“There's more to life than just books, you know. But not much more...” - The Smiths
Friday, March 18, 2011
SME's Bizarre Book of the Month: The Satan Seller by Mike Warnke
When you see this kind of book at a garage sale or in the discount bin at a used bookstore, you might wonder, "Who reads this shit?". Well, I do. But I have my reasons. This particular book is key to the anti-occult paranoia and fearmongering that swept America in the '70s, '80s, and early '90s. In its mildest manifestations, this hysteria simply led to a few parents forbidding their children to watch the Smurfs because Papa Smurf was some kind of little blue Satanic warlock or whatever. In its worst manifestations, entire communities were ravaged by false accusations of child abuse and ritual murder, and people went to jail for a very long time. The town of Gilmer, Texas, offers just one chilling example.
And it all started with a relatively small group of Christians who were concerned about '60s New Age fads, heavy metal music, and drugs. For the first time, Christian hegemony seemed to be threatened in the United States of America. Who would step forward to staunch the rising tide of ouiija boards, Yoga classes, and fantasy role-playing games? Who would lead America's jaded youth back into the wholesome realm of Stryper and Bible school exorcisms?
Mike Warnke, that's who. Because he'd been there. He'd seen it all. Back in the mid-'60s, this Catholic California boy had been hand-picked by Satanists and lured into a secret, nation-wide witchcraft coven with all-you-can-eat drugs, sex, and magic. Within a year, he was Master Counselor of the coven, overseeing gang rapes and chopping off fingers. He smuggled enough pot, mescaline, and peyote into California to keep Timothy Leary and Bill Burroughs supplied for a year. He was one bad-ass Satanic mofo, and he had the bullet scars to prove it. Well, sort of. No one has actually seen his bullet scars.
Anyway, all this changed when Mike Warnke, Boy Satanist, joined the Navy.
No, he didn't become gay. He became a Christian. Someone left a Bible lying around in the Navy barracks, and Mr. Hardcore Satanist was transformed after just one peep at it. Talk about an easy convert.
From that day on, Mike Warnke did everything he could to convince the world that Satanists and witches are evil drug fiends in the sway of demons. He knew. He'd been there. He even suspected the Satanists were just one level of the Illuminati, that elusive uber-organization that controls the world:
"A world-wide, super secret control group with perhaps as few as a very dozen at the top...with key men controlling governments, economies, armies, food supplies...pulling the strings on every major international event...and not just now, but for generations, centuries, since the beginning of civilization...manipulating men by their egos and their appetites, rewarding and depriving, enraging and pacifying, raising up first one side and then the other, maintaining a balance of frustration, bitterness, and despair?" (p. 93, ellipses in original)
He heard other Satanists talking about demons that controlled the worst dictators of history: Nero, Hitler, Stalin. A light went on in his head, showing him that demonically inspired Satanists and their human puppets were the force behind international finance, politics, war, industry, and everything else.
"I laughed, a little hysterically, but the light show wouldn't shut off. So that was how it was done! The global-conspiracy buffs were right, after all. Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray, Sirhan B. Sirhan - they were the pawns of a much bigger plot."
Keep in mind that Warnke was supposedly having this epiphany in 1965 or '66, before anyone had ever heard of Ray and Sirhan.
Warnke promptly left the Navy, got married to a solid Christian gal, and started his own ministry. He published this book in 1973. Then he formed his own special niche as a Christian stand-up comedian, blending comedy routines with his Satanic testimony and some good old-fashioned preaching. Yes, it's every bit as awful as it sounds. But evangelical and Charismatic Christians loved it; Warnke cranked out album after album.
Then things got a little wonky. Shortly after entering an Oklahoma Bible college in '74, Warnke began boinking a fellow student named Carol. They ran off together to live in Nashville the following year, leaving Mrs. Warnke and her two sons to figure out WTF went wrong.
Warnke's days in Christian stand-up and ministry were far from over, though. For the next decade and a half, he preached and guffawed and elbow-rubbed his way to the top of the fundamentalist pile. He went through three wives and a few changes of address, but he made it. At the end of the '80s, his ministry was receiving over $1 annually in donations. In 1985, 20/20 interviewed him as an "occult expert" for their show on devil worship.
And that's when things finally went wrong for him. Some writers at the Christian magazine Cornerstone had been observing his goings-on for quite some time, and they were more than a little suspicious about the "Satanic high priest" story that launched Warnke into Christian stardom. Jon Trott and Mike Hertenstein interviewed Warnke's family members, ex-girlfriends, college friends, and early associates, and the story they pieced together had nothing to do with Satanism. It turned out that Mike Warnke had been a squeaky-clean Christian long before he joined the Navy. His high school and college buddies had never seen him take a drag, much less move hundreds of kilos into the Inland Empire at the behest of Satanic kingpins. While Mike "Judas" Warnke was supposedly lopping off the fingers of devil-worshipers and sipping blood from a chalice, the real Mike Warnke was bowling and sharing hot fudge sundaes with his Catholic girlfriend. Trott and Hertenstein published their findings in '92.
Warnke responded to the Cornerstone allegations the way most preachers respond to scandal: He lied his ass off and accused everyone but Christ himself of being aligned against him. Later, he still insisted that he had been a Satanic high priest in '66, but conceded his coven was a wee bit smaller than The Satan Seller indicated. Instead of 1500 members, it had maybe 13. But other than that, the book was totally true!
Warnke's ministry took a bit of a shit-kicking for a few years, but in the grand tradition of American preacher scandals, he was rehabilitated and welcomed back into the arms of the Christian community. The born again are born again. His fellow preachers skirt around the whole Satanic thing these days, focusing instead on his trials and triumphs as a temporary Christian pariah. During Warnke's appearance on The New Jim Bakker Show, Bakker asked, "Say, weren't you into Satanism or something?".
For the morbidly curious or the very-very bored, here's the website of Warnke's current ministry, which he runs with Wife #4.
"All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom." - Albert Einstein