents, and just plain citizens each have their own
valid concerns and views about this issue. This discussion, however, deals
primarily with the law enforcement or criminal justice perspective.
When you combine an emotional issue such as the sexual abuse of children
with an even more emotional issue such as people's religious beliefs, it is
difficult to maintain objectivity and remember the law enforcement
perspective. Some police officers may even feel that all crime is caused by
evil, all evil is caused by Satan, and therefore, all crime is satanic
crime. This may be a valid religious perspective, but it is of no relevance
to the investigation of crime for purposes of prosecution.
Many of the police officers who lecture on satanic or occult crime do not
even investigate such cases. Their presentations are more a reflection of
their personal religious beliefs than documented investigative information.
They are absolutely entitled to their beliefs, but introducing themselves
as current or former police officers and then speaking as religious
advocates causes confusion. As difficult as it might be, police officers
must separate the religious and law enforcement perspectives when they are
lecturing or investigating in their official capacities as law enforcement
officers. Many law enforcement officers begin their presentations by
stating that they are not addressing or judging anyone's religious beliefs,
and then proceed to do exactly that.
Some police officers have resigned rather than curtail or limit their
involvement in this issue as ordered by their departments. Perhaps such
officers deserve credit for recognizing that they could no longer keep the
Law enforcement officers and all professionals in this field should avoid
the "paranoia" that has crept into this issue and into some of the training
conferences. Paranoid type belief systems are characterized by the gradual
development of intricate, complex, and elaborate systems of thinking based
on and often proceeding logically from misinterpretation of actual events.
Paranoia typically involves hypervigilance over the perceived threat, the
belief that danger is around every corner, and the willingness to take up
the challenge and do something about it. Another very important aspect of
this paranoia is the belief that those who do not recognize the threat are
evil and corrupt. In this extreme view, you are either with them or against
them. You are either part of the solution or part of the problem.
Overzealousness and exaggeration motivated by the true religious fervor of
those involved is more acceptable than that motivated by ego or profit.
There are those who are deliberately distorting and hyping this issue for
personal notoriety and profit. Satanic and occult crime and ritual abuse of
children has become a growth industry. Speaking fees, books, video and
audio tapes, prevention material, television and radio appearances all
bring egoistic and financial rewards.
Bizarre crime and evil can occur without organized satanic activity. The
professional perspective requires that we distinguish between what we know
and what we're not sure of.
The facts are:
The unanswered questions are:
||a. Some individuals believe in and are involved in something commonly
called satanism and the occult.
||b. Some of these individuals commit crime.
||c. Some groups of individuals share these beliefs and involvement in
this satanism and the occult.
||d. Some members of these groups commit crime together.
After all the hype and hysteria are put aside, the realization sets in that
most satanic/occult activity involves the commission of no crimes, and
that which does usually involves the commission of relatively minor crimes
such as trespassing, vandalism, cruelty to animals, or petty thievery.
||a. What is the connection between the belief system and the crimes
||b. Is there an organized conspiracy of satanic and occult believers
responsible for interrelated serious crime (e.g., molestation, murder)?
The law enforcement problems most often linked to satanic or occult
Valid evidence shows some "connection" between satanism (Note 1) and the
(Note 2) occult and the first six problems (#a-f) set forth above. The
"connection" to the last three problems (#g-i) is far more uncertain.
||b. Desecration of churches and cemeteries.
||c. Thefts from churches and cemeteries.
||d. Teenage gangs
||e. Animal mutilations.
||f. Teenage suicide.
||g. Child abuse.
||i. Murder and human sacrifice
Even where there seems to be a "connection", the nature of the connection
needs to be explored. It is easy to blame involvement in satanism and the
occult for behaviors that have complex motivations. A teenager's excessive
involvement in satanism and the occult is usually a symptom of a problem
and not the cause of a problem. Blaming satanism for a teenager's
vandalism, theft, suicide, or even act of murder is like blaming a
criminal's offenses on his tattoos: Both are often signs of the same
rebelliousness and lack of self- esteem that contribute to the commission
The rock band Judas Priest was recently sued for allegedly inciting two
teenagers to suicide through subliminal messages in their recordings. In
1991 Anthony Pratkanis of the University of California at Santa Cruz,
who served as an expert witness for the defense, stated the boys in question
"lived troubled lives, lives of drug and alcohol abuse, run-ins with the
law ... family violence, and chronic unemployment. What issues did the
trial and the subsequent mass media coverage emphasize? Certainly not the
need for drug treatment centers; there was no evaluation of the pros and
cons of America's juvenile justice system, no investigation of the schools,
no inquiry into how to prevent family violence, no discussion of the
effects of unemployment on a family. Instead our attention was mesmerized
by an attempt to count the number of subliminal demons that can dance on
the end of a record needle"(p.1).
The law enforcement investigator must objectively evaluate the legal
significance of any criminal's spiritual beliefs. In most cases, including
those involving satanists, it will have little or no legal significance. If
a crime is committed as part of a spiritual belief system, it should make
no difference which belief system it is. The crime is the same whether a
child is abused or murdered as part of a Christian, Hare Krishna, Muslim,
or any other belief system. We generally don't label crimes with the name
of the perpetrator's religion. Why then are the crimes of child molesters,
rapists, sadists, and murderers who happen to be involved in satanism and
the occult labeled as satanic or occult crimes? If criminals use a
spiritual belief system to rationalize and justify or to facilitate and
enhance their criminal activity, should the focus of law enforcement be on
the belief system or on the criminal activity?
Several documented murders have been committed by individuals involved in
one way or another in satanism or the occult. In some of these murders the
perpetrator has even introduced elements of the occult (e.g. satanic
symbols at crime scene). Does that automatically make these satanic
murders? It is my opinion that the answer is no. Ritualistic murders
committed by serial killers or sexual sadists are not necessarily satanic
or occult murders. Ritualistic murders committed by psychotic killers who
hear the voice of Satan are no more satanic murders than murders committed
by psychotic killers who hear the voice of Jesus are Christian murders.
Rather a satanic murder should be defined as one committed by two or more
individuals who rationally plan the crime and whose primary
motivation is to fulfill a prescribed satanic ritual calling for the murder.
By this definition I have been unable to identify even one documented
satanic murder in the United States. Although such murders may have and can
occur, they appear to be few in number. In addition the commission of such
killings would probably be the beginning of the end for such a group. It is
highly unlikely that they could continue to kill several people, every
year, year after year, and not be discovered.
A brief typology of satanic and occult practitioners is helpful in
evaluating what relationship, if any, such practices have to crimes under
investigation. The following typology is adapted from the investigative
experience of Officer Sandi Gallant of the San Francisco Police Department,
who began to study the criminal aspects of occult activity long before it
became popular. No typology is perfect, but I use this typology because it
is simple and offers investigative insights. Most practitioners fall into
one of three categories, any of which can be practiced alone or in groups:
Washington Post editor Walt Harrington reported in a 1986 story on
Anton LaVey and his Church of Satan that
||a. "YOUTH SUBCULTURE"
Most teenagers involved in fantasy role-playing games, heavy metal music,
or satanism and the occult are going through a stage of adolescent
development and commit no significant crimes. The teenagers who have more
serious problems are usually those from dysfunctional families or those who
have poor communication within their families. These troubled teenagers
turn to satanism and the occult to overcome a sense of alienation, to
rebel, to obtain power, or to justify their antisocial behavior. For these
teenagers it is the symbolism, not the spirituality, that is more
important. It is either the psychopathic or the oddball, loner teenager who
is most likely to get into serious trouble. Extreme involvement in the
occult is a symptom of a problem, not the cause. This is not to deny,
however, that satanism and the occult can be negative influences for a
troubled teenager. But to hysterically warn teenagers to avoid this
"mysterious, powerful and dangerous" thing called satanism will drive
more teenagers right to it. Some rebellious teenagers will do whatever will
most shock and outrage society in order to flaunt their rejection of adult
||b. "DABBLERS" (SELF-STYLED)
For these practitioners there is little or no spiritual motivation. They
may mix satanism, witchcraft, paganism, and any aspects of the occult to
suit their purposes. Symbols mean whatever they want them or believe them
to mean. Molesters, rapists, drug dealers, and murderers may dabble in the
occult and may even commit their crimes in a ceremonial or ritualistic way.
This category has the potential to be the most dangerous, and most of the
"satanic" killers fall into this category. Their involvement in satanism
and the occult is a symptom of a problem, and a rationalization and
justification of antisocial behavior. Satanic/occult practices (as well as
those of other spiritual belief systems) can also be used as a mechanism to
facilitate criminal objectives.
||c. "TRADITIONAL" (ORTHODOX)
These are the so-called true believers. They are often wary of outsiders.
Because of this and constitutional issues, such groups are difficult for
law enforcement to penetrate. Although there may be much we don't know
about these groups, as of now there is little or no hard evidence that as a
group they are involved in serious, organized criminal activity. In
addition, instead of being self- perpetuating master crime conspirators,
"true believers" probably have a similar problem with their teenagers
rebelling against their belief system. To some extent even these
Traditional satanists are self-stylized. They practice what they have come
to believe is "satanism". There is little or no evidence of the
much-discussed multigenerational satanists whose beliefs and practices have
supposedly been passed down through the centuries. Many admitted adult
satanists were in fact raised in conservative Christian homes."
"sociologists who have studied LaVey's church say that its members often had
serious childhood problems like alcoholic parents or broken homes, or that
they were traumatized by guilt-ridden fundamentalist upbringings, turning to
Satanism as a dramatic way to purge their debilitating guilt" (p. 14).
Some have claimed that the accounts of ritual abuse victims coincide with
historical records of what traditional or multigenerational satanists are
known to have practiced down through the ages. Jeffrey Burton Russell,
Professor of History at the University of California at Santa Barbara and
the author of numerous scholarly books on the devil and satanism, believes
that the universal consensus of modern historians on satanism is (personal
communication, Nov. 1991):
Many police officers ask what to look for during the search of the scene of
suspected satanic activity. The answer is simple: Look for evidence of a
crime. A pentagram
is no more criminally significant than a crucifix unless
it corroborates a crime or a criminal conspiracy. If a victim's description
of the location or the instruments of the crime includes a pentagram, then
the pentagram would be evidence. But the same would be true if the
description included a crucifix. In many cases of alleged satanic ritual
abuse, investigation can find evidence that the claimed offenders are
members only of mainstream churches and are often described as very
- "incidents of orgy, infanticide, cannibalism, and other such conduct
have occurred from the ancient world down to the present;
- such incidents were isolated and limited to local antisocial groups;
- during the period of Christian dominance in European culture, such groups
were associated with the Devil in the minds of the authorities;
- in some cases the sectaries believed that they were worshipping Satan;
- no organized cult of Satanists existed in the Christian period beyond
localities, and on no account was there ever any widespread Satanist
organization or conspiracy;
- no reliable historical sources indicate that such organizations existed;
the black mass appears only once in the sources before the late
There is no way any one law enforcement officer can become knowledgeable
about all the symbols and rituals of every spiritual belief system that
might become part of a criminal investigation. The officer needs only to be
trained to recognize the possible investigative significance of such signs,
symbols, and rituals. Knowledgeable religious scholars, academics, and
other true experts in the community can be consulted if a more detailed
analysis is necessary.
Any analysis, however, may have only limited application, especially to
cases involving teenagers, dabblers, and other self-styled practitioners.
The fact is signs, symbols, and rituals can mean anything that
practitioners want them to mean and/or anything that observers interpret
them to mean.
The meaning of symbols can also change over time, place, and circumstance.
Is a swastika spray-painted on a wall an ancient symbol of prosperity and
good fortune, a recent symbol of Nazism and anti-Semitism, or a current
symbol of hate, paranoia, and adolescent defiance? 3 The peace sign which in
the 1960s was a familiar antiwar symbol is now supposed to be a satanic
symbol. Some symbols and holidays become "satanic" only because the antisatanists say they are. Then those who want to be "satanists" adopt
them, and now you have "proof" they are satanic.
In spite of what is sometimes said or suggested at law enforcement training
conferences, police have no authority to seize any satanic or occult
paraphernalia they might see during a search. A legally- valid reason must
exist for doing so. It is not the job of law enforcement to prevent
satanists from engaging in noncriminal teaching, rituals, or other
- We suspect that all of the "minor crimes" are done by teenagers and not
by adult religious Satanists
The term "Occult" has very different meanings to different people. Some
define the Occult as a group of unrelated religions,
pastimes, and means of foretelling the future. Others have a much broader
definition of Occult and see all its elements as being profoundly evil. It
is a good word to avoid.
"Historical note on the Swastika," Falun Dafa,
Return to the OCRT home page, or
"Not So Spiritual" page, or
"Ritual Abuse Studies" page, or
"FBI Report" page.