Secular Right | Reality & Reason



Salem’s Lot

Over at the Corner yesterday, I linked to Dorothy Rabinowitz’s fine WSJ piece on the involvement of Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate in the Massachusetts senate race, in the persecution of the Amirault family, the true victims of a now notorious sex abuse trial. What Ms. Rabinowitz has to say is, as so often, a must-read. She concludes as follows:

Attorney General Martha Coakley—who had proven so dedicated a representative of the system that had brought the Amirault family to ruin, and who had fought so relentlessly to preserve their case—has recently expressed her view of this episode. Questioned about the Amiraults in the course of her current race for the U.S. Senate, she told reporters of her firm belief that the evidence against the Amiraults was “formidable” and that she was entirely convinced “those children were abused at day care center by the three defendants.”

What does this say about her candidacy? (Ms. Coakley declined to be interviewed.) If the current attorney general of Massachusetts actually believes, as no serious citizen does, the preposterous charges that caused the Amiraults to be thrown into prison—the butcher knife rape with no blood, the public tree-tying episode, the mutilated squirrel and the rest—that is powerful testimony to the mind and capacities of this aspirant to a Senate seat. It is little short of wonderful to hear now of Ms. Coakley’s concern for the rights of terror suspects at Guantanamo—her urgent call for the protection of the right to the presumption of innocence.

If the sound of ghostly laughter is heard in Massachusetts these days as this campaign rolls on, with Martha Coakley self-portrayed as the guardian of justice and civil liberties, there is good reason.

There are a couple of good books on the topic, but I’ve always been surprised about how little historians have had to say about the American abuse panics of the 1980s and early 1990s. They were in many ways a reincarnation of the witch trials of an earlier era, complete with junk science (the conjuring up of ‘repressed memories’ in particular) and religious hysteria (the belief in widespread Satanic cults) and, as such, a terrifying reminder of the persistence of irrationalityand superstition in the most advanced of societies as well, of course, as the willingness of the ambitious to exploit it.

But if the silence of the historians is striking, so was the reluctance of the politicians of that time to take a stand against what was an extraordinarily destructive phenomenon. Cowardice is also, it seems, a permanent value.

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  • Susan · January 16, 2010 at 9:33 am

    At the time the Fells Acre case was prosecuted (mid-1980s) the vast majority of the public was not aware of how the children had been coerced, pressured, and bribed into agreeing that they’d been abused. Also, the mantra among social workers then was that “children never lie.” (Well, of course they do; very young children live in a fantasy world.) Years later, well after the Amiraults had been convicted and imprisoned, the Boston Globe printed large swatches of the transcripts of the interviews with the children. They were shocking–not because of their content, but because of the way in which the questioners had manipulated and pressured the children into saying what they (the questioners wanted to hear. The transcripts went something like this:

    Questioner: Did Tookie hurt you?

    Child: No.

    Questioner: Are you sure Tookie didn’t hurt you?

    Child: Yes.

    Questioner: I’ll give you a candy bar if you tell me that Tookie hurt you.

    Child: Okay.

    I’m paraphrasing from memory, and probably badly, but that is how it went.

    The point is that Coakley, who came to office well after these revelations had been made, could have recommended commutation of the sentences of the Amiraults. Or pardons, which would have been better. But she didn’t.

  • Susan · January 16, 2010 at 9:35 am

    And on top of that Coakley thinks Curt Schilling is a Yankee fan. It’s very hard to believe this woman is a Massachusetts native and not an alien transplant from the Planet Zoar.

  • descendant · January 16, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    The parallels to the Salem witch hysteria are accurate and real. What’s needed from people like Coakley is an apology like the one the Salem jurors wrote after they came to their senses (and after many people had been executed):

    “We do therefore hereby signifie to all in general (and to the surviving sufferers in especial) our deep sense of, and sorrow for our Errors, in acting on such Evidence to the condemning of any person. And do hereby declare that we justly fear that we were sadly deluded and mistaken, for which we are much disquieted and distressed in our minds; and do therefore humbly beg forgiveness, first of God for Christ’s sake for this our Error; And pray that God would not impute the guilt of it to our selves, nor others; and we also pray that we may be considered candidly, and aright by the living Sufferers as being then under the power of a strong and general Delusion, utterly unacquainted with, and not experienced in matters of that Nature.

    “We do heartily ask forgiveness of you all, whom we have justly offended, and do declare according to our present minds, we would none of us do such things again on such grounds for the whole World; praying you to accept of this in way of Satisfaction for our Offense; and that you would bless the Inheritance of the Lord, that he may be intreated for the Land.”

  • Ross · January 16, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    “complete with junk science (the conjuring up of ‘repressed memories’ in particular) “

    The use of “Reflex Anal Dilation” tests to prove child abuse also stands out as an outstanding example of the psuedo-scientific quackery the ritual abuse believers engaged in. This is what happens when the two most sexually obsessed groups on the planet- radical feminists and fundamentalist christians- get together.

    How anyone involved in that scare can ever be taken seriously by anyone about anything ever again is beyond me, but it doesn’t seemed to have stopped Coakley or others like Janet Reno before her from advancing politically.

  • Susan · January 16, 2010 at 6:36 pm


    Coakley may yet pay. Even the Boston Globe, which endorsed her, resurrected the Fells Acre case earlier this week, as they did Coakley’s reluctance to prosecute a cop who was accused and later convicted of raping his toddler niece with a hot curling iron. And Gerald Amirault did a very damaging (to Coakley) radio interview yesterday.

  • John · January 16, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    I agree with everyone above. Still there is no Massachusetts is going to send a Republican to the Senate. The Democrats will find a way to win. I don’t know how, but they’ll do it.

  • Aaron · January 17, 2010 at 12:41 am

    That was a beautiful quote from the Salem jurors. Thanks for posting it.

  • Mike H · January 17, 2010 at 3:17 am

    Coakley is the kind of third rate, soulless, malign apparatchik that near-omnipotent political machines feel they can get away with running in a safe environment. In a more competitive environment she would be hid behind about 3 layers of more appealing people, though waves of resignations I suppose can sometimes bring a Jacqui Smith to light there as well.

    The whole Amirault case should answer anyone’s question as to what kind of people would serve totalitarian regimes, all you need is ambitious mediocrities without a fiber of integrity or courage in them, people like Martha Coakley.

  • Ross · January 17, 2010 at 5:34 am

    That’s good to know. I suspect her leniancy with the man who attacked the baby means that she can’t play the “think of the children” card as well as other prosecuters in her position.

  • Susan · January 17, 2010 at 8:47 am


    Well, she also tried to press assault charges against a man who punched out a pervert who was molesting his son, saying that the father of the boy should have waited for the police to arrive. So no, she doesn’t exactly come across as a champion of children’s interests. I think in fact this is at the root–along with other factors, such as her inability to speak other than robotically and her complete lack of personal magnetism–of her extreme reluctance to grant any radio, television, or print media interviews–she doesn’t want to be questioned about the Amiraults, etc. That and the fact that all she can do when she DOES speak is wheeze on about running against “Bush/Cheney” may kill her candidacy.

    As to Andrew’s point about the silence of historians on this subject, and the lack of books on it: Publishers are now extremely reluctant to buy books about so-called “historical” crimes, meaning ones that aren’t currently in the news. There are other factors, too, but that’s certainly one of them.



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