Aug. 20, 2012

Endlessly fascinating – and baffling – is how some experts fell headlong for “satanic ritual abuse,” while others managed to keep their wits. This is from an April 25, 1989, Associated Press story:

“David G. Bromley, a sociologist at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va., sees not an increase in satanic crime, but a ‘cult scare’ that has more to do with urban legends and modern psychology than with criminology.

“‘I think it’s all a hoax,’ says Bromley, who investigated allegations of cult ‘brainwashing’ in the 1970s that were never proven.

“Bromley says rumors about rings of adults who start day care centers to find children to abuse in satanic rituals are ‘sheer fantasy’ – but fantasy fed by reports of real child abuse and by today’s parents’ guilt and fears of entrusting their children to strangers.

“‘It is not coincidental that allegations of satanic conspiracies are centered on day care centers,’ he says.”

April 25, 1989! Bob Kelly was attending his probable cause hearing. The first McMartin trial was still ongoing. Stephen Ceci and Maggie Bruck were six years from publishing their landmark “Jeopardy in the Courtroom: A Scientific Analysis of Children’s Testimony.” So how was David Bromley able to see through the fog?

“This kind of ‘subversion episode’ is not new,” he told me recently. “There has been one every few decades in American history. The focus has changed but not the phenomenon. Indian captivity tales, Salem witch trials, drug scares, communist scares, immigrant scares, UFO scares.

“There has always been some group or coalition that has found social insecurities a way of advancing its own status. In this case police and therapists made careers out of the episode.

“The story was only plausible for a limited period, and these kinds of events tend to implode eventually. But there are a lot of casualties in the meantime.

“It will happen again, I am sorry to say.”

And when it does…?