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“What relevance does this have?” Idaho Sheriff’s Office post about sex offender angers Satanists
“What relevance does this have?” Idaho Sheriff’s Office post about sex offender angers Satanists

CASCADE (Idaho Statesman) — The Valley County Sheriff’s Office recently revealed an interesting detail when it announced that a suspect pleaded guilty to possessing or accessing sexually exploitative material of a child.

The result was a lot of talk and controversy on the Internet.

In a Facebook post, the sheriff’s office wrote that the 22-year-old man was “a member of the Idaho chapter of the Satanic Temple.”

Groups like the Idaho Liberty Dogs and other far-right websites jumped on the incident, posting articles and links to and photos of Satanic Idaho members on social media. (According to an official, Satanic Idaho split off from The Satanic Temple of Idaho a few years ago.)

Others questioned the necessity or even accuracy of this mention.

The Satanic Temple of Idaho declined to comment but said the man had not inquired about the church’s membership requirements. In an email to the Idaho Statesman, it wrote that many people claim to be members but have not taken steps to do so.

Rowan Astra, co-host of Satanic Idaho, was disappointed by the authorities’ decision to release the information.

“What relevance does this have to a person’s religion?” Astra asked. “It’s worth noting that every major satanic practice has something to do with hurting not children intentionally or indirectly, but all living beings.”

Satanism is a non-theistic religion that uses the metaphor of Satan as a figure representing justice, wisdom and compassion towards tyrannical authority, Astra said. In Hebrew, Satan means adversary.

One of the Satanic Temple’s seven core principles is to act “with compassion and empathy toward all creatures,” it says on its website.

So why did Valley County include this detail?

The McCall man pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual exploitation of a child and could be sentenced to 12 years in prison at sentencing on September 20, according to an agreement.

Steve Gorski, the investigator in charge of the case, said the man had a membership card with his name and stickers on it and was a member of the Idaho chapter. He was familiar with the Satanic Temple, Gorski said.

Membership cards are available on the Satanic Temple’s website for $35, and the checkout process apparently doesn’t ask the buyer if they’re actually a member. Gorski said he hasn’t tried to find out what it takes to get one.

“I don’t know how they organize their membership or their meetings. … All I know is that he said he was a member and we have his ID with his name on it in the evidence room,” Gorski said. “I’ll take him at his word.”

Gorski said the videos the suspect possessed were horrific and disturbing, and the man tried to find groups online and in person that he thought might share his interests. He thought Satanic Temple might be one of them, Gorski said.

There are no investigations into the Satanic Temple or this religion, the detective said.

Regarding the sheriff’s office’s social media post, Gorski said he would have liked to see more explanation about what he described as the connection between the case and the Satanic Temple, which could serve as a deterrent.

“I think it’s a way for groups to police themselves internally,” Gorski said. “… They’re in a unique position to come across problematic individuals … before they get to the level where law enforcement gets involved. And again, that’s true of virtually any group, any religion.”

A review of the Valley County Sheriff’s Office’s Facebook page shows that authorities have not included any information about anyone’s religious affiliation in their news releases about incidents this year.

“If Satanism is judged by the worst of its groups, does that mean that every other religion must be judged by its worst groups?” Astra asked. “If you’re not careful, you’ll trigger another Satan panic.”

The sheriff’s office post is no longer available in its original form – the reference to the Satanic Temple has been removed – but people have taken screenshots and it is still online.

“We have children,” said Hauns Snyder, co-host of Satanic Idaho, and the Valley County Sheriff’s Office “is putting our children in danger.”

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By Everly