This article was first published in the issue “Cults and Gurus” in Tribe, our digital magazine. We profiled four other gurus. You can read Tribe now on Android or iPhone.
Charles Manson was born in 1934 in Cincinnati and started his career at a young age. He set his school on fire when he was nine. After many small incidents, mostly involving robbery, he was sent to a correctional facility for delinquent boys in 1947 in Terre Haute, Indiana.
After escaping the facility, he went on to survive on small robbery until he was caught in action in 1949 and sent to another correctional facility, the Boys Town, in Omaha, Nebraska.
The Boys Town played an important role in Manson’s education. He met Blackie Nielson, who he partnered with to get a gun, steal a car, and run away. They both headed to Peoria, Illinois, committing armed robberies on the way. In Peoria, they met Nielson’s uncle, a professional thief who took care of the kids’ criminal education.
Two weeks later, he was arrested again and sent to a horror movie correction school called the Indiana Boys School. There, Manson was raped and beaten many times. After 18 failed attempts to escape, he managed to run away in 1951, stealing a car and setting his route to California, robbing gas stations along the way.
However, Manson didn’t make it to California. He was arrested in Utah and sent to Washington DC’s National Facility for Boys. At his arrival, he was given some aptitude tests which detected his aggressively anti-social character. They also revealed an above-average IQ of 109.
In the same year, he was sent to a minimum-security institution called Natural Bridge Honor Camp. He was about to be released when he was caught raping a boy at knifepoint.
Consequently, he was sent to the Federal Reformatory in Virginia, where he committed eight serious disciplinary offenses, allowing him to climb into a maximum-security reformatory in Ohio.
Manson was released in 1954 to get caught (again) for stealing a car (again) in 1955. He was granted probation, but an identifying file issued in Florida against him sent him to jail in 1956.
Released in 1958, he began pimping a 16-year-old girl. Manson was convicted one more time in 1959 and sentenced to 10 years in jail. This long period gave him time to develop talents that would be decisive in his further path.
From his inmate Alvin ‘Creepy’ Karpis, leader of the Baker-Karpis gang, he learned to play the guitar.
However, the most influential person in his life was perhaps a Scientologist (yes, a Scientologist) inmate called Lanier Rayner.
In 1961, Manson listed his religion as being Scientology. In that year, a report issued by the federal prison said that he “appears to have developed a certain amount of insight into his problems through his study of this discipline.”
After learning about Scientology, Manson was a new man. When released in 1967, he reportedly attended Scientology meetings and parties in Los Angeles and completed 150 “auditing” hours.
After restoring his thetan, Manson devoted his life to his spiritual mission. He started his community in the epicenter of the hippie movement, the boiling neighborhood of Ashbury, San Francisco.
He gathered around 90 disciples, most of them teenage females, and thought of them as his own version of peace and love. They were called “The Manson Family.”
In 1967, Manson and his “family” acquired a bus that they painted in a hippie-colored style and traveled to Mexico and northern South America.
Back to Los Angeles in 1968, they went nomadic for a while until the Beach Boys’ singer Denis Wilson found two of Manson Family’s girls hitchhiking. He brought them to his house in Palisades under the influence of LSD and booze.
That night, Wilson left for a recording session, and the girls had multiplied when he returned home the next day. They were 12 and accompanied by Manson.
Wilson and Manson became friends, and the number of girls in the house doubled in the next months. Wilson recorded some songs written by Manson, and they spent most of their time talking, singing, and being served by the girls.
Wilson was a nice guy who generously paid around USD 100,000 to feed the family and finance the girls’ gonorrhea treatment.
A few months later, Wilson’s lease of the Palisades house expired, and he moved out, leaving the Manson Family homeless again.
Manson and his family then managed to find shelter at the Spahn Ranch, a semi-abandoned set for Western movies, which belonged to nearly blind 80-years-old George Spahn. In exchange for the girls’ seeing-eyes guidance and caritative sex, Spahn allowed the family to stay in his ranch.
The Manson Family appeared as just another harmless hippie community, where young people dedicated their lives to peace, love, and LSD. However, Manson’s doctrine was nothing like the mainstream hippie movement.
Manson taught his disciples that they were the reincarnation of the first Christian, while he was the reincarnation of the same Jesus. Manson also revealed that the Beatles song, Helter Skelter, was a coded message sent to him from above warning about the apocalypse.
He explained that the doomsday would come in the form of a racial war, where the Black people in America would kill all the whites, except for Manson and his family. Yet, incapable of surviving on their own, they would need a white man to lead them and would end up relying on Manson’s guidance, serving him as their master.
Like many manipulative gurus, Manson did a sort of “mix and match” to come up with his ideology, taking some ideas from science fiction and others from innovative new psychological theories and occult beliefs. Manson didn’t just tell followers they were special. He also told them they’d be the only survivors of the coming race war, playing on the fear of racial strife gripping the US during the Civil Rights Movement.
In August 1969, Manson decided to trigger the Helter Skelter day. He instructed his disciples to commit a series of racially motivated murders. Using his vocabulary, they should start killing “the pigs” to show “the nigger” how to do the same.
Nine of the killings were accounted to the Manson Family, including the killing of Roman Polansky’s wife, the actress Sharon Tate, who was pregnant.
Even after the arrest of Manson and the murderers, the family remained alive. During Manson’s trial, family members not only threatened witnesses. They set fire in a witness’ van, who barely escaped alive. They drugged another witness with several doses of LSD.
Two more killings were attributed to the Manson Family in 1972, and a member of the cult attempted to kill US President Gerard Ford in 1975.
Manson was given a life sentence and spent the rest of his days in prison. He died of a heart attack and ongoing complications from colon cancer in 2017.
Charles Manson’s life and doctrine may sound completely absurd for most of us. Yet, it still resonates between some radical anarchists, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis.
One of Manson’s most active actual followers is the American neo-Nazi James Mason, who corresponded with the guru for years, and described the experience as follows:
“What I discovered was a revelation equal to the revelation I received when I first found Adolf Hitler.”
According to James Mason, Manson was a hero who took action against the utmost corruption.
In his perspective, the whole Western Civilization died after Hitler’s defeat and fell victim to a global anti-white conspiracy run by “super-capitalists” and “super-communists.”
With the whole world being beyond salvation, the only solution would be to blow it up. Mason is now the leader of a neo-Nazi cult called Universal Order.
Manson is also a semi-god hero for the terrorist neo-Nazi network Atomwaffen Division. Atomwaffen means nothing less than atomic weapons in German.
The group, also called the National Socialist Order, was formed in the US in 2015 and has expanded through Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, and many other European countries. Its members are held accountable for many criminal activities, including murders and terrorist attacks.
In the mouth of Manson, the evilest and insane philosophy would sound plausible but seductive. He knew how to pick up his disciples and shaped a brilliant narrative to play with their fears and vanity.
Manson remained loyal to his philosophy until his last breath. He never showed any regret for his actions. He hated the system and fought against it as fiercely as he could. The system survived, and he was put in jail. Yet, he never bent his head. He was born a savage, and he died a savage. These were his words during his trial:
“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.
“I know this: that in your hearts and your 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.
“My father is the jailhouse. My father is your system. … I am only what you made me. I am only a reflection of you. … You want to kill me? Ha! I am already dead – have been all my life. I’ve spent twenty-three years in tombs that you have built.”