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    There was a time in American history when the fear that devil-worshipping cretins were secretly abusing children through ritual abuse and child sacrifice was sweeping the country. That time was called the “Satanic Panic.”

    The emergence of Pizzagate and QAnon, two groups that believe their social and political enemies are grooming children, is a byproduct of this same moral panic. But in some ways, this new panic is even more ominous.

    The Origins of the “Satanic Panic”

    Throughout the 1980s, there was a fear that Satanists were lurking in America’s suburbs, secretly indoctrinating children into the occult and ritually abusing them. Sadly, this rumor ruined many lives in North America.

    This moral panic started with a Canadian psychiatrist called Lawrence Pazder publishing Michelle Remembers, a supposed account of his hypnosis treatment that uncovered repressed memories of Satanic ritual abuse including the sacrifice of human infants and cannibalism. This spawned hundreds of accusations in communities across the country.

    These rumors were fed to the media and then passed off as real incidents, creating a widespread panic that could have affected millions of people. But in reality, these fears were based on a mix of urban legends and unqualified experts that were quickly discredited.

    Now, decades later, the same fears have been revived in QAnon, a conspiracy theory that alleges that preschool teachers and other childcare professionals groom kids, torture them and use their blood in satanic rituals. These beliefs are similar to the satanic panic of the 1980s, according to a new study from University of Minnesota psychologists Dr. Uscinski and Prof. Klofstad, who also surveyed the public about child sex-trafficking myths.

    The “Satanic Panic” in the 80’s

    In the 80s, fear of Satanism and occult activity swept the country. The panic was tied to anxieties about accelerating social changes. Specialists say that cults were thought to be taking over American society from inside and conducting rituals, orgies, and human sacrifices.

    This fear became a cultural scapegoat for everything from rock music to Dungeons & Dragons. It was also a catalyst for a series of horror movies, including The Exorcist.

    The movement was eventually debunked, but the hysteria remained. Those who followed the rumors were left with stories of children being tortured or killed as part of Satanic rituals, and that fear still lives on today, in the form of far-right conspiracy theories like QAnon.

    The “Satanic Panic” in the 90’s

    It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a bygone moral crisis make a comeback. But with a recent wave of right-wing accusations leveled at LGBTQ teachers and drag queen story hours, the “Satanic Panic” seems to be making a comeback too.

    As sociologist Jeffrey Victor points out in his excellent book, The Satanic Panic: Anatomy of a Moral Crisis, these sorts of panics often spring from social stressors, rumors, and scapegoating. This can lead to people believing that their social and political enemies are committing satanic ritual abuse in the name of some demonic conspiracy.

    This was especially the case during the 1980s when a Canadian psychologist wrote a book that outlined satanic abuse claims by his patient Michelle Smith, using a discredited method of recovering repressed memories. This sparked a series of rumors that spread like wildfire and eventually led to numerous criminal investigations based on little or no evidence.

    The “Satanic Panic” in the 2020’s

    A new poll finds that many Republicans and Democrats still believe in child sex-trafficking conspiracy theories. A majority of Americans believe that Hollywood and government elites are sex-trafficking children, and more than 30 percent say that they’re abused in rituals performed by secret, satanic cults.

    The QAnon movement, which alleges that a shadowy cabal of Democratic politicians, celebrities and industry leaders kidnaps children and performs Satanic rituals, is also growing in far-right political circles. And it’s an idea that has roots in the moral panic that began in the 1980s, when false accusations of child abuse swept across the country.

    This kind of collective fear can be a powerful force in shaping public opinion, says De Young, and it’s difficult to shake. She has spent her career studying the origins and spread of moral panics.

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