Divine Justice Came Slowly

The notorious, but never successful, Charles Manson is dead.

Charles Manson when he did his deeds. Photo via A&E Biography.

Charles Manson, America’s most notorious murderer, had succumbed to natural causes. Most famous for slaying the heavily pregnant actress Sharon Tate, Manson was the mastermind of about a dozen of murders. Those interested in the subject matter should read both Helter Skelter by the Manson Family prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi and Manson: The Life And Times Of Charles Manson by journalist Jeff Guinn. The latter one in particular is replete with fascinating detail, although I strongly suggest reading the footnotes because the author is in the habit of reporting his interviewees’ words seemingly without questioning their validity.

Guinn argued, quite persuasively, that as tempting as it is to claim that Manson was a creature of the ‘60s, he was as much of a product of the ‘40s and ‘50s, and of the Appalachian environment. Son of a single teenage mother, who herself spent part of his childhood in prison, Charlie was passed between family members that didn’t know how to handle him and correctional facilities that didn’t help a bit. He was raped and otherwise abused in these institutions and set on the trajectory of criminality and evil. Then again, maybe he was born a murderous sociopath.

In 1967, the 32-year-old hardened criminal left prison with a vague idea of becoming a pimp and a burning desire to be the next Beatles. But I repeat myself.

Manson got out early, on good behavior, due in part to his wardens being impressed by his interest in Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends And Influence People. They thought it’s a nice uplifting book; he picked up manipulation strategies. He got a few tips from pimps as well.

He was released right into the Summer of Love, which awarded him multiple opportunities to put all these nifty theories to practice. He moved to Berkeley, and then to Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco where, in a matter of months, he assembled a hoard of troubled girls to be used to curry favors with men. (In the city where love was free, peddling flesh wasn’t lucrative, but women were useful nonetheless.)

The newly established hippie mecca was a boon to Manson. In any other time he’d lead the life of a skid row hustler and an auto thief, the trades he’d been perfecting before that last incarceration, but in San Francisco he found himself surrounded by the dopey runaways of North America. All social constraints were lifted in favor of “experimentation.” Anything went. Hard drug use was rampant, to say no to a man was uncool and hippie gurus preached on every corner.

Manson became one of these gurus, stringing together miscellaneous heresy of Bible bits and Scientology, and using the above-mentioned manipulation strategies together with copious amounts of LSD to brainwash his followers. As his disciples dropped acid, he gave nightly stream-of-consciousness sermons with an apocalyptic twist.

I don’t think Manson was any kind of evil genius; it’s just that his followers weren’t very bright (most of them, anyway) and the zeitgeist dictated that they must let their guard down. Hippie ideology put a premium on naïveté, folk songs and children’s crafts, as well as trust in other hippies.

Theirs wasn’t exactly a free thinking mentality. The counterculture didn’t so much encourage free inquiry as, in the words of the LSD guru Timothy Leary, “turn on, tune in, drop out.” Since the rock gods and anti-establishment celebrities aspired to supplant the existing power structure and make a quick buck along the way, they didn’t very much like to be doubted. They instead advised to suppress normal inhibitions and put their followers in a place where they’d be vulnerable and needy.

It was herd instinct at its finest. The Summer Of Love was heralded by the media. Masses were ushered into stadiums for concerts. Ditto Woodstock, which made careers of mediocre musicians who just happen to “be there.” The obedient flower children were told to like them, and they did.

Yay! Summer of Love

Manson specialized in malleable kids with daddy issues, [editor’s note: that’s also who human traffickers target] but, again, in any other time, most of his girls would end up relatively well-adjusted. Maybe they didn’t have the best parents, but the main drawback of the parenting they received turned out to be not preparing them for the age of rock-n-roll. It’s hard to imagine how the 1967 Haight and Ashbury scene could not produce somebody like Charles Manson.

I don’t want to slander every hippie (except that I do). Sober, intelligent people admired Manson, too, but they did so from a distance. Nobody was fazed by Manson’s criminal past, that was a plus in countercultural terms, but a person with a modicum of intelligence was not going to be impressed by his ramblings. Obviously. During his stay in Berkeley, Manson picked up only a single follower.

Radicals found Manson useful, not the other way around. He was never as successful as he was notorious. The head of the terrorist group Weather Underground Bernardine Dohrn said of the Manson murders:

First they killed those pigs, then they ate dinner in the same room with them, then they even shoved a fork into the pig Tate’s stomach! Wild!

The Weathermen started greeting each other with a three-finger salute to signify fork.

Pregnant Sharon Tate begged her murderers to spare the life of her child

But while Dohrn became a lawyer and then a college professor and later palled around with our 44th president, and other hippies transitioned into yuppies, Charlie Manson never committed a crime he got away with.

Nor did he land the record contract he ached for so badly. No matter how hard he tried to woo music industry wheelers and dealers, they had their reputation and the company’s bottom line in mind. They took what he had to give (women and drugs) and walked out.

Manson and his faithful called themselves a Family, but, of course, they were no family. Manson explained that every girl belongs to every man, which in reality meant that every girl had to give out sex on Charlie’s orders and no two people were free to get attached. Coupling was strictly forbidden. All children had to be raised communally. Human relationship was replaced with Charlie worship. Not a family but a cult called a family so that the followers dare not to form a real one.

Manson painted himself into a corner. He preached a race war apocalypse and promised his followers he’d make a record deal. When the rock-n-roll line closed, he had to double down on the apocalypse. Since that wasn’t materializing either, he instructed his flock to commit murders to ignite that race war which only the Family would be able to survive by fleeing to a pit in a desert (it’s complicated). They were arrested instead.

Manson didn’t mind prison so much, but remember that the Family members were initially sentenced to death. They lucked out when California briefly banned capital punishment. A good parasite doesn’t kill his host, but Manson destroyed his cult and nearly got them all offed. He continued on in some pop culture mystique, including a follower and environmental radical Squeaky Fromme remianing active as late as 1975, when she attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford. And then he died.

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