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:
his programs probably had the greatest influence over public opinion, and
he was courageous enough to issue a retraction and an apology for the
damage that his programs had done to innocent people.
"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:
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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:
a desecrated cemetery;
scenes from an ancient (1970's?) Church of Satan film by its
founder, Anton LaVey
the cover of The Satanic Bible;
an unidentified body being wheeled to an ambulance;
picture of an unidentified dead body on a floor with blood;
voice talking about Satanic cults everywhere, horrendous crimes, child sexual abuse
a man talking about a blood bath cleansing the world
parent talking about animal sacrifices, human sacrifices, sexual abuse of children
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.
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
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,
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.
there was no evidence linking the three accused to the crime scene
an expert on the the Occult fed into the prejudices of the jury
the police did not follow up on two other suspects who appear to be more likely to have
been involved in the crime.
no Satanic or Occultic influences were involved in the killings
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
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.
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.
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.
David O'Reilly, "America's Magic Cult of Ignorance", San Jose
Mercury News, 1993-AUG-8, Page 1L
Jeffrey Victor, Satanic Panic, Open Court, Chicago, 1993
Tom Shales, "Rivera's 'Devil Worship' was TV at its Worst", San Jose
Mercury News, 1988-OCT-31, Page 11B
Irene Wielawski, "Victims of Memory...", Los Angeles Times,
1991-OCT-7, Page 1C
John Skow, "Can Memory be a Devilish Inventor?, TIME Domestic
1994-MAY-16, Volume 143, No. 20
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