I’ve been a member of The Satanic Temple (TST) since December 2017, and in that time there’ve been occasional accusations of crypto-fascism, alt-rightism, and Nazism against TST by both outsiders and former members. This article is about why I choose to remain in the Satanic Temple despite these accusations, and why I find these accusations lacking in credibility.
Before I continue with this discussion, though, I need to make a few clarifications:
I am in no way a leader or spokesperson for TST. I’m not even part of a local chapter – I’m a solo Satanist who identifies with the Satanic Temple. This article is not written from a position of official leadership, but from my limited perspective as a rank-and-file member. It’s likely that, due to my limited perspective, that there are details that I miss.
That said, I do have a bias: I have a fairly popular Satanic blog, podcast, and a big social media presence in the TST community. I consider myself good friends with Penemue, (Director of Ministry, Executive Producer of TST TV, former International Council Member) and we text regularly. I’ve had quite a few TST leaders on my show. My articles are frequently shared by Lucien Greaves and the official TST twitter account, and while I wouldn’t consider Lucien close enough to be called a friend, I do admire him, and he has guested on my podcast twice so far.
Finally, nothing in this article means I won’t be compelled to leave in the future. While I think it’s unlikely, it’s possible that TST will make some extraordinary mishap that will require me to follow my conscience and distance myself from the organization. As a Satanist, that option must always be available to me. While I haven’t seen anything in the organization so far that conflicts with my conscience, that doesn’t mean there won’t be something that does in the future.
With that out of the way, let’s begin.
Lucien’s Moment of Cringe
Back in 2003, before he was Lucien Greaves and instead known as Doug Mesner, Lucien had a cringy podcast conversation with Shane Bugbee in which he said some concerning things, and many of the accusations against TST orbit around this moment. Joseph Laycock chronicles the cringiest moments on page 69 in his book Speak of the Devil:
The tone of the podcast is sophomoric and intentionally offensive in keeping with Bugbee’s philosophy of Satanism. In the exchange in question, Mesner states, “It’s OK to hate Jews” if this hatred is based in contempt for their supernatural beliefs but that, “It’s not OK to hate Jews” if this hated is based in racism or ideas of eugenics. Bugbee then asks Mesner, “Do you like Satanic Jews?” Mesner answers, “Satanic Jews are fine.” Bugbee replies, “One drop of Jew blood means you ain’t breaking bread with me, motherfucker.” At this, someone on the podcast can be heard laughing. Mesner starts to respond, at which point Bugbee accuses Mesner of being Jewish himself. In what may have been an attempt to disarm the situation, Mesner then replies, “Look at me, I’m an Aryan king.” This is met with more laughter. This exchange is followed by a more serious discussion by Bugbee’s wife, Amy, about how Jews exaggerated the numbers killed in the Holocaust and have exploited it for political gain, during which Mesner is silent.
Let me go ahead and get this out of the way: in my opinion, this whole conversation – including Lucien’s part in it — is gross and unacceptable. I think it’s reasonable to be concerned by this conversation. While Lucien doesn’t take as hard a stance as Shane Bugbee and his wife, he also doesn’t do much to mitigate the rampant bigotry on display in this public conversation, and I personally see that as a failure. I think that when we see racism on display, we should oppose it. Lucien might have attempted to do that by insisting he doesn’t have a problem with Satanic Jews, but it’s a milquetoast attempt at best.
But also, in my opinion, Lucien is not demonstrating deliberate anti-Semitism in this conversation, but poorly articulated anti-theism. It’s all too easy for a broad anti-theist, anti-religion sentiment to be interpreted as anti-specific-ethnic-religious-community. Anti-theists (ideally) don’t object to the ethnic or cultural identity, but to the supernatural beliefs that they deem dangerous. Perhaps I’m being too charitable in my interpretation of Lucien’s words, but I don’t hear him being consciously anti-Jewish, because he clearly specifies that he doesn’t have a problem with Satanic Jews. That suggests it’s the supernatural beliefs he objected to, not the identity. Shane Bugbee and his wife, on the other hand, are unapologetically antisemitic.
While Lucien is expressing poorly articulated anti-theism, that doesn’t make it harmless in impact. He might not have intended to come off as anti-Semitic, but the impact of his words is still dismissive and insensitive to a persecuted religious minority. It’s entirely possible to do something racist even when we don’t consciously mean to. That’s what it means to live in a culture of systemic racism and bigotry.
So, to recap: 1. I think this whole podcast conversation is gross and unacceptable. 2. I think he’s trying to articulate anti-theism, not anti-Semitism. 3. Regardless of his intent, the impact of his words is still anti-semitic.
This entire conversation is made more complicated by the fact that it was recorded to commemorate the release of a new addition of Ragnar Redbeard’s protofascist booklet Might is Right, which Lucien illustrated. I think it’s reasonable to be concerned about this situation. Lucien’s position isn’t exactly clear through this whole episode.
I reached out to Lucien for comment and he emailed me an internal TST statement that was sent to chapter heads. The statement is long, but I think the whole thing needs to be read and digested in full:
Dear Chapter Heads,
It was recently brought to the attention of The Satanic Temple that a snippet from a 15-year old “Might is Right” radio show featuring our co-founder Lucien Greaves (aka Doug Mesner) is being widely distributed via social media. This is not the first time this audio has been shared within the community as a point of concern and Lucien has spoken on the matter each time but given the expansion of our organization, we feel it necessary to provide a more formal communication to be made available for your own edification as well as a helpful reference for addressing the concerns of your members.
This audio, which was heavily edited out of context, was recorded in 2003, well over a decade before the creation of The Satanic Temple (TST). It was taken from a 24-hour radio show featuring Lucien which covered a broad range of topics, music, and interviews with various subversive personalities of the time. In the clip, Lucien disparages Jewish religious practices in a manner that the organization and Lucien acknowledge as both inappropriate and unfortunate; however, he does clarify that it is reprehensible that people would blame a bloodline for the questionable behavior and supernatural beliefs of a religion and we should be especially cognizant of the fact that what our critics are saying he said isn’t actually the point or content of what’s being communicated.
Lucien wishes to communicate the following:
“Even as I may be defending myself against what that material was NOT, I still must admit that I today do not agree with my opinions expressed then in any way. To me, back then, I was speaking of people who would take, say, Leviticus literally and try to impose its laws upon the world. I grew up as ignorant white trash in a deeply divided and violent area which heavily affected my world view. At the time of this recording, while still in my early twenties, I thought that the triumph of Laveyan Satanism was that it de-racialized a “survival of the fittest” productive, merit-based social darwinism. I used to hold the position that religious superstition shouldn’t be “normalized” as I saw it as such a problematic force in the world. My assumption then was that if we scoffed at such expressions openly, those expressing such things might think about their superstitions more clearly and abandon them. The founding of TST was ultimately a refutation of that viewpoint, a product of my complete removal from that mode of thinking. To me, there were “the religious,” and they were the majority, and then there were the beleaguered nonreligious who suffered from the dogmatic impositions of the religious. I would speak of superstitions in equally dismissive terms with unfortunate lack of concern, due to no real understanding, of familial/cultural attachments, or the effect of such rhetoric upon minority religious groups. I was an ignorant kid with a lot of outrage and a big idiot mouth that received just as many threats to my life by Nazis as I do today. TST will always be for anybody, of any background, who identifies with the values we espouse, and today, you can count on me to vigorously defend any religious group’s right to equal representation and expression anywhere.”
As Satanists who are members of the Satanic Temple, we recognize the relevance of our Sixth Tenet in this matter: “People are fallible. If one makes a mistake, one should do one’s best to rectify it and resolve any harm that might have been caused.”
We ask you to recognize that people do change their opinions over the course of 15 years, and Lucien is no exception. Our organization, its members, and all levels of leadership remain committed to the spirit of equality and compassion in Satanism and reject all forms of bigotry, hatred, and activity that conflicts with our community values and tenets.
I think Lucien made a mistake in this whole incident. I also accept his apology as reasonable and sincere. I’m content to move on. Yet, despite Lucien’s continued attempts to clarify his positions, TST’s accusers pull this incident out as proof of Lucien’s depravity, and his apparent antisemitism, fascism, Nazism, or what have you.
This is where shit gets complicated. Let me back up and provide some of my background and thinking on leftist discourse in general. I’m starting to think that the left has two nearly irreconcilable worldviews, and that this rift is causing incalculable upheaval in leftist communities. I will call these two views Contagion and Conversion.
The Conversion Left
I am a Conversion Leftist. I believe that the future of humanity depends on humanity doing better. I want a broad left movement that includes reformed criminals, Nazis, racists, former white supremacists etc. To me, a reformed Nazi is a triumph, because that means that Nazi won’t be able to hurt people in the way they used to. To me, a formerly homophobic pastor realizing they are wrong is a triumph, because it means the vulnerable gay kids in his church will be less abused.
Because I’m a Conversion Leftist, I celebrate any occasion when someone changes their mind in favor of leftism, regardless of how toxic their former beliefs. Progress is not inevitable, and if we don’t actively fight for progress, I fear that fascism, racism, and tyranny will win. While we are wringing our hands in our leftist enclaves, the far-right Christian nationalist movement is wasting no time in turning every level of our nation into a bigoted Christian theocracy. I will do everything I can to fight the fascists, and even win them to my side. (An important caveat: do I believe that all fascists can be converted? Of course not. Many of them are too far gone. But many – especially the young ones who are still on the fascist pipeline of radicalization – can still be changed.)
I believe this because – and I hate to break it to you – I was once a far right, racist, homophobic, libertarian shitgibbon. I was part of Ron Paul’s revolution, I believed in States rights to make homosexuality illegal, and I suspected that black people were fundamentally less than white people. I carved up my own flesh with razors because I was a deeply homophobic gay person. I believed that God condemned homosexuality, and that I was called to a life of celibacy or marriage with a woman. I thought that trans identities were mental illness. Years later, after I’d come out and found some more moderate views, the Alt-Right came along, and it spoke to me in a visceral way. You can read about that experience in my article about Sam Harris. I was on the cusp of intense radicalization by the online right.
What saved me were people who took the time to communicate with me. My dear friend Miss Ida Carolina – the incredible drag queen – loved me enough in college to spend time with me and push back against my toxic beliefs. It was hard, thankless work on her part, but after years of planting those seeds, I came to see that she was correct, and I was wrong. Later, when I was teetering on the brink of the Alt-right pipeline and I was in the thrall of Jordan Peterson and Sargon of Akkad, it was online creators like ContraPoints, the Liturgists, and Michael Brooks who helped pull me back from the ledge.
I believe in redemption because I myself have been redeemed. People tell me, again and again, that engaging with people on the right is pointless, but that flies in the face of my lifetime of experience. Not only have I changed my mind, I’ve watched countless others change their minds, too.
None of this means that we should place abusers, rather the minorities they abuse, at the center of our activism. Of course not. What it does mean that we can and should have a diversity of tools to fight against injustice.
I don’t believe that Lucien was an ideological fascist, but if he was, I would still celebrate his change of heart demonstrated in the statement above. I would see his obvious leftist sentiments as a victory for the left and for minorities, understanding that his conversion means one less bigoted white man who can exact harm on defenseless minorities. I would welcome him into the fold with open arms.
The Contagion Left
And then there is the Contagion left. The Contagion Left seems to see fascism, nationalism and Nazism as a spiritual quality which can infect a person with secret inner evil. Come into close contact with a fascist, or follow someone undesirable on twitter, and you are now a carrier of untraceable but undeniable evil.
Not only does this spiritual contagion travel between people, it travels through time. To the Contagion Leftist, I will never be clean of my fundamentalist past — I am forever tarnished, forever a carrier of viral spiritual fascism, like latent chickenpox. Never mind the fact that I simply don’t believe those things anymore, and that I actively work against them. Never mind that I’ve repeatedly denounced my former beliefs, and that I’m ashamed of them. I’m forever tarnished.
Interestingly, the contagion never flows in the opposite direction. I never see the Contagion Left celebrating a leftist being friends with a rightwinger, because their leftism might itself be contagious. It’s only the right that is contagious. The same applies to personal history: Contagion Leftists don’t see a change from right-wing ideology as a redemption of that person’s views, but rather they see their current leftism as tainted by their previous views.
An additional hallmark of Contagion Leftism is assuming guilt before it is established, and then expecting innocence to be proven. Sorry, but that’s not how mature skepticism works. Guilt must first be established with adequate evidence. Until then, we must assume the suspect “not guilty.” Remember, “not guilty” does not mean innocent. It’s rather the neutral state prior to sufficient evidence. It’s reasonable to be concerned about Lucien’s comments, and expect further clarification. It is quite another thing to accuse him of fascism based on what is, in my opinion, inadequate evidence.
Let me lay all my cards on the table at this point: I think Contagion Leftism is destined for failure. I think it creates a fragile, brittle leftism that forces its believers into delicate enclaves that can’t possibly last or effect meaningful change in the world. I think it results in a profound lack of conviction about what one believes: if you are so frightened of contamination, I seriously question how firmly you believe in leftism in the first place. Change means getting one’s hands dirty, but to the Contagion Left, dirty hands are comparable to having blood on your hands.
Here’s what I’m not saying: that you should be friends with fascists, homophobes, or racists. Most of us shouldn’t. We need to take care of ourselves first, and for many of us who are hurt by hateful ideologies, that means protecting ourselves within affirming communities. What I am saying is that it is misguided to insist that other leftists are obligated to never engage with right-wing figures. There is a profound difference here between self care and ideology. Not engaging with people on the right for your own safety and wellbeing is good and proper. Believing that other people shouldn’t because it is morally wrong to do so is stupid and backwards.
So what does all this have to do with Lucien Greaves?
I think that, in Lucien’s case, we see all of the aspects of the Contagion Left at work. We see people assuming he’s a fascist and then expecting that to be disproven, before his fascism was even established as true. Lucien champions diversity and pluralism, yet despite that he is tarnished by some gross comments he made twenty years ago. Even if he was a fascist, I don’t care. In my opinion, his present character speaks for itself. If he was a fascist, I celebrate that he is (clearly) not one any longer. I see his previous attitudes as redeemed by his current convictions, rather than vice-versa.
The theory of contagion applies to other accusations against Lucien and TST. When he hired Marc Randazza, Alex Jones’s attourney, pro bono for a free speech suit, he was suddenly tarnished by that association. The Right Wing cooties infected Lucien, despite the fact that, if Marc is right-wing, he is actively working against his own interests by aiding TST. Again, no one celebrates the possibility of Lucien’s leftism rubbing off on Randazza. The contagion only flows in a single direction, rendering us all fearful and ineffective.
I think that nearly every attack on Lucien Greaves and TST is an example of Contagion Leftism. It’s not about creating a better Temple, it’s about fear of infection. Are there valid critiques of TST? Of course. Those criticisms, more often then not, come from members and leaders who care deeply about the future of TST.
So why do I remain in TST? I believe in the activism and legal work they are engaging in. Supporting that work makes me feel like I’m contributing to the fight against injustice. I align myself with the Seven Tenets, and believe they are the best expression of my moral code. TST has become my family in a way previous churches never have. I love being in a place where women and LGBT people are not a minority, and where I don’t feel like a freak just for existing. And, where there are inequalities, I see TST struggling to repair those issues. I stay because I see TST – an imperfect organization made up of flawed human beings – working hard to fulfill the second tenet: “The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.”
But that’s just me. What do you think? Please feel free to write me an email and let me know.
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