If you happened to walk past San Francisco’s Parc 55 hotel this past weekend, you would have seen a most unusual sight: Two women bound on the sidewalk in chains as Satanists cover them in ashes and recited from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.
While this sounds like a scene of “Satanic Ritual Abuse,” it was actually a street performance organized by The Satanic Temple to protest the annual conference of the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD). (For similar protests by the Satanic Temple, see here and here).
Their protest may strike some as silly, but the Satanic Temple is trying to draw attention to a serious issue. The ISSTD deals with highly controversial and discredited theories such as dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder), repressed memories, and hypnosis. These theories were key to a panic in the 1980s over “Satanic Ritual Abuse” in which numerous people underwent therapy and became convinced that they had suffered abuse at the hands of Satanic cults.
Some even came to believe that their minds harbored repressed “cult programming” and that they could be a danger to their own children when this programming was triggered. In 1995, a former patient sued Bennett Braun MD, a founder and former president of ISSTD, claiming that he’d convinced her that she’d engaged in Satanic rituals, cannibalism, and infanticide. She received a $10.6 million dollar settlement. In 1999 Illinois state officials issued a temporary suspension of his medical license, yet he remains in practice in another state.
Although recovered memory therapy has been largely discredited, these methods of therapy and the conspiracy theories associated with them, survive on the fringes of the therapeutic community in enclaves such as The ISSTD and S.M.A.R.T. (Stop Mind Control and Ritual Abuse Today).
Before he became Lucien Greaves, Doug Mesner was horrified by the role of the medical community in promoting a moral panic over Satanism that led to events like the McMartin Preschool Trial. In 2009 he infiltrated a S.M.A.R.T. conference and reported on his findings, including claims that Satanic cults operating in secret through the use of torture and mind control had not died in the 1980s; that they had simply gone underground. Last year The Satanic Temple formed a subgroup called “The Grey Faction,” dedicated to combatting discredited psychological theories about Satanic abuse.
Earlier this year The Grey Faction drew attention to a disturbing case of a woman who killed her autistic child in to order to “save” him from further abuse at the hands of Satanic cults. Gigi Jordan had been trying to communicate with her nonverbal son using a discredited technique called “facilitated communication.”
Jordan would place her son’s hand on her Blackberry and then place her own hand over it to “help” him type. The text produced through this process described how her son was being horribly abused by Satanists, seemingly right under his mother’s nose. In 2010 Jordan gave her son a lethal dose of Xanax and Ambien in order to spare him from further torture. She was convicted of manslaughter last year.
The Grey Faction blames Ellen Lacter, a psychologist affiliated with the ISSTD and S.M.A.R.T., who they claim encouraged Jordan’s paranoia. Greaves reports that Lacter headed a special ISSTD group on ritual abuse and mind control. Documents written by Lacter in 2007 describe how abuse by Satanic and witchcraft cults can cause dissociative identity disorder and subliminal programming. Last month, The Grey Faction sent a petition to the California Board of Psychology Licensure demanding that Lacter be investigated. Greaves claims that Lacter’s named was “scrubbed” from the ISSTD website after this petition was started.
The strange protest at the Parc 55 hotel was the follow through on this campaign. Sarah Ponto Rivera, the director of the Grey Faction, explained:
The chains symbolize the mental health consumers’ constraints from manipulation by their ISSTD psychiatrists. The patients are held in metaphorical bondage in order to “get better.” The buckets labeled “ISSTD” signifies the weight of pseudoscience within the ISSTD organization. The Grey Ash is representative of obscuring truths with a cloud of delusions and imposing a false reality that causes harm to mental health care consumers. The trail of ash off the women’s bodies touching pedestrians on the street symbolizes the communities impacted by therapeutic pseudoscience.
After our protest performance, I marched into the conference with Vice, who were there filming a documentary about me and TST. They recognized me and were very upset. I was looking for Colin Ross, or any of the other quacks I’ve done significant research on. Vice asked to interview anybody who could speak for the organization. They simply called the police.
Like many of their campaigns, this protest by The Satanic Temple takes a familiar narrative and asks us to reassess who the bad guys are. Who is acting as a shadowy cabal? Who is using nefarious forms of “mind control” to confuse people? And who is really responsible for the death of innocent children?