The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

The Man Who Killed the Sixties

Posted on | November 20, 2017 | 1 Comment


Charles Manson died Sunday night. You have to be a certain age — and at 58, I’m just barely old enough — to understand just what a notorious public symbol Manson was, and what the infamous “Helter Skelter” murders signified. To put it as simply as possible, Charles Manson is the man who killed the Sixties. The whole “peace and love” vibe of hippie culture, and all the hopes and dreams invested in it, were metaphorically stabbed to death in the summer of 1969.

“Tune in, turn on, drop out,” LSD guru Timothy Leary had told young people, and there was a naïve optimism in the idea that young people could skip the rat-race materialism and keeping-up-with-the-Joneses materialism of their parents’ generation. The nightmares of war in Vietnam and riots in urban ghettos had exposed the spiritual bankruptcy at the heart of LBJ’s “Great Society.” Meanwhile, the Sexual Revolution was running in high gear, accompanied by a rock-and-roll soundtrack, and in 1967, young would-be revolutionaries headed to San Francisco for the so-called “Summer of Love.”

Coincidentally, that same year, a lifelong criminal was paroled from federal prison. Manson was 32 when he was paroled in 1967. He had learned to play guitar in prison and grown his hair long, and he showed up on the streets of San Francisco that summer looking like a hippie Jesus. A former pimp, Manson had a keen eye for vulnerable young women, of whom they were many among the hippie horde who thronged the Haight-Ashbury district. Manson gathered a harem of female followers, which at one point included as many as 18 women, some of them teenage runaways. He and his core followers, the so-called “Manson Family” departed San Francisco in an old school bus, roaming up and down the West Coast before settling into the Spahn Ranch, a rundown former site for cowboy movies in Topanga Canyon near Los Angeles. It was there, in a drug-induced mania inspired by lyrics of a Beatles album, that Manson became obsessed with the idea of an apocalyptic race war that he and his disciples were destined to inaugurate.

Manson and his followers perpetrated two murders — of drug dealer Bernard Crowe and fringe Family associate Gary Hinman — in June and July 1969 before they set out to commit the two atrocities that made national headlines, the Tate-LaBianco murders. Five people, including actress Sharon Tate, were killed Aug. 9, and supermarket executive Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary were murdered Aug. 10.

Rich people being brutally murdered in mansions captured public attention, and when the LAPD’s investigation led to the December 1969 arrest of Manson and his weird group of drug-addled followers, the “peace and love” image of hippie culture was shattered forever.

There was no justice in the case, because the Supreme Court had struck down the death penalty, which meant that Manson spent decades living in prison at taxpayer expense. Now he is dead at age 83, and with his death, America has another occasion to remember the deadly lesson of what happens when people go chasing after utopian dreams.