...The book review was written by Peter Huston, a writer based in Schenectady, New York. His first book, Shattered Harmony, a detailed study of Chinese gangs, secret societies, and underground religious cults, will be published by Paladin this year. He is also working on a book-length critique of the traditional arts and sciences of China.
Within this evangelical subculture, Mike Warnke was a media superstar. Undoubtedly, part of his appeal was the way in which he proved to people that if they dedicated themselves to Jesus then they could have a good live, no matter how terrible they might have once been. As proof of this, Mike Warnke offered himself. He confessed to having been not only a drug addict but also a high priest of a satanic cult that practiced human sacrifice and ritualistic rape and child abuse. Warnke proudly stated that, through Jesus, he now had a blissful family life.
Warnke's alleged conversion from high satanic priest to dedicated Christian entertainer made a fascinating story and attracted considerable attention. Unlike Smith and Pazder's Michelle Remembers, an earlier, influential, allegedly autobiographical, staunchly pro-Catholic, satanic-cult-hysteria book, The Satan Seller appealed to the evangelical Protestant community.
In time, Warnke became known in some circles as an authority on satanic cults, and he appeared in that role on "20-20," "The Oprah Winfrey Show," "Larry King Live," "Focus on the Family," and "The 700 Club." He was cited as an authority on Satanism and living proof of the existence of cults engaging in satanic ritual abuse in such works as Friesen's Uncovering the Mystery of MPD [multiple personality disorder], Stratford's Satan's Underground, and Ryder's Breaking the Circle of Satanic Ritual Abuse. These in turn were cited in other works. Although it would be an exaggeration to say that Mike Warnke was solely responsible for the current spate of satanic-cult paranoia, he undoubtedly had a great influence. Few who have examined the arguments of believers in such cults can deny that many of them tend to have a worldwiew strongly grounded in Christian belief-systems and frequently a conservative fundamentalist orientation.
Warnke's book consists of his telling stories about the key events in his life and how they convinced him of the importance of adopting a Christian lifestyle. There were only two problems: He was a pretty lame and mediocre comedian, and he was corrupt and untruthful. In such a case, what is one to do? The answer is simple--call in Jon Trott and Mike Hertenstein, a pair of born-again Christian investigative journalists.
Hertenstein and Trott, working for Cornerstone magazine, an evangelical publication, conducted a thorough investigation into Warnke's claims. In Selling Satan: The Tragic History of Mike Warnke, they recount the investigation and the findings. Trott and Hertenstein tracked down and interviewed more than one hundred of Warnke's acquaintances from throughout his life. Among the discoveries was that Warnke's lies were not even very good ones. For example, by his own admission, he had been involved in drugs in college. He told how drug use led him on a self-destructive path culminating in involvement in the occult. This in turn led him to Satanism, and ultimately to becoming high priest of the group. Following the period of occult involvement, Warnke joined the Navy and served in Vietnam with the Marine Corp as a medical corpsman. While in the service he was converted and "saved" by two Christians who were sure that even Mike Warnke, former drug addict and satanic high priest, was not too far gone for Jesus' love to turn him around.
The writers uncovered that Warnke had entered college, a secular junior college, September 13, 1965. He entered the Navy on June 2, 1966. During his one semester prior to dropping out, there was hardly enough time for the many adventures Warnke claimed happened during his drug-addicted drug-dealer / Satanic-cultist-turned-high-priest period. These included being shot three times, riding a motorcycle to Mexico to make drug deals for a gangster, imprisoning sex slaves in his apartment, participating in CIA-funded LSD experiments at the college, and kidnapping a variety of victims for his cult's evil rituals and orchestrating the abduction of others. He described walking around campus dressed in black with pasty white skin, innumerable scabs on his face, waist-length hair, and six-inch-long fingernails, painted black and sharpened for fighting. As ludicrous as this thrill-a-minute college semester sounds, it became even more absurd as Trott and Hertenstein began pinning down the dates even further, based on Warnke's descriptions of various diabolic ceremonies held under the light of a full moon. The dates fell apart completely.
Fellow students and college faculty found further problems with the story. It was, after all, set in the early sixties, not the late sixties. There were no drugs at the junior college at the time, no CIA-funded LSD experiments, and no people with waist-length hair, much less the rest of the bizarre description Warnke provided. This pattern of gross falsehood continued. His period in Vietnam, described as a "year in Hell," was six months long, and most of his war stories had happened to other people or never occurred at all. Other stories could not be corroborated. For example, the two dedicated Christians who had "saved" Warnke had, he claimed, "died in Vietnam." His blissful family life following the war consisted of a series of four marriages, each ending in divorce, with much womanizing on the side. The donation plate passed around after each show supposedly went to a center for aiding satanic-cult-abuse victims. Neither the center nor the victims existed. And as for his Christianity, Trott and Hertenstein uncovered that, in a completely unexpected episode of bizarreness, Warnke had secretly been ordained as an independent bishop in an obscure Eastern Orthodox sect, which he practiced on the side.
I found Selling Satan fascinating. It is more than the story of one individual; it also deals with his effect on others. Warnke, evil as he is, is an intriguing character....