The Cult of “Before” Stories: A Mega-Review of Zachary King’s Testimony

The Cult of “Before” Stories: A Mega-Review of Zachary King’s Testimony January 17, 2018

Last time we met up, we were talking about a new-ish wrinkle in the anti-abortion culture wars: a guy who has fused that culture war with the earlier Satanic Panic to come out with a fake testimony about having been a Satanic Wiccan (or is it Wiccan Satanist?) who totally helped perform over a hundred abortions. Christians aren’t even questioning the story told by Zachary King, for the most part (one notable exception: Fred Clark at Slacktivist, who wrote a couple of really good blog posts about it when King finally broke into the Christian scene). Zachary King gave an extensive XM radio interview a couple of years just after becoming semi-popular. Today I want to show you that interview–and show you how it fits into the narratives we find within the “Cult of ‘Before’ Stories.”

Baron Samedi. This will become important in a minute or two. Terry Robinson, CC-SA.)
Baron Samedi, we think. This image will become important in a minute or two. (Terry Robinson, CC-SA.)

The Cult of “Before” Stories.

The problem is not the fraudsters “selling Satan.” The problem is the huge market of good Christian people eagerly buying Satan.

Fred Clark, August 21, 2015

A while ago I coined the phrase the Cult of “Before” Stories to explain what I was seeing in certain wackadoodle flavors of Christianity.

When Christians come of age or convert into one of those flavors of the religion, they’re encouraged to come up with testimonies, which are supposed to be three-part stories that Christians craft and tell to others as part of their sales attempts. Entire books and websites exist to help them do it, too. They clearly relish the opportunity to share these stories with anyone they can talk into sitting still long enough.

Testimonies, told and retold and swapped around like trading cards, become part of the reasons that Christians have for believing in the first place. They are created entirely by the Christian’s cultural myths about both non-Christians and Christians, and thus borrow a number of thematic elements from that mythology.

Christians love testimonies and consider them–though without any evidence to support the idea–to be powerful sales tools. These stories are also powerful tribal reinforcement tools, showing already-Christian listeners a side of life they will almost certainly never have seen before, much less lived–before showing them how much better their own lives are than those of those silly ole non-Christians. An ideal testimony will confirm and support all of the tribe’s myths about non-Christian life, conversion, and personal transformation through faith.

Someone with a boring testimony won’t get a lot of attention from the tribe, either, while someone with a super-dramatic testimony will quickly rise through the ranks and often become a golden child.

Testimonies are also almost entirely fictional, but hey, you can’t have everything.

The Three Acts of the Play.

I have had death threats in the USA and from around the world.

Zachary King, Facebook post, December 5, 2017

The first part of the testimony is a “before” picture of what the Christian’s life looked like before conversion. Here, the Christian will talk about how wonderful that life was. Wealth, sex, and pleasure often figure into it. Another type of “before” story involves how totally miserable and lonely that person was. Ideally, both elements will figure into the story: the person will have all the external trappings of wealth and happiness, but will feel totally miserable and lonely despite it all. This part of the story always fits the lies that Christians tell about non-Christians.

The second part of the testimony will involve the Christian’s conversion. Miracles often abound here. Sometimes the precipitating event causing the conversion will be an act of great kindness and self-sacrifice by a Christian of the correct flavor. Our sad-but-worldly-wise protagonist will see the light and make the right choice.

The third part of the testimony will detail the Christian’s post-conversion life. It will reverse the first part. Now the Christian might be poor, having given up their life of crime. They might have broken up with the person they were dating or married to before. They don’t party all night or sleep all day, not anymore. But they’re happy and fulfilled now, even if they’re living a life of reduced circumstances. This part of the testimony will end with an exhortation to convert (if delivered to non-Christians) or else an encouragement to keep the faith (if delivered to Christians).

So as we go over Zachary King’s testimony, we’ll be examining how it fits into this template.

epic fail kitten jumps

“My Conversion Story.”

Mr. Captain: You don’t have to wear the headphones. I’m not playing on speakerphone right now.
Me: Yeah, I kinda do. I’m about to listen to the totally true testimony of a guy who claims that he became a Satanic abortion provider and then converted to Catholicism when a medallion zapped him.
Mr. Captain: … Oh. Yeah. Please wear the headphones.

Casa Cas

The half-hour-long interview took place around June 11, 2015 on “The Catholic Channel” on SiriusXM radio. As we’d previously noted, 2015 was a super, super busy year for this liar-for-Jesus. I found his interview itinerary–or, as he puts it, his ministry schedule–and his “ministry” appears to consist entirely of going around the country to lie to people about his past. You can find the full interview here.

This is going to be an entry in the “Conversion Corner,” where the host, Gus Lloyd, interviews people who converted to Catholicism. One can see why they like seeing converts, seeing as their religion gets so few of them and conversions tend to run the other direction.

King begins by relating that he grew up Baptist with twice-a-week-and-more attendance at church. (1:40) He says that he was totally being “groomed” by learning so much about Christianity so he could later engage in “breaking up” Baptist churches. He pronounces it “Bab-tist” and though that’s normal for the area he grew up in, it annoys me greatly.

Y’all, Zachary King totally was being “groomed” to “break up” Bab-tist churches, y’all, and “split them.” OH. MY. GOD.

Kitten meets lizard

The host calls him out immediately on that one, to his credit, by asking who exactly was grooming him. King replies, very matter-of-factly, “Satanists.” (2:30). Lloyd asks him to clarify that statement, and King replies by talking about how he’d gotten into D&D when he was 10. Yes, because a pair of Bab-tist parents in the grip of the Satanic Panic totally won’t mind their kid playing D&D.

He also claims that around the same time (10 years old) he got into what he describes as a game called “I Hate You, Bloody Mary.” It’s just the standard game that kids play where they look into their darkened bathroom’s mirror and repeat the name “Bloody Mary” three times, under the extremely mistaken impression that doing this might summon a horrifying ghost or demonic beastie into the room. It’s just a way to get a little giddy thrill out of a pedestrian life. But in King’s hands, the game turns into an honest to goodness demonic summoning ritual.

He says this childhood game made him wonder if magic was real–because obviously just D&D by itself couldn’t have caused him to ask that question. He learned that another gaming group “believed magic was real,” and since King himself had already worked that fact out by 12, he wanted to go hang out with this new group. They turned out to be Satanists. (He met them at 12 and joined their “coven” at 13.)

Groomed to Destroy Bab-Tist Churches.

I wish I could have seen Lloyd’s face for this interview. Bless his cotton socks, he’s trying so hard to keep up with King. He gives the liar-for-Jesus a possible escape by suggesting that these gamers were just “curious,” but no, King insists that they were totally Satanists.

Oh, and I was wrong about his age; he’s actually just a little older than me (at 3:30, he mentions being ten years old in 1976). So yeah, his family was definitely going to be caught up in the Satanic Panic, and they were definitely not letting their precious scion out to go play with a bunch of strange adult men. Remember that fact, as his story progresses: While he was playing D&D and sussing out which demon-summoning games actually “got results,” he was also attending church twice or more a week as part of his “grooming” to destroy Bab-tist churches later. He’ll never explain how that process worked, by the way.

They talk for a few minutes about how the Bible condemns witchcraft of all kinds and King recites that line from The Usual Suspects about “the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” Christians love to quote the line because it makes non-existence look exactly like existence, which appeals very much to people who believe in non-existent things. In reality, though, it’s a dumb line from a fantastic movie–and it’s dumb for a fantastic reason, namely that Verbal is telling a fish story to the police to hide his own criminal activity.

King insists that magic is totally real, and to make it work you need “repetition, intention, and a demonic presence.” Oh and he’s talked to kids who tried the Harry Potter spells and “got results” because obviously they had demons near them when they tried the spells. He says (6:45) that he has talked to kids who made stuff float and whatnot by casting Harry Potter spells.

He says that J.K. Rowling claims to have researched Harry Potter using occult books, which I could not find corroboration for–though I did find a ThoughtCatalog post criticizing a quote from one of the nuttier Christian writers who thinks Harry Potter is Satanic. The book featured in that criticism might have been where King got this idea, because it sounds similar to the dreck he regurgitates in this interview.

Yer a hairy wizard...
Yer a hairy wizard…

Obviously, there’s no evidence produced at all for anything King is saying.

The host appears to be realizing right about now that he might have gotten a little in over his head with this level of wackadoodlery. But he doesn’t put a stop to this farcical “interview.” Overall he believes in magic and demons and all that. He’s already primed to accept King’s obviously-ludicrous story.

You Don’t Play a Player.

This second group of gamers that King joins apparently lived in a Tardis.

They had video games and pinball games, as well as a way to watch movies at home–and they were happy to have sleepovers with this kid to play D&D and watch porn all night long. Remember, he was 10 in 1976, so 12 in 1978. There were a lot of video games back thenPong had just come out at the time, so he might have played that. I think I had some little handheld gadget games like Simon at the time. And VCRs were not consumer goods until the late 1970s, so if he was watching porn movies at his pals’ house it was probably happening with a movie projector. He also claims that these adults gave him “dope” to smoke.

And King’s parents were happy to let their child sleep over there. They didn’t notice that he was dabbling in spellcasting, nor that he was playing a game they would absolutely have seen as demonic, nor that he was falling into drug abuse. (He says they just thought he was “difficult.”) When he turned 13, his new friends told him that they were Satanists. He glosses over exactly how he was inducted into this group (9:15); it sounds like he just considered himself part of it.

When he turned 18, he says, he joined a much bigger coven called “The World Church of Satan.”

Literally the only place I can find this group mentioned is in connection with Zachary King himself. It doesn’t exist outside of his testimony.

The actual Church of Satan called his assertions “a laughable, implausible fantasy,” indicating that neither the group nor the rank he claims to have attained, “High Wizard,” even exists within their formal organization.

King claims that this group “The World Church of Satan” had 1.1 million members (9:30). That’d be real news to actual Satanists, given that their membership is estimated to be no more than a few thousand people tops with an upper max of 20,000 worldwide. The host mentions that most people wouldn’t have said there were so many, but he lets it go.

King goes on to say that his first Satanic coven numbered about 120 people and included “practically all the deacons from my Bab-tist church,” which he says was the biggest such church in his area. The host understandably finds that to be an explosive accusation. King doesn’t name names, of course, only saying that his parents knew almost everyone in the coven–though they didn’t know the coven itself was a thing. That still invites a lot of questions, none of which will be answered.

Then King gets to trot out what is very clearly his favorite self-description (11:00): “By the time I was 15, I’d broken all ten commandments.”

Tuxedo taps box

The Day to Day Life of a Satanic High Wizard.

I know that I’m going to be able to feel [the medallion] and tell her that, y’know, this was, y’know, used in a–I could tell you if it was used in a spell. Or I could tell you that your friend found this at Goodwill and made up a story about it.

Zachary King, on medallions, claims regarding the magical power of.

Zachary King claims that his coven, like all such covens, worked with people who wanted love-spells, mainly, as well as with local politicians. He never names any of these politicians or any of the laws or policies that his group helped bring into being.

He described Satanist groups as consisting of “three houses.” One house attacked the Bab-tist churches; another attacked Catholic churches; the other promoted the New Age and attacked atheists and whatnot. The houses didn’t know about each other. Of course, as a High Wizard he knew about all the groups and what they were doing. The house that attacked Catholics did Black Masses, but the other two houses never did. He says that there are atheist Satanists and theistic ones; he was a theistic Satanist. He and Lloyd mock atheist Satanists.

King describes Satanism as a big company with a CEO in charge as well as a board. Then he says his uniform, as a High Wizard, consisted of a tuxedo, a top hat, a cane, and “corpse makeup.” (18:00) The getup sounds like Baron Samedi to me.

This is the song that King references as containing a character who wears an identical costume to the one he says he had to wear. The character appears in the greenhouse scenes in the video.

(There is a zero percent chance that this guy doesn’t have a half-written fantasy novel somewhere on a dusty old hard drive that develops all of these tedious, derivative ideas.)

And yes, he says that Satanists have conventions and fly “all over the world” to party together (18:30). He met presidents “past present and future,” including Barack Obama and Bill Clinton before they became presidents. He says he wore his Baron Samedi getup during these meetings because he was totally representing Satanism at events at places like Bohemian Grove, which he refers to as “a Satanic hotspot.” He offers no evidence that he’s ever been there, nor any insider knowledge of the place.

King’s only got another 15 minutes or so to cover all the rest of his testimony tropes. Lloyd stops him at about 21:00 to ask about the conversion. 

King doesn’t care; he’s still got a little paving of the road to do. He goes on for another minute or two about how he’d signed a contract with the coven that said that Jesus had died for all people–except for him, and that Jesus’ blood washed away all sin–except his. Somehow he missed talking about this contract much earlier. He does not produce any copy of the contract or refer people to a place where they can see it.

The Miraculous Conversion.

Any public speaker in Christianity worth their salt would have been ten minutes into the conversion part of the testimony by now, but clearly King gets a real charge out of telling his story. (If listening to verbal filler like “you know” drives you spare, don’t listen to this interview. I’m taking that phrase as his “tell” that he’s about to lie.) After ranting about how he didn’t see Bab-tists as his enemies because they were loosening all their god-given standards about equal marriage and abortion while Catholics were still standing strong (REALLY), he still isn’t ready to talk about his actual conversion.

He says that despite all this wealth and power (he hasn’t talked about the orgies or abortions yet), he found himself “yearning for God.” (22:50) He says that “at some point” he totally left “organized Satanism” and joined the selfsame Bab-tist church he was trying to break up right then–purely “to hide,” but he doesn’t say what’s got him scared. He attended there a couple of years, he says (23:05) until deciding “I can’t do this anymore.” He doesn’t ever say what he means by “this.”

He tells Lloyd that he broke up “120” Bab-tist churches and assisted in “146” abortions. Lloyd doesn’t ask him more about either of those things. King does not offer a single name of a single clinic or church he claims to have worked with or against and Lloyd doesn’t ask.

Okay, Now Really: The Miraculous Conversion.

FINALLY he’s now ready, having used up all of his big talking points and with only 10 minutes left in the show, to talk about his conversion.

He says at 23:40 he was working at a “Piercing Pagoda” in Virginia. That’s a little jewelry kiosk usually found in a mall; most locations have employees on hand who can pierce ears with a little gun. The night before, King says, he performed a magic spell, but doesn’t say what about or what it entailed, or what its goal was.

One fateful night, a customer visited the shop. She gave him a medallion and advised him that “the blessed mother is calling me into her army.” He claims he had no idea who the “blessed mother” might be (24:40)–forgetting, one supposes, that as a Satanic High Wizard who understood what all three “houses” of his religion fought against, he certainly would have known at least the basics of Catholicism. I don’t think even a totally uneducated stoner gadabout working at a Piercing Pagoda would be that in-the-dark about Catholicism, but I guess it’ll tickle Catholics to hear that their religion is so mysterious to non-members.

He really talks up to Lloyd about how silly he thought it was that this lady offered him a medallion, claiming that he didn’t think Christians ever got into blessed objects. HAW HAW those silly Catholics and their silly medallions! HAW HAW! (Ironically, he said he’d initially thought she was offering him a Chick tract–which makes me even more reluctant to believe his professed ignorance about Catholicism’s more, um, pagan elements, since Catholic-bashing makes up quite a lot of Jack Chick’s work.)

King says that when he took the medallion from her, he had a miraculous vision: The customer told him all about the spell he’d cast the night before (though he still doesn’t give any details about it), as well as “all the magic I’ve ever done in my life, all the abortions I’ve done, all the churches I’ve broke up, how that I’m working for the devil, and everything I’m doing is evil” etc., and that he needs to “forsake all that” and seek her god.


White cat is shocked

He says he was “terrified” because he thought, he says, that she’s casting magic at him and is clearly more powerful than he is. Suddenly he realized that the “mother of god” and “the blessed mother” must be Mary, who then appeared before him and turned him around to see Jesus behind him. He says he instantly converted.

The vision ended and now he was back at the mall, and the woman was still talking to him.

See, she wasn’t just any random Catholic who’d wandered into the Piercing Pagoda that evening. She was Mary Ann Wichmann, who was some kind of assistant to a priest named Joseph Whalen who sold snake-oil “healing oils” by mail. (If you’re not used to the wild and woolly folk-magic aspects of Catholicism, let me caution you about the rabbit-hole that is now opening up before your feet.) Well, her boss Joseph Whalen called after the conversion and apparently ZOMG SOMEHOW KNEW. Whalen spoke briefly with King to tell him, “Welcome to the faith.”


tuxedo cat is shocked

One picayune conjob found another that night, and it’s really no wonder at all that they instantly glommed together.

Post-Conversion Life.

He spends the last 5 minutes whisking through the awesomeness–and strangely prosaic nature–of life as a modern Catholic. He laughs about his first time visiting a Perpetual Adoration chapel and shares how difficult it was for him (as a manager at the Piercing Pagoda–he does mention this, so maybe he really was one, but as we’ll see it wasn’t a particularly impressive role) to arrange time to get indoctrinated before his acceptance into the Catholic community (there’s a procedure).


He claims that he hung out at the Perpetual Adoration chapel for anywhere from “1 hour to 18 hours a day” (despite the busy schedule he had at work?) because it was just his “favorite place in the world to be,” and that when a priest came to bless his house King told the guy that he could totally see Jesus lurking around. The priest was probably Monsignor Richard Lavalley, who works out of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Vermont; he’s been in charge of its private school for years, so it’s hard to fathom him having that kind of time (my aunt, who held a similar position at her private school, sure didn’t).

Lavalley was apparently so impressed that he had King come to him for his indoctrination–anywhere from 1-6 times a week and 1-3 hours at a time, by King’s estimate–instead of attending plain ol’ boring RCIA like everyone else has to do, cuz he’s sooooo special that way. So yes, he’s already forgotten about how hard it was to schedule time off from his job in his rush to demonstrate how super-spiritual he was as a new convert.

It’s easy to imagine how happy Zachary King must have been to have so impressed someone he clearly viewed as being everything he wished he was: respected, holding power over others, an authority in his community, and apparently even well-loved. One wonders what Lavalley really thought of King, though.

Lloyd had to end it there, but asked King to say something to those who would say that his testimony is simply not believable.

King snidely replied that “that’s like a cafeteria Catholic, or a cafeteria Christian” because one either believes 100% of the Bible or none of it; it was either true or it was a lie. He says his story “proves” that God is real, and so therefore demons must be real too. And he just doesn’t see how all this evil in the world could possibly exist without demons being real. So there you go; checkmate, atheists.

(How fundagelical of him to have such an un-nuanced, childish view of the Bible!)

A Verdict.

Me, listening to this interview: Oh my god. No. No. Oh my god. He’s kidding. I can’t. No he did NOT.
Mr. Captain: Maybe I should hear this too.
Me: No. Bad idea.

So yes, Zachary King’s testimony falls very neatly into the established playbook for a conjob-for-Jesus peddling a dramatic testimony. He follows the format very closely, deviating only because he simply isn’t an organized enough thinker to work with serious time constraints.

If he was pitching the story to anybody but extremist Christians, he wouldn’t have gotten anywhere with it, because he sounds like exactly what he is: a very sad, lonely, unattractive dweeb who grew up in a very restrictive, super-religious monoculture and had dreams of the world being different than it really was, and who is finally getting a little attention.

And look, I get that. I grew up wishing with all of my heart that myths and fairy tales were real–until I realized what a terrible world that’d be in reality and fell in love with what the world really is.

Zachary King never got past the wishfulness. By his own admission he’s just a regular, uneducated, mediocre-white-guy schmuck. He hints that his health is declining very quickly–he had a stroke a few months ago and I heard somewhere that he’s lost all or most of his vision–and says he doesn’t take good care of himself despite the risks he’s running. He exhibits a high degree of disorganized, irrational, and clouded thinking, with a nattering, repetitive, and mumbly way of expressing himself that doesn’t exactly scream credibility. (So he’s pretty much the opposite of every actual Satanist I’ve ever met.)

That doesn’t mean I’m ultimately sympathetic to someone who is lying in service to a culture war that is being waged to rob people of their rights, however. He’s still an opportunistic asshole gleefully riding on other people’s gullibility for his own benefit.

But wow, gang, Zachary King’s fake testimony is literally all he has to offer the world. The wide-eyed admiration this lie gets him is literally all he has to feel good about himself. He’s barely a Z-list Christian celebrity–definitely not wealthy or powerful. He’s a total embarrassment to the religion, a fake and a phony–and he’s rapidly nearing the end of a lackluster life built upon and marked by dishonesty and deception.

There’s no curse that any real wizard could ever lay upon him that would be worse than the life this conjob wakes up to every morning. 

Just think of the reaction most people have to this picture. And now think about Zachary King, waking up tomorrow to be Zachary King.
Just consider the honest affection and adoration that these two cats just got from tens of thousands of people.

So there’s Zachary King’s life story in his own words, gang. Color me unimpressed. Even by liar-for-Jesus standards, this is awful stuff.

Join me next time as we look at that “shithole” gaffe from Donald Trump that’s proving to be an unlikely sticking point for his fanbase–see you then!

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