The Satanic Temple

June 26, 2024

The Satanic Panic is still alive in Idaho

Satanism is opposed child abuse, but local cops in Idaho want people to think the exact opposite

Earlier this week, an Idaho county sheriff’s office published a press release to Facebook about the conclusion of a criminal investigation and prosecution of a 22-year-old man. The man pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual exploitation of a child, and he was expected to be sentenced to 12 years in prison. All of this is pretty standard.

One sentence, however, certainly was not.

Original press release June 24, 2024 which includes sentence “Russell is a member of the Idaho chapter of The Satanic Temple”

“Russell is a member of the Idaho chapter of The Satanic Temple,” they said. Which is definitely a choice, isn’t it?

Now, we hate The Satanic Temple with an intensity and complexity very few will ever appreciate, and even we think it’s incredibly fucked up for a law enforcement agency to just drop some dude’s supposed religious affiliation in the press release about the guy’s child sexual abuse material (CSAM) plea deal.

Apparently the Valley County Sheriff’s Office agreed — or was made to agree — because the next day, VCSO updated their announcement about it to remove that little tidbit about Mr. Jason W Russell, 22, of McCall, Idaho.

Revised press release June 25, 2024, which omits sentence with no other indication of a change.

This is one of the most viscerally disgusting crimes a person can be accused of, and this law enforcement agency apparently thought it was necessary that “The Satanic Temple” was also implicated in the offense yet did not think it was necessary to explain how they determined this association or explain how it was relevant. Perhaps, “Well, you know how those Satanists are,” was the whole justification in their minds.

Jason William Russell
(DOB: 8/21/2001)

Something that may not be obvious to a neutral reader: is it even true that Jason Russell was a Satanic Temple Idaho member?

The answers is, “Probably not.” That was an extremely small group, like a dozen people. The few members in it actually voted to leave the national org at the end of May 2024. (For anyone who hasn’t been paying attention, yes, The Satanic Temple has been imploding again.)

To the question, “Was that Jason Russell a ‘member’ of The Satanic Temple in some more general way?” the answer is, “Maybe?” If you buy hot sauce from TST or just give them your email address for their newsletter, boom, you get counted as a “member” for TST press releases and lawsuit filings.

This is the downside of the Temple’s membership inflation strategy: you are claiming association with a ton of people you probably don’t actually want to claim.

But it’s also entirely possible that reactionary Christian law enforcement just did that thing where parents call every video game console a “Nintendo,” and the cops saw a Baphomet figurine on a table or “leviathan”/sulfur symbol on a handkerchief then said, “That’s one of them Satanic Temple people.” A commenter on that Facebook press release said that “the only affiliation he [Russell] had with the Satanic Temple was apparently a couple pictures of him with fake horns on.” We obviously have no idea until more information is released, if ever it is.

[QS note – the photo posted by the Facebook commenter seems to be of a guy completely unrelated to this case, not closely resembling Russell in age or appearance. Also, on July 5, the Idaho Statesman reached out to local law enforcement to get an explanation about the Facebook post and Russell’s connection to TST.]

So take the rest of the original version of our article as purely a thought experiment if the facts of the situation had been different.

However, let’s go all the way and assume charitably that the Valley County Sheriff’s Office’s initial press release was 100 percent accurate (meaning on June 25 they removed the reference sentence for no reason). Was it standard operating procedure for this agency to identify folk’s religious affiliation?

Sure fucking wasn’t.

If anyone can find an earlier references where they arrested somebody and said, “John Doe was a member of St. Whoever’s Episcopal Church,” please share to correct us.

Of course, there are times when religion is relevant. For example, a Catholic priest abusing children in his parish makes it doubly relevant to the public because the priest is a prominent public figure in that position as a religious leader and also used that position to hurt children.

However, there is no indication that’s relevant here, and it’s frankly difficult to imagine how it could be given the usual organization of local TST branches and of Satanism more generally.

Again: who hates The Satanic Temple more than us? Nobody hates The Satanic Temple more than us. Watching TST’s national org self-destruct in completely foreseeable and predictable ways (because we foresaw and predicted it) has been like celebrating a fucking birthday every day for a month and a half now.

A local law enforcement agency doing this — naturally spawning dozens of rightwing media stories about — is still fucked up.

Sometimes people root for bad things happening to The Satanic Temple because, well, “Scientology for Mall Goths” certainly deserves it. But this sort of thing has nothing to do with why The Satanic Temple is actually a horrible, abusive religious organization that’s dangerous to its own members and everything to do with Satanic panic bullshit. TST’s owners are literally profiting off of playing the role of Washington Generals in the culture war, but they aren’t the ones most likely to face the consequences of it. Like we said, The Satanic Temple of Idaho functionally doesn’t even exist anymore, and the immediate reaction to this press release was for local rightwing groups to start literally defaming a completely different group of people: Satanic Idaho.

Screenshot from “Idaho Liberty Dogs” Facebook page

If Satanic Idaho people have it in them to pursue a legal case, being targeted in this way is almost definitionally under the “defamation” umbrella. But that’s years of legal work down the road, and in the meantime they have to deal with reactionary Christians who sincerely believe that “pedos,” “chomos,” etc., lie outside the normal protection of society and deserve to have violence visited upon them, and can justify it by saying, “You know how those Satanists are.”

This is not a joke, and it’s not an abstraction. Dark Star Magick in Portland just this week got targeted with an arson attack apparently designed to destroy it entirely.

screenshot of @DarkStarMagick instagram post of broken storefront window and burnt books with "pride month" to "demon" type sitting intact in front of it

That Portland book shop is affirmatively antifascist and opposed to the worst elements of Satanism! They have a talk by Spencer Sunshine scheduled about Satanism and the Alt-Right for Aug. 13, even.

Everybody who’s a Satanist — hell, everybody even vaguely occult or likes a goth aesthetic — is in danger of being targeted for stochastic terrorism when Christian Nationalists and fascists take to the chum the cops toss out like this.

We should all call it out and be against it.

To our knowledge, all mainstream Satanic traditions oppose child abuse, either explicitly like Church of Satan’s Eleven Rules of Earth (“Do not harm little children”) or implicitly like the Six Pillars of Global Order of Satan (“Respect the inviolable body, autonomous will, and sovereign right of every individual to guide their own life and being”). The Satanic Temple’s Seven Tenets have their flaws but yeah, “One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone” counts, too.

By contrast, reactionary Christianity loves “clobber passages” about queers being bad, but they’ve really got to stretch to find where “abusing children” — including sexually — is not acceptable since that doesn’t really come up in the Bible, and “spare the rod, spoil the child” is explicit wisdom. If cops were consistent about this and not just dedicated reactionaries following their own biases of hating religious minorities, then certainly most of the time they would be talking about members of Catholic, Baptist, Pentecostal, etc., churches abusing children. The hierarchical belief that children’s bodies and wills are not their own but subservient to “elders” is easy to turn to even worse ends than what is typical and accepted by those sorts of denominations.

So should every arrest or conviction list out somebody’s religious affiliation? Clearly not. Clearly that would be a bad and wrong solution to this. Pluralism is sometimes (often?) the exact worst solution to a problem of unfairness, even.

Unfortunately, you should expect this to get worse, not better, in the near future.

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