I remember back when the Satanic Panic came to my small town. I was just a kid. We lived in the kind of town where I could leave the house first thing in the morning and be out with my buddies until dark. The parents were never concerned. We didn’t have to check-in, we didn’t have cell phones to be reached out, we were just somewhere in the neighborhood being kids. There were video games, but we didn’t it in front of the television playing them all day – we went outside and played like kids. Times were a lot simpler back then, at least for a while.
The rumor was that someone saw a strange vehicle across town (nothing ever happened without somebody taking notice around there). Apparently the vehicle was old, beat-up, and filled with dead animals. The immediate mental connection was made (no doubt inspired from day time talk shows) that the person in the vehicle must be part of some child-snatching cult. It didn’t take long for the rumor mill to spread like wildfire and there were suddenly dozens of crazy stories circulating.
Before long, parents weren’t letting their kids wander off like the used to, they were driving their kids to school, everybody was in lock-down mode. Then the local police department started coming around to the schools and lecturing kids on the dangers of cults and what to do if you are approached by a stranger.
As a kid, the shit was kind of fucking scary. You could see the fear on the faces of the adults. Everyone was on high alert. The local rumors started to spread to other small towns. Nothing ever came of it. Nobody ever saw this mysterious vehicle again. In fact, I would put money on it that the vehicle never even existed in the first place.
The point of this is to show how one single seed can be planted and spread out and become something really big. One person mistakes something that they don’t understand and next thing you know, an entire town is paralyzed with fear. Maybe the vehicle DID exist and someone DID see it, but there was no proof other than the initial story. Maybe it was started by someone who was doing this intentionally to stir the pot and it just got out of control. It’s hard to say precisely.
All I know is that it doesn’t take much to make a situation spiral out of control. A loose parallel can be drawn to the situation that took place in Arkansas (I think it was Arkansas anyhow) where those three kids were murdered and the murders were pinned on three other kids because they were essentially ‘goths’ and listened to heavy metal. That small town mentality can be dangerous. And even though the three alleged killers are now free, they will never escape the original situation. That stigma will remain with them for the rest of their lives. It’s not outside the realm of possibilities that a very similar thing could have happened locally, given the climate at the time.
We can’t run every single even that take place through a fact-checker. We can’t screen everything that everyone says to determine if it’s true or not. Everything must be looked at with a critical eye. Everything must be questioned. People should be held accountable for what they say. But most importantly, we as people must learn how to interpret the bullshit. Don’t accept it at face value, even if it comes from a reputable source.
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