The Strangest Moments from the Satanic Panic Caught on Tape


America’s witch hunt didn’t end in the 17th century. The “Satanic Panic” — a widespread moral panic that lasted from the 1980s into the ‘90s that found thousands of people accused of sexually abusing and murdering as part of a Satanic cult underground network — became another embarrassing chapter in American history.

This weekend marks the anniversary of the McMartin preschool trial, which intensified the hysteria over Satanic sexual abuse claims. Books about the Satanic Panic have recently been published, articles examining the cult scare are still being written, and Catland just hosted a Satanic Panic propaganda video show. We’re also looking back at this colorful and crazy time period with a selection of videos that captured the insanity of it all on tape.

Devil Worship: Exposing Satan’s Underground

On October 22, 1988 the Geraldo Rivera Show aired this “exposé,” in which the eponymous host explored allegations about a widespread Satanic underground in the United States. Special guests included Ozzy Osbourne, whose lyrics and stage antics were often a target during the time period; convicted murder Sean Sellers, who claimed he was a Satanist possessed by the devil when he committed his crimes; Zeena LaVey, representing the Church of Satan; and Michael Aquino, representing the Temple of Set. The episode broke records as the highest-rated two-hour documentary in TV history. Watch Geraldo fan the flames of hysteria by blaming heavy metal album covers for mass killings that never existed in the first place.

Mike Warnke

Christian evangelist and comedian Mike Warnke shared wacky stories about a life as a Satanic high priest before being saved by Jesus. His book Satan Seller claimed Warnke was drawn to a world of orgies, drugs, and demons (even going so far as to say that he and Charles Manson had attended a Satanic ritual together). But Warnke claimed he defeated his dark side to spread a warning message to other Christians. The book became a best seller, catapulting Warnke to evangelical stardom — until he was exposed as a complete fraud. This is one of his famous sermons about imaginary Satanic killings, in gory detail (oddly prefaced by a stand-up comedy routine).

Strong Kids, Safe Kids

During the arrests and the pretrial investigations for the McMartin preschool trial — a defining moment during the Satanic Panic craze, in which members of the McMartin family, who operated a preschool in California, were charged with the sexual abuse of minors in their care — Strong Kids, Safe Kids appeared with a PSA about child molestation. Bizarre moments include appearances by Henry Winkler (dressed as the Fonz!), a creepy guy singing about children’s genitals, and puppets we’d never like to see again. Also featured is Kee MacFarlane, then the Director of the Children’s Institute International — the same therapy clinic that used highly suggestive interview techniques with the children in the McMartin trial that prompted hundreds of false claims of abuse. Follow the YouTube links for parts 2 to 5.

Indictment: The McMartin Trial

And here’s HBO’s 1995 drama about the McMartin trial that they’d probably like to forget, starring James Woods.

Bob Larson

Evangelist superstar and exorcism junkie Bob Larson debates good and evil with Zeena Lavey, daughter of Church of Satan founder Anton Lavey, and Nikolas Schreck, musician and former Temple of Set member.

In the Name of Satan

Bob Larson is at it again, digging into the Satanic underground, featuring interviews with supposed Satanic abuse experts and more.

Exposing The Satanic Web

The YouTube description for this 1990 video tells you all you need to know: “Features burn victim pastor host, the king of New Orleans voodoo ‘Chicken Man,’ psychiatrist looking at drawings by children raised in ‘satanic cults,’ former Satanic High Priest turned car salesman.”

“Vicki” spins this wild yarn about breeding and sacrificing babies for Satan on Oprah.