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As we approach the 2020 election day today we are awash in information. And not all of it is accurate, factual, and true. Some is merely the normal campaign hyperbole that candidate A is going to raise taxes or candidate B is going to cut social security. But a lot of it, and a lot more of it than usual, is outright disinformation, misinformation, and agitprop intended to anger some and demoralize others.

It doesn’t matter if it is being paid for by those working on behalf of hostile foreign actors or peer competitors and laundered into our social, digital, and news media by people working for third and fourth parties outside the U.S. or it originates with Americans –  election 2020 has subjected all of us to a deluge of information and a lot of that information is just not true.

Tell me if this sounds familiar?

It was known as the Satanic Panic; a conspiracy theory that convinced millions of well meaning and rational people that a secret cabal of Satanists had infiltrated the highest echelons of society in order to sexually molest children. The Satanists were accused of sacrificing animals and using women as “breeders” to create an endless supply of dead babies for use in their gory, bloody-fuelled rituals and orgies.

It destroyed lives and ripped apart families. Reports of ritualistic child abuse were reported across the English speaking-world.

The story begins in 1980, with the publication of a book called “Michelle Remembers”. It detailed the fantastic claims of Michelle Proby, who recounted several months of gory and sadistic ritualistic abuse at the hands of a cabal of Satanists when she was a child in 1950s Victoria.

The memories, she alleged, were repressed for decades, until she sought help from psychiatrist Lawrence Pazder. Under a state of hypnosis, Proby began to uncover a horrifying tale of murder, torture, abduction, and molestation. She claimed to have been taken from her willing family and groomed to take part in a ritual to call the devil — one in which she witnessed the murder of children, was forced to eat human remains, covered in dead baby parts, and locked in a cage with snakes.

Or this?

The McMartin trial had its origins in a call placed to police in Manhattan Beach, California by Judy Johnson, the mother of a two-and-a-half-year-old son who attended the McMartin Preschool on about ten occasions in 1983.  Johnson told Detective Jane Hoag that a school aide, Ray Buckey, the 25-year-old son of the owner of the preschool, had molested her son.

Judy Johnson’s reports of misbehavior at the McMartin Preschool became increasingly bizarre.  She claimed that Peggy Buckey, Ray’s mother, was involved in satanic practices: she was said to have taken Johnson’s son to a church, where the boy was made to watch a baby being beheaded, and then was forced to drink the blood.

She insisted that Ray Buckey had sodomized her son while his head was in the toilet, and had taken him to a car wash and locked him in the trunk.  Johnson told police that Ray pranced around the preschool in a cape and a Santa Claus costume, and that other teachers at the school chopped up rabbits and placed “some sort of star” on her son’s bottom.

Michelle Proby and Judy Johnson are the two central figures in what came to be known as the Satanic Panic of the 1980s. For a full recounting, I highly recommend The Satanism Scare (full disclosure: I know one of the editors and the author of one of the chapters in the edited volume).

The bottom line to both Proby’s and Johnson’s assertions and allegations is that none of them were true. Both women suffered from serious mental illness that had either been mistreated in the case of Proby or was not even diagnosed in the case of Johnson.

Both women found receptive authority figures predisposed to their claims based on the authority figures’ personal religious beliefs. And the panic and hysteria that ensued were fueled both by well-meaning officials and not so well meaning mental health professionals who made considerable amounts of money treating the children who had been allegedly abused, by facilitating and coaching those children who had, in fact, not been abused, on what to tell police investigators and judges.

Proby and Johnson didn’t set off the first Satanic Panic in the U.S., let alone North America. We all learn about the first one in history class: the Salem Witch Trials.

Just as we now know there were no witches working in league with Satan in Salem, Massachusetts in the early 1690s, there was also no satanic cabals in Victoria, British Columbia in the 1950s, nor suburban Los Angeles or anywhere else in the 1980s that were trafficking children for ritualistic abuse, sex, and ultimately ritualistic murder and cannibalism.

Just as there were no satanic pacts for Jews to steal Christian children and use their blood to make unleavened bread for Passover in the Middle Ages that made a comeback in the late 1920s in upstate New York. Just as the alleged facts and actions in Salem in the 1690s, in Massena, N.Y. in the 1920s, in Victoria in the 1950s as recounted in the early 1980s, and in Manhattan Beach, CA in the early 1980s could not stand up to scrutiny, so do the current claims of a global satanic conspiracy to steal and traffic children for ritualistic abuse, sex, murder, and cannibalism not stand up.

The original claim, that this was being coordinated out of a pizza parlor in Washington, DC made little sense even before a North Carolina man weaponed up, drove over night to D.C., entered the restaurant armed to “free the children”, discharged his weapon during some kid’s birthday party, and learned that not only did that pizzeria not have a basement, but that he was going to prison for four years.

Thinking securely means thinking critically.

If a claim or an allegation seems too good to be true, if it just somehow manages to confirm your prejudices, it most likely is too good to be true.

What’s more likely: that in 2020 there actually is a satanic cabal led by elites and notables who all just happen to belong to one political party, despite being able to conclusively debunk every past example of these allegations, and some anonymous person claiming to have a Q clearance* is going to blow the entire conspiracy wide open by posting on 4chan or 8chan? Or…  that as has been the case going back for more than a thousand years in Europe and back to the 1690s in New England, Americans are once again engaged in the ever-recurring mass hysteria that children are being trafficked for sexual abuse and to harvest a hormone not actually produced in the human body … because we are all, regardless of our political, social, and religious views, living through very unsettled times and simple narratives that confirm our existing assumptions are incredibly appealing?

The same thing goes for allegations and accusations that somehow mail-in balloting/voting is less secure or that counting ballots after the polls close is somehow stealing the election. When, exactly are ballots supposed to be counted and an election certified if not after the polls close?

Even in states like Colorado — which begins with the canvassing of ballots, prepares the returned all-mail-in ballots for scanning to record the vote and then to tally the vote so that it can be certified – even here, Colorado doesn’t ever finish before the polls close.

Anyone asserting that something nefarious is going on, especially in states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania where the state legislatures have forbidden election officials from even preparing mail in and early voted ballots for canvassing prior to election, is simply lying to you.

The election officials handling these ballots are all county officials. They are your neighbors. Some are your friends. That they are county officials is one of the greatest strengths of our self-governing democratic-republic as it allows officials closest to, and therefore most responsive to, the citizenry – county officials – to administer our elections!

We may all, as Americans, get lucky, and find that key states like Florida and Ohio, which begin to canvass and count their mailed in and early voted ballots at the start of early voting, about two weeks before election day, will produce clear projected winners in the presidential race. But even if that happens, a lot of other races – congressional, senatorial, state legislative, and municipal – may not be known for several days because of what appears to be historic, overwhelming turnout this year.

It doesn’t mean someone is trying to steal the election, it doesn’t mean that the officials administering the elections are up to something corrupt. It just means that they’re counting every legitimate vote to ensure that every citizen that voted has their vote counted. Remember, they’re your neighbors, some are your friends. They’re not the enemy! 

Thinking securely as the election comes to a close means thinking critically about the information being blasted at all of us. It means keeping perspective. It means asking if something actually makes logical sense. It means checking your sources and the sources of people telling you something is X or something is Y to ensure that your sources and their sources are legitimate. It means cutting each other a little slack and recognizing that most things have a reasonable explanation.

If you haven’t yet voted and are eligible to do so, please do. As an American, the only thing that’s really important to me in an election is that all the Americans that are eligible to vote get a chance to do so. The founders and the framers bequeathed to us a special inheritance as Americans: self-government through voting for our municipal officials, for our state and Federal representatives, for our senators since the passage of the 17th Amendment, for state governors, and for electors to select the president. There is nothing more American than voting.

So vote! Yes, you, stop reading this and go drop your ballot off at a drop off box.

* The Department of Energy (DOE) grants the Q level clearance. It is roughly equivalent to the Top Secret clearance issued by the Department of Defense (DOD), the Services, and the Intelligence Community. It is NOT the highest level security clearance that can be granted. For those who have never held a clearance, just having the clearance granted does not mean that one gets to see everything classified at that level. Moreover, and I truly mean no offense to any current or former Department of Energy employees reading this, I have never been on any DOD installation or military base where the Special Security Officer would allow a Q clearance holder to have access to areas rated for Top Secret, as the DOD security personnel do not consider DOE to be especially thorough in their vetting procedures. Similarly, I know that the Special Security Officers within the Intelligence Community often make the same criticism of clearances issued by the DOD, as well as the DOE.