Inside The Satanic Temple's Secret
Despite protesters, death threats, and a torrential downpour, the Satanic Temple unveiled its one-and-a-half-ton, nine-foot goat-headed Baphomet monument in Detroit on Saturday. The statue was revealed to a sold-out crowd of hundreds just before midnight, at a secret party held in an industrial space outside of the city's downtown area.
Billing it as the "most controversial and politically charged contemporary work of art in the world" in a press release, the Temple kept the location of the unveiling a closely guarded secret in an effort to keep religious protesters away.
"It was almost impossible to throw this event," Satanic Temple spokesman Doug Mesner told VICE on Sunday. Chief among the problems faced by the group was finding a venue willing to host the ceremony.
The original location, the jazz and blues venue Bert's Warehouse, backed out following threats of violence and community backlash--later backpedaling by claiming they "weren't aware they were into devil worshipping." In all, seven other venues would agree to host the event before getting cold feet. The last venue canceled just three days before the scheduled date, and the final location was secured just hours later.
In the wake of numerous threats, organizers devised an elaborate scheme involving multiple security checkpoints. Hours before the event, ticket holders were emailed an address, which served not only as the first checkpoint but also a decoy location. Here, they were patted down and given another address where someone would meet them and guide them to the secret venue if they recited a password.
"We were thinking that having them sell their souls over to Satan would keep away some of the more radical superstitious people who would try to undermine the event."
Ticket holders were also required to sell their souls to the devil before being allowed into the venue. "We were thinking that having them sell their souls over to Satan would keep away some of the more radical superstitious people who would try to undermine the event," Mesner said.
Despite the online threats, the protesters who did show up at the decoy location were by and large well behaved. A U-Haul pickup circled the block, towing a sword-wielding statue of an angel. One woman sprinkled holy water on people while they waited in line. A couple busloads of people got out to sing hymns in front of the building. At one point, a woman attempted to block the entrance with a large sign; police later arrived to escort her off of the private property.
At the final location—one of the city's many drab, non-air-conditioned, post-industrial buildings—a heavy rain caused water to bubble up from a drain located in the middle of the floor, which organizers scrambled to sweep away. (The rain actually proved beneficial to the Satanic Temple by cooling the venue and possibly deterring further protesters.)
The statue unveiling was officially presented with a sermon by Satanic Temple co-founder Malcolm Jarry and Mesner, who read a statement tucked in the pages of a Bible, flanked by two men holding candles. As the two men removed the blanket from the monument (and started making out), Mesner ripped out pages from the Bible and threw them into the audience. Later, VIP ticket holders could get their photo taken on Baphomet's lap, while attendees hounded Mesner to autograph the torn Bible pages.
The tension between the Temple and Detroit's Christian community has been escalating since June, when the group announced the monument would be unveiled in the city. Mesner says he has repeatedly called on Saturday's protest organizer—Pastor David Bullock of Oxygen's reality TV show Preachers of Detroit fame—to publicly condemn the threats of violence against the Temple. Instead, Bullock posted a video on his Facebook page that featured a gunshot and blood-splatter graphical motif, calling on local Christians to meet at Bert's to pray for Detroit.
"It's such a controversial and charged object, it's almost unbelievable," Mesner said. "It was funny to see that contrast between protesters crying because they thought this great evil was being brought to the world, and some of the people during the unveiling with tears in their eyes because they thought this was the culmination of what they've been fighting for for so long finally becoming realized."
For now, the statue is en route to a secret storage location, where it awaits the next step. While originally conceived to be placed next to the Ten Commandments monument on Oklahoma's capitol grounds, that state's supreme court recently declared the Ten Commandments monument to be unconstitutional—a move Mesner believes was caused by the Satanic Temple's push. But the fight isn't over yet, with the state's attorney general recently filing an appeal and Governor Marry Fallin stating that the legislature is pursuing making changes to the state Constitution.
Last year, Mesner described Baphomet to VICE as "part man, part animal, points above, points below, the legs are crossed, upright pentagram on head, inverse pentagram behind the head, and the Caduceus on the lap representing balance and reconciliation." The Satanic Temple has maintained that their Satan is a metaphorical one and not a deity, stating on their website "to embrace the name Satan is to embrace rational inquiry removed from supernaturalism and archaic tradition-based superstitions.
"The whole idea of the reconciliation of the opposites is that they don't have war with one another, but that they can coexist in some kind of state of understanding," Mesner said. "That's really the message behind putting it with the Ten Commandments. I think it's a message worth hearing."