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‘What is the relevance?’ Idaho sheriff’s office post about sex offender irks Satanists

By Carolyn Komatsoulis Idaho Statesman

The Valley County Sheriff’s Office included an intriguing detail recently when it announced that a suspect pleaded guilty to possessing or accessing sexually exploitative material of a child.

The result was a lot of online chatter and controversy.

In a Facebook post, the Sheriff’s Office wrote that the 22-year-old man was “a member of the Idaho chapter of The Satanic Temple.”

Groups such as the Idaho Liberty Dogs and other far-right websites jumped on the tidbit, running and linking to stories and posting photos of Satanic Idaho members on social media. (Satanic Idaho split from The Satanic Temple of Idaho congregation a couple of years ago, according to an official.)

Others questioned whether the mention was necessary or even accurate.

The Satanic Temple of Idaho declined to comment other than to say that the man had not requested the congregation’s membership requirements. In an email to the Idaho Statesman, it wrote that many people claim to be members but haven’t taken any steps to do so.

Satanic Idaho co-facilitator Rowan Astra was disappointed with authorities’ decision to post the information.

“What is the relevance to somebody’s religion in regards to this?” Astra said. “It’s worth noting that every major Satanic practice has something in regards to not hurting children either specifically … or indirectly, but for all living creatures.”

Satanism is a nontheistic religion that uses the metaphor of Satan as a figure representing justice, wisdom and compassion against tyrannical authority, Astra said. In Hebrew, Satan means adversary.

The Satanic Temple’s seven fundamental tenets include acting with “compassion and empathy toward all creatures,” according to its website.

So why did Valley County include this detail?

The McCall man pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual exploitation of a child, and at sentencing on Sept. 20 he could receive 12 years in prison, according to a plea agreement.

Steve Gorski, the detective on the case, said the man had a membership card with his name on it and stickers, and said he was a member of the Idaho chapter. He was knowledgeable about Satanic Temple, Gorski said.

The membership cards are available for purchase on the Satanic Temple’s website for $35, and the check-out process does not appear to ask the purchaser whether they are actually a member. Gorski said he had not tried to see what it took to get such a card.

“I don’t know how they run their membership or meetings. … All I know is that he said he was a member, and we have his ID card with his name on it sitting in the evidence room,” Gorski siad. “I’m kind of taking him at his word.”

Gorski said the videos the suspect possessed were terrible and disturbing, and the man was trying to find groups online and in-person he thought might share his interests. He thought Satanic Temple might be one of them, Gorski said.

There is no investigation into the Satanic Temple or that religion, the detective said.

Regarding the Sheriff’s Office social media post, Gorski said he would have liked to see more of an explanation of what he called the nexus between the case and the Satanic Temple, which can help serve as a deterrent.

“I think it’s a way for groups to internally police themselves,” Gorski said. “… They’re in a unique position to come across troubled individuals … before they reach the level where law enforcement gets involved. And that, again, that goes for just about any group, any religion.”

A review of the Valley County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page shows that authorities have not included anyone else’s religion in incident press releases this year.

“If Satanism is going to be judged off of the worst of its groups, does that mean that every other religion needs to be judged off their worst groups?” Astra said. “If you’re not careful, you start another Satanic panic.”

The Sheriff’s Office post is no longer available in its original form – the Satanic Temple reference is removed – but people took screenshots and it lives online.

“We have children,” Satanic Idaho co-facilitator Hauns Snyder said, and the Valley County Sheriff’s Office is “putting our children in danger.”