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This week, Jezebel published an in-depth investigation into the internecine drama currently roiling The Satanic Temple, a group that originally started as a trolling, social-advocacy group, and that has evolved into what writer Anna Merlan describes as a “genuine spiritual home” for a lot of people.
The complicated saga involves Twitter, a lawsuit, the alt-right, and somehow, ’80s child-star Corey Feldman. Here’s everything we know.
The Satanic Temple, or TST, was founded in 2012 by “Malcolm Jarry” and “Lucien Greaves” (real name: Doug Mesner) as a “nontheistic religion” that would use satire and trolling to undermine what they saw as autocratic and hypocritical political structures.
In other words, they’re an atheistic organization, but conduct themselves as a religion; in recent years, they’ve gained notoriety by conducting a series of stunts meant to expose various erosions in the separation of church and state. These include, among other things, suing the state of Missouri over an anti-abortion law by saying it violated their religious liberty, and attempting to erect a ten-foot-tall statue of the deity Baphomet next to a statue of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the Oklahoma state capitol.
To The Satanic Temple, Satan isn’t real, but rather a “metaphorical construct by which we contextualize our works.” But the group has grown over time into something of a sanctuary for those who embrace its central tenets — which many members feel are akin to deeply held spiritual beliefs — including that “one should strive to act with compassion and empathy towards all creatures in accordance with reason,” and “the freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend.”
Again, TST doesn’t genuinely believe in Satan, but they get very real threats nonetheless, since the whole “Satan” thing upsets people a lot. Their Twitter lawsuit stems from an incident in January, in which a woman called for the group’s headquarters in Salem, Massachusetts, to be burned down, writing, “A church like this Should not exist! Burn it! Blame Hillary I don’t care! It’s gutta go.”
Twitter later restored Greaves’s account, but he threatened to sue them on the grounds of religious discrimination.
“If this were a threat against any other place of congregation, I’m certain Twitter would have responded much differently,” Greaves said. “Twitter has explicit policies against targeting religious groups and against calls for violence against groups and individuals, but they arbitrarily decided that those rules don’t apply when the threats are directed toward us.”
In May, he filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.
Feldman, a devout and vocal Christian who has said that he turned to religion after being allegedly sexually abused as a child and entering rehab, retweeted the woman’s call for arson, sharing it with his tens of thousands of followers. It is not the first time he has angrily tweeted about satanism.
When TST filed the complaint against Twitter in May, the org was represented by First Amendment attorney Marc Randazza. Randazza has represented several far-right clients, including Andrew Anglin, the founder of the neo-Nazi, white supremacist website The Daily Stormer, and alt-right personality Mike Cernovich, whom he described to The Daily Beast as “an A-plus level friend, and the kind of rare soul now where you can really trust his word as his bond.”
The decision to enlist Randazza rubbed many TST members the wrong way. This weekend, the Los Angeles branch of TST announced it was withdrawing from the group, and renaming itself The Satanic Collective, in part because of Randazza’s involvement in the lawsuit.
“We view Marc Randazza as a Twitter troll and an agent of the alt-right,” they wrote in a statement on Instagram. “We believe in most of The Satanic Temple’s causes, its tenets, and its core mission, and we understand the value of the community The Satanic Temple provides […] but we cannot endorse it or be a part of it anymore. We cannot look past partnering with bigots and Nazi sympathizers and justifying that with inapposite and white supremacist appeals to free speech.”
Greaves defended the decision to Jezebel, pointing out that TST is somewhat limited in their choice of legal representation, and that Randazza agreed to work pro bono.
“Often, we don’t get pro bono support, and for some things, like this, it was pro bono or nothing,” he said. “And this was the one person wanting to take the case pro bono. We could fight against discrimination against our viewpoint, or we could do nothing thinking ourselves superior for not sharing the legal system with the other side. I prefer to play to win than to play the martyr.”
The fracturing within TST is not solely due to its retention of Randazza. On Monday, Jex Blackmore, the former national spokesperson for TST posted a lengthy Medium post explaining why she decided to leave the organization back in March. She wrote, “It became clear to me that TST leadership was unwilling or unable to address its capacity issues and tackle head-on its lack of inclusion and equitability,” and that “over the years, members and chapter heads have requested and proposed the implementation of a gender, sexual, and racial diversity policy to ensure equity within TST leadership and alignment to the mission. The demand was not simply ignored but completely dismissed.”
Other current TST members disagreed with this characterization, and that the organization would “continue to actively encourage more diverse members for leadership roles.”
Greaves told Jezebel in an email, “I’m fighting for TST, I’m fighting for Satanists. Satanists come in all varieties, from any race, religious upbringing, gender and orientation.”
Well, the drama has delighted The Church of Satan, for one.
The Church of Satan (CoS) — a Satanic organization established by Anton LaVey in 1966 — and TST have a contentious relationship, with CoS arguing that TST’s stunts and trolling activism reflect poorly on the practice of Satanism. Greaves, conversely, has argued that TST’s members have been “quite open” regarding the group’s political origins.
In October, CoS released a fact sheet about TST, to which Greaves then issued his own correction. The debate appears to be ongoing.