05 April 2012

In Defense of Charles Manson

Yes, you read that right. But hear me out . . .

The perfect example of how
tattoos look silly when
you get older.

Charles Manson, age 77, in prison for the last 40+ years, has been all over the news lately because California State Corrections had to take new photos of him. "His appearance had changed." See right. But I'm not here to defend Charlie's appearance...

I'm reacting to the latest stream of calls for Manson to be "tied to a stake and burned," "boiled in tar," "hung from a tree until his head pulls off," or at any rate put to death in some way, preferably slowly and painfully. 

From this, I gather that there are many falsely held beliefs about who committed the so-called Manson murders, what Manson's role was, and how Manson was turned into "The World's Most Dangerous Man."

 Geraldo interview, 1989

The U.S. and much of the rest of the world has lost sight of the fact that Charlie Manson is mortal. He has no special magic, no uncanny powers, no supernatural way to cause a person's death. (I don't give credence to Prosecutor Bugliosi's absurd claim that Charlie once stopped his watch.)

You could have accompanied Geraldo Rivera to meet Manson in prison and been in more danger from Geraldo than from him. The frisson you felt when first facing Manson would not be Charlie "getting inside your head," at least not by his own powers; rather, it would come out of the decades of misinformation portraying Manson as the evil and powerful Prince of Darkness. So who or what has created this image?


Aura enhanced.

The pop-culture myth of Manson as Boogeyman was created by the U.S. establishment of the 60s-70s, using the powerful and rising tool of media. Manson was a thief, a drifter, an ex-con who with his "Family" unwittingly became the symbol of all things "threatening" about hippie culture. READ: Anti-war sentiment. The public face of which was "flower children" and not the educators, clergy, parents, etc, involved in the movement. Nixon himself had said in a speech that "opposition to the war in this country is the greatest single weapon working against the U.S. [in Viet Nam]." Manson was turned into a symbolic monster to frighten the masses and turn them against the counter-culture.

During the trial. Can
you imagine?
Manson accepted the role handed him before the trial ended. He seemed to sense that he was being set up in a judicial charade and media blitz with a far-reaching political agenda. He became the extreme of the deranged and dangerous hippie everyone wanted to believe he was. 

The political campaign against Manson created an other-worldly image, well-maintained to this day, that leads people to hold simultaneously the naturally conflicting beliefs that Charlie is a clown and that he is Satan. The combination is powerful indeed: with roots in the Jungian Shadow, the insane criminal (think Hannibal Lector), the Joker, the Boogeyman. Charlie, for more than half his life, has played along.

Well, okay, he's a clown.

No, this man can't control
you, for chrissakes, but the media can.

Now consider that Manson wasn't present at the Tate-Labianca murders.(Didja know that?) He was charged and convicted of conspiracy to commit murder (and thus the seven murders as well). The only basis for his involvement in this conspiracy was that he reportedly told the gang, as they left the first night, "Do something witchy." Insufficient evidence, wouldn't you think, to prove he conspired to murder seven people. Remember: He's not magic.

The real murderer-murderer of the Tate and Labianca households was Tex Watson. Watson drove the car, chose the homes, and made sure the girls involved themselves in the slaughter. According to his own account, he personally stabbed all the victims to death.

Oh, and he shot a few, too. That's right—Tex Watson brought a gun along. And instructed the girls to bring Bowie knives. The girls admit to stabbing some victims, but under Tex's pressure. See his website where he admits it and, unless I'm imagining it, sounds as if he still revels a bit in the retelling. (www.aboundinglove.org)

For most of his time incarcerated, Tex has been in California's cushiest minimum security prison, provided with amenities and opportunities. For example, he was married and has four children through conjugal visits (pause); he had free range of the grounds and workshops "on campus"; and he started and continues to run the non-profit ministry that he, as administrator, gets a handsome salary from. Lots of people support Tex and his Christian work, and he can buy lots of great stuff with his money. If the commissary doesn't have what he wants they will order it, "within reason." They're very accommodating, and Tex has always been a "star" within the prison.

"The Most Dangerous
Man Alive"
Hyperbolic much?
Unfortunately for Tex, he had to be moved from the cushy minimum security facility to a medium security prison after his escape attempt. Yes, I said, HIS ESCAPE ATTEMPT. So who among the now-defunct "Family" poses the greatest risk to society?

Tex Watson should have been made the Boogeyman, but the media had been pulled back by the time he went to trial and after Manson was convicted. The latter was the evil, drug-addled, violent and murderous hippie who "ended the 60s." All you had to do was look at him! The establishment's goal had been pulled off: Hippie = Threat to Society.

Tex didn't have the look for
the establishment's 'Have-Nots
vs. Haves' spin on the murders. 

Ah, but Charlie did.

The establishment swept Tex's trial under the rug so as not to spoil the anti-counter-culture message that had been crafted. Tex's starring role in the murders was buried so the media could continue to turn the public against the hippies and the anti-war movement.

Probably very few people can even tell you Tex's real first name. (It's Charles. The reporting was manipulated so that an inconvenient coincidence—two Charlies—wouldn't muddy the image of Manson as Public Enemy.) I wonder how many people know even that Tex was there and that Charlie was not, and that Tex will tell you that he killed all seven victims?

"The Other"
A woman, a lesbian,

horribly abused.

To return to my main point, we should be wary of swallowing the media's message without thinking more for ourselves. We should refuse to buy into the hype surrounding Manson and every other media-manipulated symbol used to lead us toward one agenda or another. Charlie may deserve to be in prison (though I don't know what for by now...) but letting ourselves be fooled about what he is and who is really responsible for such terrible crimes does nothing in the name of justice and nothing for a larger understanding.

"The Other"
A gay man,
ill,  psychotic.
Recognition of media manipulation and its underlying political motives takes the power out of highly publicized events and circumstances used to influence our world picture by representing one subset of people around us (could be anyone!) as secretly evil, another as "psychotic" (in a non-medical sense), whole ethnicities as murderous barbarians without consciences. We need to keep in mind that, like Manson, these are people, flawed people, but not inhuman monsters that we can never understand.

"The Other"
A child star, an addict, an alcoholic, a woman hunted down and  
humiliated by what must seem to be the whole world. 

All this is about controlling the masses with scary stories, dark folklore, cautionary tales, and monsters. We could all be a little more savvy about it. This isn't the Middle Ages.


What assumptions underlie
this headline?
Bonus Section!
For an example of how the Manson myth continues to evolve—and has become a Frankenstein's Monster the establishment certainly did not foresee—check out the Manson Fan Club link below. Don't think that's a one-off, though; it's just an example. There are Manson "followers" world-wide. Find them in Malaysia and Brazil. Find them on Facebook and Twitter. Really.

And from the Manson Memorabilia Store. . .

Charles Manson Rosary, $28



  1. Very good article. I had not known about Tex's situation.


  2. The prosecution was basically accusing Charles Manson of sorcery. This is a very difficult position for Manson to be in as it rules out any kind of rational defence. The prosecutor, Bugliosi, even accused Manson of causing his watch to stop.

    Once accused of sorcery, any innocent action can be given a darker meaning eg., Manson allowing his followers to take LSD but not taking any of it or much less of it himself. Manson had little experience of drugs. Most of his ‘followers’ were experienced drug users. Isn’t it common sense not to take LSD even if those around you take it?, and f you were silly enough to take it, to take much less. Manson simply acted as any person with common sense would act. Anything can be given a dark meaning if we want to give it a dark meaning.

    If Manson had such a tight grip over the minds of his followers, how is it that after the raid on the Spahn Ranch, nobody bailed him out. His followers ailed out everyone else but they didn’t bail him out. The Family don’t seem to have regarded him very highly.

    If Manson had such a tight control over his ‘followers’ how is it that they testified aganst hm and sent him to a death sentence because of their testimony. Could it be that Bugliosi had a tighter control over the family members than Manson had?

    If Manson had such a overwhelming control over the minds of his followers, then shouldn’t those who committed the murders be set free? Bugliosi doesn’t seem to think so – he claims that they were fully responsible for their actions. If this is so, where does Manson come into the scheme of things?

    Manson wasn’t given the opportunity to defend himself. There was no defence phase of the trial. Isn’t this unusual? No one knows what Charles Manson’s defense might have been. The court appointed a lawyer for him and that lawyer basically pleaded guilty on Manson’s behalf when he chose not to defend the charges.

    The prosecutor bribed witnesses, but Manson wasn’t allowed to do the same. The prosecution had the power to let witnesses go if they testified against Manson. If they didn’t they would be tried and possibly spend lengthy terms in prison.

    But the prosecution and the defence are supposed to be equal in a court. Would it seem reasonable that Manson be given the same powers – to jail anyone who didn’t give testimony on his behalf? And to let guilty people go if they gave testimony that Manson approved of?

    On this basis Manson could easily have convicted Bugliosi of the Tate murders.

    And what of the testimony against Manson? Didn’t Bugliosi give those who actually committed the murders an excuse for their behaviour? Manson made us do it!

    In the environment of allegations of mind control and sorcery, doesn’t it seem reasonable that those charged with murder thought that they could walk free, after perhaps a short term of imprisonment, if the court believed that Manson was in complete control of their actions? It seems likely that they decided to jump aboard the train that the prosecution had set up for them. Manson made us do it! they screamed. He didn’t seem to have the power to make them bail him out after the Spahn raid. He didn’t have the power to stop Shorty Shea from picking him up by the shirt and threatening him, or have anyone come to his aid when this occurred, but supposedly had the power to order murders whenever the whim took him.

    I’d say that his ‘followers’ were just a pack of spoilt middle class brats who did whatever they wanted to do, but when it came to doing the time they searched around and grasped at anything that would help them in their defence. In the case of the Tate murders it was, Manson made us do it!

  3. Tapu, you might be interested in reading The Vincent Bugliosi Story by George Denny. It's available as a downloadable pdf here-


    And please tell the sheep over at the Straight Dope forum about it, too. :)