Sympathy for the Devil: Ritual Abuse, "False Memories," and the CIA
By Nick Bryant
The Satanic panic collided with American pop culture in the 1980s. The mass media, particularly television, has long embraced the "if it bleeds it leads" doctrine, so those macabre, let it bleed stories about ritual abuse were initially snapped up by the nightly news, and they waggled their way into the living rooms of millions of Americans. But leveler heads in the FBI and media would eventually prevail, and they exposed all those nasty, sordid stories about ritual abuse as nothing more than witch-hunt hysteria, and the Satanic panic quickly fell by the wayside and drifted into obscurity like the pet rock.
One of the most publicized of the Satanic panic cases was the 1987 investigation of the day care center at the U.S. Army's Presidio base in San Francisco. According to newspaper accounts, approximately sixty children were molested at the Presidio. Some of the children discussed horrific, ritual abuse and five of the children contracted Chlamydia, a sexually transmitted disease. A number of the children said they had been transported off base from the Presidio and their abuse was photographed.
Presidio victims told investigators of unfathomable abuse that included being forced to eat feces, drink urine, and also having blood smeared all over their bodies. The abuse described by the victims certainly sounds so incomprehensible that it is difficult to believe, but a few years earlier children at West Point's day care center made similar allegations regarding ritual abuse: They too claimed they had been forced to eat feces and drink urine and also been transported from the base and photographed. One three-year-old child at West Point's day care center was taken to the hospital because of a lacerated vagina--the girl said a teacher had hurt her. The Army maintained it thoroughly investigated the abuse at West Point, but no indictments were returned against the children's perpetrators.
The ritual abuse described by the children at the Presidio and West Point day care centers was remarkably similar, so it begs a rather disturbing question: Were these children from disparate geographical locations actually abused in the same ritualistic manner or were they conjuring up the same, incomprehensible stories?
In The Franklin Scandal, I also discuss a cult called the Finders and a subsequent law enforcement investigation into their activities: On February 4, 1987, a concerned citizen notified the Tallahassee Police Department that he had observed six white children, poorly dressed, bruised, dirty, and behaving like wild animals, in a Tallahassee park. The children were accompanied by two well-dressed white males driving a white 1979 Dodge van with Virginia plates. The Tallahassee police responded to the call and took the children and adults into custody. The children told Tallahassee police they were not allowed to live indoors and were given food only as a reward. The Tallahassee police charged the two adults with felony child abuse, and they were held on a $100,000 bond. The children were placed in protective custody.
The Tallahassee police suspected child pornography, so they contacted the U.S. Customs Service (USCS), which has a Child Pornography and Protection Unit. Shortly thereafter, a detective from the Washington, DC Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) contacted special agent Ramon Martinez of the USCS, who was spearheading the investigation into the Finders. The MPD detective indicated that the Tallahassee arrests were probably linked to a case that he was investigating in the DC area, involving a cult called the Finders. An informant had conveyed to the detective that the Finders operated various businesses out of a warehouse in DC and housed children at a second warehouse. (I've attached a PDF containing the U.S. Customs report on the Finders.)
"The information was specific in describing blood rituals and sexual orgies involving children, and an as yet unsolved murder in which the Finders may be involved," wrote special agent Martinez in his USCS report.
The MPD and US Customs acquired a search warrant for the Washington, DC warehouses occupied by the Finders: The two warehouses would give investigators a series of grisly blood curdling discoveries as they executed the search warrant. They discovered a telex that specifically ordered the purchase of two children in Hong Kong to be arranged through a contact in the Chinese Embassy, a number of photographs of nude children with one appearing to be a child on display that accented the child's genitals, and also a photo album containing photos of adults and children dressed in white sheets that portrayed the execution, disembowelment, skinning, and dismemberment of the goats by the children. The US Customs report also relayed that the Finders had an interest in purchasing children, trading, and kidnapping.
"There were what appeared to be a training areas for the children and what appeared to be an alter set up in a residential are of the warehouse," wrote special agent Martinez in his report. Many jars of urine and feces were located in this area.
Newspapers around the country got wind of the story, ranging from The New York Times and Washington Post to the Orange County Register, and almost all of the articles pertained to the investigations launched by the Tallahassee police, MPD, and USCS. The earliest articles discussed the Finders probable involvement in Satanism, and a spokesman for the Tallahassee police said that one of the children showed signs of sexual abuse. Moreover, an FBI spokesman announced that the Finders were being investigated for the transportation of children across state lines for immoral purposes or kidnapping.
In The Franklin Scandal, I talk about how the CIA quashed the multiple jurisdiction investigation into the Finders: The two incarcerated Finders were sprung from jail and all child abuse charges were dropped, and the children would eventually be repatriated with the cult. Moreover, after the CIA's intervention into the case, I report on a news conference kicked off by MPD Chief Maurice Turner, Jr. At the news conference, Chief Turner backpedaled with ferocity, rejecting allegations that the Finders were involved in satanic rituals or child abuse. The chief also elevated the Finders from a cult to a communal group. He neglected to mention that the Finders were a communal group that reportedly had an interest in purchasing children, trading, and kidnapping. He omitted discussing the jars of feces and urine too.
In The Franklin Scandal, I also discuss the Extreme Abuse Survey (EAS), an international online survey for adult survivors of extreme abuse that was conducted between January 1 and March 30 of 2007. The EAS respondents were questioned about the use of feces and blood in their ritual abuse, and 1,106 of EAS respondents answered the questions regarding abuse with feces and blood. Fifty percent of EAS respondents said that they had been subjected to abuse with feces, and 63% responded that the use of blood was integral to their abuse. So like the victims of the Presidio and West Point day care centers, hundreds of EAS respondents, who come from a myriad of disparate locations around the globe, convey the same horrific, implausible events. (I've attached a PDF on the findings of the EAS)
Indeed, researchers in the field of ritual abuse feel that the strength of their findings is that the victims who claim to have been ritually abused are from disparate geographic locations and socioeconomic strata, but, yet, they describe the same improbable, horrific events, and studies have validated their contentions. A 1995 study published in The Journal of Psychohistory surveyed five organizations throughout the United states offering a hotline for children, including Childhelp USA, a bellwether in the advocacy and assistance for abused children: The study found that in 1992 roughly 23,000 calls reporting the ritual abuse of children had been logged by the five hotlines.
So the Presidio victims' claim that they were forced to eat feces and drink urine seems preposterous on the surface, but if their allegations are examined in the wider context of extreme abuse or ritual abuse, the children's allegations shed their implausibility, because they are corroborated by multiple sources from widely disparate geographic locations and points in time. However, skeptics of the accounts given by the Presidio victims and the hundreds of other alleged victims who discuss extreme or ritualistic abuse maintain that these memories were planted by therapists--therapists from widely disparate geographic locations and points in time.
The False Memory Syndrome (FMSF), founded in 1992, is the primary bellwether and cheerleader in the skeptics stance that therapists are guilty of implanting these horrific stories that have no basis in reality. The FMSF Advisory Board has members with lofty academic credentials who receive hefty fees for globetrotting around the world and acting as expert witnesses to debunk memories of child abuse.
In fact, in an earlier post, I mentioned that an FMSF Advisory Board member had debunked the dissociative amnesia or repressed memories of a former Boys Town student who claimed to have been molested by Boys Town priest Father James Kelly while he was a Boys Town student. The FMSF Advisory Board member who scored an assist in having the Boys Town molestation case thrown out of court was Harrison Pope, MD, a Harvard-based psychiatrist. Dr. Pope claimed that studies endorsing repressed memory tend to lack scientific validity and sometimes confuse simple forgetfulness with repressed memory. The judge sided with Boys Town and Dr. Pope and the molestation case was tossed out, even though Father James Kelly, by multiple accounts, is a serial child molester.
Despite the stance of the FMSF and its credential-laden experts, false memories or dissociative amnesia is recognized as a bona fide condition by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is the bible of diagnosing psychiatric conditions, whereas the false memory syndrome is not. Moreover, multiple studies have corroborated the realty of dissociative amnesia. A 1995 study, published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress, looked at 46 subjects with PTSD. Over time, 35 of the study's subjects reported the gradual emergence of a personal narrative that they believed could be defined as an explicit memory lost to significant or total amnesia, and 77% of those subjects reported confirmation of that particular memory of childhood trauma.
The principle tenet of the FMSF and its supporters--false memories are a syndrome affecting untold thousands--is looked upon with considerable mistrust in the therapeutic community. The majority of therapists acknowledge that false memories occur, but they don't see them as a syndrome permeating the masses. In fact, a number of therapists look upon the FMSF with suspicion and even contempt.
And one need not dig very deeply into the FMSF to converge with the macabre. The FMSF was founded by Peter and Pamela Freyd who were both academics: Peter was a mathematician and Pamela had a PhD in education. Though the Freyds were married, they were also stepsiblings--their respective parents had an affair and then married. The Freyds had two daughters and maintained that theirs was a wholesome, happy family.
But the Toronto Star reported that the Freyds starred in a perverse, alternate universe of Father Knows Best: Peter Freyd boasted to his small daughters about his sexual experiences as an eleven-year-old boy, calling himself a "male prostitute." He had at least one of his daughters, who was around ten years of age, dance naked in front of his friends with a fluffy Playboy bunny tail. Peter Freyd also encouraged his daughter Jennifer to read Lolita as a child, and he later kept a personalized cast model of his genitals on display in the family home--he was ultimately hospitalized for acute alcoholism.
The Freyds' oldest daughter Jennifer would earn a PhD in psychology and become an academic too. In 1990, the happily married, academically respected Jennifer started therapy, and, during her second therapeutic session, she told her therapist that she was anxious about an upcoming visit from her parents. Her therapist inquired if she had been abused as a child--she initially didn't recall the abuse but sitting at home after the session she was flooded with memories of incest: "I was shaking uncontrollably, overwhelmed with intense and terrible flashbacks," she later said.
Despite Jennifer's memories, she still consented to the visit by her parents. But in the midst of their visit, her father held up a turkey baster and told her two-year-old son that lesbians used the basters to artificially inseminate themselves. The next morning, Jennifer's husband asked the Freyds to leave, because of Peter's prior sexual abuse. Jennifer wanted the rift to be a private affair, but ten months later her mother anonymously published an article in Issues in Child Abuse Accusations, an obscure journal devoted to discrediting allegations of child abuse.
In the article, Pamela Freyd claimed her daughter had falsely accused her husband of incest and that the accusations arose during the course of therapy in which the therapist elicited repressed memories. The article also described Jennifer as sexually promiscuous, professionally unproductive, anorexic, and sexually frustrated. Pamela Freyd broke her anonymity and her daughter's anonymity regarding the article and sent it to Jennifer's superiors at the University of Oregon! The Freyds then formed FMSF. It should be noted that Jennifer's sister, Peter Freyd's brother, and his mother, who is Pamela's stepmother, all support Jennifer's accusations and are estranged from Peter and Pamela Freyd.
The Freyds recruited Ralph Underwager, a Lutheran theologian and psychologist, and his wife to be co-founders of the FMSF--Underwager and his wife published Issues in Child Abuse Accusations, which accommodated Pamela Freyd's initial assault on her daughter's credibility. Underwager would prove to have a relatively short tenure with the FMSF, because of various statements he made to the press. London's Sunday Times reported that Underwager said ''scientific evidence'' has shown that 60% of women who are molested as children felt that the experience was good for them--he contended the same could be true for boys.
Underwager, apparently speaking as a theologian, granted an interview to a Dutch pedophilia magazine where he discussed God's will and pedophilia: "The solution that I'm suggesting is that pedophiles become more positive," he said. "They should directly attack the concept, the image, the picture of the pedophile as an evil, wicked and reprehensible exploiter of children . . . Pedophiles need to become more positive and make the claim that pedophilia is an acceptable expression of God's will for love and unity among human beings." After Underwager's comments were circulated, he tendered his resignation from the FMSF's Advisory Board, but his wife continued to be a stalwart of the Advisory Board. (I've attached a Word document that contains multiple articles on the FMSF, and note most the of articles weren't published in the U.S.)
Despite the FMSF's heavy baggage with Peter Freyd and Ralph Underwager, the FMSF campaign to influence the media has been hugely successful. In 1995, PBS' Frontline aired a documentary on the false memory controversy, Divided Memories, which relied extensively on information provided by the FMSF--many therapists felt it had an unrepentant FMSF topspin and validated the syndrome. One of the programs viewers was William Freyd, brother of FMSF co-founder Peter Freyd, and he wasn't buying the notion of false memories put forth by Divided Memories--he even wrote a letter to Frontline:
Peter Freyd is my brother. Pamela Freyd is both my stepsister and my sister-in-law. Jennifer and Gwendolyn are my nieces....
The False Memory Syndrome Foundation is a fraud designed to deny a reality that Peter and Pam have spent most of their lives trying to escape. There is no such thing as a False Memory Syndrome. It is not, by any normal standard, a Foundation. Neither Pam nor Peter have any significant mental health expertise.
That the False Memory Syndrome Foundation has been able to excite so much media attention has been a great surprise to those of us who would like to admire and respect the objectivity and motives of people in the media.... We do not understand why you would "buy" such an obviously flawed story. But buy it you did, based on the severely biased presentation you made of the memory issue that Peter and Pam created to deny their own difficult reality.
For the most part, you presented very credible parents and frequently quite incredible bizarre and exotic, alleged victims and therapists. Balance and objectivity would call for the presentation of more credible alleged victims and more bizarre parents. While you did present some highly regarded therapists as commentators (Dr. Herman, for example), most of the therapists you presented as providers of therapy were clearly not in the main stream. While this selection of examples may make for much more interesting T.V., it most certainly does not make for objectivity and fairness.
I would advance the idea that "Divided Memories" hurt victims, helped abusers, and confused the public. I wonder why you thought these results would be in the public interest that Public Broadcasting is funded to support.
The origins of the FMSF are certainly steeped in the macabre, but, after further excavation, I found yet another stratum of strangeness with the FMSF: Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the CIA was involved in conducting a myriad of horrific and sadistic mind control experiments--some actually dealt with the erasing and implanting of memories--and Texas-based psychiatrist Dr. Colin Ross' book Bluebird connected various members of the FMSF's Advisory Board to the CIA's mind control experiments.
FMSF Advisory Board members, particularly members who Dr. Ross connected to the CIA's mind control programs, are extremely skeptical or completely disavow dissociation, a mental state where traumatic thoughts, emotions, sensations, and/or memories are compartmentalized, repressed and actually separated from an individual's identity. Though the overwhelming majority of the CIA's mind control documentation was ordered destroyed, bureaucratic ineptitude enabled some of it to survive and one set of documents said "special attention will be given to dissociative states."
In that specific experiment, the documentation discussed administering electric shock, drugs, hypnosis, and psychological tricks to three groups--psychotics, children, and mediums--to induce various states of dissociation, including multiple personality, which the researchers thought would enhance the subjects' extrasensory perception.
So the CIA's own documentation explicitly concedes that its mind control experimentation induced dissociative states, but, yet, the FMSF Advisory Board members who were affiliated with CIA mind control programs seem to deny dissociation or dissociative states. I've talked to several therapists who believe that the FMSF has been used by the CIA to cover its tracks concerning its mind control programs and the pathologies and liabilities induced by those programs.
EAS investigators questioned EAS respondents about the whether or not they knew if a government entity was involved in their abuse. Twenty-four percent of the 989 respondents to the question remembered being used in government-sponsored mind control experiments in the United States, and 8% remembered being used in government-sponsored mind control experiments in Canada.
The FMSF contends that therapists plant the fictitious memories of ritual abuse, which suggests that these therapists have religious or dogmatic agendas, but studies on therapists who diagnose ritual abuse indicate otherwise. Indeed, a study published in the Journal of Professional Psychology: Research and Practice looked at the question of whether or not therapists who work with ritual abuse victims had a tendency to be religious. The study looked at 497 Christian therapists and 100 members of the American Psychological Association who didn't have Christian affiliatons, and their respective diagnosises of dissociative disorder, sexual abuse, and ritual abuse. The study concluded that Christian therapists and APA members diagnosed dissociative disorder and sexual abuse with the same frequency, and Christian therapists' diagnosis of ritual abuse was only slightly higher than the APA members questioned. A second study I found, published in The Journal of Child Abuse & Neglect, concluded that religious beliefs had no relationship in the identification of ritual abuse.
I've commented very little on the vast evidence that supports the existence of ritual abuse, and those who want to read more on the subject shouldn't find it too difficult to acquire numerous peer-reviewed papers published in credible journals. So there's the extensively corroborated reality of ritual abuse, and, conversely, there's the propaganda campaign of the FMSF.
As I looked closer and closer at the FMSF, I concluded that it was a house of cards: A journalist merely has to scratch the surface of the FMSF to see that all is not well in the house of Freyd or that Underwager has a perverse outlook that is anathema to the vast majority of Americans. I then found myself wondering how the FMSF could have bamboozled Frontline and a myriad of other publications and news organizations that have trumpeted the FMSF's good deeds. I've also talked to numerous intelligent and rationale people over the years who sincerely believe that ritual abuse is almost exclusively the byproduct of therapists' planting memories in gullible, defenseless patients, because they've been so seduced by the FMSF propaganda promulgated by the mass media.
The Franklin Scandal demonstrates that the mass media has aided and abetted the cover up of child abuse, and, as I ventured deeper and deeper into Franklin, I heard the names of big-time media personalities who were possibly sexually compromised. Moreover, the CIA certainly has had an extensive history of infiltrating the media.
The CIA's infiltration of the media has been the crux of numerous books, so I'll just point out one facet of it, because I could easily get bogged down on just this subject alone. In the late 1940s, the CIA appointed Frank Wisner director of the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC), and he conjured up Mockingbird, an operation to influence the American media. Wisner reportedly recruited Philip Graham of the Washington Post to run the project within the industry. Deborah Davis authored Katharine the Great, about Washington Post owner Katherine Graham, and according to Davis: "By the early 1950s, Wisner 'owned' respected members of the New York Times, Newsweek, CBS and other communications vehicles." Wisner's OPC also started Touchstone as a CIA front, and Touchstone produced a movie version of Orwell's Animal Farm. It was decided to get the film made in Britain to disguise CIA involvement in the project, and E. Howard Hunt was even involved in the production of the film.
So I started out with the accusations about incomprehensible ritual abuse at the U.S. Army's Presidio base in San Francisco and also at West Point in the 1980s--accusations that were never prosecuted--and I ultimately followed a long and winding road to the FMSF, an organization with a dubious genesis, a suspect mission, and, perhaps, ties to the government. Despite the FMSF's tenuous tenets and rickety underpinnings, it's been embraced by the media and profoundly impacted Americans' attitudes about ritual abuse and dissociative amnesia. Though the FMSF has won the hearts and minds of millions of Americans, I can't help feeling extremely grateful that I didn't attend Boys Town when Father James Kelly was its director of spiritual affairs.
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Edited for spelling/style.