Against Satanic Panics > Recent scaremongers > Dawn Perlmutter > News
News stories about Dawn Perlmutter
by Diane Vera
Copyright © 2006 by Diane Vera. All rights reserved.
Here are some news stories about Dawn Perlmutter, including stories about some of her TV appearances. The stories are listed in chronological order, oldest to most recent.
- Spiritual sleuth studies violent religions to fight crime by Sharon Schlegel, Religion News Service, on the Baptist Standard (newsmagazine of Texas Baptists) site, November 7, 2003. See my comments.
- Local Officers Trained In Religious, Occult Crimes - NBC4, Columbus, Ohio, October 26, 2005 - interview with Dawm Permutter. See my comments.
- Did A Goth Lifestyle Lead to Pamela Vitale's Murder?, FOX News, Friday, October 28, 2005, "partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," October 27, 2005, that has been edited for clarity," interviewing Dawn Perlmutter. See my comments.
- Ohio priest to be tried for nun's slaying, Associated Press, via USA Today, April 14, 2006; and Trial of Priest Accused in Nun's Murder Begins Monday, WTOL-11 News (Toledo, Ohio), April 17, 2006 (printable version). See my comments.
Below are my comments on each of the above stories.
- Spiritual sleuth studies violent religions to fight crime by Sharon Schlegel, Religion News Service, November 7, 2003
This news story begins:
TRENTON, N.J. (RNS)--Police were puzzled by the crime. A corpse had been disinterred in the cemetery, mutilated and left near a mausoleum covered with graffiti.
Eager for a trail to follow, police turned to Dawn Perlmutter, an expert on ritualistic murder and religious terrorism.
It turned out to be exactly the right move. Perlmutter immediately suspected the crime was linked to satanism and urged police to begin by talking to people at nearby stores selling occult books and symbols.
The perpetrator soon was brought to justice.
Or, at least, an alleged perpetrator. Not enough details are provided for us to draw any conclusions about this particular case. I do worry about the possibility that Satanists and people of other nonmainstream religions and subcultures may be getting railroaded with the help of "expert" testimony from the likes of Dawn Perlmutter.
If I were asked for advice on a case like the one described here, I would not suggest talking to people at occult bookstores. Instead, I would suggest talking to the deans of local high schools to ask about kids who both (1) have had discipline problems of one kind or another and (2) are noted for a fascination for the macabre. It seems to me that anyone stupid enough to believe that vandalizing a cemetery is a really cool way to serve Satan is not likely to be very well-read, let alone a buyer of books, occult or otherwise. Moreover, the Pagan/occult/New Age scene has in it lots of easily-frightened fluff-bunnies who would be quick to assume the worst about any Satanist, and who, therefore, would more likely provide false trails than good information. On the other hand, although a high school dean might well be biased against Satanists too, at least the dean would be in a better position to know which kids are actually prone to serious misbehavior.
Satanists are likely to have a strong dose of morbid curiosity, but there are legal ways to satisfy that curiosity. For example, one way is to attend a university that has a medical school, make friends with some first-year med students, and accompany them to the anatomy lab.
Probing strange and violent crime scenes is commonplace for Perlmutter, director of the Institute for the Research of Organized and Ritual Violence and a consultant to law enforcement agencies across the country.
If indeed this is true, then a lot of locales are spending tax dollars on her purported expertise.
"There are literally thousands of new religions, many of whose theologies advocate violence, springing up in this country today," Perlmutter said in an interview.
"I know of at least 150 satanic groups in existence, and more are being formed every day. Many of the white supremacy groups hide behind a Christian facade, distorting that faith and advocating an apocalyptic view of the world.
Interesting how she considers the Christianity of Christian Identity groups to be merely a "facade" rather than a genuine, albeit very offbeat Christian heresy. (I would suspect that in some groups it's just a facade, perhaps even just a tax dodge, but that in other groups it's sincere.) On the other hand, when some neo-Nazis blatantly use the Satanist scene as a place to try to recruit disaffected young people to the neo-Nazi cause, does she consider the "Satanism" of at least some such groups to be merely a facade? Probably not, I would guess, no matter how illogical these groups' "Satanism" might be.
"What concerns me," she said, "is that people are now using the Internet to create their own extreme religions and find followers. I've tried to be careful not to disrespect any religion, but I do draw a very clear line between what's legal and what's illegal."
She's fond of claiming things like, "I've tried to be careful not to disrespect any religion," but in fact she has not tried very hard at all, nor has she been particularly careful to determine who is or isn't, in fact, doing anything illegal. She is quick to assume the worst and quick to dismiss any and all skepticism on straw-man grounds, or on the mere grounds that the skeptic doesn't share her "perspective," rather than showing any sign that she has even bothered to read the skeptics' actual objections. See my critiques of the "Internet publications" she links to on her website:
- Dawn Perlmutter's claims about various "dark" subcultures (Goth, Vampire, Fetish, BDSM, Body Art)
- Comments on "The Religious Practices of Modern Satanists and Terrorists" (Fall 2001)
- Comments on "The Forensics of Sacrifice: A Symbolic Analysis of Ritualistic Crime" (Fall 2003)
- Dawn Perlmutter and her "war on Islam"
Next, the news article says:
She tries to look at each group's practices from its unique perspective, in order to lend some in-depth understanding of members' motives, she said.
She certainly does not have an in-depth understanding of Satanism or of the various subcultures she's looked into. Again, see my critiques above.
The book explains the organizational structure of satanic clans and covens and probes vampirism, voodoo, the Goth movement, fetishes, neo-paganism, sacrifice and blood rituals.
"Satanic clans"? Satanic groups aren't very often called "clans."
Perlmutter also addresses recruitment policies and indoctrination techniques, a subject that deeply worries her, she said. "I know recruiters for these groups are visiting college campuses. And they're finding followers through the Internet among lonely, alienated kids. People have no idea how prevalent these groups are. Everyone, especially parents, needs help to understand what's out there."
What, exactly, is she claiming is "prevalent"? Groups that commit ritual murder? If so, where are all the bodies? Some earlier, now-discredited scaremongers dealt with this problem by claiming that we all have portable little crematoria. Will Dawn Perlmutter start making similar claims, or perhaps try to account for the lack of evidence by claiming there's now an epidemic of cannibalism too? (The latter claim, if she ever makes it, could hopefully be discredited very soon if crime labs start checking people's bowel movements en masse for traces of human flesh....) Or will she just claim that vast numbers of what the cops have always thought of as ordinary mundane murders are really "ritual murders," but the that cops have been "in denial" all these years?
Or is she worried not not about an alleged epidemic of ritual murder itself, but just a proliferation of non-Christian religions and offbeat subcultures, which she believes (incorrectly) are prone to ritual murder?
Anyhow, Satanists don't, as a general rule, try to convert people to Satanism. Members of the best-known Satanist group, the Church of Satan, have often said things like, "Satanists are born, not made." It is far more common for Satanist groups to recruit people who are already Satanists, in competition with other Satanist groups, than to try to recruit people to become Satanists in the first place. As a general rule, people become Satanists because they themselves discover that they are drawn to Satanism, not because anyone tried to recruit them.
Perlmutter never set out to pursue a career linked to law enforcement and gruesome crime. She grew up in Ventnor, N.J., in a happy, traditional family and had a strong interest in art. In college, she became intrigued by the religious symbols and idolatry so prominent in ancient religious art, and this led to a growing interest in philosophy.
She started to see how many of those ancient blood- or sacrifice-related symbols were making their way into modern life, often in distorted fashion.
So she began work on a doctoral thesis titled "Graven Images: Creative Acts of Idolatry," later published as a book. In it, she tackled such contemporary subjects as violence in film.
Fully expecting to spend her life as an academic, Perlmutter taught at several colleges. But her growing acclaim as a crime-scene consultant convinced her to work in that field full time.
It all started when a friend asked her to help a New Jersey police officer pal who was bewildered by a murder case.
Looking over some autopsy photos, "I saw immediately that the types of mutilation shown were indicative of ancient rites of tribal blood mutilation, which could represent a traitor who betrayed a tribe. I told him to look at local gangs," she recalled.
When her hunch proved accurate, the officer invited Perlmutter to speak to a law enforcement-related agency.
"It was received well, and I was asked to speak to two more groups. Every time I spoke, someone started asking me about specific cases.
Assuming that the above story is accurate, I think it's entirely possible that she might have some genuine insights into the workings of criminal gangs, in contrast to her glaring lack of insight regarding law-abiding nonmainstream religions and subcultures. In her 1999 Anthropoetics paper "The Sacrificial Aesthetic: Blood Rituals from Art to Murder" (reviewed by me here), she tried and failed miserably to apply, to various "dark" subcultures, the theories of a Roman Catholic philosopher named René Girard. I suspect, though I can't be sure, that the theories of René Girard may be far more applicable to the criminal underworld than to the "dark" subcultures. (For more about Girard and his theories, see also my page on René Girard, "sacred violence," Christianity, and "anthropology": Dawn Perlmutter's philosophical background, as best I can figure it out.)
Earlier in 1999, she had not yet gone quite as far off the deep end about "ritual murder" as she went later. Back then she wrote a paper on "Postmodern Iconoclasm: Violence in the School Yard" (reviewed by me here), in which she may have had what I suspect are some valid insights into schoolyard shooting sprees (although I can't be sure, since I'm no expert on schoolyard shootings myself).
So, her career as a police consultant may have begun with some valid insights. But then she got carried away. Or, as she put it:
"That's when the light bulb went off," she said. "I realized that, in this way, I would have firsthand access to cases that would prove or disprove my theory about the relationship between violence and the sacred."
She explains the theory this way: "In all religions, there has always been some form of religious sacrifice, and contemporary ritual homicide often mimics and distorts that."
By working with law enforcement, she surmised, she would have a chance to learn more.
Philosophically, Perlmutter is a proponent of "the Girardian theory, the premise that violence and aggression are intrinsic in human beings," she said. But that doesn't mean personal violence is inevitable. Non-destructive outlets for those emotions are part of every culture, she said, pointing to football, movies and TV as healthy avenues for catharsis.
What Dawn Perlmutter fails to see is that the "dark" subcultures too are a "non-destructive outlet," even though they don't fit her Girardian-derived notion of a proper "catharsis." (See my page on Dawn Perlmutter's claims about various "dark" subcultures (Goth, Vampire, Fetish, BDSM, Body Art).)
Incidentally, football players do suffer real and serious injuries (e.g. to tendons and ligaments) probably far more often than the average heavy-pain masochist in the BDSM scene, where most players put a lot of emphasis on physical safety. Not only that, but riots in sports stadiums are far more common than riots at BDSM clubs - where, as far as I am aware, riots are completely unheardof. But football seems "healthier" to her probably because it's just a lot more familiar.
Local Officers Trained In Religious, Occult Crimes - NBC4, Columbus, Ohio, October 26, 2005 - interview with Dawn Permutter
Directly under the headline, this page says, "Expert: Not All Occult Activity Is Criminal." Apparently Dawn Perlmutter imagines that she's being exceedingly gracious and "respectful" toward "occult" religions by conceding that "not all" of us are criminal (suggesting that many of us are criminal), when in fact it would be far more accurate to say that the vast majority of us are not criminal.
On this page are links to a video and a slide show, as well as a printed article. The article begins:
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Among the most disturbing crimes are crimes committed by people who believe supernatural forces are empowering them. Some experts believe those crimes are on the rise.
"Some experts" meaning primarily Dawn Perlmutter herself, of course.
Now, Central Ohio peace officers are being trained to fight occult and religious-based crimes, NBC 4's Duarte Geraldino reported.
officers are being trained by the same woman who was called as an expert ritual crimes investigator in the New Orleans satanic child sex abuse case that had ties in Columbus.
That expert believes ritualistic crimes are becoming more and more common, Geraldino reported.
When a Blacklick woman was arrested on suspicion of taking part in a satanic child sex abuse ring in New Orleans, an expert in ritualistic crime was called in to review evidence.
The above three paragraphs are evidently talking about an alleged case involving the Hosanna Church in Ponchatoula, Louisiana. (See my page about the Hosanna Church case.)
Perlmutter is teaching Central Ohio peace officers how to identify the signs of occult or religious-based crimes, Geraldino reported.
Geraldino: "What's enouchian [sic]?"
Perlmutter: "It's an ancient language that a lot of the occult groups use."
Enochian is not an "ancient" language. It's part of a system that was supposedly revealed to John Dee and his assistant in England during the Renaissance.
"What you would do is you would find something like this and it would be upside down and there may be blood on it, or it may have been pushed into a victim," she said. "They indoctrinate kids at a young age. They will kill their pets in front of them."
Sure this happened in lots of long-since-discredited SRA tales. Can Dawn Perlmutter provide any credible sources?
Perlmutter said religious crime is becoming wide spread, fueled by the Internet and the sense of community that some of the groups provide members.
The Internet has been a great boon to people of many nonmainstream religions and other nonmainstream inclinations. Alas, yes, the Internet does provide one more way that criminal conspiracies can form too. But it seems to me that, on the whole, the Internet is a civilizing influence upon young people with nonmainstream inclinations. The Internet makes it easier for otherwise isolated nonmainstream kids to find law-abiding role models, whereas, apart from the Internet, lawbreakers get a grossly disproportionate share of the publicity in any nonmainstream category. For example, if a kid happens to have an overwhelming desire to ingest blood, there's now a whole online "Vampire community" out there to tell the kid how to find willing partners and extract blood safely, whereas, without the Internet Vampire community, the kid might think that the only way to satisfy "blood lust" is to kill people. (Yes, there were kids like that before today's Vampire community came into existence.) Likewise, Satanism has grown, thanks to the Internet, but the growth has been mainly in the law-abiding sector, not the criminal fringe.
Did A Goth Lifestyle Lead to Pamela Vitale's Murder?, FOX News, Friday, October 28, 2005, "partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," October 27, 2005, that has been edited for clarity," interviewing Dawn Perlmutter
Here, Perlmutter comments on the case of Scott Dyleski, accused of murdering Pamela Vitale. (See also my page about the Scott Dyleski / Pamela Vitale case.)
Perlmutter says, among other things:
Mutilation is very common in ritualistic crimes. In fact, in almost every crime where a teenager was involved in the occult, they did some kind of heinous mutilation. ... They're always very heinous types of crimes. And what they're doing is they're attempting to do a sacrificial rite, and they're actually getting it wrong, because they're inexperienced.
In other words, the crimes are committed by dabblers. If she truly wanted to be "respectful" toward alternative religions - as she often claims she wants - then she would make a major point of saying that, as a general rule, serious and knowledgeable practitioners do not commit crimes of this sort. Serious and knowledgeable Satanists do not, as a general rule, kill people or animals as a "sacrifice" at all. On the other hand, many adherents of the African Diaspora religions and some forms of Pagan Reconstructionism do perform animal sacrifice, but they generally do so in a much more humane manner.
Ohio priest to be tried for nun's slaying, Associated Press, via USA Today, April 14, 2006; and Trial of Priest Accused in Nun's Murder Begins Monday, WTOL-11 News (Toledo, Ohio), April 17, 2006 (printable version)
In both these articles, Dawn Perlmutter is quoted in a story about the murder case of Father Gerald Robinson in Toledo, Ohio. Connected with the murder case, there have also been some 1980's-style "Satanic Ritual Abuse" (SRA) allegations, most of them based on "recovered memories." (See my page about Father Gerald Robinson.)
According to both these articles, one of which was apparently copied from the other:
It is not known if there will be any mention of ritual abuse at Robinson's trial. Dawn Perlmutter, an expert on religious violence and ritualistic crimes, has been assisting prosecutors. She said that she has advised prosecutors in other cases not to mention claims of ritualistic acts. "It just muddies the water," she said. "People do not want to believe these things go on. It can really affect the outcome."
The problem is not that "people do not want to believe these things go on." There are lots of people - especially lots of religious and social conservatives - who are ready, willing, and eager to believe the worst about what the world is coming to these days.
Rather, the problems are these:
- Many of the more extreme SRA allegations are logistically very difficult, making them highly unlikely for that reason. For example, where would a bunch of deranged Roman Catholic priests keep a coffin full of live cockroaches?
- Most SRA allegations have been based on either (1) "recovered memories" or (2) the testimony of children who had been asked a lot of sexually suggestive leading questions by either psychotherapists or social workers. Both of these are highly questionable sources.
- Because SRA allegations are so shocking and inflammatory, they can easily lead to a mis-trial or appeal due to jury bias if they aren't very well founded.
As usual, it appears that Dawn Perlmutter has blithely ignored the real reasons for skepticism, in favor of the idea that people are just "in denial" because they don't want to believe in SRA. For more examples of her tendency to ignore the real reasons for skepticism, see my Comments on "The Forensics of Sacrifice: A Symbolic Analysis of Ritualistic Crime" (Fall 2003).