Charles Manson Keeps Tight Hold On Hippie ‘Family’
Friday, February 27th, 1970
LOS ANGELES, Feb. 27 – Three months in Los Angeles county jail have only increased the hold of Charles Manson over his hippie “family,” who are accused with him of murdering at least seven persons last year. Mr. Manson, aged 35, led a nomadic clan of boys and girls — but mostly girls — on a dark pilgrimage through the drug-high wastes of California’s youth underground that led from Haight-Ashbury to an abandoned movie ranch in Death Valley.
There the family was arrested. But many of its members, unconnected with murder or mayhem, remained at liberty. Today they are still a “‘tribe,” living together in two mattress-furnished run-down houses in the San Fernando Valley — a vast residential offshoot of Los Angeles. From this headquarters they are manipulating, with unlooked – for expertise, a booming Charlie Manson industry.
Already Mr. Manson has been swallowed up in the California mythology. The horror of the Sharon Tate killings has faded, or palled, and the young, long-haired ex-con, who spent 22 years of his life in jail, seems about as real to “Middle America” as Charlie Brown. Indeed, the more one hears of him, the more he seems be acting out a sick type of comic-strip fantasy.
Mr. Manson composed and recorded some songs before arrest, so the gang are arranging a fat contract. He is defending himself, so they act as his legal runners. He has become an instant celebrity, whose raison d’etre is simply to be talked about, so they act as agents and go-between with the eager army of lawyers and entrepreneurs.
Each time Mr. Manson appears in court, his beard now shaved, a gaggle of 20 to 30 girls are there to offer succour and support. They influence family members in jail through lawyers who pass on the master’s word. Mr. Manson has a forceful, belligerent personality, and his new glory is attracting other alienated youngsters who see him as a martyr of the youth revolution, rejected and despised (but through his own choice) by the Establishment.
And all that spilled blood? It’s not quite real. They’ve seen better massacres any day on the television. Illusion and reality fuse in California’s drug subculture. Pot, mescaline, acid (LSD) and the other hallucinogens increase suggestibility — say medical experts — and weaken reasoning powers. The family use them all.
Bland, blue, warm Southern California is full of empty-headed, under-educated, under-occupied girls from over-secure middle-class backgrounds looking for a man to tell them what to do, like Mr. Manson.
Look, they say, how he handles that court. Since Manson first decided to defend himself he has treated the law with haughty contempt. He delivers hour-long harangues, interrupted by outbursts of rudeness. He dresses in bright purple shirt and gold corduroy trousers. After five weeks of this, patient Judge Keene has filed a plea of not guilty on his behalf.
Now Mr. Manson is planning a legal ploy to unify his family’s defence. Since his arrest he has been visited in jail by more than 50 lawyers — all anxious to take part in a cause célèbre. He accorded some 300 audiences before allowing Denver attorney Francis Salazar to announce that he had been authorized to handle the co-ordination of the defense.
Among Mr. Manson’s five co-defendants the most enigmatic is Susan Atkins, whose secret testimony before a grand jury put the tribe where it is today. The gist of this has been published in an interview with the girl, obtained by enterprising freelance journalist, Lawrence Schiller.
The pretty, 21-year-old Miss Atkins tells in her own words how she first met Mr. Manson, whose voice “just hypnotized me,” and how he ruled his family like a god. “Since I met Charlie, all my fears have gone.” The light, girlish voice, locked in the tape-recorder, runs on. “Our whole life was a continuous party, one big, beautiful party…and the women just adored him, worshipped him…He is the king and I am his queen. The king? Look at his name. Manson. ‘Man’s son.”
The fact that Mr. Schiller has now integrated this long, extraordinary statement into a book – “The Killing of Sharon Tate” – makes for a strange situation. Millions may read the “confession” — but if Susan Atkins refuses to repeat her testimony it cannot be used as evidence against the family.
Mr. Manson has assured visitors that Miss Atkins “promised to shut up” if he found her a good lawyer. Enter Mr. Salazar, with an associate who will probably represent the girl. But behind them, Mr. Manson will be dictating whether or not she should take the stand. lf Mr. Salazar can gather the others under one legal umbrella so that they refuse to testify against each other, then Mr. Manson could well beat the charges against him.
The trial of Mr. Manson, Miss Atkins and the other girls has been set to start on the same day.
Mr. Salazar says the family “is more cohesive than ever;” and few would question it after watching two girl members on a national TV network, reading a letter received from Mr. Manson in jail, complaining about prison conditions. Tearfully, angrily, their voices shaking with loyal indignation, they relayed his allegations that he is being promised things in court “before the press” and deprived of them back in prison. Friends and witnesses were followed, harassed and arrested. Spies filled his cell block. And much more, in a vein familiar to those who have watched Mr. Manson in court. Spry, chatty, articulate, smiling readily towards the admiring girls, he is enjoying a role he has played often in the past that of jailhouse lawyer.
Mr. Manson stands up to the judge. He lays down the law. He makes “witty” remarks, important – sounding objections. He symbolizes that brand of mindless rebellion evoked by the youth who was asked by psychiatrists from California University for his views on the Los Angeles police. “How about killing all of them for a start?” he replied.
The university psychiatrists, after spending months exploring the new youth scene, say in a 40-page paper that among the thousands and thousands of “sick American adolescents seeking comfort” one finds a number of adults, often rather worthless people, who become leaders and “parent-substitutes.”
And not only those “sick adolescents,” it seems, are susceptible to the wiles of men such as Charles Manson. A female reporter in court who met his compelling gaze remarked: “How subtle and strong..” She stopped. “Wow! I sound like one of his girls!”
Mr. and Mrs. Middle America may reject, despise and ultimately destroy Charlie Manson. But in their hearts they are just a little bit envious of his power.
By CHARLES FOLEY