Lying For Pseudoscience: New York Magazine’s Dishonest Defense of a Harmful, Discredited Theory

Lying For Pseudoscience: New York Magazine’s Dishonest Defense of a Harmful, Discredited Theory January 21, 2021

As the cofounder of and spokesperson for The Satanic Temple, I have been a controversial presence in the media for eight years. The case I discuss below stands out as the most egregious case of journalistic malpractice that I have been victim to in that time. New York Magazine somehow had a lapse of editorial responsibility so severe that they published a piece which serves to advance a pseudoscience used to propagate Satanic Panic by engaging in character assassination of those who deny that pseudoscience’s legitimacy. With the rise of militant conspiracist movements, as well as a decline in the public trust in science, which now threatens the health of the entire world, it is important to recognize these assaults on reason for what they are, and to not allow those who engage in such assaults to go forward unchallenged in their false claim to moral superiority.

 

Passive consumers of news never seem short on advice as to how I should handle “the media.” They also usually seem confident in their assumptions about how I should expect to be treated by journalists: taken out of context, misrepresented, distorted to fit their agenda

As somebody who has been a controversial spokesperson in the media more-or-less consistently for eight years now, I can say, with some degree of certainty, that it isn’t really that bad. The much maligned “mainstream media” has rarely crossed a line into gross, willful misrepresentation of facts, even as there are endless examples of sloppy research, unconfronted assumptions, and basic errors. It is very rare that I look at a piece written by a professional journalist who has interviewed me and can conclude, beyond a doubt, that facts were willfully ignored, distorted, created, or misrepresented to fit the preconceived narrative that the journalist preferred to believe, or at least to propagate.

An article that was recently published in New York Magazine’s The Cut, titled ‘The Memory War’ by Katie Heaney, did all of those things. It is one of the most egregious examples of willful misreporting that I ever experienced by mainstream media, even as I was not quoted in the piece once. 

Media outlets have flagrantly attempted to stir outrage against The Satanic Temple (TST) — such as when some local Boston outlets desperately sought angry Christians who might protest the opening of our headquarters in Salem — and many media outlets still (often) take passive aggressive jabs against our authenticity — contextualizing us as “trolls” or referring to us as “an organization that calls itself The Satanic Temple” — however, this piece by Heaney stands out, above and beyond, as one of the worst cases of journalistic malpractice that I have ever been victim to.

By “mainstream media,” I do not, of course, mean the highly partisan outlets that openly display their biases, and themselves decry mainstream media, regardless of how large and influential such partisan outlets have become in recent times. Readers of Breitbart and LifeSite likely have some expectation that the “news” they consume is produced more to fit their tribal dogmas than than it is produced to report upon real-world facts. Journalists who write for those outlets know that their editors expect them to present a  reality that fits with the preferences of their audience. 

Outlets like New York Magazine, however, are assumed to uphold journalistic standards of unbiased reporting.

They have fact-checkers. 

Indeed, a fact-checker for New York Magazine called me before the publication of Heaney’s piece and asked me to confirm my age and legal name.

I was perplexed. 

When the journalist had interviewed me, we did not talk about me, and I had made clear that I am not at all interested in having personal data published about me, even if it is available elsewhere, due to the rather excessive amount of hate mail and threats I receive. Further, the story, I was told, was not about me in any way. 

I reiterated all of this to the fact-checker, who then asked me how I earn an income. This, too, seemed like an incredibly superfluous question, and I was mystified when she did not ask me — as fact-checkers often do — if I agreed that I did in fact say specific quotes that are included in the piece.

Knowing this, it is almost comical to see the published piece now and note that I am inserted into it, completely arbitrarily, in a few lines in which Heaney decided — entirely apropos of nothing — to divulge my legal name, and what was apparently her best guess at my age, which she got wrong. I was not quoted, I was not part of the story, my position on the topic of the article was not discussed, and it was impossible to read this puzzling inclusion, only of facts that I prefer not to have published, as anything other than a calculated attack directed at me.

Nonetheless, journalists, online detractors — even state senators — have worked hard to dox me for some time now, and I do not spend my nights worrying too much about it. Heaney’s piece, ostensibly, is about the “recovered memory” debate, and in that context she describes TST’s Grey Faction as the “online, cult-obsessed sons” of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, an organization that was formed in the early 90s to challenge the veracity of “recovered memories” being used to convict people of heinous crimes — particularly crimes of sexual abuse. 

Those who have followed the work of Grey Faction know that we fight back against conspiracy theories and pseudoscience with a specific focus on discredited claims of “Satanic Ritual Abuse” as largely propagated by members of the International Society for the Study of Trauma & Dissociation (ISSTD). The ISSTD presents itself as a “professional association organized to develop and promote comprehensive, clinically-effective and empirically-based resources and responses to trauma and dissociation and to address its relevance to other theoretical constructs,” but their annual conferences contain conspiracist lectures that discuss deranged and debunked topics related to Satanic cult crimes and Illuminati Mind Control. Recently, the ISSTD made the internally controversial decision to rename their “Ritual Abuse/Mind Control Organized Abuse Special Interest Group,” described by the organization itself as “the largest and most active [group] in the ISSTD” with the more mundane title of “Organized and Extreme Abuse Special Interest Group.”

But why is an organization for mental health professionals invested in bizarre, QAnon-like conspiracy theories? 

Some members of the ISSTD claim to work with clients who have “recovered memories” of lifelong abuse at the hands of highly organized, secretive Satanic/Illuminati cults or government sponsored “trauma-based mind control” programs. 

Remember, “recovered memories” also form the evidentiary basis for episodes of abductions by extraterrestrials and, by way of recovered memories, some have come to be convinced that they have recalled pre-birth or past life memories. 

Grey Faction is partially composed of individuals who once underwent Recovered Memory Therapies and, in that time, came to believe — by way of hypnotic regression, guided imagery sessions, or other memory retrieval techniques — in bizarre tales of past interactions with implausible conspiracies. Some had abusive histories, and came to feel that the incompetent therapy they suffered further compounded their trauma. Indeed, research has found that subjects who hold false memories of traumatic extraterrestrial abductions exhibit the same psychophysiological responses when recalling those memories as victims of real-world, verifiable traumas exhibit when recalling theirs. This means that false memories of traumatic episodes can be just as traumatic, for those who hold them, as real-life traumas that actually occurred.

As I recently explained in another article about the ISSTD:

The ISSTD has long harbored a Who’s Who list of notable Satanic Panic conspiracy theorists from its founding in 1984 by a Dr. Bennet Braun who gained notoriety in the 90s when a former patient of his was awarded a settlement of $10.6 million for Braun’s role in convincing her, by use of heavy medication and hypnosis, that her family was secretly part of a cannibalistic, baby sacrificing, child molesting Satanic cult… to former ISSTD president Colin Ross, who once claimed to wield a “paranormal” ability to emit energy from his eyes, and who was also sued multiple times for overmedicating patients and leading them to believe that they, too, had been involved in a bizarre Satanic conspiracy — in at least one case, he was accused of leading a patient to believe that she had been impregnated with a hybrid extraterrestrial baby… to Eileen Aveni, a social worker and former chair of the ISSTD’s Ritual Abuse/Mind-Control Special Interest Group who, at the 2018 ISSTD conference attended by Grey Faction, devoted a lecture to insights into the Illuminati she gained from an alleged former Illuminati insider on the internet.

So how does Grey Faction’s position differ from that of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF) such that dismissing us as their “online cult-obsessed sons” is so wildly inappropriate that it compels me, for the first time in my years as a spokesperson, to write a lengthy essay refuting a piece I’m mentioned in? Well, the difference is admittedly subtle: Grey Faction focuses on the bizarre and debunked conspiracy theories arising from a fringe pseudoscience, while the FMSF focused directly on the flaws in the “science” that led therapists and other professionals to believe in those conspiracy theories… But the problem is that Katie Heaney made no honest attempt to accurately present the FMSF, and in doing so, by extension, entirely misrepresented Grey Faction as well. For one thing, while Heaney presents the FMSF as an organization created by and for people accused of sexual abuse, Grey Faction has exactly zero members or volunteers who have been accused of abuse. Again, Grey Faction is partially composed of victims of Recovered Memory Therapies, but Heaney ignores the existence of these victims entirely. 

Heaney focused her piece on the Freyd family — Pamela and Peter, the founders of the FMSF, and their daughter, Jennifer Freyd — and through this story pretended to shine a light upon the entire “recovered memory” controversy. Heaney’s piece describes the formation of the FMSF as Pamela and Peter’s “retaliation” against Jennifer’s claim that she had recovered memories, at the age of 33, of Peter having sexually abused her as a child. Heaney goes to great lengths to establish that Peter is a pervert — citing his admitted bisexual proclivities and past alcoholism, as well as anecdotal claims from Jennifer — in an apparent attempt to establish that the false memory argument was a devious creation of the Freyds cooked up entirely for the purposes of exonerating Peter from Jennifer’s claims, and now used as a defense for predators such as Harvey Weinstein.

The Weinstein case is the new go-to for the ISSTD and irresponsible reporters like Katie Heaney who dishonestly attempt to advance the idea that Weinstein’s defense was premised upon the idea that all of the claims of abuse brought against him were, in fact, false memories of events that never occurred — bolstering the notion that the very concept of false memories is nothing more than a defense for sexual abuse. The Weinstein narrative was first propagandized on The Conversation in a piece co-authored by Anne P. DePrince and Joan M. Cook, both on the editorial board for a journal produced by the ISSTD.

As I wrote at the time,  

It came to light that a witness against notorious Hollywood predator Harvey Weinstein may have been subjected to “memory recovery therapy,” calling into doubt those claims that may have been “revealed” to her during the course of therapy. According to Variety, “Weinstein attorney Damon Cheronis alleged that new disclosures have been made to the defense team, which suggest that one of the witnesses ‘engaged in memory recovery therapy.’ Cheronis argued that such therapy makes the witness’ testimony unreliable, and that she should be precluded from testifying.” The outrage here should not be directed against the defense counsel, but against whatever therapist was incompetent enough to engage in a discredited, potentially harmful, “therapeutic” technique that could easily cast doubt upon an alleged victim’s testimony.

DePrince and Cook’s piece is egregious in that it does not mention recovered memories at all, instead attempting to discredit arguments used against the veracity of recovered memories by misrepresenting our understanding of false memories. “As the Weinstein trial continues,” DePrince and Cook wrote, “it is important to remember that claims of false memory are a demeaning and dangerous distraction that have long been used to deny the realities of violence against women. Science can guide society in general, and a jury in particular, to thoughtfully evaluate survivors’ – and offenders’ – descriptions of their memories for sexual assault.”

This point can not be stressed enough: there is no neat division in this debate regarding false memories between, on the one hand, advocates for survivors and, on the other hand, advocates for those who were allegedly falsely accused. There is no hard line drawn that finds a recognition of false memories defending against allegations of abuse, and proponents of recovered memories advocating for victims of sexual assault. In fact, it is not uncommon to find proponents of recovered memories arguing as expert witnesses in defense of perpetrators, even rapists, such as when ISSTD past president Colin Ross used his theories to defend “the Twilight Rapist,” a serial rapist in Texas who targeted elderly women.

Grey Faction very much views itself as victims’ advocates, and not merely by defining “victims” as the presumably falsely accused, but in acknowledging the danger posed by conspiracy therapists to victims of sexual abuse who, in a vulnerable state of traumatic aftershock, run the risk of seeking help from ISSTD quacks who would encourage them to cultivate new traumatic beliefs in previously unknown episodes abuse, as well as bizarre, paranoid, crippling conspiracist delusions.

To be clear, Heaney knew all this. 

Because I told her.

It is important to note that Heaney apparently was not up against a strict deadline that could account for her failures. She interviewed me about year before the piece was published, and after it was released she admitted, via Twitter, that writing the piece had taken that long. This makes her misrepresentation of the entire topic all the more egregious. 

The FMSF archive is full of materials regarding false memories, recovered memories, the “Satanic Panic,” coercive interrogations, and court records from when “retractors” — individuals who came to believe bizarre claims of conspiracist crimes during the course of therapy… only to come to sue their therapists afterward for instilling false memories — but never have I seen any material that makes the claim that memories of sexual violence are particularly prone to distortion or confabulation. Nonetheless, in supreme dishonesty, Heaney writes, “[t]oday, the notion that one’s own memories of sexual violence are unreliable is owed, in large part, to how the Freyds responded to their daughter.”

The article acknowledges that there is, in fact, a body of work regarding false memories in scientific literature, but Heaney seems to pretend that this is pretty much solely the work of false memory research pioneer Elizabeth Loftus — apparently at the behest of the nefarious Freyds — whose “Lost In The Mall” study, in which participants, presented with a list of confirmed childhood experiences mixed in with one false one: an episode in which they were lost in a mall — were given time to recollect more details about those events, resulting in a significant percentage of them cultivating false memories of the lost in the mall experience. Pointing to uncertainties resulting from the methodology of the study, Heaney quotes Loftus as saying, “This study was 25 years ago and so much good work by other people — and a little by my group, too — has been done since then to tell a picture of the nature of memory.”

Heaney begrudgingly acknowledges that subsequent research has validated Loftus’s claims, but deems the research irrelevant to the topic of traumatic abuse by stating the obvious fact that “none of the experiments involved convincing the subjects they had been sexually abused as children.” Of course, no such experiment, damaging as it could be for the subjects, would ever be approved by any university.

Again, if Heaney wanted to explore clear false memories of traumatic abuse, she could have explored the conspiracist world of the ISSTD and believers in Satanic Ritual Abuse. Rambling unconvincingly forward, Heaney further dismisses Loftus’s citation of multiple other confirmatory false memory studies merely by noting that Loftus has nonetheless herself cited the Lost In The Mall study in “more than 300 trials in which she has served as an expert witness and in the Ted Talk she gave in 2013.” This, of course, is a non sequitur that entirely evades the problem of the general scientific acceptance of false memories, and the widespread discrediting of recovered memory veracity.

Heaney does not try to elaborate on the science, or even the actual issues, but aims for emotional appeals and character assassination. We learn, of course, that Loftus has been hired as an expert witness in many cases where the validity of witness memory was called into question, including, it turns out, the Harvey Weinstein trial.

Again, this may be a sticking point for people. Nobody wants to defend Harvey Weinstein for what he did. But why even bother defending him for things he may not have done? Do we run a risk of his conviction being overturned? Are we questioning all of the accusations against him? Are we saying that he was innocent? 

No. Refuting the validity of recovered memories, even when doing so in the trial of Harvey Weinstein, has an uncomfortable yet critical importance that extends well beyond Harvey Weinstein. It is about ensuring that our outrage against Harvey Weinstein does not lead us to set a precedent in which we accept bad evidence that may later be used to justify the false convictions of complete innocents. It is about not allowing conspiracy theorists and pseudoscientists to try to harness a justified outrage against opportunistic abusers like Weinstein to give their discredited and dangerous techniques an air of moral authority, as the ISSTD and Heaney are clearly attempting to do. It is about not allowing the crimes of Harvey Weinstein to damage any more people than they already have.

Further, Heaney’s attempt to attach Loftus to the moral character of those for whom she has acted as an expert witness fails to understand what an expert witness does. Loftus is not there to make judgements upon the case itself regarding the guilt or innocence of any of the parties involved, but rather she is there to give answers regarding the current understanding of the science of memory as deemed relevant in the adjudication of the case.

QAnon, the “online cult-obsessed sons” of the ISSTD have inherited the ISSTD’s tactic of trying to divide the world into two distinct warring factions: those who believe in their conspiracy theories, and those who support sexual abuse and child trafficking. Heaney’s article takes this tactic, but without acknowledging the conspiracy theories advanced by those for whom she advocates. She simply advances the idea that if you subscribe to the science that refutes the validity of those conspiracy theories, you are part of a plot to deny the validity of any testimony of sexual violence. Puzzlingly, Heaney mentions the “Satanic Panic” in passing, but apparently only to disregard it as an outlying episode that the FMSF exploited to generate sympathy toward the notion of false memories. “On the heels of the national panic over satanic-ritual child abuse in the 1980s,” Heaney wrote, “the False Memory Syndrome Foundation helped shift cultural sympathies from alleged victims to the accused, portraying survivors as casualties of radical-feminist therapists who ‘implanted’ memories of child abuse in gullible patients.”

Heaney’s characterization here is callous and cruel. People who came to believe conspiracist narratives of Satanic Ritual Abuse during the course of Recovered Memory Therapies are not people we disregard as merely gullible. Grey Faction works with retractors, some of whom were grossly over-medicated, subjected to sodium amytal interviews, hypnosis sessions, and other harmful treatments at times in their lives when they were particularly vulnerable and suggestible to the influence of the fraud therapists that they were seeing. Heaney does nothing to explore their experiences or to elaborate on any theory that would somehow differentiate recovered memory claims of Satanic conspiracies (or extraterrestrial abduction) from “legitimate” recovered memory claims. Are we supposed to simply say that facially implausible recovered memory claims can be disregarded, yet still ignore the idea of false memories in any other context?

Perhaps Heaney has not attended some of the same conferences that I have been to, where people who believe themselves victims of widespread secretive cult conspiracies recall their impossible and richly-detailed supernatural narratives with a sense of overwhelming, crippling terror.

These people are suffering.

Perhaps Katie Heaney has never spoken to any of the families that have been ruined by allegations of intergenerational Satanism by a family member who came to be convinced that “mind control” had been used to conceal their true pasts from them.

These people are suffering. 

Heaney may not have talked to them, but she certainly knew about them. 

Because I told her about them.

Recovered Memory Therapies destroy lives. Recovered Memory Therapies kill. 

Recovered Memory Therapies, and the false narratives propagated by their practitioners are at the root of dangerous Satanic Panic conspiracy theories, now on the rise in a disturbing, militant right-wing movements. These things, too, Heaney was told, but chose to ignore. 

It is one thing for a journalist to disagree with their subject. It is a whole different thing to willfully misrepresent your subject’s position, and to entirely ignore everything your subject has told you. Heaney’s entirely intentional disregard of everything that complicated the narrative she wanted tell is a breach of journalistic ethics of the highest order.

This is about as bad as it gets. 

Searching around online, I found a public post on Facebook by Jimmy Coan, a former student of Loftus’s who was quoted in Heaney’s piece. While his contribution to the piece’s narrative, like mine, was fairly marginal, he too feels that Heaney contorted what he had said to fit the story she had set out to write, regardless of where the facts might lead. Disturbingly, I also saw commentary from people who, while pointing out the many failings in Heaney’s research regarding recovered memories prefaced their comments with something like, “I won’t defend the Freyds, however…” or, “Jennifer has plenty of reasons to be disappointed in her father, but…”

In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that I have met Pamela and Peter Freyd. When the FMSF was still active, there were times I reached out to Pam for resources and recommendations. I was once even a guest in their home where we had tea and a lengthy discussion. We do not have regular calls, we do not send each other Christmas cards, and I know that the fact that they have been courteous to me says nothing at all, one way or another, regarding the claims against them. However, given Heaney’s very apparent lack of journalistic integrity, I have a difficult time taking anything she claims at face value, and her disclosures about the Freyds do not make me think any more or less of them. More importantly, however, the character of the Freyds, one way or another, does nothing to validate Recovered Memory Therapies or refute the existence of false memories. 

At this point, one might begin to suspect that there may be a certain amount of misunderstanding at play here. Grey Faction is narrowly focused on the conspiracism that manifests from Recovered Memory Therapies, particularly the conspiracism propagated by the ISSTD. Heaney was looking at plausible, yet unsubstantiated, claims of abuse and telling the story of Jennifer Freyd, as Jennifer Freyd would tell it. Perhaps we are merely talking past each other, and there is some middle ground where we can both agree.

Admittedly, I may have sounded extreme when I told Heaney during our interview that wherever recovered memories are claimed, conspiracy theories are somewhere just underneath the surface. If Heaney had looked under that surface, she might have noticed that in 2014, Jennifer Freyd was the keynote speaker at the annual conference for an organization called Survivorship. Survivorship is run by one Neil Brick, a licensed Massachusetts mental health professional who claims that he recovered memories, later in his life, that he had been an Illuminati super-soldier who was trained to rape and kill “without feeling.” Brick has also asserted that Freemasons and/or Satanic cults torture fetuses so as to begin their trauma-based mind control programs at the earliest possible age. Survivorship maintains an annual calendar of “difficult dates,” holidays celebrated by Satanic and/or Illuminati cults, during which targeted individuals are advised to be vigilant for their safety. 

The dates cover nearly every day of the year. 

Other speakers at Survivorship that year included “Shelby Rising Eagle” whose conference bio described her as a survivor of Satanic Ritual Abuse within the Mormon Church, and Sarah Jacqueline who “was born into a family of Satanists and has experienced and seen some horrific abuse.”

I did not speak about the bizarre delusions propagated by Survivorship with Katie Heaney, but I did discuss the same brand of conspiracy narratives that are present at the annual conferences of the ISSTD. Had she been interested in exploring that territory, Heaney could have easily discussed the relationship between recovered memories and bizarre Satanic Panic conspiracy theories with this year’s annual ISSTD conference keynote speaker, and editor of the ISSTD’s own journal, Jennifer Freyd.

Katie Heaney has not replied to multiple requests to discuss her piece with me in a recorded interview.

 

You can find more content by me at my Patreon page here: https://www.patreon.com/LucienGreaves

 

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