The 6 Most Insane Moral Panics in American History

#3. Dungeons & Dragons

We Heard About It From:

Anti-occult campaigner Patrica Pulling, author Rona Jaffe, Jack Chick and others.

The "Threat:"

When most people think of Dungeons & Dragons, they picture a group of people--usually male--sitting around a table with some books, odd-shaped dice and, in particularly sad cases, costumes.

But it's just harmless, escapist fun, right? And they're doing it with friends! That alone puts it above most geek pastimes. So what's the problem?

Well, according to some, D&D is either an occult training manual used to lure youngsters into Satanism, or it's a dangerous fantasy world that traps teenagers and leads them to madness, suicide or murder.

Artist's depiction of an actual D&D "party."

The moral panic started like a lot of them do: with a death and an idiot. In 1982, Patricia Pulling's teenage son committed suicide. Looking for answers, she turned to his D&D hobby as explanation for his death. Pulling sued the makers of D&D, T.S.R. Inc., and for some bizarre reason, her son's school principal. Why him? Because the mother accused him of placing a "D&D curse" on her son shortly before he died.

Luckily for the defendants, they had a Dexterity score of 17 and Gilligar's Gloves of Legal Protection and easily made the saving throw. Both cases were thrown out of court.

It helps that this was their judge.

But Pulling couldn't let a good panic die. She formed one of the most politely named protest groups of all time, Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons (B.A.D.D.) and began touring the country lecturing on the nonexistent evils of the game. Luckily, her goofball propositions about the occult dangers of the game never met with any support outside the usual crazy demographic. That would have to wait for the publication of a sleazy mass market paperback and Tom Hank's first big break.

This is not Photoshop.

Once again we see that moral panics may hatch from people with too much time on their hands, but lazy journalism gives them their wings. In 1979, James Dallas Egbert disappeared in a series of steam tunnels under Michigan State University. Assuming he was a nerd after hearing his name, local newspapers reported that he had committed suicide (or was killed) during a real life session of D&D.

Their phones apparently broken, they failed to discover that he was in fact not dead, but was hiding at a friend's house after a failed suicide attempt. Reporters also failed to learn that he was addicted to drugs and clinically depressed.

The story might have died there, but a columnist for Cosmopolitan named Rona Jaffe saw an opportunity and wrote a thinly fictionalized version of the events in a book called Mazes and Monsters. It was later turned into the above terrible TV movie starring a young, then unknown Tom Hanks.

But alas, his burgeoning star power wasn't enough to keep the panic going. Geeky teenagers were left to enjoy their 12-sided die, Yoo-Hoo and adolescent power fantasies in peace while Tom Hanks went on to make the most beloved television series of all time, Bosom Buddies. We don't know what became of him after that.

#2. Backwards Messages in Rock and Roll

We Heard About It From:

A few Christian DJs and parents who don't understand their kids.

The "Threat:"

From the seductive swivel of Elvis's hips to John Lennon saying he had a bigger dick than Jesus, rock music has always been considered the soundtrack to our moral decay. This belief reached the heights of its retardedness during the furor over backwards subliminal messages.

"Good point, AC/DC, I should kill the president."

After two kids attempted suicide in 1985, their parents accused the heavy metal band Judas Priest of hiding subliminal messages in their songs to convince listeners to commit suicide. The technique was as simple as writing the songs so that, when played backward they would convey a message. What if the listener never bothered to reverse their turntable? That's okay, the message can still be conveyed thanks to that secret part of the brain that hears everything backwards. Don't ask us to explain it! It's science!

Anyway, a few Christian DJs got wind of the story and decided to fan the flames, playing records backwards for signs that bands were trying to kill their fans. Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Pink Floyd and even Jefferson Starship were all alleged to have place secret messages encouraging their fans to give it up for Satan.

Satan's messengers.

Everyone was so caught up in the moral panic fun, that they forgot to ask the obvious question. Why the hell would rock bands want to kill off their customers? Rob Halford of Judas Priest said at the time that if they were going to put subliminal messages in their songs, they would have gone with something like "buy more records" or "don't forget to pick up Judas Priest t-shirts and keychains at fine stores everywhere."

The case against Judas Priest was eventually thrown out in 1990 when the judge realized it was completely fucking insane. The panic would have continued, but, luckily, the CD was invented; making backwards messages impossible to hear. Then gangsta rap hit the mainstream and suddenly parents wished they could have the backwards Satanism thing back.

#1. Satanic Ritual Abuse

We Heard About It From:

Michelle Smith, author of Michelle Remembers and Oprah's even less skeptical colleague, Geraldo Rivera.

The "Threat:"

In 1980, a book called Michelle Remembers told the horrifying story of Michelle Smith's years of alleged ritual abuse at the hands of a cult called "The Church Of Satan." The book, written with her psychiatrist, Dr. Lawrence Pazder, became an explosive best-seller and touched off one of the most damaging moral panics of all time.

In the book, Pazder and Smith describe horrible abuse meted out upon her as a child. Her abusers were said to be a just one sect of a worldwide cult that was torturing and murdering children and adults all over the globe.

The book claims that Smith was involved in an 81-day ritual where not only Satan, but Jesus, Mary and the archangel Michael made an appearance. This was so convincing that suddenly reports were coming from all over the country of Satanic cults masquerading as daycares and schools.

School principal.

People were being accused left and right of organized rituals involving torture, murder and rape. Law enforcement agencies and even prosecutors used Michelle Remembers as a guide when they were forming their cases.

The only problem was that all the witnesses were usually either very young children or clinically insane adults. No one was actually convicted of Satanic abuse, probably because the fact that the whole thing was bullshit was visible from outer space. Then again... if there was a worldwide Satanic conspiracy, can you imagine how awesome their lawyers must be?

For more big retarded mountains made out of mole hills, check out 7 Bullshit Rumors That Caused Real World Catastrophes. Or find out about how our own beloved Internet is lying to us, in 7 Retarded Food Myths the Internet Thinks Are True.

And visit's Top Picks to save your youthful souls!

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