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TAMPA, Fla. — Outback Steakhouse became the focus of the latest social media meme craze when a Twitter user suggested that the Tampa-based restaurant chain was connected to the Illuminati and had occult leanings. The claim was backed up by a series of map images demonstrating how the chain’s locations around the country always form pentagrams.

[Twitter: @eastmyaesthetics.]

The initial tweet, dated July 27, resulted in a firestorm of speculation as can only manifest in a social media environment. Users began creating their own pentagram maps with responses such as ,”Hold the damn phone,” “I’m scared,” “What is going on here?,” and “Illuminati Confirmed.”

Most of those memes do appear to have been created tongue-in-cheek, some more obviously than others. In some of the more farcical ones, people used steakhouse locations to draw demons, crosses, the Eye of Providence, genitalia, Pac-Man, cats, turtles, and more.

Some people discovered messages spelled out by connecting the steakhouse dots. One user in São Paulo demonstrated that the city’s local Outback Steakhouse locations indeed spelled the word Satan.

Another user responded, “Who knew when they said ‘a taste from down under’, they meant hell.”

The Outback occult-based conspiracy theory spilled out into other social media venues, eventually making international headlines. Mashable writes, “Conspiracy theory suggests that Outback Steakhouse is the center of a satanic cult.” HuffPost wrote, “Outback Steakhouse At The Center Of Bizarre Conspiracy Theory.”

Users even began tweeting directly at the company, asking for an explanation.

While the entire episode is largely being brushed off as fun and games, any Pagan or occult practitioner who lived through the 1980s and ’90s might find it less than humorous. During those two decades, the nationwide Satanic Panic created a cultural environment that allowed for similar accusations and theories to fester and spread, even in the absence of social media.

California’s infamous McMartin preschool case, which is often cited as marking the beginning of the moral panic, began with local accusations of occult practice. The fear spread across the country and well beyond the school environments. Anyone or anything could become the center of an occult-based conspiracy theory. It is not insignificant to note that the first film version of Arthur Miller’s 1953 play The Crucible (1996) was released during this time.

Satanic or occult influence was found everywhere, specifically in children’s fare. As we previously noted, Pokemon was the focus of one was such conspiracy theory. The Harry Potter book series, which is now celebrating its 20th anniversary, was also the focus of such claims at one point in time.

Organizations like Covenant of the Goddess, Lady Liberty League, the Witches League for Public Awareness and others were formed to combat the negative perceptions that came with such claims.

Although the famous McMartin trial ended in 1990 and the FBI denounced the idea of widespread Satanic abuse in 1994, the residual cultural effects of the panic lasted into the early 2000s.

While that is all now a part of history, many in the Pagan community have not forgotten the experience and how it touched them personally. To this day, modern occult-based practices are still looked on with fear and trepidation, as demonstrated in the rising reports of Witchcraft in Nottinghamshire, and the practices are also often used as examples of misbehavior, as is suggested by the reports on the 2017 Dyleski hearing.

Independent of any grandiose moral panic, conspiracy theories are not new to the internet age and are not going away any time soon. Occult-based theories abound in history, entertainment, and contemporary politics. Children and teenagers love the mystery and simultaneous fear rush that goes along with ghost stories and the legend trip experience.

Devil’s Tour in Alpine, N.J. [Scaramouch/Flickr].

People look for underlying meaning, connections, and narratives in places where there may or may not be. This is human nature. The unknown worlds, speculation, and the shadow side of living are sources of both fear and attraction.

For example, in the music industry, both backward masking, which is a recording technique, and backmasking, which is a technological coincidence, have both been labeled as being Satanic influences. The messages that come out of the reversal of the sound are considered spiritually dangerous. When playing the song Help by the Beatles, a hidden message can be heard: “Now he uses marijuana.”

Historical sites, graveyards, and old buildings are attractive locations for teenagers to engage with similar narratives. In Alpine, N.J., there is an old stone tower that is said to be an inverted cross built by the Satanist who owned the surrounding land. The blood of his sacrificed victims stained the floors of the locked tower gates. If you drove around the tower backwards, you could hear Satan’s spirit speak. It is the perfect place for a legend trip.

More recently, in 2016, Taylor Swift was accused of being a Satanic leader due to her striking resemblance to Zeena, the daughter of Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey. Social media users went wild with that suggestion, as they have done with the recent Outback frenzy.

Most Americans are aware of the large number of occult-based conspiracy theories that circle around the city Washington D.C. and the often-cited connections made between politics and Illuminati influence.

While much of these episodes and speculation is limited to fun and games, there is still a real possibility of that occult-based or Satanic-based conspiracy theories can lead to moral panics if the environment is right, as history has proven. Such panics, regardless of how large the can get, do have a direct and negative affect on Pagan communities and occult practitioners who get caught in the panic’s net.

The recent Outback Steakhouse Twitter craze ended a few days after it began and largely seen as a joke.

Since that social media meme outbreak, there have been secondary theories suggesting that Outback itself was behind the frenzy in the first place. Those theorists have suggested that it was a simply a backhanded advertising effort.

While the company has not responded to that particular claim, it did have something to say to the original Twitter user who started the entire episode:

An Outback spokesperson confirmed the authenticity of the tweet, but would not comment further.