Why Were the Girls Crazy about Charles Manson?

True Crime

Why Were the Girls Crazy about Charles Manson?

Illustration: Sushant Ahire

As obituaries of Charles Manson, cult leader and one of the most culturally enduring murderers in modern history trickle in, the mind inadvertently gravitates toward The Girls, for as senior journalist Julie Beck perfectly put, “The most fascinating part of the Manson story has always been the girls.”

Manson was a troubled dude who had spent half his life in prison until the murders. He played the guitar, formed a twisted philosophical bend based on a Beatles song, and a mishmash of counter-culture, Scientology, and bigotry, but was by all accounts, supremely charismatic. This makes him an “interesting dude” in the drug-riddled hippie culture of the ’60s in America. Add to this the dynamic orations and proliferation of information surrounding him, to which he once added by proclaiming, “I’m Jesus Christ, whether you want to accept it or not, I don’t care”. And we have the perfect blend of personality, self-confidence, rebellious philosophy, and propaganda that makes a cult leader for the hazy minds of young, “peace-loving” hippies.

Charles Manson acquired some unusual members in his cult: Young women in sundresses. They were attracted to him, for as explained here, he was mysterious and played the guitar “Like an angel”. He gave them compliments; in return, they vied for his attention, almost competing with one another, and when he ordered them to go kill seven people over two days, including Roman Polanski’s wife in his swanky house, the girls, Manson’s girls, his “family”, didn’t hesitate.

Love, drugs, and propaganda make people do weird things, but at the end of it all it is the people who do those weird things. It’s an odd chicken-and-egg situation, where we can never fully know what came first: A cult leader or the followers, bhakt in modern-day parlance. The hysteria only happens when both of them come together.

Manson himself never even killed anyone, for he let his “family” do his bidding.

In this 1982 analysis, after studying over 2,500 cults, American psychoanalyst Dr Stanley Cath says that people join cults expecting, “That they can transcend the imperfections and finitude of life. Often they set up a we-they philosophy: We have the truth and you do not.” This in turn gives disenchanted people looking for some form of emotional connection, a place to call home, a feeling of being part of something bigger than themselves. “All of this,” he continues, “is brought together by a common ideological system fostered by a charismatic leader.”

The Manson girls – Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, Leslie Van Houten, and Linda Kasabian – were all at an impressionable age, in their late teens or early twenties, infatuated by Manson, and committed murder when he asked them to. Manson himself never even killed anyone, for he let his “family” do his bidding.

As the fate of most dumb pedestalisation of icons go, some even say Manson hadn’t asked the girls to kill those people because of an upcoming war, but because he just wanted to be famous, and was angry when one music producer didn’t give him a record deal. So to send him a message, he sent in his family and asked them to kill people. It’s pretty petty, like most cult leaders are. The most recent one on the scanner in India, Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim, as we now know, was never a love saarzer but just a rapist masquerading as a godman, one who would give his people “protection” in his gufa.

As it turns out, Charles Manson wasn’t Jesus; Ram Rahim wasn’t Ram. They were just ordinary men consumed by greed, provoked by rejection. They were meant to devour themselves, but it’s the groupies, the followers who get fucked even more. Rahim’s got raped; Manson’s got life imprisonment. They don’t refer to this type of devotion as blind for nothing, for it’s easy to fuck up when one is not looking, but even easier when we aren’t trying to see.