Against Satanic Panics > Recent scaremongers > Dawn Perlmutter

Recent anti-Satanist scaremongers:

Dawn Perlmutter and her
Institute for the Research of Organized and Ritual Violence

by Diane Vera

Copyright © 2006 by Diane Vera. All rights reserved.

There's now a new breed of "ritualistic crime experts" setting up shop as police consultants. Or, at least, there's now the Institute for the Research of Organized and Ritual Violence, run by one Dawn Perlmutter.

Perlmutter seems to be one of the leading witchfinders these days, perhaps the leading witchfinder. She has managed to convince a lot of people to take her seriously. These past several years, she has given quite a few police-training seminars and at least one three-day "course" on "religious extremism and ritual crime scenes ." She has been involved in the investigation of various alleged "Satanic" crimes, at least two of which - the cases of The Hosanna Church in Ponchatoula, Louisiana and Father Gerald Robinson in Toledo, Ohio - have involved good old-fashioned 1980's-style multi-victim multi-offender (MVMO) "Satanic Ritual Abuse" (SRA) allegations. She has even managed to get a book of hers published by CRC, a major scientific textbook publisher! This despite her utterly unscientific approach, as amply demonstrated in critiques listed at the bottom of this page, and despte her lack of genuine scientific credentials.

At first glance, Perlmutter looks plausibly like a real expert with respectable scientific academic credentials. Her website lists several "Internet publications" which are academic papers that have been published in what appears, at first glance, to be a scholarly journal of anthropology. So, the casual reader might conclude that she's an anthropologist who has done genuine, full-fledged peer-reviewed scientific studies of all the subcultures she denounces.

However, at the time Dawn Perlmutter wrote the first of the academic papers listed on her website (1999), she was an assistant professor of art and philosophy - not anthropology or any other social science, nor criminology, nor even religious studies - at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania. (As far as I can tell, she no longer works fulltime in academia.)

Her academic papers were published in Anthropoetics, a journal of something called "generative anthropology" (GA), which is not a branch of the social science known as anthropology. The word "anthropology" has more than one meaning. If you look very closely, it turns out that GA is an "anthropology" in a sense closer to the religious sense of that term - a system of ideas about humans, in much the same way that a theology is a system of ideas about God or the gods. Eric Gans, the editor of Anthropoetics, is a very intelligent person; but I am pretty sure that most anthropologists - in the social science sense - would agree that GA is not a science. Furthermore, although this is not immediately apparent, GA is a Christian-based system of ideas, inspired in part by the writings of the Roman Catholic philosopher René Girard, even though the Anthropoetics website is hosted at a secular university (UCLA). (For more about GA, see my page about René Girard, "sacred violence," Christianity, and "anthropology":  Dawn Perlmutter's philosophical background, as best I can figure it out.)

Dawn Perlmutter claims to be an "expert" not just on Satanism but also on various other "dark" subcultures (Goth, Vampire, Fetish, BDSM, Body Art). In her 1999 Anthropoetics paper The Sacrificial Aesthetic: Blood Rituals from Art to Murder (reviewed by me here), she alleged that most of these subcultures are in what she calls a "perpetual state of sacrificial crisis," implying that they inherently and inevitably predispose people to commit ritual murder. As she puts it, "In this essay it will be argued that aesthetics now ideologically freed from ethical responsibility to society has evolved into an authentic sacrificial culture inclusive of ritual murder. ... Blood Art, Vampyre Culture, The Fetish Scene literally set the ritual stage for sacrifice." This claim is completely off base and reveals her near-total ignorance about the social dynamics of the "dark" subcultures. (See my comments on Dawn Perlmutter's claims about various "dark" subcultures.)

She claims to be an expert on terrorism too. (See Dawn Perlmutter and her "war on Islam".)

Under "Professional Areas of Expertise," the website of her "Institute for the Research of Organized and Ritual Violence" says that it has "an international staff of dedicated professional consultants in the above specialized areas of expertise." However, none of these "dedicated professional consultants" are mentioned by name anywhere on the website. The home page features links to an advertisement for a book, Investigating Religious Terrorism and Ritualistic Crimes, plus several "Internet publications," all by Dawn Perlmutter. So, I tentatively conclude that the Institute is basically a one-woman operation.

It does not seem to me that Dawn Perlmutter has done any truly scientific research either on Satanism or on any of the "dark" subcultures. And her claims about these subcultures are full of the most blatant bloopers.

Below are my critiques of the two Anthropoetics papers of hers that deal with Satanism:

The latter paper makes some pretty nasty allegations about the Vampire scene too, and also about the religion of Palo Mayombe. (Regarding her allegations about the Vampire scene, see my comments on Dawn Perlmutter's claims about various "dark" subcultures.)

Also on the Institute website is a page on Crimes Typically Associated with Ritual Violence, containing snippets of text lifted from Perlmutter's Anthropoetics papers, primarily "The Forensics of Sacrifice." For my response to most of it, see my comments on that paper.

Unfortunately, she has managed to convince quite a few people of her purported expertise. As I mentioned earlier, she has managed to get her book, Investigating Religious Terrorism and Ritualistic Crimes, published by CRC Press. An e-book version is hosted on FORENSICnetBASE/LawENFORCEMENTnetBASE, where Perlmutter herself is described here. And here is a page containing a review of her book on Security Management Online.

Here are a few of the places where she has given or will be giving seminars or even full-fledged "courses":

Here are some news stories about her, including accounts of some of her TV appearances and accounts of some of the criminal investigations she's been involved in.

I also found a very interesting paper of hers, on schoolyard shootings, which was published online in 1999, apparently before she became a full-fledged "ritual violence" scaremonger. I've reviewed it here.

Perlmutter appears to be an entirely new type of anti-Satanist scaremonger, very different from the kinds that were common back in the 1980's. She does not seem to be a fundamentalist/evangelical Christian, nor a fanatical feminist, nor a recovered-memory therapist or client. It took me a while to figure out where she's coming from ideologically. She seems to be, at least to some extent, a follower of the Roman Catholic philosopher René Girard - although, it seems to me, not a very good follower of his. I haven't yet asked Girard himself about this, but I doubt he would approve of someone who makes one's living by promoting the scapegoating of religious minorities and unpopular subcultures. (See my page about René Girard, "sacred violence," Christianity, and "anthropology":  Dawn Perlmutter's philosophical background, as best I can figure it out.) Based on what I've seen so far, it seems likely that Girard would not approve of Satanism or the other "dark" subcultures either; but, at the same time, I would expect him to urge much more careful attention than Perlmutter has given to the question of whether any specific accusation against these subcultures - or against any individual alleged criminal - is true. (For details on her appalling lack of attention to such questions, see my reviews of her Anthropoetics papers, especially my comments on "The Forensics of Sacrifice: A Symbolic Analysis of Ritualistic Crime" (Fall 2003).)

I would be very interested to see critiques of her writings by other people, especially by people who have either (1) a strong firsthand knowledge of one or more "dark" subcultures, or (2) a strong social science background. As I become aware of such critiques, I will link to them here. If/when there are enough of us, maybe one of us should start a "Dawn Perlmutter Critique web ring"? Or, better yet, maybe a "Dawn Perlmutter Critique Top List"! (A top list would be especially fitting, given how, in her article on "Satanists and Terrorists," she displays her ignorance of what a top list is.)

As of March 2006, I have not yet seen any other online critiques of Dawn Perlmutter besides my own plus this page containing comments about her book, on the blog Gullibility isn't in the dictionary. There are a few other people on the net who have been keeping an eye on anti-Satanist scaremongers lately, but I seem to be the very first anti-witchhunt online commentator to have noticed Dawn Perlmutter. To me this seems very odd, because Dawn Perlmutter seems to be the leading scaremonger right now. Or, at least, she seems to be the scaremonger with the greatest appearance of academic - even "scientific" - respectability.

Below are all the pages here on this site (besides this one) critiquing Dawn Perlmutter's claims:

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