If you thought the swastika he carved and then tattooed over his forehead was just for shits and giggles or to be provocative, you’re dead wrong.
It’s been nearly three years since Charles Manson died of complications from colon cancer. In the past three years, it feels like the whole world has turned upside down. I’m not going to go into the divisions and fractures in our nation, but I’m simply going to tell you about Charles Manson, the White Supremacist.
Charles Milles Manson was born November 12, 1934 in Cincinnati, Ohio to a 15-year old redheaded runaway named Kathleen Maddox. His father was Colonel Scott — a laborer, married to another woman. Shortly after delivering young Charles, Kathleen married a man named Manson, giving her son a legitimate name (his birth certificate simply read ‘No Name Maddox’).
Kathleen was from Ashland, Kentucky, the youngest born to a devoutly religious couple. Impulsive and rebellious, she’d run off to the big city not long before getting pregnant. Kathleen Maddox was at best, a juvenile delinquent and at worst, an alcoholic prostitute.
She was also a neglectful mother. Once, she gave little Charlie to a friendly cocktail waitress in exchange for a beer. She left the boy with the woman for several days.
The marriage to the senior Manson did not last. Kathleen continued to party and to run afoul of the law.
She was arrested in 1939 for armed robbery — a crime she committed with her brother Luther. She was sentenced to five years in prison and her son was remanded to Kathleen’s sister’s care.
Aunt Glenna and her husband Bill Thomas lived in McMechen, West Virginia with their daughter, Jo Ann, three years older than her cousin. McMechen is a small mining town south of Wheeling, close enough to the penitentiary in Moundsville, Ohio where Kathleen was serving. Glenna and Bill wanted Charlie to see his mother as frequently as possible.
— The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing, published June 2019 from Swann Publications
In 1942, Kathleen was released from prison and moved to McMechen. She found work in a bar and later, at a grocery store…
During that era, Charlie often visited his great uncle Jess. Jess lived in Moorehead, Kentucky in a log cabin with his wife and four unruly daughters, making moonshine. Jess was a member of the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. And It was Jess who, after chastising Charlie for abusing a hound dog, taught the youngster to respect animals (clearly more than people). Jess’s dogged determination to keep Uncle Sam off his land later got himself killed, leaving a lasting impression on Charlie about the evils of big government.
— The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing, published June 2019 from Swann Publications
In my genealogical research into Manson’s lineage, I did not find evidence of this ‘Uncle Jess’ — perhaps he was a cousin, rather than an uncle or great uncle, but Charlie did speak about this man on many occasions and clearly, ‘Uncle Jess’ had a profound impact on the boy. So did, apparently, his racist beliefs stemming from his involvement with the KKK. I will continue researching the matter of Uncle Jess and will update readers if and when I determine who he was and what his exact relationship to Manson was.
Charlie was first sent to a youth detention center at the age of 13. His unruly behavior including petty theft, was too much for his mother to handle and she sent her son off to the Gibault School for Boys in Terre Haute.
From there, Charlie went to Boys town in Nebraska (still 13) then the Indiana Boys’ School in Plainsville, Indiana (age 14), then after escaping from Plainsville (which Manson called Painsville) at the age of 17, he was sent to the National Training School for Boys in Washington, D.C. After a few months, Charlie was due to be released but then he raped another boy, holding a knife to the other child’s throat and was sent to the Federal Reformatory in Petersburg, Virginia — a high-security facility. Months later, he was moved to a maximum security facility in Chillicothe, Ohio.
Charlie was released from Petersburg in 1954, at the age of 19. He went back to West Virginia and married a high school girl, Rosalie Willis. The couple enjoyed a few months of newlywed bliss, and then when Rosalie discovered she was expecting, Charlie started stealing cars to fence.
He stole a ’53 Mercury the next summer, and drove with Rosalie to Los Angeles, to visit his mother. He was arrested a few weeks later for auto theft, and fled the state. Rosalie gave birth to their son in Indiana, and Charlie was soon on his way back to prison.
He was sentenced to three years at Terminal Island, a federal penitentiary in San Pedro, California. When he got out, he started pimping. He was back in prison, in Washington State, and spent 1961-early 1967 in the joint. It was during those years that he began to see the racial tensions, from within the prison system.
He witnessed many prison race riots during those years. ‘He saw the populations in prison become increasingly black and they would take over a prison, so that was his view of the world — blacks taking over’.
— The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing, published June 2019 from Swann Publications (including citation from Joe Burns, Professor of Communication at Southeastern Louisiana University, from the documentary “Charles Manson: Fame and Scandal” ©TimeWarner Cable 2016)
During 1961–1967 while in prison, Charlie made use of his time in three significant ways:
- He learned how to play the guitar, with help from another inmate — Alvin ‘Creepy’ Karpis, a member of the Ma Barker Gang of the ‘20s,
- He was introduced to the music of the Beatles, began dreaming of music fame, and started writing his own music (approximately 80–90 original tunes); and
- He read everything that he thought would help him get ahead in life. Those readings included Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, the works of L. Ron Hubbard (founder of Scientology) and more. He also listened carefully to what people talked about, particularly anything that seemed to motivate people. In his own words:
In prison there is every kind of belief imaginable. Some are good, some are bogus… If I saw a con who seemed to be on top of everything and in control of himself, I’d pursue his beliefs in an effort to see if I could strengthen myself through him… If I saw sincerity in the guys who were participating in group sessions, I’d find out which way they were headed. Though I wasn’t black, I picked up on what the Black Muslims were practicing. I did the same with the Indians. I found them solid in their beliefs so I watched them and began to appreciate their rituals and traditions. I studied hypnotism and psychiatry. I read whatever books I could find.
— Charles Manson quoted in Manson: In His Own Words as told to Nuel Emmons ©1986 Grove Press
In the prison system, whites stuck with whites and blacks stuck with blacks and Latinos stuck together, etc. It was just the way it was. Charlie didn’t question those divisions, from what we gather. But when he left prison in March of 1967, he entered a far different world than the one he departed when he went back into the joint. As he made his way to San Francisco and then, to the campus of the University of California at Berkeley, Charlie was shocked at what he saw:
You can practically picture his mouth dropping open at what he saw: girls with short skirts, boys with long hair, people of all races gathering peaceably. There were students protesting the Vietnam War and a few smoking grass on the campus lawn.
— The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing, published June 2019 from Swann Publications
It was at Berkeley that he met Mary Brunner, a 23-year old assistant librarian who became the first official member of the so-called Manson Family. That summer, he met 18-year old Lynette Fromme, a freckled redhead who was sitting on a bench in Venice Beach holding a dictionary and sobbing her eyes out. Her father had just kicked her out of the house, and she didn’t know what to do. Soon, she was tagging along with Charlie and joined him on his return to the Bay Area. She, Mary and Charlie were soon a threesome, and they spent their time on the open road in a VW Microbus that Charlie traded for a piano. During those rides, Lynette sometimes argued with Manson about gender roles, and about race.
According to Lyn, ‘I said, ‘You can’t blame everything on women.’ He said, ‘Exactly. And you can’t blame everything on men. Most men are doing what they were taught to do — by a woman. Then the woman puts all the blame on the man.’ Then he challenged Lynette’s belief that black people were equal to her. /Don’t you like yourself? It’s not that I dislike black people. I like myself. I accepted what I am a long time ago… To deny differences is to deny life and nature — and that’s a lie. With that, Lynette had to stop arguing with him, although she deeply disagreed. The one criticism she gives of her ‘guru’ in her 2018 memoir is that he was, indeed, racist. But she continued to challenge him on issues of gender disparity.
— The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing, published June 2019 from Swann Publications (including citations from Reflexion by Lynette Fromme ©2018 Peasenhall Press)
In late 1967, Charlie met a record producer who asked Manson to collaborate on an upcoming film. Gary Stromberg of Universal Studios was working on an independent film about the life of Christ. After meeting Charlie, Stromberg asked the musician if he’d like to contribute dialogue for the film. Charlie was enthusiastic about this opportunity, which gave him the chance to show off his vast biblical knowledge, as well as his groovy New Age ideas. But then Stromberg dropped a bomb: in the movie, Jesus would be played by a black man.
Charlie couldn’t backpedal any faster.
In early 1968, Charlie and the young women who had joined him for his travels (Mary, Lyn, Patricia Krenwinkel, Susan Atkins and Ella Jo Bailey) joined him in the Los Angeles area, where they began to put down roots. Charlie wanted a record deal, and L.A. was the place to connect with the musicians, agents and producers that could help him succeed. He made a significant contact by befriending Dennis Wilson, drummer for the Beach Boys who introduced him to many influential people in the recording industry including Columbia Records producer Terry Melcher. But Charlie didn’t want to infringe on Wilson for too long — after staying at his Pacific Palisades home for a few months, Manson moved his family to a 500-acre ranch in Chatstworth, known as Spahn Ranch.
At Spahn, Charlie orchestrated the group of young people around him with LSD, group sex and behavioral modification learned from other pimps in the joint. He talked about race, but it wasn’t yet a central tenet of his philosophy.
That changed after November 1968, when Charlie listened for the first time to The Beatles’ White Album.
Manson was blown away by four tunes in particular: Piggies, which lamented the greed of Western Culture, Sexy Sadie (‘you made a fool of everyooone…’), which would later prove somewhat prophetic, Black Bird, and of course, Helter Skelter.
Now, a ‘helter skelter’ is an amusement ride, a slide spiraling down around a tower. In the song Helter Skelter, Paul McCartney shouts he is ‘coming down fast’ and asks, ‘do you, don’t you want me to love you?’
Nowhere in the song does it mention black people. Nowhere does it claim it is about anything other than a young man on a ride — perhaps equating love with the highs and lows of an amusement ride. But Manson heard the song and experienced a revelation.
In a 2009 documentary, Catherine ‘Gypsy’ Share explained, “It wasn’t that Charlie listened to The White Album and started following what he thought the Beatles were saying. It was the other way around. He thought that the Beatles were talking about what he had been expounding… He felt that they were singing about us. The song Helter Skelter… he was interpreting that to mean ‘The blacks were going to go up and the whites were going to go down.’”
War was coming. Just a week before, Manson warned Paul (Watkins, a member of the Family) that something was afoot and that they, the Family, had to welcome the young loves that would be uprooted in the chaos. Hearing Helter Skelter, suddenly Charlie knew that his role was to be more than a gardener, more than a wizard.
For Manson, Helter Skelter didn’t just cement an existing theory that a racial cataclysm was imminent. It validated an internal belief system that he was destined for greatness — at the expense of others. It confirmed that he was an exalted being, a Master, a Messiah. It told Charlie that it was right and good to desire the destruction he saw coming because he personally stood to benefit. He felt he’d tapped into the greatest prophecy of all time. He was given a great responsibility, to accept a mission of world domination.
He knew it to be true because the Beatles told him so.
Manson’s revelation actually mirrored an existing precept by some Black Muslims: “The primary beliefs of the Black Muslims… were that the black man was morally and culturally superior, and was destined to rule the earth. preached that the white race was conceived of devils whose time to reign was coming to an end. It encouraged the reclamation of fallen blacks… by preparation for the Battle of Armageddon which they believed would be the final struggle between good and evil, black and white.”
You’ll recall Manson’s words, “If I saw a con who seemed to be on top of everything… I’d pursue his beliefs in an effort to see if I could strengthen myself… Though I wasn’t black, I picked up on what the Black Muslims were practicing.” Of course, he wouldn’t have told his followers that his Helter Skelter vision was inspired by Black Muslim rhetoric!
— The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing, published June 2019 from Swann Publications (including citations from Catherine Share from the documentary “Manson” ©2009 The History Channel, Zebra: The True Account of 179 Days of Terror in San Francisco by Clark Howard ©1979 Richard Marek Publications, and Charles Manson quoted in Manson: In His Own Words as told to Nuel Emmons ©1986 Grove Press)
In early November ’68, Charlie had been in Death Valley but returned to Los Angeles to work on his music career. But something had changed in the months that he’d been gone:
Charlie… noticed that crime had increased in the region in the past couple months. In urban areas there was an uptick in robberies, muggings and assaults. The news claimed it was black people largely responsible…
Charlie, wrote Paul Watkins, ‘appeared agitated, yet enthusiastic. He said there was more violence in the city; that the blacks were on the verge of full-scale revolution. ‘It’s just a matter of time,’ he declared. ‘The shit’s gonna come down… it’s gonna come down hard’… he began speaking of the Family’s role in it. ‘What we need to do is program the young love to split… when the scene comes down, they’re gonna need someplace to go. Well, we got that place. We’re here, and we can show the young love where to come. And we can show them with music’… The more Charlie talked about it, the more convincing it appeared’.
— The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing, published June 2019 from Swann Publications (with citations from My Life with Charles Manson by Paul Watkins with Guillermo Soledad ©1979 Bantam Books)
From Spring to Summer of 1969, Charlie’s talk of Helter Skelter began to permeate the conversations. The more he talked, the more fanciful his predictions became.
The way he explained it was that he listened to The White Album and had a vision of a global war, and it was expected soon. Black people would attack white people and then white people would retaliate on a mass scale. But because black people had been ‘down’ for so long, it was now their turn to ‘rise’. All white people on the planet would either be slaughtered or subjugated into slavery, but Charlie and his followers would escape the conflict by hiding in a cavern below Death Valley. The cavern was crusted with crystals, and there were flowing streams of fresh water, and pockets of clean air, and places to grow food. He also told them that he had a vision of his group growing to 144,000 thousand in number, and they would be safe and free. But after a few years, the black people in power would realize they didn’t have the skills to lead the world, and they would come to the cavern and beg Charlie to take over rule of the planet.
Charlie and his followers would then become sovereign leaders, and would rule the world peacefully for the rest of their days.
He warned them that while the conclusion of his vision was rosy, the process would most assuredly not be. It would be mayhem, he warned, with bloody battles on city streets, neighborhoods in flames, fierce hand-to-hand combat and bodies piled from one shore to the next. It was important, he emphasized, that they remain strong and resolute. They would see horrendous things and be at risk of death themselves, unless they inured themselves to the violence and calmly retreated to the desert.
Manson actually told Brooks (Poston) that Helter Skelter would start with black people going into white neighborhoods to kill people and that they would write the word ‘pigs’ on the wall in the victims’ blood.
By the summer of 1969, Manson was not only delusional, he was dangerous. An opportunity to be recorded by Terry Melcher fell apart in June, and on July 1st, Charlie shot a black drug dealer in the aftermath of a drug burn orchestrated by Manson Family member Charles ‘Tex’ Watson. Charlie thought he shot the man, Bernard ‘Lotsapoppa’ Crowe and that the dealer was a member of the militant Black Panther party.
Neither was true — Crowe was hospitalized for three weeks but survived the shooting, and he was not affiliated with the Black Panthers.
But Charlie became paranoid and violent in the wake of Crowe’s shooting, and this would lead to the murders of ten innocent people in July and August that summer.
Charlie was arrested for murder in November 1969 and the Trial of the Century began the next summer, with Vincent Bugliosi prosecuting Manson, along with three of his female codefendants. On the first day of the trial, Charlie walked into court with an X carved into his forehead.
When Manson walked into the courtroom the first morning, people gasped. The night before, he’d gotten ahold of some sharp object and carved a bloody X into his forehead. Outside the Hall of Justice, Family members passed out his statement: ‘I have X’d myself from your world… Your courtroom is man’s game. Love is my judge’.
— Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry ©1974 W.W. Norton & Company
But you’ll never guess where Charlie got inspired to carve that X:
He got the idea from his cellmates — two black prisoners, one a Black Muslim. They ‘apparently suggested that (Manson) slash an X, and therefore, when the holocaust came and Muslims took over the world, the Muslims would spare the marked people.’
The following day, Pat, Leslie and Sadie also carved X’s into their foreheads, using a heated bobby pin.
— The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing, published June 2019 from Swann Publications (with citations from The Family by Ed Sanders ©2002 Thunder’s Mouth Press)
On March 29, 1971, Charles Manson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten were sentenced for the Tate/LaBianca murders:
Three weeks earlier, Manson had shaved his head and transformed the X he carved earlier into a sloppy swastika. On the day of their sentencing, Charlie and his co-defendants were brought into the courtroom and everyone gasped. Atkins, Krenwinkel and Van Houten had also shaved their heads.
They stood as the jury stated that they’d each been sentenced to death.
Immediately after sentencing, Charlie made contact with the notorious Aryan Brotherhood gang.
The Aryan Brotherhood is a whites-only prison gang, affiliated with the Aryan Nation — a Neo-Nazi, white supremacist organization operating throughout the U.S.
The Aryan Brotherhood (AB) is involved in many criminal activities within the penal system, including the targeting and murder of black and Latino prisoners.
According to author Ed Sanders, ‘Manson ordered his remaining Family women to send nude photos of themselves to Aryan Brotherhood members in jail. They were apparently to provide sexual and… housekeeping favors to Aryan Brotherhood members who left prison. Manson must have thought it was tactically smart to join forces with the Aryan Brotherhood, because in addition to his personal safety, he could keep track of wobbling followers on the outside. The move turned out to be a great blunder, however, because… the Aryan Brotherhood was subsequently able to split the remnants of the Manson group into two bitter factions.
— The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing, published June 2019 from Swann Publications (including citation from The Squeaky Fromme Story” by Ed Sanders ©March 1976 OUI magazine)
Although the association with the Aryan Brotherhood didn’t last long, Charlie continued to flout his racist beliefs in the prison system, and in interviews. At some point, he also had the swastika on his forehead tattooed, making it permanent and showing his solidarity with the White Supremacist movement.
The following sources were not used in the article, but also do concur with my assessment that Manson was, indeed, a White Supremacist:
You can read more about the shooting of Bernard ‘Lotsapoppa’ Crowe here:
July 1, 1969: The drug burn that led to the Manson Murders
there was always more to the story than ‘Helter Skelter’
And more about the author’s curiosity about the real motives for the Helter Skelter murders here: