In January, Lucien Greaves of the Satanic Temple announced that he was considering a lawsuit against Twitter on religious discrimination grounds. In the intervening months, the decision to sue Twitter has grown into part of a controversy that’s engulfed the organization and recently led one of the Temple’s major chapters, the Satanic Temple Los Angeles, to leave the group entirely. The breaking point, according to a statement issued by the former TST Los Angeles, is the attorney representing Greaves: Marc Randazza, a First Amendment lawyer who currently represents a major neo-Nazi publisher, several key alt-right figures, and Alex Jones.
The Satanic Temple is, of course, a merry band that engages in high-concept legal trolling; in the United States, they often sue both state and federal government agencies over reproductive rights and religious freedom issues.
But beyond acting as a sort of Satanic Yes Men, they’ve become a genuine spiritual home for a lot of people who have found TST’s central tenets to be in line with the way they lead their own lives. The Satanic Temple aren’t theistic Satanists and do not literally worship Satan; their core beliefs are a respect for science and intellectual inquiry, as well as a commitment to bodily autonomy; they strongly oppose corporal punishment, for example, on the basis that it violates a child’s right to bodily integrity. Satanists also don’t proselytize; people tend to find their way to Satanism, what many of them refer to, poetically, as a “coming home” moment.
What began as a sort of prank, in other words, has grown into a much larger movement. And the Satanic Temple’s disagreements have grown bigger too, particularly over the priorities of the national umbrella organization, which is headquartered in Salem, Massachusetts.
One of those priorities is the lawsuit against Twitter, which came about through an extraordinarily weird set of circumstances: The incident began when former child-actor Corey Feldman started ranting about “Satanic nutbags” and retweeted a call to burn TST’s headquarters down. Greaves announced his intention to sue after Twitter, for some reason, temporarily deactivated his account following Feldman’s rant, instead of suspending Feldman or the Twitter user calling for the headquarters to be burned down.
TST alleges that Twitter’s behavior amounted to religious discrimination and announced they had filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination in May, represented by Randazza. But not everyone in the organization agreed with that choice. In a statement on Instagram posted over the weekend, the Satanic Temple Los Angeles—who quickly renamed themselves The Satanic Collective—announced they’re withdrawing from the Satanic Temple over a series of leadership decisions, culminating in the Twitter lawsuit. They wrote, “This decision was reached after months of deliberation in the wake of The Satanic Temple Executive Ministry’s decision to pursue a religious discrimination claim against Twitter.”
They also decried the use of Randazza as an attorney, writing, “We view Marc Randazza as a Twitter troll and an agent of the alt-right. He is not a neutral actor with no political motivation of his own; he is an ally to Nazis and to alt-right provocateurs.”
Ali DiPasquale was one of the two chapter heads of TST Los Angeles. In a phone interview, she told us that all 30 people in the chapter voted unanimously to leave the Satanic Temple. DiPasquale alleges that in the nearly five years she’s been a TST member, the organization has become more hierarchical in a way she found unsettling.
“It went from where all the chapters were very autonomous but worked in a larger network,” she said, “to this national council and executive ministry who pretty much appointed themselves.” DiPasquale alleges, too, that the executive leadership was largely white and male, a decision that didn’t sit particularly well with her.
The Twitter lawsuit, she says, is something much of the rank-and-file TST membership only found out about once it hit the news. When she started researching Randazza, she adds, she and other TST Los Angeles members were upset. “He’s a terrible human being,” she says. “We drafted a letter with two dozen other chapter heads saying, ‘Please find another alternative, we don’t want this guy representing us in a legal context.’” DiPasquale says that request fell on deaf ears, leading to months of deliberation and, eventually, the decision to break away.
Randazza is a First Amendment attorney who was recently described by the Daily Beast as “a lawyer fighting for the fringes.” That’s one way to put it it: Randazza rose to fame representing porn companies and has more lately approached something like infamy for his large number of neo-Nazi and alt-right clients. Randazza represents Andrew Anglin, the reclusive publisher of the Daily Stormer, the country’s largest neo-Nazi website. He also represents alt-right personality Mike Cernovich as well as Jared Taylor, a white supremacist who Randazza is representing in a legal fight over Twitter banning his account. (Randazza also represented far right blogger Chuck C. Johnson in a lawsuit against Gawker, Jezebel’s now-defunct sister site.)
Randazza has described himself as a liberal, but spends a generous amount of time with his alt-right clients, as the Daily Beast noted, having been spotted at Cernovich’s alt-right “Night for Freedom” gala earlier this year. Randazza frequently makes reference to his deep friendship with Cernovich, whom he regularly talks about on Twitter in glowing terms:
He’s also not a fan of what he terms “political correctness,” another subject he warms to on Twitter regularly:
Reached for comment, however, Randazza took pains to point out some of his other clients.
“Personally, I think that the Muslim American Women’s Political Action Committee would find it surprising that I am ‘alt-right,’ as might my large number of far-left clients,” he told us in an email. “The alt-right ones seem to make the news more often lately, but I serve my clients and the cause of a robust First Amendment no matter who I share my foxhole with. I don’t care if it is a bunch of Muslim Feminists or a bunch of dissident Mormons. I don’t care if it is a bunch of pro-Israel students or a bunch of Nazis. If you say ‘I am a First Amendment lawyer, but only for people I agree with,’ then you’re not a fucking First Amendment lawyer—you’re just another cog in the machine of censorship and the destruction of Liberty.”
In a lengthy email interview with Jezebel, spanning most of 24 hours, Greaves defended the decision to retain Randazza, who he said is representing The Satanic Temple pro bono. Using Randazza as counsel, Greaves told us, isn’t tantamount to co-signing his other clients.
“Perhaps I think of lawyers differently than other people,” Greaves told us. “To me, they are a tool. A necessity. I don’t care what else he believes so long as he represents our interests in court.”
Greaves added that he also feels the Satanic Temple doesn’t have much choice in their legal representation.
“Often, we don’t get pro bono support, and for some things, like this, it was pro bono or nothing,” he wrote. “And this was the one person wanting to take the case pro bono. We could fight against discrimination against our viewpoint, or we could do nothing thinking ourselves superior for not sharing the legal system with the other side. I prefer to play to win than to play the martyr.”
The decision to retain Randazza wasn’t universally popular, as Greaves acknowledges. In a long statement, the chapter heads of the Satanic Temple Dallas, Rose Vespira and Marius Omnes told us, in part, “[M]any within the Dallas community stridently disagree with the choice of his firm as legal representation, due to the negative associations of the unsavory points of Randazza’s history and written expression that contradict our Satanic ideals.”
And some who have left the organization saw it as just one piece of what was troubling to them about the way it functioned. Jex Blackmore is a former national spokesperson for the Satanic Temple who left the organization several months ago; she was also the founder and former head of the Detroit chapter. In a statement posted Monday on Medium, she accused TST, during her tenure, of failing to create an inclusive space for women, people of color, and other marginalized identities. She wrote, in part:
Despite being an organization that claims to be a champion for women’s rights, and despite relying on the work of many strong and talented women — most of whom are unpaid — TST has not created an inclusive space for marginalized members. Likewise, while they have a mission “against the exclusion of other voices,” there has been no effort to create a diverse membership or rid the organization of a culture of racism and sexism. TST continues this hypocritic legacy to this day. The Salem Gallery regularly hosts whitewashed panels and art exhibitions.
Blackmore also decried the decision to retain Randazza, calling it “a disgraceful lack of judgement that highlights the continued absence of diverse and equal representation within the organization.” (In her letter, Blackmore alleges that TST fundraised for their religious discrimination lawsuit, which is true. However, Greaves stated that Randazza is working pro bono and is not being paid. Greaves disputes many other points in Blackmore’s statement. Both Blackmore and Greaves agree that she was asked to step down as a spokesperson due to an artistic performance she did in which, she writes, ‘I called on people to sabotage and execute “the president.’”)
Several women in leadership at the Satanic Temple, referred to Jezebel by Lucien Greaves, said they disagreed with the characterization of TST as an organization with issues around gender or racial equality. Michelle Shortt, the chapter head for TST Arizona, wrote to us that the group has “collectively worked together towards expanding the scope of diversity among our ranks,” adding, “Considering that religion is still heavily ingrained in POC culture, it is no surprise that people of color are hesitant to fill such public facing positions or be open to community ridicule and ostracization regarding their Satanism.” She added that the Satanic Temple “does not wish to resort to tokenism to accomplish this task” but would “continue to actively encourage more diverse members for leadership roles.”
Remaining TST members and allies are also engaging in a bit of social media advocacy for the organization, calling it a welcoming place for women and non-binary people:
Detryck Von Doom is a black Satanic Temple member; he and his wife are both part of the Kentucky chapter and live in Louisville. He told us that their local chapter “will strive to be a safe space and safe haven for women, POC, immigrants, individuals with disability or SMI, and LGBTQ+.” But he, too, didn’t necessarily disagree with the decision to retain Randazza, he told Jezebel: “Marc Randazza representing neo-Nazis in the past makes him a neo-Nazi as much as him representing Lucien makes him a Satanist.”
If all of this weren’t enough drama roiling the Satanic Temple, in a separate controversy that somehow also took place over the past week, one of the group’s international chapters has decided to leave. The Satanic Temple London & UK announced their departure last week; they subsequently renamed themselves Satanic Temple International.
In a statement, Zeke Apollyon, STI’s founder and High Cardinal, told us in part that TST was unable to adequately represent the priorities of Satanists abroad:
Our decision to leave came from our needs for decentralised bureaucracy and freedom from governance that was culturally isolated. The issues in the EU and around the world are different to the US. For example, some of our governments are theocratic and freedom of speech isnt a luxury afforded to citizens in many parts of the world. It also became clear that our brand of Satanism was different. Advocacy, rebellion, ritual, and the pursuit of knowledge will always be staples of our practice of course. However, Satanic Temple International is a religion that wishes to affect the world not through precedent-setting lawsuits and confrontation, but through facilitating exploration and personal growth for individuals, and by creating compassion-based structural changes intended to benefit those who are traditionally marginalised or perceived as vulnerable.
Apollyon said that he believes both TST Los Angeles and the London chapter chose to secede because of “our experiences with absentee leadership,” he told us. “We still support the good work being done by TST though because it’s critically important, and we have so much love for the members. The irony of the situation is that much of this mirrors exactly what Miltonian Satanism is actually about—speaking up for injustice and being subsequently cast out. But if freedom is the consequence of rebellion then that’s a legacy Satanic Temple International is happy to own.”
On the question of chapter independence, Greaves replies, “We give chapters their autonomy, but it’s not fair to other chapters if we don’t at least take it upon ourselves to establish some oversight that ensures no one chapter will take us wildly and disastrously off-message.” He says that the controversy with TST London actually began when their chapter head “failed to follow basic protocol in submitting event proposals” and was asked to step down.
“Left without a chapter head, London failed to present us with a credible candidate for a replacement,” he adds. “Rather than try to resolve their issues within TST and solidify their role in London, their former chapter head decided that the first priority was in making sure he was still in command, thus making announcement on Facebook that he’s taking it upon himself to represent The Satanic Temple internationally. Needless to say, we will still be managing our own chapters internationally.”
In the end, the dispute over Randazza and over the goals of the Satanic Temple central leadership illuminates an old debate in activist organizations: whether the ends, after all, do justify the means.
“TST and its mission are my life,” Greaves told us, in a separate email. “It means everything to me and everything I do is in support of it. I am looking at outcomes, and perhaps I’m too unconcerned at times with appearances.”
That said, he added, “I’m fighting for TST, I’m fighting for Satanists. Satanists come in all varieties, from any race, religious upbringing, gender and orientation.”