Trolling Hell: Is the Satanic Temple a Prank, the Start of a New Religious Movement -- or Both?

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The Satanic Temple counters that Gilmore is just jealous. The Church of Satan has grown stagnant and smug, its members contend, and Gilmore fears he's about to be replaced.

"The number of negative dispatches we've put out about the Church of Satan is zero," Mesner says. "But since we started, [Gilmore] has done nothing but write disparaging remarks."

"The Church of Satan does nothing," Brian Werner, the Satanic Temple's first high priest, says. "Their complete inactivity has just caused such an overwhelming amount of complacent consent, not only in the masses but within our own freethinking subculture. The inactivity has led to the complete degradation of everything we built for 40 years under LaVey."

High priesting isn't a full-time gig — the 34-year-old Werner is also a vocalist for Vital Remains, a popular satanic metal band. They tour 200 days a year and are especially big in Latin America. ("The Satanic Hispanics — it's a very niche demographic," he says dryly.)

Werner has identified as a Satanist since his teenage years. He was never a Church of Satan member himself but says he understands other people's disaffection. He got involved with the Satanic Temple out of a desire to be a different, more proactive breed of Satanist.

Zach Black is a 38-year-old sushi chef in Northern California and a longtime Satanist. He started the Satanic International Network, the largest — though not the only — social media site for Satanists. He was a card-carrying member of the Church of Satan for nearly a decade, from 1994 to 2002. For the first few years after he joined, Anton LaVey was still alive. That made all the difference, Black says, and the church was much more "proactive."

Black is one of a group of disaffected ex-Church of Satan members who believe Gilmore was never supposed to become the church's next leader. LaVey wanted to pass the torch to a man named Boyd Rice, an artist and writer who was a close friend, Black says. "But he turned it down. He didn't want to do it. I'm not sure why."

LaVey's estate went to Blanche Barton after she produced a handwritten will, purportedly written by LaVey, bequeathing all his worldly possessions, including the Church of Satan, to her. LaVey's daughter Karla later sued Barton. She and the other LaVey children, Zeena and Satan, received the royalties from LaVey's publications, while Barton took control of the Church of Satan. And then came Gilmore.

"LaVey would roll over in his grave," Black says.

Rice, meanwhile, went in a different direction. For nearly two decades, he was part of Death in June, a British neo-folk band that anti-racist groups have accused of supporting white nationalism. Rice has repeatedly denied being a racist or a Nazi sympathizer, a claim that was not bolstered in 2008, when an old video surfaced of him on a public-access TV show, describing Death in June as a proud "racialist" band.

Similar charges have dogged Gilmore and the current Church of Satan leadership. In his 2007 book, The Satanic Scriptures, Gilmore denies that, writing that while there are "provable biological differences between the races and statistically demonstrable performance levels in various activities," the Church of Satan recognizes "individual merit, and ascribe no value to bloodlines." 

Satanists, he adds, "treasure individualism, hardly something to be gained by goose-stepping en masse down the street."

Mesner says the Church of Satan has a distinctly right-wing, libertarian bent. That's not totally inaccurate: Gilmore thanks Ayn Rand in the introduction to The Satanic Scriptures and writes that LaVey founded his religion in direct defiance of a goopy, '60s culture of liberalism that celebrated everyone as equals.

Mesner considers the Satanic Temple a liberal alternative to the Church of Satan. The fact that its visible leadership skews younger would tend to support that view.

"I do believe the Satanic Temple is going to replace the Church of Satan, and that's why they're acting threatened," Zach Black says. "The church — they're just getting fat and old."

Retorts Gilmore: "The disgruntled people you mentioned in your questions to me have no idea about what is happening amongst our members, because the private affairs of our members are actually private. One earns friends and entrée into private events. That cannot be demanded."

He adds that the church has acted as a true spiritual refuge for members in times of both joy and grief. "I performed a memorable memorial service at a nondenominational funeral home in Greenwich Village in Manhattan that included bikers amongst the mourners, and the motorcycle belonging to the deceased was parked in front, black and gleaming, while his artwork was displayed in the chapel alongside his casket. His family and friends shared their grief, supporting his commitment to Satanism as his life philosophy."

They also do weddings. "Aside from one performed by Anton LaVey at the very beginning of the organization, none of these have been paraded before the media," Gilmore writes. "The happy couples celebrate their love, as you'll have noted from the wedding rite I crafted in my book. They share this with family and friends — not the press."

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