Why I’m Leaving The Satanic Temple

I’ve been involved in the New York City chapter of The Satanic Temple for about two and a half years, first as a regular member, then as media liaison, and now as co-chapter head. My reasons for joining TST were simple: I was enchanted with their work in the areas of reproductive freedom and separation of church and state, and I thought their strategy of using the unique legal power of religious groups in the United States to accomplish this work was brilliant. I still believe in this work, and I still hold the tenets and stated mission of TST in the highest regard.

One of the only things that has checked my enthusiasm for TST over the past couple of years has been the unwavering commitment of cofounder Lucien Greaves to his particular flavor of free speech absolutism. Greaves thinks it’s terrible that protests prevented Milo Yiannopouolos from speaking at Cal Poly (I was delighted), that it’s bad news that many social media and podcasting platforms recently banned conspiracy theorist Alex Jones (I think it’s very good and was long overdue), and that hate speech as a concept is too nebulous to legislate and thus should be left alone (I think hate speech is bad and that to pretend otherwise in 2018 is intellectual dishonesty).

Until recently, I didn’t think these areas of disagreement with Greaves posed a problem for my continued involvement with The Satanic Temple. After all, I still firmly believe in the seven tenets, and I’m still firmly on board with TST’s stated mission. But it’s become increasingly clear to me over the past year or so that the personal opinions of Lucien Greaves are the organizational opinions of The Satanic Temple, and I was naive to think otherwise. Though they haven’t been formally declared canon, Greaves’s Patreon posts generally end up being treated as organizational policy — Patreon content is routinely cited in internal TST discussions as evidence of what TST’s stance is on any given issue.

This has been brought sharply into focus for me over the past couple of months, as TST has launched its lawsuit against Twitter. If you’re not familiar with the lawsuit, this announcement should get you up to speed. Although it doesn’t fall into my core areas of interest (reproductive freedom and separation of church and state), I have no problem in principle with the idea of TST suing Twitter over religious discrimination. My concerns are entirely centered on our legal representation: Marc J. Randazza of Randazza Legal Group. Randazza has a long history of defending deeply troubling people in free speech cases. Notably, he’s also currently defending conspiracy theorist Alex Jones in the lawsuit brought against him by Sandy Hook parents.

This in itself is not shocking. Lawyers defend objectionable people all the time. As has been frequently pointed out to me, a criminal defense lawyer isn’t a bad person for defending criminals. If I’m on trial for murder, I’m not going to refuse to be represented by someone who has represented murderers in the past. I might, however, refuse to be represented by someone who writes fan letters to serial killers and appears on talk radio shows to chat about how much he loves murder. That’s the problem here — Randazza is not just doing his job:

“If you want to represent detestable clients, fine. But when you go out into the media and don’t just defend them but actually adopt their logic and moral arguments, that’s different. Then, it looks like you agree with them. And if you agree with them, you can no longer avail yourself of the lawyerly presumption that you are just doing your job. Instead of being a mere part of the process, you become part of the problem.”

As much as Greaves and other TST loyalists argue otherwise, Randazza is not just another lawyer and it’s disingenuous to pretend that he is. There is a line between defending reprehensible people and being a reprehensible person, and for me, he crossed that line long ago. He has appeared on Alex Jones’s InfoWars again and again — not merely to discuss the Sandy Hook case but to express a whole variety of opinions about everything from Starbucks’s racial bias training to “the culture of victimhood” in the United States: “One day in the future, there will be the uber victim: it will be one victim, to rule over all of them. There will be a black lesbian in a wheelchair with an eye patch and every single possible victimization and she will rule…. It’s a dystopian fairy tale.”

Most TST leadership at the national and chapter level will tell you that we all agree TST, like Satanism in general, has a diversity issue, and that we want very much to encourage people from historically oppressed groups to feel comfortable joining our cause. But how can we expect people from vulnerable minority groups to believe a word we say when we’re busy allying ourselves with a man who spends his time working for and befriending literal Neo-Nazis? Regardless of the original reasons for TST’s diversity problem, working with someone like Randazza can only make it worse. It’s not a coincidence that the people who are leaving TST over this issue right now are predominantly members of the very same vulnerable groups we say we want to attract. We can also reasonably expect prospective TST members who belong to these communities to be turned off not only by the Randazza issue but by other utterly tone-deaf messaging on TST’s public site. It’s clear that a lot of people at the national level of TST don’t think this matters, but I very strongly disagree.

The other major point that keeps getting brought up in discussions of Randazza is the fact that he has offered to represent TST pro bono, meaning no valuable resources would be diverted from other campaigns. I agree that this is a rare opportunity, one that I wish TST were given more often. But since this is in fact the case, I have to wonder why so much of TST’s messaging to members and the general public about the Twitter lawsuit has focused on a need to raise funds. I’ve gone back and re-read a lot of this material over the past few weeks and have come to the conclusion that this misdirection is deliberate, and I object to it in the strongest possible terms.

screenshot from The Satanic Temple Official Forum on Facebook

Ultimately, what it comes down to for me is I can no longer ignore the obvious evidence that my goals and those of The Satanic Temple have diverged. As I’ve said, I joined TST to do what I consider vital work in the areas of reproductive freedom and separation of church and state. Not only does the Twitter lawsuit not fall into those areas, it’s actually making that work harder by alienating hard-working members and valuable allies. I’m in chapter leadership, so it’s natural that members of my chapter as well as members of my social circle and the media come to me for help understanding why TST does the things it does. Until now I have enthusiastically explained it to them to the best of my ability. But when it comes to Randazza, I honestly don’t know what to say.

I want to revisit the idea I brought up earlier that there is no longer much of a distinction between the personal opinions of Lucien Greaves and the organizational opinions of The Satanic Temple. This is the core of the other big problem I have with TST, and it’s the main reason I’ve chosen to make this letter public. There seems to be little to no recognition at the national level of the amount of time, money, and social capital poured into TST at the local chapter level — to say nothing of the professional and personal risks many of us incur by lending our support to a Satanic organization.

It’s actually not clear to me why the chapter program exists at all.¹ The attitude of both National Council and Executive Ministry toward chapter leadership (to say nothing of chapter membership) has been consistently dismissive and condescending, with one or two rare exceptions. When I recently brought up my concerns about Randazza with my chapter’s current National Council point of contact, as chapter heads are frequently instructed to do, I was laughed at and then treated to an explanation of what a lawyer is. Furthermore, there is no transparency whatsoever from the national organization in terms of upcoming actions or future plans — we found out about the Twitter lawsuit, for example, exactly the same way the general public did (via the TST email newsletter). This isn’t how a robust, scalable nonprofit operates — religious or otherwise.

Of course, this isn’t the first time I’ve expressed my concerns about the issues I’ve mentioned here. The difference is that in the past, I’ve done so privately, via the appropriate channels, as instructed by national leadership. But that has accomplished nothing. I’ve waited weeks for a response from Greaves or anyone at the national level to a letter listing our Randazza concerns — a letter that was collaborated on and signed by many chapter heads, not just myself. The only response we’ve gotten to the sincere and legitimate issues laid out in that letter is a smug and self-congratulatory Patreon post intended for the general public — or at least the subset of the general public that pays to hear Greaves’s thoughts. It’s also clear that we wouldn’t have even gotten this much if the now-dissolved LA chapter and former TST spokesperson Jex Blackmore hadn’t recently gone public with their concerns.

It will be said that I’m posting this letter because I crave attention, but I want to emphasize that the opposite is true — I would greatly prefer to quietly remove TST from my social media presence and move on. But as someone who has been a vocal supporter of TST to my family, friends, and even my coworkers, I think it’s important to explain my reasoning. I also think we have evidence that making a public statement is the only way to get the attention of Greaves and other national TST leadership, and I’m hopeful that as more of us speak up, real change might happen inside the organization. Either way, I’ve become increasingly convinced that if what I want to do is make real progress in the areas that originally drew me to TST, then I’d be better off working with other organizations to accomplish these goals. It makes me sorrier than I can adequately express to say this, but here we are. I will always be a Satanist, but I can no longer in good conscience call myself a member of The Satanic Temple.

¹Originally, this sentence ran “it’s actually not clear to me why the chapter program exists at all, except perhaps as a source of fundraising revenue.” I’ve edited it because it became clear it was being interpreted in a way I didn’t intend. While fundraising was an important part of my work with the New York City chapter, there are no mandatory fundraising requirements or quotas imposed on chapters by the national organization. Membership in TST is free and fundraising by chapters is entirely voluntary.