In February 2021, a viral TikTok video let us all relive the bad old days of Pokemon-related satanic panic. The video shows an evangelical pastor telling his following that Pokemon games weren’t just fantasy pastimes for kids, but portals straight to hell. The pastor claimed Pokemon taught children how to “enter into the world of witchcraft” and that it “opens a world of the demonic, of the satanic.”
The video is real, and shows Phil Arms, pastor of Richmond, Texas-based Life Reach Ministries, telling his parishioners that Pokemon games summon demonic forces. It’s a theme Arms was fond of, having authored a book on the subject, entitled “Pokemon & Harry Potter: A Fatal Attraction,” which was published in 2000.
The sermon is indicative of the fact that Pokemon, along with myriad other pop culture items, got swept up in a phenomenon known as satanic panic, a moral panic that swept over the United States starting in the 1980s. Although it was most prevalent in the ’80s, aspects of it remained powerful for years afterward.
As we previously reported, satanic panic was characterized by widespread but unfounded hysteria that children were being ritually abused and recruited by clandestine satanic forces operating in society. As Vox reports:
At its core, satanic ritual abuse claims relied on overzealous law enforcement, unsubstantiated statements from children, and above all, coercive and suggestive interrogation by therapists and prosecutors. Some of the defendants are still serving life sentences for crimes they probably didn’t commit—and most likely didn’t even happen in the first place.
To state the obvious, there’s no evidence that Pokemon is anything other than a game. We don’t know of any phenomenon in which armies of children are forming satanic cults inspired by Pokemon.
Arms is no stranger to controversy. His church was rocked by scandal in 2000 upon revelations that he had stolen from church coffers to feed an addiction to prescription painkillers.