A Study of Gothic Subculture

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Updated 3-12-2009
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Interview with Randy Johnson

Who is Randy Johnson? You might find him quoted in the newspapers as being an occult or cult expert. He's also called Rand Johnson, and he is a West Jordan Police Captain. All the information in the Occult and Satanism pages are taken from handouts of his I acquired. I had a chance to talk with him myself in early May. This is not the entire conversation, only selected parts. I did have a list of questions to ask him when I went in, but it's best to read this as more of a conversation than a set of questions and answers. We talked for a while, so I've only put the most important parts here. I tried to take his selected comments verbatim from the tape I recorded of our interview with some slight grammatical tweaking.

My questions and comments are separated in blue italics.

[Notes I made after the fact while I was typing it up are in red.]

Here are all the places you'll find Randy Johnson's name or material:

Occult Groups - This will get you to my modified version of the "Occult Motivated Groups" handout.

Types of Satanists - This will get you to the types of Satanists description from my modified version of the "Satanism and the Youth" handout.

Goths in the News - This will get you to an index of news articles. Several of them quote or refer to Johnson. Click on the title of the article below to jump right to these ones that mention him.

Johnson: Anybody that's attended one of my seminars walks out of there with an increased respect for witches, New Age people, people who are practicing white magic voodoo. I don't speak as a Christian, I speak as a law enforcement officer. I don't care what religion you are as long as you don't violate the law. Consequently, witches who have taken my class, like my class. The people who bad mouth me are the ones who have heard from a person who's heard from a person, and then they assume that they know what I'm talking about when in reality they don't.

Alicia: I thinks there's a lot of misconstruing especially even when I read these handouts. My first impression was very negative, but it wasn't really because of anything you had written. Maybe that's just the way that people's minds work.

These handouts are usually part of a minimum of four hours of instruction. They're actually written for my four day school. So by the time I go through a four day school on this, people have a really basic understanding. It's not sensationalistic, it's almost boring.

When you're talking about Theatrical and Experimental Satanists in the Satanism and the Youth handout, at the end of the part on Experimental Satanists it says that approximately ½% of high school age children fall into this category.

[See the Experimental Satanist description in Types of Satanists.] There are no hard statistics. This is just based on me talking to kids asking, "How many kids in your school are doing this?" That's based on one half of one percent of the kids in that school are doing rituals.

The Experimental Satanists?

Yeah. The difference between Theatrical and Experimental is that Theatrical are wannabes, acting the part. They are more motivated by rebellion. Whereas Experimental are actually doing rituals to a deity. They are religious, they're not just rebellious. When you take one half of one percent of any given population it's statistically insignificant unless it's your child. Let's say you take the West Jordan High School with 2500 students. I'm saying that there are 12 to 15 that are involved in rituals to an occult deity. And they are.

As far as Youthful Satanism being a threat, I want to put it in perspective for people. I mean it's there, and it is good to be aware of it. But would you say that maybe drunk driving or teen suicide is more of a threat?

I think so. The amount of people that die from drunk driving in this country is a tremendously large number. These things right here [Youthful Satanism] are scary because people aren't really educated about this, and they think there's a devil behind every bush out there. In reality, it's a statistically insignificant number. It only becomes critical when you have care or custody of a young person that is really stepping out on a far end. I certainly think drunk driving is a bigger problem than this, than Youthful Satanism.

What is your background? Tell me what research you've done, your experience, observations. What motivated you to start working on this?

Since 1984 I was the chief of police in a small town, American Fork. There was a fanatical religious group that came to town and they killed their sister-in-law and her 15 month old baby. They were a splinter group off the LDS church, they had been excommunicated. They came in and they were "talking to God and receiving revelations." One of their revelations was to kill four people immediately and up to as many others as needed to be killed. I had no understanding of the mentality that went into religious fanaticism. Criminals make me nervous, but religious fanatics scare me because there's no sin. They're doing what their God wants them to do, therefore there is no sin. There is no fear of dying a lot of times like these cult people [Heaven's Gate] that just killed themselves. I didn't understand that mentality. I'd been a police officer for ten to twelve years at that point. That was a very intensive investigation and it got me started into cults and understanding cult mentality. At the same time I'm trying to investigate that, the junior high school principal comes in and he lays out for me organization papers to The Church of the Devil acquired from kids in the junior high school there in American Fork. There's about 12 or 13 young folks and they had like 33 things they had to do to become a member of this devil church. Y'know, kill your mother, take a bath in acid, smoke pot, kill a black person -- rebellious nonsense they had gotten off of some readily obtainable commercial sources. I didn't understand that. So I had an opportunity to take a training session over in Colorado from a member of the Wicca religion. He had his Ph.D., and he was a practicing witch. He sat down and went over with us ritual magic, the practice of magick, white magic, black magic, contact magic, sympathetic magic and transmission of qualities. [See Occult Definitions for a description of these terms.] I thought, now what I see taking place makes perfectly logical sense. He separated the groups out. Since that time we've had to separate the groups out even further because there's more understanding. So based upon that initial training, I then got him to come in, and he talked to 500 police officers in this state. Because of my background in Christian cults that kill, people would talk to me. They'd come in and say, "You're not going to believe this, let me tell you what I saw yesterday, or this is what's taking place in my family, or this is what I've found -- here's pictures." So over the past almost fourteen years now, I've been the person that people come to in this state saying, "You're not going to believe this, but let me show you what I've got." I've interviewed people. I know I've taught classes for more than 17,000 people because I've kept track of the classes. I've got more than 3200 hours now of studying, reading, investigating, and I'm a little bit smarter than I was 14 years ago. Anybody that calls themselves an expert when it comes to religious things like this are taking a lot on themselves. I like to say that I am knowledgeable because I've got 3200 hours now of doing this work. I'm not an expert. So every time I've gone and done a seminar, I've started off because somebody came in and said, "Hey would you come over and talk to my social group about Satanism? We're scared to death." So I'd go in and say, this is what I've been taught, this is what I've observed, here's some materials I've got. Then somebody would give me another piece of information. Pieces started to fit together. Then I had a four hour class when somebody asked. Then a company hired me and said, "Could you teach it to these schools?" I thought, I don't know if I want to do that, I don't know if I have that much material. But the more you talk to people, the more material that you have. So now I can easily give a four and a half day school on it. That company sent me from Northern Canada to Southern Texas, Honolulu to Florida, and that's how I've taught 287 seminars now.

What company was that?

It was a company called IPAC, they are now defunct. They were part of a big corporation that had law enforcement training. See, I don't consider myself a public trainer. I'm a law enforcement officer, I teach to law enforcement officers. Occasionally, I'll teach people like high school counselors, educators, social workers -- people that are saying, "Oh my gosh, I'm dealing with this and I have no knowledge whatsoever." So I can take and separate out, now a Satanist is one thing. A witch is something entirely different, New Age is closer but it's a little bit different. The Native American medicine man is kinda lumped in here, but they're different. Then you've got the voodooists, they're entirely different. So what I do is I separate all these people out and reduce some of the confusion. I don't talk to kids, and I don't talk to high school classes. Occasionally I'll talk to a parents' group.

Why don't you talk to kids?

Because kids very seldom have the maturity, to them it's a joke. The parents love their children and are seeing some of their children really struggling with some things that can be very negative. Their kids have become obsessed. I'm concerned with possession/obsession. Possession is where they are in possession of obvious artifacts that they are using to worship with. That shows a degree of sophistication, that's not just a little bit of rebellion. They turn it into a religion. A little bit of rebellion is normal. Everybody rebels a little bit. Hell, we all do. I'm concerned though when at a young age they're trying to turn it into a religion, especially when they're in the black side of it, black magic. I'll work with anybody that practices white magic. They can be a police officer, that's fine. Because to some degree, I do white magic -- when you pray, you're trying to control unseen forces. I have a problem with somebody that practices black magic. There's such a small percentage of people that do it. If the kid's getting involved in black magic, there I'm concerned because usually they're in possession [of items used to worship] or they become obsessed with some very negative thing to the exclusion of positive things.

What would you say is the difference between someone who has an interest and someone who is obsessed? Are there any particular signs to look for?

I think so. I think when a person lets their mental, physical or spiritual health start to diminish, when their interpersonal relationships with the people who should be the closest to them start to become ill-effected, at that point they are involved to the point of obsession. Obsession with something positive can become negative. For example, I like to golf. If I tried to golf a lot, those four aspects of my life are going to start to diminish. It's a subjective thing.

When your life gets out of balance?

Yeah, when your life is out of balance. Now how do you evaluate that? Well you have to evaluate that, parents have to evaluate that. I don't come in with any hard fast rules at all. Say you have a child that is 16 and is in possession of The Satanic Bible, has an altar down in their room and is calling upon Satan -- would you be concerned? Probably. You'd have to look a little bit closer. Just because a child wears dark clothing and wears dark makeup or whatever, that does not mean that they're involved in Satanism. And that's another problem with Gothdom right now because people go, "Oh my hell, look at that, that's got to be Satanism!" And it's not. Here's Satanism and here's Gothdom, there's two circles. There's a little tiny overlap. The vast majority of people in Gothdom are not involved in Satanism, not at all. So that's what I do, I try to spread a little realism and get people's panic level down. The parents look at their kid and go wild and start accusing their kids of things. It's not fair to the kids.

Do you have any observations about Gothic you want to elaborate on?

You have access to the Internet don't you? You're as smart as me on that. I like to go into the Internet because you type in "goth" or "Goth music" and how many kickbacks are you going to get? Y'know, 2000. I like to hear what Goths say about themselves. It's the same thing I do with witches, the same thing I do with Satanists, when I speak to groups. I don't go out and advertise myself, people come to me and say, "Would you come out?" I represent to uninformed people what Goths are saying about themselves. None of this is Randy Johnson's opinion. This is Goths' opinion of Goth. Now the problem with that is that all the Goths don't believe the same thing about what Goth is. You've got the Goths that are vampiric. But a lot of Goths would like to slap those who like vampires too much. There are the ones, I like to call them Ultra Goths, who really try to follow this subculture -- and it is a subculture, it's not a religion. Gothdom is not a religion. But remember that little tiny overlap, there's a small section of people who call themselves Goth who are indeed practicing Satanists, practicing "vampires" -- they say their organs are changing, they drink blood. But, you can't say all Satanists are bad either because there's a lot of law-abiding Satanists. I'm very careful to respect freedom of religion, people's religious rights. That's the big problem. People, especially parents, don't understand what Goth is. So if you're asking me where I get my information on Goths, that's the Internet. Now, I've interviewed Goths. A ton? No. The ones that I've met, I like. I don't agree with them. I have my own opinion on what is good and what is acceptable conduct and how far fringey we should get. So I don't necessarily agree with some of them, but I represent what they say. Now, one kid here on this Internet, he says "I'm a Goth. I like Marilyn Manson. I like Nine Inch Nails, and I like this and I like that." In the same sentence he also says "and I like black magic and I guess I'm kind of a Satanist," and his web page is titled "Ghoul 666." But he calls himself a Goth. Now the vast majority of Goths are going to say, "He's no Goth." But he says, "I'm a Goth." That's a problem. So minimally, right now I've got Goths in four subcategories, and I've got a pie chart.

I assume that the percentage of crossover of Goths who are Satanists is going to be a larger percent than in a random sample of people. Do you have any ideas as to why that might be?

I would suspect that if what you are saying is so, and I'm not saying I agree with you, I think that the music plays a great factor. Music is such a powerful medium it affects the emotions, it affects memorization. There are some doctorates out there that say that it affects glands, chemicals, and the ability of the body to function. I think that the [Gothic] subculture is kinda dark. It encourages people to experiment more with the darker end of things. You know how the music industry breaks down heavy metal? It's very interesting. By the record industry's own breakdown, they take rock and roll and they subdivide into like seven or eight kinds of rock and roll. One of them is heavy metal. [Another one, I'm guessing, would be "alternative". See Music Classification and Description. It's important to note that Heavy Metal and Gothic are completely separate music classifications.] Then they take heavy metal and they subcategorize it down. There's nine subcategories of heavy metal. There's death metal, speed metal, trash metal, pop metal, I think they've got Goth metal in there now too. [As a category, Goth metal would include bands such as Marilyn Manson and Type O Negative. This is a fairly new crossbreed and often it is more heavy metal than Goth. There' s much opposition by Goths to even associating it with Goth at all.] Then they have black metal. Black metal has nothing to do with a person's skin color. Some groups can go back and forth between death metal and black metal and so forth. The groups like Slayer and King Diamond are black metal groups in that their lyrics are: Hail Lucifer, worship the devil, kill the virgin, drink her blood, slice the flesh, watch the blood flow free, kill the preacher's only son, crucify the so-called Lord. That's black metal. There's death metal, which talks about death and violence, gratuitous and bloody [again note that death metal is not the same as death rock, which Gothic rock is sometimes called]. Then there's Goth music [which is not another subdivision of heavy metal, but its own music division], that looks to me to be lonely and kind of dark, except when you get in the area of Marilyn Manson. That dude's wild.

I don't think there's any Goths that consider Marilyn Manson gothic.

Boy, you get on the Internet and there's a lot of people calling themselves Gothic that say that Marilyn Manson is king. Then the cover of this magazine says "The Gods of Goth Rock" [when Marilyn Manson was on the cover of a recent music magazine].

I think that's just a marketing thing.

I agree. So how I break Goths down -- and this is not meant to be literal, this is meant to be just figurative -- I think that there's a percentage of them that really follow the subculture that came out of the 70's, out of the punk movement. I call them Ultra Goths. They're purists. Then there's the rebellious weekenders. These are the teenyboppers that don't know diddley squat. They dress the part and people confuse them with the Ultra Goths, but these guys are just rebellious weekenders, they're wannabes. There's a very small percentage of people who are involved in ritual worship of the Devil, who dress the part, and to some degree like the music. I think in the eighties these people used to stand out and say, "Yeah, I'm a Satanist." Now they say, because it's more socially respectable, "I'm a Goth." It really frustrates these guys, the Ultra Goths. These guys, the weekenders, are too dumb to know any different. But there's a very small percentage of those black magic Satanists, and there is also a small percentage of kids that get into the vampiric end of the Goth look. They are cutting their wrists and they are drinking blood, but it's such a small percentage. I don't know what the percentages are, but I suspect that most of them [Goths] out there are wannabe kids that are just going through a phase.

What is the difference between a cult and a religion?

If you look in The American Encyclopedia of Religions -- Randy Johnson does not create any of this, I take what people say they do or I take authoritative people like Then American Encyclopedia of Religions. They break religions down into cults, sects and established religions. A crazy person is one person walking down the street saying, "Yeah God, I hear ya. Cool. I'll take care of it right away." We package them up, take them up to the U of U and let them get some help. But if you and a friend are walking down the street and your friend says, "Yeah God, I hear ya. Cool. I'll take care of that," and you say, "What'd He say?" "He said we're gonna go out and kill somebody." "Cool, let's go." That's a cult. It is two or more people who are following kind of a mission and who receive their special information or wisdom from outside sources. The American Encyclopedia of Religions breaks cults down into about eight subcategories. It's a great book. They'll tell you the eight or nine different kinds of cults that are out there. There are Wicca/Satanic cults. They lump the Satanists and witches together because of their use of ritual magic. There's political cults. There are a whole bunch of different subcategories of cults. They are characterized because they usually have a relatively new origin and small membership. Their beliefs are really kind of far right or left, and they draw their wisdom from outside sources. That's why you can have a guy that splinters off the LDS church and figures he's now the prophet/God. Like the Laffrey brothers that I investigated. You can have splinter groups off the Catholic church, Buddhist church, any church you say, and that can be a cult. Mostly I've dealt with the religious cults, for example the Moonies, Sun Myung Moon. He says that one day Jesus Christ appeared to him and told him, "Get your church organized here and get it going," so he did.

So how is that different from religion in its early days? Is there a difference?

All religions started out as cults. Even Christianity, didn't it? Jesus Christ is walking around, there's the Jewish religion, and what did Jesus Christ do? He said, "Now there's this." All churches, LDS, the Catholic church, all started out very small. The next step up, once a cult goes through some maturation and becomes bigger, it becomes a sect. It is more accepted, tolerated. A sect has more money, more power, more branches. And after it's been around for a long time it becomes a world wide religion. Usually it's newness, smallness of membership, locality, and newness of doctrine that characterize a cult. The longer it's around and the more people that get involved, it goes into a sect status and then a church status. Now, if you have a church of say 1 million people, and 100,000 of them vote to reincorporate under the reorganized church, they're automatically a sect because of how large they are. Those are broad definitions.

When you spoke at Valley Junior High, who was it that asked you to do that?

The police. Because they had parents come to them saying, "My kid's a Satanist, I know my kid's a Satanist!" They [the West Valley Police Department] called me up said "Do you think so?" and I said "No. Their kids aren't Satanists, their kids are Goth." "Well can you come in and tell us the difference?" "Yeah, pretty much." So that's what I do. I did it for the police department.

...I try to give as broad a view on the source of information that I have as possible. Because if I take your opinion and say, this is what one young lady told me, somebody is going to say, "That's the definitive answer!" That's not the definitive answer, you're just a small portion of a group of people. The only thing I learned in my Masters program worth learning, I learned in my first night. It was: beware of people who offer you simple solutions to complex problems, or simple answers to complex questions. Complex problems really have complex answers...

Is there any cult activity you can think of in Utah that stands out in your mind, as far as criminal groups?

Too much to even begin. There's a ton. Do you know how many cults there are in this country? Go type in "cult" on the Internet, there are at least 5,000. Of those five thousand, 95% are benign, benevolent, law abiding. There are only a few that are destructive cults that would hurt their members for the personal gratification of the leaders. I have trouble with a cult or any group of people who want to control the mind or body of another person against the will of that person. Those are destructive cults. Are there cases of destructive cults in Utah? Yes. Are there cases of occult groups? Yes. There have been groups of people charged with criminal activity. Mostly it's been centered around radical splinters off the LDS church. When you say cult activity, I can't give you a simple answer.

Is there any way for parents to tell the difference between a child who cuts himself for a "draining" ritual or for other motivations?

[The subject of drainings is mentioned in the news article For Goths 'Everyday Is Halloween'.] I think there's a way you can get a feeling for it and that is possession/obsession. You have to watch your kids very carefully to tell if they are obsessed with one or more very negative aspects of Gothdom. In fairness, Gothdom can have some very negative aspects. If their kid is just really focused on graveyards, death, doom, misery, despair. If the child is obsessed with black magic and has books on black magic and how to do it. It's a combination of obsession with possession of objects used specifically for magic. The same object can be used for white magic or black magic. It depends on the kind of person. If there's no obsession/possession, it's probably attention they want [by cutting themselves. Read more about why kids cut themselves here]. The parent has to make that evaluation. You always have to look further than simply one little act or one wearing of the clothing. It's complicated. There's such a lack of information out there, that's why you have witches being subjected to harassment and so forth, that really don't deserve it.

Have you come in contact as a police officer with Goths, as far as arresting them and criminal activity?

Sure, but no more than any other segment of society. Goths are not more criminally inclined than other groups and even less criminally inclined than gangbangers. I don't consider Goths a gang. Goth is a subculture. Can gangs be a subculture? Yeah. But there's nothing gang-like about the present time Goths.

What kind of crimes do you see Goths committing?

Underage drinking, drug use, maybe a little bit of graffiti, spray painting, little bit of tagging. Realize that is Goths in general...

I heard that you showed some lyrics to songs on an overhead at that lecture, what did you show?

[He showed me the overhead that had the lyrics to Marilyn Manson's A Minute of Decay.] "Too tired to live, too tired to die... I'm going down now, I'd like to take you with me." I have teenagers, I would prefer that my kids be happy. The teenage years are tough anyway, all the changes. If they're going to listen to between 6 and 8 hours a day of music I want it to be "Here comes the sun da da da da" Give me something positive, with a positive message. Not, "Too tired to live, too tired to die, too tired to hate, too tired to cry" [lyrics from A Minute of Decay]. There's a ton of great music out there. Why focus on that [the negative]? I think a child is better off surrounding themselves with uplifting positive things. There are those who dwell and moan and wallow in despair. I never try to minimize a person's feelings but I want them to take responsibility for their actions. Okay, so the world is not perfect. What are you going to do to make it better? Sit around and talk about it and moan and mope and despair? No, get out and do something. Do what you're doing. This is educational. You may disagree with everything I say, but after you walk out of here, you'll think, "Well I don't think he's fanatical and even comes across kinda like a regular guy. Maybe he actually cares." I do actually care, we just may not have the same opinion on things. I really do care.

Can you suggest any occult books that would be a good resource?

There's so many. I think the best place for information is the Internet. But be very careful about what the person says. When I quote some of these people off the Internet, I say, "Now this guy here calls himself a Goth, but I think he's a Satanist." Be very careful of lumping everybody into one big group. At least that's the way I teach it. I've read a ton. When I say I have 3200 hours, I really do, and I'm just scratching the surface on understanding it. And I'm still subject to being taught. That's why I'm willing to meet with you and spend an hour and a half or two and see what you can teach me.

In the handouts there are times when you seem to use "occult" and "Satanic" synonymously.

I probably do. Occult means secret, hidden, elusive, meant for only a few specially initiated people. Witches are occult, voodooists are occult, Satanists are occult. You can have positive occult and negative occult. Probably I do slip, but I recognize the difference between occult and Satanism.

I think you focused on the negative in the attempt to focus on the criminal aspect. I do want to show the positive side as well.

There is a positive side to occult. Every Christian religion is occult. Tell me of one that's not, and by definition, I'll show you where it's occult. I put little old ladies in a tail spin when I tell them they're practicing white magic when they say their morning prayers. The fact of the matter is, by the definition of magic, they are...

I'm glad I'm as tolerant as I am. I got misquoted in the paper the other night too. Some guy heard that I said such and such and wrote a big letter to the editor saying Randy Johnson doesn't know what he's talking about. I'm the first one to say that I'm here to be taught. I think I have fewer misconceptions than most. Hopefully, I'm fairly correct. I try not to teach radical stuff.

There seems to be a lot misconstruing of what you have said too, or what Goths have said, and taking things out of context.

Absolutely. Now, you've spent an hour and a half with me. If you hear that Randy Johnson said such and such, unless you actually heard me say it, you can't believe it was actually said.