Presidential candidate John McCain keeps calling Washington the city of Satan. Turns out he's not alone.
"McCain was right," said David Bay, speaking by phone from Lexington, S.C., where as director of Cutting Edge Ministries he has long asserted that Washington's streets are positioned to usher in Lucifer as "the ultimate master of Government Center."
"You will need to have your maps of Washington, D.C., opened in front of you as we proceed," reads a treatise on the subject posted on Bay's Internet site.
Using Dupont and Logan circles as northern points, Bay instructs, you can trace various interlocking streets to form a demonic pentagram, one that bores directly into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
"It must be true; it's on the Internet," British tourist Larraine Wolman said in perfect deadpan while gazing at the White House recently.
She agreed to review Bay's map. Could she feel Satan?
Wolman and her three British companions turned to walk back to their quarters at the Mayflower Hotel. This reporter followed, determining what they knew about the place. They knew that former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer had stayed there, reportedly with a high-priced call girl. They didn't know how near the hotel is to the center of Bay's pentagram.
"He didn't get in trouble with Satan," Wolman said of Spitzer. "He got in trouble with his wife."
McCain, a Republican senator from Arizona, has regularly called Washington Satan's City during the past 10 years. He did so twice last month, including during a visit to the Atlanta headquarters of Chick-fil-A, the fast food chain whose founder is such a devoted Baptist he keeps the restaurants closed on Sundays. "It's harder and harder trying to do the Lord's work in the city of Satan," McCain said, according to an Associated Press account.
Brian Rogers, a spokesman for the McCain campaign, said the Satan comments are obviously jokes. Indeed, on the stump, McCain doesn't refer to the District per se, but to the culture of special interests and ethical lapses in Congress he has long railed against.
Satan and Washington go back. After John Wilkes Booth murdered Abraham Lincoln, printers rushed out images of a horned and clawed devil whispering into Booth's ear at Ford's Theatre, according to Manhunt, a book about the search for Booth.
On Aug. 20, 1949, the Washington Post greeted readers with the front-page headline "Priest Frees Mt. Rainier Boy Reported Held in Devil's Grip." The story told of a 14-year-old local boy who underwent "between 20 and 30" exorcisms, most of which had him breaking into violent, cursing tantrums and bouts of Latin, a language he had never studied. The article quoted unnamed "Catholic sources."
The case inspired a book that became the 1973 movie The Exorcist, set in Georgetown, which scared the wits out large swaths of America. The Archdiocese of Washington knows of no officially sanctioned exorcisms since the teen boy's case, said Susan Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese.
The most persistent rumblings about Washington as the devil's workshop seem bound up in history about the city's design and the role of Freemasons in building it. It's a connection explored in the three-hour DVD Riddles in Stone: The Secret Architecture of Washington, D.C., which notched a respectable 90th out of 1,363 titles recently in Amazon's general history documentary category.
Among the film's highlights is 1993 footage of Mason Strom Thurmond, then a U.S. senator from South Carolina, cement trowel in hand, marking the 200th anniversary of the U.S. Capitol in a Masonic ceremony. And though Masons served as architects to the White House, Capitol, Supreme Court and Washington Monument, the suggestion their leaders worked with Satan is "absolute nonsense," said Akram Elias, grand master of the Masons of D.C.
"It's an old story," Elias added. "They don't come out with anything new."
In the 2007 New York Times bestseller The Book of Fate, a central character named Nico Hadrian advances the demonic pentagram theory of Washington's street layout and describes the White House as the doorway to Hell itself. Author Brad Meltzer said he designed Hadrian, a crazed killer who shoots his way out of a mental hospital, to be a "walking Internet" of various beliefs about Freemasons, among the "great bogeymen of history." And The Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown, according to his Web site, is at work on a novel that "explores the hidden history of our nation's capital," as "set deep within . . . the enigmatic brotherhood of the Masons."
Other satanic hot spots cited by believers include the Capitol building and the Washington Monument. The latter was described by Bay, the South Carolina author, as a filthy, phallic and satanic homage to the god Baal.
Unlikely, said an avowed suburban Satanist.
He agreed to meet at the Washington Monument recently, strolling up the Mall in a long black robe. A government contracting employee, the 37-year-old spoke on the condition that he be identified only by his satanic name (Gwydion Tiamat). Friends' houses have been firebombed, he said, and they're just pagans.
A husband and father and the director of the East Coast office of the Brotherhood of Satan, he said "a couple of thousand" Satanists live in the Washington area. The group is widely misunderstood, he said: Members don't sacrifice cats; they're not out to hurt people; they simply acknowledge that humans are carnal animals and enjoy the freedoms and indulgences that flow from that understanding. "Having a whole Sara Lee strawberry cheesecake, for example," he said.
And in one sense, he mused, while looking toward the Lincoln Memorial and the infinite regions beyond, McCain is right.
"Satan," said Tiamat, "is everywhere."