WASHINGTON, DC, March 15, 2013-“I am guilty… I am the king of the underworld”. -Charles Manson, convicted serial killer.
When my phone rang in the evening of the summer of 2009, the operator said “You have a collect call from a California state prison inmate -“Charles Manson,” said the self- identifying voice.
The call was from the man this author came to know as “Charlie,” who the world knows as Charles Manson.
Manson is, of course, the “family” man who single handedly ended the era of peace, love, dope, hippie-ness, free love and anitestablishmentarianism. He gave the depression era generation, so opposed to the youthful socialism of the 1960’s; “proof” of their claim the youth from this era were influenced by the devil’s work and rock and roll consisted of lyrics written by Satan himself. Manson provided them the hook to hang their collective hats on by committing unspeakable savagery in August 1969.
Society, horrified by the acts Manson committed, calls him a sociopath and a psychopath.
Does he actually fit either category?
I contacted Manson in an effort to gain some level of understanding his psychology and what made the Manson family commit the brutal murders in 1969. Manson, now in the custody of the California Department of Corrections, receives over 60,000 pieces of mail annually and responds to very few. He does not suffer fools who try to cozy up to him and eschews outright prying into the past.
Surprisingly, he agreed to communicate with me. I spoke with Manson for three and a half hours and exchanged multiple letters with him. The last time I spoke with him was at 3 a.m. in early 2010 from a smuggled cell phone, later confiscated.
Getting Manson to speak of the events of 1969 is difficult. One must verbally massage Manson into casual conversation to elicit salient insight.
Sociopathic (a.k.a psychopathic) people are quite simply individuals with extreme antisocial attitudes and behavior, who lack conscience or understanding of social morals and norms that generally guide behavior. Certainly not all are murderous but they should be avoided at all costs.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V- TR, (DSM-V- TR) the criteria used by mental health professionals, those with Anti-Social Personality Disorder (ASPD) are skilled at hiding their disorder and seem outwardly friendly and accommodating. They are skilled at verbal manipulation and can escape detection for years, even for life. They may appear normal and charming but they are devoid of compassion and sympathy and do not relate to pain, suffering and hurt experienced by others. They truly could not care less.
Quite often, they have a sharp- mouthed nonchalant, flippant attitude, exhibit compulsive and risky behavior and can be quite dramatic.
They are called “blame throwers” because they rarely accept responsibility, seem easily agitated and frustrated, feel no guilt and are prone to violence.
They are masters at rationalizing their behaviors and will defend their positions with aggression.
Sociopaths often also suffer from narcissistic personality disorder, making it extremely difficult to treat them with any measure of success. Narcissisms make it even more difficult for mental health care professionals to weed through their exploitive behaviors.
Genetics play a strong role in the disorder, but it is also heavily influenced by environmental factors. As children, those with ASPD often demonstrate anger, defiance, screaming, violence and outward hate of anything normal – all signature behaviors of Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD) –, which appears to later transition to ASPD.
A sociopath fawns on those they believe will overlook their shortcomings, as they tend to overlook, even brag of. Their mate’s shortcomings. Despite the fact that sociopaths wreak havoc on relationships and families, they are protective of those who serve them in a capacity they need filled.
They can be loyal and demand loyalty in return. Since they are isolated by society, they need someone close, yet their “love” often does not fit traditional definitions. Their ‘love’ is parasitic and demanding. If their needs are not fulfilled, they can ruin lives.
A sociopath can weave truth with lies. They are often intelligent and have lofty goals. They weave truth, fantasy and delusion flawlessly. They attack those who question them and their explanations can be fantastic and bizarre. Some see themselves as leaders and spin tales of roads to glory. Others literally see themselves as human deity, and have an incredible ability to persuade others: think Kool Aid and Jim Jones.
Manson fits these criteria very well. This author found him affable, friendly, talkative, intelligent, down to earth, pragmatic and sociable. Yet during conversations, he spun off into momentary delusion. If he was challenged, he angered quickly and would hang up just to call right back.
He would make statements that seemed outlandish, which I needed to verify. However, none of his statements were untrue because he avoided too much detail. For example, his statements that Alvin Karpis, a reputed member of the Ma Barker gang of the 1930’s, taught him guitar checked out. Karpis taught him to play at Alcatraz in the early 1960’s. He also said he lived at Beach Boy Dennis Wilson’s house, which was true, but failed to give extensive information on the subject.
Manson’s mother “sold” him for beer when he was 10. Manson laughs at this story, and speaks well of his mother despite barely knowing her. He never knew his father.
Manson said he went to jail at 15 and when he was released, the beatnik generation was thriving. He went back to jail for 10 more years and when he was released, the hippie generation was thriving. Manson says was not prepared for either.
After his second incarceration, Manson warned authorities he would kill if he were released. He is most comfortable incarcerated and wants no part of freedom.
The portrayal of Manson as having hypnotic qualities is nonsense and at 5’2” and 74-years-old, he is hardly an imposing figure. He admits he plied his minions with drugs and in the drug world your supplier is your God. As Manson said, being 15 years older than those he kept, as family was a great benefit to “A manipulator like me.”
Manson still has friends from the so-called Manson family. One calls himself “Iceman” and met Manson in early 1970 after the murders and before Manson went to prison. He moved to California just to be near Manson and visits weekly.
Manson liked Lynne “Squeaky” Fromme” (recently released) and when recently saw an updated photo of Susan Atkins (deceased) declared: “She got old on me”. Manson disliked Linda Kasabian, describing her as weird and too “girly”. He was loyal to Watson and dislikes just about everyone else. He used the family members then discarded them.
In the course of our conversations, I learned a great deal about Manson.
For example, he is musically gifted and sent this author a collection of songs he recorded in a prison, perhaps Pelican Bay, where guards let him record. He is allowed to play at Corcoran Prison, where he currently resides.
Manson admitted his guilt after authorities told him then-President Richard Nixon publically declared him guilty.
He is angry the prosecutor of the day, Vincent Bugliosi, made large sums of money from his book “Helter Skelter,” and that many others have made money from Manson’s name after he himself was denied royalties for his name and story. He is furious that Marilyn Manson uses his name and rants about unfair treatment and wrongful treatment.
He is racist and claims to be a fan of Hitler.
He dislikes President Obama or any other authority figure.
Manson says he believes in God, and saves discussions of hell for those he opposes. He believes there is a spirit that flows between all humans and connects us.
Manson considers himself important. During one conversation, Manson declared, “Your talking to history, man! I’m history.”
Today, Manson’s greatest concern is for the environment. He created the acronym A.T.W.A in the mid 1960’s, which he says means Air, Trees, Water and Animals. He denies the acronym ever meant All The Whites Always. He claims the earth is a living organism angry at mankind. Some of Manson’s ideas for replenishing nature are interesting and workable, but likely dismissed because of his history.
The media has historically portrayed Manson as “The Most Evil,” and he uses this moniker and reputation to give himself credibility in the prison world, although most of today’s prisoners consider him just another ‘old man’ with a story. His rants seem rehearsed or memorized and designed to perpetuate his reputation. Sometimes, he forgets where he is on a rant and slips to another subject.
Manson rails against society, which he blames for his troubles, and claims to wants no part of it. He has determined he is a victim of society and “It” gets what “It” deserves.
Sociopath psychopath, both or neither, Charles Manson is a complex man who accepts to responsibility for his actions. He claims to have no regrets and displays no remorse.
In his world, Manson simply dished out justice to a society that spurned him.
Coming up: Charles “Tex” Watson, who revealed a secret, and Susan Smith.
Paul Mountjoy is a Virginia based writer. He is a member of the American Psychological Association and the Association for psychological Science.
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