The term ritual defamation was coined by Laird Wilcox to
describe the destruction of the reputation of a person by unfair,
wrongful, or malicious speech or publication. The defamation is in
retaliation for opinions expressed by the victim, with the
intention of silencing that persons influence, and making an
example of him so as to discourage similar insensitivity to
subjects currently ruled as taboo. It is aggressive, organized and
skillfully applied, often by a representative of a special interest
group, such as, ironically, the Anti-Defamation League.
Ritual defamation is not called ritual because it follows
any prescribed religious or mystical doctrine, nor is it embraced
in any particular document or scripture. Rather, it is ritualistic
because it follows a predictable, stereotyped pattern which
embraces a number of elements, as in a ritual.
Laird Wilcox enumerated eight basic elements of a ritual
First, the victim must have violated a particular taboo, usually
by expressing or identifying with a forbidden attitude, opinion or
Second, the defamers condemn the character of the victim, never
offering more than a perfunctory challenge to the particular
attitudes, opinions or beliefs the victim expressed or implied.
Character assassination is its primary tool.
Third, the defamers avoid engaging in any kind of debate over
the truthfulness or reasonableness of what has been expressed.
Their goal is not discussion but rather condemnation, censorship
Fourth, the victim is usually someone who is vulnerable to
public opinion, although perhaps in a very modest way. It could be
a schoolteacher, writer, businessman, minor official, or merely an
outspoken citizen; visibility enhances vulnerability to ritual
Fifth, an attempt is made to involve others in the defamation.
In the case of a public official, other public officials will be
urged to denounce the offender. In the case of a student, other
students will be called upon; in the case of a professor, other
professors will be asked to join the condemnation.
Sixth, in order for a ritual defamation to be most
effective, the victim must be dehumanized to the extent that he
becomes identical with the offending attitude, opinion or belief,
and in a manner which distorts his views to the point where they
appear at their most extreme. For example, a victim who is defamed
as a subversive will be identified with the worst images of
subversion, such as espionage, terrorism or treason.
Seventh, the defamation tries to bring pressure and humiliation
on the victim from every quarter, including family and friends. If
the victim has school children, they may be taunted and ridiculed
as a consequence of adverse publicity. If the victim is employed,
he may be fired from his job. If the victim belongs to clubs or
associations, other m...