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The Satanic Temple

Guest Article

The Satanic Temple

January 21, 2022

Anatomy of a News Cycle: From local paper to Fox News segment

How The Satanic Temple controls the media — and your mind (Part 1: Satanic Nativity)

A grad student at a regional paper re-writes a press release and adds a couple new quotes.

A few days later, it’s a Fox News clip and God viral post, and you’re arguing with someone about it the comments or posting a snarky gif.

What happened?

The Rev. Franklin Graham on “Ingraham Angle”, Dec. 24, 2021

TST takes advantage of structural biases of journalists and anti-partisanship in social media to get a reaction without having to do anything more

For The Satanic Temple’s January 2022 newsletter, the Temple was able to make two announcements. The second was just another announcement about the convention “SatanCon” which as of mid-January seems increasingly ill-advised given the state of the pandemic but may turn for the better by mid-February. The first announcement, though, was actually an accomplishment from December 2021 when TST’s Illinois congregation installed a “Sol Invictus” holiday display at the state capitol in Springfield.

As soon as we saw the press release about it Dec. 17, we tried to get out ahead of the story and hoped that providing some context as free labor would help some reporter somewhere along the way bother to do so as well.

“Baby Baphy” a sort infant/toddler baphomet as like Jesus in a nativity

We predicted that reporters would take The Satanic Temple’s press release at face value, utilize the facile conflict narrative of the Catholic Church’s opposition to the display to just quote the Temple about itself and the Catholics being against them, then arbitration would go no further than correcting the misconception that TST worships the devil or does animal sacrifices or whatever. Report the controversy, correct something — bam! “both sides” covered, so objective, much neutral.

Indeed, Dec. 18, that is what the local newspaper did, having their grad student journalist Andrew Adams write up a very basic story that at least did some original reporting, and would form the basis of an entire strain of news articles and commentary.

This process of working its way through various media bubbles starts Dec. 19 with Cassandra Fairbanks at The Gateway Pundit. Later that day, likely getting it from TGP, the New York Post’s Patrick Reilly writes another article, again without any real new reporting. This is important because these outlets are both pillars of the right-wing news ecosystem, and The Satanic Temple is like catnip to them. While local news is just looking to complete a checklist of “both sides” objectivity and gives TST the benefit of taking them at face value, the reactionary press looks at the Temple as a gift because it fits all of their priors about the world going to hell and an evil cabal of Satanists in control. The Q movement is a bit louder and more overtly antisemitic than most of the rest of the right, but it’s a matter of degree and not of kind.

Tweet of Newsweek article, utilizing a statue unrelated to the Illinois capitol

Many more national stories from the far-right and conservative press follow from there. Some even bother to try to get original reporting, like Newsweek’s Jon Jackson. So, Jackson is able to get Bishop Thomas Paprocki to give a new comment on behalf of the Diocese of Springfield, but The Satanic Temple doesn’t return Newsweek’s calls anymore because Julia Duin wrote an article about TST that was critical of them, and The Satanic Temple is very professional and mature.

(UPDATE: The Satanic Temple Inc. has sued Newsweek.)

Because Newsweek chooses here to use an image of the “Proprietary Baphomet With Children For Instagram™” statue with their article and it shows up in previews, some people on social media and a few more downstream sites also choose to use that image rather than the actual “Baby Baphomet” display being installed.

Now, on Dec. 20, that “Sol Invictus” display actually is installed; Catholics again provide a helpful visual for an easy conflict narrative by appearing at the installation to pray against and protest it. “Satan has no rights.” Way to go, papists! Great job.

But notice how TST already got multiple national news sites reporting on it? Notice also how little original reporting is actually added at each step.

Tweet from Barstool Sports using same “Baphomet With Children” image as an earlier Newsweek article

In fact, when Dante Deiana writes an article for Barstool Sports on Dec. 21, he uses the same “Baphomet With Children” photo as Newsweek had, and quotes the opening as an event yet to happen rather than one that happened the day before. Most of his writing is spent musing about unrelated culture war issues and the Satanic Panic rather than what is specifically happening in this specific place.

But this process will continue to expand, especially after the local newspaper’s story is joined by some follow-up photos of the installation and especially when Jakob Emerson with local TV station WICS ABC 20 shows up and then creates a video package that can be carried by television news all over the country via its owner far-right local news giant Sinclair News.

If you’re interested in an even more granular breakdown of the dynamics of these stories, we did that here prior to the national explosion making that impossible to keep track of them.

When you look at it closely, it really is something like a virus, down to the same information pattern being replicated.

What happens after enough right-wing media covers something is that some dedicated leftist news outlets searching for content will also cover it with the intention of mocking the reactionaries.

Like the “objective” and non-pejorative liberal media, what they’ll notice is how the right-wing are (to them) such plainly wrong buffoons and how the fools don’t even realize The Satanic Temple is actually an atheistic organization that does nice things, like After School Satan clubs.

(See Part 2 for more on that, by the way.)

When all of these stories reach social media, they get people engaging reflexively based on a headline and preview rather than anything more detailed, and as we’ve shown, even more-detailed readings will often tend to leave a misimpression.

When on Dec. 22, “God” brings the story to his 3.8 million Facebook followers, it’s all about the celebration of how cool it is that this is happening because isn’t it ironic how Satanists are the good guys? Isn’t it funny how the bad, homophobic Christians are getting owned?

Facebook post by “TheGoodGodAbove”; DailyDot article

In this case, an event actually did take place, but in this media environment, that fact is utterly incidental to the news coverage of one press release that only needed to exist to frame all of the coverage that would follow it with only a handful of people involved doing anything but regurgitating quotes from the press release and local news; Heather Greene of Religion News Service writing on Dec. 21 is a standout here since Greene also added Illinois state Sen. Darren Bailey’s commentary. Bailey is a Republican running for governor, so of course he wanted to weigh in.

For The Satanic Temple’s part, they claim that they hadn’t even applied for 2021 till after Bishop Paprocki publicly denounced them and their nativity on Nov. 30, 2021, at the installation and blessing of the Catholic church’s own nativity; and indeed, the Illinois Secretary of State told the State Journal-Register there was no deadline for applying, so that’s plausible.

The Satanic Temple Instagram post, Oct. 11, 2021

With the caveat that we weren’t in the room and haven’t seen any emails about it (yet), it’s a reasonable supposition that The Satanic Temple saw an opportunity to easily get some attention, and they jumped on it. They used a statue they quite literally just had sitting around in the Salem Art Museum already, they applied to a state that had already approved them in years past, and they made an announcement about it.

This is certainly not the worst thing that The Satanic Temple does. Yes, it is fun to tweak the Christians a little bit.

But it’s important to realize that the Catholics and Republican politicians are benefitting from this, too. Maybe even more than TST given the way the conservative movement functions. The right-wing grifters are telling their audience that Satanists and Democrats are teaming up to indoctrinate your children, destroy your religion, and murder your family, and that’s why you should vote for them or should support your local church in these end times or should stock up on the bunker supplies their website sells.

That is mainstream conservatism these days. Your neighbor is not reading George Will books and articles; he’s listening to Dan Bongino for hours every day and being primed for stochastic terrorism.

Just as importantly, it’s the negative space in these stories. What’s not being covered so that all of them, left-right-and-center, can lean into their conflict narratives?

We have a few possibilities.

There’s the tendency of The Satanic Temple to use pseudonyms even for their media people is, well, it’s a bit odd. It’s still not obvious to us if “Erin Helian” or “Karen” (sic) are entirely new people, pseudonyms of other existing people, or just TST owners Cevin Soling and Lucien Greaves (Doug Misicko) playing John Barron again. For those who don’t already know, “Lucien Greaves” was originally supposed to be a shared pseudonym for TST leaders before Misicko took it over full time, and also initially seems to have called himself “Neil Bricke” when he wasn’t calling himself “Doug Mesner”. There is something similar going on with Soling, but this aside is already too long. While it’s not obvious to someone who just read a press release, it would be useful to get TST on the record about who Helian and “Karen” are supposed to be so they can’t wriggle out of it later.

The existence of TheSatanicTemple.com and TheSatanicTemple.org in different contact emails for Helian and “Karen” led us to discovering that, during most of the past decade, the .ORG has been a re-direct to .COM but other times has been a standalone site. Yet this has been rather poorly archived since both were registered March 7, 2012, and seems to tie into the for-profit corporation/nonprofit church confusion the Temple has cultivated over the years.https://queersatanic.com/media/9ef883571da277420ee9fe3195dd5b34

It seems a bit notable that the artist credited for the sculpture, Chris P. Andres, is somewhat notorious for just taking people’s money and not actually delivering any product as agreed. Not only was this pointed out in our original Twitter thread but it was also a top Google search result for Andres with multiple commenters on a variety of sites complaining they never got what they ordered from the Albuquerque-based horror artist, with the most recent being Dec. 12, 2021. Seems like our guy might want to get on top of refunds and whatnot before offering his art up for national publicity stunts.

The big one, though, is a result of reporters not following up on a natural question that follows from something recognized way back in the original State Journal-Register article about TST’s announcement but which the editors just left for dead at the end of the article instead of answering.

According to the Illinois Secretary of State’s office, the temple has the same rights as religious organizations when it comes to displays in the statehouse. Metal display of snake and apple next to a christmas tree.
 Brian Mackey/NPR Illinois 91.9 UIS
“Knowledge is the Greatest Gift” display in Illinois State Capitol

Since 2018, The Satanic Temple has installed displays at the state Capitol. In 2019, it installed “Knowledge is the Greatest Gift.” It depicted the forearm of Eve from the biblical story of the Garden of Eden alongside an apple and snake. The group did not have an installation last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Why do they have a new display for 2021 rather than using the ‘Knowledge Is The Greatest Gift’ display they used the previous two years?” should be that natural question, particularly if you’re a journalist.

Indeed, the 2021 story actually states it a little confusingly in the sense that the same nativity was used in 2018 and in 2019 before Covid-19 canceled all displays for 2020.

It’s a little weird, right? If The Satanic Temple had a high-quality display on hand already and had experience installing it, why wouldn’t they just do it again? Why be reactive to criticism instead of planning to repeat their past successes, and why ship something from Salem, Mass., to Springfield, Ill.?

The answer is that The Satanic Temple no longer had the monument because former co-chapterheads TST Chicago Lex Manticore and Lux Armiger “stole the statue, along with any other TST assets they had access to”, according to The Satanic Temple Illinois’s Facebook page in a now-deleted comment.

It was partly covid and partly because the nutjobs formerly known as “leadership” stole the statue, along with any other TST assets they had access to.

Privately, a former member of the Chicago chapter clarified that this was not something the chapterheads should have been able to leave with, either, as it was rightfully community property.

For the record: The original Chicago statue was paid for through public fundraising as well as chapter-driven events. It belong to the chapter, not the deposed chapter heads. It was also not the only chapter asset that, as of when I left, had not been returned, nor was there prospect of return.

There were many rumors to this effect swirling around, but in a Reddit comment from 2020, TST “International Council” member Kym Laroux also confirmed TST HQ booted the local leaders and that at least the digital portion of the alleged misbehavior was true.

It was discovered that the former leadership was acting inappropriately and had been isolating the Chapter Members. This was so the members would not be able to find out from outside the Chapter that the Chapter Heads were not being truthful to them. When the former Chapter Heads were notified of their removal, they deleted all of the Chapter’s social media in childish retaliation. The only positive thing this did was prove we made the right choice.

In a reply, a befuddled TST Chicago member asks:

I find this interesting because I am (was?) a member of the Chicago chapter and have been wondering what happened since the private group and all social media disappeared in the blink of an eye. Is there some way those of us out of the loop will know when the Illinois chapter is up and running, and what may have happened with our info/NDAs?

But another commenter gossips that they were “getting culty” and “straying from TST”, which is sort of a red flag in itself, isn’t it?

The plot thickens. That group, which had a bunch of members, is gone now. My gf told me at some point they may have been getting culty and straying from TST, so maybe they got kicked out.

Still another person claiming to be a member didn’t get the memo and tries to tell people everything is going according to plan.

I am a member of TST Chicago, we took all of our social media stuff down so that we can reorganize and change leadership. We will update everything in the near future.

Followers of our situation may find it interesting that Lux and Lex did not find themselves accused of crimes or hit with a civil lawsuit for cybercrimes, but then they didn’t engage in any public criticism on their way out, did they? They just deleted some digital accounts and walked out with the chapter’s collective property. So who cares, right?

But even if you are not inclined to care about The Satanic Temple suing former members to try to stifle speech, this is all a bit concerning in terms of their overall competency for accomplishing anything more than getting headlines and interviews.

“We are a federally recognized, legitimate religion–” yet the only consistent feature is two men who own a bunch of corporations and a few key figures they’re close to. Everyone else leaves or is expelled within a few years, replaced by new people.

One possible explanation for this, as well as all of the failed lawsuits and empty declarations, is that The Satanic Temple is not interested in anything more than attention, and the money and clout that follow it.

In part two, we’re going to look at how this plays out with The Satanic Temple’s After School Satan clubs, and how a program that until 2022 had only ever served one student in one school district for one semester got TST’s co-owner Lucien Greaves onto Tucker Carlson’s White Power Hour to talk about it.

lucien greaves on tucker carlson tonight, chryon “tucker takes on The Satanic Temple” both men have eyes closed

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