Devil Worship Is A Flat Circle
June 4, 2014 3:46 PM   Subscribe

In a recent comment on the Blue, I mentioned a strange case of mass hysteria that spread through my hometown when I was a child. After writing it -- and falling a bit deeper into the rabbit hole of moral panics and 80s boogiemen in general -- I'm left wondering if there is any documented evidence of this particular event. So I'm wondering if AskMetafilter could help me solve this puzzle.

My best google-fu, the search term "Houma 'anarchies'", brought up 420 hits, all of which were literally gibberish.

The details:

I grew up in Houma, Louisiana. When I was in the first grade (circa 1987, but possibly as early as '86 or as late as '88), there was a rumor going around town that there existed a shadowy cult of people called Anarchies -- yes, anarchies, not anarchists -- who kidnapped children and sacrificed them to the devil. This rumor was taken seriously enough that my peers and I were aware of it, despite being very young children. I have memories of adults taking it seriously enough that a few people took specific actual safety precautions to keep their children from being abducted by Anarchies, possibly up to keeping them home from school.

There was an assumption that you could recognize an Anarchy on sight, and that it was correlated with punks, goths, occult people, burnouts, etc. Years later, I heard from an older friend that she and some peers were harassed by the local police about potentially being Anarchies. One rumor was that children were being sacrificed in the ladies' room of the local D.H. Holmes/Dillard's department store, which is mostly something I remember because my parents make fun of that angle to this day.

The hysteria died down relatively quickly, though I know some people who fully believed that it had basis in reality well into the 90s. I've heard the term "anarchies" used in Houma as a catch-all synonym for goths, punks, neo-pagans, satanists, and the like up to the present day.

As far as I'm aware, there were never any abductions. I'm also not aware of any nearby cults, communes, non-traditional religions, or any wide-scale subcultural activities that would have been singled out as the perpetrators of something like this. I don't know of any Satanic Ritual Abuse allegations in Houma around that time.

This is a widely known thing among people from the Houma area. I've brought up the Anarchies to peers, and everybody always knows exactly what I'm talking about. So there's no way I imagined it or drastically misunderstood some real event. While I know people who believed in it and were part of the mass hysteria at the time, nobody I've talked to about it has ever been able to produce concrete evidence of this even happening. It's just... known.

What I'm looking for is some kind of evidence that this was ever documented in the media at all, whether surrounding actual events (missing children, SRA, a daycare molestation case) or just documentation of the mass hysteria. Do people in surrounding parts of the state know about this? Were there similar forms of moral panic going on in nearby communities, or in New Orleans? Where would I even start to look into it?

Also interesting: there are a lot of similarities between the Anarchies hysteria and the events depicted in True Detective, which was written by New Orleanian Nic Pizzolatto. I'm especially curious about whether the Anarchies might have been part of his inspiration, even though True Detective takes place about 90 miles away and several years later.

Hope me, Metafilter!
posted by Sara C. to Society & Culture (19 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know about the Anarchies specifically, but there was a general moral panic about SRA type stuff in the late 80s everywhere. Evidence for any of it is in dispute. My hometown (Iowa) had similar urban legend type stories about a Satanic Cult going around killing black cats and torturing children. There's been quite a bit of fiction and such based around it as far as I can tell. Gillian Flynn's Dark Places is the one that comes first to my mind.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:01 PM on June 4, 2014

There was similar talk in the Philadelphia suburbs in the late 1970's/ early 1980's.
Satanists, heavy metal music, kidnapping, sacrifices, department store ladies' rooms, etc. I've always just chalked it up to Urban (or Suburban) Legend.
(But, you know... everybody always knew someone who was related to someone who worked with someone whose kid was involved.)
posted by mdrew at 4:04 PM on June 4, 2014

Maybe email the Houma Courier? Their online archives only go back to 2005, but they've probably got paper stretching much farther back.
posted by Maecenas at 4:05 PM on June 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Also, at least anecdotally, the SRA panic in my hometown definitely had punk/anarchist panic also. Everyone thought the kids who wrote the circle A symbol on stuff were somehow connected to the cult, black fingernail polish was a sign, etc.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:06 PM on June 4, 2014

It was everywhere in the late 80's. Geraldo Rivera hosted an (in)famous program about it that's summarized here.
posted by sevenless at 4:08 PM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just to clarify, this had nothing whatsoever to do with anarchism or anything political, or even the anarchist symbol. Though many years later I remember some metalhead kids drawing the symbol and calling it the "Anarchy Symbol" as opposed to the "anarchism" or "anarchist" symbol.

Also, I'm very aware of the Satanic Ritual Abuse moral panic as a general thing. I'm looking for specific connections between Satanic Ritual Abuse and southern Louisiana, the term "Anarchies", or potentially specific evidence of the moral panic in other places where there weren't specific allegations.
posted by Sara C. at 4:13 PM on June 4, 2014

I didn't hear anything about it and I was ling north of Baton Rouge at the time and reading the Advocate daily. It was probably an urban legend that was interesting enough to stick around, like the poison Halloween candy bit.
posted by myselfasme at 4:30 PM on June 4, 2014

I love this question. Have you searched every combination of terms you can think of in Google's news archives? "Anarchies" doesn't get me anything relevant, but I found this story about a devil worship panic incident in southern Alabama in 1989. A couple states over, but on the right track, possibly?

I did a little research last year at the archives at the University of LA at Lafayette, and they had a ton of obscure local stuff, though what I was looking for was much older than the 1980's, so I'm not positive they'd have your thing. But if you're sufficiently obsessed you could maybe email them.

If I was looking for something like this in my area, I'd ask one of the Facebook groups full of people who are seriously into the minute details of local history, or one of the sites devoted to weird local stories, hauntings, rumors, etc. I don't know how prevalent those types of groups and sites are in other areas, but if they're a thing in LA also, that might be a resource.

I hope you find something and report back.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 4:32 PM on June 4, 2014

I grew up in Shreveport at that time, and while Satanic Panic was in full force (anyone from Caddo Parish remember the Satan School on Ellerbe?), I never heard the term "anarchies" like you're using it. I have a friend from Houma and I'll ping him.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 4:49 PM on June 4, 2014

Houma friend (Houma bro? Brouhma?) says to look up the WWL (CBS affiliate) report done by Frank Davis on the subject. Apparently the term is used there.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 5:04 PM on June 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Signing on to say that I adore this question, and that apparently, overwrought panic about Satanism continued in Houma well after you left.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 5:19 PM on June 4, 2014

I'm having a hard time tracking down a Frank Davis piece about this online, but that's a huge clue! And at least a hint that this is a real thing aside from just the general "Satanic Panic was in the air back then" stuff.

I'm also now dying to read Dark At The Roots, even if it doesn't have any good leads on this, if only because it's a snarky takedown on the town I grew up in.
posted by Sara C. at 5:21 PM on June 4, 2014

This is bringing back memories from Shreveport as a child. I don't remember your story but I do remember similar stories ...sacrifices in Dillard's was totally a thing. And the reading anything fantasy or dealing with magic would send you straight into the occult.
posted by AlexiaSky at 5:29 PM on June 4, 2014

I am not finding anything specifically about Houma or Anarchies but I have found some things that I thought you might want to pursue as possible leads on the topic in general:

Speak of the Devil originally on BlogSpot and has now moved here:
Speak of the Devil

Against Satanic Panics has a page specifically about The "Satanic Ritual Abuse" scare (and the larger child sex abuse panic) of the 1980's and early 1990's

There are a lot of links, so I don't know if it might turn up something. Again, I have not found anything specifically about Houma but I am putting it here in case it might help you get closer to some kind of evidence.
posted by Michele in California at 5:35 PM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

related article on SRA from Texas Monthly about Oak Hill SRA panic. a very good read!
posted by custard heart at 7:06 PM on June 4, 2014

My husband works at WWL and we both remember that Bill Elder did a story on Satanism, not Frank Davis. He'll ask at work tomorrow.
posted by artychoke at 9:25 PM on June 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

Artychoke, that makes a lot more sense. I was trying to envision a "Naturally N'Awlins" entry on Satanic Ritual Abuse and it just didn't seem right at all.

I'm finding evidence online that this Bill Elder thing exists -- but maybe is about Ponchatoula, not Houma? -- and what I'm seeing gives a lot of context to the general moral panic about Satanism in Louisiana in general. On the off chance that this particular installment came out at any point from 1986-1988, that would probably be enough to set it off. Houma gets all the New Orleans news affiliates.

I found a couple of forums here and there which mention Satanic Panic in Louisiana in general, and Houma in particular, and there's really nothing aside from "some metalhead kids did graffiti and people took it all way too seriously". Yup, sounds about right. Mystery most likely solved.
posted by Sara C. at 9:37 PM on June 4, 2014

I grew up in a rural upstate NY village in the 80s and we had similar "There are devil-worshipers in the woods!" urban legends. I wasn't allowed to play Dungeons & Dragons (or watch the cartoon!) because my parents heard from someone who heard from someone whose priest said that it was Satanic.

I have a feeling that there was a lot of dumb stuff like this in rural areas. There was no internet, drugs were becoming major problems in the "big cities", music was getting louder, churches got smaller, Reagan came along and his platform's message seemed to terrify the easily-terrified, etc.

posted by JimBJ9 at 7:08 AM on June 5, 2014

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