The Greatest Trick the Devil Ever Pulled Was Getting a Prime-Time Special


Historical document of the day: 20/20's 1985 report "The Devil Worshippers," a coming-out party for the 1980s Satanism scare. It may help, as you watch this, to know that the bodies of the alleged sacrifice victims never materialized, that the statistic of two million missing kids was a wild exaggeration, and that Mike Warnke, presented here as an expert on Satanic rites, was later exposed as a fraud. But really, anyone able to think critically should be able to see through this without the benefit of hindsight. What's interesting is that so many people took it seriously at the time.

At the beginning of the report, Hugh Downs declares that "police have been skeptical when investigating these acts, just as we are in reporting them"; at the end, Barbara Walters pronounces the story "terrifying." And it is rather terrifying that Downs believed his colleagues had "been skeptical." From the looks of it, they didn't even interview any skeptics.


I'm not posting this just for its historic value, nor simply to give you a chance to laugh at the part where Tom Jarriel goes to a shopping mall to prove "how easy it is for children, or adults for that matter, to get their hands on Satanic material." (One of his examples: The Exorcist. No, really.) Even if you ignore the actual misinformation in the program, this is as pure an example as you'll find of how a scattered group of unconnected crimes can be presented as a grand, malevolent movement, particularly when they're combined with anxieties about the influence of popular culture. Watch the show to see how it's done. It'll help you stay skeptical when similar narratives appear today.