The Radical Center
Published in

The Radical Center

When Sex Hysteria was Left-Wing

Sexual witch-hunts are associated with the Religious Right and with good reason, but in the 1980s the Right found a number of self-proclaimed Leftists and feminists ready to join them in the imaginary war on Satan. In short order a sexual hysteria resulted in hundreds of innocent people being arrested and it spread to England, the Neatherlands, and New Zealand. Lives were destroyed and children were traumatized by “therapists,” prosecutors, and police, not by Satanists.

One excellent portrayal of the hysteria is the Oliver Stone film Indictment.

The film covers the McMartin trial in Los Angeles. This was THE longest and most expensive trial in American history. The whole thing started when a paranoid schizophrenic alcoholic woman claimed her son had been molested at the McMartin Preschool. She also went on to claim her husband was a molester and someone was molesting her dog. That the mother was mentally disturbed was intentionally hidden from the defense attorneys by prosecutors.

At this point the Manhattan Beach police get involved and poisoned the case by sending letters to all the parents of children at the Preschool claiming abuse took place. Parents went into a panic and started questioning their children — badly to say the least.

Then a fanatical unlicensed “counselor,” Kee MacFarlane got involved and used her sessions to coerce children into making false accusations. She questioned 400 children and claimed almost all of them were victims of Satanic abuse — something that ought to set off alarm bells with rational people. MacFarlane had no therapeutic training, having studied fine art and social work but was not licensed as a social worker anywhere. She falsely asserted she was a psychotherapist and taught her “technique” to people with even less training than herself. These were the “experts” who got the kids to “confess” how they were abused in secret tunnels (never found), participated in animal sacrifices (no bones or dead animals were found), forced to participate in porn (no photos or videos were ever found), and how people such as Chuck Norris molested them.

This trial went on for seven years and not one conviction was secured. It was bogus from day one, and the two fanatics responsible were Kee MacFarlane and Lael Rubin, the prosecutor.

Stone’s film is a very accurate portrayal of the case. It shows the evolution of the case, the hysteria around it, the media complicity in spreading the panic (the reporter who “broke” the story was in a relationship with MacFarlane and the editor at the LA Times, who oversaw the reporting, got engaged to Lael Rubin), and the collapse of the case.

The arrested included Ray Buckey (played well by Henry Thomas), his sister Peggy Ann, their mother Peggy Buckey, grandmother Virginia McMartin, and three older female teachers. These people had their lives destroyed and lost everything trying to defend themselves.

What is often lost in the telling of these hysteria outbreaks is that left-wing Democrats were behind a lot of the case. Rubin was a left-of-center Democrat and Obama supporter. Her husband from the LA Times was also a Democrat and reported favorably regarding his wife while ignoring the red flags about the case.

In Massachusetts Democrat Martha Coakley, who went on to be Attorney General for the state, played the same role in the “Fells Acre Day Care” case Rubin played in McMartin. Using the same sort of new chic “interrogation” techniques, she managed to secure convictions in this false case. Two women and one man were convicted. Coakley didn’t mind when the two women were released from jail because, as she argued, only men can be molesters and the women would not be involved without the man present. One eventually had her conviction overturned and the other died before she could do that.

When the male victim of her witchhunt was to be paroled she lobbied to prevent it, especially since she was now running for higher office she didn’t want his sentence commuted.

The Fells Acre case was actually started by a Scott Harshbarger who went on to run the left-wing lobby group: Common Cause.

Of course, one of the worst on the Left pushing this hysteria was Janet Reno. She went after a 14-year-old boy, Bobby Fijnje who she said was a Satanist child molester who molested children on the roof of a local church. (Really.) Bobby was picked up by cops who told him he looked guilty: “I had no idea what was going on, the scope of what was going on. What that meant. I just started hysterically crying. I didn’t know what was going on.”

Reno had the boy kept in jail for two years during the trial, which ended in acquittal for Fijnje. The jury in the trial was so upset with Reno they unanimously wrote her an angry letter condemning how she conducted the investigation. They wrote about some of the disturbing aspects of the case: “Some of these factors include, but are not limited to, the failure of the police to video tape the questioning of the defendant on the day he was arrested. The failure to have a stenographer record and have the defendant sign a written confession. The clearly leading and suggestive questioning on the part of both child psychologists while interviewing the two children involved. The rape treatment center’s handling of the two children and having those findings disputed by a defense expert.”

Reno’s team claimed Bobby drove the victims around town. The 14-year-old had never driven a car in his life. Bobby’s parents were Dutch diplomats who moved to the U.S. After his trial they left the country forever saying they didn’t feel safe and feared Reno would continue to go after their son.

Bobby only was able to fight the case because the church where he volunteered on Sundays was alleged to have been the place where the Satanic abuse took place. The insurance company for the church put $1m into a legal defense for the boy.

Bobby sought therapy to get over the trauma of the case but, “There’s one [memory], however, he can’t shake: the excruciating wait that ensued after the jury filed into their wooden box with a verdict.”

Bobby said, “I just keep thinking about what my life would be like if the jury said guilty. I couldn’t figure out what the jury was waiting for.” For 2 1/2 hours he sat there waiting, not knowing why. Reno had demanded the delay so she could watch the verdict herself. It was the only time Bobby saw the woman who tried to destroy his life. “I didn’t know who Janet Reno was. I didn’t really care who she was. This was my life. I wanted to know what’s going on. I want to know what my life is going to be.”

Bobby was lucky compared to Bernard Baran. Baran was doubly cursed by the system. Not only was he male, he was gay. Photos of him, taken at the time, showed a slight man, who looked like a typical high school student, desperately trying to grow a mustache — just to prove he could. Baran didn’t finish high school, he dropped out. But he wanted to work and he liked helping people. He worked with autistic children, but that was only temporary, so when a full-time job opened up at day-care center he jumped at the chance.

Baran was only 13-years-old when he told his mother he was gay. She wasn’t very accepting of the idea. It was her long-time partner, Stanley Sumner, who pointed out to her how Baran was so caring and attentive to anyone who needed him. He told her: “If that’s being gay, then I hope all my children are gay.” Of course, this was decades ago and not everyone held he same view. And that’s why the trouble started.

Two of the parents with children in the day care began to complain. The mother said: “I had a feeling that if they’re gay, they shouldn’t be with kids. They shouldn’t get married. They shouldn’t have kids. They shouldn’t be allowed out in public.” These paragons of virtue were drug addicts with a history of domestic violence, but they could still feel superior to the awful faggot down at the day-care center. They were determined to save the children from these immoral influence and, as it turns out, make a few bucks in the process.

They reported their son came home from day care with a bloody penis and had said “Bernie did it.” The problem was the day-care center reported the boy was not at the school that day. Baran couldn’t have done anything as he didn’t see the boy. But stories of the complaint spread and panic-stricken parents, worried about a rampaging queer decided to interrogate their children. Under parental questioning, none of which was recorded of course, one small girl allegedly said she was fondled. By now a full-fledged inquisition was in motion and the witch in their site was Bernard Baran, still a teenager himself. Parents were urged to question their children, though none of them really knew how a proper interview should be conducted. Most believed abuse had happened and by now they merely wanted the children to say it had, so they could move on.

Baran was arrested. He posted bail after two days and returned home only to be rearrested almost immediately, with more and more charges being thrown at him. The prosecutor, Daniel Ford, to make sure he had something that would stick, threw 24 charges at the confused teen. Baran was offered a plea bargain if he would just admit guilt to some charges. Knowing he was innocent Baran decided to fight, he had faith in the American justice system, a faith that was clearly misplaced. Baran was sentenced to two life sentences in prison, all for a crime that didn’t take place.

Ford, a Democrat, was appointed to the Superior Court by Governor Michael Dukakis in 1989. One year earlier Dukakis was the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate. As for “liberal” Ford, the Boston Globe reported evidence showed “he may have played fast and loose with trial rules to get a conviction. Although Ford denies he did anything wrong, trial records suggest the defense attorney was unaware of significant exculpatory evidence held by the prosecution. In an atmosphere of homophobia and hysteria, the defendant, an openly gay teenager named Bernard F. Baran Jr., didn’t stand a chance. Convicted, he spent 21 years in prison for crimes he didn’t commit.”

In this case the prosecutor didn’t just use the dodgy “interview” tactics that led to other false convictions. He also hide evidence from the defense. They also spent weeks rehearsing the children to respond to questions. And that rehearsal paid off. Jury members said it was the way the children testified that convinced them of the guilt of Baran, not because any actual evidence existed.

The only conclusive evidence a child had been abused was with the boy whose parents made the initial accusation. He was found to have gonorrhea of the throat. Radley Balko, at Reason, notes the problem with this, and the dishonesty of Prosecutor Ford:

When that child later tested positive for gonorrhea of the throat, Ford used the test against Baran at trial, even though A) the child never accused Baran of forcing him to perform oral sex, B) the child, in fact, specifically denied having sexual contact with Baran on the witness stand, C) Baran tested negative for gonorrhea, D) the boy had told his mother two months prior that his stepfather had orally raped him, and E) on the very day Baran was convicted, charges against the stepfather were turned over to the D.A.’s office for possible prosecution. Baran’s counsel was never informed of the allegation against the stepfather. Addressing the gonorrhea issue in his closing arguments, Ford implied that Baran’s “lifestyle” made it probable that he contracted gonorrhea at other times and knew how to quickly eradicate it to cover his tracks

Ford, a “liberal,” sounded like an evangelist for the Religious Right. In his eyes Baran simply had to be guilty, he was gay. Like the pogroms of Russia that convicted Jews of crimes, merely because they were Jews, Ford convicted Baran of serious crimes merely because he was gay. A friend of Baran’s received similar treatment from Ford and the local police. He gave an affidavit saying the police had come to his home and told him “Bernie must have had a partner because it took more than one person to do what he did. They said Bernie was driving around with kids in a car. They accused me of going to school and of bringing children to my house… I had never been in the school, ever. Nor did I even own a car at that point.”

Police demanded to know if this man were “Bernie’s lover.” He said: “Mr. Ford kept going on about my relationship with Bernie. He called me a ‘fag’ repeatedly. He asked if I was a ‘homosexual’ pronouncing the word in a derogatory way and he demanded to know if I was Bernie’s lover. Mr. Ford accused me of being involved in sexually abusing children. When I denied that I had ever molested children and said that I had no knowledge that Bernie molested children, he accused me of lying. He said he would come after me next.” The police would follow this man and routinely pulled him over on the slightest pretense.

By coincidence, years later, this victim of the prosecutor was working in a project with various students. One of the students was the boy who started the accusations, though now he was much older. One day in class this boy gave a presentation “about suing for money. Another student started asking questions. Peter bragged that his mom got money because he, Peter, had a gay teacher in day care. He said it was easy. All he had to do was say that this teacher did something to him to get the money, even though nothing happened. He said the person who really abused him was his father.” The girl who allegedly made claims against Baran, several months after his conviction “told her therapist that nothing had really happened and that her mother (a drug-addicted prostitute and a friend of the initial accuser’s mother) had told her to say that it had so they could get a lot of money. …The two mothers sued the school for several million dollars.” An investigation by the insurance company turned up this evidence, which the government had but never gave to Baran’s attorney.

Four days after his conviction, the slight boy, was raped for the first time in prison. Over the years he was assaulted and raped numerous times, all the while knowing he was innocent of any crime.

Baran’s family and friends continued to fight for him. As an appellate court ruled the efforts of Baran’s friends and family,

…yielded, among other things, certain documents and materials that trial counsel had never seen as well as information and documents, not part of the trial record, that were known to but not used by trial counsel. By way of example, among the materials not seen by trial counsel were five lengthy unedited videotapes of interviews conducted by the district attorney’s office in October and November, 1984, of children A, B, C, D, and F(3); the district attorney ultimately turned these videotapes over to motion counsel in September, 2004. Also among the materials unknown to trial counsel were documents generated by police and the Department of Social Services (DSS) concerning contemporaneous accusations made by Boy A and Girl E that they had each been molested by their respective mother’s boyfriends; these documents, never produced by the district attorney, were discovered by motion counsel in the civil case files. Among the materials known to but not used by trial counsel, thus not becoming part of the trial record, was a pediatrician’s report of her examination of Girl E referencing the prior molestation of Girl E by the mother’s boyfriend.

The court also found unreliable evidence had been admitted in court and “there had been multiple instances of prosecutorial misconduct.” Included in this was the prosecutor showing only edited taped versions of interview with the children. The court found the versions of tapes shown in court edited out “statements in which the children deny Baran had done anything to them and statements where they accuse others at ECDC [the day care center] both of abuse and of witnessing abuse.

The unedited videotapes show the behavior of the children, the extent to which they were distracted and nonresponse during the interviews, the degree to which their parents participated in the interview process, and the range of interviewing techniques used. The court said it could “not settle the question whether the unedited videotapes were deliberately withheld by the prosecution, [but] there are indications in the trial transcript consistent with that contention.” They also found the full tapes “evaluated in the context of the entire record, are exculpatory and materials insofar as they “create a reasonable doubt that did not otherwise exist.” These tapes provided “considerable material from which it could be inferred the children’s testimony was coached. Particularly powerful are the numerous instances in which various complainants deny the defendant had engaged in any misconduct. At a minimum, these tapes would have provided significant grist for impeachment of the children’s testimony as well as those who had interview them.”

The court said the prosecutor’s “closing also contained a number of passages apparently designed to inflame the juror’s passions” including making claims that Baran“could have raped and sodomized and abused these children whenever he felt the primitive urge to satisfy his sexual appetite.” Ford said Baran “was like a chocoholic in a candy store, and indeed, for him perpetrating these despicable acts was like taking candy from a baby.” He told the jury in closing “I beseech you, I beg you, think of those children and bring back a verdict of guilty on each and every one of these charges.”

The appellate court also found Baran’s attorney had no experience in criminal law, that Baran’s mother had quite literally hired him by accident. The attorney provided inadequate and defective counsel throughout the trial, including allowing inadmissible and faulty evidence into consideration. The court said Baran’s own attorney “facilitated the speculative, stereotypical and deeply insidious links between homosexuality, gonorrhea, and child molestation.” These bad calls by the attorney “likely had a material effect on the jury and gave rise to substantial risk that justice miscarried.”

Baran continued to insist on his innocence, which meant he was ineligible for parole. He was put in treatment as a sex offender where “confession” is considered a sign of “healing,” while refusal to confess is proof one is resisting treatment. In 2006 a court ruled Baran did not get a fair trial and was incompetently represented. In that process actual innocence or guilt didn’t matter. The appeals court upheld the ruling as well. New prosecutors were then left with the decision of whether or not to refile charges against Baran, who was then out of jail but forced to wear a tracking device. They concluded the evidence didn’t warrant refilling the charges against Baran and all charges were dropped.

When Bernard Baran was arrested he was a 19-year-old kid. He spent the next 21 years of his life in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. He was victim of a sex abuse panic that swept the nation. He was also the victim of bigoted attitudes and found guilty largely because he was gay. Because he insisted on the truth, insisted he was innocent, he was denied parole when eligible for it. Because he wouldn’t confess he was kept in a more dangerous prison and classified as a “sexually dangerous person.” He was punished for telling the truth and bribed to lie, a bribe he refused.

In the Southeastern Correctional Center three inmates beat him and gang raped him. To be eligible for a safer prison all he had to do was confess. In Norfolk prison he twice tried to take his own life. When he was finally sent to a mental hospital (which is still a prison no matter what they call it) he had to endure therapists who “attempt to ‘heal’ those with sexual illnesses,” including his alleged illness. The cumulative evidence shows he was innocent all along, just as he said. He was not a criminal; he was a victim. He enjoyed just five years of freedom.

Just 19 when falsely convicted he wasn’t freed until he was 41. On September 1, 2010 he was sitting on his couch at home with niece and his partner, David Colarusso, when he suffered a brain aneurysm and died.

If you wish to support these columns donate on our page at Patreon.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
James Peron

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.