Here’s the latest development in a fight that started weirdly and only got weirder as time went on: the Satanic Temple is threatening to sue Twitter over an imbroglio that began with former child-actor Corey Feldman ranting about “Satanic nutbags” and retweeting a call to burn down their headquarters, and ended, somehow, with the permanent deletion of the Temple spokesperson’s account. Lucien Greaves, the Temple’s cofounder and a spokesperson for the organization, accused the company in a press release of “egregious failure to apply Twitter’s Terms of Service evenly, or even sensibly.”
The Satanic Temple is a group of merry trolls who use clever legal stunts to advocate for reproductive freedom and rigorous church-state separation. But they also say they are sincere, practicing, non-theistic Satanists, and they face plenty of sincere, violent threats from people who think they literally answer to the Dark Lord. That includes a Twitter user named Laurie, who earlier this week suggested that someone should burn down the Temple’s headquarters in Salem, MA:
That call to arson was retweeted by Feldman, who has said in interviews that he became a devout Christian in his early 20s. (Feldman has alleged that he was serially sexually abused as a child actor, and has said that he found God after leaving Hollywood and entering rehab.)
Feldman’s religious convictions and prolific Twitter use means that he’s frequently and loudly upset about all things Satanic. He retweeted Laurie’s call to burn down the Temple’s headquarters, then added that he was crying after watching a video of a woman who alleges she was sexually abused by a Satanic cult.
Around this point, a self-identified member of the Satanic Temple intervened, to point out that they don’t support child abuse or sexual abuse of any kind, and asking that Feldman refrain from retweeting what he called “terroristic threats” against them.
Greaves asked his supporters to report the arson-suggesting tweet, and asked Feldman why he’d shared it.
Several people told Greaves they had reported the tweet, and received a response saying it wasn’t a violation of the site’s terms of service. In a followup, Greaves suggested that Twitter’s response to threats against them was inadequate and that Laurie is, in his view, an asshole.
Shortly thereafter, Greaves says, his account was permanently suspended without warning; he forwarded Twitter’s response to him, which informs him “Your account has been suspended and will not be restored” due to violating Twitter’s rules against targeted abuse. The email adds, “In order to ensure that people feel safe expressing diverse opinions and beliefs on our platform, we do not tolerate abusive behavior.”
In a speedily-issued press release, the Satanic Temple accused Twitter of religious discrimination, both for failing to take the arson tweet seriously and for deleting Greaves’ account:
The Satanic Temple believes that religious discrimination is clearly evidenced in both the fact that Twitter failed repeatedly to apply their own Terms of Service against a user who openly called for arson against their religious center, and the punitive action Twitter took against Greaves’ attempts to correct them.
Calling someone an asshole is usually not grounds for Twitter deletion; in the release, Greaves alleged that a threat against another religious organization would have been treated differently.
“If this were a threat against any other place of congregation, I’m certain Twitter would have responded much differently,” he’s quoted as saying. “Twitter has explicit policies against targeting religious groups and against calls for violence against groups and individuals, but they arbitrarily decided that those rules don’t apply when the threats are directed toward us.”
Greaves’ permanent ban is an interesting contrast to Twitter’s incomplete purge of alt-right and Nazi-affiliated accounts, which disappeared some self-proclaimed white nationalists and left others who espouse hateful and violent rhetoric, including elderly white supremacist David Duke and hate groups like Identity Evropa.
In threatening to sue Twitter, the Satanic Temple finds itself in curious company: nightmare right-wing troll trio Roger Stone, Milo Yiannopoulos and Chuck C. Johnson (who’s previously sued our former parent company Gawker Media) have claimed that they plan to file suit against Twitter in February. The three amigos have alleged that Twitter and other companies discriminate against conservatives.
Update, January 15:
After their very stern and avowedly permanent ban, Twitter un-banned Greaves’ account early on Monday morning. In an email sent at 1:15 a.m., the company told him, “After further review, we have unsuspended your account as it does not appear to be in violation of the Twitter Rules,” adding, “We appreciate your patience and apologize for any inconvenience.”
There is another wrinkle here, however. Between the original ban and the un-ban, Greaves wrote on Facebook over the weekend, a man came to the Satanic Temple headquarters and threatened two members with what appeared to be a sharpened screwdriver. Greaves wrote on Patreon that the man was apparently delusional, convinced that TST had been “fucking with him:”
A man arrived at The Satanic Temple earlier where Ash and I observed him from our offices, on the security monitors, kicking the siding, smashing an outlet cover, and apparently looking for a way in. When we went outside to confront him, he pulled out what appeared to be a sharpened screwdriver and threatened to stab himself in the throat. I called the police, while Ash attempted to get him to calm down until the officers arrived. The man was under the delusion that we had tapped his phone and had — in various ways that weren’t made clear — “fucking with” him, presumably non-stop. We had never seen him before to the best of our recollections.
Keeping him talking till the police arrived seemed like the best approach, but before too long he made a move for Ash brandishing his weapon threateningly. He stopped when I yelled at him to “back the fuck up,” but then he came at me, whereupon I literally held him at arm’s length, and he seemed convinced by my warning that if physical assault were pursued, it would turn out very ugly for him.
The police arrived, more shouting began, and the man expressed that he did not believe the officers were “real” Salem PD. He ran to escape, but they pursued him and he is in custody. He will be charged with Assault With A Deadly Weapon, along with some lesser offenses.
In his Facebook note, Greaves wondered if the attack had to do with the arson threat and the publicity that followed. “When the public is aware that threats of violence against The Satanic Temple are not considered ‘real’ threats,” he wrote, “merely because of who we are, should we be surprised if some people come to believe that actual violence against us is perfectly acceptable?”