‘Satanists’ in America Focus On Religious Pluralism, Social Activism, and Diversity as ‘Church’ is Plagued by Infighting and Death Threats

Co-founder of The Satanic Temple Lucien Greaves, center, poses with other followers of TST, which began in 2012 and has become well-known for high-profile stunts and activism.
Co-founder of The Satanic Temple Lucien Greaves, center, poses with other followers of TST, which began in 2012 and has become well-known for high-profile stunts and activism.

They first cropped up seemingly out of nowhere about six years ago, adorned in black capes with curved devil horns affixed to their heads, holding posters and black American flags as they shouted ‘Hail, Satan’ on the steps of government institutions from Arkansas and Florida to Oklahoma and Detroit. The antics and declarations seemed like a hoax to many – onlookers and journalists and politicians alike – until it became apparent that members of newly-formed The Satanic Temple were here to stay.

And they were growing, exponentially. Since TST’s founding in 2012, the organization has increased from a handful of members to tens of thousands, with chapters all over the US and the globe, from Stockholm to London and Los Angeles to Texas. And their ‘pranksterism,’ as filmmaker Penny Lane first considered it, has given way to a well-conceived ethos, forming an organized ‘religion’ for a ‘group of contrarians’ opposed to any organization at all.

The Satanic Temple, it seems, is becoming more and more firmly established across the United States – largely composed of individuals who don’t even worship Satan in the first place but center on a different interpretation of biblical teachings. And Lane’s new documentary about the group, premiering later this month at Utah’s famed Sundance Film Festival, paints a surprising portrait of the unlikely ‘religion’ – one which has challenged even the preconceived notions of the director herself.

‘The reason this became a feature length documentary was that I found so many interesting surprises at each stage of discovery,’ says Lane, the title of whose documentary – Hail, Satan? – fittingly addresses the controversy surrounding the relatively neophyte group.

‘Every layer of the onion that we peeled back, there was like something really surprising at the next layer. The first thing you know, I could see, was how serious and intelligent they were – despite what you might expect of a bunch of Satanists. They were really sophisticated thinkers, and many times the people who would go out in public against what they do would sound like raving lunatics.’

In comparison to the protesting hardcore Christians, she says, ‘the Satanists were like the adults in the room – not at all what I was expecting.

‘The next thing I came to understand was they weren’t pretending to be Satanists to make a political point. They were Satanists. My understanding of what a Satanist was simply incorrect – so those were the first kind of two layers of surprises for me.

‘Modern Satanism is a non-theistic religious practice that uses the symbol of the literary symbol of Satan as a kind of symbol … against tyrannical authority,’ she tells DailyMail.com.

Hail, Satan? follows not only the TST founders but also regular members across the country and the world – trying ‘to get a more accurate picture of day-to-day life at a local level, which is really at the heart of what the Satanic Temple is,’ Lane continues. ‘Like, oh, it looks like a bunch of headline-grabbing clever pranks – but in reality … what’s going on here is nice people gathering in their communities who organize [charity events] … or do challenge very, very local power.’

The documentary initially focuses on co-founders Lucien Greaves – not his real name, though he’s pictured on camera and has essentially become the spokesperson for TST – and Malcolm Jarry, whose face is never shown. Many members, in fact, are pixelated in footage, and quite a big deal is made of the threats to members from people opposed to their views, despite the fact that many detractors have no idea what TST members actually believe.

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Daily Mail