At an academic camp I went to in for three years, from late junior high to early high school, I met a girl who said a cult met on the golf course across from her house on a pretty regular basis. I believed her without questioning.
Maybe they did, but I doubt it was like I imagined. Back then, I imagined a cross between the cult in Temple of Doom (which I had finally seen by that point) and an evening with the vampires in The Lost Boys. Because of urban legends and fear of youth culture, it was common knowledge that powerful cult conspiracies hid just beneath the surface of every small town.
If this were really true, you’d think it would at least help those towns get a big enough tax base to keep their school systems afloat.
In the late 80s and early 90s, fear of the devil took away a lot of options. There were bands with ties to Satan, from classic rock to heavy metal. There were companies to stay away from. There were parts of town you didn’t go near after dark, because of the evil graffiti. If you could put together a good song and dance about Satanism, you could make some money and get famous, even if it wasn’t true.
After reaching my junior year of high school, I stopped worrying about hooded figures hiding in secret places, plotting evil. I focused my worries on everyday people demonstrating their capabilities to hurt other people without lighting candles or chanting.
Weird as it sounds, it’s somehow more comforting to imagine magical evil. At least then there’s heroism in fighting against the forces of darkness, and clear lines between right and wrong when the bad guys tell you they’re bad right away.
If you want more about the history of this fearful time, check out Satanic Panic by Jeffery S. Victor.