Direct testimony of Charles Manson:
There has been a lot of charges and a lot of things said about me and brought against the co-defendants in this case, of which a lot could be cleared up and clarified. . . .
I never went to school, so I never growed up to read and write too good, so I have stayed in jail and I have stayed stupid, and I have stayed a child while I have watched your world grow up, and then I look at the things that you do and I don't understand. . . .
You eat meat and you kill things that are better than you are, and then you say how bad, and even killers, your children are. You made your children what they are. . . .
These children that come at you with knives. they are your children. You taught them. I didn't teach them. I just tried to help them stand up. . . .
Most of the people at the ranch that you call the Family were just people that you did not want, people that were alongside the road, that their parents had kicked out, that did not want to go to Juvenile Hall. So I did the best I could and I took them up on my garbage dump and I told them this: that in love there is no wrong. . . .
I told them that anything they do for their brothers and sisters is good if they do it with a good thought. . . .
I was working at cleaning up my house, something that Nixon should have been doing. He should have been on the side of the road, picking up his children, but he wasn't. He was in the White House, sending them off to war. . . .
I don't understand you, but I don't try. I don't try to judge nobody. I know that the only person I can judge is me . . . But I know this: that in your hearts and your own souls, you are as much responsible for the Vietnam war as I am for killing these people. . . .
I can't judge any of you. I have no malice against you and no ribbons for you. But I think that it is high time that you all start looking at yourselves, and judging the lie that you live in.
I can't dislike you, but I will say this to you: you haven't got long before you are all going to kill yourselves, because you are all crazy. And you can project it back at me . . . but I am only what lives inside each and everyone of you.
My father is the jailhouse. My father is your system. . . I am only what you made me. I am only a reflection of you.
I have ate out of your garbage cans to stay out of jail. I have wore your second-hand clothes. . . I have done my best to get along in your world and now you want to kill me, and I look at you, and then I say to myself, You want to kill me? Ha! I'm already dead, have been all my life. I've spent twenty-three years in tombs that you built.
Sometimes I think about giving it back to you; sometimes I think about just jumping on you and letting you shoot me . . . If I could, I would jerk this microphone off and beat your brains out with it, because that is what you deserve, that is what you deserve. . . .
If I could get angry at you, I would try to kill everyone of you. If that's guilt, I accept it . . .These children, everything they done, they done for the love of their brother. . . .
If I showed them that I would do anything for my brother--including giving my life for my brother on the battlefield--and then they pick up their banner, and they go off and do what they do, that is not my responsibility. I don't tell people what to do . . . .
These children [indicating the female defendants] were finding themselves. What they did, if they did whatever they did, is up to them. They will have to explain that to you. . . .
It's all your fear. You look for something to project it on, and you pick out a little old scroungy nobody that eats out of a garbage can, and that nobody wants, that was kicked out of the penitentiary, that has been dragged through every hellhole that you can think of, and you drag him and put him in a courtroom.
You expect to break me? Impossible! You broke me years ago. You killed me years ago. . . .
[Judge Older asked Manson if he had anything further to say.]
I have killed no one and I have ordered no one to be killed. I may have implied on several different occasions to several different people that I may have been Jesus Christ, but I haven't decided yet what I am or who I am. Some called him Christ, Manson said. In prison his name was a number. Some now want a sadistic fiend, and so they see him as that. So be it. Guilty. Not guilty. They are only words. You can do anything you want with me, but you cannot touch me because I am only my love. . . If you put me in the penitentiary, that means nothing because you kicked me out of the last one. I didn't ask to get released. I liked it in there because I like myself.
[ Judge Older told Manson, "You seem to be getting far afield." He told Manson to stick to the issue raised in the trial.]
The issues? . . . Mr. Bugliosi is a hard-driving prosecutor, polished education, a master of words, semantics. He is a genius. He has got everything that every lawyer would want to have except one thing: a case. He doesn't have a case. Were I allowed to defend myself, I could have proven this to you. . .The evidence in this case is a gun. There was a gun that laid around the ranch. It belonged to everybody. Anybody could have picked that gun up and done anything they wanted to do with it. I don't deny having that gun. That gun has been in my possession many times. Like the rope was there because you need rope on a ranch. . . .It is really convenient that Mr. Baggot found those clothes. I imagine he got a little taste of money for that. . . .They put the hideous bodies on [photographic] display and they imply: If he gets out, see what will happen to you. . . .[Helter Skelter] means confusion, literally. It doesn't mean any war with anyone. It doesn't mean that some people are going to kill other people. . . Helter Skelter is confusion. Confusion is coming down around you fast. If you can't see the confusion coming down around you fast, you can call it what you wish. . Is it a conspiracy that the music is telling the youth to rise up against the establishment because the establishment is rapidly destroying things? Is that a conspiracy? The music speaks to you every day, but you are too deaf, dumb, and blind to even listen to the music. . . It is not my conspiracy. It is not my music. I hear what it relates. It says "Rise," it says "Kill." Why blame it on me? I didn't write the music. . . .
Danny DeCarlo. . .said that I hate black men, and he said that we thought alike. . . But actually all I ever did with Danny DeCarlo or any other human being was reflect him back at himself. If he said he did not like the black man, I would say 'O.K.' So consequently he would drink another beer and walk off and say 'Charlie thinks like I do.' But actually he does not know how Charlie thinks because Charlie has never projected himself. I don't think like you people. You people put importance on your lives. Well, my life has never been important to anyone. . . .
[Linda Kasabian] gets on the stand and she says when she looked in that man's eyes that was dying, she knew that it was my fault. She knew it was my fault because she couldn't face death. And if she can't face death, that is not my fault. I can face death. I have all the time. In the penitentiary you live with it, with constant fear of death, because it is a violent world in there, and you have to be on your toes constantly. . . .
[I taught the Family] not to be weak and not to lean on me. . . .I told [Paul Watkins],"To be a man, boy, you have to stand up and be your own father." So he goes off to the desert and finds a father image in Paul Crockett. . . .
I do feel some responsibility. I feel a responsibility for the pollution. I feel a responsibility for the whole thing. . . .To be honest with you, I don't recall ever saying "Get a knife and a change of clothes and go do what Tex says." Or I don't recall saying "Get a knife and go kill the sheriff." In fact, it makes me mad when someone kills snakes or dogs or cats or horses. I don't even like to eat meat-that is how much I am against killing. . . .
I haven't got any guilt about anything because I have never been able to see any wrong. . . I have always said: Do what your love tells you, and I do what my love tells me . . . Is it my fault that your children do what you do? What about your children? You say there are just a few? There are many, many more, coming in the same direction. They are running in the streets-and they are coming right at you!
This testimony was not given in open court contrary to legislation.
Dr. David E. Smith, founder of the free clinic in the hippie Haight-Ashbury District, conducted a four-month study of the Manson “family” long before the Sharon Tate murder case.
“It wasn’t a drug thing,” Smith said. “The trouble was that Charlie was disturbed. He developed a paranoid delusional system that led to violence.”
But Charlie also was very persuasive, particularly with girls and particularly about sex. He felt that “getting rid of sexual inhibitions would free people of most of their other inhibitions and problems,” Smith said.
“Charlie set himself up as the initiator of new females into the commune. He would spend most of their first day making love to them, wanting to see if they were just on a ‘sex trip’ or were seriously interested in joining the family,” Smith said.
If a girl refused any sex request, regardless of how bizarre, it was grounds for immediate expulsion and few members of the cult left voluntarily.
Smith wrote a scientific paper on the Manson family for the spring issue of the Journal of Psychedelic Drugs. He released a first draft to the underground Los Angeles Free Press and confirmed its contents to the Chicago Daily News.
Smith said he first became interested in the unusual “group marriage” commune when members visited his clinic for ordinary medical treatments back in 1968. When the group came south, a Haight clinic researcher came with them and stayed about four months.
At the time the commune consisted of about 20 members, including 14 women.
“He (Charlie) was an extroverted, persuasive individual and served as absolute ruler of this group marriage commune,” Smith wrote. “What he approved was approved by the rest of the group. What he disapproved was forbidden.”
Smith, a physician, is assistant clinical professor of toxicology and assistant research pharmacologist at the University of California Medical Center here. He headed up a symposium last weekend on setting up community free clinics to handle drug-abuse cases.
In his analysis Smith said Manson “said a lot of mystical things that appealed to the girls and everything he said was god’s word to the girls. But he had a lot of serious problems in the area of paranoid delusions.”
“If you know schizophrenics, you know how persuasive they can get and if you are an adolescent in turmoil who is searching for a guru, you can easily be convinced.”
Smith said that “unfortunately, a very large number of guys like Charlie are running around. They seem to be attracted to hip subculture with its freedom and acceptance. But many of them, also, are in mental institutions.”
Smith said the “dangerous thing is that there are hundreds of thousands of adolescent girls in turmoil who are looking for answers and if they got hooked up with a guy like that, they are in trouble.
Bob Rose 1970
What failure of the human condition could produce a Charlie Manson? What possible aspects of such a creature’s example could induce sweet-faced young women and a polite Texas college boy to acts of such numbing cruelty – even though they might have abandoned the social and political precepts of their elders like so many other beaded and bell-bottomed mother’s children of 1969? Some of the answers seemed simple enough if one weighed Charlie Manson on the ancient scales of human venality. He attracted and controlled his women through flattery, fear and sexual attention and by loftily granting them a sort of sisterhood of exploitation – methods used by every pimp in history. He sensed something old as tribal blood ritual which most of us deny in ourselves – that humans can feel enormous fulfillment and enormous relief in the act of killing other humans if some medicine man applauds and condones the deed. But Charlie was able to attune his time-encrusted concepts of villainy to the childish yearnings of his hippie converts – to their weaknesses, their catchwords, their fragmentary sense of religion and their enchantment with drugs and idleness – and to immerse them in his own ego and in idiotic visions of apocalypse.
Most of Charlie’s girls, in the opinion of a San Francisco psychiatrist who encountered them, were “hysterics, wishful thinkers, seekers after some absolute” who came to regard Charlie as a high priest, “all-powerful, all-knowing.” Charlie was a fast talker with a glittering eye. He initiated new girls by taking them to bed for day-long sexual marathons. He broke down their “inhibitions” by directing them in erotic group carnivals or ordering them to carnal activity with other men – and commanding them to do so in the same tones in which he sent them into the streets to panhandle. Charlie was no hippie; the very name made him angry. He was an entrepreneur. He gave people things – drugs, his own shirt – to get things back. He gave girls – often a naked, giggling, caressing gaggle of four or five of them – to men from the “straight” world. He shaved and cut his hair – even, at times, after retreating to the desert – to facilitate dealing with “the Establishment.” He boasted of 3,000 friends. One gave him a grand piano which he traded for a camper truck which he then traded for a bus with which he transported his harem to southern California and their eventual rendezvous with the fruits and fallacies of his delusions.
The delusions do not seem to have blossomed in his mind before the trip in the spring of 1968 – a leisurely trek during which he met, sponged on and grew to resent Los Angeles Musician Gary Hinman, and was rejected, in a plea for help with his own musical aspiration, by Doris Day’s son Terry Melcher, then the occupant of the big house in which Sharon Tate and her friends were to die. Charlie preached a confused but vehement philosophy. Everything in the world belonged to all its people – thus there could be redivision of valuables, but no theft; all humans were part of some homogeneous and mystic whole – thus there could be no real death. The varying mob of long-haired girls and ragged young studs who clung around him in southern California were indoctrinated with Charlie’s views after they settled at the first of their two outposts, a Western movie location once owned by silent star Bill Hart but now operated as a riding stable called the Spahn Movie Ranch.
During the year that Manson and his “family” lived in or near San Francisco, they regularly visited the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic which was founded by Dr. David Smith. Dr. Smith’s views are based not on a patient-doctor relationship with Manson, but on his personal observations.
Charlie’s group was unlike any other commune I’ve know. They called themselves a family, but most family communes are monogamous sexually. The members pair off and don’t indiscriminately change partners. A new girl in Charlie’s family would bring with her a certain middle-class morality. The first thing that Charlie did was to see that all this was torn down. The major way he broke through was sex. Charlie’s girls were expected to have sex with any men around, anytime. If they had hang-ups about it, then they should feel guilty. That way he was able to eliminate the controls that normally govern our live. Sex, not drugs, was the common denominator.
The violence was not the kind of sociopathic “escape” violence we see in the Haight but a psychotic, Rasputin-type violence. If you believe God is on you side, anything is justified. The communal thing is very spiritual. Belief in magic, astrology, cosmic consciousness – that explains everything. One of the characteristics is to have a spiritual leader and, violence aside, Charlie Manson as a spiritual leader is probably more typical than we care to believe. Charlie appealed to too many people to say that just a few nuts were attracted to him. He would probably be diagnosed as a schizophrenic, but ambulatory schizophrenics were very much looked up to in Haight-Ashbury because they could hallucinate – without drugs. If we’re going to pin a psychiatric label on Charlie’s girls, then we’d have to say there are hundreds of thousands of kids in this country who are also mentally disturbed.
Manson’s parole officer, after his release from prison in 1967, was Dr. Roger Smith, a research criminologist who had launched the drug treatment program at the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic. He speaks of Manson here out of his extensive unofficial contact with him.
Charlie was the most hostile parolee I’ve ever come across. He was totally up front about it. He told me right off there was no way he could keep the terms of his parole. He was headed back to the joint [prison] and there was no way out of it. In another era, I think Charlie would have been back in prison in short order. But now the patterns have changed. You have a very transient, mobile delinquent population, and many of them end up in scenes like this. They pick up the rhetoric and sort of blend in and exploit and manipulate the scene. I think that’s where Charlie fit in.
In a sense I think Charlie was really sort of shaken by it all – by the fact that people were friendly, open and willing to do things with him. The first night he was in the Haight, the chicks were willing to go to bed with him. They didn’t care whether he had just gotten out of the joint. That was a real shocker for him.
Drugs give you something but they also take. In the case of Charlie, he redefined what reality was. He began to drift farther and farther away. He certainly wasn’t operating on anything vaguely related to reality. He did become more articulate, began to develop a distinctive kind of philosophy. He no longer seemed angry or hostile, only more intense.
They talk about the hypnotic kind of state he was able to produce. Always in the back of my mind I felt he was a con man. Charlie’s rap was always a little bit too heavy, a little bit too polished. Tenderness toward girls? Not a damn bit. I never sensed he had any real warmth toward the girls. They were his possessions.
There are a lot of Charlies running around, believe me. He’s just one of several hundred thousand people who are released from prison after a shattering, soul-rending experience, not prepared for anything except to go back on the streets and do more of the same – but bigger. You get them back in the community and there’s no place for them to stay. I couldn’t get Charlie into a halfway house because the only one was too small. I couldn’t get him training because somehow he didn’t meet the state requirements. The only place he was accepted was Haight-Ashbury, and doesn’t that say a hell of a lot about the system.
the Family represents a radical “regression” in these structures from a rationalized one to a syncretism, with alternating stresses on a faith structure and a sacro-magical structure. This syncretistic structure of consciousness emerged within the charismatic community surrounding Manson. The elements of a faith structure appeared in the form of a radical anomism, a spirit of acosmic love, and a transmoral conscience. The elements of the sacro-magical structure appeared especially in their mythology of childhood perfection, in an attitude of omnipresent play (puerilism, in Huizinga's phrase), and a bricolage construction of a millenial script for dramatic enactment. The Family ultimately followed a millenial dream which led to murder, a dream fusing the motifs of love and death. In conclusion, we stress certain destructive features of the civilizational analytic approach to such groups and argue that the Family is best seen as a radical anomistic sect similar to the various Medieval and early modern heresies such as the Free Spirit, the Ranters and others more recent.
Thirty years later, the Sixties remain shrouded in myth, demonology, and nostalgia. To young Generation Xers, that decade is a stumbling block; to Republican conservatives, foolishness; but to aging baby boomers who once felt themselves called to respond, that era still recalls something dimly remembered of an expedition into the heart of consciousness. Something happened still not understood. A wave broke in August 1969 when the followers of Charley Manson slaughtered Sharon Tate, her unborn child, her house guests, and the next night repeated the bloody ritual by killing a prominent couple named the La Biancas. Today, Manson is in solitary confinement in a maximum security foretress in California. Denied probation, he will die in prison. But even there he continues to attract followers and to dispense his message to the world. Even there, he continues to maintain a hold. As he well understands, we need him as much as he needs us. We need to believe that the demon is locked up and cannot get out. We need this to protect our own sanity. He remains, as he says, our mirror. Terror manifests itself in many forms, most of them coming not from outside ourselves but from within. The external objects and events that scare us merely awaken fears slumbering in what Emily Dickinson called the cellars of the mind. The beasts under the bed, the monsters in the night shadows moving behind the trees are the projections of our own internal fears onto the landscape of the world. Enough real evil does exist to sustain our projections, but in the end even the projections are rationalizations, lies we tell ourselves to prevent having to face the real fear within ourselves. We need external demons to keep the demons in our souls at bay. By the end of the sixties, for the baby boomers the beliefs of the old military/industrial combine had unraveled. The protective shell had been shattered and thrown away. With our protective social constructs crumbling, all that was left was the state of nature waiting to reveal itself as either friend or fiend. The idyllic suburbia of “Leave it to Beaver” had become a bad joke. John Wayne was no longer there to protect us from the Indians or lead the way to the next watering hole…. and the hot sun was climbing over the rim of the desert. Out of that desert emerged the very apparition that had always been there coiled up in the heart of the culture. Indians, wolves, monsters under the bed. Commies coming to get us, the Viet Cong, “Victor Charley”, and finally that other Charlie, Charlie Manson. Joan Didion remembers that in Los Angeles in August, 1969, “everything was unmentionable but nothing was unimaginable. This mystical flirtation with the idea of ‘sin’ -this sense that it was possible to go too far, and that many people were doing it – was very much with us.” She remembered when the first reports came in, garbled, confused, contradictory, and, she wrote, “I also remember this, and wish I did not: I remember that no one was surprised.” “I am the man in the mirror,” says Charles Manson. And in that at least he may be right. “Anything you see in me is in you…. I am you…. And when you can admit that you will be free. I am just a mirror.” Nor is that the least that he is right about. And because he was and has since become even more of a symbol, not just of the end of the sixties, but of the terror that lies at the heart of the darkest cave in consciousness, he compels a more careful study. Why then is Charlie Manson, as Geraldo Rivera said, “the stuff of a nation’s nightmares?” Not for what he did, nor even for what he said. Others have killed more people more brutally. It is because, as Didion foretold, we found in him an icon upon which to project our own latent fears. No one was surprised because everyone knew the potential was there, in each and all of us. So Manson became a living metaphor of Abaddon, the God of the bottomless pit. We, as a collective culture, looked into Manson’s eyes and saw in those dark caves what we most feared within ourselves, the paranoia of what might happen if you go too far. He was the monster in the wilderness, the shadow in the night forest, the beast said to lurk in the Terra Incognita beyond the edges of the map. By projecting our monsters onto Manson, and then locking him up for life, we imagined we had put the beast back in its cage. Charlie Manson was exactly what the feudal European establishment foresaw and feared in 1517 when Martin Luther had first dared to suggest that truth lay not in the rationalizations of the scholastics but in the subjectivities of the spirit. Such philosophical abstractions are fine for the educated who converse with each other in Latin and, in the final analysis, know what social codes sustain them. But to preach such things to peasants invites anarchy of the wildest sort and leads to such events as the anabaptist rebellion at Muenster. Even Luther recoiled in horror at the extremes to which those radical Protestants took his ideas. He never imagined that Faith would be achieved here, on earth, in the literal realm of time and space. The antinomian strain which runs through American culture began with the radical Reformation’s declaration of Sola Fides, Faith Alone, superior to logic, and with the Priesthood of all believers, the belief that anyone might experience the subjective authority of Godliness in the soul. Luther rejected the radicals application of this to the political worldly realm and blessed the soldiers who slaughtered the anabaptist peasants who had declared Muenster a liberated city. But John Calvin, in Geneva, who had married an anabaptist, constructed a system which imagined a new order based upon those few people who could be identified as members of the elect. He dared to believe that a few people could escape the solipsistic maze of human stupidity and break on through to a vision of Eternity. Upon these rocks would be built a new church and a new society that would be Israel reborn, an earthly Zion. This is the ideology that founded the American colonies, the faith that the invisible would be made visible in us. This was the legacy of the Radical Reformation of Europe carried to America by English, Scots, and Dutch Calvinists, German anabaptists, Bohemian Husserites, and French Huguenots. No wonder American culture has always produced rebels and outlaws, madmen and saints, who claim to know and speak for God, who claim that they and not the orthodox church members are the true elect, truly awakened and truly free. In 1636, the Puritan Governor of Massachsetts, John Winthrop, had seen Charlie Manson in the eyes of the antinomian dissenter ,Ann Hutchinson. Winthrop believed in the possibility of creating on earth Calvin’s “Kingdom of love,” as his 1629 Arbella Sermon showed, but he also knew full well that not all spirits are divine. The Devil, he believed, can clothe himself in the robes of righteousness and lead innocent souls astray. Ann Hutchinson’s antinomian subjectivity, her appeal to pure feeling without any guide from reason or tradition threatened not patriarchal authority or political stability but human sanity itself. To Winthrop, Hutchinson was a clear echo of “the enthusiasts and anabaptists” of Muenster, the radical peasants who had taken over that German city and declared absolute freedom from all law, all order, all structure. Political and social structures exist to back up mental structures, and in return the collective consciousness of the people helps to sustain the institutions of the state. They need each other: “no Pope, no king.” The state backs up the church, and the church provides the beliefs which give us meaning. Once you start taking apart the structures that sustain us, there is no telling what else will fall. There is no telling to what extremes the human mind, convinced that it is in touch with the truth, will go. At Ann Hutchinson’s trial, Winthrop proclaimed, These disturbances that have come among the Germans have been all grounded on revelations, and so they that have vented them have stirred up their hearers to … cut the throats one of another, and these have been the fruits of them, and whether the devil may inspire the same into their hearts I know not. For I am fully persuaded that Mrs. Hutchinson is deluded by the devil. Manson, too, following his own revelations, stirred up his hearers, and as a result throats were cut. As Solomon said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Ann Hutchinson was banished from Massachusetts, but the Puritans still ended up falling to their own idolatry. Believing themselves no longer sinners in the wilderness but saints at ease in Zion, they imagined that they knew the truth and thus tried to cement their Israel into place. Eventually another generation rebelled against this idolatry in the name of the living spirit and set out once again in search of the Kingdom of love. Such awakenings inevitably lead, as they did in 1741 and 1802, to excesses of enthusiasm which threaten not just self-crucifixion but the disintegration of a whole culture. Romantic periods breed such antinomian excess. The command to follow ones heart wherever it might go very well might lead off the deep end. Camille Paglia has argued that romanticism almost always leads to decadence, that Rousseau with his noble savages was followed by the Marquis de Sade: The continuum of empathy and emotion leads to sex. Failure to realize that was the Christian error. The continuum of sex leads to sadomasochism. Failure to realize that was the error of the Dionysian Sixties. Dionysus expands identity but crushes individuals. There is no liberal dignity of the person in the Dionysian. The god gives latitude but no civil rights. The American romantic Ralph Waldo Emerson urged his readers to trust their own intuitions regardless of social conventions or the moral code. “Truth,” he wrote, “is handsomer than the affectation of love.” Love itself must be rejected “when it pules and whines.” At the execution of the antinomian fanatic John Brown, who had lead a raid on Harper’s Ferry after God told him to stir up a slave rebellion, Emerson said he had made the gallows “as glorious as the cross.” The somewhat less romantic Nathaniel Hawthorne muttered that no man was ever more justly hanged. But the antinomian strain is so strong in American culture that despite every return to structure, it survives to rise again. For every attempt to build a Constitution that will contain the excesses of the mob, there is the insistence that a Bill of Rights be included which insures that individualism is allowed to flourish. After all, hadn’t the leading Conservative, Barry Goldwater himself, said in 1964, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice?” The Republican party today reamains torn between a moralistic wing which would pass laws controlling everyone’s behavior and a libertarian wing which would abolish many of our laws. Pro-life crusaders torching abortion clinics, Oliver North refusing to obey the laws of Congress, and Timothy McVeigh’s bombing the federal building in Oklahoma City are as much in the antinomian tradition as Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King, Jr. Paul Hill, the Presbyterian minister who murdered a doctor who performed abortions, quoted the abolitionist John Brown at his trial. Ted Kazynski and Timothy McVeigh were two sides of the same coin. In America, even the so-called conservatives have a red streak of antinomianism in their souls. Charles Manson, then, is in good company. And what makes him an antinomian rather than simply a lawless thug and “mass murdering dog” is that his deeds and words are buttressed by an implicitly antinomian philosophy. He constructed a belief system and believed it and preached it. Another con-man could be easily ignored, but Manson has proven himself faithful to his beliefs. He is not faking them to get out; instead, his refusal to abandon them keeps him locked up tightly in jail. To begin with, and to take care of one of the most persistent misunderstandings about Manson, he was never convicted of killing Sharon Tate or the LaBiancas. He was never even charged much less convicted of any of the murders that occurred that August night in Los Angeles. The man who prosecuted Manson and put him away makes this quite clear in his book about the trial. In Helter Skelter, Vincent Bugliosi goes to great length to describe how he had to put together a circumstantial case in order to convict Manson, not of murder, but of “conspiracy to commit murder.” Even Bugliosi admits that Manson had no direct role in the killings. Instead, Bugliosi had to show that Manson somehow directed the killings and then stood back while his followers got their hands bloody. But the problem was, as Bugliosi admits, “Manson rarely gave direct orders.” Indeed, Manson rarely speaks in direct or clear statements. Instead , he is, said Rolling Stone’s David Felton, “a super acid rap – symbols, parables, gestures, nothing literal, everything enigmatic, resting nowhere, stopping briefly to overturn an idea, stand it on its head, then exploit the paradox.” He may never have actually told anyone to commit any of the murders. Bugliosi argued instead that Manson implied what he wanted done and that his followers inferred that intention. The command was never explicitly stated, and to this day Manson insists that his followers misunderstood and took literally what had been only another of his mind games. Though this mind game ended up in deadly reality, it was not the only such game played at the group’s desert hideout. Asked what they did every day at the ranch, Manson told Tom Snyder in a 1981 interview, “We played games, – forgot who we were, – went off into other dimensions.” They even had a name for such game-playing, “The Magical Mystery Tour.” But not everyone understood it as just a game. As Manson explained it: We speed down the highway in a 1958 automobile that won’t go but fifty, and an XKE Jaguar goes by, and I state to Clem, “Catch him, Clem, and we’ll rob him or steal all of his money,” you know. And he says, “What shall we do?” I say, “Hit him on the head with a hammer.” We Magical Mystery Tour it. Then Linda Kasabian gets on the stand and says: “They were going to kill a man, they were going to kill a man in an automobile. To you it seems serious. But like Larry Kramer and I would get on a horse and we would ride over to Wichita, Kansas, and act like cowboys. We make it a game on the ranch. The particular game that ended up in brutal murder has been described many times, but it bears repeating. That it was believable, even to these uneducated drop-outs from society, tells us as much about where the country was at in 1969 as it does about the particular consciousness of these individuals. It begins with the Beatles, and with the Beatles’ celebrated White Album that came out in 1968. In it, while tripping on acid, Manson heard the message that put it all together for him. There would be a war between blacks and whites; whites would lose. Manson and his followers would hide out in the desert when the slaughter took place. When it was over they would emerge from their hiding places and somehow convince the blacks that they should be made the leaders of this new world. He got all this not just from the Beatles but also from the Bible. Perhaps his most fascinating connection was to put side by side the Beatles song “Revolution 9″ with Revelations 9 from the Bible. Revelations, the final book of the New Testament, has always been the favorite of mystics because its wild apocalyptic imagery is so bluntly addressed not to the literal but to symbolic consciousness. For those who read scripture not as a moral code of social behavior nor as a literal history book but as a symbolic rendering of a reality out of time and out of mind, the book of Revelations is the proof text. No one can read John’s visions of the beasts with the seven heads and seven horns and believe that it is a rational, literal narrative. This is mysticism. Nevertheless, Manson seems to have taken the literal descriptions and compared them, as so many mystics have done so often in the past, to literal events and persons in his own world. This lead him to imagine that the predictions of Scripture were indeed addressed to his times. Revelations 9 begins with the fifth angel being given the key to the bottomless pit. Out of that pit comes, among other things, locusts “and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power.” These locusts, Manson reasoned, were insects, bugs. This was a hidden reference to the Beatles. They were ordered not to hurt the grass nor any people “who had not the seal of God on their foreheads.” The shapes of these locusts “were like unto horses prepared unto battle.” They were the four horsemen of the apocalypse out to wage the battle of armageddon. And though they had faces of men, says scripture, “they had hair as the hair of women.” Hard as it may be to believe now, the length of the Beatles’ hair was a scandal when they first arrived in the US in 1964. The breastplates described in scripture were their electric guitars, the “sound of their wings … as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle” was their music. Their “tails like unto scorpions” were the cords of their electric guitars, and “the stings in their tails” was their electrified power. This and more convinced Manson that the message was being sent from the Universe to him through the Beatles. So he turned from scripture to interpret the text of the lyrics of the album itself. There he found a consistent theme lurking between the otherwise cryptic lines and apparently random songs. Only on the surface was it all meaningless and random. Like life itself, it only appeared random to those who had not eyes to see. To Manson, the message was clear: What do you think it means? It’s the battle of Armageddon. It’s the end of the world. It was the Beatles’ Revolution 9 that turned me on to it. It predicts the overthrow of the establishment. The pit will be opened and that’s when it will all come down. A third of all mankind will die. “Rocky Raccoon” was the song that made the implicit connection to the black revolution. “Coon. You know. That’s a word they use for black people” Manson explained to Rolling Stone while he was still in jail waiting to be tried. “Blackbird” was a song calling on black people to “rise.” “Piggies” was a description of the rich establishment which would be overthrown. And “Helter Skelter” was a description of the battle of Armageddon itself, pure chaos and confusion. But “Revolution 9″ was the song that Manson listened to and talked about most. It’s a good 6 minutes of disorganized, disconnected noise, babies crying, machine guns going off, church hymns, car horns, whispered words, football yells, and the repeated chant of “number nine, number nine, number nine.” Even more than Revelations 9, it is so freefloating as to allow itself to be interpreted in almost any way the listener wants – or fears. As such, it serves the purpose of much great art, that it bypasses the logical mind and zaps straight into the subliminal, allowing a direct flow of associations from the subconscious. Listening to it, Manson was inspired. Manson’s crime, thus, was an act of imaginative literary criticism. Had he been a professor at Berkeley, rather than a hustler on the street, this reading might have won him tenure, a different sort of life term than the one he know serves. Did he believe it literally? How is one to tell? He may not have known himself. Here is where the line between the “real” world of cause and effect rational logic and the romantic realm of imagination disappears. Bugliosi, the prosecutor, is all logic and literalism, pure arminianism, pure Nurse Ratched. Rejecting Manson’s interpretation of “Helter Skelter” out of hand, he says “There was a simpler explanation. In England, home of the Beatles, helter skelter is another name for a slide in an amusement park.” But does it even matter whether Manson knew this? Symbols are always both their literal selves and the things they symbolize. The existence of a literal object does not by itself discredit any symbolic meanings that might be attached to it. Perhaps Manson was thinking along the lines of James Baldwin with his argument that blacks represent the subconscious and whites conscious rationality. Perhaps Manson’s race war between blacks and whites was itself a symbol of the war of the subconscious rising up to take over consciousness as Norman O. Brown said it must. Manson was asked if he thought the Beatles’ intended the meanings which he found in their texts. His answer speaks to this very problem of authorial intention: I think it’s a subconscious thing. I don’t know whether they did or not. But it’s there. It’s an association in the subconscious. This music is bringing on the revolution, the unorganized overthrow of the establishment. The Beatles know in the sense that the subconscious knows. Nor is it clear how Manson’s followers understood him. Perhaps, as he claimed, they took him more literally than he intended. Perhaps they heard things spoken through him which he never intented to say? It is clear that at least one of his followers, a girl named Ouish, saw that both interpretations were possible. She told her friend Barbara Hoyt, “We all have to go through Helter Skelter. If we don’t do it in our heads, we will have to do it physically. If you don’t die in your head, you’ll die when it comes down.” Here, the literal and the metaphysical meanings run on parallel tracks. Manson’s main defense is that his followers, sensing some frustration that his predicted Armageddon still had not occurred, set out on their own to get it started, to show the blacks how to do it, and to show the world their leader. According to Manson, they did it as if to say, “Here, we want you to see this guy, but I didn’t want to be seen.” Just as Lenin, unwilling to wait for history to achieve its inevitable Marxist end, had jump-started the world-wide proletariat revolution in pre-capitalist Russia, these zealots, utterly taken by Manson’s vision, wanted to bring their revolution quickly to life. After the Tate killings, when Susan Atkins proudly told him that they had just given him the world, Manson claims to have shouted, “You dumb fucking cunt, I already had the world. You just put me back in jail again.” Just as Luther was astonished and then horrified at the literal way in which the Anabaptists of Muenster tried to put the “Priesthood of all believers” into practice in the world, so others have been amused and amazed at the extent to which we Americans’ willingness to believe in a literal and material Kingdom Come remains part of our culture. Here too we Americans are the descendants not of the Lutheran but of the Calvinist Reformation heavily tainted by Anabaptist enthusiasm for the Coming Kingdom of Zion here in this world literally in the flesh. If Luther came up with the idea of a door, Calvin pushed it open just a crack, a crack through which poured many of the zealots who had been looking for a way to break out of the structures in Europe. The Kingdom of God in America has been the dream of enthusiasts since long before the nation began. Our antinomians are the ones who took the words seriously, who took them all the way beyond mere literary symbolism. Gypsy, one of Manson’s more articulate followers, put it thus: The Dream can be real when you see it, and when you live it. And that’s what the Beatles are singing about. They’re singing it’s all a dream, life passes by on a screen. They’re singing it, but they’re still asleep singing it. They haven’t woken up to the fact that what they’re singing about is more than a song. They could be living it…. Give up everything and follow me, Christ said, and we have given up a lot to follow our dream. There are other communes, but everyone has their old lady and their old man. It’s just the same old song in different costumes. There are no couples here. We are all just one woman and one man. “All you need is love.” We were the only ones gullible enough to take the Beatles seriously. We were the only people stupid enough to believe every word of it. Gypsy uses the word “stupid” but she doesn’t mean it in a negative sense. She means it in the sense of being innocent as babies, as being, to use a line from another Beatles song, “the fool on the hill” whom everyone laughs at but who sees it all. Here we have a 20th century American, like her predecessors, trying to convince worldly skeptics that in America the mystic promise really can be made flesh. It must be said that if Manson did not really want his followers to initiate the race war he called “Helter Skelter,” he had the responsibility to make that perfectly clear, but he didn’t. Instead, he allowed ambiguity and uncertainty to proliferate. He stayed within his own circle and did not take responsibility for the influence he was having on what was going on in other people’s circles. Like the cagey ex-con that he is, he played his cards close to his own chest. In the world of prison, that ethic works. In the outside world, there is a broader definition of responsibility. If Manson is to be held responsible for his ambiguous creation of a scenario which others then went and brought to life, what is to be said of anyone who writes a book or a movie or sings a song which then inspires others to go out and live its message? Is Marx to be held personally responsible for Stalin’s massacres? Should Orson Wells have been tried for the deaths of those people who killed themselves mistakenly thinking his “War of the Worlds” was a real alien invasion? Should the creators of violent television shows be jailed if a kid picks up a gun and imitates what he sees on TV? And what then of the Beatles themselves? Don’t they have some responsibility for what Manson heard in their music? If metaphorical obscurity combined with a violent suggestiveness are criminal activities, then the Old Testament itself deserves to be banned. The bloody account of the Children of Israel’s re-conquest of Canaan, with whole cities slaughtered and blood flooding up to the horses’ thighs. Or the text can be read as American Puritan minister Jonathan Edwards did as pure metaphor: There is no necessity in supposing that the word death, or the Hebrew word so translated, if used in the manner that has been supposed, to have been figurative at all. It does not appear but that this word, in its true and proper meaning might signify perfect misery and sensible destruction, though the word was also applied to signify something more external and visible. There are many words in our language … which are applied to signify external things,… yet these words do as truly and properly signify other things of a more spiritual, internal nature. Death, in this typological, symbolic reading of scripture, thus becomes a signifier of spiritual or ego death, the experience which was said to be a precursor of conversion. Jonah’s “death” in the belly of the whale and Christ’s death on the cross thus can be read metaphorically as well as literally. Those who misunderstood the spiritual reading and took the words literally have been responsible for millions of deaths over the 2000 years of Christian history. Perhaps this is why Plato wanted to banish all poets from his perfect Republic? The Beatles were poets too, creating images and messages which had repercussions. Like so many others in the Sixties, the four Beatles followed a familiar progression from innocence to romanticism to decadence and back again. In the innocent early sixties, they sang na�ve teeny-bopper love songs like “I want to hold your hand.” As they and the decade aged, they toked deeper into dope, let their hair grow longer, and played music further and further out there. They remained enormously popular because their audience was undergoing the same transitions they were. They evolved along with the baby boomer population they were playing for. “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club band” with its Woodstock fun and happiness approach to the drug culture was perfect for 1967. “The White Album” with its faceless cover and its demonic possibilities spoke to the madness of 1968 and 1969. “Revolution 9″ especially was a bonfire in a tinder dry forest. Its violent associations, provocative noises, and complete incomprehensibility played to the heightened paranoia of the time. As the Stones had sung “Sympathy for the Devil” during the worst moments of Altamont, so the Beatles, by putting together a series of images upon which frightened people could project their worst unconscious fears, had to be at least partially responsible for the chaos that followed. It is perhaps not a coincidence that their next album, Abbey Road, was a total reversion, a plea to “Get back, Jo Jo, Get back to where you once belonged” and “Let it Be.” As David Felton wrote in Rolling Stone’s The Mindfuckers, “I just can’t help thinking: If Abbey Road had come out sooner, maybe Sharon Tate would be alive today.” If this is so, then Manson’s crime was that he was believed, that he never clearly designated the line between reality and imagination, between the fantasy and the deed, the literal and the symbolic. In that ambiguous realm, he moved from what we consider rational to the irrational. He abandoned all civilized self-control and became the complete antinomian, outside the structures of the legal and the mental law. At the trial, Manson’s followers certainly claimed they were doing his bidding. He had said to them, “Just do what you have to,” and they had had a pretty good idea what they thought he meant. Manson’s proven presence at the LaBianca’s residence, having driven the killers there, undercuts whatever claim he continues to make that he was an innocent whose followers took it upon themselves entirely on their own to begin the slaughter. But Manson’s repeated claim that he “broke no law of man or God” is not entirely without basis either. For in the prison world in which he grew up and lived most of his life, people are responsible for their own deeds – Period! The act of murder is what is punished, not some vague indirect suggestion by a third party. “I take responsibility for my acts,” he insists. “Every man must take responsibility for his acts. We each live within our own circles.” To this day, Manson still does not understand how the law can hold him responsible for murders that other people actually committed. His stubborn refusal to confess his guilt, as misguided as it may be, is at the very least an honest statement of his beliefs and not an artful dodge. He really believed it relevant that, as he shouted at Diane Sawyer,”I wasn’t directing traffic, lady.” Indeed, that is the heart of the enigma of Manson. That is why back in 1969 and still today, so many people find something to admire in him. Bugliosi and other spokesmen for society have tried at times to say that Manson is little more than another two-bit thug, a thief, a pimp, a hustler out for himself, a murderous con filled with uncontrollable rage. It is too neat and too well-known a box. There is more going on. Manson’s true crime, and the reason he will remain in jail until his death, is that he didn’t just blur, he erased the line between reality and imagination. He crossed over to the other side, completely outside society. Most of us are like the little boy crying at the corner because, he sobs, “I want to run away from home, but my parents won’t let me cross the street.” Manson demonstrated that the street could be crossed, that society’s rules and moral codes, even its prohibitions against murder, are artificial constructs and not to be idolized. Once the human mind is finally liberated from the rituals and traditions, the taboos and inhibitions, which have bound the web of human culture together, anything becomes possible. To some this is the meaning of insanity, to believe things outside the circle of what society allows. “Crazy” becomes a label applied to those who don’t agree with the consensus. But the need to break the bonds of the society’s programming requires that occasionally people step outside the bounds of what is allowed and dare the wilderness, at whatever risk. Says Manson, “It’s so abstract that someone has to carry insanity. Someone’s got to be insane. Some one’s got to be the bad guy.” Looking at the world around him, Manson was not always convinced that he was the only one. Acknowledging the disintegration of the old paradigm and the resulting confusion since the sixties, he recently remarked, “A long time ago being crazy meant something. Nowadays everybody’s crazy.” Individuals have crossed that line before, many times, but what Manson also did, and what he was convicted for, was, like Socrates, corruption of the innocent. He spun the tales that they believed. His imagination created the constructions which they then acted upon. There is no evidence that Manson ever said directly that his followers should actually kill anyone. What he claims, and what seems believable, is that they believed he wanted them to kill and, freed from the usual inhibitions which would keep middle-class American kids from slaughtering strangers, that they acted out his fantasy and did not need his direct command. Setting aside as much as possible the horror of the Tate/LaBianca murders, it is instructive to look into Manson’s belief system for evidence of why he was believed. According to Bugliosi, part of Manson’s charismatic appeal was “his ability to utter basic truisms to the right person at the right time.” What were these truisms? Why did they work? What we find when we do take Manson’s own words seriously is that he had managed to absorb much of the developing philosophy of the sixties. In some way, he was the final extension of the mind’s true liberation, of the ideas of the Civil Rights movement, of the white radicals of SDS, of the acid twins Timothy Leary and Baba Ram Das, of the classical philsopher and author of Love’s Body Norman O. Brown. What he said seemed to make sense to so many innocents because these same ideas were running all around them. Manson is no intellectual in the conventional sense. He is at best self-educated but not at all bookish, having spent his entire life, from childhood up, behind bars. He has a sharp mind and has paid attention to the world around him. But he never had much opportunity to compare notes or to talk with others about ideas. He was like someone who learned French entirely out of books but never heard the language spoken. When he emerged from prison in 1967, in the summer of love, his language and his approach were just bizarre enough to seem to be a part of the multi-faceted counter-culture. And his beliefs seemed like the culmination of a decade of antinomianism, the logical extension of what had been going down, not just in the Sixties, but throughout American history. We can see here why so many people in the counter-culture at first embraced Manson as one of their own, why the underground press treated him as a martyr to the cause. By taking on so much of the many strains of the sixties, “Manson” became a symbol of the hippyfreak fighting back against the machine. And the immediate assumption was, as it was when a black man was accused of rape, that this was an obvious frame, that Manson was being made a scapegoat by a crumbling establishment terrified that it was losing control over its children. There were even a few, who had already gone over the edge, who assumed that he was indeed the perpetrator of the crime and congratulated him for striking a blow in a revolutionary war. Bernadine Dohrn of SDS, when she heard the news, said “Offing those rich pigs with their own forks and knives, and then eating a meal in the same room. Far out! The Weathermen dig Charles Manson.” “Yippee” Jerry Rubin, who had rejected his parents’ liberal rationalism for the spontaneous emotions of the crowd, said, “I fell in love with Manson the first time I saw his cherub face and sparkling eyes on TV.” In the romantic revolt of the nineteenth-century, Ralph Waldo Emerson had proclaimed the superiority of individual intuition over the corpse-cold tea of rationality and logic, and he had urged himself and others to be totally self-reliant, to trust the self. What if this spirit you trust is from the Devil, not from God, asked his orthodox aunt, Mary Moody Emerson? “I do not believe it is,” he replied, “but if so I will live then from the devil.” What is in the self is paramount. It and not the combine must be allowed to direct traffic. He proclaimed that reality exists as consciousness and not as matter, and thus truth is to be sought not in science but in the subjective intuition of each mind. Each of us, he said, if we dig down through the layers of culture and belief that has been accumulating over the millennia will find a universal consciousness we all share and from which we all come. Therefore, he called on every free person to “speak your latent conviction and it shall be the universal sense.” Walt Whitman read Emerson and was inspired to believe that his heart’s truth was indeed this universal truth, that when he said “I” he was both “Walt Whitman, a kosmos,” and “of Manhattan the son.” He was a specific individual in the material world, but his voice was also a voice that came from the infinite. As such, he was beyond the moral law, beyond even the Victorian era’s horror at anything sexual, much less his open and flaunted homosexuality. He was part and parcel of the universal mind and thus beyond good and evil. A baby in the cradle, two teenagers in the bushes, a suicide lying dead on the floor were equally innocent in his eyes. The 1960s have been called neo-transcendental because in many ways the ideology of the era was an echo of the transcendentalism of Emerson and Whitman’s day. Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist minister, opened the door a crack when he stood up in the name of righteousness against the laws that defended segregation. He was willing to proclaim in the name of God that these laws were immoral. How did he know? He felt it in his heart. But he denied that he was an antinomian. He was after all, a Baptist, in the historic tradition of his namesake, Martin Luther. He spoke from within a historic tradition tied to the morality of the Bible and his Protestant faith. He may have been outside the circle of American law, but he was still well within the circle of Western cultural beliefs. Calvin had once before opened that door a crack and the result was the Puritan peopling of America. Now through that same door there streamed an entire generation of baby boomers who did not identity with the Baptist tradition, who in fact identified with no tradition, who had no grounding, and thus were truly antinomian and entirely on their own. Norman O. Brown’s call to suspend rational common sense and follow the consciousness of the body spoke to these rebels. Timothy Leary and Baba Ram Das and the psychedelic experience heightened the sense of being outside the normal realms of consciousness and in touch with higher truths. The radicals of SDS attacked American capitalism and militarism and racism and imagined themselves capable of superior insight into the political problems of humankind. Even the grunts in Vietnam stepped outside the combine and gave themselves over almost completely to the wilderness outside the civilized laws they had been brought up to respect. Into all this, Charles Manson emerged in 1967 and soaked up the ideas then prevalent and articulated them with a voice which commanded attention. One of his followers tried to explain that he wasn’t brainwashed by Manson but impressed by him: “The words that would come from Manson’s mouth would not come from inside him, [they] would come from what I call the Infinite.” Just like Walt Whitman, Manson believes that his “I” was more than the limited ego of one particular small time hoodlum. When he says “I” he means the same thing that Whitman meant when he began his “Song of Myself,” with “I celebrate myself, and sing myself.” The initial reaction of most people first reading this is, “what a conceited, egocentric ass!” But further reading reveals that his celebration is not of Walt Whitman of Manhattan the son, but Walt Whitman, spokesman for the Kosmos. When Walt Whitman the particular human opened his throat, the voice that came out came from the infinite. His was the “latent conviction” which Emerson proclaimed would be “the universal sense,” a voice inside each and every one of us. This voice exists not in rational consciousness but in the subconscious, below the petty games we play. Whitman was no dualist, a finite sinful human out of touch with truth. He was a pure romantic, a monist, convinced that what he felt in his heart was one with the falling rain, the blowing clover, the rising sun. You hear this same conceit in much of Manson’s rhetoric and behavior. Where does your music come from, he is asked? His response is to stand up, say “It comes from this,” and then go into a dance of flinging arms and swinging legs, a whirling dervish of energy. His spirit, he is saying, is the basic spirit from which all life emanates. He taps into that spirit. “I respect the will of God, son,” he says to Geraldo Rivera. “What will is that?” “The will of God.” And then he goes into his dance again humming and chanting along with it. “Whatever you want to call it, Call it Jesus. Call it Mohammed. Call it Nuclear Mind. Call it Blow the World up. Call it your heart. Call it whatever you want to call it. It’s still music to me. It’s there. It’s the will of life.” That this will is also his will is implicit in what follows: “They crowd me in,” he tells Rivera, “and I’ve got this little space. I live in the desert. I live in the mountains, man. I’m big. My mind is big, but everyone’s trying to crowd me down and push me down and make me something they need me to be. But that’s not me.” Manson calls himself Jesus Christ, but, like Emerson, he also says that every man is Jesus Christ. Every man has the original energy within him. “I am everything, man,” he says, and he means it. But he does not bother to explain when the “I” of his discourse is the person, Charles Manson, or the Universal eye that is the will of God. Thus he tells Rivera, “If I could kill about fifty million of you I might save my trees and my air and my water and my wildlife.” Taking him literally, and hoping for a good violent soundbite, Rivera responds, “You’re going to kill fifty million people?” Manson’s answer is instructive. It shows both what he is trying to say and his inability to communicate it. “I didn’t say I would kill anything,” he protests. “I’m reaping the head in thought. I’m Jesus Christ whether you want to accept it or not… I’m reaping it in thought. It’s a thought, a thought,” He taps his fingers on his head to emphasize his point. “Do you see what I’m saying? In other words, the whole world is a thought, and I am in the thought of Peace-on-Earth.” The point is not simply that Manson is speaking metaphorically. He is doing that, but he is also saying that everything is a metaphor, that our very lives, our bodies, our surroundings, are metaphor; that we live in an illusion if we think this material reality is real. Like Emerson and the earlier romantics, he is a philosophical idealist. He believes that what is ultimately real is not matter but consciousness. This whole thing we call reality, or the universe, is an illusion, a dream. What we call God is the dreamer. And our bodies are no more real than are the strange beings that flit through our dreams at night. The whole world is a thought, and each person’s perceptions are but a series of thought within the framework of the larger thought. As Manson once put it, “everyone’s playing a different game with the thought.” All of the many perceptions of this existence are but dreams within a larger dream. This is where Manson is coming from when he says to the court and the straight world, “I don’t live in your dream.” This is why he says “You’ve got my body in a cell… but I’m walking in forever, man.” He is freer, he claims, to wander among the mountain in his jail cell than if he were struggling to survive in the day-to-day realities of the outside world. From his perspective, to believe that this physical world is the ultimate reality is to be trapped in the illusion; to be aware of the cosmic mind is to be liberated from the illusion. That is where all the emphasis on life as game-playing becomes important. It is not a question of being brainwashed by the Capitalists’ game, as the Marxists imagine, but of being brainwashed by any game, Capitalist, Marxist, Buddhist, scientific, you name it. All of rational human consciousness is a walking dream from which people need to be awakened. We are all, as writers in the Sxities kept saying, in a movie, trapped in a movie. And the first thing we need is to realize it so we might try to break out of the movie or, perhaps, enjoy it more fully, more consciously, more completely and honestly. The key to this notion is the same as the key to most poetry; it is the idea of symbolic consciousness. To realize, as Emerson said, that “we are symbols and we inhabit symbols,” is to take the first step out of the common sense perception of reality into a transcendent consciousness. Here, Manson sounds eerily like Norman O. Brown, whom he may have never read. But Brown’s words were abroad in the sixties; he could have picked them up anywhere. Rolling Stone’s article on Manson, written in 1969 and reprinted in Mindfuckers, puts quotes by Brown and Manson back to back. “Words are symbols,” Manson told Rolling Stone, “All I’m doing is jumbling the symbols in your brain. Everything is symbolic. Symbols are just connections in your brain. Even your body is a symbol.” In Love’s Body, Brown writes, “The body is not to be understood literally. Everything is symbolic, everything including the human body.” And elsewhere in the book he writes, “To make in ourselves a new consciousness, an erotic sense of reality, is to become conscious of symbolism. Symbolism is mind making connections (correspondences) rather than distinctions (separations).” Manson saw the world as a symbolic manifestation, not a literal reality. It is an illusion, a mask, and the things within this illusion point beyond themselves to some transcendent presence. Everything from scripture to sex is a symbolic message from the divine trying to tell us something. We are surrounded by messages we cannot read and locked into game-playing roles we do not understand, all at the mercy of some cosmic game player. So in America we continue to have periods of awakening in which people realize that they have been playing parts which are not divine, which are in fact stupid and gross and evil. They awake from their sleep and determine to break away from the old world with its corruptions and begin anew, to recreate the garden of Eden in a new world. They imagine that their reborn consciousness is the mind of God, and if that is so, it empowers them beyond any imagination. Throughout the sixties, this same message was repeated again and again. We are all playing games. We are all stuck in a movie. We are all conditioned to believe in things which are not true. We are all socially constructed, not essential, not in control. Some would replace the old conditioning with new conditioning, a better jail with a kinder jailer. The true Children of the Sixties, however, unlike the Marxists in SDS, did not embrace some new Egypt but kept on sojourning toward the Promised land outside of the cages, outside of any jail. This is who Manson said he was, a Christ, the person who had broken through, who was free. Like Ken Kesey’s Randle P. McMurphy, another Christ, he had never been under the control of society. Ironically, being in jail, where they did not bother to educate or socialize him, he remained free of all the institutions by which the state brainwashes its other children. He received, as did McMurphy, another kind of conditioning, for sure. But it was different, so he came out different and knew it. He knew it was all a sham and roles we pretend to play, and he believed this insight set him apart, put him on a higher plane. Rationality, he said, is a false god. It is part of the game playing of the world. The whole rational logical structure of the world is false and the people who play its games without realizing it are fools. So he had little respect for the law, for the courts, for the lawyers, for any representative of the establishment. His attack on the law had its parallel in Love’s Body: Reik, in a moment of apocalyptic optimism, declares that ‘The enormous importance attached by criminal justice to the deed as such derives from a cultural phase which is approaching its end.’ A social order based on the reality principle, a social order which draws the distinction between the wish and the deed, between the criminal and the righteous, is still the kingdom of darkness. The interconnectedness of all things in the realm behind the veil means that everything is dependent upon all, that there is no individual consciousness, hence no individual freedom, and therefore no individual responsibility. To be, as romantics imagine, in the divine consciousness, to participate in the godhead, is to be as Manson said, “inside of you. I’m inside every one of you. It’s beyond good and evil.” To be romantic is to imagine that one exists in a realm of perfect Oneness in the garden, not in the fallen world of alienation, duality, and separateness. The fall, original sin, dualism, and all that belonged to the orthodox and neo-orthodox, the over-30s who thought themselves still in Egypt or the wilderness, not at ease in Zion in the promised land. At its core, the consciousness of the counter-culture, so evident at Woodstock, was a belief that they had somehow passed over into the garden and set their souls free, that they had left the fallen world of dualism and sin and passed into a new dispensation in which dualism had been overcome. It is perhaps the highest vision of the oldest American dream, its most powerful inducement, but also its most dangerous delusion. To find that one mind behind the dualities of life, to find that cosmic center, that essence that LSD advocates like Tim Leary and Baba Ram Das also thought they found, was to find a place beyond good and evil. Manson believed he had found that one mind, tripping away on acid, and hence he had turned his back on all of the false constructs of the language of the world, all of the artificially constructed binaries. Manson’s message then to the hippies he picked up along the road was one they were ready to hear, that the rational world they had dropped out of was false and that new possibilities existed once they broke free of that mindset. “People only love each other in books,” he said, “you can’t love each other in reality because you’re all trapped in books, locked up in wars. You are all locked up in the second world war…. I’m trying to unlock that war.” As the war raged in Vietnam, with the generals and politicians all projecting Hitler’s invasion of Poland onto Ho Chi Minh, this made sense. With segregation still rampant in the south, racism a curse throughout the nation, the cities burning in yearly riots, leaders assassinated, nuclear Armageddon threatened, the need to break away from the old games and enter a new dispensation was clear. Manson’s songs are perhaps the best example of this message. “Look at your game girl,” the song that Axl Rose made infamous, is Manson trying to convince a young girl that it is all “a mad delusion,/ living in that confusion./Frustration and doubt./Can you ever live without your game?” So everything she is is a game, and she needs to realize that “You can tell those lies baby, but you’re only fooling you.” Every adolescent, every human being, has doubts which reach far into the soul. In the Sixties, a whole generation going through an intense identity crisis, faced doubts about the game we had all been taught. Manson’s message was not unique, but communicated one on one to young, uneducated drop outs it came across as cosmically original. One other song, “Ego is a too much thing,” also brings down to a basic level a complex idea which was very much part of the mindset of the era. They have placed rationality, your reason, in control, and shoved all the love into the back, “And they call it your subconscious.” The computer up front demands to be in control; it demands to be accepted as you. It “makes you want to jump on a band and fight,/And you can’t stand not to be right.” It makes you “afraid you are gonna act like a clown/And you get made when somebody puts you down.” The answer to the problem of ego being a “too much thing”, is to lose your ego: “Your certainty turns to doubt/And then you start flipping out,/And then you ease on out of your mind.” To lose one’s ego is to lose one’s common sense view of the world, to leave rationality behind. Included in all that is whatever social construct one was brought up to believe, be it Mormon Republicanism or Jewish liberalism or Roman Catholicism or scientific atheism. It does not matter. Each and every world view, conservative or radical, is just another world view, just another game. This anti-rationality therefore lends itself very easily to relativism, to the idea that all belief systems are equally valid, or invalid, but equally whatever value systems are. They are all “just games.” Or as Manson once succinctly summed up the spirit of relativism, “Shit’s like sugar to flies.” And the games all take place in an illusion of which even the concept of time plays a role. It is part of Manson’s whole conception that the normal cause and effect relationships in which we all believe, including time, are themselves part of the illusion, part of the fallen world, not the Godhead from which it springs. There is only, he keeps saying, an eternal NOW. In this, he is saying nothing that mystics haven’t said since the beginning of time. But in his mouth, the idea has important legal implications. If there is no time, there is no cause and effect; if there is no cause and effect, what ever he might have said was in a separate sphere from whatever his followers might have done. The circumstantial cause and effect connections that Bugliosi carefully put together have no meaning. “The idea,” says follower Leslie Van Houghton in a recent cellblock interview, “was to let time disappear. There was no time.” Asked by Diane Sawyer what he expected would happen after he told the girls “you know what to do,” Manson answered, “I don’t live in anticipation, woman. I live in now.” As a capstone, there is the theory of language. “The Fall is into language,” said Brown, and Manson echoed that idea too. He blamed his conviction on the way the prosecutors “had to use catchy little words to make it into a reality, like hippie cult leader.” In such ways, the illusions with which we live in the world are created and sustained by language. Language is the instrument of the illusion, of the fall. Said Manson, That’s what Jesus Christ taught us, words kill. They’ve filled every living thing with death. His disciples betrayed him by writing it down. Once it was written, it was as dead as a tombstone….They killed him with every word in the new Testament. Every word is another nail in the cross, another betrayal disguised as love. Every word is soaked with his blood. He said, “go, do thou likewise.” He didn’t say write it down. The whole fucking system is built on those words – the church, the government, war, the whole death trip. The original sin was to write it down. If the fall is into language, then words are the evil of the world. Words are the tools of deception and control, the way in which the illusion is maintained. They must be used carefully, if at all. Or they must be discredited to liberate people from the illusion that words actually “mean” anything. What, after all, does it even mean to “mean?” It’s all just words trying to fool us into believing we know not what. The way, finally, to escape from the illusion was a surrendering of the letter and the acceptance of some larger vision. This could be achieved by breaking the hold of language, the letter, which keeps us chained to the illusion of the rational. Once one realizes that words are just sounds and then passes beyond the illusion of inherent meaning, escape becomes possible. In the “Bug Letter,” written from his cell, Manson provided an example of this process: To write I must slow my mind down. I’m not human in my ways of thought and I don’t want to be programmed by schools of thought what man is or what man is not, woman, etc. “nature” has a balance. I want it like a hunger. I learn a universe in a look, in a flash. I could slow down and spell the word over and over until it hangs in my thought pattern and holds little bits and pieces of power. I try to clear all patterns out of my mind to where I can become a tree or woods, a mountain, a world, a universe. Sparks in my mind become the only pattern I crave. The pattern here is one that had been part of Manson’s Protestant background for centuries, a death and rebirth sequence; it was to be born again. He himself often told the story of his own death and rebirth experience in the desert. He even used the scriptural language to define it. About the kids on his ranch, he said, “I turned ‘em loose. They became free in their minds. We started a rebirth movement, a rebirth in Jesus Christ. It’s a Holy War really.” But so ignorant was he of the larger historical framework and its wider influence over so much of American culture that he once charged Jimmy Carter and the religious right with stealing his idea, as if he had thought it up first. This explains his fixation with death and the need to die. This is the meaning of the song “Cease to Exist” which he wrote for Dennis Wilson and the Beach Boys and which they put out as a mere seduction song, “Cease to Resist.” But as so often throughout the history of Christian hermeneutics, the question of literal and metaphorical readings is constantly a problem. To have stated clearly a distinction between the two would have been to embrace another duality. So Manson talked death to his followers, some of whom never did understand that there was even a question of whether he meant literal or spiritual death. Yet, literal death is important as a way of talking about spiritual death. They really cannot be divided. The death of Jesus of Nazereth the incarnate human on the cross is a necessary symbol of the spiritual death of the soul that is conversion. We humans love ourselves, our bodies, our existence. We don’t want to die. So this fear of death becomes an image or shadow of the greater fear of spiritual death, of eternal death – “To die and know it! This is it. This is the black widow, death.” Fear and paranoia thus become a part of the package. When the old Adam starts to die, he panics trying to hold onto the old consciousness as it disintegrates in his mind leaving him exposed and naked. When the old certainties disintegrate, anything suddenly becomes possible, absolutely anything. Images of the devil, of hell, of aliens farming humans for consumption on their home world, you name it. Manson’s and the Beatles’ message then to “let go and surrender to the void. It is not dying” was a push into a terrifying experience. To realize that one is only playing a game, and then to watch oneself playing that game, and then to watch oneself watching oneself playing that game, is a terrifying fade back into the infinite upon infinite layers of consciousness until one’s mind is as Jonathan Edwards said “swallowed up in God.” Thus all the emphasis on exposing game-playing that one reads throughout the sixties finally culminated here. We have all been programmed by the combine. We need to realize that we are programmed, that we dont know why we believe what we believe or do what we do, and we need to escape from those illusions. This is true liberation from all of the games that have been laid down for thousands of years of civilized history. Growing up in prison, Manson had experienced a different reality, a different world entirely from that on the outside. In prison, little tolerance is shown for the pretensions that so often mark personalities in the outside world. There each individual is forced back on his or her own final line of defenses, reduced, like the soldiers in Vietnam, to an elemental struggle for survival that has no patience for the petty games that people play. “In the pen you learn this, ” Manson told one interviewer, “don’t lie. I stand on my own. Not many people in your world can do that. I didn’t realize this at that particular time. I didn’t realize how weak and mindless you people really are.” When he got out, Manson simply did not comprehend that people on the outside really believe their own movies. He had no idea that people actually took their own games seriously. This may explain part of why he allowed the game to get out of hand. At a rare moment in his 1986 parole hearing, when asked if he felt any responsibility for the murders, Manson responded, Sure, I influenced a lot of people unbeknownst to my own understanding of it. I didn’t understand the fears of people outside. I didn’t understand the insecurities of people outside. I didn’t understand people outside. And a lot of things I said and did affected a lot of people in a lot of different directions. It wasn’t intentional. It wasn’t with malice aforethought. But a few seconds later when asked if he also felt “remorse,” which presumes guilt, Manson sat for a long time in silence before saying, in resignation, “we reach an impasse here, man.” One of Manson’s proudest boasts is that he always spoke what he called the “truth”: “I walk a real road. I am a real person. I’m not a phony. I don’t put on no airs. I say what I think.” What he meant by this is that he does not lie, that he insists on telling it as he believes it. In the parole hearing, he knew what the parole officers wanted to hear. He could have lied; he probably could have even lied successfully. He didn’t. Asked what he might do if he was let out, would a hustling con have told the parole board, “I’ll cheat. I’ll steal. I’ll do whatever I have to do to survive, and that’s a reality”? But even in simple questions, when pressed for a yes or a no whether he had a family still waiting for him on the outside, he answered “I can’t explain it to you man. It doesn’t have a yes or no.” All he has is what is in his mind. For him to give that up, to lie, would be to surrender the void back to the world, which is what society wants. Instead, he says to the court, “I showed you some strength. I haven’t surrendered to this by copping out to yours or telling tales or playing weak…. You’ve done everything you can to me, and I’m still here.” This is part of the voice from the Infinite which Clem was drawn to. It was a large part of Manson’s appeal for kids trying to escape from a sham suburban world of lies wrapped around lies wrapped around lies. “Manson is the only person I ever met who just tells you the truth and doesn’t even understand someone having bad feelings about it,” said Gypsy. “It’s hard to live with a person who tells the truth all the time. Why? Because lots of time we don’t want to hear the truth. Manson knows the truth because he knows nothing; he knows the power of an empty head.” But the ultimate irony is that in knowing the power of an empty head and how to use it, Manson also knew the destructive force of a whole civilization of empty heads all playing mindless games. He preached death to liberate his followers from the games of the old culture, games which were leading to wars, famine, oppression, the destruction of the planet. But the death of the old game-playing ego was only a prelude to the rebirth of the new spirit. Manson wasn’t just a tree-shaker; he was also a jelly maker. And it is in his horrifyingly honest articulation of his solution to humanity’s dilemma that he fulfills Joan Didion’s darkest paranoid fear, that out of this army of lost children would arise some fascist leader appealing to the cosmic mind inside everyone for which he was the self-appointed spokesman. “Whoever is going to put order into the world,” Manson tried to explain to Geraldo Rivera, “has to stumble across Hitler.” Order is the answer to disorder. If the planet is to be saved from the rapacious destruction of human civilization, then, according to Manson, someone needs to “put order into the world.” Manson has even set up his own organization, with its own webpage (www.atwa.com) for this purpose. ATWA stands for Air, Trees, Water, Animals, the life which will be saved when he re-organizes our helter-skelter madness. Asked to explain the swastika he has cut into his forehead, Manson said, “How do you have Peace on Earth? How do you communicate to a whole group of people. You stand up and take the worst fear symbol there is and say, there, now I’ve got your fear. And your fear is your power and your power is your control. I’m your king of this whole planet. I’m gonna rule this world through ATWA. I want this world cleaned up.” But the swastika is more than a symbol of fear. It is also a symbol of Hitler’s particular attempt to put order into the world, an order that included each race staying within its own circle. Manson is definitely both anti-semitic and racist, to say nothing of sexist. He freely admits it. His idea of order is in fact more like that of the pre-war generations with which he identifies, than of the flower-children of the sixties. The older generation had experienced the horror of the depression and the world war and wanted security. So did Manson. His ideas of social and political order were very old fashioned. But he also admitted that he preferred the music of Frank Sinatra to the mayhem of Rock and Roll or even the Beatles. He wanted to overcome the chaos around him and restore a sense of order. Manson once warned his parole board that “If I’m not paroled, and I don’t get a chance to get back on top of this dream, you’re gonna lose all your money, your farms aren’t going to be able to produce. You’re gonna win Helter Skelter. You’re gonna win your reality.” Whether this “I” refers to Manson the man or the universal “I” locked within each of us in the subconsciousness is, as usual, not at all clear. And it makes a difference. But in either case, Helter Skelter is the confusion of a world gone crazy and in need of order. “This dream” is the consciousness of mainstream society which is leading humanity into chaos and suicide. According to Manson, only the liberation of the voice of the unconsciousness collective mind to organize all the unconscious minds into one big consciousness can change the dream in such a way as to prevent mankind from destroying the planet. When Manson argued that his consciousness came from a deeper place “beyond good and evil,” he at least conjured up in the minds of more learned people an historic parallel. Nietzche, who used that phrase in a famous book, was also the product of a romantic movement, the culmination of nineteenth-century German mysticism. His theory of the Superman who existed outside of the merely artifically constructed codes of bourgois culture inspired the Nazis. Like Nietzche, Manson saw that the codes of society are artificial, contingent, and unworthy of respect. Like Nietzche, he believed himself capable of freeing himself from them and living on a higher plane. He saw the void, but rather than surrender to it, he believed he had what it took to fill the emptiness with a new and better structure. Joan Didion was right. At the end of the antinomian Summer of Love, 1967, a rough beast was slouching toward Bethlehem. A potential Hitler was organizing his small but faithful army. More importantly, if it hadn’t been Manson, it would have been someone else. All of those ideas were out there waiting to be brought together and applied. Romanticism, as Paglia warns, ends in decadence which then leads to Fascism. The Sixties themselves, though they began on a note of triumphant liberation ended up liberating too much too soon. Like the peasants at Muenster in 1535, the counter-culture went too far too fast, not just ahead of society but ahead of itself. Today, in the 90s, post-modern deconstructionists carry on where Manson left off. In light of all this, for reporters to harp on the literal facts of who did what when during the murders often seems as absurd as showing “Reefer Madness” to High School kids to keep them from smoking pot. Once again, the adults haven’t a clue. Until they address Manson’s issues, they won’t have any credibility either. Someone needs to address these questions in language which people understand. Otherwise, kids will turn to the Mansons among us for their answers. “A lot of the kids,” says Manson, “never met anybody who told them the truth. They never had anybody who was truthful to them. You know, they never had anybody that wouldn’t lie or snake or play old fake games. So all I did was I was honest with a bunch of kids.” That is a powerful indictment of our society. However appalled one might be by the literal reality of Manson, it is almost impossible not to also take him on the level of symbolic consciousness. “They don’t want to ever let me go,” he explains, “because they feel secure as long as they’ve got me locked up in that cell. They feel like, yeah, they’ve got THE MAN locked up right there in a box.” Perhaps this is only literal; or perhaps Manson has taken over the role in society that black people used to play, the symbol of the terrors of the subconscious. We need to keep our rational consciousness safe from the chaos on the other side. So we lock up the subconscious under what Freud called the censor. And through the power of symbolic consciousness we imagine that by segregating black people, or locking Charlie Manson in a cell, we have the irrational forces of the subconscious under our rational control. We try to keep the conditioning going. We try to make the combine run more smoothly by adjusting everyone’s programming so everyone will think and behave as they should. And yet the secondary meanings are always there. The literal continues to point to the symbolic for anyone able to read the text. Even when, perhaps especially when it is least intended, the ironic meanings bring us up short. At his last parole hearing, Manson was of course rejected. The parole board went through a long explanation why and listed a series of problems. The final Problem, number five, reads as if a line from Kesey’s Cuckoo’s Nest, “The prisoner has not completed the necessary programming which is essential to his adjustment and needs additional time to gain such programming.” To which Manson has the final word, “Can’t you see I’m out, man? Can’t you see I’m out? Can’t you see I’m free?” The light at the end of the tunnel may have been the metaphor for Vietnam, for the hawks victory, for the doves a train coming at us. But both were wrong. As Michael Herr showed in Dispatches, the war was but one more symbolic rendering of the escape of consciousness from structure to the wilderness. The light at the end of the long dark tunnel of the Sixties turned out to be, not victory, not a train, not the shining beauty of some Garden of Eden, but the gleam in Charlie Manson’s eyes.
The American Meaning of Charley Manson- David R. Williams