Rise, Decline, and Fall: My Time in The Satanic Temple and Beyond
It was a bad bill. SJ39 was created and sponsored by a Republican Congressman and rabid foe of LGBTQ folks across the State of Missouri. This was initially why and how I came to know the members of The Satanic Temple of Saint Louis. I wanted to protest the bill on “lobbying day” at the Missouri Capitol. This was the Spring of 2016. Initially, I couldn’t find a means of transportation, and I enquired of the groups who intended to protest the bill if any of them might be leaving from Saint Louis and would they be able to help me find a ride to the Capitol. I was contacted bare moments later by Nikki Moungo, one of the Chapter Heads of The Satanic Temple of Saint Louis (hereafter referred to as TSTSTL). She informed me that if I didn’t mind riding with a chain-smoking, constantly cussing Satanist that she would be more than willing to bring me to Columbia/Jeff City and the protest at our House of Representatives. I told her that I had no problem with those parameters so long as she had no problem with my being a Trans woman. It fazed her not at all.
By a strange turn, I ended up not needing her assistance. I was able to attend the protest and speak face to face with the bill’s sponsor. After helping to deliver thousands of signatures on a petition which opposed SJ39, I looked for the clutch of Satanists so that I could thank Nikki for her previous offer, and to sate my curiosity about their brand of Satanism. Unfortunately, we missed each other and were unable to connect.
I’m a writer. I love words and what they can do in the hands of poets and philosophers. I began seeing news about The Satanic Temple and the causes they championed. I reposted articles about them on social media, affixing my own preamble to these articles. In short, I wrote introductions to help the folks who followed my account understand why these articles impacted me, and that they were worth the read.
It had been a few weeks since the protest against SJ39, which thankfully had not passed muster in the Missouri Legislature, when I received a message from Nikki out of the blue. She asked me if I would be interested in blogging for TSTSTL. I felt like there might have been a misunderstanding since I wasn’t a member of the Temple at all. I told her as much. I didn’t want to misrepresent myself. Nikki said that it didn’t matter. She enjoyed the bits and blurbs I had written online and was keen to build social commentary content on TSTSTL’s web page. I was gratified by her invitation. I set myself deadlines with her approval, promising an entry per week. Nikki acted as my publisher, and my wife Alli took on the role of editor. I named the column “Jayne Says”, a play on both the song by “Jane’s Addiction” and my “dead-name”.
Pride month came, and Nikki invited me to meet her and other members of the Chapter at the celebration in downtown Saint Louis. By this time, I had written several pieces for their webpage and they were eager to meet me. Nikki asked me to write a piece on what Pride means to me. As the Summer wore on, I learned more about TST by researching and by hanging out with the members of TSTSTL. Eventually I submitted a request for membership and admission specifically to TSTSTL. I had no problem writing the short essay they asked for. At a small get-together with chapter members, they jubilantly accepted me among their number. I felt cared for among them; protected, treasured, appreciated.
It wasn’t more than a few weeks before, at another intimated gathering, that two members excitedly accosted as soon as I stepped through the door. Their energy couldn’t be contained as they hurriedly explained their need for a new co-chapterhead. The member who previously served in that capacity had mostly abdicated their duties as far as the TSTSTL Chapter. They had been selected for a position on TST’s National Council and had begun to ignore all other business. “Donklin”, whom readers will already recognize from Dame-Sister Nikki’s article on why she left the TST, was the member whom I would be replacing as co-chapterhead.
Fast forward a few months to the last days of September in 2016, Nikki and members of Springfield Missouri’s proto-chapter, arranged for Lucien Greaves (Doug Messner) to speak to a gathering of the Kansas City Atheists. Concurrently, TSTSTL had been planning to stage a protest at the Equality House (Planting Peace) which is situated directly across from the Westboro Baptist Church. This “church” which the Southern Poverty Law Center denotes as a hate group, had recently released their newest campaign at the time; “God Hates Trannies”. For me, this trip would be monumental. I would get to facedown this hateful conglomerate the day after Lucien’s presentation to the Kansas City Atheists with him and my now dear friend, Nikki to give me courage. WBC had appropriated the “Talking Heads” song “Burning Down the House”, adding inane, anti-LGBTQ, targeted toward people like me. Nikki and I created a counter-campaign called “Byrne Westboro”. We named it for the singer guitarist of “Talking Heads” even entreating his management for an appearance by the artist. And although their response was favorable, we were informed that Mr. Byrne had previous engagements to play in New York on those dates.
Before the event, Lucien and I became entangled in a merry little war on Twitter with none other than Fred Phelps Junior himself. We set up massive speakers on the lawn of the Rainbow House and blasted devil music and doing bad karaoke directed at the WBC compound. We raised a little over $700 for Planting Peace. I felt like we were united. I liked Lucien a lot. He was quiet and seemed to like economizing language so that it had the greatest impact of purpose. It’s something I’m not good at. I’m verbose and elaborate in my speech and writing; a direct contrast to his quietness. But I felt as though we had connected and enjoyed our time together. I wouldn’t have called him a friend, but I treasured this alliance. Yet, the event got buried. I would go so far as to say that it was ignored and silently disavowed.
In the few months that followed, a member of Springfield’s proto-chapter contacted us with some concerns about and certain conversations they had shared with him. We received copies of emails and screenshots of chats where “Donklin” took aim at both Nikki and I; telling the Springfield member that he cared nothing for dead gay kids or Trans rights. Nikki had lost her eldest son to bullying and a fatal overdose that followed. For me, nearly every day after “coming out” was a struggle. The way some people treated me was so demoralizing and depressing. I had to hide my reactions and internalize so much because I wouldn’t give anyone the satisfaction of harming me. It was deeply wounding that a member of the National Council was so dismissive of gay and trans struggles. I had always thought of the Temple as monolithic in its acceptance of all. But this was such a deflating thing to discover. Nikki shared her concerns over this demonstration of apathy directly with Doug. Being a National Council member herself, she found “Donklin’s” views incongruent with the tenets TST was supposed to represent. Doug’s response was to chastise the Springfield leadership for having shared this information and I believe, intentionally delaying Springfield’s full chapter status as a form of attrition.
Certain that “Donklin” heard this news, he made it a practice of perpetually stonewalling proposals for actions by TSTSTL, and engaged in sabotage against our chapter. He had been embittered by his removal as co-chapterhead and my replacing him, though he had attested he had no interest in remaining co-chapterhead and wanted to devote his time to National Council business. It wasn’t just “Donklin” whose intense dislike took the form of subversive attacks. The “After School Satan” program we had worked hard to establish was suddenly crushed. A cabal of TST members went behind our back and demanded Springfield remove one of our instructors over a clash with other TST members online. We received word from Springfield that they were compelled to kill the ASSC program with only one instructor remaining. They would not share the identities of those persons who gave the mandate. They would only say that it was persons high up in TST who issued the ultimatum. We managed to discover the identities of those involved, but the damage had been done and it was too late to rescue our ASSC program.
A strange opportunity to undertake a project not related to TST, presented itself as we wrapped up the “Byrne Westboro” event. Nikki and I spent the next several months working and living together as we embarked upon this unnamed endeavor. We sacrificed time with our loved ones. We lived rough much of the time. And as the work wore on, we decided to give some benefit of this project to the members of TST. In a closed chapterhead group on Facebook, I intimated that we had exciting news to come. This discussion group was supposed to have been a place where chapterheads could speak on anything they desired. It was not exclusive to the business of TST. Little did I realize at the time, that I had somehow made enemies with certain members of the Temple. I don’t know how or why, but there were persons who had taken an extreme and irrational dislike toward me. They attacked me through that post and railed against it for not being purely related to TST. It was then that one person came to the fore: Ash Astaroth.
In a raving missive to the National Council he accused us of attempting to distract from the Salem Art Gallery and its elevated profile in the news. Every word of his strange email rant was intended to insult and demean an effort of which he did not even know the true nature. Within this crazy bluster was the repeated demand that we reveal every detail of the project, and Greg Stevens of the National Council had the audacity to demand the financials and detailed plans for this private business endeavor. In fact, they no less than demanded the project be turned over to them when they had no claim of ownership whatsoever. Nikki refused to do so. It was hers alone and had no connection to TST. We had merely thought to allow TST occasional usage of what we were creating; free and clear. The remaining members (for they were unable to keep many of those selected to the position) of the National Council behaved as though they were the Catholic Church demanding tithe, title, and deed for something they had no hand in developing.
Nikki and I continued to work. In the late Winter/Early Spring of 2017 we were again challenged by the National Council. A chain of emails and conversations again stated demands for information and insistence that only they could approve our activities. During this round of emails between National Council members, I was sitting directly across from Nikki. I was there when “Donklin” made his threat against Nikki and her family. He threatened in print, via email to have her family swatted by feeding false information to law enforcement. With all the police violence toward people of color, this was an especially poignant threat for Nikki to endure. You see, her husband is a person of color. Their son is mixed race. What do you think is the likeliest scenario these days, where the bored cops of an affluent town get to finally try out all the military hardware they’ve been hoarding? Imagine not only this opportunity arising for them but add to that discovering two male persons of color in the household. Let’s not detract from the value of human life by laying odds.
Just prior to that shit-storm, our latest proposal for socio-political action had been ignored first outright, then viciously criticized. It was simple: We would rob the religiously based Crisis Pregnancy Centers of patrons by offering free pregnancy tests on the sidewalks in front of these sham clinics. Often, the draw of these places is simply that: free pregnancy testing. Once these women are drawn into these fake clinics they are berated with religious pro-forced birth lectures and misinformation… including fudged and falsified due-dates to prevent these women from being able to obtain abortion services within the narrow window established by draconian laws. We would take a page out of the anti-abortionist playbook and intercept these women before the CPCs could reel them into their hours long verbal beatdowns. The one difference being, we would be respectful and non-confrontational in our offer. We coupled the free tests with a pamphlet containing accurate medical information and a list of resources that women in need could use to obtain real family planning and reproductive healthcare. The idea, as I said, was dismissed by the National Council.
At a certain point we could no longer endure the heavy handed, arbitrary authority being wielded by TST’s National Council and we resolved together that we would leave the Temple. We didn’t want to leave our members in TSTSTL rudderless. We offered to help transition leadership to whomever they chose as their new chapterheads. We addressed our membership with the choice to remain together as TSTSTL or to do as they pleased. Before they could render their decision, the National Council arbitrarily abolished the chapter without consideration of its member’s desires. However, the decision that our members arrived at, was to collectively abandon TST and remain with Nikki and I for as long as we were willing to continue in our varied efforts.
I wept that day. I wept for the loss of something that in reality never was. I had once thought that TST was a place of acceptance for me, but the flaw of humanity is the joy it finds in power and the exercise of authority. Nikki teared up as she apologized profusely to me. She said: “I did this to you. I took this away from you. I’m so sorry.” I told her this simply wasn’t true. That my tears were for how badly I had been deceived; not by her… by them.
Our chapter left with us. We formed a Satanic Order and dubbed ourselves Cenobites because of our dedication to the work we do. Our entanglement with TST was not at an end however. We found ourselves trolled by those same members who had relentlessly attacked us and spread falsehoods about us. So much disdain simply made us more defiant. We remained quiet in the face of the public with all we had gone through. Meanwhile, Chalice Blythe engaged the Springfield proto-chapter to supposedly get them up to speed. She told the bald-faced lie that Nikki had been preventing them from achieving the status of full chapter. In truth, Nikki had fought for them constantly. She had even threatened to quit the Temple if they didn’t ratify Springfield, long before our falling out with them.
Then, one day several months later, TST publicized the “Byrne Westboro” event in the press to fill out the list of their socio-political actions. However, they had renamed the event “Transgender Dance Party” and used my picture without permission. I may be out and proud, but it is for me to decide how this information is disseminated. Despite not hiding the fact that I’m Trans from the public, I still consider this an “outing” by using my picture and renaming the event in this way. Among Trans folk, we consider this a form of abuse and violence. They have no concept of how dangerous life is for me, nor apparently for any other Trans person if this is how they go about representing the queer community.
Article in reference to “Transgender Dance Party”:
It has been almost two years since our schism with TST, yet it was as the tumbling of small stones which precipitates a landslide. Recently a series of dominoes has fallen because of the unchecked hubris of TST’s National Council and Doug Messner. The UK Chapter announced its separation from TST merely a week ago now. They were closely followed by the LA Chapter, then Portland Chapter; both of which held deep contempt for Doug’s position on white supremacists and the newest wave of neo-Nazism to grip our nation. We have been told by TST insiders with whom we have remained friendly, that these will not be the last to depart… that others have had similar experiences to our own. Their dissatisfaction with the National Council’s treatment of their proposals and the unique situations they deal with in their various regions has lead to the realization that the Temple serves mostly as a vehicle for Doug’s personal vendettas. Most notable is his longstanding feud with Jason Rapert; a rabid theist in the Arkansas Legislature.
This statement, the unfurling of my memories, my disillusionment, my sense of loss in the revelation of their true nature; it became necessary because of the false narrative TST’s National Council and prominent members have crafted to justify their actions against the Saint Louis Chapter. The falsehoods they have told about us and the misinformation they have spread have created a repugnant legend about us. We were the few who stood by our “Mary”, the young woman at the center of TST’s reproductive rights court case in Missouri. We had representation at nearly every hearing, whether she was required to appear or not. It wasn’t until recently after several hearings, that TST leadership decided to send Jex Blackmore to Saint Louis for a single court date.
For Jex, I once had admiration. No longer. I might once have considered her a sort of living saint had she opted to depart TST when their bile was turned upon her. Instead, I disdain her for her continued association despite their animosity toward her at times. I believe many of these high-profile members like her are addicted to this “fame-for-no-reason”, instead of committing to worthwhile works toward true change.
We continue to work on our socio-political actions. Our campaign in which we distribute free pregnancy tests to women who might otherwise be victimized by CPCs persists. Our Order seeks to alleviate the burdens unduly placed upon women in Missouri and Kansas who desperately need reproductive healthcare. We protest harmful bills against the LGBTQIA community. We stonewall legislation intended to erode the availability of women’s reproductive healthcare. We find it insulting and dismissive when those unfamiliar with the state of things in our region profess to know what’s best for us. They downplay the situation and threats we live beneath, unable to imagine the truth of what we face.
While I can weather lies and slander directed at me, I cannot tolerate it when it’s perpetuated against those I love. That is most of my reason for finally telling this tale. Make no mistake, tale though it may be, there is nothing false in this relation. I leave it to you to decide the true nature of this beast known as TST.
Dame-Sister Gwendolyn Lesch of The Ordo Sororitatis Satanicae
View Invocation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xb3p6HK5ZeI&t=12s