You're Wrong About

Summer Book Club: "The Satan Seller" (The Debunking!)

August 09, 2021
You're Wrong About
Summer Book Club: "The Satan Seller" (The Debunking!)
Show Notes Transcript

This week we debunk Mike Warnke right out of his cabin and into the lake, using Cornerstone Magazine’s long overdue exposé as our guide. Digressions include "Star Trek," a classic New Yorker cover and Ariana Grande. We definitively conclude that the Bible endorses cancel culture.
This episode, we’re sorry to say, includes detailed descriptions of domestic abuse.

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Summer Book Club: "The Satan Seller" (The Debunking!)

Sarah: That's what I like about Gone Girl. It really shows how much you can accomplish if you make to-do lists and use a calendar.

Mike: Hey, debunk mates, quick technical note here, we recorded this episode thinking we were going to include it in last week's episode, but then we ended up recording for three hours and we thought it should be its own thing. So, there's no intro or any of the front stuff, we just dive in. And we also had some technical problems with Sarah's recording. So, for the first 15 minutes, we're using our backup Skype recording. So that's why it sounds a little bit weird. Thank you for bearing with us. We hope you're having a wonderful summer and enjoy. 

Sarah: We have traveled far with our satanic acolyte, Mike Warnke. This book has been a roller coaster. Before we debunk, which will also be a rollercoaster between roller coasters, I would like to sit here with you and eat a big, soft pretzel and reflect on what we have learned. 

Mike: What can you say about books like these?

Sarah: This is always your quandary. You're always like, what can I say about something that someone made up? 

Mike: Yes, exactly. I think what's so striking about this and Michelle Remembers, is how just obviously made up it is. It is a-ooga noises, bright, red flags flapping in the breeze the entire time. And yet these very obvious basic facts don't seem to have permeated the legacy of this book or the cultural impact of this book. It seemed to just exist in the world as like, wow, this crazy thing happened to this dude.

Sarah: Yeah. Well, and the debunking in Cornerstone Magazine is wonderful and also hilarious because they debunk details like, the folk music venue that he went to was full of chairs and tables and had no room for the dancing he describes. And it’s like, yeah, the part with the Satanist mansion in Redlands, California is the more obvious debunking.

Mike: Yeah. And the thing where drug dealers give you drugs for free until you're hooked on pot. 

Sarah: Right? I was like, it's in the small details that you can pin someone down. But what's also interesting about this to me is that the people who unveil this con are also Christians, and we can see the intrafaction stuff happening in Christianity.

Mike: I always love stories like this because the sign of an intellectually robust community is when it has internal policing mechanisms. I wouldn't have been a reader of Cornerstone Magazine at the time, but this is what healthy movements do is they kick out the grifters. 

Sarah: It's true. Yeah. And well actually, can I read you something kind of in this vein?

Okay. So the Cornerstone article, which was written by  Mike Hertenstein and John Trott, they expanded it into a book called Selling Satan: The Tragic History of Mike Warnke, and so this is from a review of that from an author named Ken Ziety. And this touches on one of our previous episodes, one of our classics, if you will.

Mike: I love touching upon previous episodes. 

Sarah: Gross, Mike. Okay. Well, here's a pop quiz. What's a story of religious misconduct that we have done on this show? 

Mike: I know, this is praise the Lord. This is James Bakker.

Sarah: Jim Baker and Tammy Faye. They were gigantic. They had their own theme park. Jim committed significant fraud. And also, according to Jessica Hahn, sexual assault. And so when Jim Bakker fell for his financial crime, I imagined that maybe there was a sense on behalf of American Christians of you never pay attention to us and now you are. 

Mike: This is how the kids at Oberlin feel. 

Sarah: “Ever since the Charlotte Observer broke the PTL story, members of the religious press, at least those who consider themselves journalists rather than public relations flax, have asked why was the exposure of section ethical behavior left to an outside source and not performed by a part of the evangelical body? 

The editorial soul searching that came of the PTL debacle found fertile ground in cornerstone magazine, published by Jesus' People, USA in Chicago. Unfettered by the organizational and commercial ties that bind most other Christian publications. The magazine has been able to devote extensive time if only modest resources to playing out its commitment to absolute truth. That course eventually sent it headfirst, not only at Satanist turned comedian, Mike Warnke, but also at the whole evangelical celebrity slash publishing slash recording complex that built him. 

To say the article written by editors Mike Hertenstein and John Trot sent shockwaves through the evangelical subculture. Sounds like a cliche, but it is in fact, an understatement. Beyond the Warnke story itself, the whole affair reheated debate over the same issues raised by PTL. Christian celebrity, biblical accountability, and the role for good or bad of mass media and contemporary Christian living.” 

One of the key allegations of this article and the thing it's asking anyone reading it to pay attention to is Mike Warnke and his writing and his performances have been pretty key in establishing the ideas that a generation of people have about Satanism in America, specifically a generation of Christians. And if the Satanic panic in which he is one of the kind of expert witnesses who's been appearing on mainstream media programs to talk about, if his book is fake, then what does that mean about this whole epidemic of satanic cults in America?

Mike: It doesn't seem to have worked because we're going to get the satanic panic, the real one in a couple years.

Sarah: Well, at this point actually, the satanic panic was on the wane, when the debunking article came out. Cause if this comes out in 1992. 

Mike: Oh, the debunking comes up that much later. 

Sarah: Yes, it comes out like 20 years after.  

Mike: Oh wow. Yeah, that’s a bummer.

Sarah:  Yeah. Michelle Remembers got heat drawn to it and got debunked much earlier than that, but it also be quite a few years longer than he would honestly think. Think about 20 years, 20 years ago, I was 13. And for that time, since I was downloading Dido songs on Caza, people read this book and were like, Hmm. Yeah. Okay. 

Mike: And by the time it gets debunked, people barely remember what it was even about and their belief that Satanism is widespread in America is already so entrenched in their brains. Yeah, this isn't going to dislodge it. Yeah. 

Sarah: Something that terrifies you at an impressionable age can really shape your psyche, I think. That's why, since I was an early viewer of Pet Sematary, I'm very protective of my ankles. Okay. So, do you want to hear some of this Cornerstone article and go through its highlights?

Mike: Desperately. 

Sarah: “This is the story of well-known comedian evangelist and professed ex-Satanist Mike Warnke, known as America's number one Christian comedian. Mike Warnke has sold an excess of 1 million records. June 29th, 1988 was declared Mike Warnke Day by the governor of Tennessee. The Satan Seller has, according to its author, sold 3 million copies in 20 years”. However, his ghost writer said it was 500,000.” Mike Warnke’s press material includes credits for appearances on the 700 club, the Oprah Winfrey show, Larry King Live, Focus on the Family, and ABC's 20/20.” What do you remember about little Mike’s childhood?  

Mike: Oh, this was his dad was a gangster wielding Tommy guns, bullet holes in his car. Don't tell me that's not true. 

Sarah: That doesn't appear to be true. But he did run a truck stop. The thing about his mother dying in a car accident when he was a child is true. His mother Louise died while driving the family's Packard when Mike was eight years old. And his half-sister who later adopted him, she's also real. She was interviewed for this article. This article is exhaustively sourced. They have tried to talk to everyone who so much as sold Mike Warnke, a pack of gum, as far as I can tell. So Mike's half-sister, Shirley told Cornerstone “dad, Louise, and Michael came out to California in the mid-fifties. Prior to that, I wasn't writing my father. I didn't even know where he was. My dad had abandoned me when I was little. He was an alcoholic and maybe twice in my childhood did he make any effort to communicate with my mother.” And then after Mike's mom, Louise, dies in a car accident, he proposes that she and her husband Keith can come out to Tennessee and help him run this truckstop. And basically, his drinking was out of control. He had them both working constantly. He wasn't reliably showing up and he also wasn't paying them. 

Mike: So, Mike had a sucky dad, but not a Al Capone prohibition Chicago dad. 

Sarah: Yeah. Which makes sense is like something you would prefer to have been traumatized by. I do think that the Satanic panic, a large phenomenon, exists partly because there are so many people who were traumatized by their parents, but their parents were really just boring. A lot of us would prefer, I certainly feel this way, would prefer to have our weird behavior and our trauma come from something that makes people go, wow, no wonder you're like this. 

Mike: Yeah. As opposed to these much less extreme forms of abuse and just hurt in your childhood that are just kind of normal, your dad's not around. He's kind of a dick. 

Sarah: And you know, a garden variety drunk can be very abusive.

Mike: And society doesn't know how to recognize that. And especially fundamentalist Christian society doesn't really know how to recognize that. 

Sarah: Well, this is one of my theories about what the kind of work true crime does in America. Where in many aspects of American culture, that kind of privileged to do kind of whatever they want, white middle-class, male, patriarchs have is so strong that the only way to remove them from that power dynamic is to label them criminals. And just like in the book, Al Warnke dies pretty soon after his wife, and then little Mike lives with his aunts for a while. And then he is sent to live with his Catholic half-sister and her husband in Riverside. It really, it sticks relatively close to the truth until he gets to high school. And then we have in his book, he's like, “I was in with a rough crowd, and I was drinking all the time and I was having sex”, and his friends were like, “No”. 

Mike: Mike was really into Electric Light Orchestra and playing tennis.

Sarah: Really terminizing. And at this phase, and really through his whole life, I start to think of Mike as being kind of like Eli Cash in the Royal Tenenbaums, who comes over to your house before school with his toothbrush in his pocket, because he just wants to be absorbed into your family. 

And so he had friends who described him being, “like a piece of furniture at their house and they're Catholic and so he gets interested in Catholicism and he does have a period of trying on Catholicism in high school. That's also true. A consistent thing is that his friends from high school are like, you know, we weren't like the best young citizens ever, but we had kind of wholesome fun. We were young kids in American graffiti times, and we didn't really have access to alcohol or drugs. And Mike was a normal, nice guy, but he did make up stories a lot. He really liked making up stories and pretending to be people, just characters, just being someone else. 

He tells a story where he goes on a date, and he gets his friend to chauffeur him around. And then he tells his date a story where the guy driving his friend, who's being his chauffeur as an orphan who Mike's family raised. And I just feel like there's this sort of sense of discomfort. Well, maybe discomfort at being himself, or maybe also it's a more basic sense of who even am I? I kind of remember this feeling maybe, from when I used to be more into acting and I really loved the feeling of kind of disappearing into a character. It’s kind of a meditative act when you make an improv character, especially with making out fake stories is a good and kind of maybe exhilarating way to do that. 

Mike: Also, if you're going through stuff, it's a way of hiding in plain sight without actually revealing anything of yourself, too. To be as loud and outgoing as possible is a way of not really letting people into who you are.

Sarah: One of the things Cornerstone does that I really love is that they're like, well, Mike goes to San Bernardino Valley College starting September 13th, 1965. And we know from his military records that he joined the Navy on June 2nd, 1966. 

Mike: So, the only period in which this story could have taken place is less than a year. 

Sarah: Yeah. He had eight and a half months to become an alcoholic, start dabbling and Satanism, going to orgies, officially joining the satanic church, becoming a middle manager and initiating new policy, becoming a sex criminal, and then getting kicked out.

Mike: And the whole time he's running to the thrift store to get weird pants. 

Sarah: How does he have time? Thrifting was easier back then, but still.

Mike: It doesn't add up. 

Sarah: So, his college roommate was a guy named Greg Gilbert. And when Cornerstone talked to him, he said “After Mike became a star, I assumed that since he had gotten this far with a Satan story, he'd always get away with it. I never knew what to do. Who could you tell?

Mike: See, today this guy would be like, “I was Mike Warnke’s roommate. Here's a thread, 1/?” 

Sarah: Yeah. He just needs the Notes app. I was just reading about  Frank Darabont, the guy from Catch Me If You Can. There's significant evidence suggesting that he wasn't really this arch criminal, and that actually he kind of was doing low-level cons and mostly manipulating women. 

Mike: This is such Sarah bait, dude. There was no mastermind. There was no cat and mouse game.

Sarah: Maybe the real mastermind was just manipulating women endlessly and not getting recognized as someone who just mistreats women.

Mike: Man, someone should do a podcast where they tell stories like that.

Sarah: I know. Anyway, one of the reasons that he just hasn't really troubled his success or his ability to make all these claims is that there were a couple of articles when he was first, I think, touring on this book or he was on TV in the seventies. He was kind of a low-level star. And there was initially an article about him in the local press in I think Colorado or something like that. And then another article about him in some other state and some other local newspaper, but it's below the fold local newspapers, like who in the population of the country is even going to have read both of those articles and notice that there's a pattern may be happening here?

Mike: And it's one debunking article to 50 articles that reinforce the myth. 

Sarah: And being like, look at this guy. And journalists and publishing houses are much less motivated to debunk stories that are making the money. And then we get to Mike's first girlfriend, Lois Ekinrod. And they met during the very start of his college career, which they would have to because he wasn't there for very long. And they dated for a couple of months. She tells Cornerstone before getting engaged and they saw each other every single day. And at this time his friends described him being thin with thick glasses and short hair.

Mike: Young Ned Flanders.

Sarah: And they specifically debunk the freaky shirts claim. 

Mike: The shirts were decidedly un-freaky. 

Sarah: They quoted the freaky shirt description that he gives. And then as a rebuttal that his friend Greg says, he looked like everybody else. And it's also around this time that he starts kind of dabbling in occult lies. He tells his roommate at one point that he had quote “some kind of white witchcraft background. He claimed he had been reincarnated any number of times, that he was born in the Irish Moors in the 1570s. Along with his other stories, he claimed he'd once been a Trappist monk.

Mike: It's actually interesting that this myth of making up a fake life story goes far further back than just the memoir.

Sarah: It's like being an artist or it's just like any other pursuit, I think. You kind of start off when you're young. And you have certain lies that you kind of tell experimentally and see what kind of reaction people have. And if a lie gets traction, keep going with it, you riff on it. He starts off being like I'm a reincarnated Trappist monk. And that's kind of interesting, but you can see how, when he hit on Satanism, he would just keep going back to that. 

Mike: That's the money shot.

Sarah: So Greg, his roommate, says, “There were times we listened to Mike tell his tall tales, but if Mike thought we believed what he was saying, or that we looked at him like some kind of guru, he was greatly mistaken. We were all part of the same bragging team.” 

Mike: Yeah. He honestly needed to find a fandom that he could be part of, or some sort of community that would encourage this kind of thing but also know that it's fake the entire time.

Sarah: I just looked up when Star Trek was originally on. Star Trek started in 1966. He was one year too early for Star Trek. 

Mike: Man. See, that's the problem. 

Sarah: He should have been a Trekkie, wouldn't that have been great. He was like, hello, I'm Mike Warnke and I'm a Vulcan. Mike also said various contradictory things about how many times he was wounded in Vietnam. How many times he was anchored as a Satanist. And so in Mike Warnke Live, which is an album that he did, I think his first album, he says,“I had hepatitis four times for shooting up with dirty needles. I had scabs all over my face from shooting up crystal. I was a speed freak. I weighed 110 pounds soaking wet. My skin had turned yellow. My hair was falling out. My teeth were rotting out of my head. I'd been pistol whipped five or six times. My jaw had been broken. My nose had been almost ripped off. I had a bullet hole in my right leg. Two bullet holes in my left leg.” 

Greg Gilbert and the others saw Mike on a daily basis and say that it is totally impossible for Mike to have had hepatitis facial scabs for injecting crystal, and wounds for being shot three times. Without us knowing, it's a lie, Greg says.

Mike: Also, I don't think you get scabs on your face because you're shooting crystal into your face. You get it because you pick at your skin.

Sarah: Christians are really great people to lie to because their idea of bad behavior is that classic New Yorker cover of America.

Mike: Oh, yeah. Seen from New York. 

Sarah: Seen from New York. Yeah, exactly. It flattens up very quickly. Here's a quote you'll like, “none of the college friends who frequented the apartment ever saw occult books and oxblood leather couch or to love slaves.”

Mike: I did see some sandwiches though.

Sarah: “I never slept with him, says Lois, we kissed and hugged, but I never would have had sex with him because I was a very devout Catholic and I wanted to be a virgin till I got married. Thank God, I didn't marry him.”

Mike: This does make his descriptions of sex make a lot more sense. He's like they were doing things I couldn't even imagine. It's well, you can't imagine terribly much. 

Sarah: Okay. So by the way, the timeline is even shorter than I implied earlier. So Cornerstone says, “In the Satan Seller, Warnke has gone through his drug, sex and promotion to high priest before Christmas of 1965. He started school in mid-September.”

Mike: You can't even rise through the ranks of Denny's in that amount of time.

Sarah: Yeah, just think about what you accomplished during your first semester of college, everybody. All I did was start listening to the Magnetic Fields. And so in real life, he leaves college and he decides to join the Navy.

Mike: And then in the book, this is where he does his sort of born-again story.

Sarah: Yeah. And that progression is basically true, but his reason for joining the Navy, which is that he's trying to escape the Satanists, is obviously untrue. And in his later works, he talks about having this drug filled very countercultural going away party. The article tells us, “Lois says she was the girl who gave Mike his going away party. I bought a big cake decorated with a Navy boat, Lois remembers, that said ship away Mike. Don and I made food and pop and we had a bunch of people over. It was just clean, fun. I took him to the bus stop, put him on the bus to go to bootcamp, Lois says. We were supposed to get married.” 

Mike: It's like an adorable normie going away party. These people just sound nice.

Sarah: I know doesn’t that cake sound so cute? She had to go to the cake store or the grocery store and be like, write, ‘ship ahoy, Mike’. I am so happy Lois didn't marry him either. 

Mike: Yeah, me too, good God. 

Sarah: Yeah. He goes to bootcamp and then he graduates August 22nd, 1966. And then the next time Lois sees him, she says, “He was different, he was carrying a Bible. I asked him about it and he said he'd found Christ at bootcamp.” And he found someone else. He also found Sue. 

Mike: Oh, sorry, Lois.

Sarah:  I'm not accusing him of anything, but I feel like if you're going to break things off with your first and only girlfriend to abruptly marry somebody, then, this whole, my whole life is different and I'm completely different because I'm a Christian now, even though I was basically one before thing, if it's not a scheme, it's at least psychologically a way to allow yourself to lie to others and maybe yourself about what the hell you're doing. 

Mike: It’s a way to make yourself like a little butterfly emerging from a cocoon and not being like, oh, I definitely cheated on this lady who was waiting for me back home.

Sarah: And the person who liked Lois, that Mike is dead. He doesn't exist anymore. And it's well, that doesn't excuse what you're doing to Lois.

Mike: The Lois story. 

Sarah: So, he and Sue got married the following year, May 13th, 1967. They moved to San Diego, which again is what happens in the book. And after his service in Vietnam, which lasts six months, he starts telling his Satan story. And I think just the response to him is positive enough that he keeps building it. So it's also around this time that he made Steve Balsiger as co-writer and seller. And he's working for an evangelist named Morris Cerullo and I'll just read you this paragraph. It's pretty great. “After starting a youth ministry in San Diego, Cerullo had come in contact with kids dabbling in the occult and decided to write a book on the subject. Balsiger was assigned the job, it was during this time that he met Mike Warnke and enlisted his aid. The book was to be called Witchcraft Never Looked Better. They also created a specially outfitted trailer, purchased to house research materials, such as voodoo oil, graveyard dust, and fortune telling spray. The vehicle dubbed the witch mobile was to be unveiled at an upcoming Morris Cerullo convention.” 

Mike: It sounds like a fucking RPG. You have to gather the coffin dust to go talk to this other character.

Sarah: It sounds like an early 90s CD rom game with minimal animation. So, this book is Cerullo's idea. And he has enough pull that he is really instrumental in helping Mike get out of the Navy, which is a major plot point at the end of the Satan Seller, that he wants to minister full time. And that's why he has to leave the Navy. And it's not dishonorable, it's because he's called by a higher power. 

Mike: Again, he's using Jesus as a get out of jail free card.

Sarah: “We asked Dave Balsiger about evidence for the story told in the book, was he concerned about that? Oh yes, he said. And what was the evidence Mike offered for the Satan sellers 1,500 member cult? Mike took me to some of the sites, he said. I saw where there had been a fire started and there were some indications of cultic writings and graffiti.” There's been a fire, Mike. 

Mike: This is like me saying that I'm really good friends with Ariana Grande. And then you come over to my house and the only evidence I present you with is like a ponytail ribbon. See, it must be her.

Sarah: Arianna Grande has a ponytail. And so there it is. I believe you. So Cerullo gets him out of the Navy. And then at that point, Mike immediately is Hey, actually, you can't use any of my Satan testimony and I'm going to write the book myself. Thanks for getting me out of the Navy, bye. So the book comes out, the guy who runs a publishing company says it sells much better than they expected it to. Mike Warnke's personal demons have aligned with something that society is going through. And so Mike starts going to ministry school. And he meets a woman who he has an affair with. And then he also cheats on her with someone else and he’s still married to Sue. 

Mike: Man, they’re really going after this guy. We're way past the Satanist stuff now, this dude sucks in every way.

Sarah: You know, what I suspect is that if you're writing this expose, a) you want to get as full a picture as you can, of course. B) if someone's a liar in one arena, it’s easier to believe he's a liar elsewhere. I can see a lot of people reading this and reading the whole, how could he have had time to become a Satanist high priest in three months, if he was spending every day with Lois and he could be like, well, the Satanists are so powerful that they've enchanted Lois, obviously and given her all these fake memories. And you cannot believe that. I think if you just choose to throw the whole thing out. But I think it's harder to throw out all of the, he cheated on everyone. 

Mike: I think we respond to people just being kind of dicks in a way that we don't always respond to, like someone faked a memoir. If I ever debunk anybody's memoir, I'm going to throw in the fact that they like only tip 5% at restaurants or something. 

Sarah: That would be a great job for you, one more debunker. Okay. Do you want to hear how Mike flirts?

Mike: Oh God. No. But yes.

Sarah:  “Mike started telling me he and Sue had different ideas about what they wanted out of life and that he didn't love her anymore, says Carolyn. Mike began passing notes to me in class with stuff like ‘Hubba Hubba’ written on them.”

Mike: That’s rough.

Sarah: ‘Hubba Hubba’, on a note, you write down those words. 

Mike: I wonder if he's learned all the sex things by now, or is he still confused.

Sarah: I feel like he has not learned all the sex things.

Mike: Bags of sand.

Sarah: And then near the end of the school year, Carolyn says that's when it gets physical. She says, “We've been assigned to paraphrase the Book of Isaiah, Mike rented a cabin outside Tulsa to do his work and he offered to help me with my homework there.” And so they work at the cabin for a while. Then they go out for a drive. They stop at a mini-Mart. “Warnke returned to the car, says Carolyn, with two bottles of Annie Green Springs wine, two packs of cigarettes and a package of peanut butter cookies. That day, they began an affair that would lead to marriage two years later and divorced two years after that. I guess from day one, I was wrong, says Carolyn.” 

Mike: He’s just left a trail of fake memoirs and disappointed women behind him. 

Sarah: This is another big theme on our show that the world is full of lovely women who you can woo with a fake life story and some peanut butter cookies, and they deserve better. And we deserve to live in a world where women can have more reasonable standards for who they're going to let into their life. Thank you. And then in order to make it seem legit that he's leaving Sue for Carolyn, do you know what he does? 

Mike: More Jesus stuff. 

Sarah: Yeah. In a way he's like Sue is cheating on me, which she obviously isn't, but that's a way to make it her fault. He does a ceremony with Carolyn where he mixes their blood so they can become one.

Mike: Sounds kind of satanic, but okay. 

Sarah: And so at this point, he's touring, he's going around performing. He's building his comedy career and then he starts being physically abusive with Carolyn. After one night, the way Carolyn describes it, they were fighting and then he throws her at a wall and threatens her. He says, if she goes to a hospital and tells anyone what her name is, which means they can figure out she's his wife that he'll kill her.

Mike:  Jesus Christ.

Sarah: And Carolyn says, there's a revolver in the nightstand. She takes it out. She says, if you hit me again, Mike, I'm going to kill you because I'm tired of your beatings. And then she gets in the car, and she doesn't stop driving until she's in Pensacola. 

Mike: Holy shit. 

Sarah: And so she stays there a week and then Mike sends her a note that reads, “Dear Carolyn, I don't know how we ever got to this place. All I know for sure is that we are here. I can't blame you for not wanting to be around me right now, nor can I condemn your disgust at my rages and tantrums. I'm trying hard to get control. I'll always be there when you need me. The scar on my wrist will never fade. Peace to you.”

Mike: Well, now I understand why they kept all this stuff in the debunking. Holy shit. 

Sarah: Yeah. It's not just petty, it's an escalating pattern of abusive behavior. 

Mike: Jesus Christ. 

Sarah: What do you think of this note? 

Mike: It seems like he's like letting her go in a way, but also like he's also pulling a weird power move shit. I don’t know.

Sarah: This is him being like, don't cut the baby in half, I think, to get her to be like, oh, he seems like a good guy. And also he's like, I'm not gonna blame you or condemn you. And it's wow, that's really magnanimous after you assaulted her. 

Mike: So, did they get back together? What happens?

Sarah:  So, Carolyn talks to him on the phone while she's away from him, which lasts about two weeks. And then she goes back to Nashville, I think maybe with thoughts of reconciliation. And she says, “I came home and there was a for sale sign on the house, all the locks had been changed and everything in the house was gone. In just a matter of days, I had no funds, no furniture, nothing. Carolyn felt most of the people she knew in the industry had been citing with Mike who was telling everyone stories about her unfaithfulness.”

Mike: So he just goes like scorched earth? This is a wild fucking story.

Sarah: Nice work cornerstone. Someone had to do it 20 years after the stupid book came out. 

Mike: What happened to her? Is she okay now?

Sarah: I don't know how she's doing now, but according to Cornerstone, as of the early nineties, she was working as an undercover narcotics operative with the regional organized crime information center, a law enforcement organization in Nashville. 

Mike: Mass incarceration is bad, but I'm also glad that she found a sort of sustainable future away from this book.

Sarah: You know, if you can figure out how to use the skills you learned in your terrible marriage to Mike Warnke, then that'll be good for you for the rest of your life.

Mike: So in the same way that he's positing Catholicism and weed as gateway drugs to Satanism, we've also have blatantly lying about your life story as a gateway drug to much worse behavior. I don't know. Maybe it's really facile to link those two things, but it seems like at no point, has this guy been subject to any form of accountability? 

Sarah: Well, because he's found a subculture that's rewarding him for a certain kind of story that he's telling and they're empowering him and I think that this kind of attention would swell your ego and put you in circles where there is an emphasis on a lack of accountability, especially if you're making money for people. And he was doing well with his anti-Satanist, Christian comedy, apparently there was a lot of money in that in the seventies, who knew.

Mike: I'm amending my earlier statement because I said the Cornerstone exposé is an indication of a healthy movement, but the fact that it took 20 years and that there were all these other red flags about his behavior is not a sign of a healthy internal checks and balances movement. If somebody is doing this to his wife, surely people around him knew that he was behaving this way and would have had clues about things like, you know, physical abuse and you know, everything else going on.

Sarah: Or the fact that he's discarding women in a very un-Christian way.  It doesn't take someone who's like a gum shoe to be like, are all of these women really cheating on Mike?

Mike: Exactly. Three in a row and he left them all in kind of the same way. And then cleaned out her bank account. There's obviously other red flags of bad behavior that should have encouraged somebody to be like, let me take a look at this book again. How many fingers did you eat, Mike? Let's do some fact checking.

Sarah: Finger-licking good. Okay. And then someone who knew him at the time, Mike told him that Carolyn “was rubbed out by the mob. He told someone else that Carolyn had been killed in a boating accident.” And that seems like a bad sign if you're lying about your ex-wife, who you just horribly booted from your life. If in your fantasy kingdom, she's also dead. 

Mike: That’s fucking easily checkable too. That's a bold move to kill off your living ex-wife. 

Sarah: Yeah, but if you run into any mutual friends or acquaintances, you can be like, isn't it terrible about Carolyn and the boating accident? Someone could be like, Carolyn is an undercover narcotics officer. What are you talking about? Yeah. To what you were saying before about making fake life stories and abuse behavior, I feel like they probably show up next to each other fairly often. That makes sense to me as a pattern, because I think they are fueled by the same needs. And also, then the fact that he's found a religious faction that has allowed him to just keep upping the dose of this kind of maladaptive behavior that I think is encouraging it to get worse. And then if you keep making money for people, they're not inclined to try and employ accountability measures that might make you unprofitable. 

Mike: There's no reason for them to start sniffing around his life story because everybody else is getting rich on it too. 

Sarah: And low and behold, one month and four days after he divorced Carolyn, he married a woman named Rose Hall and they got divorced in 1991. And so I found a memoir that she had written. And I was like, oh my God, I bet it’s a tell all divorced memoir. And it's called The Great Pretender. And I was like, this has to be a tell-all divorce memoir. And then I ordered it and it came and it's not, she wrote it when they were still married. 

Mike:  So, what is the great pretender referring to, if not Mike Warnke? 

Sarah: “Dear reader, Satan is the greatest of all pretenders. He only is the author and teacher of lies and deception.” 

Mike: I feel so bad for you when you found out what her memoir was called, and then you found out what she means.

Sarah: I know! How could I have predicted that it wasn't about her husband? 

Mike: I know, you're like, jackpot. 

Sarah: Wait, I'm going to turn my camera on for a second and show you this cover.

Mike: Oh, it says the great pretender, pretender, pretender, pretender. And it's in pride colors. It's like a nice little spectrum. 

Sarah: I was so hopeful. This is like my pyrite. Okay. And then here's the back cover. Are you ready? You're not ready, but I'm going to show it to you. 

Mike: Oh, it's them. 

Sarah: How are they looking? This is the Warnke’s in the mid-eighties. 

Mike: So, it's Mike Warnke and this beautiful woman in a Hawaiian shirt and they look unbelievably happy.

Sarah: And he looks like a big dork. 

Mike: I get what people mean now when they say he didn't wear weird pants and freaky shirts, like this is the least freaky attire.

Sarah: Is he wearing a polo shirt? 

Mike: Yeah. It's a polo shirt, a mustache and glasses. He just looks like a normal, I dunno, 35-year-old dude.

Sarah: He looks like he's your Allstate agent. 

Mike: Yeah. And she is relegated to a tiny corner of this photo. She's almost cropped out of a photo in her own book, pictures of 80% Mike.

Sarah: First of all, this book is still 90 times better than the Satan Sellers and b) I can't believe this is real, but it is. When you are reading it, whenever Mike Warnke's name appears, it is bolded and italicized. So all the Mike Warnke’s just leap out at you and it makes me read it in my head in a certain tone.

Mike:  Like she's emphasizing his name every time. 

Sarah: It's like how, when Jesus speaks in the Bible, it's in red. So this is the story of how they met. It's from a chapter midway through the book called “Not so crazy Mike.” “I first laid eyes on Michael Alfred Patrick Warnke about nine years ago when I attended a Christian music festival in Wilmore, Kentucky.”

Mike: So, she went to the gathering of the Christ-allows. 

Sarah: So, she sees him perform. She likes it. And then she sees him speak at a little church elsewhere in Kentucky, and she goes up and introduces herself. And she says, “I brought all my friends here and we live in Paintsville and drove all the way from there.” And then five months later, he's going to be performing at the University of Kentucky because he tours relentlessly. And she's also, she's been married before. She's a single mom and college student. And so she takes her friends to go see him. And she also takes her little daughter, Catherine. 

And then Mike Warnke comes into the auditorium, and she decides she's going to tell him that she again brought a bunch of kids to the concert. And so she goes up to Mike Warnke and I just need you to remember every time I say his name, it's bold. 

Mike: The emphasis.

Sarah: “I got up and went over to the door and said, do you remember me? I was at your concert in May, at the Church in Hazard. Yes, he said. Then I found myself saying, you're going to do great tonight. I really love you. Maybe after the concert, you can meet some of the kids.” And he takes her hand, and he says, “Yeah, bring them afterward.”

Mike: Wow they're really going for it. 

Sarah: It's like West Side Story, everything blurs around them. “We were whispering, and I was real close to him as he took my hand and held it to his chest. He was very nice. He later told me that my words had stunned him.” 

And so Mike Warnke wants to have dinner with her and she's well, I have to get back home because it's a three hour drive and I have school tomorrow and I have exams and like, he's no, let's just have dinner. And she's well, I have my little daughter and I need to bring her home and he's like, bring her. And so they're eating. They have dinner. And then they sit in the car and talk until one in the morning, her daughter is curled up sleeping in the backseat of the car. So, she gives him her phone number and drops them off and goes home. And then she decides that she must say goodbye to him, and she calls his hotel and he's already left. And so she calls the airport and has him paged. And she says, “Never in my life had I ever called an airport and had anyone paged”. But he picks up the phone and she says, “I just wanted to tell you good-bye one more time.” 

Mike: That’s very sweet or very creepy, depending on how you feel about the person doing it to you.

Sarah: Yeah. And then he like, let's both fly to Atlanta, and we can stay in a hotel in separate hotel rooms. And so she flies there and then pages into this. She says, “Looking back, it had never occurred to me to say, you're a minister and evangelist. Are you married? It never entered my mind.” To be fair, was he wearing a ring? 

Mike: And he’s definitely giving her I'm available vibes, obviously.

Sarah: Okay. This is Mike Warnke’s big move. This is the thing I am most impressed and most grossed out by; I think that he does in all of this literature. So there at this hotel in Atlanta, they're going to go to dinner. And she writes, “Before we left the hotel, Michael said, let's pray about our relationship. As we prayed, Michael said, Lord, you can see we're visiting each other. We're talking and sharing, and we want to spend time together. Please lead us as to what we should do about it.” 

And then they go to the Omni Center. And they dine and then they take a cab back to the hotel and they're talking to the cab driver, and he says, “I'm married. I have a wonderful wife, a Christian wife. In fact, I don't know how I could do this if it weren't for my Christian wife. Michael turned to me and looked intently into my eyes. The cab driver continued to talk about how important it is to have a good Christian wife,” which he already has one of “And how necessary it is if you are serving the Lord.” Michael turned and looked out the rear window of the cab and said, “Well, gee Lord, what are you saying?” It's a sign that this cab driver is talking about his good Christian wife, which as far as you know, I don't already have one of. And he's well, golly, Lord, are you giving us a sign that this woman who I've just met should marry me? And God's not going to tell him he's wrong. 

Mike: So, do they get married immediately?

Sarah: ​​ Almost immediately. 

Mike: This is the hard part about not being able to have sex before you're married, man. You get a lot of excuses to get married real fast. 

Sarah: He appears to be having his share of extra marital soft pink sex.

Mike: That's true as well. 

Sarah: Oh. And then he gives her a necklace with ‘MW’ on it. 

Mike: With his own initials?

Sarah: Yes, not to be too heavy handed, but one of the things we say about fake satanic cults is that they like to brand their members and they wear special jewelry. And Mike Satanists had special rings and yeah, anyway. 

Mike: Was it engraved with bold italic letters?

Sarah: So, they got married again, January third, 1980. They bring both of their kids from their previous marriage. And then afterwards they go to Pizza Hut. 

Mike: But then as the rest of the book, just her being like we're in a happy marriage and everything is fine?

Sarah: Yes!

Mike: And then you go to her Wikipedia page and it's like some fucking nightmare.

Sarah: I don’t think she even has a Wikipedia page, which seems unjust. She deserves one. Oh, and this Rose says about the time prior to the writing of this book, when Mike inevitably cheated on her. She says “We weren't communicating and Satan provided a woman to fill the gap in Michael's life.” Can we not blame Satan for everything? 

Mike: Let's start blaming Mike for some stuff.

Sarah: I feel like he's abusing Christianity to his own ends. He's abusing the faith of these typically highly devout women who he's manipulating and just this idea of being like, well, it looks like God is sending us a sign to be together. And he's a highly regarded Christian entertainer. So in a way it would be hard to say no to that. You'd be like, well, I can't argue with God, can I?

Mike: And there’s already a power imbalance because he's famous and everything. And it's also like a very patriarchal kind of norm within that community. So that gives him power as well. But to then throw in, guess God just wants this for us, you know? 

Sarah: Yeah. Well, let's go back to Cornerstone. Let's zoom out again. Because working together they do a lot to expand the ministries. He started his own church in Kentucky. Its technical title is Hock, the holy Orthodox Catholic church in Kentucky. According to Cornerstone, “As time went on, they staffed it with a series of Christian women whose opinions of the Warnke ministry were much higher when they joined than when they left.” One of the staffers says, “Mike was usually out of town, but one day he showed up and said, I'm going to do the teaching this week. So we sang and then Mike put on his robes. I thought he was plain ridiculous. It was like dressing up to be something you're not, it made me feel sad. He wants to be so much and he isn't. I can still see him standing there in his robe, all velvet and dark.” 

Mike: Oh my God. That's fucking cold.

Sarah:  And so, yeah, they're raising all this money, you know, theoretically to combat Satanism and Mike predictably is using it as his own personal piggy bank. 

Mike: Of course there's a financial grift involved too, Jesus Christ. 

Sarah: Inevitably. People who abuse power are very predictable and boring, I think. And according to a staffer named Jan Ross, “On several occasions, Rose said to me that anybody who is in the position she and Mike were in deserve to have the best of everything because of who they were and what they had given up to be where they were. I thought, what did you give up?”

Mike: We gave up not being rich in order to be rich.

Sarah: Well, you know what road and her book is that because they're speaking out against the Satanist, they're being targeted by the Satanist and they have to be really careful.

Mike: It's also funny because like on some level, yeah, we deserve to be comfortable because we're doing a lot of work and people are buying our books, whatever, but great. Then be transparent about it. Give us a donation. And it goes into our bank accounts. If you actually felt that you wouldn't be fucking lying about where the money is going. 

Sarah: We actually have a table of their income between 1984 and 1990. So in 1984, Mike made $34,500. And Rose made $11,500. And in 1996 years later, Mike made $239,291. And Rose made $230,291. 

Mike: So, you're pulling in $500K in 1980s money.

Sarah: Yeah. Like 470 with those put together. I do appreciate the wage parody, that's rare, but also as Cornerstone points out, part of the reason they're pulling in more money, it's not just because they're paying themselves more it's because the organization is taking in more money for them to pay themselves with “And the growth of Warnke ministries in the mid-eighties parallel the sudden explosion of public fears about Satanism. In March of 1985, Mike Warnke appeared on an ABC 2020 report called the devil worshipers. Stories of hideous Satanic crimes were often woven together by self-proclaimed experts to demonstrate the existence of a worldwide satanic conspiracy.” And yeah, what a great way to get people to buy your book. 

Mike: Yeah, it makes sense that he would ride the wave of Michelle Remembers and all this other panicked stuff going on at the time.

Sarah: Well, it's like when you write an article and then years pass and then there's a biopic about the person you wrote about, I don't know what I might be referring to. And you’re like, Excuse me. I was talking about this years ago. I helped loosen this jelly jar. There's a story that Mike really relies on as a fundraising tool for this ministry. And it is about a kid named Jeffy, who is supposedly “a little boy who had become a vegetable” because of all the satanic abuse he'd had. The story was used to raise money to help all the Jeffy of the world so there wouldn't be so many Jeffys. Mike always had to count the money after a concert and to give her an idea of what was there. She'd ask if he'd hold the Jeffy story. If he hadn't, she'd say you tell the Jeffy story tomorrow night. 

Mike: So basically, Rose is just as much of a grifter as Mike. 

Sarah: Does she believe that his stories are true? Is question a. Even if these stories are entirely true, this still seems like a con because they're raising this money for Jeffy and then spending it. So, yeah, she's at least a quarter of the grifter he is. Their staffer Jan says, “It's scary to think you can get involved with something like that with a pure heart to serve God and then find out it's run on deception, lies, and thievery.”

Mike: First time for everything.

Sarah: Ironically, one of the things I've read in literature talking about what these alleged satanic cults are up to, one of the things they get accused of is spiritual abuse, you know, and there's this idea that Satanists are, they're obsessed with desecrating, altar claws, they like to pee in the holy water. And so the idea is that what Satanists do is especially important because they make you associate your original faith with negative associations and rob you of your faith. And I think it's kind of ironic that spiritual abuse for sure exists and I feel like the main people committing it are the people who believe that they are sincerely trying to just be Christians and are somehow incredibly bad at it. 

Mike: And also, as we've confronted so many times doing the show, the villains in American life are easy to find and they are always in places where they have lots of power and no accountability. Heads of churches, my parents talk about this all the time, that there's essentially no obligations for transparency or accountability for heads of churches, you can just be the CEO of the Michael Hobbs church in Seattle, Washington and no one will ever check your financial statements. No one will ever come and audit you. Your congregation is trusting you completely. And I'm sorry, but that's a structure that encourages people to do exactly this kind of grifting. And sometimes it goes all the way to like sexual assault and sometimes it stops it just stealing money or using it to buy a car or whatever. And we shouldn't be shocked at the 10000th time that we see somebody doing this.

Sarah: And blaming the Satanist for the thing that they're just doing themselves, all by themselves without help from anybody, including Satan himself, leave Satan out of it. He's busy.

Mike: It doesn't take Satan. It just takes no surveillance.

Sarah: It just takes Mike. Cornerstone ends by basically summing up their philosophy on that. And I was reading this, and I was like this sounds oddly relevant to the cancel culture conversations we're having right now, this second. So they write, “We would be remiss in our duty as Chris can journalists if we could not offer some concrete suggestions and reflections. Some of our readers will expect us to follow the steps of Matthew:18, 15 to 17. Starting with private confrontation. This passage gives Christ's instructions on what to do, “If your brother sins against you” and the process stops if the brother repents privately. 

We have two remarks on this passage. First, Mike has already been confronted numerous times over the years by many concerned Christian friends, acquaintances, and church leaders. Mike knows what the Bible says about truthfulness, integrity, and fidelity. He is responsible to put into practice what he already knows. Second, this is not a private dispute between Mike Warnke and a magazine. A public figure, susceptible to public scrutiny and criticism. Matthew:18 is not violated when public figures are publicly rebuked.” Okay. But don't you love it? I love this. They're offering a scriptural basis for a callout. 

Mike: It’s lit. Yes. I also think, if this story demonstrates anything, it is the fact that the lack of cancel culture is worse than cancel culture. Having internal mechanisms of accountability is good because you stop people like this in their tracks before they can become massive financial Grifters and make up a bunch of Jeffys. We talk a lot about how public shaming and call outs can have this element of toxicity to them, which is absolutely true, but it's also very important to police ethical norms within a community. 

Sarah: Well, and then they also have an action plan, which I really like. “If Mike were to seek forgiveness and restoration, what could the church expect to see as evidence of the genuineness of his repentance? The following principles should apply to any Christian leader who has manifestly fallen. One, repentance. Repentance is fundamental to Christianity. It denotes a complete turnaround. In Mike Warnke's case, true repentance would necessitate complete withdrawal from public ministry.” What does this sound like? Televangelists are the original YouTubers.

Mike: They're Shane Dawsoning him. 

Sarah: Two, confession. If Mike is repentant, he should make an open admission of guilt. On the other hand, Mike Warnke has built a career of telling us about past and present sins. The church must not allow him to emerge as a new authority on fraudulent testimonies. Three, restitution. True moral change involves ceremony to undo past drawings and provide some kind of restitution. Perhaps the best kind of restitution Mike Warnke could perform would be to take Satan Seller and all his other products off the market. To me, this feels like it could have been written today and in a totally secular context.

Mike: Totally. These are normal mechanisms of accountability. Transparent, stop profiting from your life. Admit what you did. 

Sarah: Show that you know why what you did is wrong.

Mike:  If anything, it's too generous. 

Sarah: Well, you know, it's based on Matthew. And then they end by quoting the apostle Paul and they say, “it's not too late for Mike to change. If he wants to. The secular press may scoff. And those who consider themselves real Satanists may snicker, but the Jesus of the Bible is still the God of truth.” It's very sweet and it's also kind of a burn. Jesus still loves you.

Mike: Even though you're dead to us. Your channel’s demonetized.

Sarah: So, there are actually consequences for him. Christianity Today interviews him and he's yes, I was a Satanist, but there were fewer people at our meetings. There were only like 13 people instead of 1500. And most of them are dead. 

Mike: Weirdly I can't confirm any of this, I may have told some lies, but they're not as bad as the lies. This is classic admit to what you're already busted for, but double down on anything they can't bust you for. 

Sarah: Yes. And be like, I can't believe you discovered my misconduct, which only extends to the things you've found out about already. And then as with a lot of people, it's his financial misconduct that takes him down because reporters at a Kentucky newspaper continue the investigation into the finances. They find that there is more money they're receiving when they're low key grifting, saying that they have no money left, which is a classic Jim Bakker-ism, and he is forced to close his ministry. 

Mike: Just once I would like one of these things to be where you look into it and it's not as bad as it sounds instead of being worse. I feel like it's always worse. 

Sarah: Yeah, and his label drops him also. His recording label.

Mike: Cancel culture. 

Sarah: He tries to make a comeback to the Christian comedy world about 10 years later, and just doesn't get the traction that he used to. And I think it's kind of like the Goodfellow's ending, you live but what for?

Mike: These stories always do have a bittersweet side to them.

Sarah: In what way?

Mike: Because it is the sad story of this guy who was like processing a bunch of stuff. He became this villain based on his own lack of impulse control and the total inability of anyone around him to put up some fucking walls and be like, that's enough, Mike.

Sarah: And I think that when society can't recognize seriously mistreating women as a problem, one advantage of being able to do that as, not just that you protect women. If you don't care about that, then fine, because you have other reasons to notice, because even if you don't care about the women, if someone's doing that, they're probably out of control in other ways and they might be manipulating you. Jeffy might not be real? 

Mike: And that's also that way of looking at the world, it's a cluster of personality traits that manifest in a bunch of other ways. So it's never, this guy's shitty to women, but that seems like that's it. And he's great with his finances. 

Sarah: I guess to me there are lots of people who tell lots of lies and who even maybe start to believe them and get some amount of attention that they apparently need for that reason. The question is what amplifies that and what trains them to do it more and bigger. It's really interesting that Munchhausen's by Internet is its own thing now, because it's just so easy to use the internet to either pretend you're sick or to document your life in a way that allows you to just create fabulous stories about that have some basis in reality, but not much of one. And that required sympathy and perhaps money from people. The internet actually, I think, is behaving kind of like the churches that Mike Warnke was working in the seventies, where it's rewarding maladaptive behavior, basically.

Mike: Yeah. But it also imposes consequences in a way that the mechanisms that Warnke didn’t.

Sarah: Sometimes. Yeah. And I also wonder about, there's consequences for him, but also was there a cultural reckoning with him, because he was huge. He was extremely popular. It's hard to overstate how big of a deal he was. And a lot of people by the early nineties would have grown up on his albums and his comedy stylings, and also his claims about Satanism. Yeah. And you can't undo that.

Mike:  Right. Okay. It's very hard to go back and really reckon with, I believe something that was false, based on extremely weak information and actually confront that. And that's something that we don't do very often. 

Sarah: I think that he needed a lot more support than this would offer, but that a career that he could have done that maybe would have taken these behaviors and done something more positive with them would be acting or historical reenactment. 

Mike: Or thrifting. Go buy people some weird pants.