Top 10 Stupidest/Weirdest Jack the Ripper theories

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125 years ago yesterday, the last known victim of an unknown serial killer was found stabbed and eviscerated in her dismal rented room in London’s East End Whitechapel district. Over the previous two months and ten days, this man had murdered at least four other area prostitutes, desperate and impoverished women in their forties. At 24 or 25, Mary Kelly was the youngest victim of the Whitechapel killer.

The killer had seemingly made a name for himself, quite literally, by writing letters to news agencies and professionals associated with the investigation. One of these missives was signed “Jack the Ripper”.  It is now believed, by former FBI profiler John Douglas and others, that this particular letter was a hoax sent by someone other than the killer. (Douglas and Olshaker, 2000)

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So it’s unlikely we’ll ever know what the killer really called himself, or what his name was. Nonetheless, theories about his identity continue to abound, even after countless other serial killers have come and gone. There’s something about the events of that dingy time and place that smear the public imagination like a mysterious, fascinating stain. At least once a year, some new theory about the killer finds its way into a mass market paperback or the pages of the Daily Mail. A few are worthy of consideration, but then there are the theories that are so tragicomically absurd you have to wonder if the writer is any saner than “Jack” was. Leaving out the obvious hoaxes (such as the James Maybrick and James Carnac “diaries”), here are my Top 10 Stupidest/Weirdest Jack the Ripper theories:

10. A “Satanist” named Robert Donston (or D’Onston) Stephenson

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Donston entered the Whitechapel saga by way of Aleister Crowley. In an essay penned about half a century after the murders, Crowley relates the story of lovely authoress Mabel Collins, a devotee of Theosophy who became estranged from her male lover (Donston) by a treacherous female lover (Baroness Vittoria Cremers). The Whitechapel murders had already begun by the time this domestic drama was playing out.
Crowley believed that “Jack” was a cannibal, consuming parts of his victims’ bodies right at the scenes of his crimes. So did Miss Collins and the baroness. One day, as they were discussing how it could be possible for Jack to do such a thing without getting blood on his shirtfront, Captain Donston donned his opera cape for them and showed them how easy it would be for a man to protect his shirt with the dark, heavy fabric. Cremers thought little of this until she crept into Donston’s room, hoping to retrieve a packet of Mabel’s love letters to save the woman from any blackmail or embarrassment. In a trunk beneath his bed, she discovered five dress ties stained with blood.
On December 1, 1888, the Pall Mall Gazette published an article (here) in which the anonymous author postulated that the murders were black magic ceremonies designed to imbue the killer with power, in accordance with instructions in the writings of Eliphas Levi. The locations of the murders, Anonymous explained, would form a cross (Crowley changed this to a five-pointed star). Crowley dismissed this theory, believing (as many did) that there were seven “Ripper” murders in Whitechapel, but wondered if Donston had written the article, and if the killer had been following some astrological pattern in his selection of crime scenes (an idea brought to his attention by crime reporter Bernard O’Donnell).  After conducting his own research, Crowley concluded that at the time of each murder, either Saturn of Mercury was precisely on the Eastern horizon.
The interesting story of Captain Donston is exactly that: An interesting story. Donston was known to Crowley only as “Captain Donston”, and it’s unlikely he ever met the man in person. It seems all his information about him came from old Vittoria Cremers, a member of his O.T.O. lodge. Later writers discovered that an alcoholic confabulist named Robert “Roslyn” D’Onston (or Donston) Stephenson had lived in London at the time of the murders, and he was deemed a prime suspect by some Ripperologists (notably, the late Melvin Harris).
In a 2003 book, Jack the Ripper’s Black Magic Rituals, career criminal Ivor Edwards resurrected the black magick/Donston theory, positing that the Whitechapel killer really did plot out the five murders to form a giant shape (a vesica piscis). The snag in this theory is that D’Onston Stephenson was a patient at London Hospital at the time, being treated for neurasthenia. He checked himself into the hospital in late July, one month before the first murder, and checked out on December 7, one month after the last murder. Edwards gets around this by pointing out that the hospital was in the Whitechapel area. Security was so lax, he maintains, that curiosity-seekers regularly snuck onto hospital grounds to catch glimpses of John Merrick, the Elephant Man….so isn’t it plausible that Stephenson could sneak out, slay prostitutes, then sneak back in without being observed? Four times?
The evidence here is ridiculously thin, and Edwards pushes the envelope even further by insisting that Stephenson murdered his wife, Anne Deary, in 1887 (it isn’t even known if she died at this time). The only real, discernible connection D’Onston Stephenson has to the Whitechapel killings is that he had his own suspect in mind; Dr. Morgan Davies, one of the physicians at London Hospital. He reported his suspicions to the police, and gave a statement to Inspector Thomas Roots of Scotland Yard after his release. Other than this, and the secondhand tales of an old girlfriend, there doesn’t seem to be the slightest bit of evidence against Mr. Stephenson. Note that among three people who championed the black magic theory of the crimes, there were three different designs attributed to the killer (a cross, a star, and a vesica piscis).

9. Crowley

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before his Telly Savalis phase

Aleister Crowley was not known to be a violent man, despite rumours that he sexually tortured at least one of his wives. Yet the notion persists in some quarters that if you’re an occultist, you probably kill people. Crowley was portrayed as a pedophile serial killer in the web series lonelygirl15, and more recently has been called out as a Jack the Ripper copycat by historian Mark Beynon and blamed for six of the deaths linked to the bogus Curse of King Tut.
And, since he lived in London during the 1880s, why not make him Jack the Ripper as well? After all, he expressed interest in the murders, and had a theory about the killer. Good enough.
Crowley has never become a mainstream suspect (that is, no Ripperologists have written books about him), but he has been mentioned by fringe conspiranoids who dabble in true crime.

8. Lewis Carroll

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In 1996, an elusive character named Richard Wallace published Jack the Ripper, Light-Hearted Friend. It consisted almost entirely of anagrams formed from passages of a preschool version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Sylvie and Bruno. These scrambled, barely coherent verses were supposed to prove that Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) was one sick bastard, and probably slaughtered prostitutes alongside his friend Thomas Vere Bayne when he wasn’t doing math. This makes for some pretty hilarious reading, as this review shows. Of course, if you rearrange words in Jack the Ripper, Light-Hearted Friend, you can probably prove that Richard Wallace is actually Donald Trump.
Sadly, this hot mess was taken halfway-seriously at the time of publication. Harper’s excerpted it, Ripperologists and anagram enthusiasts went out of their way to refute it, and Lewis Carroll fans facepalmed themselves into concussions.
This was not Wallace’s first book about Carroll. In The Agony of Lewis Carroll (1990), he exposed “hidden smut” in Carroll’s books in an attempt to prove that Carroll was gay, which rather works against the idea that he murdered female prostitutes. 

Another writer, Thomas Toughill, sussed out clues to the Ripper’s identity in Oscar Wilde’s The Portrait of Dorian Gray, concluding that portraitist Frank Miles was the killer. He published his findings as The Ripper Code in 2008 (remember, kids, adding the word “code” to your title adds credibility).
Even if the passages Toughill highlights pointed unambiguously to Miles, though, wouldn’t this merely show that Wilde thought Miles was a good suspect? He was a playwright, not freaking Inspector Maigret.

7. The Demon of the Belfry

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In April 1895, nearly seven years after the Whitechapel murders ended, two young women in San Francisco were raped and strangled inside  Emanuel Baptist Church. Blanche Lamont, 20, disappeared first. Nine days later, 21-year-old Minnie Williams vanished. On Easter Sunday, one of the church ladies opened a cabinet where teacups were usually stored and discovered Minnie’s body. Blanche’s body was soon found in the church belfry.
Because he was seen with both young women shortly before they went missing, a 23-year-old medical student named Theo Durrant was charged with the murders. He was the assistant superintendent of the church Sunday school.
At trial, Durrant’s defense attorney argued that the real killer could have been the church minister, John George Gibson. Gibson had been a pastor in Scotland until resigning from his post in 1887. Between that time and his arrival in the U.S. in December 1888, Gibson’s whereabouts are unknown.
Durrant went to the gallows in 1898, and few doubt that he was the “demon of the belfry”, as reporters dubbed him. But Robert Graysmith, author of Zodiac and Zodiac Unmasked, took note of that gap in John Gibson’s resumé. It matches up perfectly with the dates of the Whitechapel murders; Gibson left his post at least 8 months before they began, and arrived in America one month after they stopped. Coincidence?
Well, yeah, probably. First of all, the Emanuel Church murders – while certainly gruesome – were considerably less vicious than the Whitechapel murders. It would be essentially unheard-of for a serial killer to de-escalate in such dramatic fashion. Secondly, Durrant’s behaviour before and after the murders was peculiar. He offered outlandish theories about white slave trafficking to the aunt of Blanche Lamont, and was seen arguing with Minnie Williams the day she vanished. Gibson, on the other hand, isn’t known to have said or done anything unusual at the time of the murders. (McConnell, 2005)
An intriguing footnote to all this is the sensational Salome trial that occurred in London twenty years after Durrant’s execution. In the wake of the murders, Durrant’s sister, Maud, had turned to dance. Though she had no professional training, she was able to establish herself as a performer in England, specializing in “Salome dances”. In 1918, she staged Oscar Wilde’s Salome in London, and came under attack from a right-wing publication. The editor accused her of being a lesbian “honey trap” and a German spy, sent to undermine the morals of British patriots. Maud Allan sued for libel, but the unfortunate fact that her brother had raped and killed two women worked against her. She lost the suit.

6. A mad doctor

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Doctors came under heavy suspicion in the Whitechapel case because it was assumed, at the time, that anyone who could mutilate a body and remove organs in a short amount of time must have some degree of surgical skill. This is not the case, but that hasn’t stopped Ripperologists from implicating physicians and surgeons by the dozen. A few of the most notable:

Dr. Stanley
In the 1920s, Australian journalist and MP Leonard Matters introduced a bizarre theory: That a late physician he identified only as “Dr. Stanley” had gone on a prostitute-killing rampage because a prostitute had given his son an STD. He was searching for one prostitute (out of roughly 800 in the district), so he simply murdered each one he questioned until he found his real target – Mary Kelly. Supposedly, Matters had read the doctor’s deathbed confession in a South American newspaper, but he never produced the article.
Sadly, this lame theory was the subject of the first full-length treatment of the case, Matters’ The Mystery of Jack the Ripper (1929), and became the basis for the 1959 film Jack the Ripper.

Sir William Gull, Royal physician
Though he was elderly and partially disabled by a stroke at the time of the murders, Stephen Knight selected Dr. Gull as the central figure in his Freemason theory (see #3).

Sir John Williams, Royal gynecologist
In what has to be one of the weirdest Ripper theories of all time, Tony Williams implicated his own ancestor in his 2005 book Uncle Jack, proposing that the royal OB-GYN killed prostitutes and harvested their uteri as part of a research project aimed at curing his wife’s infertility. This had something to do with being a Freemason.
This September, an equally ridiculous book was put out by a woman who claims to be Mary Kelly’s great-great-granddaughter. Antonia Alexander claims Mary Kelly had an affair with Williams. He then killed her for some reason or other. The proof? His blurry photo is in a locket that supposedly belonged to Kelly.
You can find details of the Williams allegations in this Daily Mail article. 

Dr. Thomas Barnardo
Dr. Barnardo was not actually a doctor, but he identified himself as one throughout his life. He established a string of children’s charity homes between 1870 and his death in 1905.
Aside from pretending to be a doctor, Barnardo had a more-or-less unblemished reputation as a philanthropist right into the 1970s, when the late historian Donald McCormick suddenly decided he would make a decent Ripper suspect for his book The Identity of Jack the Ripper (though his suspect of choice remained the cross-dressing Russian assassin Pedachenko – one of the silliest Ripper hoaxes ever). Gary Rowlands, in his chapter of The Mammoth Book Of Jack The Ripper, expands on McCormick’s theoryBarnardo’s lonely childhood in Ireland, combined with religious zealotry, caused him to go on an anti-prostitute murder crusade. He only stopped killing because a swimming accident deafened him.
I don’t know about Rowlands, but McCormick was a notoriously shoddy historian; one of my favourite bloggers, Dr. Beachcombing, calls him Baron Munchausen, and accuses him of fabricating a creepy poem that “Jack” supposedly wrote.
It’s true that Barnardo worked in the slums, and claimed to have met victim Elizabeth Stride shortly before her murder. Other than this, how much evidence links Barnardo to the Whitechapel murders? None. Seriously. None.

Dr. Morgan Davies
Robert D’Onston Stephenson suspected Dr. Davies merely because Davies routinely discussed the murders with another patient at London Hospital, acting them out in some detail and opining that the killer was a sexual sadist. As a man familiar with mental illness, it wouldn’t surprise me if Davies had a better grasp of criminal behaviour than the people around him.

Francis Tumblety
Tumblety was not a real medical doctor, and in my opinion could still be a viable suspect. He also had an odd connection to the assassination of Lincoln.

5. Famous painters.

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Walter Sickert.

Sickert, like Crowley, is another person who apparently came under suspicion because of his interest in the case. Most people know of this from Patricia Cornwell’s 2002 book Portrait of a Killer, but Cornwell was not actually the first to suggest Sickert’s involvement. That dubious honour would go to Donald McCormick, who mentioned Sickert in his 1970 book The Identity of Jack the Ripper. Also in the 1970s, a man claiming to be Sickert’s son (Sickert had no known children) declared his dad had been chummy with the heir to the throne, Prince Alfred Victor (the Duke of Clarence, himself a Ripper suspect). According to Joseph Gorman, AKA “Hobo” Sickert, the duke knocked up a poor Catholic girl named Annie Crook around 1885. When the Queen and the Prime Minister discovered this, they were horrified, and arranged for Miss Crook to be abducted and “lobotomized” by the royal physician, Sir William Gull. Someone connected to the royal family then murdered the illegitimate child’s nanny, Mary Kelly. The illegitimate daughter of Annie and the duke, Alice, later became one of Sickert’s mistresses….and Hobo Sickert’s mother. Therefore, he could be considered an heir to the throne. All of these details proved to be false, and Joseph Gorman/Hobo Sickert admitted as such to the Sunday Times (June 18, 1978), though he continued to insist he was Sickert’s son.
The late Stephen Knight, whom we’ll meet shortly, incorporated the Annie Crooks story into his conspiracy theory about Freemasons and royals, asserting that Sickert had been part of a plot to murder prostitutes on behalf of the royal family.
In 1990, Jean Overton Fuller published Sickert and the Ripper Crimes, in which she laid out a theory that Sickert was the one and only Jack (incidentally, she was friends with Crowley associate Victor Neuberg, and was quite familiar with the D’Onston Stephenson story).
Then Patricia Cornwell took on the case. Thanks to her popularity as a crime novelist, Portrait of a Killer became a bestseller and unleashed a fresh flood of interest in Sickert-as-Ripper. In 2012, the Royal Opera House even parlayed Sickert’s fascination with Jack into a moody ballet, Sweet Violets
Cornwell’s theory rests heavily on Sickert’s supposedly deformed genitalia, alleged DNA matches between genetic material found on “Ripper” envelopes and on envelopes mailed by Sickert, and what she considers telling imagery in some of Sickert’s portraits. She points to the blurred or distorted faces of women, arguing that they represent the mutilation of the Ripper’s victims. Sickert was, unquestionably, inspired or intrigued by infamous London crimes involving prostitutes, though he didn’t begin to express this until nearly 30 years after the Whitechapel murders. In 1907 he painted Jack the Ripper’s Bedroom (below), and the following year he did a series on the Camden Town murder.

Walter Sickert Jack the Ripper's Bedroom

While it’s true that some of Sickert’s paintings are murky and vaguely disturbing, he also painted delightful street scenes and whimsical caricatures of ballet-goers. Furthermore, his Camden Town series was meant to be enigmatic, even baffling, in the style of Victorian problem pictures. And while the DNA evidence seems compelling, it should be noted that the envelopes and stamps from which DNA was extracted belonged to letters widely believed to be hoaxes (e.g., the “Openshaw letter“). There’s a good discussion of this evidence at the Casebook: Jack the Ripper site.
There is nothing in Sickert’s background to suggest that he was prone to violence. At the time of the murders, he may have been living and painting in France.

And speaking of painting in France…

Vincent Van Gogh

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Van Gogh is a recent addition to the suspect pool. Painter and writer David Larner spent five years (2006 – 2011) compiling research for his unpublished manuscript, Vincent Alias Jack.
Larner first suspected Van Gogh while trying to recreate Irises; the face of Mary Kelly simply jumped out at him from within the folds of a flower. You can see Larner’s side-by-side comparison of the Kelly crime scene photo and the painting here (WARNING: graphic imagery). Hello, pareidolia.

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“When you see it, you’ll shit bricks,”

But the painting isn’t the only “proof”. Apparently, Van Gogh is a good Ripper candidate because he consorted with prostitutes, hacked off part of his own ear (Catherine Eddowes’ ear was hacked off), and might have been in London at the right time. Larner also believes – with no solid evidence to back him up – that Van Gogh was responsible for the 1887-’88 Thames torso murders, which are only seldom linked to the Ripper. That’s about it.

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Besides, serial killers can’t paint.

4. Jill

A surprisingly popular theory at the time of the murders was that “Jack” was actually a woman, possibly a midwife who worked in the area, or a wife so enraged by her husband’s fondness for prostitutes that she decided to slaughter as many of them as she could. Possible “Jills” include murderess Mary Pearcy, who killed her lover’s wife and child in 1890 (the only female Ripper suspect to be named close to the time of the murders), and Lizzie Williams, wife of suspect Sir John Williams (according to this theory, she was driven insane by her infertility and began ripping the uteri out of prostitutes). Sir Arthur Conan Doyle favoured the theory that “Jack” was a lady, and his fans continue to put forward female suspects. For example, Constance Kent, who admitted (perhaps falsely) to killing her 4-year-old half-brother in 1865, has been named by E.J. Wagner in The Science of Sherlock Holmes.

3. Freemasons

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This theory was the brainchild of a young British writer named Stephen Knight, published in 1976 as Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution, but the elements of it were culled from a variety of sources:

  • Retired doctor Thomas E.A. Stowell‘s article “Jack the Ripper – A Solution?”. This piece, published in the November 1970 issue of The Criminologist, proposed that the Ripper was an aristocrat who stalked, killed and eviscerated Whitechapel prostitutes in much the same way the aristocracy stalked, killed, and gutted deer. This young man was suffering insanity from the latter stages of syphilis, so he might have harboured great resentment against prostitutes for giving him the disease, which ultimately killed him. Stowell  hinted that this aristocrat was none other than an heir to the throne, Prince Albert Victor (the Duke of Clarence).  Stowell claimed this information came from personal notes of Dr. Gull (Stowell knew Gull’s daughter) – but Gull died two years before the duke.
  • The tales of Joseph Gorman Sickert
  • Conspiracy theories about English Freemasons
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The Duke of Clarence

Knight somewhat elegantly stitched together these loose threads to create the mother of all weird Jack the Ripper narratives: The Duke of Clarence impregnated a poor Catholic girl, Annie Crooks, and entrusted the care of his illegitimate child to Mary Kelly. Kelly and four of her friends unwisely decided to blackmail the royal family, and in retaliation Queen Victoria dispatched Dr. Gull and a gang of other prominent Freemasons to silence the women. One by one, they were lured to their deaths. The men kept their pact of silence for the rest of their lives because…well, because they were Freemasons. Bros before hos, yo.
As it turned out, this was all a complete waste of everyone’s time. The duke died of influenza just four years later.
The idea that a stroke-paralyzed physician would drag himself around the East End just to shut up a handful of prostitutes who wouldn’t be believed, anyway, makes for a good comic book and very little else. Over the years, however, people have grafted more Freemasonic suspects onto the theory, including Churchill’s dad.
Walter Sickert, incidentally, gave painting lessons to Winston Churchill.

2. The author of My Secret Life

This theory is weak for several reasons, but the first and foremost one is that we don’t know who wrote the book. My Secret Life was an erotic novel released in serialized form, beginning around the same time as the Whitechapel murders (the exact date of publication isn’t known). The author was listed simply as “Walter”. Hey, maybe it was Walter Sickert!

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In their 2010 book Jack the Ripper’s Secret Confession, David Monaghan and Nigel Cawthorne propose that “Walter” left clues about his identity as the Whitechapel killer throughout his book. Monaghan came up with this theory after noting the resemblance between passages of My Secret Life and the 1894 confession of Chicago serial killer Herman Mudgett (“H. H. Holmes”), particularly Walter’s description of a corpse floating in the Thames. Never mind that all of the Whitechapel victims were found on dry land.
Even if “Walter” truly had violent tendencies, there just isn’t enough here to draw a link between him and the murders. Weirdly enough, though, Holmes himself was named as a suspect by one of his descendants.

1. Hitler

I used to think this was a theory of my own invention, but it turns out some other lunatic already put the pieces together.
Bear with me, here. This is bulletproof. All you have to do is take the Stowell/Sickert/Knight theory that the Duke of Clarence had a role in the Whitechapel murders, and combine it with a fringe theory that the duke faked his death to begin a new life in Germany as one Adolph Hitler. Sure, the duke would have been considerably older than the man we know as Hitler, but didn’t Eva Braun describe Adolph as an “elderly gentleman” when she first met him?

But seriously, folks, any theory of the Whitechapel killings should take into account John Douglas’s profile of the killer. Based on victimology, the locations of the crime scenes, and especially the manner of the murders and mutilations, Douglas concludes the sole perpetrator was an asocial malcontent who might have worked for a butcher or a mortician, if he was able to hold a job at all. He lived or worked in the area. (Douglas and Olshaker, 2000, pp. 67-70)

In 2006, police affirmed that if they were looking for the suspect today, they would be knocking on doors in and around Whitechapel, rather than searching far afield for artists, dilettantes and Freemasons. They even issued a composite sketch of the Whitechapel killer.

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It was Freddy Mercury all along.

Sources:

Douglas, J. and Olshaker, M. The cases that haunt us. (2000). New York, NY: Scribner.

McConnell, V.A. (2005). Sympathy for the devil: The emmanuel baptist murders of old san francisco. Lincoln, NE: Bison Books.

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Sandy Hook Truth, 9 months later

It has been about seven months since I first looked at the Sandy Hook Truth movement, an assortment of individuals who believe they have uncovered evidence of labyrinthine conspiracies behind the Newtown, Connecticut school massacre.
These intrepid investigators have had nearly nine months to crack the case wide open and tell us who really did the crime, and why. Let’s take a look at what they’ve found by comparing/contrasting aspects of the “official story” with some of their results. After that, I’ll list the Sandy Hook Truth movement’s best evidence.

The Official Story

On the morning of December 14, 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot and killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, in the home they shared in Newtown, Connecticut. He then drove his mother’s Honda Civic to Sandy Hook Elementary School with four semi-automatic firearms licensed to Nancy. He took three of the guns with him when he entered the school.
Using a  Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle, he shot his way into the locked building at approximately 9:35 AM local time. Between that time and about 9:49 AM, he killed principal Dawn Hochsprung, school psychologist Mary Sherlach, teacher Natalie Hammond, first-grade teacher Victoria Soto, teacher’s aide Anne Marie Murphy, substitute first-grade teacher Lauren Rousseau, and 20 students who were 6 years old or younger. 6-year-old Dylan Hockley was autistic. Lanza shot all but two of his child victims multiples times; 6-year-old Noah Pozner was shot 11 times. All of the staff members died trying to stop the gunman or shield their students. Ms. Murphy covered Dylan Hockley’s body with her own. Throughout the school, teachers and faculty members hid children in closets and bathrooms, thereby saving an untold number of lives. 
Six children fled Ms. Soto’s classroom and escaped from the school, making their way to the driveway of a home owned by Gene Rosen.
Before police could reach him, Lanza returned to Soto’s classroom and shot himself in the head with  a Glock 10mm.
His motivation remains obscure, but Lanza reportedly suffered mental and emotional problems that left him socially isolated and unable to work full-time or complete college. Around the time of the massacre, Nancy Lanza told friends she was considering leaving New England and attempting to enroll Adam in college for a third time.
Adam had access to the weapons because his mother was an avid collector who had taught both of her sons how to shoot.

The Truther Stories

The most popular alternate theory of Sandy Hook, by far, is that it was a government operation engineered to push through restrictive gun legislation, psychologically destabilize Americans, make blood sacrifices to the Devil, and/or distract us from “more important” things that are happening.
Some Sandy Hook Truthers agree with the general outline of the official story, but suspect Lanza was a victim of government-sponsored mind control (according to one Truther, Lanza’s mind control programming could be linked to Satanism, the Illuminati and Lady Gaga).
Some Truthers think Lanza may have had accomplices, and this is not completely unsupported speculation, as Connecticut State’s Attorney Stephen Sedensky did mention other “potential suspects” when arguing that unsealing warrants in the case could compromise the investigation.
Other Truthers have floated the idea that the shooter was not Adam Lanza, but a man named Scott Vollmer. Vollmer was apparently singled out because his mother Janet taught kindergarten at Sandy Hook, and the school nurse seemingly confirmed to a reporter that the shooter’s mother taught kindergarten at the school (see “The Nurse” under Best Evidence, below). Also, Vollmer is said to be an event manager for New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, a vocal advocate for increased gun control. In reality, Vollmer was a director of special events for Bloomberg TV’s catering company, Flik International. Not exactly the guy you would handpick as an assassin.
Other alternative suspects include: A three-man Israeli hit team, the FBI, three people in a purple van, and men in the woods (whom Truthers have still not identified; see “The Man in the Woods” under Best Evidence).
But not all Truthers buy into the notion of alternate suspects. For example, YouTube user “ReviewManify” has posted a video titled “There Is No Shooter” in which he discusses – and dismisses – the Vollmer theory before telling us that there is no evidence that even one child died in Sandy Hook Elementary. Funerals and grieving parents notwithstanding, “There ain’t no proof of that.” So, no shooter. Problem…solved?
Florida professor James Tracy came under heavy criticism when he suggested basically the same thing on his Memory Hole blog, but he later clarified in an interview with Miami’s WLRN that he believes some people died at Newtown. He went on to publish his Sandy Hook articles on the website of Global Research, a Canadian outfit that has also declared the Srebrenica massacre a hoax and argued that Rwanda was really a massacre against Hutus, not Tutsis.
There are also Truthers who have argued that Adam Lanza does not exist and Sandy Hook was not actually a school.
The idea that no one died at Sandy Hook has led to the harassment of several people involved in the tragedy. The first person to come under heavy attack from Sandy Hook Truthers, strangely enough, was not a city official or a government agent. He was Gene Rosen, the retired grandfather who sheltered six escaped kids in his house until their parents arrived. For reasons I can’t even begin to fathom, some Truthers decided Mr. Rosen was not only an actor portraying a helpful Newtown resident, but could also be a pedophile, a liar, and/or a government agent. He has allegedly been harassed and slandered by conspiranoids who think he’s a paid “crisis actor” or a Satanist. The anti-Semitic wing of the Sandy Hook Truth movement is certain that Gene Rosen’s ethnicity is a key to his involvement. A YouTube user posted a music video about “creepy Gene”, to the tune of The Monkees’ “Daydream Believer”. Rosen has also reportedly received threats on his life. Yet not one shred of real evidence has been presented to back up any of these slurs. Truthers tried to prove that Rosen was a professional actor, but that turned out to be a different Gene Rosen.
The official Sandy Hook investigation is ongoing, and the final report may not be released until late autumn. But by the end of February, there was already a bumper crop of Sandy Hook conspiracy documentaries online, including Mark Howitt’s Sandy Hook: The Documentary, “Sandy Hook Massacre: A Closer Look” by Tina Charby (one of several Truthers who has pointed out “suspicious nuns” at Sandy Hook), and Sandy Hook Shooting: Fully Exposed  by “ThinkOutsidetheTV”. That last one went viral, resulting in a long Snopes entry. Press TV (Iran state television) had already decided that Israelis were probably to blame, as had retired professor and conspiracy researcher James Fetzer and the bizarro “anti-Zionist” publication Veterans Today (see Fetzer’s article “Did Mossad Death Squads Slaughter American Children at Sandy Hook?“).
The rush to judgment spawned countless red herrings, like the rumour that Adam Lanza’s father, Peter, was scheduled to testify on the Libor banking scandal at the time of the massacre (here is an example of that rumour in action, from an Infowars forum user). It turned out that Peter Lanza, a GE exec, had no link to the scandal. Max Keiser.com and Occupy Corporatism were among the alternative media outlets that worked to squash this rumour, alleging that it originated with Sorcha Faal, the same peculiar conspiracy-monger who was behind one of the least credible conspiracy theories about Michael Jackson’s death. Another red herring was that Nancy Lanza’s car was actually registered to a man named Christopher Rodia. Truthers went crazy connecting Rodia-Lanza dots (Andrew S. MacGregor even made the Rodia vehicle the linchpin of his FBI-did-Sandy-Hook theory) until blogger Joe Quinn helpfully pointed out that police-scanner references to Rodia had nothing to do with Sandy Hook.

Best evidence

I’m going to leave out the sillier evidence, like the Batman/Sandy Hook connection and the Freemasonic links and the allegations of Satanic ritual sacrifice.

Gun grab
The gun theory of Sandy Hook, which is definitely the most popular one out there, posits that the Powers That Be are so desperate to dismantle the Second Amendment and disarm the people that they stage mass shootings to help ramp up popular support for restrictive firearm legislation.
If that’s the case, then Sandy Hook was a miserable failure. The massacre actually mobilized the pro-gun community, and bills to restrict sales of semiautomatic weaponry and legislate tougher background checks for prospective gun buyers were shot down. In the end, cries of “gun confiscation” were cries of wolf.
There’s no question that elements of both the pro- and the anti-gun lobbies have exploited Sandy Hook and the Aurora incident, but there’s no smoking-gun evidence (no pun) that anyone engineered the massacre just to take away guns. By this logic, any incident involving firearms could be a staged event. And that’s exactly what “media lookalike” proponent Ed Chiarini of Dallas believes; he has stated that not one of the school shootings in the U.S. was a real event. Each and every one was faked.

Actors
The “actor” theory of Sandy Hook holds that no one actually died. The whole thing was an exquisitely stage-managed fake event in which crisis actors and/or other professional performers were hired to portray bereaved family members, eyewitnesses, and even shooting victims.
No one has managed to locate the bogus Sandy Hook students and their families. Are they in Witness Protection? Underground bunkers? Ed Chiarini believes some of them have gone back to work as actors, athletes, and performers. For instance, Robbie Parker (father of 6-year-old victim Emilie Parker) is actually skateboarder Tony Hawk, and the late Emilie is an “actress” who has also “portrayed” the daughters of Bachelorette contestant Emily Maynard and Taylor Armstrong of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Adam’s Lanza’s father, Peter, is really comedian Michael McDonald from MADtv. The part of Lt. J. Paul Vance was played by John Goodman. You get the drift. You can see more of this weirdity on Chiarini’s website.
Henry Makow, a Canadian who used to call his conspiracy site “Save the Males”, believes he can spot the actors’ “handlers” by what kind of purses they carry.
However, many Truthers, like Mark Howitt, dismiss the actor theories as absurd and divisive. Some of them have even become casualties of the theories; Dan Dicks of the Canadian alternative media outlet Press for Truth says he was accused of being a Crisis Actor at one point, and Ed Chiarini has proposed that Sonia of the Truther Girls conspiracy radio show is played by 30 Rock actress Tina Fey. In the description for one of her Sandy Hook-related videos, Sonia sensibly points out that no actor would be foolish enough to impersonate a grieving parent on national television – he/she would instantly be outed by relatives or acquaintances, and if not, recognized during auditions. There goes his/her career. In another Sandy Hook video, Sonia opines that the actor theory provides an easy target for those who wish to undermine Sandy Hook trutherism; who in their right mind is going to believe the Truthers if they go around insisting that Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad is really Henry Winkler?
Other Truthers, like James Fetzer, are willing to entertain and promote the actor theory without necessarily embracing it. As I have mentioned in my previous posts on Chiarini, I suspect “actor-based reality” theories may be rooted in the Fregoli delusion or something similar.

Sealed case documents and unreleased evidence
This is a prime example of the fallacy that if you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist. Nearly every Sandy Hook Truther has complained at some point in the last nine months that case evidence is being withheld or isn’t being released quickly enough; the authorities must either be hiding it to conceal “what really happened”, or the evidence simply doesn’t exist because nothing happened.
But it is not just the big bad authorities who don’t want the evidence released. The parents of at least three of the child victims have campaigned to prevent case evidence such as crime scene photos from being made public. Dylan Hockley’s mother, Nicole Hockley, said to a Hartford press conference, “What purpose would releasing these documents serve? The shooter is dead and in terms of checking first-responder procedures they have all the information they need. The media won’t learn anything either. I will defend this as long as possible.” Her husband Ian Hockley, Mark and Jackie Barden, and Jimmy Greene and Nelba Marquez-Greene joined her in signing a petition to block the release of certain information related to the murders of their children, including 911 calls. In a letter to the Hartford Courant, Dean Pinto (father of 6-year-old victim Jack Pinto) also urged that the photos and calls not be made public.

If you have to wonder why parents would want to keep crime scene photos and case documents out of the hands of the media, think back to the JonBenet Ramsey case. Did the media use discretion in their handling of autopsy photos and 911 calls? The Globe tabloid triumphantly published six leaked autopsy photos, in full colour. Would you like to see death photos of your murdered child, or friend, or niece, as you stand in line at the grocery store or flip through channels?

The nurse
An unassuming school nurse named Sally Cox has become a central figure in Sandy Hook conspiracy theories.
Because of a large divorce settlement and her son’s educational needs (Adam was mostly homeschooled), Nancy Lanza was not employed. Nonetheless, there were (erroneous) reports that she worked as a schoolteacher. This led to a great deal of confusion in the wake of her son’s spree killings, because there were (erroneous) reports that she was (or had been) employed as a kindergarten teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary. There were even (erroneous) reports that Nancy had called in sick that day, and Adam targeted the class she usually taught. Later, there were reports that Nancy may have been a volunteer teacher’s aide for Adam’s class at the school, years earlier.
On the night of December 14, WUSA reporter Andrea McCarren approached Ms. Cox and asked her if she knew the shooter’s mother. Cox affirmed that she did. McCarren then asked her if his mother was known to be a good kindergarten teacher, and Ms. Cox said that she was a very loving woman, good with the children.
Her response truly is a bit baffling, because we now know that Nancy Lanza never worked as a teacher at all, anywhere (she was a stockbroker back in the ’90s). Nor has it been confirmed that she volunteered at Sandy Hook when Adam was enrolled there. It’s quite possible that Cox knew Nancy, but that has never been confirmed, either. Truthers would pounce on this flawed report and some minor inconsistencies in Cox’s accounts of that day, but what does any of it prove? Even if the school nurse lied about knowing Nancy Lanza and/or seeing the gunman – and I’m certainly not saying she did – that would not be evidence of conspiracy.
Another red herring popped up when Truthers revealed that no one named Sally Cox was registered as a nurse in the state, not knowing that “Sally” is an old-fashioned nickname for “Sarah”. Sarah Cox is, indeed, a fully-qualified and registered nurse in the state of Connecticut, and has been employed at Sandy Hook for over 15 years.

The guns and inaccurate media reports 
Initially, there was a lot of confusion as to which guns Lanza used, and where they were found. Sandy Hook Truthers hold up a few apparent discrepancies in the earliest media reports as solid evidence that the entire official story is a sham, ignoring the fact that early reports are often inaccurate. At first, Adam’s older brother Ryan (who was not even in Newtown on the morning of December 14) was reported to be the shooter (which helped spawn conspiracy theories, of course).
There has been extensive analysis of the media gaffes and spectacularly shoddy reporting that occurred in the hours after the massacre (see, for instance, Paul Farhi’s piece in the Washington Post). In my opinion, the bad reporting on that day serves as evidence against a cover-up, because a massive conspiracy would have micromanaged the media, feeding reporters carefully selected tidbits. Instead, it was the usual media free-for-all, with news outlets so desperate to get something – anything – into print or on the air that they seized upon rumours heard from bystanders, statements taken from traumatized witnesses, and other unreliable sources. This is reflective of a general decline in media standards, as far as I’m concerned, but that’s a whole other post.
Some early reports indicated that only two guns had been found inside the school; this was later amended to three guns, with a fourth left in Nancy Lanza’s car. To make things more confusing, some reports stated all four guns were inside the school, and NBC’s Today Show reported that Lanza shot his victims only with handguns.
These early-report errors were soon straightened out, but the Sandy Hook Truthers continue to use them as a foundation rock of their theories. You can see an example of this in a Veterans Today article by Jim Fetzer and Dennis Cimino, in which they highlight “the Bushmaster hoax”.

Emilie Parker’s Dad
Robbie Parker has been raked over the coals by every Sandy Hook Truther on the planet. Why? Because he laughed, and then cried, at a press conference. That’s pretty much it. He was laughing at something when he approached the mic to speak about his murdered 6-year-old daughter, but within seconds he was weeping and speaking emotionally about what his family was going through. Truthers decided this was a performance. Some even suggested that Emilie wasn’t dead at all; she posed with the President days later (this was actually Madeline Parker, one of Emilie’s two younger sisters).
While excoriating the rest of us for buying into the media’s epic lies, Truthers have whittled the entire spectrum of human emotion down to “sad” and “not sad” – if you exhibit both, you’re screwed. You will be permanently branded a member of the conspiracy. This has happened not just to Robbie Parker, but to several other parents of Sandy Hook victims. The Sandy Hook Hoax website maintained by Jay “New Age Messiah” Johnson has an entire page dedicated to exposing them.
For those who accept the “crisis actors” theory, there is an intriguing paradox here: Wouldn’t professional actors be more convincing than actual grief-stricken people? An actor would already be in character before the cameras even started rolling. Authentic emotion, however, obeys no such rules. Many times, I have seen tears and laughter at funerals and memorial services.
Like the actor theory, this “not sad enough” line of reasoning doesn’t cut it with all Truthers. Sonia of the Truther Girls observed in one of her Sandy Hook videos that it’s difficult to judge people’s emotional responses to the loss of a child, particularly if we haven’t experienced such loss ourselves.

The coroner
Truthers like James F. Tracy point to the answers given by Connecticut Chief Medical Examiner H. Wayne Carver during a December 15, 2012 press conference (see video below)  as proof that he didn’t really do a thorough job of examining the victims’ bodies, if he did so at all. An editor at Global Research finds it “startling” that Carver only conducted seven of the autopsies himself, though it is far from unusual for assistant coroners to do autopsies, particularly when there are mass deaths.
Carver’s answers are rather peculiar, and his behaviour strikes me as awkward and odd, but there’s nothing here that can’t be chalked up to fatigue, and/or a reluctance to reveal information that the police didn’t want to reveal yet. From Carver’s comments, it seems he has had some bad experiences with courtroom testimony in the past and is painfully aware that committing yourself publicly to anything can have serious repercussions. For instance, he knows it would be improper to speculate about the weapons, since that isn’t technically within his field of expertise. Truthers make much of his statement that he doesn’t know if the children were standing or seated when they were struck, but without knowing the layout of the classrooms and the relative positions of the shooter and the victims, that’s not something that can always be determined at autopsy.
In keeping with his “crisis actors” theory, Ed Chiarini attempted to prove that H. Wayne Carver is actually the late “Mafia hitman” Richard “Ice Man” Kuklinski, who died in prison in 2006.


The man in the woods
This is one of the genuine enigmas in the case. A WABC news helicopter captured footage of at least one adult male, dressed in camouflage, dashing through a wooded area close to the school, being pursued by police officers. This occurred around 12:24, over two and a half hours after the shooting stopped, according to the ABC News timeline of events. Who was this man?
We know that there were at least two arrests at the school immediately after the shootings – Chris Manfredonia, father of a first-grade student, was apprehended near the school and briefly detained. He reportedly said he was en route to his daughter’s classroom when he heard shooting, so he remained outside the building. A second unidentified man was also briefly detained, and police determined him to be a bystander, according to Snopes. Either of these individuals could be the man that one student reportedly saw handcuffed on the ground near the school.

But the man in the woods remains an unknown. According to the last sentence of a December 27 article in the Newtown Bee, a law enforcement source stated the man in the woods had a gun and was an off-duty tactical squad (SWAT) officer from “another town”. No Truthers have confirmed this, nor have they uncovered the man’s identity, so we have no idea why he was there or why he was apparently running away from police. One witness, seen in this video, told a reporter that he and other observers saw a handcuffed man in camo pants being led out of the woods and placed in a police car. Was this Camo Man, or someone else?
One theory holds that Manfredonia is Camo Man, but why he would be fleeing into the woods has not been explained.

Adam Lanza’s death certificate and inaccurate date stamps
Truthers accessed an electronic version of Adam Lanza’s death certificate (the Social Security Death Index Record) via geneology websites like Ancestry.com and Geneology Bank, and breathlessly reported that Lanza died on December 13…one day before the massacre. Truthers like Jeffrey Phelps are aware that this date is probably a typographical error that might not even exist on the original document, but that doesn’t stop them from presenting it as evidence.

One of the most popular pieces of Truther evidence is that some of the webpages created on behalf of Sandy Hook families seem to have existed prior to the shootings. For example, the United Way Sandy Hook support fund was created three days before the massacre, according to the Google timestamp. But as a Salon article points out, wonky timestamps are more the rule than the exception; one Fox News article on Sandy Hook is dated by Google as having been published in 1983. That’s 13 years before Fox News existed, and 9 years before Adam Lanza was born. Also, webpages are sometimes repurposed.

The drill
Since 9/11, conspiracy researchers have embraced Webster Tarpley’s theory (outlined in his book 9/11 Synthetic Terror: Made in USA) that training exercises and drills conducted by law enforcement and military personnel are sometimes used to mask false flag attacks. They will point to training exercises that occurred in proximity to a real event as evidence that someone in authority knew all about it in advance. During a January 18 interview on The Alex Jones Show, for instance, James Tracy said the Newtown massacre was a “drill that went live”. Holocaust revisionist Nick Kollerstrom, in a Veterans Today piece written with Fetzer, attempted to draw parallels between Sandy Hook and the 7/7 bombings in London, another “drill that went live”. Somewhat paradoxically, Kollerstrom opens his article by introducing the possibility that the Newtown shootings didn’t actually happen.

Here’s the deal: On the day of the Sandy Hook shootings, an “active shooter drill” was being conducted at a school in the community of Carmel, New York, by the Putnam County Emergency Response Team (ERT), a unit comprised of specially-trained officers from the sheriff’s office and two area police departments (Carmel and Kent).  This, presumably, is the drill that Tracy contends “went live”.
But that doesn’t seem to be the case at all. Two days after Sandy Hook, the Southeast Brewster Patch newspaper reported that the drill was part of regular ERT training, and that the Putnam County ERT commander had phoned Newtown police to offer ERT assistance at the school. He was told the ERT would not be needed, since police had already secured the scene. Nonetheless, Truthers insist the ERT must have been involved. The team even plays a key role in an alternate timeline of Sandy Hook events compiled by Andrew S. MacGregor – though McGregor doesn’t present any actual evidence documenting ERT presence at the scene, because his scenario is wholly speculative.

Truthers have also responded negatively to a FEMA course offered under the auspices of the Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security (part of Connecticut’s Division of Emergency Services and Public Protection), titled “Planning for the Needs of Children in Disasters”, that was held six times in November and December 2012, including on the day of the Sandy Hook shootings. Frankly, I don’t know what this has to do with the massacre. The course deals not just with school violence, but with natural disasters, fires, and other emergency situations that could befall any school at any time. I view this as another red herring.

Henry Makow and others have catalogued “evidence” that Sandy Hook was part of some other, unspecified, drill.

The Bottom Line

The Sandy Hook Truthers will continue their investigative efforts, but this will probably be the last post I devote solely to their results. I have five good reasons for this:

1. Twenty children and six women are dead, beyond question. Adam Lanza is dead, beyond question. Nancy Lanza is dead, beyond question. I have not seen any persuasive evidence that the key figures in the investigation are not who they say they are. Keep in mind that hoaxes involving even one fake person always collapse under their own weight. Look at the Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax, the Kuwaiti incubator babies fraud, and the Catfish case; they were all exposed by just a few diligent people within weeks.
2. The Second Amendment is firmly intact.
3. The noise-to-signal ratio is incredibly high in the world of Sandy Hook Truth. Red herrings vastly outnumber genuine leads. After nine months, we still don’t have viable alternate suspects, smoking-gun evidence of a conspiracy, or anything else of substance. The majority of the Truthers have never been to Connecticut and have not spoken to anyone close to the case.
4. Truthers working in multiple countries have not yet supplied answers to the few unanswered questions that remain about the tragedy. If they can’t even figure out who Camo Man was, I doubt they could expose an epic false flag operation.
5. Bizarre, groundless conspiracy theories pop up after every mass shooting, as I discussed in another post.

Wednesday Weirdness Roundup: The Bogus Christian Memoir Hall of Shame

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Literary fraud is an important topic at Swallowing the Camel. Whether it’s middle-aged women pretending to be teen boys afflicted with HIV/AIDS (here and here), or James Cameron’s BFF letting himself be snowjobbed by a lying WWII vet, or fake Holocaust memoirists, no one gets a free pass when it comes to literary misdeeds. So why should Christians be any different? This week’s Weirdness Roundup covers some of the most egregious frauds involving inspirational Christian nonfiction, starting with the most recent case:

  • A year after diligent readers expressed their concerns, UK Christian publishing house Authentic Media has withdrawn a popular preacher’s autobiography from the market. Tony Anthony’s Taming the Tiger (2004) told the awesome story of how Jesus transformed him from an angry young criminal to the person he is today (I’ll let you decide if that was an improvement or not).
    Taming the Tiger describes how 4-year-old Tony learned Kung Fu from his grandfather. As the book’s cover reminds us, he ultimately became a “3 times Kung Fu World Champion”. His professional debut was in 1984. The following year, he went to work as a bodyguard for international VIPs, including the Saudi ambassador to the UK, Italy, and Cyprus. In 1988 or ’89, his world fell apart when his girlfriend of three years, Aiya, was killed in a car accident. He turned his back on everything good in his life and become an enforcer for his boss, threatening and beating and even killing people who posed the slightest danger to the ambassador. He then became a burglar to raise money for an expensive medical procedure his father needed, and started getting into confrontations with police in Cyprus, where he was then living. He landed himself in jail in Christmas 1989, and it was there that an Irish missionary introduced him to Jesus Christ.
    Upon release in 1992, Anthony returned to the UK and settled down to have a family. He considered himself a good Christian, but after he was arrested for killing a woman in a hit and run (and lying to police about it) in 2001, he realized he still needed a lot of work. His second awakening as a Christian spurred him to write the memoir, which has sold more than a million copies in 25 languages. Its success gave him the opportunity to preach all over the world, and he established an Essex-based international evangelism organization called Avanti Ministries.
    The whole thing imploded when skeptical readers decided to look into Anthony’s actual background. One of the first things they discovered was that he was born in 1971…meaning he would have been just 13 years old when he became a Kung Fu grand master, and 14 when he was supposedly protecting an ambassador. He would still have been a teenager when he ended up in Nicosia prison. Also, the Saudi ambassador to the UK from 1980-1992, Nasser Almanqour, was never sent to Italy or Cyprus.
    It wasn’t just readers who were skeptical. One director of Avanti Ministries, Mike Hancock, resigned because Anthony seemed reluctant to verify the stories in his book. Hancock joined forces with another former Avanti director and a few concerned Christian ministers to investigate Anthony’s claims. Last year, they submitted a summary of their findings to the board of Avanti, the UK’s Evangelical Alliance, and Authentic Media, resulting in Authentic’s decision to pull the book.
    Tony Anthony has issued a statement saying he “wholeheartedly” defends everything he wrote in Taming the Tiger, with the exception of some details that he claims he wasn’t aware of at the time he wrote it. He admits that some names, places, etc., were altered to protect the privacy of certain people. He also claims he recently tried to publish an updated autobiography, but was blocked from doing so by unnamed persons “intent on discrediting” his ministry. Hilariously, he seems astonished that anyone would be interested in the historical veracity of his work (which is categorized as a nonfiction martial arts book in libraries and bookstores).
    Anthony’s statement includes the announcement that Avanti Ministries will no longer be in charge of its outreach programs.
  • The story of “Lauren Stratford” is by far the weirdest, most convoluted bogus Christian memoir tale of the past several decades. In 1988, her book Satan’s Underground was published by one of the top Christian publishers in America, Harvest House. In it, Stratford described a nightmarish existence as an abused child prostitute, handed over to child pornographers and pedophile rapists by her own mother (a schoolteacher). As a teen, she became a virtual sex slave to a Satan-worshiping porno kingpin known only as “Victor”. Victor’s cult engaged in everything from infanticide to cannibalism, and Lauren was forced to participate in their hellish rites. She was the first former Satanist to claim status as a “breeder”, a woman forced to bear children for ritual sacrifice, and I doubt it’s a coincidence that within months of the release of Satan’s Underground, breeders were popping out of the woodwork to appear on Geraldo and Sally Jesse Raphael. Stratford herself was invited to appear on Oprah and Geraldo as a victim of Satanic ritual abuse. Her book became very popular with recovered memory advocates and Christian therapists, and other ritual abuse survivors credited Stratford’s book with helping them retrieve their own “repressed memories”.
    Then, in 1991, the Christian magazine Cornerstone investigated Stratford’s background. The reporters couldn’t find a shred of evidence that Laurel Wilson had ever been abused by Satanists or anyone else, but they did uncover evidence indicating that Wilson/Stratford suffered a factitious disorder.
    Toward the end of her life, Stratford re-emerged as a Holocaust survivor named “Laura Grabowski”. She said she had been one of Josef Mengele’s victims, and even had a touching reunion with a fellow child survivor of Auschwitz, Binjamin Wilkomirski. The problem was, Wilkomirski had never been in Auschwitz, either.
    You can read more about the peculiar Wilson/Stratford/Grabowski saga in Part IX of my series The Prodigal Witch.
  • In 1986, Christian pamphleteer Jack Chick published a bizarre book titled He Came to Set the Captives Free, by one “Rebecca Brown, M.D.” It told the story of a crusading Christian doctor (Brown herself) who was engaged in a life-or-death struggle against evil forces in Indiana. Satanists were dogging her every step because she had rescued a young woman named Elaine from their clutches. Elaine had been brainwashed by the Satanists from childhood, and as an adult was forced to literally marry Satan in his human form.
    Having divorced Satan and her second husband too, Elaine helped Dr. Brown foil Satanic assassins and rescue other cult victims. The duo claimed to have saved about 1000 witches from dangerous covens in the first half of the ’80s alone. Brown published a second book about her battles with darkness, Prepare for War, in 1987. That same year, she and Elaine appeared on one of Geraldo Rivera’s shows about Satanism.
    In 1989, writers G. Richard Risher, Paul R. Blizard, and M. Kurt Goedelman delved into the backgrounds of Rebecca Brown and Elaine for the Personal Freedom Outreach Newsletter. What they found was deeply disturbing. Brown was really Ruth Bailey, and she had been stripped of her medical license five years earlier, after colleagues discovered she had been giving massive (potentially fatal) doses of prescription painkillers to one of her patients, Edna Moses. Edna Moses was “Elaine”. The two women had been living together in a filthy house for years, telling neighbours they were sisters. Bailey was known for her violent, unstable, paranoid behaviour. Edna/Elaine died in 2005.
    Bailey/Brown left Edna in 1989 to marry an ex-con who claimed he was tortured by Swiss rabbis as a boy, and the couple now runs a small ministry called Harvest Warriors.
    Though many Christians recognize Brown’s books for what they are (pure batshit insanity), they remain in print and continue to captivate the more gullible members of the Christian community.  In 2010, a sixth-grade science teacher in Brooklyn was mildly reprimanded for distributing and selling copies of They Came to Set the Captives Free to some of his students.
    The full story of Ruth Bailey and Edna Moses can be read in Part VIII of my Prodigal Witch series.
  • In the early ’70s, a roly-poly young Californian named Mike Warnke took the evangelical world by storm. He was loved for his Christian stand-up comedy (yes, that’s a thing, I guess), but it was his truly sinister background that drew the most attention to him. As he detailed in his 1973 memoir The Satan Seller, Warnke had dropped out of college to lead one branch of a nationwide Satanic cult that practiced blasphemous rites, lured teenagers into their ranks with the promise of sex and drugs, and occasionally raped and dismembered innocents in the name of the Devil. You know, typical frat stuff.
    Just like Tony Anthony, Warnke founded a successful ministry on the strength of his testimony. It wasn’t until 1992, nearly 20 years after The Satan Seller was printed, that a group of Christians published an exhaustive refutation of Warnke’s claims in a Cornerstone magazine article. As writers Jon Trott and Mike Hertenstein revealed, Warnke hadn’t been a Devil-worshiping drug addict in college; he had already become a Christian by that time, and spent most of his time doing ridiculously wholesome things that other square kids did in the late ’60s: Bowling, going out for ice cream, double-dating with his devoutly Catholic girlfriend, etc.
    Confronted with his make-believe past, Warnke weakly explained that his Satanic following may have been a bit smaller than he originally stated (around a dozen people, rather than 1500). He would not back down from anything else in his book. A few years ago, though, he admitted to Jim Bakker that he had felt compelled to present a dramatic conversion testimony to impress the evangelical community, and made a joke about “evangelasticity”.
    You can read more about Warnke in
    Part II of the Prodigal Witch series.
  • The same year The Satan Seller was published, Doreen Irvine’s autobiography From Witchcraft to Christ was released in the UK. A prim-looking older lady, Irvine claimed to have been a teen prostitute who was inducted into Satanism in London around 1950. Over the next 12 years, she developed the abilities to levitate several feet off the ground, read minds, render herself invisible, manifest apports, and kill birds in midflight just by looking at them. She was crowned Queen of the Black Witches of Europe. Then she walked into a church on a whim and was instantly converted to Christianity. After a grueling exorcism removed 47 demons from her body, she traveled to churches all over the world, sharing her story of redemption.
    No one has ever extensively refuted the claims in From Witchcraft to Christ, probably because they are too absurd to take seriously in the first place. But the book, and Doreen’s preaching, had a profound and lasting impact that has left at least one young woman dead. You can read more about her influence in Part I of The Prodigal Witch.

There are a number of other Christian memoirs that definitely set off my BS alarm, but the claims made in these books are so unverifiable that there is really no way to refute them. These include:

  • A Divine Revelation of Hell (1997) and A Divine Revelation of Heaven (1998) by Mary K. Baxter. Baxter, a Pentacostal preacher from Michigan, claims she was given walking tours of both Heaven and Hell by Jesus himself, so that she could bear witness to their physical reality. She says Hell is located near the planet’s core, is shaped like a human body, and contains many homosexuals. In Heaven, angels collect the tears of everyone on Earth and store them away in jars.
  • Blood Secrets by Isaiah Oke, as told to Joe Wright (1989). Oke is a Nigerian Christian who claims he was once a ju-ju shaman, and that he witnessed a brutal human sacrifice carried out by his mentor. The person who commissioned this sacrifice is described as a powerful colonel, and it’s quite obvious that Oke wants us to think he was Idi Amin.
    Oke became a Christian while studying accounting at college. As he and Wright tell it, a young American co-ed had annoyed him one day, but Oke was unable to “hex” her even after numerous attempts. Finally, he asked her why she was resistant to his magical powers, and she told him she was a Christian. He promptly converted, and continues to talk smack about Nigerian spirituality to the present day.

Will Sandy Hook Conspiranoia Go Mainstream?

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As reported last week by Salon, relatively normal people like twentysomething New Yorker Brendan Hunt are now embracing alternative Sandy Hook theories. They’re harassing interviewing witnesses, searching for other gunmen, and trying to tie the tragedy to secret societies and/or the military-industrial complex in any way possible.
Hunt is by no means a self-proclaimed messiah like Jay Johnson or a Fregoli delusion sufferer like Ed Chiarini. He’s smart, well-spoken, and…well…ordinary. With guys like him promoting Sandy Hook conspiranoia, Salon writer Alex Seitz-Wald argues, even more ordinary people will be persuaded to believe there’s “something not right” about the Newtown massacre.
The thing is, though, that Brendan Hunt already bought into some dodgy conspiracy theories before discovering Sandy Hook (Kurt Cobain was murdered, Illuminati stuff). He’s not exactly cut out to be a Pied Piper, leading the unsuspecting masses off to Kooklandia.
But Salon does have a valid point. Even the fringiest conspiracy theories do have a tendency to leach insidiously into the mainstream, like sludge from some ancient, poisoned well seeping into the ground water.

Here’s how weird conspiracy theories often work:

  1. Something notable happens.
  2. The media reports it, authorities investigate it, people talk about it, etc.
  3. Wingnuts crawl out of every hole to explain what really happened.
  4. Over time, the alternative theories become normalized, and relatively sane people feel comfortable embracing them, even though they still don’t make much sense.

This happened with the assassination of JFK and 9/11. It started with a handful of kooks suggesting that the dyslexic, troubled Lee Harvey Oswald was a crack CIA assassin, or that Israel’s Mossad engineered an aerial assault on America. Gradually, the theories metastasized into an ever-expanding industry of self-published books, seminars, conventions, documentaries, even Hollywood films. In the case of 9/11, entire social movements comprised of energetic young people sprouted from ideas that should, by all the laws of reason, have remained confined to the hidey-holes of a few eccentric curmudgeons. Today, most Americans believe JFK was the target of a conspiracy, and a vast number of people think there’s “something not right” about the 9/11 attacks. It can get to the point where conspiracists are considered skeptics or truth seekers, while anyone who insists on basing their conclusions on evidence are seen as naive, dishonest, or part of the conspiracy.

A few celebrity endorsements never hurt. When a daffy prosecutor decided in the late ’60s that Kennedy had been taken out by some sort of far-right lavender mafia, comedian Mort Sahl volunteered his services as a researcher, and Johny Carson welcomed him onto his show to unreel a barely-baked theory about fake railroad bums who turned out to be actual railroad bums. Yale-educated director Oliver Stone had no trouble recruiting an all-star cast for an execrable film that was supposed to expose the Warren Commission as a fraud.
A whole slew of celebs have publicly expressed support for 9/11 Truth: Rosie O’Donnell, the Sheen clan, Mos Def, David Lynch, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Willie Nelson.

Now we have Sandy Hook. While the Aurora massacre and countless other mass murders have spawned popular conspiracy theories, it’s Sandy Hook that really seems to have captured the hearts and imaginations of the conspiracy world. Let’s take a look at how the Sandy Hook conspiracy theories played out, using the model above:

  1. Adam Lanza allegedly entered Sandy Hook Elementary School In Newtown, Connecticut and opened fire, killing 20 children and 6 adults before shooting himself in the head.
  2. The story drew international media attention. Investigators concluded that Lanza likely acted on his own. There was a worldwide outpouring of sympathy and support for the families of victims , as well as a national outcry from people who wished to see assault weapons strictly controlled or banned in the U.S.
  3. Ed Chiarini, a Texas conspiranoid who believes everyone he sees in the media is actually someone else (the last pope was actually Robert Blake, John Stossel is actually Freddy Mercury, etc.), declared that some of the Newtown parents he saw on the news were actually actors hired by the government. A man calling himself New Age Messiah (real name Jay Johnson) set up a website called Sandy Hook Hoax to explain how the New World Order faked the entire massacre. An insanely popular video (since scrubbed from the Internet for copyright infringement) explained how a map of Gotham briefly displayed in The Dark Knight Rises “predictively programmed” the Newtown massacre. World Net Daily feebly attempted to link Lanza to devil worship, and speculated about a Satanic-cult conspiracy. Alex Jones stated on his radio show that the Sandy Hook massacre could be a government-staged event designed to usher in gun confiscation and draconian legislation (which he does after pretty much every massacre). Veteran JFK researcher and 9/11 Truther James Fetzer decided “Isreali death squads” were probably responsible. YouTube users created novelty songs and “documentaries” accusing rescuers, grieving parents, and investigators of being complicit in a massive conspiracy/cover-up.
    Most disturbingly, many of these people insist the murdered children are still alive.
  4. Fragments of “evidence”, such as an Ed Chiarini visual aid “proving” that two Newtown parents who appeared on news broadcasts are actually paid actors from Florida, began to pop up on social networking sites, divorced from their wider (crazier) context. Seen in isolation, some of this “evidence” can seem quite intriguing and persuasive. As more and more average people are exposed to these free-floating factoids that have landed in the public square, many of them will be persuaded to believe there’s “something not right” about the Newtown massacre. And a new conspiracy industry may be born. There aren’t any celebrity endorsements so far (Dick Gregory must be otherwise engaged), but if we don’t get a Vincent Bugliosi to nip this thing in the bud, we could soon be watching a 12-part History Channel series on The Men Who Did Sandy Hook.

Correction: Spoke too soon about Dick Gregory. Here he is explaining what really happened.

Wednesday Weirdness Roundup: Wannabe Rappers

rap

  • I have seriously lost track of the number of YouTube vids and homemade documentaries that attempt to expose the supposed links between rap/hip-hop music and the Illuminati/Satanism. Run a YT search for “sold out to Illuminati” and you’ll see what I mean – there are even vids explaining how 2Pac was assassinated because he wasn’t souled out to The Man. Or the Satanists. Or whatever. Then we have a certain citizen who is so vigilant against Illuminati brainwashing in pop music that he can’t even identify himself, lest the Devil-worshipers decide to take him out for exposing their sinister use of, um, dolls and kittens.
    The basic premise of the Pop Illuminati theory is that in order to get anywhere near the top of the heap in the worlds of entertainment or sports, artists and athletes have to pledge abject devotion to the Illuminati, and/or literally sign their souls over to Satan. Talent, taining, luck, management, connections, good timing – that’s all bollocks. It’s really about what you’re willing to do for the Jews. I mean the Illuminati. Did I say Jews? Ha ha, no, that’s silly, the Pop Illuminati theory isn’t anti-Semitic. Not even a little bit.
    Until recently, the Pop Illuminati theory only affected merchandise sales (and not very much). But thanks to this overload of Illuminati hip-hop conspiranoia, we could soon be dealing with a bumper crop of deranged aspiring celebrities who honestly believe this shit. Take Wafeeq Sabir El-Amin, a wannabe rap star in Virginia (there’s your first mistake, kid) who allegedly crept up on a sleeping friend one night last December, aimed a gun at his head, and declared, “You are my sacrifice” before pulling the trigger. El-Amin’s victim was spared when the bullet ricocheted off his head, and he was able to escape by wrestling the gun away from El-Amin and shooting him in the stomach. Reportedly, El-Amin believed he had to make a human sacrifice to get in with the Illuminati. I’m guessing he didn’t make it. He’s currently in lock-up, awaiting trial.
  • You might remember Silibil ’N’ Brains, the hip-hop duo who briefly enjoyed C-list stardom in the UK with songs like “Tongue Kung Fu” back in ’04 and ’05. Their style was basically straight-up Eminem mixed with a little skaterboi punk, but the Cali dropouts had enough attitude to pull it off. After a single audition in London, they signed a a $350,000 record deal with Sony, scored a contract with one of the top managers in the UK, headlined a few minor festivals, toured with Eminem, and were introduced by MC Harvey on English MTV’s Brand Spanking New.
    It all fell apart when Brain (Gavin Bain) confessed that he and Silibil weren’t skatepunks from the Valley, after all, but college students from Dundee, Scotland. They had hidden their thick brogues and college educations after it became clear to them that a rap version of The Proclaimers just wouldn’t fly. Personally, I don’t see how this is much worse than Charlize Theron affecting an American accent even in roundtable discussions with other actors, but Bain’s confession instantly sped up the inevitable decay of  Silibil ’N’ Brains.
    Now, director Jeanie Finlay has released a documentary about them.
  • Sounds like a Canadian mockumentary, but isn’t: Hip Hop Eh.

Wednesday Weirdness Roundup

Notamused

  • Off the Hook: Conspiracy theories about the shootings in Connecticut, if they can even be called “theories”, are starting to draw attention from mainstream newspapers, websites like Salon and Gawker, and TV reporters. I’ve talked a little about these theories (here, here, and at Leaving Alex Jonestown), but the Sandy Hook conspiracy meme is far more contagious than I realized. 8.5 million people have viewed a 30-minute YouTube video by anonymous user Think Outside the TV. It’s basically a mishmash of outdated information culled from early reports, misinformation, and the “media lookalike” nuttery of Ed Chiarini, the Texan who believes the Pope is actually Robert Blake. Among other weirdness, TOTV includes the “theory” that one of Adam Lanza’s victims, 6-year-old Emilie Parker, is not only alive and well, but met with the President for a public photo op after she was murdered.
    The media is critical of websites such as Sandy Hook Hoax, which was started by Jay Johnson. Johnson bills himself as the New Age Messiah, and boasts that he “solved LOST” with the aid of an Egyptian goddess. He has also written a screenplay about his life (or, as he likes to call it, the “greatest true story ever told”). His evidence for a grand Sandy Hook conspiracy is essentially the same as TOTV’s. He is quite indignant that family members don’t publicly cry enough for his satisfaction.
    But not everyone in the mainstream media is critical of the Sandy Hook theories. Ben Swann, an award-winning reporter with Cincinatti’s Fox affiliate, devoted a segment of his Full Disclosure Web series to the possibility that Newtown, Aurora, and the Sihk temple massacre involved more than one gunman, citing early interviews with non-eyewitnesses and footage of Newtown police chasing a suspect into the woods (this man turned out to be a parent, Chris Manfredonia, who may have fled the school). To Swann’s credit, he didn’t actually tack a theory to any of this. It’s interesting to note, though, that he has been a guest on The Alex Jones Show. Jones, as always, is at the forefront of conspiranoids who insist that nearly all mass shootings are false flag operations perpetrated by drugged-up Manchurian Candidates on behalf of the New World Order.
    A World Net Daily article by Aaron Klein attempts to tie Adam Lanza to other “Satanic” killers, and even suggests the possibility of a Satanic conspiracy.
    Other online Sandy Hook theories too ridiculous to attract U.S. media attention include wacky Biblical interpretations of Google maps, “Newtown is a hub of Satanism”, “Lady Gaga and Satanism had something to do with this“, “Freemasons had something to do with this” (a theory that also emerged in the wake of the Dunblane massacre in 1996) and of course Jews did Sandy Hook. And Jews did Sandy Hook.
    We could pass this off as harmless crankery – and most of it is – but we must face the fact that conspiracy theories have real-world consequences. In this case, an entire county in Connecticut shut down its schools after the Christmas break because the religious conspiracy website Revelation Now warned that a map in the latest Batman movie predicted another school attack. Gene Rosen, a retired Newtown resident who assisted six children after they bravely fled their classroom, is being harassed and slandered by conspiranoids who think he’s a paid “crisis actor”, a Satanist, or even a paedophile (merely because he took children into his house). The anti-Semitic wing of the Sandy Hook peanut gallery is certain that Gene Rosen’s ethnicity is a key to his involvement in a mass murder conspiracy. He has been threatened with death.
    Yes, the Sandy Hook “theories” are idiotic – but they’re also deadly serious.
  • I know, I know, it’s really serious: It can be said that the only perfect girlfriend is an imaginary one (or maybe that chick with three breasts). Devoutly Mormon Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o seems to have taken that literally.
    Last September, media outlets around the nation relayed the touching and inspiring story of how Te’o led the Fighting Irish to a 20-3 victory against the Michigan State Spartans just days after his beloved grandmother passed away and his girlfriend of nine months, Stanford graduate Lennay Kekua, lost her battle with leukemia. Lennay, 22, had been diagnosed after a car accident early in 2012. A cover story in the September Sports Illustrated Regional hailed Te’o as a “star student” who had “restored the shine to the golden dome” in spite of his personal tragedies. Writer Pete Thamel described how Te’o spent his few free hours on the phone to Lennay, comforting her as she lay in her hospital bed. Even after Lennay slipped into a coma, he continued to call and speak reassuring words through the phone. Her death on September 12, coming just six hours after the death of his maternal grandmother, was a devastating blow to the 21-year-old design major. They had been good friends since 2009, and began a relationship in January. A Yahoo! Sports piece describes how Te’o dedicated the September 15 game against the Spartans to his gran and his girl, grateful for the support of Lennay’s family after he made the difficult decision to stay with his “football family” and play Saturday’s game rather than fly to Oahu to be with his and Lennay’s relatives. Writer Dan Wetzel opined that Te’o is just the kind of player Notre Dame needs – young men of “accountability and awareness”, and athletic director Jack Swarbrick is quoted as saying Te’o “may be the perfect Notre Dame football player”. Even I heard about this amazing kid, and I don’t follow college ball.
    The warm fuzzies lasted all the way up until this week, when the sports news site Deadspin released its investigative report on Te’o’s story. Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey could find no evidence that Lennay Kekua existed; she was not registered at Stanford, birth announcements can’t be found, no obituary was ever published, and no one other than Manti Te’o has ever met her (remember, he did supposedly meet her in person; according to an October story in the South Bend Tribune – which has been yanked offline – Brian Te’o said his son Manti met with Lennay several times in Hawaii in 2010 and 2011). They could find no record of a 2012 traffic accident in California involving a Lennay Kekua. Nor could they find any relatives of Lennay, like the older brother (Koa) mentioned in the Sports Illustrated article. Sure, there were photos of Lennay (one was shown on CBS This Morning the day of the Notre Dame/Michigan game, and her Twitter feed featured a few more), but Burke and Dickey claim to have traced them to a woman in California who was shocked that her pictures have been misrepresented to the media as photos of a woman she doesn’t know.
    Te’o and Notre Dame are insisting that Manti is the victim of a cruel hoax. Having never met his girlfriend in person (which contradicts his earlier stories about meeting her), he was duped into believing that a voice on the other end of the phone was Lennay Kekua. However, he has not addressed Deadspin‘s examination of the Twitter accounts belonging to him and to “Lennay”, which indicate they met online in 2011 rather than in-person in 2009. At this point in the story, it’s still possible that Te’o is a hoax victim. But here’s where things get sticky for him. The California woman told Deadspin that an acquaintance named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo asked her to pose with a sign reading “MSMK”, supposedly to cheer up someone who had suffered a car accident, and she obliged. “LoveMSMK” was the name attached to Lennay Kekua’s Twitter account. Here’s the problem for Te’o: He knows Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, and exchanged Tweets with him all last year (he even plugged a song recorded by Tuiasosopo). Then there’s the issue of a supposed relative of Lennay trying to hush up the controversy by sending emails to webmasters, contacing Nev Schulman of Catfish fame, and being given a shout-out on Manti’s Twitter feed. It looks like Manti Te’o may have been undone by his own twittering.
    I don’t know how common fake girlfriends are, but cancer hoaxes occur with troubling frequency. Just two months ago, the Wednesday Weirdness Roundup featured another one that had the town of Gypsum, Colorado mourning a little boy who never existed.
    Anyway, time will tell. For the rest of the story, you’ll have to read Deadspin‘s exposé yourself. This post is already far too long for a Wednesday Roundup. In honor of the fictional Ms. Kekua, let’s have a musical interlude…

Origins

Bet you’re all excited to hear more about chemtrails, aren’t you? Yeah, me neither.

Swallowing The Camel

The Origins of Halloween

There we are, that’s better. My name is Schwarherz, and I run the Heathen Ramblings blog. SME and Hans are taking a little break for their sanity, so they asked me to come talk to you about Halloween. It would seem that some “former Satanists” and “former Pagans” who “found Jesus” (he was behind the couch the whole time! Who would’a thunk it?) have said some…interesting things to say about the origin of this particular holiday.

Satan

This guy had nothing to do with it.

That’s right, if your preconception of the origin of Halloween involves “Satan” or “The Devil” you can throw it out the window right now. If you don’t think you can do that, then I won’t be able to teach you anything and you might as well stop reading now. I’ll wait for those of you who are closed-minded to leave.

They gone? Good.

Now, Halloween is special (and, in this case, by special I mean not special at all) among religious holidays in that it has multiple origins. First I’ll discuss the one that many people are apparently unaware of: Samhain (don’t try to pronounce it, you’ll only embarrass yourself).

Celtic Knot

Samhain is a Gaelic/Celtic festival that marks the beginning of winter, and thus the end of the harvest season. As such, it is also a Day of the Dead. Traditionally it is held at the halfway point between the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice. This can be…tricky to calculate from year to year, so in more modern times it is simply rounded to October 31 or November 1. In many traditions, including Wiccan and Celtic traditions, it is believed that the veil between our world and the “otherworld” is thinned on this day. This allows spirits of the deceased, among other entities, to cross over and interact with our world. One of the more common traditions in the Pagan community is to set an extra place at the table on Samhain for the spirits of the dearly departed to attend and spend time with their loved ones once more. In ancient times all kinds of sacrifices were made. However, as Samhain is at its core a harvest festival, humans were rarely sacrificed. Most sacrifices were, in fact, livestock and other items that were truly “harvested.” Living sacrifices have fallen out of favor with the modern Pagan community as the times have changed. Today any sacrifices made tend to be things like bread crumbs and grape juice/wine and, of course, human sacrifices are completely forbidden. Quite the contrast to the tales of “door-to-door sacrifice collectors” and the like, is it not? Other practices included carving of harvested materials into faces to ward off evil spirits, bonfires, and general revelry.

Cross

The other origin of Halloween lies within Christianity itself. All Hallows Eve is the first day of the Hallowmas, a holiday commemorating all of those who have been beatified. It starts on October 31 and finishes on November 1 with All Saints Day. November 2 is All Souls Day, and commemorates the souls of those who have yet to be purified and reach Heaven. Personally, I was raised Lutheran and converted to Paganism when I was 13, so I admittedly don’t know much about Hallowmas. I’m also not going to trust Wikipedia 100% on something like this. If you’d like more information on it I would suggest a trip to your local library or bookstore (just…stay away from the conspiracy junk, ok?).

Glen Beck "Arguing With Idiots" book cover

Avoid things like this

As for the other rumors that have been spread around by these phonies, it almost makes me feel dirty just responding to them, but here goes.

Druids burned candles made of human fat: Unfortunately, due to the persecution of Pagans in the last several hundred years we may never know the truth of this. However, as the Samhain sacrifices were done via fire this seems unlikely in the extreme. Also, because human sacrifice does not occur in modern-day Paganism, any rumor of this occurring in the modern era has to be ruled as completely false or done by those only claiming to be pagan.

Sacrifice of Virgins and Door-To-Door Sacrifice Collectors: To my knowledge, no deity demands a virgin sacrifice. Also, as stated previously, sacrifices of humans was rare in the Druidic community. Usually those sacrificed would be a criminal of some sort. Think of it as an ancient form of the death penalty, as it were. Occasionally there would be willing sacrifices, but those were volunteers, not “door-to-door” by any means. Door-to-door sacrifice collectors just would NOT have happened. Population growth was too important to the ancients.

Coexist

All-in-all, you have to realize, what these “former pagans” and “former satanists” want is attention. Maybe they truthfully grew up in an abusive or neglected home. Perhaps they grew up showered in attention and then emerged into the real world; upon which they discovered that not everyone was willing to give them their undivided attention. Or maybe, just maybe, they truthfully believe that paganism and Satanism are the same thing, and that both deal with the Christian devil (neither do) and, since they couldn’t find anyone who had converted, they invented one. Themselves. Whatever their backgrounds or motives, their intentions are the same. Attention. Whether for themselves or for their churches. They become the grown-up (or in some cases elderly) versions of the little kid that everyone wants to backhand in the grocery store because their parent won’t discipline them. The difference here is that YOU can discipline them. How? Call them out on their lies (they will get very angry and accuse you of being “them” but ignore it), politely tell them to “keep their opinion to themselves” or, best yet, completely ignore them. Let them disappear into obscurity.

The truth always wins out in the end.

semperveritas

Wednesday Weirdness Roundup

Fake nuns with fake Anthrax, real vampires, UN conspiranoia, hateful lies about hate speech, and Bigfoot’s disgusting ancestry

  • After years of top-secret lab work, Dr. Melba Ketchum has announced the results of her DNA analysis of alleged Bigfoot hair and tissue samples (including, perhaps, the “Bigfoot steak” that was central to the Sierra Kills hoax). The upshot: Bigfoot isn’t an ape or a human. It’s descended from an unknown primate and a human female, who mated about 15,000 years ago. Ew. Ketchum is calling for Bigfoot to be afforded full Constitutional rights, as an aboriginal. Best title about this, to date: “Boffin claims Bigfoot DNA reveals BESTIAL BONKING“. Not even avid Sasqwatchers are wholefootedly accepting Ketchum’s results, though; Bigfoot Lunch Club, for instance, shares a few of the same reasonable doubts expressed by the Houston Chronicle‘s “SciGuy”, Eric Berger (and the rest of the scientific community).
  • In the Serbian village of Zarozje, a different inhuman beast is supposed to be amuck. The mayor and the village council have warned locals that Zarozje’s legendary vampire, Sava Savanovic, might be pissed off and looking for blood now that the abandoned mill where he has dwelt for years untold has finally collapsed. In all apparent seriousness, officials have advised villagers to stock up on garlic and religious paraphernalia to keep Savanovic at bay. But given the vampire’s tourist appeal, garlic might not be the only thing that smells in Zarozje…
  • “Big Brother is watching, and he really is gay.” That’s the title of a chapter in Dr. Michael Brown’s book A Queer Thing Happened to America. In a recent webcast of an interview with Brown, Rick Joyner of MorningStar Ministries claimed that at a Christian conference he attended in Switzerland last summer, Swiss attendees refused to use the words “wife” or “husband” to describe their spouses. Instead, they used the word “partner”.  Asked why, a Swiss man supposedly informed Joyner that gender-specific titles for your significant other are classified as hate speech in Switzerland; you can actually go to jail for saying you have a wife or a husband. I’m calling BS on this one. Such radical restrictions on free speech would raise an international outcry, and there simply isn’t one. Either Joyner was misinformed, or he’s lying. His claims are remarkably similar to hate crime urban legends and misinformation that have been circulating in the Christian community for years: Hate crime legislation will prevent pastors from preaching against homosexuality, gays are trying to ban straight marriage, legislation could forbid homeschooling parents from sharing their opinions on gay marriage with their kids, etc.
    When it comes to human rights, gays are not at the top of the list, as a particularly nasty bit of proposed legislation in Uganda shows.
  • The last time I wrote about fake nuns, there was a serial killer/cult leader involved. This time, a fake nun in England simply sent some white powder to politicians and aristocrats because she was annoyed by their worship of Satan. Over the summer and autumn, 71-year-old “Sister” Ruth Augustus mailed envelopes stuffed with some harmless substance to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Baroness Scotland, Baroness Kennedy, and MP Edward Leigh.  On the envelopes Augustus had written “devil worshipping”, “freemason”, “sex with 30 plus women”, “stop this evil devil worshipping”, and “stop these evil devil-worshipping freemasons.” The one addressed to Baroness Scotland also bore a swastika.  Augustus refers to herself as a disabled Catholic nun who works for a children’s charity, but she does not actually belong to any Catholic order, and does not seem to be employed by any charity organization.  For sending “noxious substances” through the mail, she has been ordered to undergo mental health treatment and serve a two-year community order.
  •  Also this autumn, the entire town of Gypsum, Colorado, rallied behind a 9-year-old cancer patient named Alex Jordan, a boy no one in the community had ever met. According to a Jordan family friend, Alex’s parents relocated to Gypsum earlier this year so the boy could spend his final days in the mountains. He was dying of leukemia, after defeating it two years earlier. From his hospital bed, Alex enthusiastically followed the local high school football team, the Eagle Valley Devils, over the Internet. As soon as they learned about their number one fan, team members signed a football for Alex, began displaying the letter A on their helmets, and even wrote his name on the fence that surrounds their field. Soon, hundreds of other locals joined a Facebook page in support of Alex. When they learned at the end of October that Alex had died, Gypsum residents mourned the brave little boy who had become the Devils’ unofficial mascot. But, as in the cases of Kaycee Nicole Swenson, Jonathan Jay White, and Anthony Godby Johnson, a few people wondered why no one had actually seen this kid or his parents. The only individual with a known connection to the Jordan family was that mysterious family friend who had first mentioned him to local reporters and football parents, 22-year-old Briana Augustenborg. As it turned out, Augustenborg had created “Alex” out of thin air, for reasons that are not entirely clear (she didn’t attempt to raise any money, and didn’t accept any gifts or donations). Alex Jordan now joins a long list of cancer-related hoaxes that preyed upon the tenderhearted.
  • Meanwhile, UN conspiracy theories are in full bloom – and they’re actually getting a bit of mainstream attention. A small but vocal coalition of U.S. senators led by Rick Santorum is opposing ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, arguing that it will impinge upon parental rights, if not actually make every disabled child a ward of the New World Order global superstate (a view shared by the Home School Legal Defense Association and other homeschooling advocates). Other Republicans have succumbed to Agenda 21 paranoia, believing the UN and Obama are conspiring to forcibly relocate rural dwellers, and/or control their minds.

I would love to combine all these stories into a TV series about a gay, undead Bigfoot. He must defeat a bogus nun who pretends to have cancer and sends hate mail to the UN.

 

The Prodigal Witch

Tales from born again devil worshipers, Illuminati agents, and witches

Intro

Part I: Doreen Irvine, the original “Witch Who Switched”
This unassuming English lady was a demon-possessed streetwalker and Queen of All Black Witches in Europe before being saved. Her testimony provided a template for many other accounts of Satanic evildoing.

Part II: Mike Warnke
The enlightening saga of a Christian comedian and minister whose tales of Satanic debauchery were exposed as fabrications – by fellow Christians
Mike Warnke Part I: Mike Warnke’s Story
Mike Warnke Part II: The Real Story

Part III: John Todd
In the ’70s and ’80s, this convicted rapist and “former Illuminati member” reeled out conspiracy yarns that are still being shared and believed today.
John Todd Part I
John Todd Part II
John Todd Addendum: Was Raymond Buckland an archaeology professor?

Part IV: Other “Former Witches” of the ’70s (Hershel Smith and David Hanson)

Part V: Irene Park, another “Witch Who Switched”
A demonic imaginary friend led Ms. Park to become the Wickedest Woman in America (or at least Florida).

Part VI: Tom Sanguinet
A former Wiccan, Sanguinet crafted bogus tales in an effort to discredit other Wiccans.

Part VII: Bill Schnoebelen
Is he a bonafide blood-swilling vampire, a Wiccan, a Satanist, an Illuminati member, or a Catholic priest? Trick question: He’s all of them, and more!

Part VIII: “Elaine” and Dr. Rebecca Brown
Two women weave a tale of a hospital overrun with demons, dark conspiracies by witches, and marriage to the Devil.
“Elaine” and Dr. Rebecca Brown Part I
“Elaine” and Dr. Rebecca Brown Part II

A Thumbnail Sketch of Johanna Michaelsen
The midwife of many ex-Satanist testimonies

Part IX: Lauren Stratford
The woman known as Lauren Stratford transformed herself from a Satanic cult slave into a Holocaust survivor, but neither version of her life story adds up.
Lauren Stratford Part I
Lauren Stratford Part II
Lauren Stratford Part III

Part X: Derry Mainwaring Knight
A Satanic scamster targeted the wealthy and devout members of an English church.

Part XI: Audrey Harper
Ritual abuse enters the ex-Satanist narrative with Audrey Harper’s account of predatory Devil-worshipers and rooster infant sacrifice

Other “Former Satanists” of the ’80s (Ken McBride and Jerry Reider)

Part XII: Doc Marquis
Another Illuminati insider warns us about the Satanic menaces of bobbing for apples and holiday decorations. Oh, and human sacrifice.

Part XIII: Eric Pryor
Hey look, Draco Malfoy had an older brother! And he couldn’t decide if he wanted to be a Satanist, a born again Christian, a born again Satanist, or an avant-garde artiste.

Part XIV: Linda Blood
This is what happens when a Satanist won’t return an obsessed woman’s phone calls.

Part XV: Stephen Dollins
This dude can summon murderous demons in his garage, but what really worries him is the hellish influence of Harry Potter and…uh….the Tooth Fairy?

Part XVI: Illuminati Slaves
Mind control meets Satanic ritual abuse. Watch out for the lizards.
 I. Cisco Wheeler
 II. Arizona Wilder

Part XVII: More Illuminati Defectors (Leo Zagami and “Svali”)

Part XVIII: Today’s Former Satanists (Jeff Harshbarger and Betty Brennan)
If you thought ex-Satanist testimony was a relic of the ’80s, you were wrong.

The Origins of Halloween: Guest post by Schwarherz of the Heathen Ramblings blog
Schwarherz gives his perspective on what Halloween really means to today’s Pagan community, and how some of its traditions came to be.

Coming Soon (after Following the Chemtrails):  

More “former Satanists” and “former Illuminati members”
Former Satanists and Reformed Witches in Africa
Satanic Calendars

The Prodigal Witch Part XVIII: Today’s Former Satanists

The tradition continues….

Jeff Harshbarger

Jeff Harshbarger is a South Carolina minister who claims he was a teenage victim of Satanic deception and demonic possession. In 2005 he published an autobiography about his years as a Satanist, From Darkness to Light: How to Rescue Someone You Love From the Occult.
His Refuge Ministries educates others about Wicca, Satanism and the occult, with the goal of persuading them to abandon those practices in favour of Christ. His new book featuring the testimonies of other “exes”, Dancing with the Devil, is due to come out next year.
Refuge is a member of the Evangelical Ministries to New Religions, and has some connections to Reachout Trust U.K., the organization that promoted the false Satanism stories of Audrey Harper and Derry Mainwaring Knight and drummed up Satanic panic throughout the UK in the late ’80s (Reachout member Doug Harris was one of Harshbarger’s teachers at Bible college).

Jeff Harshbarger with wife Liz

On The 700 Club, Harshbarger explained that an evil presence was first drawn to him when he was a child, after he and his brother played with a Ouija board their parents had given to them. Experimenting with the board on his own, he felt increasingly closer to this presence. This harks back not only to The Exorcist, but to the dire warnings about Dungeons & Dragons and Ouija boards issued by John Todd, Doreen Irvine, and other “former Satanists” of the ’70s and ’80s. After all those lizardpeople from Mars and Illuminati blood rituals, I have to admit it’s kinda refreshing to return to that quainter time when Satan used mass-produced boardgames to capture kids’ souls.

If you screw around with this particular board, you’ll end up possessed and depressed.

As Jeff entered his teens, the evil presence gave him psychic powers and the ability to travel outside his body.
In a promotional video for Refuge Ministries (below), Harshbarger gives only the vaguest details about how he actually became a Satanist. In 1978, when Jeff was 17, “another guy” (elsewhere described as an 18-year-old assistant manager at the store where Jeff worked part-time) invited Jeff to his apartment and told him all about the wonders of Devil worship. Awed by this charismatic older teen, Jeff was eager to sign on. The two boys prayed to Satan for Jeff to be possessed by demons, and voila! Insta-possession! The demons gave him a rush of power, but over time they sapped his strength and betrayed him. He could hear them speaking to him and through him, and over time he was able to see them, too.

At college, Jeff and the Other Guy formed a teen coven, recruiting half a dozen boys to take part in “elaborate rituals” with them. All of these kids subsequently became possessed by demons. Pangs of conscious and a growing conviction that Satanism was wrong almost led Jeff to commit suicide in 1981. When he actually attempted to shoot himself, however, he couldn’t pull the trigger. His attempt to hang himself also failed (on his website, he mentions that he offered himself up to his fellow Satanists as a human sacrifice, an offer they evidently refused). Instead, God spoke to him audibly. Jeff fell to his knees and accepted Christ. He had been a Satanist for just four years.
It was surprisingly easy for him to get rid of the demons. “Black witch” Doreen Irvine had to undergo seven months of grueling exorcism, but all Harshbarger had to do was go to a church and ask a member to pray over him. As soon as the woman commanded the demons to leave, they did. Poof! Insta-exorcism!

Harshbarger gives a typically flat, stereotypical portrayal of how Satanists think and behave. They all want power more than anything. They don’t care about anyone but themselves. What he doesn’t seem to realize is that this describes a good percentage of teenagers who don’t worship the Devil.
He was, admittedly, a self-styled Satanist. He and his mentor didn’t belong to any organized group, assembled their rituals in willy-nilly fashion, and took part in juvenile stunts like Bible desecration (though Irvine, Mike Warnke and others insisted – falsely – that this is something practiced by authentic Satanists).

The Refuge Ministries promo page for Dancing with the Devil actually contains a blurb from “former Satanist” David Berkowitz. Son of Sam has long insisted that his crimes were committed at the behest of a violent Satanic cult, and he now claims to be a Christian (though his correspondence with another serial killer would indicate this, too, is a ruse designed to attract attention and sympathy). Sadly, many gullible folks have bought into this.

Harshbarger takes a Bible-based approach to the occult, and doesn’t seem to employ any of the fire-&-brimestone hyperbole or absurdly tall tales we’ve seen from Bill Schnoebelen and Mike Warnke. Nor does he have a criminal record or a history of deception, like John Todd and Derry Mainwaring Knight. He doesn’t claim to have been the leader of thousands of devil worshipers, or part of a worldwide Illuminati conspiracy, or a third-generation warlock. In fact, he comes across as a pretty low-key guy who probably did dabble in some form of Satanism in his younger days. But his story matches nearly every point of the familiar outline laid down by the original, bogus ex-Satanist testimonies (Doreen Irvine, Mike Warnke).

– A deprived childhood (his father was a violent alcoholic, his parents divorced)
– An absence of time markers (in Harshbarger’s case, there are virtually no details at all. We know only that he practiced Satanism from 1978 to 1981)
– Lack of detail about the beliefs of Satanists (Harshbarger mentions only a craving for power and wealth), but extraneous detail about the practices of Satanists (invoking demons, communicating with spirits).
– Helplessness. Rather than being led into Satanic evil through his/her bad choices, the protagonist is usually a naive and vulnerable innocent victimized, lured, or coerced into sin by more worldly people.
– Supernatural abilities and events (Harshbarger communicated with demons via Ouija board, manifested ESP, astrally projected, and was later possessed by demons)
– A remarkable conversion experience (after God intervened in his suicide attempt, he embraced Christ and demons were expelled from his body with minimal effort)
– Complete redemption and forgiveness through Christ
– Expert advice on the occult. After sharing his/her testimony, the ex-witch or former Satanist gives us pointers on how to avoid occultism, prevent children from becoming involved in it, and/or how to expunge it from our communities. There are typically warnings about Ouija boards, Halloween, and occult literature.  Harshbarger dumps Eastern religion and New Age beliefs into the same pot as Satanism.

Perhaps the number one reason why Harshbarger’s story isn’t believable is that it exists in at least two different versions. On The 700 Club and in the promotional video below, he describes his initiation into Satanism as a demonic possession. But in a written version of his testimony available online, he claims he started out with LaVeyan Satanism – which has nothing to do with literal demons, nor even a literal Satan – then worked his way up to demonology. So which is it?


Refuge Ministries promotional video

Betty Brennan

Betty Brennan is a Brooklyn-born New Yorker who claims she was a Devil worshiper for most of her adult life. She is the only practicing Catholic in this series. That’s quite ironic, given that many of the other “former Satanists” included Catholics in their lists of Satanic baddies. Bill Schnoebelen stated that all Satanic high priests are required to become Catholic priests.  Leo Zagami declared that each and every Catholic works as a spy for the Vatican, which is at the head of the Satanic Illuminati.

Brennan’s message is so meticulously tailored to suit fellow Catholics that I doubt it would be of much interest to the evangelical Christians that ordinarily flock to these conversion stories. She has even told her audiences that Satanists are anti-Catholic (she herself was a “real persecutor of the Church”), and are imbued with Satanic powers that allow them to pick out consecrated communion wafers from unconsecrated ones.
Chosen faith aside, Brennan’s tale fits perfectly into the the ex-Satanist testimony template. Let’s take a look:

A Dickensian childhood. Betty’s father died when she was a child. Unable to cope with her grief and raise a family at the same time, her mother shipped Betty and her brother to overseas Catholic boarding schools, where they lived isolated and unhappy lives.
An early introduction to Jesus that would pave the way for salvation later in life. Betty’s mother was a devout Catholic, and raised her children to follow in her footsteps. They went to church, received religious instruction, and attended only Catholic schools.
An absence of time markers. In her speeches, Betty always mentions how long she has been out of Satanism. But she provides no other dates at all. We don’t even know when she was born.

After graduating from boarding school, Betty returned to the States and married. One of her children was born with a terminal brain disease that resulted in a slow, agonizing death just two years later. Her daughter’s death devastated Betty and caused her to become furious with God.
Betty was a professional cellist. Shortly after her daughter died, she joined an orchestra that contained four or five Satanic priests. One of them, an older psychologist, befriended her. They had long, heartfelt chats over coffee, and she became emotionally dependent on the man.
One night, Betty insisted on accompanying her friend to a “party” held in an old barn. Reluctantly, he took her along with him, but asked her to remain outside. It didn’t take her long to figure out that a Satanic ceremony was being conducted. Instead of running away, she felt compelled to join her friend’s coven. In this respect, her story diverges from the standard testimony, in which a dewy innocent is lured into a cult.

Betty didn’t tell anyone she was a Satanist. She continued to pretend she was a Catholic. We have seen this subterfuge again and again in this series, yet in the world of real Satanism, adherents are proud of who they are and feel no need to hide their lifestyle. They certainly don’t feel obligated to pay lip service to another religion.

Betty is careful to note that although she was deeply immersed in the “upper echelons” of Satanism, she stopped short of human sacrifice, implying that others did engage in it. One wonders if she has reported this to the proper authorities – no one else in this series every bothered to do so. Just like Brennan, they shielded alleged homicidal Satanists by refusing to divulge their names. Betty does not even give the name of the form of Satanism she supposedly practiced.

Lack of detail about the beliefs of Satanists (scripture, philosophy, etc.), but extraneous detail about the practices of Satanists (sacrifice, crime, etc.) This is particularly true in Brennan’s case. She conflates witchcraft with Satanism, and portrays the two belief systems as little more than magic shows for narcissistic, wayward people
Supernatural events and paranormal abilities are common. As mentioned above, the Satanists Betty knew could tell if a host was consecrated or not just by looking at it (sensing the presence of Christ’s flesh, I guess). Betty developed telekinetic powers and ESP. Later, she experienced spontaneous levitation, like Edna Moses supposedly did.
A remarkable conversion experience. Betty was working as a substitute teacher, carpooling with a colleague who happened to be Catholic. When this woman’s car broke down, she asked Betty to drive her to a healing Mass. Betty accompanied her into the church with the sole intent of interrupting the Mass by supernatural means. First she caused the lights to go out, but the priest produced candles. All her other tricks were foiled, as well. Eventually, the priest recognized that something was not quite right about Betty, and  gently confronted her. With very little coaxing, she confessed her Satanism.

Betty returned to Catholicism for real, but her deliverance from evil was a protracted affair. At each Mass she attended, she would invariably awe the other congregants by levitating.
Complete redemption and forgiveness through Christ
Expert advice on the occult. Betty has been very active in warning other Catholics about the dangers of anything non-Catholic, and urging them to gird themselves against occult influence with their faith. One of her talks is titled “The Family Under Attack: The Sacraments as Our Defense“.

Sources:

1. Undated, abridged speech by Betty Brennan @ Gloria.TV (this is from a Lighthouse Catholic Media CD titled “Former Satanist Becomes Catholic“)