How 2020 America is beginning to look a lot like 1692 Salem, Massachusetts.

When the hysteria of the witch hunt eclipses the rule of law, justice becomes a warped, alien concept.  No one is safe when the lynch mob is given free rein.  It matters little if it’s hysterical girls in 1692 Salem or 2020 witch hunters who try to cancel those who contradict the narrative of today’s cultural elite.   

The witch hunt [circa 1692]

People were on edge in Salem.  A smallpox pandemic was raging.  The infant mortality rate was high and life was harsh.   The region was an emotional tinderbox, waiting for a spark to ignite a wildfire.  It came in the spring of 1692.  The Antifa crazies of that day were village girls who accused God-fearing folks of witchery.  Anarchy reigned until May of the next year.  The lynch mob dragged 200 people before kangaroo courts, 150 were carted off to jail and 19 hanged.  

     Superstition and ignorance replaced logic and common sense, law and order gave way to hysteria, and anyone who dared challenge the new narrative was also accused of witchery.  Authorities were unable or unwilling to rein in the anarchy, families were torn apart and the community was polarized for years after.  Behind the scenes, powerful people manipulated the witch trials in order to seize the property of those condemned or to settle scores with old enemies. 

Witch hunts [circa 2020]

As Yogi Berra would say, “This is déjà vu all over again.” Today we have high tech witch trials. The heretics of our day are those who refuse to go along with the dogmas of the academic and media elite, Hollywood celebrities, BLM hustlers, LGBTQ activists, and  other social engineers who are determined to erase many enduring values that made our country the envy of the world.  

     Like the smallpox epidemic in colonial Salem, a pandemic has put us on edge.  Our economic uncertainties are as frightening as frontier dangers in 1692.  During the lockdowns of the past six months, we have been as isolated as colonists in the Massachusetts’ wilderness. The murder of George Floyd, like the accusations of witchery in Salem, was the spark that ignited our emotional tinderbox, producing a firestorm.

     Similar to the Salem witch trials, our mobs were mostly made up of young people.  With schools, jobs, and recreational opportunities shut down, our young had energy to burn.  So, many took to the streets to protest social injustice in America.  Tragically, rioters took over and looters ran amok.  Antifa anarchists tore down statues, set buildings on fire and demanded that plundered cities defund their police.  No one is safe when the lynch mob is unleashed—not in 1692 or 2020.

     Like the authorities in Salem, governors and mayors stood by and allowed mobs to take over. Just as 1692 pastors let crazy children rid them of those who didn’t toe the line, today’s cultural elite silently applaud and publicly defend anarchists who do their dirty work. 

     Unseen powerbrokers, in both 1692 and 2020, manipulated the hysteria for personal, corporate and political gain.  Pallets of bricks appeared where riots “spontaneously” broke out. Cases of La Croix water and Starbucks coffee were supplied to suburban white kids who destroyed black-owned businesses in the name of Black Lives Matter. Supplies magically appeared in occupied zones.  No one knows where they came from, nor did the mob in 1692 figure out that people were manipulating the witch hysteria to seize the property of those falsely convicted. And, just as leaders in Colonial Massachusetts used the witch trials for political gain, so have U.S. politicians of every stripe leveraged this summer’s chaos to score political points. 

How then shall we live during the witch trials?

First of all, we must refuse to lend our voices to the hysteria. We are a nation of reason and law, where the accused have a right to a fair trial, to face their accusers in a place where evidence is presented and subjected to examination and cross-examination, then to be weighed carefully by a jury of their peers. More than ever before, each citizen’s Constitutional rights should be protected—whether a young black man walking through the night in a hoodie or a white police officer who is caught on video shooting a fleeing subject.

     We cannot degenerate into trial by media.  We are not in the ancient colosseum in Rome where the majority decided a person’s fate with a thumbs up or down.  It matters little what the video images on cell phones show, or what talking heads on CNN or FOX News say, or what public opinion polls report, or even what your gut reaction is.  Weighing all the evidence takes time, care and patience.  The mob may do the work more quickly, but the slow wheels of justice do it better.     

     Second, we must speak out against injustice.  Nothing advances evil more than the silence of good people.  Thinking people in Salem knew that the witch trials were unfair.  But they kept silent for fear of being accused of witchery themselves.  In a “cancel culture” reign of terror, those who challenge the new orthodoxy will be called heretics.  They will be savaged by the Twitter mob, dragged through Facebook mud, their businesses will be threatened, their careers ruined, homes picketed, and families harassed.  Silence in the face of injustice and immorality seems safer in the short run, but it will get you nowhere when heaven calls you to account.     

    Third, we must always remember that the majority is not always [or even usually] right.  At first, most folks in Salem sided with the hysterical girls.  As it turned out, the majority got it dreadfully wrong.  They almost always do!  God’s prophets usually stood against the majority.  Martin Luther wrote, “Sometimes I feel like a solitary bird warbling my little song into the howling wind, and no one listens.”  Galileo was declared a heretic, Marco Polo a liar, Columbus a lunatic, and Madame Curie a quack.  Yet, history now mocks the majority opinion that dismissed their out-of-the-box thinking.   

The shame of Salem

     Someday, the events of 2020 will be so much clearer when we look into the rearview mirror of history.  Will we be surprised, filled with regret and even ashamed?  I can’t say today.  But I do know that Salem finally came to its senses by May of 1693.  The teen girls admitted that it was all a deadly game that got out of control.  By then, the damage had been done.  The lynch mob, and those who allowed the hysteria to continue, would carry regret, guilt, and shame for the rest of their lives.  Some 327 years later, few cities are more infamous than Salem.  

     The Legacy Imperative believes that now, more than ever, we must invest in our children and grandkids.  As the lyrics of a Bob Dylan song go, “The times they are a changing.”  In his play about the Salem witch trials, The Crucible, Arthur Miller wrote a line that should scare us all: 

“We are what we always were in Salem, but now the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law!” 

Dr. Bob Petterson
Legacy Imperative