Bennett Braun, the psychiatrist who fueled the “Satanic Panic”, dies at 83

Bennett Braun, a Chicago psychiatrist whose diagnoses of repressed memories involving horrific abuse by devil worshipers helped fuel what became known as the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s and '90s, died March 20 in Lauderhill, Florida, north of Miami. He was 83 years old.

Jane Braun, one of his ex-wives, said he died in hospital due to complications from a fall. Dr. Braun lived in Butte, Mont., but had been in Lauderhill on vacation.

Dr. Braun gained fame in the early 1980s as an expert in two of the most popular and controversial areas of psychiatric treatment: repressed memories and multiple personality disorder, now known as dissociative identity disorder.

He claimed he could help patients uncover memories of childhood trauma, the existence of which he and others believed was responsible for the fragmentation of a person's self into many distinct personalities.

He created a unit dedicated to dissociative disorders at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago (now Rush University Medical Center); he has become an expert often cited by the media; and he helped found what is now the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation, a professional organization that today has more than 2,000 members.

It was from that sizable platform that Dr. Braun published his most explosive findings: that in dozens of cases, his patients discovered memories of being tortured by satanic cults and, in some cases, of having participated in the torture themselves.

He was not the only psychiatrist to make such a claim, and his alleged revelations helped create a growing national panic.

The 1980s saw a dramatic increase in the number of people, both children and adults, claiming to have been abused by devil worshipers. It began in 1980 with the book “Michelle Remembers,” by a Canadian woman who claimed to have recovered memories of ritual abuse, and escalated following allegations of daycare abuse in California and North Carolina.

Elements of pop culture, such as heavy metal music and the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons, were inserted as presumed entry points for cult activity.

Such stories were fodder for popular television formats that dabbled in the salacious, including talk shows like “Geraldo” and news magazines like “Dateline,” which aired segments that promoted such claims uncritically.

The psychiatric profession bore some responsibility in the growing panic, with respected researchers like Dr. Braun giving him an appearance of authority. He and others held seminars and distributed research papers; they even gave the phenomenon a quasi-medical abbreviation, SRA, for satanic ritual abuse.

Dr. Braun's inpatient unit at Rush became a patient magnet and warehouse for patients, some of whom he kept medicated and under supervision for years.

Among them was an Iowa woman named Patricia Burgus. After interviewing her, Dr. Braun and his colleague, Roberta Sachs, claimed that not only was she a victim of satanic ritual abuse, but she was also herself a “high priestess” of a cult that had raped, tortured, and cannibalized thousands of children , including his two young sons.

Dr. Braun and Dr. Sachs sent Ms. Burgus and her children to a mental health facility in Houston, where they were kept apart for nearly three years with minimal contact with the outside world.

By then the heavily medicated Ms. Burgus had come to believe doctors, telling them she remembered torches, live burials and the eating of body parts of up to 2,000 people a year. After her parents served her meatloaf to her husband, she had him test it for human tissue. The tests came back negative, but Dr. Braun wasn't convinced.

Dr. Braun maintained other patients in similar conditions at Rush or elsewhere. He convinced a woman to have an abortion because he, he convinced her, was the product of ritual incest; he convinced another to undergo tubal ligation to avoid having more children within her alleged cult.

The Satanic Panic began to wane in the early 1990s. A 1992 FBI investigation found no evidence of coordinated cult activity in the United States, and a 1994 report by the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect examined more than 12,000 allegations of satanic ritual abuse and found that none held up. examination.

“The biggest thing was the lack of corroborating evidence,” Kenneth Lanning, a retired FBI agent who wrote the 1992 report, said in a telephone interview. “It's the kind of crime where they would have been left of the evidence.”

Many people have distanced themselves from their previous enthusiasms; in 1995 Geraldo Rivera apologized for his incident in which he had covered up falsehoods. However, also in 1998, “Dateline” aired an episode on NBC claiming to show widespread satanic activity in Mississippi.

Ms. Burgus is suing Rush, Dr. Braun and her insurance company over claims that he and Dr. Sachs implanted false memories in her head. In 1997 they settled out of court for $10.6 million.

“I started adding some things up and realized I couldn't come from a small town in Iowa, eat 2,000 people a year, and nobody say anything about it,” Ms. Burgus told the Chicago Tribune in 1997.

A year later, Dr. Braun's unit in Rush was closed, and the Illinois Medical Licensing Board opened an investigation into his practices. In 1999, he received a two-year license suspension, although he did not admit any wrongdoing.

Bennett George Braun was born on August 7, 1940, in Chicago, to Thelma (Gimbel) and Milton Braun, a professor of orthodontics at Loyola University. He graduated from Tulane University with a bachelor's degree in psychology in 1963 and received a master's degree in the same subject in 1964. He received his medical degree from the University of Illinois in 1968.

Dr. Braun has been married three times. His marriages to Renate Deutsch and Mrs. Braun both ended in divorce. The third, with Joanne Arriola, ended with his death. He leaves behind five children and five grandchildren.

After temporarily losing his medical license in Illinois, Dr. Braun moved to Montana, where he received a new license in that state and opened a private practice.

But in 2019, one of his patients, Ciara Rehbein, sued him for overprescribing medications that left her with a permanent facial tic. He also filed a complaint against the Montana Board of Medical Examiners for granting him a license despite knowing about his past.

Dr. Braun lost his license to practice medicine in Montana in 2020.

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