Tag Archives: Texas

From the Satanic Panic to 12 years in Texas prison

You’ve heard about the West Memphis 3? Meet the San Antonio 4.

Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh, Anna Vasquez and Cassandra Rivera have served 12 or more years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. So what were the women convicted of doing?

Satanic ritual abuse.

Yes, that again.

In, 1994, in the midst of the Satanic Panic, Ramirez’s nieces, 7 and 9, stayed with her for a week. Later, there were allegations that the girls were raped at gunpoint, by all four women, during that week. A doctor who examined the girls after they made their claims “thought she saw Satan’s hand in the unspeakable crimes described by the two young girls,” according to the San Antonio Current:

They described their aunt, Elizabeth Ramirez, with red wild eyes grabbing the girls and forcing them into her bedroom. … Kellogg, a widely respected child abuse expert and local pediatrician, examined the girls, deciding “this could be Satanic-related,” according to her exam notes. Based on her research and experience in the field, Kellogg later testified, “If there is a female perpetrator and there’s more than one perpetrator involved, there is a concern for [Satanic abuse].”

The prosecutors went even further, suggesting Satanic overtones even though they were forbidden from bringing up the subject directly in the courtroom:

“[T]he evidence is going to show that young woman over there held a nine-year-old girl up as a sacrificial lamb to her friends. … We’re going to ask you to believe a nine-year-old little girl who was sacrificed on the altar of lust.”

From there, prosecutors moved on to suggesting that some or all of the women might be lesbians. (Which is just about as relevant as Satanism accusations — which is to say, not at all relevant.)

So where did these ideas come from? It seems, as is often the case with such situations, that they came from the prosecutors themselves, which may explain why their stories made no sense:

the jury heard a maze of contradictions from the supposed victims. On and off the witness stand, their accounts changed, sometimes in dramatic fashion. The assaults happened at night, then in the morning, then in the afternoon while “Full House” was on TV. They were assaulted in the living room, or in the bedroom, either together or separate. Mayhugh wasn’t there. Or was she? Their father picked them up from the apartment following the assault. Then it was Ramirez and Mayhugh who drove them home. Ramirez pointed a gun at the girls as they spoke to their father on the phone, threatening them to keep quiet. Then, Ramirez and Vasquez each had guns. Then, only Vasquez had a gun.

This wasn’t the first time the girls had made such a claim. Earlier, they had told adults that they were assaulted by a “mysterious 10-year-old boy.” They made similar claims while their mother and father battled for custody, and again when their mother remarried. Although we should be careful to listen to children who say they were abused, it’s unlikely that this happened to them four times in their young lives. (Ramirez claims that the girls’ father had an unrequited passion for her; and when she rejected him, she believes he urged the girls to make the accusations against her.)

Oh, and one of their “victims” has since recanted.

There wasn’t much hard evidence against the San Antonio Four. Even examinations of their hymens weren’t conclusive — and then the doctor who photographed them said she couldn’t produce photos as courtroom evidence. All four of the accused have passed polygraph tests.

But they were convicted anyway. Three were sentenced to 15 years. Ramirez, the alleged ringleader, got 37.5 years in prison.

To bring light to their case, there’s a documentary in the works. Will it help spring them from prison? Will it remind the public the very real cost of fear and hysteria? How many more people remain in jail, convicted in the 1980s and 1990s of crimes they didn’t commit?

Young opera singer proves goth culture can nurture

Is it so surprising that a young goth man could have such talent?

The country is abuzz about Andrew De Leon, the 19-year-old who wowed the judges during an audition in Austin, TX this week on “America’s Got Talent.” Two things about De Leon have gotten people talking: his impressive, self-trained falsetto opera voice, and his goth-rock look.

The entertainment press is making a big deal of the fact that someone with his looks and style would sing the way he does. In fact, his look is making headlines everywhere, as though there weren’t tens of thousands of kids who dress similarly, inspired by the same shock-rockers who meant so much to De Leon growing up. This singer’s shy, isolated, outcast upbringing is typical for goth kids, both in the sense that he didn’t feel like he fit in, and in the sense that he turned to music and culture that nurtured him. Clearly his self-directed interests paid off, giving him the time and space to practice his talent — and knock the socks off everyone when he finally shared it. Here’s what he said about his adolescence:

“Growing up, I was a huge fan of Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie and all these different rock stars. They really became an escape for someone like me, who felt that I was an outsider. Growing up, I was alienated because I was never interested in athletics or what everybody else in my family was interested in. Singing was always an escape. It was always a comfort zone. Being on ‘America’s Got Talent’ is a huge step for someone like me, who’s never sang in public before, never sang in front of even my family. I think my days of being shy and of being an outcast have reached their end, and I’d like to be able to really show what I can do.”

Getting on that stage was clearly a moving experience for him — and for the audience. When Howard Stern asked him what he was thinking after he sang, he said, “I’m just so used to being rejected, and I’m not really good at anything, so this is amazing.”

(I have to wonder what was running through Sharon Osbourne’s mind, watching him, recognizing that the bloodlines of her husband’s work led directly to this young man singing before her. She had to have been proud.)

Here’s the thing: listen to him talk. He knows what he likes. He knows what he’s into. He knows why he got into it, and he knows why it was good for him. He’s not a 40-year-old with 25 years of hindsight; he’s 19, and he knows. Clearly, he amassed some confidence, enough confidence to get up on that stage and reveal his talent and ability, something he’s obviously worked on.

In a culture where some believe “Goth Will Destroy Your Child” or “God Hates Goths,” where people still believe Marilyn Manson is still somehow responsible for the Columbine High School massacre, De Leon is living proof that goth culture can be profoundly nurturing, too.

EDIT: A new video has surfaced of Andrew performing “Ave Maria” a capella — probably in his bedroom — in corpsepaint, a Misfits shirt, and skeleton gloves. Maybe he’s less pure goth and more shock-rock. I suspect we’ll find out more as he performs on AGT. Check it out:

Best way to piss off a customer: write “Satanic” symbols on the underside of her car

The oil change of the beast.

An oil-change mechanic at a Walmart in Ft. Worth is in hot water after a customer discovered some graffiti on the underside of her Mustang. The woman claims the graffiti (above) reads “666,” and includes an upside-down cross and pentagram.

(Of course, I’m wondering if it doesn’t have a right-side-up pentagram, a regular cross, and “999.” Maybe he’s a supporter of Herman Cain’s tax plan. Right?)

A worker at another Walmart tipped her off to the writings, pointing out that they were written in the same color blue used by most Walmart oil-change stations. She remembered having a bad encounter last time she’d had her oil changed, at a Walmart in a different part of Ft. Worth. Here’s what she said:

“He had an attitude,” the customer says about the Walmart worker who she believes is responsible for the writing. “Very sassy. By the time it was all said and done, I spent about three hours at that Walmart just for an oil change.”

This all sounds very fishy to me. Was the attitude problem 100% on the mechanic’s side of the situation? That’s really beside the point. Here’s what she said about the writings:

“Who does that? Being the Satanic symbols, it puts a bad omen. I mean, what if it’s a curse?”

It is not a curse. It’s a random assortment of symbols associated with rebellion against Christianity. When you look up Satanic curse on Google, what do you see? A bunch of gossip and hearsay. You don’t see these symbols (and certainly not all put together). You don’t even see any examples of real Satanic curses, because it’s just not that common and it’s not done based on a formula.

This is just like any other vandalism — it’s there to freak you out, to get a rise out of you, and it only works because we have such fearful misconceptions about these symbols.

And it worked. Not only did it frighten this customer, but it’s now all over the Internet.

I’m not saying the Walmart worker should have done this. Of course he shouldn’t have. But this is no different from him writing “fuck you” on the underside of the car. There’s no Satanism, no magic, behind it.

So let’s please just take some deep breaths and move on.

Marilyn Manson gets burned again

Christina Paz told police that Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails’ music told her to burn her dad’s house. Should we buy it? Photo by Flickr user Pipistrula.

Here we go again.

Christina Paz, a 29-year-old El Paso resident, set fire to her father’s house two days after Christmas. Nobody was hurt in the blaze, though the home was seriously damaged. Paz told police that she set the fire because there were messages in Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails’ music telling her to do it.

Those same bands, she said, also told her that:

“her mom and dad for trying to kill her on Christmas Day, that they had planned to sodomize her and chop her up with the help of a neighbor.”

These are some outrageous, likely psychotic, beliefs. And yet, they’re reported practically as fact by the El Paso Times reporter, alongside facts such as Paz grew up in the house, her father was in a nursing home, and her relationship with him was “complicated.”

Her arson method? She painted a bed with super glue, then struck a match. When police arrived, she was standing in the front yard, and turned herself in. She’s being held on bail.

Unfortunately, her arrest makes it less likely that she will be evaluated for the number of medical causes of psychosis, from brain tumors and infections to hormonal imbalances and some forms of epilepsy. This woman needs a competent doctor, not a prison sentence.

Meanwhile, we see two bands dragged through the mud, however falsely. For the record, neither band has songs that encourage people to set fires (or suggest that their families plan to victimize them in the way Paz believed). Manson was falsely implicated in the Columbine High School shootings, even though Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were not fans of the band. Erroneous reporting by overly eager reporters led to the idea that this music could incite violence, and the reputation has stuck, many debunkings later.

There has never been any proof that music alone can provoke violent behavior. The many, many court cases that have attempted to prove a link have been thrown out. And fans of music — loud, angry music especially — says the music soothes them, calms their more aggressive impulses. It doesn’t worsen them.

Who are you going to listen to: the one music fan who claims she heard hidden, arson-fueled messages in the music and acted upon them, or the millions of fans who didn’t?

Religious leaders see monsters — in teens

Does vampire fiction make teens more likely to commit evil crimes? Some seem to think so. Photo by Flickr user drurydrama (Len Radin).

Halloween is coming soon, and people are already seeking spooks.

Specifically, adults in religious communities around the world think they’re seeing monsters — in teenagers.

In South Africa, a foster teen’s parents discovered some of her poetry and sketchbooks and are now convinced that the 14-year-old has a secret double life with a Satanic cult. Because that’s the first thing that leaps to mind, right? In one sketch, the girl drew Jesus on the cross and then wrote, “He lied/He cried/He died.” On another page, a poem reads:

Lucifer was here and now he is gone.
Maybe we should try and just carry on.
The devil is cool, he is fly.
The beast is the apple of his eye.
Satan is our king and he wears the crown.
And he ain’t letting us walk with a frown…”

(I had to check and make sure these aren’t song lyrics. As far as I can tell, they aren’t.)

When the girl’s foster mother found the diaries — apparently while the girl was away — her assumption was that the girl is part of a Satanic cult. Her response? She took them to the local newspaper, which then turned the poor girl’s diaries over to a minister for examination. It starts out well enough:

“She feels very rejected and it’s normal for young people to try and find their identity,” [Father Mike Williams] says, paging through the books.

Oh, but then he had to go on…

“Even though one can see she’s already delved deep into this whole thing, this doesn’t mean that she’s possessed.

“We must see if she has given her soul to the devil or took part in a black mass.”

… What??

It is, as Williams points out, totally natural for teens to begin questioning Christianity, if it’s the religion they were raised with. Some come back; some don’t. Since many teens are vulnerable to black-and-white thinking, they sometimes combine that questioning with an exploration of the polar opposite — in this case, Satanism. Sometimes it’s an honest exploration of faith. Sometimes it’s a way to draw concern from parents who might not be paying attention in the way a teen craves.

Foster children are especially vulnerable to post-traumatic stress disorder, abandonment issues, and depression. According to one study, 60 percent of former foster kids suffered signs of depression. To me, the drawings and poems from this South African girl sound like the product of loneliness and perhaps depression — but not “Satanic cult” activity. Her mother should consider finding her some counseling, not an exorcist.

Such suspicions are not restricted to South Africa, however. In a recent article published in several Christian newspapers, Thomas Horn (author of books such as The Gods Who Walk Among Us and Invisible Invasion) goes on at length about teen vampire and werewolf fiction. The article, penned by Eryn Sun, draws links between such fiction and a handful of crimes in which young people pretended to be vampires.

Before we get into that, let’s look at some of the bizarre things Horn has to say:

“Psychologists have long understood how women in general desire strength in men, but few could have imagined how this natural and overriding need by young ladies would be used in modern times to seduce them of their innocence using mysteriously strong yet everlastingly damned creatures depicted in popular books and films like Twilight, New Moon, and Eclipse.”

I can barely get past the sexism in this quote, but I’ll try: he’s saying that women’s need for strong men somehow makes them crave vampire fiction in which the men in question are powerful vampires. At least, I think that’s what he’s saying.

But then Sun uses these examples to illustrate Horn’s point:

Just a few months ago, a 19-year-old in Texas, claiming to have been a 500-year-old vampire needing to be fed, broke into a woman’s home, threw her against the wall, and tried to suck her blood.

Another instance in Florida involved a teenage girl who was charged along with four others for beating a 16-year-old to death. They were part of a purported vampire cult, with one teenage girl calling herself a vampire/werewolf hybrid.

Where are the girls craving powerful, vampiric men in these examples?

Oh, Horn does go on, arguing that modern horror fiction is different from that of the past, because the new monsters are “impervious to Christ’s power.” In turn, that means young readers and viewers “have exchanged yesterday’s pigtails and pop-guns for pentagrams and blood covenants aligned with forces far stronger than former generations could have imagined.” I’m not sure how many Twilight and True Blood viewers have actually made blood covenants with any “forces,” but I’d bet it’s not many (and, it’s a legitimate spiritual pursuit if they want to — after all, we are guaranteed freedom of religion by the First Amendment).

It’s true that, once in a while, a young person commits violence. Occasionally, that violence is inspired by horror tales. But that’s because violent people occasionally enjoy horror tales — not because the horror tales somehow inspire the violence.

These are, unfortunately, the kinds of messages that can make some deeply religious people question or even fear teenagers — their own, or other people’s. Such questioning and fear leads these teens, who often already feel isolated and different (and therefore unaccepted, or unacceptable), to feel far worse about themselves. That can’t lead anywhere good. Parents and pastors who truly want to help these kids need to love them, listen to them, understand them, and meet them halfway, not put the Biblical smackdown on them when they’re already vulnerable.

Do you think horror fiction is unhealthy for teen audiences? Does it inspire criminal activity, or put their souls at risk? Does the South African girl really belong to a Satanic cult?

God loves heavy metal (so I know he must want me)

Thy Kingdom Come combines heavy metal with sermonizing in Texas.

Heavy metal and religion have always had a tight-knit (if sometimes fraught) relationship. Sure, many bands are secular, but the imagery — particularly the skulls, pentagrams, upside-down crosses — of early metal evoked a religious or anti-religious sentiment. Some genres are even more devoted to one religious idea or another. Black metal often features pagan or Satanic lyrics, while unblack metal takes a more pro-Christian stance. Folk metal is heavily influenced by pagan and mythological themes. There’s even Jewish metal and Muslim metal.

There’s also Christian metal, which makes some people think of Stryper or, more recently, P.O.D. As we’ve discussed before on Backward Messages, heavy metal music itself is akin to religion for many fans, so it makes sense to combine this intense, enveloping, thrilling music with lyrics that speak to the divine — whatever your experience of the divine may be.

In Corpus Christi, Texas, St. John’s Church, a Methodist ministry, hosts a heavy metal service. Behind the pulpit is Thy Kingdom Come, a metalcore band which sings — and screams — Jesus’ message. Since metal often appeals to misfits, putting metal into the church makes sense if you want to bring those misfits back into the fold:

“We go to a lot of Christian metal shows and we saw all these people who didn’t go to church because they were judged,” said [David] Pallotti. “That’s not what church is supposed to be.”

He said the service reaches out to the tattooed, the outcasts or those who feel they have no other place to go.

So far, it’s working, according to regular attendees:

“It’s life changing to be here,” she said. “There is something about the feeling you get. I guess that’s what they mean when they say the presence of God. It’s just so touching.”

Bringing Christian metal into the church raises some interesting questions. For example, there are people who say that all heavy metal is evil. There are others who study whether kids actually listen to the lyrics. Can heavy metal convey a Christian message if you don’t listen to the words? Is it the music or the lyrics that make heavy metal “Satanic”? Does this music belong in church?

Televangelist Hagee says humanists, pagans fill “mental hospitals and singles bars”

Cornerstone Church pastor John Hagee. Photo by Flickr user Old Shoe Woman.

John Hagee, televangelist and senior pastor at the evangelical megachurch known as the Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, TX, apparently has it in for pagans, witches, Harry Potter, secular humanists, and lesbian parents. In one of his latest semons, he rails against these evils and the problems he says they cause:

Secular humanism is a pagan god and America is bowing at the shrine. It has filled our drug rehab centers. It has filled the divorce courts. It has filled the shelter for battered wives. It has filled the rape crisis centers. It has filled the mental hospitals and singles bars. It has filled the penitentiaries and the [guest rosters] for the brain-dead television shows from New York. Think about that. We’re in a moral free-fall. When your children can be taught witchcraft by Harry Potter, that Heather has two mommies, you can substitute Christmas for a midwinter holiday. Call it anything you want to, but don’t call it Christmas. Kick God out of the Christmas event…

It goes on from there.

Now, I know such remarks are not meant to be based in facts or logic, and to expect otherwise is to be both foolish and disappointed. These are comments directed to a specific group of people whose values center on faith and the teachings of the Bible, and Hagee’s words are right in line with both.

And yet, here we are, almost in 2012. Our understanding of both pagan faiths and non-religious belief systems, such as secular humanism, is better than ever. But to folks like Hagee, and the people who follow his work, these beliefs all fall into the same junkpile, the one with the big neon sign labeled “evil.” Or at least labeled “morally corrupt.” It’s all a big slippery slope that starts with rejecting religious dogma and ends with jailtime. (What are the beliefs among prisoners in Hagee’s home state? According to one census, 30% are baptist and 18% are Catholic. Hmmm. Ooops, there I go, injecting pesky “facts” into the discussion again.)

Still, it bothers me (and, I suspect, many pagans) that folks on the fence would hear Hagee’s very compelling sermon and come to believe that secular humanism is bad. Or that secular humanism is paganism, since Hagee seems to conflate the two. Or that paganism is bad. Or that Harry Potter teaches witchcraft to kids. (Memo to Hagee: Catholics don’t believe that anymore.) Or that kids learning witchcraft is bad.

Or, you know, that Christians were the inventors of the winter holiday.

Then again, this man claimed that New Orleans was struck by Hurricane Katrina because God wanted to prevent a planned gay-rights rally from taking place.

Fortunately, Hagee has some highly placed critics, such as Bill Moyers, who challenged the name of one of Hagee’s organizations: “Someone who didn’t know better could imagine from the very name Christians United For Israel — CUFI — that pastor John Hagee speaks for all Christians. Well, he doesn’t.”

Are there people who take pastors like John Hagee seriously? Why do they do so? And what’s the best way of injecting reason into the debate?