You Can’t Unring the Bell | The Manson Family

A gruesome photo of the carnage of Jonestown

Cults or New Religious Movement (NRM’s) invaded the American consciousness in the 60s and 70s, with many significant NRM’s entering the headlines. By and large the acceleration of these movements were caused by the social changes occurring; leaving many people looking for answers and fulfillment. These answers came in the form of spiritual and religious guidance in the wake of events, such as the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement. 

The negative connotations of the term ‘cult’, directed intellectual’s to describe them as New Religious Movements (NRM’s), a term that I will be using as replacement. The Manson Family and its charismatic leader, Charles Manson, was in large part responsible for defining the negative connotation of ‘cults’.

The Manson Family was an active commune and NRM in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Charles Manson and his devoted members captured global attention for their practices, beliefs, and infamous celebrity murders in this period. These acts were fuelled by manipulation and hallucinogenic drugs at the hands of Charles Manson. And committed by Manson Family members who mostly consisted of young middle class women, coined the “Manson Girls”. The Manson Girls, became an infamous figure in pop-culture, almost transcending Charles Manson. 

“Manson had a dynamic personality with an ability to read a person’s weaknesses and manipulate them” – Gary Stromberg 

The most prevalent characteristic of a New Religious Movement is its leader, on the top of the hierarchy there is a charismatic and godlike figure. Charles Manson, was that individual, known for his innate ability to influence and control the minds of the vulnerable. With these characteristics he formed a tight grip around his members, leading them down a dark path.

His leadership and influence attracted members to join the Manson Family. Members described him as “animated and charismatic”, which he manipulated to attract recruits into the “family”. In these hopes, he preyed on women who were entering cross-roads in their lives – an element of recruitment for a majority of NRM leaders. Whether it was moving out of state, dropping out of school, a falling out with family, or a lack of purpose; Manson would use these vulnerabilities to his advantage. The 1960s were also a polarizing era, characterized by psychedelic drug use, sexual exploration, racial equality, the hippy movement, and activism. Manson’s lifestyle and ideology echoed this era, and helped cultivate his following and attract vulnerable people.

The members of The Manson Family, visualized Charles Manson as a messiah-like figure. By virtue of this, his followers saw themselves as a superior elite that had a “higher purpose”. And Manson preached that he was the reincarnation of a Jesus-like messiah that would rule the world in the after-math of a race war, which he referred to as “Helter Skelter”. Helter Skelter, an imaginary Armageddon, was the catalyst in the infamous murders committed by The Manson Family. A futile attempt to frame the murders of white celebrities, on black people – and set off a race war. The Manson Family’s fanciful higher purpose, god-like leader, and doomsday, are all common themes in NRM’s; as it creates a powerful attraction for people who are looking for direction.

“No ones joins a cult, they join a religious or political movement, with people they like” – Rebecca Moore 

Charles Manson became a central and dependent figure for his followers, and with the family’s growing success, it provided a community. This community was solidified when the group moved to Spahn Ranch. A decrepit ranch in California, isolated from society, and used to indoctrinate The Manson Family. Creating a community secluded his members from the ‘real world’, and severed ties with the establishment, family, and any ideas that did not conform with Manson’s. In this period, Manson started “brainwashing” members with psychedelic drugs like LSD. And during these experiences, he would preach about his strange beliefs, submerging his followers into his imaginary world. Isolating and brainwashing members is a fundamental characteristic in New Religious Movements, and is manipulated to rationalize their strange beliefs.

The activity of The Manson Family came to a screeching halt after the conviction of Charles Manson. Manson was the beating heart of the family, attracting members with a sense of community, counter-culture ideals, charisma, and purpose. Moreover, The Manson Family’s strange beliefs, messiah-like leader, isolation from society, and brainwashing, defines the prototypical New Religious Movement. And despite the ambitions of world-domination never coming to fruition, Manson’s legacy as an unhinged and manipulative cult leader lives in infamy. 

Theatre and Media | The Aspirations of Modern Terrorism

Modern Terrorism is synonymous with the use of media and its ability to magnify their cause. Social media’s global platform has provoked and enabled terrorism, prompting the question, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”.

The reign of modern terrorism has by and large exploited media for funding, recruitment, and exposure. Before new media, terrorisms impact was shouldered by only its immediate victims; now terror and its message has a global audience. Terrorist’s exploit this to their advantage, Bryan Burrough’s defining bombs planted by The Weather Underground, as “exploding press releases”.

The infamous Munich Massacre, arguably caused the emergence of the “theatre” of terrorism. Broadcasted to 900 million, the Munich Olympic Games, an internationally publicized event would be the perfect stage to perform. The Black September Organization took advantage of this attention, killing 11 hostages on the Israel Olympic Team. After Munich, terrorists began measuring success by the amount of attention it garnered. 

“One may go as far to say they (Al Qaeda) carried out many of their attacks for the express purpose of generating online content.” – Washington Post Columnist, Max Boot 

Modern islamic terrorist groups like Al Qaeda, Isis, and Hezbollah, have been extremely successful in garnering national attention through media. These groups and other inspired movements have grown their online presence, with thousands of devoted websites. These websites are an effective channels for recruitment, but also large scale havoc. In recent years, ISIS has been known to release gruesome beheading videos, generally targeting the western world. 

Communication is central to the act of terrorism. As Bruce Hoffman argues, “only by spreading the terror and outrage to a much larger audience can the terrorists gain the maximum potential leverage that they need to effect fundamental political change”. Meaning that without the media’s ability to globally circulate information and events, terrorisms impact would be microscopic in comparison.

Light at the End of the Tunnel | COVID-19 and the New Deal

As we suspended our lives in the wake of a global pandemic – many people compared the economic severity to The Great Depression. Millions were stuck at home, leaving behind a trail of company closers, all-time unemployment, and personal trauma. As everyone is thinking, “What’s next?”, The New Deal is a badge of hope and possibility.

President Roosevelt’s New Deal policies, like the creation of the Social Security Administration, jumpstarted the mid 1900 economy. The New Deal is the gold standard for how Government should react to national emergency. As it made America more economically equitable, and helped America prosper in the long run. It was measured as a great success, because it was experimental from a policy stand points – Brave, risky, empathetic, and transparent to American people.

The Federal government funded relief, jobs, and infrastructure. It established new policies and systems – national retirement system, unemployment insurance, disability benefits, minimum wages and maximum hours, public housing, mortgage protection, electrification of rural America, and the right of industrial labor to bargain collectively through unions.

Unfortunately the economics of today are vastly different then close to a century ago. What we can take away is the intangibles that made the New Deal successful:


1. “Set aside ideology, for experimentation” – don’t let biases and political lines discourage different problem solving and thinking. 

2. Focus on the needs of ordinary workers.

3. Cultivate unity and empathy →  to create a strong coalition.

During one of the bleakest times in recent history, COVID-19 – The New Deal symbolizes seizing opportunity in a crisis. And working amongst each other to create lasting economic security.

My Resource: The Atlantic – The Lessons of the Great Depression 

The Fall of Saigon | The End of American Innocence

The Fall of Saigon was the breaking point that shifted the collective perspective of the Vietnam war for many Americans at home and abroad. A crushing defeat that ushered in the anti-war movement.

For the United States, the fall of Saigon, was the first clear defeat. As 60,000 Americans had died in Southeast Asia – families and friends were deeply affected by the events of Saigon. As the death count stacked, the faith of America was crippled. The LBJ administration had been pushing for positive coverage, headlining “The end is soon!”. The Fall of Saigon contradicted this narrative and uncovered the harsh truth. Americans felt mislead by LBJ, which corrupted the view of the presidency. Prominent ABC anchors saying, “the war is lost” and “the presidents credibility is under fire”.

As television sets became a staple in the American household. The raw and bleak coverage of this event made the message that much stronger. The press captured the atrocities of war through front-line coverage, and day to day records of field stories. With less censorship than ever –  America had a birds eye view.

In a final breath, President Ford asked Congress for $722 million in emergency military aid for the government of South Vietnam, to help keep the North Vietnamese at bay and facilitate evacuations. Congress responded with a resounding “No”. This indicated that the collective public opinion had shifted – and the war was not winnable.


My Resource: USN – The US and Vietnam: 40 Years After the Fall of Saigon.