by Scoobie Davis
Capturing the Truth
Warning! Spoilers in the next couple paragraphs. I saw the film Capturing the Friedmans and thought it was great. The film takes a look at a Jewish family which lived in an affluent Long Island suburb. In the 1980’s, postal inspectors investigated the father, Arnie, because he had order child pornography from The Netherlands. In the ensuing investigation, law enforcement uncovered a stash of kiddie porn that Arnie had hidden in his home office. Member of law enforcement were rightly concerned because Arnie taught computer classes in the home to children. After investigators interviewed former students and their parents, Arnie and one of his sons were charged with multiple counts of rape because of what the children told investigators.
That’s where it became complicated. There was no doubt that Arnie was a pedophile who had obtained illegal material (for which he deserved to be arrested), but did he and his son molest his computer students? That leads to some disturbing questions about the way in which law enforcement has investigated these types of cases. The filmmaker provides some compelling evidence that former students were manipulated by law enforcement to make the allegations. The charges were unbelievable. A problem with interviewing procedure in this case, as was the case with the McMartin case, was that the children were given leading questions and were pressured to make the allegations. Many law enforcement were ill-trained in the proper procedure to interview possible victims
Another problem in the 1980’s in regards to these types of cases was the lack of separation between church and state—more specifically the cozy relationship with various fundamentalist charlatans and law enforcement. While the case involving the Friedmans didn’t involve this, many of the allegations of molestation involved claims of satanic ties. After the success of films like Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, various fundamentalist preachers and fundamentalists who were self-described experts on Satanism found it to be a lucrative gig to do the lecture circuit and give lurid tales of widespread satanic covens that were engaging in ritual abuse and mass murder. It was a paranoiac’s dream come true.
Three of the most flagrant of these were John Todd, Mike Warnke, and Dr. Rebecca Brown—all of whom were later uncovered as frauds. Todd and Warnke claimed to have been involved in satanic covens that were engaged in ritual abuse. Brown claimed to have saved over 1000 people from hardcore Satanism. The Chickster helped to fan the flames of hysteria; in the 1980’s Chick published Brown’s paranoid books and he still sells comic based on Todd’s stories of Satanic sacrifices and the supposed attempt by the rock and roll industry to spread Satanism to its listeners.
People in the media aided and abetted these fundamentalist mountebanks. To no surprise, one of the biggest culprits in the 1980’s was Geraldo (don’t call me Jerry) Rivera who had several of these charlatans on his talk show and misinformed millions. It doesn’t surprise me that now Rivera works for a political operation that presents itself as a fair and balanced news channel. Fox News and Rivera go well together.
A person has a right to his views, but what happened was that many members of law enforcement were swallowing the tall tales of these and other supposed Satanism experts. For instance, some law enforcement agencies recommended Brown’s paranoid book Prepare for War that ascribes Satanic motives to yoga and vegetarianism (God forbid if the cops search my place and find my Boca Burgers and yoga mat!). These episodes are a good example why the Bush regime’s attempt to merge church and state is a bad idea.