Identities—What Are They Good For?   /   Summer 2018   /    Identities—What Are They Good For?

In with the Out Crowd

Contrarians, Alone and Together

Steve Lagerfeld

Boy Punk, 1980–81, by Candace Bahouth, © Copyright; V&A Images, London/Art Resource, NY.

There is nothing a contrarian crowd hates more than a real contrarian, a person who breaks ranks with the group.

“Hail Satan!” yelled the crowd. “Ave Satanus!”

The scene was a black mass celebrated early last year by the Satanic Temple of Los Angeles. The room was washed in red light. The worshipers joined in rituals of bloodletting and destruction and listened to a speaker holding forth on demonic cats. The celebrants wore black, with occasional splashes of red, and some were shrouded in cowls that concealed their faces. A few brandished hammers and crowbars.

But this was not just another Satanist evening. For starters, it was held in a cavernous LA nightspot called Das Bunker. It drew a hipster crowd that was hundreds strong, and they danced to the music of six bands that played deep into the night, waving their index and little fingers aloft in the sign of the devil’s horns and whooping and hollering their support for Lucifer. Actually, it’s his rebel angel vibe they dug—members of the Satanic Temple don’t worship the Dark Lord. The temple is part of a sixteen-city organization headquartered in Salem, Massachusetts, that promotes an orthodox liberal agenda wrapped in a Luciferian package. At Das Bunker, ten speakers lined up to spell out the issues in a series of bullet-point pronouncements. “To invoke Satan is to invoke rebellion, and also to question authority,” declared the first. It is to invoke “the struggle for equal justice and equal rights for everyone,” said another. Others announced the temple’s support for science, the right to “claim your body as your own,” and free inquiry. One spoke of “satanic revolution.” The last speaker sounded the evening’s big theme: “We have each embraced the life of a pariah, cast out for being different. Yet here we are together, hundreds of us gathered in one place. Insiders upending the old paradigms.”11x“Devil’s Dance: Inside the Los Angeles Satanic Temple’s Biggest-Ever ‘Black Mass’ with Blood-Letting, Demonic Cats and Stand-up,” The Sun (London), January 18, 2017, The article includes a short video of the evening’s celebration. See also “Dancing with the Devil: Inside the Los Angeles Satanic Temple’s Biggest EVER ‘Black Mass’ with Blood-Letting, Demonic Cats, Tattoos...and ‘Destruction Rituals’” Daily Mail (London), January 18, 2017,

It was a shrewd piece of marketing. Somebody in the Satanic Temple brain trust had plucked the signal from the noise of the American scene. The thing to be today is an outsider, an underdog, a moral outlier and exemplar, a defier and disrupter of the established order. It’s an identity that has never been far from the surface in American society, and it is now reasserting itself in a new form. It doesn’t matter if, like the Los Angeles Satanists, you have thoroughly conventional ideas. Or if, like the nation’s Trump supporters, you number in the tens of millions and have put your man in the White House. One of the more compelling claims you can make in America today is that you are proudly and defiantly outside the mainstream. That you are a contrarian. It’s the claim not just of populists but of professors who style themselves as iconoclasts, climate change deniers, radical environmental groups, libertarian seasteaders bent on creating autonomous floating cities, countless alternative-values and lifestyle groups, and many others. The farther you position yourself from the mainstream, the better. Conservative Christians and their rationalist-humanist adversaries in groups like the Satanic Temple seem to vie for the distinction of being the most unwelcome group in American society.

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