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Guest Article

Footnotes, Lawsuits, The Satanic Temple

November 4, 2021

Footnotes to Newsweek’s “Orgies, Harassment, Fraud: Satanic Temple Rocked by Accusations, Lawsuit”

Last week, reporter Julia Duin filed her story that involved interviewing us about being sued by The Satanic Temple in federal court and some of the other complaints from previous members about TST’s pattern of behavior.

Newsweek logo

She becomes one of only a handful of journalists to ever turn a critical lens toward The Satanic Temple and how it lives up to its own claims, joining Anna Merlan (a coupla times), Danny Wicentowski, and Kevin J. Jones, but truly not many more than that.

There are some issues with Duin’s piece, but please read it first if you haven’t already before continuing so you can experience your own reactions before reading ours.

Orgies, harassment, fraud: Satanic Temple rocked by accusations, lawsuit

Can you defame a religion, especially one that doesn’t believe in God, Satan or the supernatural? The answer to that…www.newsweek.com

Perhaps the biggest thing to acknowledge is that as nice as it is to get the name recognition and prestige of Newsweek in a story alerting people to how The Satanic Temple is targeting critics with an expensive lawsuit, Newsweek at this point has little continuity with the glossy prestige publication founded in 1933.

New Republic journalist Alex Shephard even dubbed it a “zombie magazine”:

Newsweek and the Rise of the Zombie Magazine

Writing in The Columbia Journalism Review last year, Daniel Tovrov depicted , once one of America’s most distinguished…newrepublic.com

Writing in The Columbia Journalism Review last year, Daniel Tovrov depicted Newsweek, once one of America’s most distinguished magazines, as a shell of its former self. All that was left was clickbait, op-eds from the likes of Nigel Farage and Newt Gingrich, and a general sense of drift. “Nobody I spoke to for this article had a sense of why Newsweek exists,” Tovrov wrote. “While the name Newsweek still carries a certain authority — remnants of its status as a legacy outlet — and the magazine can still bag an impressive interview now and then, it serves an opaque purpose in the media landscape.”

Last week, Newsweek suggested one possible purpose: The legitimization of narratives straight out of the right-wing fever swamps. An op-ed written by John Eastman, a conservative lawyer and founding director of the Claremont Institute’s Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, coyly suggested that Kamala Harris, who was born in California, may not be eligible to serve as vice president because her parents were immigrants.

The publication of Eastman’s op-ed says a great deal about the state of Newsweek’s opinion section, which has become a clearinghouse for right-wing nonsense. But it also points to a larger crisis in journalism itself: The rise of the zombie publication, whose former legitimacy is used to launder extreme and conspiratorial ideas.

Again, feel free to read that article in full, but as much of a red flag as that should be, publications don’t produce stories on their own. In this case, Julia Duin is the person conducting interviews and tying the information together, so it’s worth looking at her background, too.

It won’t be a surprise that the former religion editor for The Washington Times is further to the right than we are. But that would be true of most reporters, and she also seems to have been fired in retaliation for criticizing that employer, a much more courageous act than most reporters would ever do.

Point being, after decades as a working reporter for the Houston Chronicle, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and others, we felt Duin personally brought more credibility to the subject than necessarily the masthead she’d publish under.

That said, this sort of background well explains the assumptions and emphasis baked into this sentence:

While digging up facts for their defense, they’ve run into other aggrieved Satanists around the country who have a litany of complaints about the organization, including allegations of sexually deviant gatherings that, according to one TST memo, allow for “orgies, BDSM, fetish balls… ritual flogging, live ritual sex, burlesque show.”

We can’t speak to what (presumably) Scott Malphas actually said to Duin on this topic, but it seems probable that this is a function of the biases of Duin’s background and/or the publication’s editors than Malphas’ actual words.

In any case, we wouldn’t use the phrase “sexual deviancy” to describe what’s at issue there. The issue isn’t “deviance” or “normativity” but power structures and consent — or more precisely lack thereof. Clearly, given that one of the people being sued is part of their own burlesque co-op and we’re self-described queers. TST members engaging in BDSM really isn’t an issue or concern, but doing so within the context of and explicitly endorsed by a rigidly hierarchical organization ultimately controlled by two people and their deputies?

There is ultimately no way to write formal guidelines that solve this power dynamic because the people responsible for enforcing the rules are the same ones who have total immunity from being held accountable if they break any of those rules.

So, we love consent. Consent is fabulous. But “sexually deviant”?

All right, so that perspective and set of priors is the background you need to understand while reading the story.

But also, in a sad way, it’s a contrast to so many other more liberal media outlets just re-writing TST’s press releases and spending more time coming up with hell-related puns than fact-checking those press releases’ claims. Unfortunately, those newsrooms are filled with people who want to believe The Satanic Temple’s promises can succeed, so they’re inclined to write the lazy “man bites dog” story that TST presents to them (“Satanists do good thing”) with no further skepticism or journalistic curiosity. TST quite cleverly provides a formulaic structure that lets liberal media check all the boxes of “objectivity” before filing a straight news story; this simultaneously provides right right-wing media the chum to go into a frenzy of rage-reacting. Neither are doing real journalism to move beyond TST’s framing while bringing TST more attention.

All that said, let’s address some actual factual errors that made it into Duin’s story. Unlike the former point-of-view issue, these may even eventually be corrected in the Web edition because they’re pretty straightforward. Regardless, they are not fatal to it.

Calavera has since declared bankruptcy, and the others say the lawsuit is eating them alive financially.

The first one is our fault and a miscommunication from us to the reporter.

Joshua Calavera has not officially filed for bankruptcy yet, and the federal court will have to be updated when he does, assuming he can’t wait till after the case has concluded, as he plans to do.

We’ve received a little more than $20,000 in donations from the public, but even collectively, we did not have $60,000 just sitting around to be spent, so this has required our savings plus some to keep going. In addition to Calavera’s situation, another of us is still $9,000 in debt repaying a bank loan to keep paying lawyer bills, so the sentiment expressed in that sentence remains correct.

Still, “I’m going to” and “I have” declared bankruptcy are two different things, and we should have described that more accurately.

Johnson, a former Southern Baptist, says no one in the chapter actually prayed to Satan. “There are rituals that some people do but those aren’t rituals invoking a higher power,” he said. “It’s more like externalizing your interior notions.

David A. Johnson is a habitual mumbler, but this was likely “interior emotions.” Again, not that it changes the meaning too much here.

“When we started, there weren’t any red flags,” said Johnson. All four were aware that Greaves had some major baggage in his past; specifically an embarrassing podcast in 2002 where he made anti-Semitic remarks. (Example : “Like, I think it’s okay to hate Jews if you hate them because they’re Jewish and they wear a stupid fuckin’ Frisbee on their head…”) Greaves later apologized for his comments.

Likely, this follows Joseph P. Laycock’s account of the remarks, and it’s natural for a reporter to defer to a professor who literally wrote the book on The Satanic Temple (Speak of the Devil). Unfortunately, Laycock is wrong and didn’t bother to investigate the context of those statements having come in a 24-hour Internet radio stream in 2003.

The fact that it was a live Internet radio broadcast is actually somewhat critical to understanding the dynamic of the event, attempting to engage with callers while promoting the re-release of a 19th century, grotesquely bigoted proto-fascist manifesto that Greaves had illustrated. It also involved Greaves repeatedly extolling the virtues of eugenics, the necessity of forcible sterilization based on IQ, and congenially interviewing violent Neo-Nazis about how Social Darwinism was relevant to their white nationalist beliefs.

As we have detailed, Lucien Greaves’ “apology” for one antisemitic snippet of that stream, newly revealed to most people in 2018, ends up being disingenuous given the broader context, down to Greaves claiming to be younger than he really was at the time.

However, so far most news outlets in general have taken the apology at face value.

What also nettled the Seattleites — and many TST members nationwide — was Greaves’ decision in 2014 to use attorney Mark Randazza to represent TST in the Twitter lawsuit.

The date seems to be a typo here because an earlier reference gets it right as happening in 2018.

The Satanic Temple also did not use Marc Randazza in a lawsuit at that point: rather confusingly, TST sought to fundraise $50,000 to merely file a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

This issue seems to be ongoing, or at least we haven’t been able to find the resolution yet, but when the major TST chapters broke away in 2018, Lucien Greaves tried to claim (as he does in this article) that Randazza was working pro bono, with no explanation what the $50,000 fundraiser was to be used for if that was so. Of course no explanation has ever been given for why they have used Randazza to write a letter to the state of Mississippi threatening a lawsuit over their updated flag design; to file paperwork with the US Patent and Trademark Office; or why TST added him to their team for a federal lawsuit against the city of Boston over invocations when they already have their usual lawyer Matt Kezhaya working on it.

Speaking of him:

But Kezhaya argues that the defendants can be held liable for making false statements whether or not the subject involves religion. “They said TST are literal Nazis. That is objectively false,” he said, arguing that the judge erred in throwing out the defamation claim. He asked the court last Spring to reconsider the motion.

Speaking of things that are objectively false, lawyer Matt Kezhaya must be confused because he’s handling so many other cases for The Satanic Temple right now.

At least, if TST is alleging we ever said “TST are literal Nazis” — as opposed to quoting other former members, existing news articles, and collectives documenting TST’s public ties to fascists; linking to audio of Lucien Greaves’ own words; or linking to Lucien Greaves’ own public post from 2016 explaining why he stood in solidarity with literal neo-Nazi August Sol Invictus — TST probably should have remembered to include it in their evidence submitted to the court. Otherwise a less charitable interpretation of Kezhaya’s statement would be that he was lying.

It would have been nice for Duin to have asked a follow-up for Kezhaya to directly cite his accusation, because this is a knowable thing, but it’s also understandable not to predict that lawyers will just make shit up or at least not to predict they’ll speak so loosely to a reporter when they can’t keep their case’s facts straight.

Similarly, Kezhaya may indeed ask the court to reconsider the defamation claim at some point in the future to try to keep The Satanic Temple’s SLAPP case against us going on, but that would be on appeal or in some other court. He could not do so at this stage in the case because the judge dismissed that claim “with prejudice”, meaning there was no opportunity to re-file.

The Court agrees with Defendants. …The Court may not resolve the defamation claim without delving into doctrinal matters. To determine whether Defendants’ statements were defamatory, the Court or jury must inevitably determine that the statements were false. That would require the Court or jury to define the beliefs held by The Satanic Temple and to determine that ableism, misogyny, racism, fascism, and transphobia fall outside those beliefs. … Court dismisses with prejudice.
Relevant portion of Federal District Judge Richard A. Jones’ order dismissing The Satanic Temple’s case in February 2021

United Fed’n of Churches, LLC v. Johnson, 522 F. Supp. 3d 842 (W.D. Wash. 2021), Court Opinion
Richard A. Jones This matter comes before the Court on Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. Dkt. # 11. Having considered the…www.bloomberglaw.com

So it would be nice to get a clarification since again, this is knowable and possible to arbitrate journalistically.

TST’s brand is still under debate in Seattle. In June, the defendants requested the case be dismissed. Kezhaya, the TST lawyer, has asked the court to reconsider. He hopes to have an affirmative answer from the judge by early next year.

If they don’t give us the stuff back and settle in terms we find acceptable, then there is no other option than a jury trial,” he said. “If they did this on their own web page, we wouldn’t be in a lawsuit right now. But they put it on our page.”

But Kezhaya saw this as an issue that needed to be quickly nipped in the bud.

“You can’t steal someone’s stuff,” he told Newsweek. “You can’t hack Facebook pages and use those pages to cause harm to the owner.”

It seems notable that Kezhaya switches to saying “all of this stuff we’ve been alleging is defamation would have been fine if only it wasn’t on a place we claim we owned”, but that’s unlikely to ever be material outside of bitter chuckles between the co-defendants.

To be clear, the judge just dismissed the rest of The Satanic Temple’s claims rather than dismissing them with prejudice, so Kezhaya is right to be able to reference these other parts of the complaint as live issues since TST re-filed on them.

That being so, we’ll point to our motion to dismiss detailing how TST went from claiming “exceeding authority” to completely reversing themselves and claiming we had no authority in order to allege “hacking” after a judge tossed their first complaint, despite offering no new evidence to that effect. They have also kept claiming theft of Facebook pages despite the judge determining that Facebook owns Facebook pages once already (which TST admits Facebook also already told them).

Indeed, TST has had the former Washington State chapter page since May 2020, and that’s the only thing they submitted evidence communicating about at all rather than just hitting a bunch of people with an expensive, frivolous lawsuit over straight off. Which seems like an important step to skip.

Reply to Response to Motion – #29 in United Federation of Churches LLC v. Johnson (W.D. Wash…
Case 2:20-cv-00509-RAJ Document 29 Filed 07/02/21 Page 1 of 15 1 The Honorable Richard A. Jones 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED…www.courtlistener.com

You should read our lawyer, just for fun.

Having gone through all that, it means that the lede to the story probably should have been something different because that opening question has been asked and answered with a resounding “no”.

Can you defame a religion, especially one that doesn’t believe in God, Satan or the supernatural?

The answer to that question could cost four former members of The Satanic Temple (TST) more than $140,000 in damages, including “reputation losses,” in a civil lawsuit that has dragged on for more than a year and a half.

“A judge has ruled that the First Amendment says no, but The Satanic Temple still argues yes” is a lot less dramatic of a place to begin an article like this, but given what has happened in the case so far, it would be the more accurate characterization.

Editor’s note: We added a correction in regards to bankruptcy that’s ultimately our fault. See? This reporting stuff is hard work.

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