Just look at the corporate symbol, the rumor goes _ it has Satan written all over it. The ram's horn, the man in the moon, the 13 stars that, when connected, form 666 _ the devil's number _ are proof positive of an unholy alliance. The ugly, persistent _ and unfounded _ rumor that corporate giant Procter & Gamble is run by Satan worshipers has been repeated around the country since the early '80s.
Late last year, the rumor rolled into Citrus County, helped along by a local Baptist minister who received a damning "fact sheet" about P & G from a member of his congregation.
The minister responded by giving copies of the sheet to members of his flock and urging a boycott of P & G products.
But in recent weeks, the Rev. Thomas Reaves of Bible Baptist Church of Crystal River has reversed his stance, in part because he has discovered the truth about the "fact sheet."
He also has heard from Dick Patz of Inverness, who spent months looking into the "facts" on the sheet. Patz's conclusion: Rumors of satanic ties to P & G are just lies.
That's a message Procter & Gamble has been trying to deliver for a decade.
"This is a malicious lie, and there is absolutely no truth to it at all," company spokeswoman Kelly Gillespie said. "We're going to do whatever is necessary to end this lie."
That could take some time. P&G, she said, still receives between 150 and 200 phone calls a day on the topic.
Since 1985, P & G has been removing the symbol from its products, but the company reportedly still uses it on its letterhead and corporate buildings. The logo also is reappearing on some products so the company can maintain it as a trademark, Gillespie said.
Procter & Gamble recently announced renewed efforts to refute the rumor. Its past efforts have included gathering religious leaders to deny any satanic connection and explaining the origins of the company logo, which is more than 100 years old and contains a man in the moon looking out at 13 stars.
In the early to mid-1980s, when the rumor reached its peak, the company sued several ministers and others who had spread the story, Gillespie said.
The whispers have died down since then, but they were rekindled late last year and began spreading through the South and Southeast, Gillespie said.
"It's probably now just filtering into Florida," she said.
It was in November that Reaves was told the corporation, which makes household goods ranging from Crest toothpaste to Bounce fabric softener, gave a portion of its profits to the Church of Satan.
Reaves promptly distributed the "fact sheet" to his flock, encouraging congregants to boycott Procter & Gamble products and to distribute additional copies of the material to their friends and family.
According to the fact sheet, the idea was to let satanists know that there are enough Christians in the world to rebuff their incursion.
P & G officials, the sheet stated, had admitted on a national talk show that they gave profits to satanists and had explained the "true" meaning of the logo.
After discovering that the rumor was false and after hearing criticism from community members upset by the fact sheet, Reaves told his congregation two weeks ago to stop distributing the material.
"I didn't want to hurt anybody if it were not true," Reaves said. "But if it was true, I didn't want anybody buying their products."
Patz, a relative of one church member, was upset when he saw the fact sheet. Patz, whose son worked for Procter & Gamble for 10 years, said he wanted to show the pastor that his material was false.
"This so-called fact sheet could not hurt the president of Procter & Gamble nearly as bad as the poor working families at the bottom of the pole _ and it was distributed in late November, right before Christmas," he said.
Patz contacted representatives from the talk shows on which, according to the sheet, P & G officials had discussed the satanic ties.
Officials from such shows as ABC's newsmagazine 20/20_ which presented a segment refuting the rumor _ and from Phil Donahue Productions wrote back denying the Procter & Gamble tie to satanism.
Patz also received a letter from evangelist Billy Graham, who called the P & G rumor "absolutely false" and added, "I urge Christians everywhere to reject these false rumors and to be reminded that it is a sin to bear false witness."
Patz was upset not only that a company such as P & G could be accused of such activities, but also that people in responsible positions could help spread such tales.
"You don't put your mouth in motion until you put your head into gear," he said.