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Geraldo Rivera: Satanic Ritual
Abuse & recovered memories

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Many talk show hosts, including Donahue, Geraldo Rivera, Oprah Winfrey, and Sally Jesse Raphael have featured episodes which dealt with allegations of Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) and discussions of memories formed during Recovered Memory Therapy. Of these, Geraldo is unique, because:
bullet his programs probably had the greatest influence over public opinion, and
bullet he was courageous enough to issue a retraction and an apology for the damage that his programs had done to innocent people.

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"Satanic cults and children.", 1987-NOV-19:

Prior to 1985, Geraldo Rivera worked for ABC News. Subsequently, he hosted a number of national TV special programs which, as one reporter wrote, (1) explored "the twilight zones of American society." One such special discussed the alleged ritual abuse of children by Satanic cults.

He stated: "Estimates are that there are over 1 million Satanists in this country...The majority of them are linked in a highly organized, very secretive network. From small towns to large cities, they have attracted police and FBI attention to their Satanic ritual child abuse, child pornography and grisly Satanic murders. The odds are that this is happening in your town."

A more accurate estimate of Satanic activity in the US is probably:
bullet 10,000 adult members of religious Satanic churches, temples and grottos
bullet 10,000 adult solitary practitioners of Satanism
bullet probably in excess of 100,000 transitory teenage dabblers in Satanism
There is no evidence that any adult Satanist has committed a criminal act related to his religious belief. However, teenagers dabblers have been shown to engage in minor crimes. These include defacing buildings and tombstones with graffiti. Rarely, they have been known to kill small animals.

His mention of FBI involvement probably referred to the work of Kenneth V. Lanning, a Supervisory Special Agent in the Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI Academy in Virginia. He had combated the sexual victimization of children since 1981. Initially, he believed that Satanic ritual abuse was really happening. But he reported in 1992: "...the number of alleged cases began to grow and grow. We now have hundreds of victims alleging that thousands of offenders are abusing and even murdering tens of thousands of people as part of organized satanic cults, and there is little or no corroborative evidence."

Shortly after the Geraldo special, a rumor began to spread through Jamestown NY. It was typical of the type of "Satanic Panic" described in a book by the same name. (2) It might have been triggered by the TV program, or its timing might have been an unusual coincidence. People started to believe that some teenagers had held a Satanic "Black Mass" in an abandoned warehouse on Halloween. The humane society started receiving calls about dogs and cats that had been ritually killed. A Fundamentalist Christian minister wrote letters to the newspaper about the sudden increase in Satanic activity in the area. Some of the teens that were believed to be involved received threatening phone calls. Groups of young thugs started to roam around town, searching for people that they believed to be Satanists, in order to beat them up.

In reality, there was no Satanic activity. Some teens wearing dark clothes and offbeat haircuts had simply held a harmless Halloween party. No dead pets were ever found.

The stories escalated several months later. The police began receiving dozens of calls warning about the upcoming Friday the 13th (1998-MAY-13). They predicted that a Satanic cult would kidnap a young blue-eyed, blond, virgin woman and ritually sacrifice her. The day came, and passed uneventfully.

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"Devil worship: Exploring Satan's underground", 1988-OCT-25:

Geraldo hosted a special during prime time on 25-OCT, just before Halloween in 1988. (3) The phrase Satan's Underground presumably refers to the book of the same name by Lauren Stratford. Cornerstone Magazine, an Evangelical Christian periodical, exposed the book as a hoax in their Dec/Jan 1989/90 issue. (6) We believe that there were a number of authors of anti-Satanic books on the show: Mike Warnke, Michelle and/or Dr. Lawrence Pazder, and Lauren Stratford. All have been exposed as frauds by various Christian, Neopagan and secular groups.

Geraldo's program lasted through two hours of prime time, and reached an enormous TV audience. He discussed Satanism, which was described as "this force that exalts evil and darkness." The episode included discussions of: butchered infants, breeding of babies for later sacrifice during Satanic rituals, ritual sexual abuse of children, mutilation of infants, drinking of blood, dismembered corpses, cannibal cults and sex orgies. There were "gruesome rituals," and "gruesome memories," and "gruesome allegations," and "brutally violent, horrible crimes," and acts "so incredibly outrageous, so incredibly unbelievable," that he was reluctant to describe them. "The most gruesome scenes are left out," Rivera commented.

Throughout the show, Rivera kept telling his viewers that the program was not suitable for young children to watch. He said near the start: "The very young and impressionable should definitely not be watching this program tonight...This is not a Halloween fable." At various times, he said: Get them away from the TV during the next report." or "I am begging you...Please get them out of the room, or change the station!" Unfortunately, such disclaimers often serve to increase the number of child viewers. And the timing of the show during prime time just before Halloween has moved some skeptics to wonder about Geraldo's sincerity.

He showed a film clip of Charles Manson of "The Family" fame, who he introduced as "today's top Satanic celebrity...That man is so repugnant...All these Satanic murderers are." Nobody questioned whether these alleged crimes actually happened. There was no discussion of the total lack of evidence of secret, criminal, abusive Satanic cults. Nobody talked about the reality of Satanism: that no criminal act motivated by Satan worship has ever been shown to have happened, with the exception of minor crimes by teenage dabblers.

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Episode on recovered memories, 1991-SEP:

One episode of the Geraldo show featured three women who disclosed horrendous memories of their victimization as young children. They recalled being tortured sexually and psychologically almost from the time that they first learned to walk. They had repressed these memories for decades, until the recollections began to be restored during Recovered Memory Therapy. They recalled being forced to torture other children. One woman claimed that she had murdered 40 children during Satanic rituals in the presence of her family.

In late 1991-SEP, comedian Roseanne Arnold disclosed to an audience of incest victims in Denver CO that her parents had abused her when she was under the age of 12 months. Her story received massive publicity, and prompted a denial by the rest of her family.

If these events actually happened, then the memories from infancy by Roseanne and the other women would be unique. Researchers into memory have concluded that true memories before the age of 3 are very rare, and that such memories before the age of 24 months are unknown.

An article on Geraldo's program (4) quoted Dr. George K. Ganaway, a specialist in psychiatric aberrations of memory from Emory University. He said that new memories of Satanic cult abuse have reached "epidemic" proportions while independent verification is in short supply. Those claiming to have been victims are not necessarily lying. Rather they have been persuaded -- by friend, therapist or something they have read or have seen on television -- to adopt a plausible explanation for their emotional pain. For highly suggestible people -- an estimated 5 percent to 10 percent of the population -- it is a short step to vivid, albeit fantastic, memories of things that never happened. Dr. Ganaway believed that poorly trained therapists are partly responsible for the Satanic sexual-abuse scare, and may also have led patients to believe that they were abused when they were not. False memories can be planted through tone of voice or the phrasing of a question.

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Satanic ritual abuse show, 1995-JUN-25:

Geraldo's revisited the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare after an absence of four years. He began with excerpts from earlier programs, showing:
bullet quasi-Satanic graffiti;
bullet a desecrated cemetery;
bullet scenes from an ancient (1970's?) Church of Satan film by its founder, Anton LaVey
bullet the cover of The Satanic Bible;
bullet an unidentified body being wheeled to an ambulance;
bullet picture of an unidentified dead body on a floor with blood;
bullet lurid headlines;
bullet voice talking about Satanic cults everywhere, horrendous crimes, child sexual abuse
bullet a man talking about a blood bath cleansing the world
bullet parent talking about animal sacrifices, human sacrifices, sexual abuse of children
bullet voice over talking about people being unable to leave a cult (they believe that they would be horrendously tortured and killed if they did) and of a nationwide network of Satanists.
bullet a movie clip of an allegedly demon-possessed woman.
Geraldo talked about the public being in denial, that some unsubstantiated charges have been made in the past and that many people are committing terrible crimes in Satan's name. The introduction set the theme for the program: that a network of underground Satanic cults, perhaps including members of the Church of Satan, were killing people, abusing children etc. None of this is true; there is no evidence that any religious Satanist has engaged in any Satanically inspired criminal activity. The graffiti shown involved "666" and drawings of inverted crosses. These are not Satanic symbols. Rather they are symbols created by Christian anti-Satanic writers. Nobody ever had problems leaving a Satanic group; they simply stop attending meetings.

The first guests were from a family: grandmother, grandfather and boy "JR" aged 9 and a girl "Tabatha" aged 8. It is alleged that the children were victims of SRA while in foster care. The Grandmother talked about the children's disclosure of elements of a Satanic ritual: table, candles, horns robes, and Miss Patti (the welfare worker) helping to kill a baby. No criminal charges were ever laid. Welfare believed children's stories to be fantasies. Their story appears to be a typical case of a counselor implanting memories in children during therapy.

The second guests were also a family: mother Anne and sons Matthew and Micky (17 and 15). The mother explained that she married into an inter-generational Satanic cult. They fear for their lives. Matthew was 3 to 4 years old during the abuse; he recalls seeing his brother being tortured by adults making incisions on his feet. Micky also recalled some of the abuse. It is most unlikely that Micky's memories are of real events, because he would have been 18 to 30 months of age at the time; memories in children under 3 are very rare; under 24 months, recollections are unknown. Annie later said that an elite group of Satanist hurt, murder, do blood-pact dedications, and coronate girls as princesses. She has seen the cut marks, the water blisters. She remembers being drugged, and waking up on a table next to a woman who gave birth and watched the baby die. There was no indication during the program whether Anne's memories were continuously present, or were recovered during therapy. The latter is believed to be true.

The third guest was Carol, an obviously distressed woman in her early 20's. She remembers being lured into what was apparently a Christian prayer meeting at the age of 10 and abused by the cult for 3.5 years. She believes that she repressed the memories and recovered them during therapy. She said that the cult told her that they were her family now. They allegedly put her in a casket, lowered her into a grave and threw earth on the casket. After a while, they freed her, saying that her family of origin didn't rescue her, Jesus didn't rescue her; they (her new family) did. These are typical false memories that often arise during recovered memory therapy (RMT). Carol was close to breaking down completely on the show. She appeared to be all too typical example of a woman who had been functioning well in life, who entered RMT and became disabled by the results of the counseling.

The fourth guests were the mother and father of a murdered 8 year old boy, Stevie, from West Memphis AR. Scenes were shown from an earlier Geraldo program of the murder of three 8 year old boys. Three teenagers were convicted of the multiple murder.

Jack Levine from Northeastern University is the author of "Overkill - Mass Murder and Serial Killing Exposed". He concluded that the killing was done by Satanists. "ritual gives them the power, dominance and control that they crave." Later, he commented that "Some kids are miserable enough to kill and use Satanic rituals as an excuse." This may be very close to the reality of situations blamed on Satanists: abuse is perpetrated by non-Satanic sadistic child abusers, who use Satanism as a cover.

An analysis of the West Memphis case by a skeptic shows that:
bullet there was no evidence linking the three accused to the crime scene
bullet an expert on the the Occult fed into the prejudices of the jury
bullet the police did not follow up on two other suspects who appear to be more likely to have been involved in the crime.
bullet no Satanic or Occultic influences were involved in the killings
bullet the real killer(s) are probably free and may have committed a similar crime a few months after the West Memphis killing while the accused teenagers were in jail
The three accused, particularly the ring-leader, were show-offs. They appear to be Christians, not Satanists; they talked briefly about heaven and God's judgment; these are Christian concepts, not Satanic.

Father Lebar, a Roman Catholic cult expert for New York Archdiocese. The Church believes that Satan is a fallen angel whose role is to turn people away from God. He believes that Satanic abuse has been going on for centuries. He discussed the Matamoros Mexico killings which he believes was done by Satanists. (In reality, the murders were done by a psychopath with the help of a drug-running gang who were followers of Christianity and various Caribbean religions, not of Satanism.) He talked about an international conference of Satanists in Mexico in 1982 planning to take over the world. (This is apparently a version of a well known urban folk-tale involving a mythical organizations of Wiccans called W.I.C.C.A.)

This show had one novel guest. It is rare that a skeptic is allowed to appear on a talk show dealing with Satanic abuse. Jeffrey Victor, a sociologist and author of "Satanic Panic" (2) was a phone-in guest. He stated that SRA is based on a concoction of false memories, lies, misinformation, fantasy, distortion of reality, a few real events, hype thrown in, and sensationalism. He felt that Geraldo's show demonstrated this. He accused Geraldo of exploiting children "in order to entertain the audience. Very sad." The audience booed Victor at this point. Geraldo repeatedly asked how her would explain the West Memphis murders. But Dr. Victor simply repeated how irresponsible Geraldo was with his exploitation of the audience. There was a complete breakdown of communication.

In late 2007, experts studying the multiple murders determined that Satanism and rituals were not involved in the multiple homicide. Lack of DNA evidence cleared beyond reasonable doubt the three convicted of the crime who have spent almost half their life in jail. DNA from the step-father of one of the boys was reportedly found at the crime scene. More details.

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The adverse effects of the Geraldo Rivera programs:

Some experts in human memory speculate that the Geraldo shows (and similar quasi-documentaries filled with misinformation) have convinced large numbers of people that they might also have been abused as children, and repressed the memories. One example may have been the Paul Ingram case in Olympia WA. His daughters had watched a Geraldo Rivera TV show on Satanic ritual abuse. Shortly thereafter a police investigator suggested that their father might have abused them during Satanic rituals. They "enthusiastically agreed" (5) One sister recovered memories of being forced to watch the ritual murders of 25 people. She recalled her own aborted fetus being ritually dismembered. A medical exam proved that she had never been pregnant. No babies had ever gone missing. Ingram was convicted, in spite of his protestations of innocence, an absolute lack of evidence of his guilt, and an absence of proof that any crimes had actually occurred.

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Geraldo Rivera Recants and Apologizes, 1995-DEC-12

Geraldo hosted a program on CNBC with the theme "Wrongly Accused & Convicted of Child Molest." The program was broadcast on the night of the acquittal of Pastor Roby Roberson and Connie Roberson in the Wenatchee WA sex abuse scandal. Guests included Charlotte, "Tookie", and Violet Amirault of the Fells Acres Day School case, Georgetown Law School Professor Paul Rothstein and Loyala Law Professor Stan Goldman. During a discussion involving the legal panel, he stopped and said:
"I want to announce publicly that as a firm believer of the 'Believe The Children' movement of the 1980's, that started with the McMartin trials in CA, but NOW I am convinced that I was terribly wrong... and many innocent people were convicted and went to prison as a result....AND I am equally positive [that the] 'Repressed Memory Therapy Movement' is also a bunch of CRAP..."

Geraldo apparently had a change of heart at some time during the latter half of 1995. He is to be commended for stating his new belief in public. Unfortunately, a one minute apology and recantation is hardly sufficient to reverse the damage done by many hours of sensational programming, grounded on misinformation.

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  1. David O'Reilly, "America's Magic Cult of Ignorance", San Jose Mercury News, 1993-AUG-8, Page 1L
  2. Jeffrey Victor, Satanic Panic, Open Court, Chicago, 1993
  3. Tom Shales, "Rivera's 'Devil Worship' was TV at its Worst", San Jose Mercury News, 1988-OCT-31, Page 11B
  4. Irene Wielawski, "Victims of Memory...", Los Angeles Times, 1991-OCT-7, Page 1C
  5. John Skow, "Can Memory be a Devilish Inventor?, TIME Domestic 1994-MAY-16, Volume 143, No. 20
  6. Lauren Stratford's book was revealed as a hoax by an Evangelical Christian investigation team, Harvest House, an ethical Christian publisher, took the book off the market. It has since been distributed by another publisher. See "Satan's Sideshow The real story of Lauren Stratford by Gretchen & Bob Passantino and Jon Trott.

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Copyright 1998 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2007-NOV-07
Author: B.A. Robinson

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