During the early 1970s, amid increasing violence in Northern Ireland, British military intelligence agents deliberately sought to create panic about Satanic cults, black masses and witch covens as a way to discredit paramilitary groups.
The years 1972-1974 were among the bloodiest of the "Troubles," and Northern Ireland seemed on the brink of civil war. It was also the era when loyalist groups started carrying out torture killings of Catholics and political opponents.
As reported in the Guardian, Captain Colin Wallace, the head of the British army's "black operations" in Northern Ireland, says the military decided to begin a secret propaganda campaign that would create a subtle link in the public's minds between these real horrors and supernatural evil. At a time when public fears of Satanism were being stoked by films such as The Exorcist, intelligence agents placed black candles and upside-down crucifixes in abandoned buildings within Belfast war zones. Then, army press officers leaked stories to newspapers about black masses and satanic rituals:
Wallace [said] that by whipping up devil-worshipping paranoia, they created the idea that the emerging paramilitary movements and the murder campaigns they were engaged in had unleashed evil forces across Northern Irish society.
"It was quite clear that the church, both the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Church, even for the paramilitaries, held a fair degree of influence," Wallace said. "So we were looking for something that would be regarded with abhorrence really by the two communities, and at the same time would be something that paramilitaries couldn't justify, and also would be in many ways seen as a reason why some of the outrages were taking place.
"That sort of degree of activity was lowering the value of human life. And so eventually it came to the point where we looked at witchcraft … Ireland was very superstitious and all we had to do was bring it up to date."
Wallace said the manufactured hysteria was also useful in keeping younger children in at night and away from buildings that the military and police might have used for undercover surveillance.