Speak of the Devil
If Carl Raschke is right, America is going straight to Hell. And Raschke's right. Just ask him. He has no doubt that the creeping terror of Satanism is a threat to this country, and he's equally certain that critics of his research are wrong. Dead wrong. As proof, Raschke offers his latest book, Painted Black, in which he writes about a ghoulish potpourri of alleged occult rituals, alleged occult beheadings, and alleged occult dismemberments that could be happening right now in your town, in your neighborhood, maybe in your own house. Sneer at his theories if you wish, but if you're not vigilant, you could wind up naked on an altar, with an upside-down pentagram carved into your chest.
On the surface, Raschke's warnings might sound comparable to the rantings of rabid Christian fundamentalists, but they're actually worlds apart. Just ask him. He's not operating from a religious bias, says Raschke, a tenured professor of religious studies at the University of Denver, and he's uninterested in proving that an actual devil lives in the dark soul of every man, just waiting for the perfect moment to make us attack our mothers with paring knives. He's a respected academic with a lengthy background in such high-toned subjects as philosophy of religions and deconstructionism, and he feels he has written his book using the strictest standards of scholarly research. His publisher, Harper and Row, is not exactly a vanity press catering to the paranoid, and his reviews have been largely positive. Raschke's even been on Good Morning, America, and they don't let just anyone on there, do they?
That's not to say Painted Black hasn't stirred up some controversy. Raschke's bare-knuckled approach to his subject matter has more than a few people uttering fighting words. Deena Weinstein and Joseph Katarba, sociologists at DePaul University and the University of Houston, respectively, don't appreciate Raschke characterizing them as pointy-headed defenders of the brand of satanic heavy metal said to drive our youth into bloodthirsty savagery; and FBI agent Kenneth Lanning, author of a law enforcement study of ritual and satanic crime, is hardly thrilled at being called one of the "best friends" Satanist criminals have in the federal government.
Meanwhile, Raschke is taking swings at the New York Press, a free weekly newspaper that featured an article about Painted Black in its September 19 issue. Raschke says John Strausbaugh's piece was biased and unfair, and he is threatening legal action regarding statements attributed to Joel Norris, author of Serial Killers: The Growing Menace. In Strausbaugh's article, Norris implies that he co-authored Painted Black with Raschke, who then screwed him out of both the credit and the money. Raschke calls the accusations false, ridiculous, and defamatory, drops comments about Norris's "odd lifestyle," and refers disparagingly to "that New York rag."
Doubters have aimed similar comments at Painted Black, which hardly reads like an academic treatise. The dedication page sports a quote from Revelation ("And I saw a beast rising out of the sea..."), and the book's four sections are given titles that would look great on a double bill with The Evil Dead: "The Siege," "The Geneology of Darkness," "Mise En Scene," and "Apocalypse Now." Lurid but precise recountings of the 1989 Matamoros murders in Mexico and a 1987 killing in Joplin, Missouri, fill entire chapters, and capsule descriptions about other supposedly occult activities, culled from midsize newspapers from coast to coast, are sprinkled throughout. Satanic celebrities such as ®MDNM¯Michael Aquino, a military officer who headed an organization called the Temple of Set, and Anton LaVey, underworld entrepreneur and author of The Satanic Bible, also have their histories run through the Raschke wringer. (The latter account is chock-a-block with details about LaVey's obsession with Marilyn Monroe and his fear that an accident involving a photo of Jayne Mansfield resulted in her decapitation.)
Other Raschke targets include Dungeons and Dragons, Aleister Crowley, Andres Serrano, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Manuel Noriega, who reportedly wore red underwear to ward off evil spirits. The professor links godlessness with the burgeoning Masonic orders of the 1700s, and notes ominously that several signers of the Declaration of Independence were secret members. He cites Trevor Ravenscroft's suggestion that in his youth Adolf Hitler was initiated into black Tantrism, or sexual magic, by occultist Dietrich Eckhart. (World War II really was hell.) He even implies that the death of the mentally ill woman who triggered the investigation at California's McMartin Preschool may not have been entirely accidental.
Just as troubling to Raschke is the spectre of heavy metal music. He writes that "heavy metal rock videos and heavy metal magazines are often nothing more than crude but ruthless commercials for what in Nazi speech was called `the triumph of the will.'" And that's only the beginning. Raschke contends that "heavy metal music is to heavy drug use as lotteries are to compulsive gamblers." He states that "the chemically dependent adolescent adopts a lifestyle of swagger, brutality, theft and sexual excess - all of which is reinforced by the yowling and bellowing of metal groups." He cautions that "the inflammatory message of heavy metal is `religious' - in the sense that it proclaims a higher power overseeing the universe. The power, however, is not God or even fate. It is violence."
These excerpts conjure up images of, in Raschke's words, "some beetle-browed, red-necked, fire-breathing Baptist," but in person their author hardly could seem more reasonable or benign. He arrives promptly for our interview at a meeting place of his choice - a Denny's restaurant - dressed in a conservative suit and looking not unlike any harried professor. A burly, barrel-chested man in his early forties, with modish hair that curls over his ears, Raschke is an enthusiastic orator given to broad gestures and high volume. He orders a hefty slab of chocolate cream pie and cup after cup of coffee, and as he passionately defends his hypotheses about Satanism, he remains oblivious to the blue-haired heads that swivel to listen in.
Raschke says he first became curious about the so-called "religious counterculture" while attending the University of California at Berkeley during the late Sixties, but didn't take an academic interest in the subject until he arrived at the University of Denver in 1972. His first published article, "The Asian Invasion of New Religions: Creative Innovations or New Gnosticism," started a scholarly argument that still reverberates today. Just ask him. About the time he published his first book, The Interruption of Eternity, his investigations of such figures as the Guru Maharaj Ji, a mid-Seventies Denver fixture whom Raschke describes as "a fat little kid who was about fourteen years old and called himself `the perfect master and lord of the universe,'" led him to put so-called cults and new age precursors under his academic microscope. He was knee-deep in these new religious studies when, in 1981, he first heard about satanic practices in the area, from a source he refers to by the pseudonym John Jones.
"John came to me as one of those people over the years who would call me up out of the blue to tell me what they're doing with their life," Raschke says. "He was talking to me about a whole weird and wild spectrum of things: communication with ascended entities and all this new age kind of stuff. And at some point [he said that] he had known people who would pick up hitchhikers and take them out to the Pueblo reservoir and sacrifice them."
With no proof and a source he admits "lived in a different world," Raschke wasn't convinced by John's claims. But they planted a devilish seed of curiosity that refused to go away. "After a three- or four-year period, I'd heard so many of these stories from so many different people, all of them coming out of what could be called the metaphysical underground, that I concluded there was probably something going on," he says now. He became more convinced as the result of a long correspondence with Linda Blood, an ex-girlfriend of Michael Aquino, and by the time 1988 rolled around, Raschke was appearing as an expert witness at the trial of Joplin, Missouri, teen Pete Roland.
Roland, along with cronies Ron Clements and Jim Hardy, was charged with the December 1987 murder of schoolmate Steven Newberry. According to Raschke's account, Hardy, his school's senior class president, led a "mini-mafia" of drug-addicted Satanists who "sacrificed" Newberry. His evidence included allegedly satanic graffiti found near the body, Pete Roland's record collection (lots of Ozzy Osbourne, Iron Maiden, and Black Sabbath, as well as music by well-known vampirists such as the J. Geils Band), and the testimony of plenty of kids in the area. Roland told his psychiatrist that the boys chanted "Sacrifice to Satan! Sacrifice to Satan!" while clubbing Newberry to death.
As he does elsewhere in Painted Black, Raschke focuses on the most sensational claims he can find, no matter who makes them. Some of the juiciest are attributed to a "stoned" teen identified only as Eddie, who "began to steep himself in the darker dimensions of the `faith,' which he claimed was erected upon the ideas and traditions of the Church of Satan." Raschke even prints Eddie's statement that "I can walk down the hall of school and see more committed Satanists than Christians. It's like the flu. One person catches it, and everybody catches it."
Raschke defends the presence of these off-the-cuff allegations by noting that his publishers wanted a book "with large sales potential" that should be "comprehensive and impeccably researched, and they wanted it to tell stories." To Raschke, then, Eddie's comments, and the dozens of others like them in Painted Black, are simply color, used to make his narrative more readable. "Frankly," he adds, "this kid really wanted to talk to me and he told me a lot of crap that I didn't put in, things like Anton LaVey was 2000 years old. I didn't put [Eddie's quotes] in there to prove a point, it was just part of the story. If I supported them, I would have said it."
About the material on heavy metal, however, Raschke admits to having a few regrets. "My son has read the book and he's been somewhat critical of my own treatment" of the subject, Raschke says. "I want to make the point that I only deal with a chapter on heavy metal. I realize that's what everybody wants to talk about, but I wasn't really interested that much in the beginning. I just wanted to deal with the issue because that's what the editor wanted to deal with." On top of that, he's "a big fan" of Led Zeppelin, a group singled out by fundamentalists as teeth-baring Satanists.
All of this is not to imply that Raschke spends his free time grooving to Slayer. "Certain songs out of the genre known as heavy metal provide a pretext for violence," he says. "Satanists are doing with heavy metal what Christian evangelists have done with `The Old Rugged Cross.' Music is a very powerful tool, especially if you are trying to provoke certain messages. I'm not saying something stupid like heavy metal causes Satanism. I'm advancing an argument of social influence." Both the American Medical Association and the American Pediatric Association have condemned metal as damaging, he points out, and the positions of these august bodies are far less moderate than his. Just ask him.
But don't ask Deena Weinstein. Currently at work on her book Heavy Metal, tentatively set for release next spring, Weinstein rates one of many derogatory mentions in Painted Black. Raschke calls her "the academic authority to which defenders of heavy metal turn these days." She wears metal T-shirts to classes, he writes, hangs out with thrash groupies, and refers to the music as "life-affirming" and a valuable "cultural form." Moreover, he compares her to "the cult apologists who sociologize about Satanism as merely a symbolic manifestation of all the faults with `decadent Christians.'"
Not surprisingly, Weinstein, who was unfamiliar with her satanic notoriety until she was sent sample pages from the book prior to being interviewed, has more than a few bones to pick with Raschke. She notes that she has never worn a T-shirt to class, nor so much as heard a song - "Master of Revenge" by Manowar - he identifies as her favorite. And Raschke's errors don't end there, she says.
"[Raschke] has totally concentrated on the words and the videos, but in terms of what fans are interested in, 80 to 90 percent only pay attention to the music. It's not that you remember the words, its how the music makes your body feel," Weinstein says. "Think of Halloween, when kids dress up as devils. I teach at a Catholic university, DePaul University, and our mascot is a Blue Demon. It's cute, it's part of our culture, but these people take it all literally."
Weinstein's statements draw a smirk from Raschke. He's heard all of this before. "That's her way of trivializing my argument," he says. "Unfortunately, we know that sociologists are not philosophers." He acknowledges that the devil has become a rather quaint cultural symbol, but only a few Satanists are actually devil worshipers, he says. What Raschke's concerned about is not Lucifer, but a belief system that actually condones and encourages violence, perverse sexual degradation, and other hobbies sure to make Grandma buy an extra dead-bolt lock for the front door. While Anton LaVey and members of the Church of Satan claim satanic scriptures and the lyrics in the darkest metal are meant to be taken symbolically, Raschke argues that impressionable young people, already whacked out of their minds on drugs and despair, are incapable of making such a distinction. "Most people are fundamentalists, in the sense that they take messages literally rather than symbolically. They aren't capable of the sophisticated form of analysis that [Weinstein] may have," he says. "They act on the message in such a way that fits them."
Raschke's message, however, doesn't fit the vast majority of metal fans, according to the University of Houston's Joseph Katarba, another member of the Raschke ridicule club. In Painted Black he is needled for writing that rock has always been construed as "a threat to the moral fiber of America's youth, whether it's Elvis Presley or the Rolling Stones, or heavy metal." He takes another shot for suggesting that the family is "the most likely source of aberrant behavior. If you have to depend on Megadeth to see what's up in life, there's something else wrong there. In fact, heavy metal is probably a useful mechanism for the release of adolescent feelings."
Katarba, who also was unaware of Painted Black until he heard excerpts during a phone interview, says Raschke's contentions are incredibly exaggerated. "Some metal groups are more explicit [about satanic themes]," he says. "But when you talk to a wide range of kids, you find that it's the very smallest proportion who in any way seriously lend credence to these messages. Most of them laugh when you ask them about Satanism in rock and roll.
"And for the small percentage [who take it seriously]," Katarba continues, "I find that they are almost without exception very troubled kids, from seriously dysfunctional families. You can talk to these kids and see that they are really searching for meaning to make sense of their lives. And the church is not providing answers, families aren't providing answers - in many cases, the families are the problem - and the schools are not providing answers, because many of these kids are dropouts. So they end up turning to their music as a last resort."
"That's a red herring," responds Raschke, who pooh-poohs the theory that metal is merely a symptom of a disease. But it's Katarba's argument that heavy metal has no impact on most listeners that gets Raschke the most agitated.
"I'm not saying that 90 percent of kids who listen to heavy metal must turn into devil worshipers for it to be a problem. If five percent go out and kill people as the result of a song, there's a problem," Raschke says. "That's the typical `blame society' argument, which is worthless intellectually as far as I'm concerned. I'm troubled by the lack of real intellectual depth from these answers. They just appeal to stereotypes and caricatures.
"If it were the case that we only had a few isolated cases of people who had listened to heavy metal and done weird things, that would be one thing. But we have a lot of cases where crimes have been committed or where vandalism or desecration used the actual messages of these songs. I'd compare it to product liability. During the Ford Pinto controversy, for example, 25 Pintos had defective gas tanks and they blew up. The Ford Motor Company said, `We're not responsible,' but the American consumer said, `Yes, you are,' because there were defects that led to destructive social consequences in a significant number of cases. I think the music industry should be held accountable in the same way that the Ford Motor Company was held for those gas tanks."
Banning metal and sterilizing metal musicians, however, is not what Raschke proposes.
"I'm not saying that a company should be legally liable, but I think industry has a responsibility to the consumer, whether it be the automobile, clothing, or music industry, and if there have been noxious effects on a significant number of people, then you need to take that into account," he says, then adds, "I'm not for censorship, but I think the industry ought to have a recall now and then."
Kenneth Lanning could say the same thing about the publishing business. An FBI special agent stationed at Quantico, Virginia, Lanning is subjected to perhaps the most blistering treatment meted out by Raschke, and he's clearly unaccustomed to such attacks. After all, he is one of the bureau's top theorists, and his work on such reports as "Child Sex Rings: A Behavioral Analysis," copyrighted by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, recently earned him the Jefferson Award for research from the University of Virginia. But Raschke, in a scorching critique of another Lanning paper, "Satanic, Occult, Ritualistic Crime: A Law Enforcement Perspective," goes after the agent like a hellhound after human flesh.
Raschke writes that Lanning "has endeavored to discredit virtually anyone inside or outside of law enforcement who thinks ritual crime in America might somehow be a problem." This is followed by an account comparing Lanning to a DEA agent jetting around the country screeching that concern about cocaine abuse is an infringement of Colombian drug traffickers' right to privacy. Raschke then offers this review of the ritualistic crime paper: "[It displays] the literacy, the research sophistication, and the rhetorical finesse of a high school sophomore."
In person Raschke is no more gentle to Lanning, who had the temerity to air his grievances in the New York Press. "Ken Lanning doesn't refute anything I said," Raschke says. "I would like to see a real argument. What he does is a form of pseudoargument or sophistry. I've coined my own term: switch-and-bait. He'll say, for example, that Raschke doesn't present any evidence and then he'll cite a case, some loony case like the one in Albuquerque, New Mexico [in March, Albuquerque officials mistook a "terf ball" diamond for the grounds of "mysterious" occult activities] that I didn't treat in my book. Now this is an obvious case of where something is mistaken for Satanism, so in other words, he'll use a polemical argument to bait my case with something that I didn't say or didn't even mention. [He] should either refute my argument point by point like lawyers do in court or shut up."
Lanning is not shutting up - but he is getting more careful. During our more-than-90-minute telephone interview, an FBI public relations representative remained on the line, monitoring every word. Those words are damning. Lanning questions everything from Raschke's fact-checking (Painted Black incorrectly states where Lanning's paper originally appeared) to his academic objectivity. About the latter he references a September 1989 case involving a woman in Portland, Maine, who claimed she had been abducted in an occult kidnapping. Raschke spends nine lines describing the woman's claims, then notes that her story was later discounted. In actuality, Lanning says, the incident was a hoax - a 27-year-old woman with mental problems, pretending to be a teen-age deaf girl abused by Satanists. While Raschke does note the outcome of the case, Lanning points out that he devotes the vast majority of the allotted space to the woman's deranged fiction.
Raschke's use of language is another problem area, according to Lanning. "One of the major points in my article has to do with the definition of terminology," he says, and his eleven-page paper bears this out. More than half is concerned with distinctions between the terms satanic, occult, and ritualistic. Lanning says these represent different kinds of crime; he thinks Raschke mixes them up. "He can call it switch-and-bait or whatever, but he interchanges the terms. That's when he quotes me out of context."
Those quotes - such as the ones in which Raschke accuses Lanning of condoning ritualistic activity and child abuse as "integral parts of some spiritual belief systems" - totally misrepresent his paper's message, Lanning says. As an example he notes that "in the United States, you can take a knife and mutilate the genitals of an infant baby boy and be subject to no prosecution. When a rabbi mutilates a little boy's penis, he is not liable because he is doing it for the purposes of religious indoctrination, not sexual gratification."
From a law enforcement perspective, the difference between criminal ritual behavior and ritualistic aberrations can be the difference between conviction and acquittal. "Where he's missed the boat is that I'm not claiming that these people don't exist," Lanning says of Raschke. "I'm just saying how you should interpret, investigate, and categorize these crimes. He suggests that we use his definition of satanic crimes, but if that's what we do, then people who label themselves as Christians and commit crimes should be labeled Christian criminals. I'm a practicing, well-trained Christian, but it's absurd to say that no one has ever used Christianity to justify criminal behavior."
Raschke considers this opinion close to heresy. Unlike Satanism, he argues, Christianity does not advocate crime, sacrifice, and murder as part of its tenets. "They talk in the Satanic Bible about human sacrifice and then they use this sort of weasel word at the end, a disclaimer that it's not meant to be taken literally. Well, I don't think Pete Roland was capable of that intellectual finesse. A lot of kids get this glazed look in their eye when they walk into an occult bookstore, and if they're being told by a friend like Jim Hardy, `Well, let's kill a cat and drink the blood and read the Satanic Bible,' and they read about the choice of a human sacrifice, do you think they're really going to figure out what Anton LaVey had in mind?"
In Lanning's experience, though, the same kind of people have problems figuring out what the authors of the Judeo-Christian Bible had in mind. After all, the Bible is more than 1000 years old and it's still being used to justify apartheid and violence in Northern Ireland. By contrast, Lanning says, "the Satanic Bible was written in approximately 1969 by one man. We can debate what Christians are supposed to do, but who knows exactly what Satanists are supposed to believe?"
Raschke knows. Just ask him. Satanists are using volatile forms of psychological conditioning that can destroy lives, threaten our social fabric, and turn impressionable kids into drooling zombies with an insatiable appetite for bodily secretions. But that doesn't mean he's setting himself up as judge, jury, and executioner.
"I basically am a libertarian," he tells me and everyone else at Denny's. "I think people should have a right to destroy their minds, to indulge in weird fantasies. But that doesn't mean I don't have a right to speak out against something that I think is obnoxious in its influence, and try to warn people, the same way other people do with smoking. You can't make people believe something by passing a law, but you clearly can't excuse it, and you can't create a climate of opinion that gives people permission to act on certain kinds of beliefs."
Painted Black begins to attack those beliefs, but Raschke wants to go further: "I want to stir up a controversy. I want to debate these people. I'd like to get on a public stage and say, `What do you mean by this?' I'm not trying to provoke congressional hearings on Satanism, but I want the truth to be told."
And why haven't these debates taken place? Raschke smiles, an evil glint in his eye. "I think they're afraid to debate me because they know I'm going to beat them.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Miami New Times' biggest stories.