The return of a myth: Satanic ritual abuse and the sacred status of Argos

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Pepijn van Erphttps://www.pepijnvanerp.nl/
Pepijn van Erp is a board member of the Dutch sceptical foundation Skepsis. He writes about science, bad science and pseudoscience, including for Kloptdatwel.nl and in Skepter, the magazine of Skepsis.

Peter Zegershttp://www.scepticus.nl
Peter Zegers is a bookseller from Amsterdam. He writes mostly in Dutch about pseudo-history, conspiracism, and politics.

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Satanic ritual abuse in the Netherlands? The question seems to be back. Anyone who still remembers the discussions of the 1990s on this subject must be surprised. Research has shown that it is practically impossible for networks to exist in which this would happen on such a large scale, the total lack of concrete evidence is indisputable. So what is new under the sun?

The stories of alleged victims of ritual abuse, which often contain unbelievably horrific details of torture and infanticide, have not disappeared since then, and a number of therapists continue to stubbornly believe them. On conspiracy theorists’ websites, the theme has never fully disappeared either, and it recently received a major boost via the QAnon phenomenon.

In June 2020, the radio program Argos made sure that the topic also appeared in the mainstream media as worthy of new serious investigation, with a program in which investigative journalists Huub Jaspers and Sanne Terlingen told of their own investigation [Argos provides an English transcript on this episode].

Parliamentary questions

The Tweede Kamer (the Dutch Lower House) agrees with this. In response to questions from leftwing parties GroenLinks, PvdA and SP, the Minister of Justice and Security said he saw no reason to open a new investigation. However, he also wrote, somewhat unfortunately: “It cannot be excluded that ritual abuse occurs in the Netherlands,” which on the one hand is perfectly logical – how could it be completely excluded? – But on the other hand, can easily be interpreted as meaning that the investigating authorities actually have insufficient oversight of it.

Unsatisfied with this response, the Tweede Kamer passed a motion requiring independent research into the occurrence and nature of “organized sadistic abuse.” A vaguer formulation than the one in the Argos program, but one that was therefore more likely to pass, as was explained by Niels van den Berge (GroenLinks), one of the motion’s initiators, in a subsequent broadcast of the radio program.

The motion was passed unanimously, after which the minister asked the Centre for Scientific Research and Documentation (WODC) to start an investigation. However, the WODC recently withdrew from the assignment because it proved impossible to conduct a scientifically sound study. A conclusion that will not surprise those who are familiar with the national and international literature on the subject. Since the Satanic panic of thirty years ago, few still believe the fantastical stories that have landed many innocent people in jail, especially in the United States.

No critical investigation

In our opinion, the non-transparent Argos investigation has provided nothing convincing to change the image of Satanist networks as more than just a mere myth. The claim that there is forensic evidence of satanic ritual abuse, documented by an Australian activist researcher, did not stand up to scrutiny, but still appears on the radio program’s website.

The questionnaire that Argos developed in consultation with the therapists was, perhaps unintentionally, quite leading and was circulated primarily within the same group of therapists. Only a limited number of participants were ultimately interviewed by Argos in person. It is unclear to what extent the similarities in the stories that Argos calls remarkable come from this group or from the portion of the questionnaires that were sent in anonymously.

So far, fellow journalists have not been critical at all of what Argos reports in this case. The only criticism seems to be on the skeptical blog Kloptdatwel? in the articles we wrote ourselves on this subject (July 2020 1 and idem 2; see also October 2020).

The excellent reputation of Argos will contribute to the fact that the case will be seen in a different light than that of the conspiracists. The television program Propaganda, for example, did not criticise the Argos’ research in its March 4 broadcast, while it dismissed the QAnons with their Deep State consisting of a satanic elite of child rapists as “crazy”. And in de Volkskrant of October 23, columnist Loes Reijmer wonders whether “the madness of conspiracy theorists [deprives] us of the vision of painful, sometimes equally mad reality.” She urges readers to take a cue from “the open-minded critical thinking with which Terlingen approaches this difficult subject.”

Nothing new

But is the story of Argos really that different from the QAnon mythology? The Argos story is also about ritual sacrifice of children and elites protecting each other.
If one makes comments of a critical nature, one is promptly accused of not taking the victims seriously and denying their troubles. Or worse, that one is complicit in covering up atrocities.

“The people involved have waited too long for recognition and a serious investigation,” Van den Berge told Argos. He wants the outgoing cabinet to appoint an independent investigation committee as soon as possible, now that the WODC has failed. Even the city councils of Amsterdam and Rotterdam are seriously considering conducting their own investigation. Here, politicians from the Christen Unie and Leefbaar Rotterdam are the initiators.

Apparently, for many politicians and journalists, it is easier to believe the bizarre testimonies than to realise that nothing new has been brought forward that would justify such an investigation.


This article is translated from the original in Dutch that Peter Zeegers and I published on Sargasso.nl on 12 March 2021: Ritueel misbruik en de heilige status van Argos. It was first published in English at pepijnvanerp.nl. You can also read a translation in French on Zeeger’s website: Le retour d’un mythe : Les abus rituels et le statut sacré d’Argos


Postscriptum (27 april 2022)

Since the instalment of the Commissie Hendriks there have been a few interesting developments. Argos started their series on this matter with the “story of Lisa”, quite a typical satanic ritual abuse story full of improbable details. Argos got interested because Lisa’s Mother tried, in vain, to get the police to investigate the alleged crimes she accuses her ex-husband and ‘his network’ of, after an expert committee that advises the police in such matters concluded that Lisa’s story was implausible and incredible.
Lisa’s story has been used by conspiracy theorists and QAnon followers to argue that satanic ritual abuse is an actual problem in the Netherlands. Recently it became clear that an alleged piece of evidence Lisa’s mother presented as proof, a price list of children that were shared between ‘members of the cult’, is in fact a collage of screenshots from a manual of Exact, widely used bookkeeping software. Argos never publicly commented on this.

The silence of Argos after the Commissie Hendriks got to work, became noticeable by those who follow this subject. In February 2022 it became clear that the editorial board of the program is utterly divided on this subject. In a webinar, Terlingen told that she was instructed not to pursue any new leads in this dossier. Recently I also heard from two independent sources that other journalists connected to the program, and wider in the broadcast organisation, didn’t trust the investigations. When I contacted Argos about this, the recording of the webinar was set to private within a day.

About a week later I did get a reply from Argos, stating that they still stand by their broadcasts, but no comment whatsoever on the statements by Terlingen, which indicate the lack of support from her editors to dig in further into the subject. Surprisingly the next day Terlingen more or less repeated her story at a journalism festival in Italy, which can still be viewed on YouTube.

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