In a 1991 Rolling Stone article entitled "Sympathy for the Devil: It's not easy being evil in a world that's gone to hell," Lawrence Wright found several of Anton LaVey's autobiographical claims to be wholly or partially untrue. Since that time Wright's findings have been reproduced by many people wishing to "debunk" LaVey: estranged daughter Zeena's "Anton LaVey: Legend and Reality" is probably the most famous example. This has resulted in a widespread belief that Anton LaVey was an inveterate bullshit artist whose every word was a lie including "a," "and" and "the." A man who died in poverty yet refused to monetize Black Masses is scorned as a con artist who was only in it for the money. And Satanism, a philosophy that shows remarkable integrity and coherence throughout LaVey's career, is dismissed summarily as fraud from a fraudster.
As with William S. Burroughs and Andy Warhol, Anton LaVey's persona is one of the most important parts of his oeuvre. Any study of LaVey and his philosophy must touch upon the facts of his life and any serious biographer must ascertain where truth ends and fiction begins – and when that question matters.
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Several weeks ago Adam Lanza slaughtered twenty children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. Every bedtime since Annamaria has insisted we read Sesame Street's Imagination Song. Every bedtime since I have choked up as Ernie sails off into the sunset.
"And the nicest place is the middle of imagination," I sing, my voice cracking as my daughter nestles heavy-eyed against me, "when I'm there."
Many of my fellow Americans think I have been duped. They have decided those murdered children and grieving families are all part of a plot to take away our guns. James Tracy, a media studies professor at Florida Atlantic University, is claiming that the emergency personnel on the scene were really "crisis actors" hired by the Obama administration and states "one is left to inquire whether the Sandy Hook shooting ever took place — at least in the way law enforcement authorities and the nation's news media have described." On Senator and Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul's website, The Daily Paul, staffer vinceableworld writes in a since-deleted post:
So far I've seen dozens of conflicting stories. I've seen some very convincing theories of actors playing roles. I've seen some fairly conclusive evidence of look-alikes... I've watched a police trooper threaten to PROSECUTE people putting out "disinformation."
I have not seen ONE SHRED of evidence that any kids are dead or that the Sandy Hook massacre even happened. All we have is hearsay - in a court of law that doesn't mean a darn thing.
So tell me what evidence have you seen that these kids died and haven't been shipped off to... god knows where?
They are just crazies, I tell myself as I wipe my eyes and Annamaria smiles softly and nuzzles her pillow. And of course they are: nobody sane could possibly believe this was a false flag operation. Yet as the debate over gun regulation has continued it has becomes increasingly clear the Powers That Be are taking seriously the loons we've come to call without a scrap of irony "Sandy Hook Truthers." The NRA and its paid politicians have circled the wagons, more concerned they might lose their gun market than that more children might lose their lives. It is convenient for them to act as if those grieving parents are just using it to promote their liberal New England agenda, as if those dead children washed off the blood and went home, as if the whole thing never happened and we can safely ignore anyone who says otherwise.
I no longer weep for what we have lost. Now I weep for what we have become.
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When I started this book I used noted American genealogist William Adams Reitweisner's LaVey family tree to trace Anton LaVey's paternal line back to Nebraska and a liquor salesman named Leon Levy. Levy rose to some prominence in Omaha only to run afoul of gangster "Irish Tom" Dennison. As part of Dennison's efforts to gain control of Omaha's saloons and drinking establishments Leon Levi was arrested numerous times on trumped-up licensing charges. Later his wife divorced him, yelling in court "I would rather go to the pen for twenty years than stay with my husband for one day!" and charging him with cruelty and "overindulgence on his part of the cup that cheers."
It was a magnificent beginning. It had family drama and a powerful crime boss who used the law as a club to get what he wanted. LaVey claimed his father had been a liquor salesman: it would make perfect sense for Michael Levy to continue in Leon's trade. I patted myself on the back, secure I had just figured out a great deal of what made Anton LaVey tick and certain that it would only get easier going forward.
Then I discovered that the "Michael Levy" in question was 15 years' older than Anton LaVey's father. And that he died in 1931 rather than 1992.
And that I had just wasted several weeks following one of America's leading genealogists down a rabbit hole.
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"I’d rather have my background shrouded in mystery," Anton LaVey told Lawrence Wright. As was often the case, he got what he wanted. I have presented the available primary evidence and attempted to place it in the context of its time and place. When lucky, I have been able to find a newspaper clipping, a census record, a city directory listing or some other scraps of data which confirm or refute LaVey's claims. More often I have been forced to rely on conjecture and speculation, or to admit that it is anybody's guess as to what happened. There is very little certainty to be had when looking at Anton LaVey's life story, only a Rorschach blot to be interpreted as the viewer will. And as with a Rorschach blot those interpretations often tell us more about the biographer than the subject.
In The Satanic Bible LaVey promised "Here you will find bedrock." There's very little bedrock here, just some guideposts pointing out interesting anomalies in the swamp. Those determined to think Anton LaVey a fraud will not be dissuaded by evidence of his integrity; those convinced he is a liar will not be persuaded by examples of his honesty; those who imagine him a devil-worshipping reptilian Illuminatus will not be silenced by inconvenient facts. Satan has always been misunderstood and those who will take up his cause can expect no better.
But enough from me. Who cares about the porter when you're standing at the Gates of Hell? Hopefully my words have whetted your desire: enjoy the performance!
Newark, New Jersey, 2015
Newark, New Jersey, 2015