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So many demonic sightings in East San Diego County

Satan chasers

The hidden canyons of the back country, Ramona, Santee, Escondido, even Oceanside, are said to be riddled with the ritual sites of devil worshippers. - Image by Dave Allen
The hidden canyons of the back country, Ramona, Santee, Escondido, even Oceanside, are said to be riddled with the ritual sites of devil worshippers.

Satan,” wrote Anton LaVey in The Satanic Bible, “has been the best friend the church has ever had, as he has kept it in business all these years.” Since the appearance in 1983 of Michelle Remembers, a chronicle of one woman’s abuse at the hands of a Satanic cult, Satan’s been a better friend than ever — not just to the Christian church, but to ministers, mental health professionals, private investigators, ex-cops, and a host of self-proclaimed experts. They’re publishing books, producing videotapes, organizing seminars, and raking in cash from a frightened public.

Rick Post: “A lot of the people who I do investigations for can’t even pay.”

San Diego has many experts in the field of Satanism who say the county is a hotbed of Satanic activity. The hidden canyons of the back country, Ramona, Santee, Escondido, even Oceanside, are said to be riddled with the ritual sites of devil worshippers. But physical evidence of such groups is almost nonexistent. Much easier to find are those who believe Satanic cults exist, are widespread, and are responsible for countless grisly crimes.

Ritual site, Santee

Shortly after dawn, Rick Post pulls his red Cherokee into a Mission Hills parking lot. He’s dressed in a black singlet, black acid-washed jeans, mirrored sunglasses. There is a bowie knife on his belt and a shotgun in the back of the vehicle. He’s gotten a call about a possible Satanic ritual site near Descanso, and he’s going out to investigate.

Ricardo Weinstein is one San Diego psychologist with clients he believes have been ritually abused.

Rick Post works for Brauner, Post & Granado, San Diego private investigators. Over the past five years, he has become increasingly involved with cases of reported Satanic activity. It all began when he received a call from a Los Angeles woman whose niece was missing. The woman had found a trunk containing photos of the six-year-old being, as she put it, “ritually raped.” Investigation of the case led Post to discoveries of devil worshippers, he says. “The woman got the kid back ... a state senator was involved. I suspect the woman has since been killed.” By now, Post receives a dozen phone calls a day about such matters and has developed a network with local law-enforcement groups and the FBI.

Anton LaVey: “Satan has been the best friend the church has ever had."

“I’ll never get rich off of it,” Post says. “A lot of the people who I do investigations for can’t even pay.” He blames the job for the breakup of his marriage. He has been “emotionally drawn in” by the work. At one point, he felt quite overburdened by it. “I really love kids. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten calls from a woman who has a child kidnapped.... I’ve taken too many free cases.... This is organized crime. I have the feeling no one is doing anything about it. I couldn’t turn my back on it.”

Internal organs of dead animals have been found seemingly arranged in a pattern.

In Post’s view, local Satanists have been responsible for countless crimes, from abduction and murder to connections with biker groups that deal crystal meth. Evidence of Satanic activity runs from graffiti on rocks in the back country to cut-up cats in Kensington. The animal mutilations, to Post’s mind, are territorial markers.

“Eighty percent of the violent crime here,” Post says, “is connected to methamphetamine. I never met a Satanist who wasn’t into meth. I have met meth users who aren’t Satanists, but even they are surrounded by cultists.” He knows this, he says, because when he interviews these people, he sees crystals, candles, and unicorn pictures and knick-knacks in their homes.

Rick Post: "I never met a Satanist who wasn’t into meth."

Satanists come in all ages and from all backgrounds, says Post. There are “some local elected officials” involved, but he won’t name them. He says he is currently investigating a person who is “a church pastor on Sunday and a Satanic cult leader during the week.” He knows of a former SDSU professor, he says, who heads a local cult. San Diego County is crawling with Satanic cult groups, in Post’s view, including the Ordo Templi Orientis, the Order of Thelema, the Temple of Set, the Brotherhood of the Mind, the Rainbow Children, a group that meets in Balboa Park called the Knights of Satan, and a Satanic “enforcement arm” of a group of bikers in the meth trade known as the Crystal Circle. A local motorcycle gang, the Mongols, “have contact with Satanists” as well, according to Post.

Jamie Peters. “The only factual evidence in the case is that he is missing and that suspicious circumstances pointed to an occult element.”

The drive to Descanso is quick at this early hour. East on I-8, improbable rock formations dot the dry hills stretching north and south from the freeway. Deep shadows hint at hidden places in the low mountains. The sun tints the boulders gold and orange; the effect is somewhat mystical.

Post exits at Descanso and pulls into the parking lot of Perkins’ Store. Within minutes, Post’s contact person swings her four-wheel-drive rescue vehicle into the lot behind him. A wiry brunette jumps from behind the wheel. She greets Post heartily and sticks a Merit Ultralight between her lips. Marge (not her real name) has a grandson who was “ritually abused” in a foster home. Marge says a worker at Hillcrest Receiving Home told her pentagrams had been drawn on the insides of his thighs, apparently with a pen. Marge’s husband runs a ministry; she herself does social work. She called Rick after her friend, a woman now sitting quietly inside Marge’s car, came to her about an “altar” she had found in the hills behind Descanso.

The woman, call her “Red Bird,” claims her three-year-old grandson was abducted and murdered by a cult. His body was found in a Spring Valley dumpster. According to Red Bird, his heart and liver had been removed. His eyelids had been cut open or removed, and his eyes had been replaced with “something blue.” His feet were painted black. Symbols were painted on his hands, though she doesn’t know what kind. The suspect apprehended in the case hanged himself in jail. (Local law-enforcement officials say the investigation is still open, so they cannot comment on Red Bird’s account.)

After purchasing supplies — sodas, candy bars — in Perkins’, Marge and Rick get back into their vehicles. “Let’s get this show on the fucking road!” Marge yells. Engines rev; the Jeeps charge off.

Down Viejas Boulevard they stop at Holidays on Horseback, where Earl Hammond joins the party. Hammond, formerly an animal trainer, is a friend of Marge and Red Bird. He’s coming along “for the ride” and “to learn something.” Everyone crams into Marge’s vehicle. Marge hands Red Bird a black, round-crowned felt hat with an eagle feather in the band, which Red Bird puts on her head. Settling behind the wheel, Marge gets out a Polaroid snapshot taken two days earlier of a sheep carcass dumped beside a local road. She passes it around. After everyone has had a chance to look at it and try to see the animal’s supposedly missing ears, Red Bird shivers and notes her bad feelings about all this. She doesn’t know how Rick can do this kind of work. Marge says, “Don’t worry, Rick has an eagle feather on his truck.”

Red Bird nods. “That’s good.” The feather is protection of a kind both Marge and Red Bird believe in. Marge warns her passengers about her driving speed, and Earl laughs in concurrence. Gravel flies as the Jeep peels out onto Mizpah Road.

During the drive, Red Bird becomes more talkative. She lives in a trailer on the grounds of an old Boy Scout camp in the back country. She roams the hills, performs “the rituals of [her] people” to “heal the land,” communes with “Brother Hawk” and “Grandfather Tree." She had hoped the old camp would become the site for Lynn (Jaguar Woman) Andrews’s seminars and the like, but she believes the land has now been purchased by the military for training exercises.

“The OTO has land up here somewhere, I hear,” says Rick, referring to the Ordo Templi Orientis. Marge and Red Bird absorb this information with interest. Within minutes, they are speculating about a connection between the OTO and the military. Both women mention other Satanic activity in the surrounding hills. In the past two years, they claim, there has been a cattle mutilation, a sheep mutilation, a human body found in a stock pond, two sightings of “12 men in robes” — white robes in one account, black in the other — standing in a circle on remote areas of nearby ranches.

After a couple of miles’ driving on country roads, dirt roads, and fire roads, the group arrives at the base of the hill where Red Bird found the altar site. The vehicle is turned around and parked — because, Marge reasons, “we don’t know if we’ll need to get out of here in a hurry.”

It was during one of Red Bird’s walks through the back country that she first “felt drawn” to climb this hill, although she never had before and had a scared feeling about it. What she found, what she calls an altar, she describes as a large, flat rock with 13 rocks piled on top of it. Underneath one of the rocks was “something dead.”

The incline is steep, covered in loose sand and rocks, dotted with thorny bushes, manzanita, yucca. The air smells wonderful. Marge unpacks her pistol; Rick slings his shotgun over his shoulder, his high-power binoculars and a camera around his neck. Earl checks the water bottles pocketed in the photographer’s vest he wears.

As the group strains up the hillside in 90-degree heat, the only sounds are hissing bugs and panting. Tire party fans out: Earl to the right, Rick and Marge straight up, Red Bird to the left. Rick pauses periodically to catch his breath and scan the view with his binoculars. For a walking stick, he uses his shotgun, brought along “because cults usually have what they call gatekeepers, armed, to look out for strangers.”

Red Bird stops to pick sage, which she uses in her healing rituals. Periodically, Marge calls out to Red Bird, an Indian word. From somewhere on the hillside, Red Bird answers with the same word.

After nearly an hour’s hike, Red Bird locates the altar site. Midway up the hill’s south flank, a tall boulder juts up; two smaller rocks near it form natural steps to its fairly flat top, bearing a haphazard pile of hand-sized pieces of granite. The party reassembles and compares notes. Few signs of human presence appeared along the way, only a small orange ball stuck in a bush, an empty paint can next to a rock. “What I look for at a place like this,” Rick explains, “is an easy access route, evidence of human presence, candle wax, bones, other things.”

He finds none. Rick counts 12 rocks rather than Red Bird’s 13. Whatever dead thing was underneath one of them is no longer there, although Red Bird runs a finger over a dark mark under one of the stones, speculatively. Rick, Marge, and Red Bird climb the “altar” rock to enjoy the view. Earl says he smells carrion and wanders off.

Red Bird descends the boulder and disappears after Earl; soon the pair return with a long bone. This sparks Marge, Rick, and Red Bird to renewed speculation of Satanic activity. Earl comments that it looks like a deer bone to him.

The trip back down the hill is arduous, and there are lots of ants. Marge later says she told Brother Ant to leave her alone and he did. Still, by the end of the adventure everyone bears wounds from Brother Manzanita, and one ankle has a nasty red lump courtesy of Grandfather Spider.

Finally, the road and the jeep are in sight. After nursing hiking wounds, sipping water, wiping faces, Red Bird directs Marge to drive the vehicle out to her camp. Red Bird, a bit defensive after the “altar’s” failure to impress Rick, wants to show him chambers in the ground where abducted children could be kept by cultists (they turn out to be old septic tanks); a mysterious abandoned trailer, painted black (it turns out to be brown) with the words “Love Shack” painted on it; and two “diapers” she found in the brush. The diapers turn out to be oblong pieces of fuzzy white cloth, unmarked. Another long drive brings the party to the sheep carcass, smelly and beset by bees. Rick finds it too badly decomposed to draw conclusions from.

By the end of the afternoon, Rick Post is tired, scratched up, and a little disappointed at the day’s fruitlessness. During the drive back to San Diego, he says he is glad he checked out the lead nonetheless. “That’s the way this business is,” he notes philosophically. “I get calls like this all the time. Most of them turn out to be nothing. Like this one.”

Anti-Satanists accuse their critics of working for the enemy — Satan himself. They ignore the lack of evidence for widespread, cohesive, or even loosely organized Satanism and are undaunted by the lack of hard evidence of crimes committed by same.

Where the arguments of the anti-Satanists are not religious, they are emotional. A “survivor’s” horrific account of ritual abuse and the emotional distress with which it is told evoke sympathy and persuade some that the story is real. And the increasing media attention paid to the issue of child abuse has given allegations of Satanic ritual abuse a new credibility. Relying on the “memories” of alleged survivors, believers in the theory of Satanic conspiracies have been able to appropriate the child-abuse battle cry “Believe the children.”

Those who take a religious perspective believe that devil worshippers are tapping into a force of evil in direct opposition to a Christian God. Others believe that devil worshippers are on a warped power trip and tapping into nothing but their own human capacity for wickedness.

The question of whether Satanic activity exists at all, in other than very isolated cases, has been obscured by the abundance of theories, definitions, guidelines, and advisory materials whizzing from hand to hand around the county. Definitions of and theories about Satanic cults that are now accepted by governmental agencies — law-enforcement groups, social workers, and legislators — incorporate the beliefs of Christian religious groups. Satanism itself can’t exist without Christianity. But even among the so-called experts, thorny questions emerge: Is a teen-ager who is fond of painting pentagrams, and the number 666 on rocks, who wears T-shirts touting Ozzy Osbourne, who uses crystal meth, who cuts the head off a neighbor’s cat a Satanist? Does saying you are a Satanist make you one? Does someone else’s saying you are a Satanist make you one?

Colin Brown, a Southern California free-lance writer and believer in the Satanist conspiracy, defines Satanism loosely — “Any practice which encourages self-destruction, the dehumanizing of another person.” Some religious fundamentalists place responsibility for all negative human behavior squarely on the devil’s shoulders. In recent years, however, the differences between Satanism and new-age philosophies, WICCA, paganism, santeria, animism, and teen-age rebellion have been officially acknowledged by “experts” of all stripes.

Many people interviewed for this story, believers and skeptics alike, feel Satanists fall roughly into three categories. First are teen-agers — secretive, rebellious, and angry — who embrace the symbology of Satanism largely through the clothes they wear and heavy-metal music. Angry teens sometimes engage in cruel acts, such as torturing small animals, and rebellious acts, such as spraypainting socially unacceptable symbols on walls and rocks. They usually act alone. These are the people law-enforcement personnel refer to as “self-styled Satanists.”

One deputy sheriff, questioned about the frequency of “Satanic” crimes locally, pointed to the recent rash of break-ins and vandalism in North County attributed to an adolescent girl. The girl often smeared food on the walls of houses she’d entered and sometimes tortured dogs she found there. “I don’t know many of the details,” the deputy sheriff concluded, “but it sounds like there’s Satanic involvement to me.” By thus classifying certain crimes as having “cultic overtones,” the existence of Satanism becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

The second category of Satanists are people who are members of organized groups, such as Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan; ex-C. of S. member Michael Aquino’s splinter group, the Temple of Set; the Ordo Templi Orientis, a group embracing the philosophy of British occultist Aleister Crowley; and the Order of Thelema, an OTO splinter group. These people tend to be older, more establishment, with a philosophical bent. They chat on computer networks, hold occasional meetings, and keep in touch through newsletters.

The Church of Satan had its share of publicity in the late ’60s, when followers included Sammy Davis Jr. and Jayne Mansfield. LaVey is an ex-animal trainer who also played piano in L.A. strip joints. Those not impressed by Satanist conspiracy theories consider LaVey a huckster, a theatrical man who embraces an aesthetic based on Hollywood cliches.

The Order of Thelema has a chapter in Chula Vista. Repeated phone calls to the group were not returned. The Temple of Set-has only “junior members” living in San Diego County, who are not considered by the organization’s officials to be proper spokespeople for the group.

Robert Menschel is a “Setian” who lived in San Diego for six years. He is uncomfortable with the term Satanist but is used to having it applied to himself. “The Church of Satan was flamboyant on the outside, but behind the scenes some members were engaged in a serious pursuit of philosophy. Some members felt they were getting in touch with something indefinable. There was a lot of self-respect gathering, a firm foundation for working towards something.

“In 76, LaVey started selling priesthoods for money, and those who cared about the organization were upset. Aquino and those who left with him founded what was going to be called the Second Church of Satan or the Reorganized Church of Satan. On summer solstice 76, Aquino had a ritual experience in which he began making contact with the so-called Prince of Darkness. It was through a process like automatic writing or channeling in the beginning. The being was Set — Lucifer, or the Prince of Darkness, in the Christian scheme of things.”

Menschel describes the being as “kind of like ‘Q’ in the new Star Trek series, only with more compassion and ethics. But mercy doesn’t come into play. The love and care that Setians feel is selective, elitist. We like the term ‘noble.’ We have traditional ethics, we respect people’s rights to live the way they want, we respect and foster independence.” Satanism, in Menschel’s view, is anything that exalts the individual. It is indulgence in moderation. “There are no drugs allowed in the Temple of Set,” Menschel says. You won’t find kidnapping, child molestation, mutilation, cannibalism, or animal or human sacrifice here, Menschel says. All rituals are private, although at occasional meetings group members

exchange information on what works and what doesn’t, to bring you closer to the power. “There is some ritual sex I’ve heard of. It’s individual only, and consensual.” Setians “enjoy celebrating” solstices and equinoxes, and each member has favorite ritual days. Menschel’s is All Hallow’s Eve. “It’s the only day of the year when I can wear my flamboyant clothes, like my black finger-length cape, on the street and

people don’t even notice.” Menschel performs personal rituals to “get in touch with the world” around him and “to make changes in my life. Self-growth is the point.” He might do a ritual for getting a raise at work or for the mortgage on his house. “Three times I’ve tried to win the California lottery using this technique.”

The third widely acknowledged category of Satanists is the “lone psychotic,” the crazed individual who has fixated on the Devil and his symbols and commits heinous acts in his name. Los Angeles serial killer Richard Ramirez (the so-called Night Stalker) falls into this category. Numerous video documentaries offered as evidence that Satanists are indeed killing people include the moment after Ramirez’s sentencing when he turned to the news cameras and shouted, “Hail, Satan!” A Bay Area killing in which the victim was found partially drained of

blood, with a pentagram carved on his chest is also attributed to a lunatic acting alone on “orders” from Satan. Skeptics point out that while many crazed murderers claim to have been acting on orders from God or Jesus, we do not refer to theirs as “Christian crimes.”

Every book published in this country on the subject (most are by Christian authors) becomes a source of “facts” for experts nationwide. Maury Terry’s The Ultimate Evil: An Investigation of America’s Most Dangerous Satanic Cult tied the Manson Family killings to an organized Satanic conspiracy through family member Susan Atkins’s one-time membership in the Temple of Set. “Son of Sam” killer David Berkowitz has been linked to the Church of the Process of the Final Judgement, a now-defunct group founded by a former Scientologist in 1964. The California-based Ordo Templi Orientis actually won an out-of-court settlement against Terry for defamation in 1988.

Local law-enforcement agencies, including the San Diego and El Cajon police departments and the county sheriffs office, do not officially believe in the existence of Satanism. But intelligence units at these agencies do compile statistics on crimes that appear to have “occult overtones.” However, those overtones mostly amount to second-hand, anecdotal accounts by citizens, not hard evidence.

Mike Howard, an investigator with the El Cajon Police Department, says he “constantly” hears stories about the sorts of criminal activities Satanists are supposedly involved in but has seen almost no physical evidence to link crimes in El Cajon with Satanic activity in El Cajon. For example, Howard has even heard unsubstantiated claims about “people being ground up and added to dope to make superdope.” The only case “in which the subject of the occult has come up over and over again in what people tell us” is the as-yet-unsolved 1988 disappearance of Jamie Peters. “The only factual evidence in the case is that he is missing and that suspicious circumstances pointed to an occult element.” Pressed for details, Howard says, “There was dope involved, which is consistent with occultic activity.” (A photo of the Peters boy in Rick Post’s possession shows him wearing an Iron Maiden Tshirt and making the “devil’s horns” sign with one hand.)

Howard indicates that criminal activity in El Cajon by people who are involved in occult practices includes drug manufacture, pedophilia, and pornography. “Very frequently we don’t have the proof, but just because we don’t have the proof doesn’t mean we won’t investigate stories people tell us.” He sees that as a law-enforcement obligation. Law-enforcement agency resources, time, and money have come to be used to investigate such claims by citizens simply because of the frequency with which those claims are made.

Sources at local law-enforcement agencies stressed repeatedly that crimes are investigated and facts are compiled, and cases are prosecuted on the basis of facts. Any link between crime and religious groups of any kind would not figure into the prosecution of a case. However, law-enforcement officers confirmed that they are being taught to look for “evidence” of Satanic and occult activity at crime scenes.

Believers in the existence of widespread Satanic activity claim that government agencies are already infiltrated by Satanists; as a result, the agencies suppress evidence and refuse to attribute documented crime patterns to Satanists for fear of coming under fire from the ACLU for violating the rights of a religious group. A San Diego County deputy sheriff, who spoke on condition of anonymity, admits the latter claim but also says he “has yet to see a good, firm case” of any criminal activity by Satanists. He feels a certain hysteria is mounting. “We had a case of a cat-killing in an apartment complex out here [in 1988] that made it into the press that said it was evidence of Satanic activity. For nine days in a row after that, we had calls about Satanic animal sacrifice.

The same year, we had a cow carcass that people claimed had been killed by Satanists. We took it to the county vet, who said it was an animal-killing.”

Similarly, a 1988 string of cat deaths in Orange County was linked by frightened residents to Satanists, despite well-substantiated evidence that the drought had driven coyotes from the hills into residential neighborhoods. Under pressure from citizens, police had the county vet examine the animals. He confirmed that the cats had been killed by coyotes. Taxpayers, of course, paid the vet bills.

Satanism experts have been circulating a photocopy of what is purported to be a Seattle Police Department memorandum, dated January 24, 1989. In it, vice section personnel are advised “not to seek or accept the role of ‘Department Expert’ on Satanism,” not to keep files, books, pictures, or other printed material on the subject, to screen with a supervisor “any Satanic information” brought up during an investigation, and to forward such information to criminal intelligence. Clearly, such measures can be viewed merely as attempts to curb hysteria.

Believers in the Satan conspiracy, however, classify them with veterinarian reports on animal killings — as evidence of governmental cover-ups.

In 1988 the San Diego County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association issued a manual for use by law-enforcement groups, called “An Informational Aid to Understanding Gangs, Groups, and Cults.” The manual was largely authored by Clyde Rinkes, now a retired sheriffs deputy living in Descanso, where he continues to gather information about alleged cult activity.

Among the indicators of cult involvement he listed: possession of books about Satanism or the occult, black clothing, candles, altars, bells, phallic symbols, symbols in art or jewelry including the swastika, the crossed-axe “labrys” symbol (worn by lesbians), astrological symbols, the Cross of Nero, and the Cross of Confusion (the question mark with a cross at its base, used as a logo by the heavy-metal group Blue Oyster Cult).

Dave Gaerin, a San Diego County deputy sheriff who retired this year, was once the local expert on Satanic activity. He gave lectures at local high schools, classes to law-enforcement trainees, and interviews to the press. In 1986 he outlined for the Reader how teens are drawn into Satanic cults; the tell-tale signs included many found on Rinkes’s list. Among Gaerin’s claims were that subliminal messages advocating the devil were encoded in heavy metal and punk music qnd that a certain member of heavy-metal band Aerosmith was a Satanist “in charge of the entire East Coast.”

In the same 1986 interview, Gaerin described photographs depicting what he claimed were Satanic rituals, including human sacrifice and a ritual “rebirthing into the Satanic.” Many of the details he included in his description make it clear that the photos he was referring to were the same photos in the possession of Rick Post in September 1991.

(The most gruesome of them purport to show human sacrifice. Blurry and indistinct, it is impossible to tell if the bound, nude “victims” are being eviscerated or if what appear to be internal organs have been placed on their bodies. No conclusion about the context of the activities is possible from the visual information. Rick Post obtained these copies of copies of photos from sources he would not name, and he could not supply names, dates, or places for them. As he commented at the time, Satan-chasers trade documents and information “like baseball cards.”) Eventually, the sheriffs office quietly removed Gaerin from the spotlight, but not before certain of his claims became part of the “evidence” of worldwide Satanic conspiracy passed among the “experts.”

Gaerin and others still operating as experts frequently mention an international conference they claim was held in Mexico City in 1981, organized by a group called WICCA, an acronym for the Witches International Coven Council (the A is not explained). According to Post and others, they had heard that WICCA was meeting to map out a strategy for world domination. Letters outlining the plan were supposedly intercepted by an unidentified law-enforcement official. According to David Alexander, an Orange County Satanism skeptic, Dave Gaerin was the source for this material. Dave Gaerin remains the only expert to claim to have actually seen the WICCA letters. There is no other evidence that WICCA even exists. (Dave Gaerin did not respond to requests for an interview.)

Rancho Bernardo is the headquarters of DIOS, Christian minister Mark Galvan’s Dunamis Impact Outreach Services, Incorporated. Galvan formed the organization in 1988 “in response to the local uprise in occult crime.” Galvan’s object is to increase public awareness and give “educational” programs to law enforcement, crisis-intervention workers, parents, teachers, and church groups. DIOS monitors occult activity and offers crisis intervention to “those who are attempting to escape ritual abuse or are otherwise seeking safe asylum.”

Galvan has documented “dozens” of cases of Satanic activity in San Diego County. He has almost a dozen reports of animal mutilations in Poway in July 1991, including photos; line drawings; details of date, time, and location. Also in July, graffiti, including symbols associated with Satanism, the names of heavy-metal bands, and declarations of love of the initials-in-hearts variety, were found spray-painted in a concrete ditch and tunnels near Poway’s Abraxas High School.

The sheriffs department maintains that there is no proof that such incidents are the result of organized Satanic cults. Although they do see a ritualistic aspect in, for example, the way internal organs of dead animals have been found seemingly arranged in a pattern, they feel this could have been the coincidental work of a coyote or other predator. “I myself had a cat who would bring in bird kills through the cat door,” says a sheriffs department source. “I came home and found all the bird parts laid out in a straight line. But there are people in the community who insist no animal could have done [similar things], despite what the county veterinarian says.” (Rick Post says " Satanists have told him that they will manufacture tooth marks in an animal used in rituals in order to throw veterinarians off track.) The sheriffs department also does not discount the possibility that the cat mutilations are the work of “self-styled” Satanists — those angry teen-agers.

Galvan shares such information, as well as information passed on by a host of national Christian organizations, with subscribers to his bimonthly newsletter, The Informant. One recent issue offers a list of ways to identify Satanist infiltrators in intervention agencies, counseling organizations, and churches. (Galvan claims to have seen “more than a dozen cases” of such infiltration in the past three years.) One method on Galvan’s list: Your “gut feelings” tell you something is wrong.

In the same issue, a cartoon depicts two hooded men watching from a balcony as Mark Galvan is challenged by a skeptic during a public school presentation. The skeptic screeches, “What are you doing here? You can’t talk about that here! Who are you anyway?” “Who is that woman?” one hooded figure asks the other. “I don’t know, but she sounds like one of us!”

A chart showing DIOS’s financial situation indicates a monthly income of $1000 to $4000, with projected expenses running from $5500 to $7000.

The newsletter asks for donations of office equipment (everything from a video camera to a coffee maker) and cash. All donations are, of course, tax deductible.

Far more lucrative and far more well known than DIOS are the activities of Colorado-based Bob Larson Ministries, whose syndicated Talk-Back radio show often features confrontations with Satanists, even demons. Counseling is provided to troubled callers through the ministry’s Compassion Connection and Metal Connection (a music-oriented teen outreach program). Although taken to task by skeptics and Christians alike for inaccuracies, sensationalism, and greed, Larson’s operations pulled in over half a million dollars in 1990,., 94 percent of it in donations, according to the ministry.

In addition, Bob Larson Ministries markets books and videotapes, most the work of Larson himself. Sales account for only three percent of Larson Ministries’ revenue, they say, but at a recent appearance at Keamy Mesa’s First Assembly of God church, sales were brisk. A table inside the facility’s plush auditorium building was surrounded by a milling crowd, staffed by cheerful young women. The hot seller that night was Larson’s New Book on Cults.

Among the videos, The First Family of Satanism — “an exclusive interview with Zeena LaVey and Nicholas Schreck” — was a popular choice. Zeena is the daughter of Anton LaVey, and Schreck is her husband.

A video titled In the Name of Satan was a special deal that night: $20 if bought alone, $10 if purchased with another item. An “educational” version of the video was to be shown during the evening’s program; the one on sale in the lobby was promised to contain additional shocking footage.

A few minutes before the presentation began, the 1500-seat auditorium was filled nearly to capacity. The crowd was mostly young white people, middle-class by their attire, although a fair number of well-dressed black women also took seats inside.

Also in the crowd were a number of scoffers: teen-agers dressed defiantly in black, wearing silver jewelry, who stood in the hallways, arms folded. “I just came to see the video,” one noted. “I hear it’s pretty intense.”

A movie screen was suspended over the platform at the front of the auditorium, behind a table displaying more of Larson’s books. Ten minutes before program time, an audio tape came on, echoing through the cavernous room’s speakers. It was excerpts from Talk-Back. Over the cacophony of people settling into their seats were weepy on-air testimonials of repentant Satanists and other lost souls. At one point, a snip of eerie electronic music interrupted a conversation between Larson and “Rebecca.” Her girlish voice over the telephone line turned to a snarl, then a growl. “Am I talking to a demon? What is your name, demon?” The faces in the auditorium of those listening to this echoing over their heads, were serious, expectant. A number of middle-aged women bent their heads over their Bibles.

Rick Post was on hand as security. Larson was said to have received death threats from Satanists. That same evening, a woman in the crowd reported hearing a “Middle Eastern-looking man” say, “If it takes a bullet, I’m going to get him. He must be stopped.” (Questioned later by Post and other security agents, the man explained that what he had said was that he would defend Larson against possible attack by Satanists, even if it required taking a life.)

Larson’s sidekick Bonnie Bell, an attractive young woman in a black-and-white silk print dress, came out to great applause, warmed up the crowd, and called up Mike De Vito, pastor of the Kearny Mesa church, to lead the audience in a quick prayer — because, as Bell explained, the group would be “tackling Satan” that night. A bench at the front of the audience was reserved for hearing-impaired people; an interpreter sat facing them, translating the prayer and Bell’s words. Bell brought out Margo Hamilton, also of Bob Larson Ministries, and the next few minutes seemed to be devoted to ascertaining how many in the audience were regular listeners to Larson’s program (about one quarter of the assembly raised hands) and to plugging Bob Larson’s “education tools” — Bell’s phrase for the books and videos on the table next to her.

“Bob’s latest book [Dead Air] has been a phenomenal success,” Bell told the crowd. “It became the number-three best seller in secular bookstores. We said, ‘This was even bigger than we had planned,’ er, ‘had known.’ ” Bell told a few anecdotes about Larson’s good works. The stories were spiced with references to demonic manifestations, flaming pentagrams appearing on living room carpets.

Soon the video was shown — a blend of interview and narration, with a sinister-sounding music score. Among the crimes the video attributed to a Satanic network were the McMartin Preschool case, the Richard Ramirez case, a San Francisco case in which a man had a pentagram carved on his chest, and a Dade County day-care center case. Next came “Esther,” supposedly a survivor of abuse at the hands of a cult — a very pretty girl whose facial expressions and tone of voice had the earnestness of the actors in those “real people” testimonials in television commercials. The audience made noises of sympathy at the gruesome crimes described by the “survivors.” The deaf-interpreter in the front row had a light shining up at her face and hands. It cast a shadow of her movements on the ceiling of the auditorium. More shadows spilled over the edges of the video screen onto the giant wooden cross on the wall 20 feet behind it.

Unlike most of the watchers, a man in the second row made skeptical-sounding “hmmph” noises at every mention of Satanic grotesqueries. Later, he revealed that he had come that evening out of curiosity and was not a Larson supporter. He was surprised at how slick the video was. It occurred to him that Larson advocated strict parental control over every sign of teen-age rebellion as a safety measure against Satanism and that this was a great way to promote traditional family values. “What the video says is that if you don’t nip dissent in the bud, your kids will eventually come at you with an ax.”

Through doors in the wall behind the video screen, uniformed security guards emerged to stand at parade- rest. Through another door came Bob Larson, a smallish man with reddish hair and mustache, glasses, and wearing a beige double-breasted suit. The audience gave him a standing ovation. After a few opening remarks, Larson moved into the audience to joke and chat.

The first woman he approached testified that she was completely appalled by the magnitude of the problem and that Larson’s film should be shown in public schools. The second woman, who was taking notes, asked for and received Larson’s autograph in a margin. The third woman just happened to have visited Larson headquarters in Colorado recently and described them, without prompting, as “very austere.” Another woman said she had seen the ministries’ financial report and that it was “good to know so much of the money was going where it would do the most good: directly to your work with children, Bob.”

Larson spent a few minutes defending himself against detractors, especially “so-called Christians” who “should stand united with me in the fight against Satan.” (Christian skeptics Bob and Gretchen Pasantino, an Orange County couple, wrote a scathing expose of Larson’s activities in Christian Cornerstone magazine last December. A recent Larry King Live! broadcast pitted Larson against another Christian skeptic. According to a viewer who saw that program, Larson had a young female “survivor” with him, and she would cry loudly every time the skeptic attacked Larson.)

Next, Larson called from the audience, with apparent surprise at his presence, a young man named Michael, with long, silky brown hair and well-toned muscles bared by a sleeveless T-shirt. Michael is the lead singer of Deliverance, one of the Christian “speed-crunch” bands whose music Larson’s Metal Connection sends out to troubled teens in the clutches of the demonic. From this point onward, the audience became increasingly restless, leaving for the bathroom, leaving for home. Larson interrupted himself several times to exhort people not to move around so much.

Then out came the collection envelopes. Larson led a prayer, pleading with God to make people generous. He asked for money to “get the [radio] station back on track” and “help as many hurting kids as possible.” He referred to the threats on his life, claimed there were San Diego police in the hallways (they had been called by Post and the other security guards but had since left), and said to the audience, “I don’t expect you to take a bullet for me, but I expect you to write a generous check.”

In the auditorium lobby, more copies of Larson’s books and videos had been placed on the table, and small circles of attendees stood chatting. Church volunteers tried to keep the outer doors closed, but many people continued to leave. Outside, a petition was circulating. “This is to ban pornography,” explained a signature gatherer. Asked for details, the woman said, “It’s to push through legislation to ban pornography.” No text of the proposed legislation and no reference to a specific piece of legislation appeared on the petition. Just a logo — the National Coalition Against Pornography — and a brief paragraph exhorting signers to make their voices heard in Congress.

John is a wiry, tattooed man in his 30s. Now a born-again Christian, John says he was a necromancer for 24 years with a nationwide cult called Satanic Attack. He is happy to be interviewed by the press and has appeared in a videotaped interview by Rick Post. John, of course, is not his real name. He conceals his identity for fear of reprisals from his former brethren.

He was on hand at Bob Larson’s San Diego appearance to “back up Bob.” He often listens to the radio program. “I don’t question [Larson’s] validity. But I’ve heard him hang up on people who were maybe about to accept Christ.”

A product of what is referred to as “intergenerational Satanism,” John says he was molested by an uncle and by a second grade teacher at ages six and seven. He explained this as the beginning of a process of induction into the cult. Eventually he rose to the position of necromancer, conjuring up the spirits of dead people and demons. He wouldn’t explain how he did this but said it worked. He claimed to have witnessed the murders of “about 75 people” of all ages, including, he thinks, children. He also mentioned numerous kidnappings but wouldn’t give details other than to say they occurred in Massachusetts. He would not say whether he was personally involved in the kidnappings, because “there are Satanists within organizations of police who would love to attack me.” John escaped Satanic Attack in 1989, he said, by “creating my own death.” He would not go into detail for fear of leading closer those Satanists still after him. Why did he get out? “I was tired of killing. I was tired of the stupid ways that people would take total control of others.” He is glad the subject is finally getting some attention. A new ministry for ritual abuse victims has started up locally, and he attends it. As for the secular aspect, John says, “Psychiatrists and MFCCs are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg.”

On Rick Post’s comfortable Loma Portal home, a video camera has been set up to face an oak conference table in preparation for an interview. Rick is pouring two glasses of Diet Pepsi when the doorbell rings. Sherry from Rose of Sharon Ministry enters. Sherry’s ministry counsels victims of Satanic crimes. Behind her is her husband, whom Rick introduces as Ray, though that’s not his real name. “Ray is a former Satanist,” Rick says. “He was the one referred to as ‘Joe’ in the Animal Press story about Satanic animal killings.” Rick strides back into the kitchen for two more glasses.

“Oh, you’re a former Satanist. What was the name of your cult?”

Ray’s eyes are fixed on the wall opposite him. “Oh, Rick will tell you. Rick knows all about it.” But Rick does not remember the name offhand.

Soon the interview subject arrives. She had contacted Bob Larson Ministries, which had put her in touch with Rose of Sharon Ministry in San Diego, which had referred her to Post. Rick will investigate her ex-husband, whom she has accused of being involved in a Satanic cult and subjecting her and her three children to various gruesome rituals. The woman, wearing jeans and a Disneyland T-shirt, looks haggard, glazed-eyed. Dark roots show in her bleached blonde hair.

She collapses into a chair at the conference table. Sherry and Ray sit on one side of her, Rick on the other. Outside, there are dogs barking. After turning on the video camera, Rick says gently, “Okay. Tell me in your own words. What’s goin’ on?”

“In my own words....” Her eyes fill. She looks up at the ceiling. “Oh, God, I’m gonna cry.”

“It’s okay, honey,” Sherry pats her hand.

“This all started as what we thought was a cut-and-dried molestation case with my ex-husband and my children. Everything was going pretty normal until the end of December 1990, January 1991, when my children started raping each other with knives; and then they were having sex with one another, which the therapist told me was normal but that it needed to be stopped.”

“The therapist told you this was normal?” Rick asks.

“For children who had been molested to turn to one another.”

“How old were your children?” “At the time they were five, six, and seven. They’re now six, seven, and eight.” She stops, heaving with emotion. “On January the 15 th of 1991, I had my son admitted, he’s the seven-year-old, he’s now seven years old, to Southwood Hospital. He was out of control, and there was nothing I could do. He was terrorizing his sisters. He had come into my bedroom and threatened me and my boyfriend with a knife. I didn’t see it, but he had come and stood in the door of the bedroom with the knife, contemplating what he was going to do about it. So I had him admitted. The very next day, the next oldest child, eight, tried to attack me with a prospector’s pick.”

Her voice, a wail, breaks into sobs. “And when I asked her why she did it, she said her daddy told her she had to, if anybody else came into my life, because they couldn’t have anybody else come into my life.”

The woman said she had that child, too, admitted to Southwood. “It was on the 16th of January that the children started talking about circles with stars in them, men wearing hoods, being given drugs. And then my six-year-old started telling me about how her daddy used to give me medicine and about how all the men used to have sex with me while I was asleep. She told me that the men had killed me; and I didn’t understand what she % meant, because obviously they didn’t kill me. I was alive. I went and talked to the therapist about it... and told her what she was saying. And she had also talked about drinking blood, so I wanted the hospital staff to be aware of it so they could do the HIV.” All three children were tested, came up negative.

“Tell me about your husband. Is he the one you suspect has done these things?”

“I know he’s the one.”

The woman believes he’s involved in a cult. “He has no outside friends. He’s not social even with his family. When my children were born, he was extremely happy to have a girl. Girls were important. Had to have a girl. When my son was born, the one in the middle, he warned me I’d better not ever have another boy. He was angry. He didn’t talk to me for weeks. And insisted I get pregnant again. Right away. He was fixin’ to move out to California at the time, and he threatened to leave me and my son behind.”

Since the beginning of the year, she has had “flashbacks” of rituals. She remembers her husband’s presence and that of an albino man with pink eyes and a scar on his face, wearing dark robes, with a breath that “smells like rotten flesh.”

“They were at night. I’m very groggy. Uhm, several incidences I had vomited and defecated and urinated on myself because I have no control over bodily functions. Uhm ...” She heaves again. “There’s a lot of pain associated with what they do. I’ve been sexually raped and sodomized ...”

She sobs. “I’ve been buried alive.”

Some of the incidents she places in Navy housing in Lakeside, others occurred outside. She remembers a “fish water” smell. She remembers a word that sounds like “paydone” often repeated. The activities took place around the full moon, often while she was menstruating. Rick asks if she ever sought help for her physical injuries. She says she went to the Navy hospital for sore knees and elbows, bruises. Her husband, she says, would instruct her in what to say to hospital personnel.

Her children have told her stories of being put in freezers, hung upside down by chains, locked in a closet under a staircase, given “medicine,” and forced to listen to tapes. She doesn’t doubt her children’s veracity.

The woman’s account takes several tearful hours, although it has been streamlined by retellings to social workers, therapists, and Navy investigators. A report by the San Diego County Department of Social Services notes that the children were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and placed in foster homes and that the mother has a “severe borderline personality disorder with hysterical traits” and was severely physically abused as a child by her father. A Department of the Navy psychosocial evaluation dated November 1990 calls her child-abuse accusations “unsubstantiated.” In this report, the children are said to have claimed they were abused by a 10-year-old friend who visited them.

A couple of weeks later, Rick Post relates the latest on the woman’s case. He says her psychologist believes she and her children have been ritually abused. County social services believes her new boyfriend abused them. Rick says the woman told him that when she mentioned Rick’s investigation to her boyfriend, he left in a hurry, without even taking his clothes. Rick suspects the boyfriend is affiliated with the woman’s previous abuser, her husband, “as often happens.”

Torn between obligations to clients and obligations to truth, mental health professionals increasingly become the source of the greatest pressure to believe allegations of criminal Satanic activity. Their belief might also be the source of the greatest possible impact on people’s lives. In several cases across the country, such as the Little Rascals Day Care Center case in Edenton, North Carolina, indictments have been filed, custody of children has been taken away, and suspects have been jailed for years on the strength of information given by tots in therapy and interrogation sessions — information alleging baby killings and animal sacrifice, as well as sexual molestation.

Ricardo Weinstein is one San Diego psychologist in private practice with a number of clients he believes have been ritually abused. They have told him about rapes, mutilations, murders, and being buried alive with snakes. “I have no reason to disbelieve things my clients tell me,” Weinstein says. “These are people from remote areas, who have no access to information or to others who describe similar crimes.” And what professionals are seeing more and more of, Weinstein claims, are cases of multiple personality disorder resulting from ritual abuse.

Another reason given to believe the claims of alleged ritual abuse victims, sources say, is that no one would want such horrible things to have happened to them and therefore would not make them up. Skeptics respond that the human imagination is a fertile thing, that the process of memory is unreliable, and that imagery of death, mutilation, and other horrors can accurately represent a person’s emotional experience without being literally true.

The San Diego County Commission on Children and Youth currently offers periodic training seminars on ritual abuse to mental health professionals. The word “Satanic” is not used, although the imagery and activities such abuse implies is clearly based on traditional notions of the Satanic. Some say a” lot of abuse involving multiple perpetrators and victims has ritualistic aspects created by the perpetrators to scare victims into silence. Linda Walker, executive officer of the commission, refused a request to attend one such seminar but did provide videotapes she showed at one recently. She does not “have a problem” with any of the material presented on the tapes. The two videos were produced and are distributed through Cavalcade Productions in Northern California.

Significant Others, excerpted from a series of special news reports by San Francisco’s KPIX-TV, relies heavily on footage of interviews with survivors and experts provided to the station by Cavalcade Productions. In one section of this tape, a therapist says the child on screen with her is a “multiple personality disorder,” whose parents admitted to using him in rituals. The three-year-old boy is shown on the floor with plastic zoo animals and a toy blender. The child puts the animals in the blender, then the therapist pours in some red Kool-Aid. “Kids reenact the abuse that happened to them,” she says.

“The grinder is where human and animal body parts are pulverized, then the remains are eaten.” A,clinical social worker in Mendocino is shown with a child playing with plastic animals and dolls inside a plastic basket that resembles a cage. The therapist takes out a naked woman doll. “And what’s this one?”

“She’s in jail,” responds the girl, identified in voice-over as “sexually and ritually abused by three adults in a day-care center.” “And what are all these babies?” asks the therapist, picking up one of the many tiny plastic baby figures from inside the basket. “They’re in jail.”

The therapist, in voice-over, says, “[The children] are put in these cages and told they are in jail by a gentleman who is dressed as a police officer. So when they see a policeman on the street they’re terrified.”

In response to such tapes, skeptics point to persuasive interview techniques, like those used in the McMartin Preschool case. According to a San Diego psychologist who works with alleged ritual-abuse victims, “Kids in therapy will admit to beatings and sexual abuse within months, but they keep the rituals secret for years.” It takes a while before a child can be brainwashed into believing the outlandish accusations put in their mouths.

A recent episode of TV’s Inside Edition told the story of Pamela Klein, a psychologist who “fueled flames of Satanic panic” in Chicago. While head of a child advocacy agency, Klein came across a five-year-old girl who claimed to have been molested by the father of a playmate. After about 50 therapy sessions, the claim had grown into a complicated story of basement Satanic rites, including murder, dismemberment, and cannibalism. On the weight of these accusations, the girl’s playmate was removed from the custody of her parents for a year and a half. When it came out that the girl had made up the original accusation because of a dispute with her friend over some Barbie dolls, the family of the girl’s playmate sued Klein and the county for $1 million. The case is pending.

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The hidden canyons of the back country, Ramona, Santee, Escondido, even Oceanside, are said to be riddled with the ritual sites of devil worshippers. - Image by Dave Allen
The hidden canyons of the back country, Ramona, Santee, Escondido, even Oceanside, are said to be riddled with the ritual sites of devil worshippers.

Satan,” wrote Anton LaVey in The Satanic Bible, “has been the best friend the church has ever had, as he has kept it in business all these years.” Since the appearance in 1983 of Michelle Remembers, a chronicle of one woman’s abuse at the hands of a Satanic cult, Satan’s been a better friend than ever — not just to the Christian church, but to ministers, mental health professionals, private investigators, ex-cops, and a host of self-proclaimed experts. They’re publishing books, producing videotapes, organizing seminars, and raking in cash from a frightened public.

Rick Post: “A lot of the people who I do investigations for can’t even pay.”

San Diego has many experts in the field of Satanism who say the county is a hotbed of Satanic activity. The hidden canyons of the back country, Ramona, Santee, Escondido, even Oceanside, are said to be riddled with the ritual sites of devil worshippers. But physical evidence of such groups is almost nonexistent. Much easier to find are those who believe Satanic cults exist, are widespread, and are responsible for countless grisly crimes.

Ritual site, Santee

Shortly after dawn, Rick Post pulls his red Cherokee into a Mission Hills parking lot. He’s dressed in a black singlet, black acid-washed jeans, mirrored sunglasses. There is a bowie knife on his belt and a shotgun in the back of the vehicle. He’s gotten a call about a possible Satanic ritual site near Descanso, and he’s going out to investigate.

Ricardo Weinstein is one San Diego psychologist with clients he believes have been ritually abused.

Rick Post works for Brauner, Post & Granado, San Diego private investigators. Over the past five years, he has become increasingly involved with cases of reported Satanic activity. It all began when he received a call from a Los Angeles woman whose niece was missing. The woman had found a trunk containing photos of the six-year-old being, as she put it, “ritually raped.” Investigation of the case led Post to discoveries of devil worshippers, he says. “The woman got the kid back ... a state senator was involved. I suspect the woman has since been killed.” By now, Post receives a dozen phone calls a day about such matters and has developed a network with local law-enforcement groups and the FBI.

Anton LaVey: “Satan has been the best friend the church has ever had."

“I’ll never get rich off of it,” Post says. “A lot of the people who I do investigations for can’t even pay.” He blames the job for the breakup of his marriage. He has been “emotionally drawn in” by the work. At one point, he felt quite overburdened by it. “I really love kids. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten calls from a woman who has a child kidnapped.... I’ve taken too many free cases.... This is organized crime. I have the feeling no one is doing anything about it. I couldn’t turn my back on it.”

Internal organs of dead animals have been found seemingly arranged in a pattern.

In Post’s view, local Satanists have been responsible for countless crimes, from abduction and murder to connections with biker groups that deal crystal meth. Evidence of Satanic activity runs from graffiti on rocks in the back country to cut-up cats in Kensington. The animal mutilations, to Post’s mind, are territorial markers.

“Eighty percent of the violent crime here,” Post says, “is connected to methamphetamine. I never met a Satanist who wasn’t into meth. I have met meth users who aren’t Satanists, but even they are surrounded by cultists.” He knows this, he says, because when he interviews these people, he sees crystals, candles, and unicorn pictures and knick-knacks in their homes.

Rick Post: "I never met a Satanist who wasn’t into meth."

Satanists come in all ages and from all backgrounds, says Post. There are “some local elected officials” involved, but he won’t name them. He says he is currently investigating a person who is “a church pastor on Sunday and a Satanic cult leader during the week.” He knows of a former SDSU professor, he says, who heads a local cult. San Diego County is crawling with Satanic cult groups, in Post’s view, including the Ordo Templi Orientis, the Order of Thelema, the Temple of Set, the Brotherhood of the Mind, the Rainbow Children, a group that meets in Balboa Park called the Knights of Satan, and a Satanic “enforcement arm” of a group of bikers in the meth trade known as the Crystal Circle. A local motorcycle gang, the Mongols, “have contact with Satanists” as well, according to Post.

Jamie Peters. “The only factual evidence in the case is that he is missing and that suspicious circumstances pointed to an occult element.”

The drive to Descanso is quick at this early hour. East on I-8, improbable rock formations dot the dry hills stretching north and south from the freeway. Deep shadows hint at hidden places in the low mountains. The sun tints the boulders gold and orange; the effect is somewhat mystical.

Post exits at Descanso and pulls into the parking lot of Perkins’ Store. Within minutes, Post’s contact person swings her four-wheel-drive rescue vehicle into the lot behind him. A wiry brunette jumps from behind the wheel. She greets Post heartily and sticks a Merit Ultralight between her lips. Marge (not her real name) has a grandson who was “ritually abused” in a foster home. Marge says a worker at Hillcrest Receiving Home told her pentagrams had been drawn on the insides of his thighs, apparently with a pen. Marge’s husband runs a ministry; she herself does social work. She called Rick after her friend, a woman now sitting quietly inside Marge’s car, came to her about an “altar” she had found in the hills behind Descanso.

The woman, call her “Red Bird,” claims her three-year-old grandson was abducted and murdered by a cult. His body was found in a Spring Valley dumpster. According to Red Bird, his heart and liver had been removed. His eyelids had been cut open or removed, and his eyes had been replaced with “something blue.” His feet were painted black. Symbols were painted on his hands, though she doesn’t know what kind. The suspect apprehended in the case hanged himself in jail. (Local law-enforcement officials say the investigation is still open, so they cannot comment on Red Bird’s account.)

After purchasing supplies — sodas, candy bars — in Perkins’, Marge and Rick get back into their vehicles. “Let’s get this show on the fucking road!” Marge yells. Engines rev; the Jeeps charge off.

Down Viejas Boulevard they stop at Holidays on Horseback, where Earl Hammond joins the party. Hammond, formerly an animal trainer, is a friend of Marge and Red Bird. He’s coming along “for the ride” and “to learn something.” Everyone crams into Marge’s vehicle. Marge hands Red Bird a black, round-crowned felt hat with an eagle feather in the band, which Red Bird puts on her head. Settling behind the wheel, Marge gets out a Polaroid snapshot taken two days earlier of a sheep carcass dumped beside a local road. She passes it around. After everyone has had a chance to look at it and try to see the animal’s supposedly missing ears, Red Bird shivers and notes her bad feelings about all this. She doesn’t know how Rick can do this kind of work. Marge says, “Don’t worry, Rick has an eagle feather on his truck.”

Red Bird nods. “That’s good.” The feather is protection of a kind both Marge and Red Bird believe in. Marge warns her passengers about her driving speed, and Earl laughs in concurrence. Gravel flies as the Jeep peels out onto Mizpah Road.

During the drive, Red Bird becomes more talkative. She lives in a trailer on the grounds of an old Boy Scout camp in the back country. She roams the hills, performs “the rituals of [her] people” to “heal the land,” communes with “Brother Hawk” and “Grandfather Tree." She had hoped the old camp would become the site for Lynn (Jaguar Woman) Andrews’s seminars and the like, but she believes the land has now been purchased by the military for training exercises.

“The OTO has land up here somewhere, I hear,” says Rick, referring to the Ordo Templi Orientis. Marge and Red Bird absorb this information with interest. Within minutes, they are speculating about a connection between the OTO and the military. Both women mention other Satanic activity in the surrounding hills. In the past two years, they claim, there has been a cattle mutilation, a sheep mutilation, a human body found in a stock pond, two sightings of “12 men in robes” — white robes in one account, black in the other — standing in a circle on remote areas of nearby ranches.

After a couple of miles’ driving on country roads, dirt roads, and fire roads, the group arrives at the base of the hill where Red Bird found the altar site. The vehicle is turned around and parked — because, Marge reasons, “we don’t know if we’ll need to get out of here in a hurry.”

It was during one of Red Bird’s walks through the back country that she first “felt drawn” to climb this hill, although she never had before and had a scared feeling about it. What she found, what she calls an altar, she describes as a large, flat rock with 13 rocks piled on top of it. Underneath one of the rocks was “something dead.”

The incline is steep, covered in loose sand and rocks, dotted with thorny bushes, manzanita, yucca. The air smells wonderful. Marge unpacks her pistol; Rick slings his shotgun over his shoulder, his high-power binoculars and a camera around his neck. Earl checks the water bottles pocketed in the photographer’s vest he wears.

As the group strains up the hillside in 90-degree heat, the only sounds are hissing bugs and panting. Tire party fans out: Earl to the right, Rick and Marge straight up, Red Bird to the left. Rick pauses periodically to catch his breath and scan the view with his binoculars. For a walking stick, he uses his shotgun, brought along “because cults usually have what they call gatekeepers, armed, to look out for strangers.”

Red Bird stops to pick sage, which she uses in her healing rituals. Periodically, Marge calls out to Red Bird, an Indian word. From somewhere on the hillside, Red Bird answers with the same word.

After nearly an hour’s hike, Red Bird locates the altar site. Midway up the hill’s south flank, a tall boulder juts up; two smaller rocks near it form natural steps to its fairly flat top, bearing a haphazard pile of hand-sized pieces of granite. The party reassembles and compares notes. Few signs of human presence appeared along the way, only a small orange ball stuck in a bush, an empty paint can next to a rock. “What I look for at a place like this,” Rick explains, “is an easy access route, evidence of human presence, candle wax, bones, other things.”

He finds none. Rick counts 12 rocks rather than Red Bird’s 13. Whatever dead thing was underneath one of them is no longer there, although Red Bird runs a finger over a dark mark under one of the stones, speculatively. Rick, Marge, and Red Bird climb the “altar” rock to enjoy the view. Earl says he smells carrion and wanders off.

Red Bird descends the boulder and disappears after Earl; soon the pair return with a long bone. This sparks Marge, Rick, and Red Bird to renewed speculation of Satanic activity. Earl comments that it looks like a deer bone to him.

The trip back down the hill is arduous, and there are lots of ants. Marge later says she told Brother Ant to leave her alone and he did. Still, by the end of the adventure everyone bears wounds from Brother Manzanita, and one ankle has a nasty red lump courtesy of Grandfather Spider.

Finally, the road and the jeep are in sight. After nursing hiking wounds, sipping water, wiping faces, Red Bird directs Marge to drive the vehicle out to her camp. Red Bird, a bit defensive after the “altar’s” failure to impress Rick, wants to show him chambers in the ground where abducted children could be kept by cultists (they turn out to be old septic tanks); a mysterious abandoned trailer, painted black (it turns out to be brown) with the words “Love Shack” painted on it; and two “diapers” she found in the brush. The diapers turn out to be oblong pieces of fuzzy white cloth, unmarked. Another long drive brings the party to the sheep carcass, smelly and beset by bees. Rick finds it too badly decomposed to draw conclusions from.

By the end of the afternoon, Rick Post is tired, scratched up, and a little disappointed at the day’s fruitlessness. During the drive back to San Diego, he says he is glad he checked out the lead nonetheless. “That’s the way this business is,” he notes philosophically. “I get calls like this all the time. Most of them turn out to be nothing. Like this one.”

Anti-Satanists accuse their critics of working for the enemy — Satan himself. They ignore the lack of evidence for widespread, cohesive, or even loosely organized Satanism and are undaunted by the lack of hard evidence of crimes committed by same.

Where the arguments of the anti-Satanists are not religious, they are emotional. A “survivor’s” horrific account of ritual abuse and the emotional distress with which it is told evoke sympathy and persuade some that the story is real. And the increasing media attention paid to the issue of child abuse has given allegations of Satanic ritual abuse a new credibility. Relying on the “memories” of alleged survivors, believers in the theory of Satanic conspiracies have been able to appropriate the child-abuse battle cry “Believe the children.”

Those who take a religious perspective believe that devil worshippers are tapping into a force of evil in direct opposition to a Christian God. Others believe that devil worshippers are on a warped power trip and tapping into nothing but their own human capacity for wickedness.

The question of whether Satanic activity exists at all, in other than very isolated cases, has been obscured by the abundance of theories, definitions, guidelines, and advisory materials whizzing from hand to hand around the county. Definitions of and theories about Satanic cults that are now accepted by governmental agencies — law-enforcement groups, social workers, and legislators — incorporate the beliefs of Christian religious groups. Satanism itself can’t exist without Christianity. But even among the so-called experts, thorny questions emerge: Is a teen-ager who is fond of painting pentagrams, and the number 666 on rocks, who wears T-shirts touting Ozzy Osbourne, who uses crystal meth, who cuts the head off a neighbor’s cat a Satanist? Does saying you are a Satanist make you one? Does someone else’s saying you are a Satanist make you one?

Colin Brown, a Southern California free-lance writer and believer in the Satanist conspiracy, defines Satanism loosely — “Any practice which encourages self-destruction, the dehumanizing of another person.” Some religious fundamentalists place responsibility for all negative human behavior squarely on the devil’s shoulders. In recent years, however, the differences between Satanism and new-age philosophies, WICCA, paganism, santeria, animism, and teen-age rebellion have been officially acknowledged by “experts” of all stripes.

Many people interviewed for this story, believers and skeptics alike, feel Satanists fall roughly into three categories. First are teen-agers — secretive, rebellious, and angry — who embrace the symbology of Satanism largely through the clothes they wear and heavy-metal music. Angry teens sometimes engage in cruel acts, such as torturing small animals, and rebellious acts, such as spraypainting socially unacceptable symbols on walls and rocks. They usually act alone. These are the people law-enforcement personnel refer to as “self-styled Satanists.”

One deputy sheriff, questioned about the frequency of “Satanic” crimes locally, pointed to the recent rash of break-ins and vandalism in North County attributed to an adolescent girl. The girl often smeared food on the walls of houses she’d entered and sometimes tortured dogs she found there. “I don’t know many of the details,” the deputy sheriff concluded, “but it sounds like there’s Satanic involvement to me.” By thus classifying certain crimes as having “cultic overtones,” the existence of Satanism becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

The second category of Satanists are people who are members of organized groups, such as Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan; ex-C. of S. member Michael Aquino’s splinter group, the Temple of Set; the Ordo Templi Orientis, a group embracing the philosophy of British occultist Aleister Crowley; and the Order of Thelema, an OTO splinter group. These people tend to be older, more establishment, with a philosophical bent. They chat on computer networks, hold occasional meetings, and keep in touch through newsletters.

The Church of Satan had its share of publicity in the late ’60s, when followers included Sammy Davis Jr. and Jayne Mansfield. LaVey is an ex-animal trainer who also played piano in L.A. strip joints. Those not impressed by Satanist conspiracy theories consider LaVey a huckster, a theatrical man who embraces an aesthetic based on Hollywood cliches.

The Order of Thelema has a chapter in Chula Vista. Repeated phone calls to the group were not returned. The Temple of Set-has only “junior members” living in San Diego County, who are not considered by the organization’s officials to be proper spokespeople for the group.

Robert Menschel is a “Setian” who lived in San Diego for six years. He is uncomfortable with the term Satanist but is used to having it applied to himself. “The Church of Satan was flamboyant on the outside, but behind the scenes some members were engaged in a serious pursuit of philosophy. Some members felt they were getting in touch with something indefinable. There was a lot of self-respect gathering, a firm foundation for working towards something.

“In 76, LaVey started selling priesthoods for money, and those who cared about the organization were upset. Aquino and those who left with him founded what was going to be called the Second Church of Satan or the Reorganized Church of Satan. On summer solstice 76, Aquino had a ritual experience in which he began making contact with the so-called Prince of Darkness. It was through a process like automatic writing or channeling in the beginning. The being was Set — Lucifer, or the Prince of Darkness, in the Christian scheme of things.”

Menschel describes the being as “kind of like ‘Q’ in the new Star Trek series, only with more compassion and ethics. But mercy doesn’t come into play. The love and care that Setians feel is selective, elitist. We like the term ‘noble.’ We have traditional ethics, we respect people’s rights to live the way they want, we respect and foster independence.” Satanism, in Menschel’s view, is anything that exalts the individual. It is indulgence in moderation. “There are no drugs allowed in the Temple of Set,” Menschel says. You won’t find kidnapping, child molestation, mutilation, cannibalism, or animal or human sacrifice here, Menschel says. All rituals are private, although at occasional meetings group members

exchange information on what works and what doesn’t, to bring you closer to the power. “There is some ritual sex I’ve heard of. It’s individual only, and consensual.” Setians “enjoy celebrating” solstices and equinoxes, and each member has favorite ritual days. Menschel’s is All Hallow’s Eve. “It’s the only day of the year when I can wear my flamboyant clothes, like my black finger-length cape, on the street and

people don’t even notice.” Menschel performs personal rituals to “get in touch with the world” around him and “to make changes in my life. Self-growth is the point.” He might do a ritual for getting a raise at work or for the mortgage on his house. “Three times I’ve tried to win the California lottery using this technique.”

The third widely acknowledged category of Satanists is the “lone psychotic,” the crazed individual who has fixated on the Devil and his symbols and commits heinous acts in his name. Los Angeles serial killer Richard Ramirez (the so-called Night Stalker) falls into this category. Numerous video documentaries offered as evidence that Satanists are indeed killing people include the moment after Ramirez’s sentencing when he turned to the news cameras and shouted, “Hail, Satan!” A Bay Area killing in which the victim was found partially drained of

blood, with a pentagram carved on his chest is also attributed to a lunatic acting alone on “orders” from Satan. Skeptics point out that while many crazed murderers claim to have been acting on orders from God or Jesus, we do not refer to theirs as “Christian crimes.”

Every book published in this country on the subject (most are by Christian authors) becomes a source of “facts” for experts nationwide. Maury Terry’s The Ultimate Evil: An Investigation of America’s Most Dangerous Satanic Cult tied the Manson Family killings to an organized Satanic conspiracy through family member Susan Atkins’s one-time membership in the Temple of Set. “Son of Sam” killer David Berkowitz has been linked to the Church of the Process of the Final Judgement, a now-defunct group founded by a former Scientologist in 1964. The California-based Ordo Templi Orientis actually won an out-of-court settlement against Terry for defamation in 1988.

Local law-enforcement agencies, including the San Diego and El Cajon police departments and the county sheriffs office, do not officially believe in the existence of Satanism. But intelligence units at these agencies do compile statistics on crimes that appear to have “occult overtones.” However, those overtones mostly amount to second-hand, anecdotal accounts by citizens, not hard evidence.

Mike Howard, an investigator with the El Cajon Police Department, says he “constantly” hears stories about the sorts of criminal activities Satanists are supposedly involved in but has seen almost no physical evidence to link crimes in El Cajon with Satanic activity in El Cajon. For example, Howard has even heard unsubstantiated claims about “people being ground up and added to dope to make superdope.” The only case “in which the subject of the occult has come up over and over again in what people tell us” is the as-yet-unsolved 1988 disappearance of Jamie Peters. “The only factual evidence in the case is that he is missing and that suspicious circumstances pointed to an occult element.” Pressed for details, Howard says, “There was dope involved, which is consistent with occultic activity.” (A photo of the Peters boy in Rick Post’s possession shows him wearing an Iron Maiden Tshirt and making the “devil’s horns” sign with one hand.)

Howard indicates that criminal activity in El Cajon by people who are involved in occult practices includes drug manufacture, pedophilia, and pornography. “Very frequently we don’t have the proof, but just because we don’t have the proof doesn’t mean we won’t investigate stories people tell us.” He sees that as a law-enforcement obligation. Law-enforcement agency resources, time, and money have come to be used to investigate such claims by citizens simply because of the frequency with which those claims are made.

Sources at local law-enforcement agencies stressed repeatedly that crimes are investigated and facts are compiled, and cases are prosecuted on the basis of facts. Any link between crime and religious groups of any kind would not figure into the prosecution of a case. However, law-enforcement officers confirmed that they are being taught to look for “evidence” of Satanic and occult activity at crime scenes.

Believers in the existence of widespread Satanic activity claim that government agencies are already infiltrated by Satanists; as a result, the agencies suppress evidence and refuse to attribute documented crime patterns to Satanists for fear of coming under fire from the ACLU for violating the rights of a religious group. A San Diego County deputy sheriff, who spoke on condition of anonymity, admits the latter claim but also says he “has yet to see a good, firm case” of any criminal activity by Satanists. He feels a certain hysteria is mounting. “We had a case of a cat-killing in an apartment complex out here [in 1988] that made it into the press that said it was evidence of Satanic activity. For nine days in a row after that, we had calls about Satanic animal sacrifice.

The same year, we had a cow carcass that people claimed had been killed by Satanists. We took it to the county vet, who said it was an animal-killing.”

Similarly, a 1988 string of cat deaths in Orange County was linked by frightened residents to Satanists, despite well-substantiated evidence that the drought had driven coyotes from the hills into residential neighborhoods. Under pressure from citizens, police had the county vet examine the animals. He confirmed that the cats had been killed by coyotes. Taxpayers, of course, paid the vet bills.

Satanism experts have been circulating a photocopy of what is purported to be a Seattle Police Department memorandum, dated January 24, 1989. In it, vice section personnel are advised “not to seek or accept the role of ‘Department Expert’ on Satanism,” not to keep files, books, pictures, or other printed material on the subject, to screen with a supervisor “any Satanic information” brought up during an investigation, and to forward such information to criminal intelligence. Clearly, such measures can be viewed merely as attempts to curb hysteria.

Believers in the Satan conspiracy, however, classify them with veterinarian reports on animal killings — as evidence of governmental cover-ups.

In 1988 the San Diego County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association issued a manual for use by law-enforcement groups, called “An Informational Aid to Understanding Gangs, Groups, and Cults.” The manual was largely authored by Clyde Rinkes, now a retired sheriffs deputy living in Descanso, where he continues to gather information about alleged cult activity.

Among the indicators of cult involvement he listed: possession of books about Satanism or the occult, black clothing, candles, altars, bells, phallic symbols, symbols in art or jewelry including the swastika, the crossed-axe “labrys” symbol (worn by lesbians), astrological symbols, the Cross of Nero, and the Cross of Confusion (the question mark with a cross at its base, used as a logo by the heavy-metal group Blue Oyster Cult).

Dave Gaerin, a San Diego County deputy sheriff who retired this year, was once the local expert on Satanic activity. He gave lectures at local high schools, classes to law-enforcement trainees, and interviews to the press. In 1986 he outlined for the Reader how teens are drawn into Satanic cults; the tell-tale signs included many found on Rinkes’s list. Among Gaerin’s claims were that subliminal messages advocating the devil were encoded in heavy metal and punk music qnd that a certain member of heavy-metal band Aerosmith was a Satanist “in charge of the entire East Coast.”

In the same 1986 interview, Gaerin described photographs depicting what he claimed were Satanic rituals, including human sacrifice and a ritual “rebirthing into the Satanic.” Many of the details he included in his description make it clear that the photos he was referring to were the same photos in the possession of Rick Post in September 1991.

(The most gruesome of them purport to show human sacrifice. Blurry and indistinct, it is impossible to tell if the bound, nude “victims” are being eviscerated or if what appear to be internal organs have been placed on their bodies. No conclusion about the context of the activities is possible from the visual information. Rick Post obtained these copies of copies of photos from sources he would not name, and he could not supply names, dates, or places for them. As he commented at the time, Satan-chasers trade documents and information “like baseball cards.”) Eventually, the sheriffs office quietly removed Gaerin from the spotlight, but not before certain of his claims became part of the “evidence” of worldwide Satanic conspiracy passed among the “experts.”

Gaerin and others still operating as experts frequently mention an international conference they claim was held in Mexico City in 1981, organized by a group called WICCA, an acronym for the Witches International Coven Council (the A is not explained). According to Post and others, they had heard that WICCA was meeting to map out a strategy for world domination. Letters outlining the plan were supposedly intercepted by an unidentified law-enforcement official. According to David Alexander, an Orange County Satanism skeptic, Dave Gaerin was the source for this material. Dave Gaerin remains the only expert to claim to have actually seen the WICCA letters. There is no other evidence that WICCA even exists. (Dave Gaerin did not respond to requests for an interview.)

Rancho Bernardo is the headquarters of DIOS, Christian minister Mark Galvan’s Dunamis Impact Outreach Services, Incorporated. Galvan formed the organization in 1988 “in response to the local uprise in occult crime.” Galvan’s object is to increase public awareness and give “educational” programs to law enforcement, crisis-intervention workers, parents, teachers, and church groups. DIOS monitors occult activity and offers crisis intervention to “those who are attempting to escape ritual abuse or are otherwise seeking safe asylum.”

Galvan has documented “dozens” of cases of Satanic activity in San Diego County. He has almost a dozen reports of animal mutilations in Poway in July 1991, including photos; line drawings; details of date, time, and location. Also in July, graffiti, including symbols associated with Satanism, the names of heavy-metal bands, and declarations of love of the initials-in-hearts variety, were found spray-painted in a concrete ditch and tunnels near Poway’s Abraxas High School.

The sheriffs department maintains that there is no proof that such incidents are the result of organized Satanic cults. Although they do see a ritualistic aspect in, for example, the way internal organs of dead animals have been found seemingly arranged in a pattern, they feel this could have been the coincidental work of a coyote or other predator. “I myself had a cat who would bring in bird kills through the cat door,” says a sheriffs department source. “I came home and found all the bird parts laid out in a straight line. But there are people in the community who insist no animal could have done [similar things], despite what the county veterinarian says.” (Rick Post says " Satanists have told him that they will manufacture tooth marks in an animal used in rituals in order to throw veterinarians off track.) The sheriffs department also does not discount the possibility that the cat mutilations are the work of “self-styled” Satanists — those angry teen-agers.

Galvan shares such information, as well as information passed on by a host of national Christian organizations, with subscribers to his bimonthly newsletter, The Informant. One recent issue offers a list of ways to identify Satanist infiltrators in intervention agencies, counseling organizations, and churches. (Galvan claims to have seen “more than a dozen cases” of such infiltration in the past three years.) One method on Galvan’s list: Your “gut feelings” tell you something is wrong.

In the same issue, a cartoon depicts two hooded men watching from a balcony as Mark Galvan is challenged by a skeptic during a public school presentation. The skeptic screeches, “What are you doing here? You can’t talk about that here! Who are you anyway?” “Who is that woman?” one hooded figure asks the other. “I don’t know, but she sounds like one of us!”

A chart showing DIOS’s financial situation indicates a monthly income of $1000 to $4000, with projected expenses running from $5500 to $7000.

The newsletter asks for donations of office equipment (everything from a video camera to a coffee maker) and cash. All donations are, of course, tax deductible.

Far more lucrative and far more well known than DIOS are the activities of Colorado-based Bob Larson Ministries, whose syndicated Talk-Back radio show often features confrontations with Satanists, even demons. Counseling is provided to troubled callers through the ministry’s Compassion Connection and Metal Connection (a music-oriented teen outreach program). Although taken to task by skeptics and Christians alike for inaccuracies, sensationalism, and greed, Larson’s operations pulled in over half a million dollars in 1990,., 94 percent of it in donations, according to the ministry.

In addition, Bob Larson Ministries markets books and videotapes, most the work of Larson himself. Sales account for only three percent of Larson Ministries’ revenue, they say, but at a recent appearance at Keamy Mesa’s First Assembly of God church, sales were brisk. A table inside the facility’s plush auditorium building was surrounded by a milling crowd, staffed by cheerful young women. The hot seller that night was Larson’s New Book on Cults.

Among the videos, The First Family of Satanism — “an exclusive interview with Zeena LaVey and Nicholas Schreck” — was a popular choice. Zeena is the daughter of Anton LaVey, and Schreck is her husband.

A video titled In the Name of Satan was a special deal that night: $20 if bought alone, $10 if purchased with another item. An “educational” version of the video was to be shown during the evening’s program; the one on sale in the lobby was promised to contain additional shocking footage.

A few minutes before the presentation began, the 1500-seat auditorium was filled nearly to capacity. The crowd was mostly young white people, middle-class by their attire, although a fair number of well-dressed black women also took seats inside.

Also in the crowd were a number of scoffers: teen-agers dressed defiantly in black, wearing silver jewelry, who stood in the hallways, arms folded. “I just came to see the video,” one noted. “I hear it’s pretty intense.”

A movie screen was suspended over the platform at the front of the auditorium, behind a table displaying more of Larson’s books. Ten minutes before program time, an audio tape came on, echoing through the cavernous room’s speakers. It was excerpts from Talk-Back. Over the cacophony of people settling into their seats were weepy on-air testimonials of repentant Satanists and other lost souls. At one point, a snip of eerie electronic music interrupted a conversation between Larson and “Rebecca.” Her girlish voice over the telephone line turned to a snarl, then a growl. “Am I talking to a demon? What is your name, demon?” The faces in the auditorium of those listening to this echoing over their heads, were serious, expectant. A number of middle-aged women bent their heads over their Bibles.

Rick Post was on hand as security. Larson was said to have received death threats from Satanists. That same evening, a woman in the crowd reported hearing a “Middle Eastern-looking man” say, “If it takes a bullet, I’m going to get him. He must be stopped.” (Questioned later by Post and other security agents, the man explained that what he had said was that he would defend Larson against possible attack by Satanists, even if it required taking a life.)

Larson’s sidekick Bonnie Bell, an attractive young woman in a black-and-white silk print dress, came out to great applause, warmed up the crowd, and called up Mike De Vito, pastor of the Kearny Mesa church, to lead the audience in a quick prayer — because, as Bell explained, the group would be “tackling Satan” that night. A bench at the front of the audience was reserved for hearing-impaired people; an interpreter sat facing them, translating the prayer and Bell’s words. Bell brought out Margo Hamilton, also of Bob Larson Ministries, and the next few minutes seemed to be devoted to ascertaining how many in the audience were regular listeners to Larson’s program (about one quarter of the assembly raised hands) and to plugging Bob Larson’s “education tools” — Bell’s phrase for the books and videos on the table next to her.

“Bob’s latest book [Dead Air] has been a phenomenal success,” Bell told the crowd. “It became the number-three best seller in secular bookstores. We said, ‘This was even bigger than we had planned,’ er, ‘had known.’ ” Bell told a few anecdotes about Larson’s good works. The stories were spiced with references to demonic manifestations, flaming pentagrams appearing on living room carpets.

Soon the video was shown — a blend of interview and narration, with a sinister-sounding music score. Among the crimes the video attributed to a Satanic network were the McMartin Preschool case, the Richard Ramirez case, a San Francisco case in which a man had a pentagram carved on his chest, and a Dade County day-care center case. Next came “Esther,” supposedly a survivor of abuse at the hands of a cult — a very pretty girl whose facial expressions and tone of voice had the earnestness of the actors in those “real people” testimonials in television commercials. The audience made noises of sympathy at the gruesome crimes described by the “survivors.” The deaf-interpreter in the front row had a light shining up at her face and hands. It cast a shadow of her movements on the ceiling of the auditorium. More shadows spilled over the edges of the video screen onto the giant wooden cross on the wall 20 feet behind it.

Unlike most of the watchers, a man in the second row made skeptical-sounding “hmmph” noises at every mention of Satanic grotesqueries. Later, he revealed that he had come that evening out of curiosity and was not a Larson supporter. He was surprised at how slick the video was. It occurred to him that Larson advocated strict parental control over every sign of teen-age rebellion as a safety measure against Satanism and that this was a great way to promote traditional family values. “What the video says is that if you don’t nip dissent in the bud, your kids will eventually come at you with an ax.”

Through doors in the wall behind the video screen, uniformed security guards emerged to stand at parade- rest. Through another door came Bob Larson, a smallish man with reddish hair and mustache, glasses, and wearing a beige double-breasted suit. The audience gave him a standing ovation. After a few opening remarks, Larson moved into the audience to joke and chat.

The first woman he approached testified that she was completely appalled by the magnitude of the problem and that Larson’s film should be shown in public schools. The second woman, who was taking notes, asked for and received Larson’s autograph in a margin. The third woman just happened to have visited Larson headquarters in Colorado recently and described them, without prompting, as “very austere.” Another woman said she had seen the ministries’ financial report and that it was “good to know so much of the money was going where it would do the most good: directly to your work with children, Bob.”

Larson spent a few minutes defending himself against detractors, especially “so-called Christians” who “should stand united with me in the fight against Satan.” (Christian skeptics Bob and Gretchen Pasantino, an Orange County couple, wrote a scathing expose of Larson’s activities in Christian Cornerstone magazine last December. A recent Larry King Live! broadcast pitted Larson against another Christian skeptic. According to a viewer who saw that program, Larson had a young female “survivor” with him, and she would cry loudly every time the skeptic attacked Larson.)

Next, Larson called from the audience, with apparent surprise at his presence, a young man named Michael, with long, silky brown hair and well-toned muscles bared by a sleeveless T-shirt. Michael is the lead singer of Deliverance, one of the Christian “speed-crunch” bands whose music Larson’s Metal Connection sends out to troubled teens in the clutches of the demonic. From this point onward, the audience became increasingly restless, leaving for the bathroom, leaving for home. Larson interrupted himself several times to exhort people not to move around so much.

Then out came the collection envelopes. Larson led a prayer, pleading with God to make people generous. He asked for money to “get the [radio] station back on track” and “help as many hurting kids as possible.” He referred to the threats on his life, claimed there were San Diego police in the hallways (they had been called by Post and the other security guards but had since left), and said to the audience, “I don’t expect you to take a bullet for me, but I expect you to write a generous check.”

In the auditorium lobby, more copies of Larson’s books and videos had been placed on the table, and small circles of attendees stood chatting. Church volunteers tried to keep the outer doors closed, but many people continued to leave. Outside, a petition was circulating. “This is to ban pornography,” explained a signature gatherer. Asked for details, the woman said, “It’s to push through legislation to ban pornography.” No text of the proposed legislation and no reference to a specific piece of legislation appeared on the petition. Just a logo — the National Coalition Against Pornography — and a brief paragraph exhorting signers to make their voices heard in Congress.

John is a wiry, tattooed man in his 30s. Now a born-again Christian, John says he was a necromancer for 24 years with a nationwide cult called Satanic Attack. He is happy to be interviewed by the press and has appeared in a videotaped interview by Rick Post. John, of course, is not his real name. He conceals his identity for fear of reprisals from his former brethren.

He was on hand at Bob Larson’s San Diego appearance to “back up Bob.” He often listens to the radio program. “I don’t question [Larson’s] validity. But I’ve heard him hang up on people who were maybe about to accept Christ.”

A product of what is referred to as “intergenerational Satanism,” John says he was molested by an uncle and by a second grade teacher at ages six and seven. He explained this as the beginning of a process of induction into the cult. Eventually he rose to the position of necromancer, conjuring up the spirits of dead people and demons. He wouldn’t explain how he did this but said it worked. He claimed to have witnessed the murders of “about 75 people” of all ages, including, he thinks, children. He also mentioned numerous kidnappings but wouldn’t give details other than to say they occurred in Massachusetts. He would not say whether he was personally involved in the kidnappings, because “there are Satanists within organizations of police who would love to attack me.” John escaped Satanic Attack in 1989, he said, by “creating my own death.” He would not go into detail for fear of leading closer those Satanists still after him. Why did he get out? “I was tired of killing. I was tired of the stupid ways that people would take total control of others.” He is glad the subject is finally getting some attention. A new ministry for ritual abuse victims has started up locally, and he attends it. As for the secular aspect, John says, “Psychiatrists and MFCCs are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg.”

On Rick Post’s comfortable Loma Portal home, a video camera has been set up to face an oak conference table in preparation for an interview. Rick is pouring two glasses of Diet Pepsi when the doorbell rings. Sherry from Rose of Sharon Ministry enters. Sherry’s ministry counsels victims of Satanic crimes. Behind her is her husband, whom Rick introduces as Ray, though that’s not his real name. “Ray is a former Satanist,” Rick says. “He was the one referred to as ‘Joe’ in the Animal Press story about Satanic animal killings.” Rick strides back into the kitchen for two more glasses.

“Oh, you’re a former Satanist. What was the name of your cult?”

Ray’s eyes are fixed on the wall opposite him. “Oh, Rick will tell you. Rick knows all about it.” But Rick does not remember the name offhand.

Soon the interview subject arrives. She had contacted Bob Larson Ministries, which had put her in touch with Rose of Sharon Ministry in San Diego, which had referred her to Post. Rick will investigate her ex-husband, whom she has accused of being involved in a Satanic cult and subjecting her and her three children to various gruesome rituals. The woman, wearing jeans and a Disneyland T-shirt, looks haggard, glazed-eyed. Dark roots show in her bleached blonde hair.

She collapses into a chair at the conference table. Sherry and Ray sit on one side of her, Rick on the other. Outside, there are dogs barking. After turning on the video camera, Rick says gently, “Okay. Tell me in your own words. What’s goin’ on?”

“In my own words....” Her eyes fill. She looks up at the ceiling. “Oh, God, I’m gonna cry.”

“It’s okay, honey,” Sherry pats her hand.

“This all started as what we thought was a cut-and-dried molestation case with my ex-husband and my children. Everything was going pretty normal until the end of December 1990, January 1991, when my children started raping each other with knives; and then they were having sex with one another, which the therapist told me was normal but that it needed to be stopped.”

“The therapist told you this was normal?” Rick asks.

“For children who had been molested to turn to one another.”

“How old were your children?” “At the time they were five, six, and seven. They’re now six, seven, and eight.” She stops, heaving with emotion. “On January the 15 th of 1991, I had my son admitted, he’s the seven-year-old, he’s now seven years old, to Southwood Hospital. He was out of control, and there was nothing I could do. He was terrorizing his sisters. He had come into my bedroom and threatened me and my boyfriend with a knife. I didn’t see it, but he had come and stood in the door of the bedroom with the knife, contemplating what he was going to do about it. So I had him admitted. The very next day, the next oldest child, eight, tried to attack me with a prospector’s pick.”

Her voice, a wail, breaks into sobs. “And when I asked her why she did it, she said her daddy told her she had to, if anybody else came into my life, because they couldn’t have anybody else come into my life.”

The woman said she had that child, too, admitted to Southwood. “It was on the 16th of January that the children started talking about circles with stars in them, men wearing hoods, being given drugs. And then my six-year-old started telling me about how her daddy used to give me medicine and about how all the men used to have sex with me while I was asleep. She told me that the men had killed me; and I didn’t understand what she % meant, because obviously they didn’t kill me. I was alive. I went and talked to the therapist about it... and told her what she was saying. And she had also talked about drinking blood, so I wanted the hospital staff to be aware of it so they could do the HIV.” All three children were tested, came up negative.

“Tell me about your husband. Is he the one you suspect has done these things?”

“I know he’s the one.”

The woman believes he’s involved in a cult. “He has no outside friends. He’s not social even with his family. When my children were born, he was extremely happy to have a girl. Girls were important. Had to have a girl. When my son was born, the one in the middle, he warned me I’d better not ever have another boy. He was angry. He didn’t talk to me for weeks. And insisted I get pregnant again. Right away. He was fixin’ to move out to California at the time, and he threatened to leave me and my son behind.”

Since the beginning of the year, she has had “flashbacks” of rituals. She remembers her husband’s presence and that of an albino man with pink eyes and a scar on his face, wearing dark robes, with a breath that “smells like rotten flesh.”

“They were at night. I’m very groggy. Uhm, several incidences I had vomited and defecated and urinated on myself because I have no control over bodily functions. Uhm ...” She heaves again. “There’s a lot of pain associated with what they do. I’ve been sexually raped and sodomized ...”

She sobs. “I’ve been buried alive.”

Some of the incidents she places in Navy housing in Lakeside, others occurred outside. She remembers a “fish water” smell. She remembers a word that sounds like “paydone” often repeated. The activities took place around the full moon, often while she was menstruating. Rick asks if she ever sought help for her physical injuries. She says she went to the Navy hospital for sore knees and elbows, bruises. Her husband, she says, would instruct her in what to say to hospital personnel.

Her children have told her stories of being put in freezers, hung upside down by chains, locked in a closet under a staircase, given “medicine,” and forced to listen to tapes. She doesn’t doubt her children’s veracity.

The woman’s account takes several tearful hours, although it has been streamlined by retellings to social workers, therapists, and Navy investigators. A report by the San Diego County Department of Social Services notes that the children were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and placed in foster homes and that the mother has a “severe borderline personality disorder with hysterical traits” and was severely physically abused as a child by her father. A Department of the Navy psychosocial evaluation dated November 1990 calls her child-abuse accusations “unsubstantiated.” In this report, the children are said to have claimed they were abused by a 10-year-old friend who visited them.

A couple of weeks later, Rick Post relates the latest on the woman’s case. He says her psychologist believes she and her children have been ritually abused. County social services believes her new boyfriend abused them. Rick says the woman told him that when she mentioned Rick’s investigation to her boyfriend, he left in a hurry, without even taking his clothes. Rick suspects the boyfriend is affiliated with the woman’s previous abuser, her husband, “as often happens.”

Torn between obligations to clients and obligations to truth, mental health professionals increasingly become the source of the greatest pressure to believe allegations of criminal Satanic activity. Their belief might also be the source of the greatest possible impact on people’s lives. In several cases across the country, such as the Little Rascals Day Care Center case in Edenton, North Carolina, indictments have been filed, custody of children has been taken away, and suspects have been jailed for years on the strength of information given by tots in therapy and interrogation sessions — information alleging baby killings and animal sacrifice, as well as sexual molestation.

Ricardo Weinstein is one San Diego psychologist in private practice with a number of clients he believes have been ritually abused. They have told him about rapes, mutilations, murders, and being buried alive with snakes. “I have no reason to disbelieve things my clients tell me,” Weinstein says. “These are people from remote areas, who have no access to information or to others who describe similar crimes.” And what professionals are seeing more and more of, Weinstein claims, are cases of multiple personality disorder resulting from ritual abuse.

Another reason given to believe the claims of alleged ritual abuse victims, sources say, is that no one would want such horrible things to have happened to them and therefore would not make them up. Skeptics respond that the human imagination is a fertile thing, that the process of memory is unreliable, and that imagery of death, mutilation, and other horrors can accurately represent a person’s emotional experience without being literally true.

The San Diego County Commission on Children and Youth currently offers periodic training seminars on ritual abuse to mental health professionals. The word “Satanic” is not used, although the imagery and activities such abuse implies is clearly based on traditional notions of the Satanic. Some say a” lot of abuse involving multiple perpetrators and victims has ritualistic aspects created by the perpetrators to scare victims into silence. Linda Walker, executive officer of the commission, refused a request to attend one such seminar but did provide videotapes she showed at one recently. She does not “have a problem” with any of the material presented on the tapes. The two videos were produced and are distributed through Cavalcade Productions in Northern California.

Significant Others, excerpted from a series of special news reports by San Francisco’s KPIX-TV, relies heavily on footage of interviews with survivors and experts provided to the station by Cavalcade Productions. In one section of this tape, a therapist says the child on screen with her is a “multiple personality disorder,” whose parents admitted to using him in rituals. The three-year-old boy is shown on the floor with plastic zoo animals and a toy blender. The child puts the animals in the blender, then the therapist pours in some red Kool-Aid. “Kids reenact the abuse that happened to them,” she says.

“The grinder is where human and animal body parts are pulverized, then the remains are eaten.” A,clinical social worker in Mendocino is shown with a child playing with plastic animals and dolls inside a plastic basket that resembles a cage. The therapist takes out a naked woman doll. “And what’s this one?”

“She’s in jail,” responds the girl, identified in voice-over as “sexually and ritually abused by three adults in a day-care center.” “And what are all these babies?” asks the therapist, picking up one of the many tiny plastic baby figures from inside the basket. “They’re in jail.”

The therapist, in voice-over, says, “[The children] are put in these cages and told they are in jail by a gentleman who is dressed as a police officer. So when they see a policeman on the street they’re terrified.”

In response to such tapes, skeptics point to persuasive interview techniques, like those used in the McMartin Preschool case. According to a San Diego psychologist who works with alleged ritual-abuse victims, “Kids in therapy will admit to beatings and sexual abuse within months, but they keep the rituals secret for years.” It takes a while before a child can be brainwashed into believing the outlandish accusations put in their mouths.

A recent episode of TV’s Inside Edition told the story of Pamela Klein, a psychologist who “fueled flames of Satanic panic” in Chicago. While head of a child advocacy agency, Klein came across a five-year-old girl who claimed to have been molested by the father of a playmate. After about 50 therapy sessions, the claim had grown into a complicated story of basement Satanic rites, including murder, dismemberment, and cannibalism. On the weight of these accusations, the girl’s playmate was removed from the custody of her parents for a year and a half. When it came out that the girl had made up the original accusation because of a dispute with her friend over some Barbie dolls, the family of the girl’s playmate sued Klein and the county for $1 million. The case is pending.

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