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Charles Manson Was Never A Hippie

Thirty years ago, proud to be a hippie and wearing my new yellow leather fringe jacket for the first time, I was on my way to Woodstock along with half a million others on that musical pilgrimage. At the same time, newspapers were headlining the murder in Beverly Hills of director Roman Polanski’s actress wife, Sharon Tate, their unborn baby, and a few friends.

The killers turned out to be members of the Charles Manson family, the ultimate perversion of a hippie commune. Manson was portrayed by the media as a hippie cult leader, and the counterculture became a dangerous enemy. Hitchhikers were shunned. Communes were raided. In the public’s mind, flower children had grown poisonous thorns.

Manson grew up behind bars. His real family included con artists, pimps, drug dealers, thieves, muggers, rapists and murderers. He had known only power relationships in an army of control junkies. Charlie Manson was America’s own Frankenstein monster, a logical product of the prison system — racist, paranoid and violent — even if hippie astrologers thought his fate had been predetermined because he was a triple Scorpio.

In August 1969, he sent his brainwashed family off to slay whoever was at the Tate home: the pregnant Sharon; hair stylist and drug dealer to the stars Jay Sebring; would-be screenwriter Voytek Frykowski; and his girlfriend, coffee heiress Abigail Folger. The next night, Manson accompanied the killers to supermarket mogul Leon La Bianca and his wife.

And what a well-programmed family they were. A prison psychiatrist at San Quentin told me of an incident he had observed during Manson’s trial. An inmate had said to Manson, “Look, I don’t wanna know about your theories on race. I don’t wanna hear anything about religion, I just wanna know one thing. How’d you get them girls to obey you like that?”

“I got a knack,” Charlie replied.

His “knack” was combining LSD and mescaline with singalongs and games accompanying his perversion of techniques he’d learned in prison — encounter sessions, Scientology, auditing, post-hypnotic suggestion, geographical isolation, subliminal motivation, transactional analysis, a verbal probing and the sexual longevity that he had practiced upon himself for all those years in the privacy of his cell.

Hal Lipset, San Francisco’s renowned private investigator, informed me that not only did the LA Police Department seize pornographic films and videotapes they found in Roman Polanski’s loft, but also that certain LAPD officers were selling them. Lipset had talked with one police source who told him exactly which porno flicks were available, a total of seven hours’ worth for a quarter-million dollars.

Lipset began reciting a litany of those private porn flicks. There was Greg Bautzer, an attorney for Howard Hughes, with Jane Wyman, the ex-wife of Ronald Reagan, who was governor of California at the time of the murders. There was Cass Elliott in an orgy with Yul Byrnner, Peter Sellers and Warren Beatty, the same trio who, with John Phillips, had offered a $25,000 reward for the capture of the killers. There was Sharon Tate with Dean Martin. There was Sharon with Steve McQueen. And there she was with two black bisexual men.

“The cops weren’t too happy about that one,” Lipset recalled.

The murders were meant to look as though the victims had been selected at random, but I had always felt that Manson and his killers had some connection with their victims before the murders took place. I finally tracked down a reporter who told me that when she was hanging around with LA police, they showed her a porn video of Susan Atkins, one of Charlie’s devils, with Voytek Frykowski, one of the victims, even though, according to myth, the executioners and the victims had never met until the night of the massacre.

But apparently the reporter mentioned the wrong victim, because when I wrote to Manson and asked directly, “Did Susan sleep with Frykowski?,” he answered, “You are ill-advised and misled. Sebring done Susan’s hair and I think he sucked one or two of her dicks. I’m not sure who she was walking out from her stars and cages, that girl loves dick, you know what I mean, hon? Yul Brynner, Peter Sellers.”

I continued to correspond with Charlie. He has become a cultural icon, the personification of evil. There are songs about him. In surfer jargon, Manson means a crazy, reckless surfer. For comedians, Manson is a generic joke reference. In 1992, I asked him how he felt about that? He replied, “I don’t know what a generic joke is. I think I know what that means. That means you talk bad about Reagan or Bush. I’ve always ran poker games and whores and crime. I’m a crook. You make the reality in court and the press. I just ride and play the cards that were pushed on me to play. Mass killer. It’s a job. What can I say?”

I interviewed Preston Guillory, a former deputy sheriff in Los Angeles. “A few weeks prior to the arrests at the Spahn Ranch raid,” he said, “we were told that we weren’t to arrest Manson or any of his followers. The reason he was left on the street was because our department thought he was going to launch an attack on the Black Panthers.” And so it was that racism in the Sheriff’s Department inadvertently turned them into collaborators in a mass murder. But Charlie Manson is the only face you’ll see glaring at you from some rebellious teenager’s t-shirt.

Because the killers left clues to imply that the victims had been slain by black militants, the media continue to imply that Manson’s only motive was to start a race war. However, on the evening of Friday, August 9, 1969, just a few hours before the slaughter took place, Joel Rostau, the boyfriend of Jay Sebring’s receptionist and an intermediary in a cocaine ring, visited Sebring and Frykowski at the Tate house, to deliver mescaline and cocaine. During the Manson trial, several associates of Sebring were murdered, including Rostau, whose body was found in the trunk of a car in New York. 

The Manson family had actually served as a hit squad for organized crime families he’d met in prison. Three decades later, although Manson continues to serve as a symbol for the end of the 60s, one thing remains certain: Charlie never was a hippie. 


  1. John Sakowicz December 10, 2023

    First and foremost, Charlie Manson was a racist and a racially motivated terrorist.

    A recent publication in the Journal of Threat Assessment and Management provides an overview of Manson’s assessment, including his formal diagnosis, his criminal history, and why he has become a role model for extreme right-wing terrorist groups and white supremacist groups over the past decade in the United States.

    The lead author, Tod A. Roy, a forensic psychologist now practicing in Phoenix, Arizona, conducted the 1997 assessment and secured permission from the California Department of Corrections to publish the previously confidential report.

    The significance of the report lies not only in trying to understand Manson but also in understanding the more far-reaching aspects of his ideology, particularly in the context of contemporary extremist movements related to “accelerationism.”

    What is meant by “accelerationism” is the concept that accelerating the collapse of society would bring about the political or social changes extremists want. The ideology of Manson, which he used to justify the heinous murders he ordered, can be interpreted as an early example of this radical worldview.

    Ironically, right-wing extremists, like the Proud Boys, and other anti-government groups affiliated with the militia, “sovereign citizen”, tax protester, white nationalists, and “Patriot” movements, have now adopted the same “accelerationism” worldview as Charlie Manson.

    The life story of Manson is not simply a chronicle of a criminal mastermind. Nor can Manson be reduced to a simple diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder by a forensic psychiatrist. Manson is primarily a case study of the terrorist cell he created and the need to remain cautious against similar ideologies.

  2. Norm Thurston December 10, 2023

    Thanks for the article, John. I had not heard the term “accelerationism”, though it does seem to accurately describe Manon’s behavior, and the behaviors of a number of fringe political groups. I think two common elements are the ability manipulate their followers behavior, and to instill irrational loyalty.

  3. John Sakowicz December 10, 2023

    The roots of Charlie Manson’s racism go all the way back to when he a ward of the state in various juvenile justice centers.

    In an interview with Diane Sawyer, Manson said that when he was 9, he set his school on fire. Manson also got in trouble for truancy and petty theft.

    In 1947, at the age of 13, Manson was placed in the Gibault School for Boys in Terre Haute, Indiana. Mansion was repeatedly raped and beaten there.

    In 1949 a sympathetic judge sent him to Boys Town, a juvenile facility in Omaha, Nebraska. After four days at Boys Town, he and fellow student Blackie Nielson obtained a gun and stole a car. They used it to commit two armed robberies on their way to the home of Nielson’s uncle in Peoria, Illinois.

    Nielson’s uncle was a professional thief, and when the boys arrived, he allegedly took them on as apprentices. Manson was arrested two weeks later during a nighttime raid on a Peoria store.

    In the investigation that followed, Manson was linked to his two earlier armed robberies. Manson was sent to the Indiana Boys School, a strict reform school where he continued to be victimized by older, bigger kids, who were often black or mixed-race, according to later accounts by Manson.

    At the Indiana Boys School, these students raped Manson with the encouragement of staff members, and Manson was also repeatedly beaten. He ran away from the school eighteen times.

    These were Charlie Manson’s formative years as a racist and as a master manipulator.

    While at the school, Manson developed a self-defense technique he later called the “insane game”. When he was physically unable to defend himself, he would screech, grimace and wave his arms to convince aggressors that he was insane.

    After a number of failed escape attempts, the Teenage Manson escaped with two other boys in February 1951.

    The three escapees were robbing filling stations while attempting to drive to California in stolen cars when they were arrested in Utah. For the federal crime of driving a stolen car across state lines, Manson was sent to Washington, D.C.’s National Training School for Boys. where Manson was further victimized by other kids.

    Manson was given aptitude tests which determined that he was illiterate but had a high IQ. His case worker deemed him “aggressively antisocial” and that his bad behaviors were “adaptive”.

    By this point, Manson had matured into an adult offender even though he was still a juvenile.

    He was much smarter and much more socialized than other kids, and even his juvenile hall jailers.

    In October 1951, Manson talked his way into a transfer to Natural Bridge Honor Camp, a minimum-security institution. His aunt visited him and told administrators she would let him stay at her house and would help him find work.

    Manson had a parole hearing scheduled for February 1952. However, in January, he was caught raping a boy at knifepoint.

    Manson was transferred to the Federal Reformatory in Petersburg, Virginia. There he committed a further “eight serious disciplinary offenses, three involving homosexual acts”.

    He was then moved to a maximum-security reformatory at Chillicothe, Ohio, where he remained until his release on his 21st birthday in November 1955.

    The rest is history.

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