Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Hooded Snuffoids: Manson and the Satan Freaks

Many of the Mansonistas here in Blogland will probably be familiar with the group known as The Process Church of the Final Judgement. The Process were a 'satanic' cult operating in the US and England during the 60's & 70's, and had originally begun as a splinter group from an English chapter of Scientology. The Process were apparently a fairly infamous sight in California at one point, their black-cloaked members hustling magazines and pamphlets on the streets and operating a number of bars, cafes, and charity agencies decorated with swirling red-and-black psychedelic Satanist paintwork. The Process became even more infamous at the time of Manson's arrest due to their supposed connections to the Family. Schreck and Ed Sanders both tried to link The Process and the Family in their original books, while Bugliosi tried to draw a connection between them as part of his prosecution. Although the evidence connecting the two cults is pretty tenuous, the Process did nothing to help their public image by having two members visit Manson in prison and soliciting Charlie to contribute an article to the 'Death' issue of their magazine 'The Processean'. The article's themes should be pretty familiar to avid Family-watchers, with plenty of 'coming to now' kinda language; a scan of the article can be viewed here. At the end of the day, however, despite worshiping Satan, Lucifer, Christ, and Jehovah (all at once!), the Process were really pretty harmless as far as cults go.

The best source of information on The Process is the 1978 book Satan's Power: A Deviant Psychotherapy Cult, by William S. Bainbridge. Satan's Power is a sociological text providing an in-depth analysis of the Process's membership, internal culture, and the development of their theological beliefs. Bainbridge was a sociologist who essentially embedded himself with The Process for a number of years, taking part in rituals, helping sell magazines, and observing and engaging with the Process' charity work and counseling sessions. Due to the linking of The Process and The Family in the public consciousness, Satan's Power goes into some depth in addressing the nature of Family-Process relations and in assessing the impact of the murders and the Family trials on The Process. The Family is first mentioned in the book's introduction ('Conflicting Reports'), and later is covered in more depth in their own section ('The Manson Disaster'). Both of these sections have been written up below, and although their information is never particularly mind-blowing, it is still provides insight on these events from a viewpoint not normally considered- that of the cult itself.

(A Note: the author tried to protect the cult's identity by using aliases. For this reason 'The Process' is always referred to as 'The Power' in the text, and Robert de Grimston is 'Edward de Forest'. I've provided a few annotations here and there in parentheses so this doesn't confuse anyone.)



Colourful, bizarre, even terrifying, The Power called forth interest as well as antagonism from those who encountered it in the late 1960s. The cult’s striking public performance evoked a variety of metaphors from reporters. Some journalists saw only the most superficial characteristics: “They wear dark space-suits with red Satanic emblems sewn on the chests and are usually accompanied by German-Shepherd dogs.” Others pretended to see far beneath the surface and called the cult “Satan worshippers” and “mind-benders.” One reporter visited the cult and was surprised to discover that Powerites were not really fiends from Hell. “What I found was no secret cult of drug-taking Devil worshippers, but one of the most curious, and curiously attractive, of all the unorthodox religions in America.” Another reporter was impressed by the mysterious ambiguity surrounding The Power. “They have been accused of ritual murder, accused of drinking dog’s blood. While their church services and hierarchy would make a pope proud, their symbols and secrets are a gossip’s playground.”

The Power came to national attention in 1970 and 1971, when journalists publicly charged that it was ultimately responsible for the infamous Tate-LaBianca murders committed by Charles Manson and his followers. Without any good evidence, they wrote that Manson had been a member of The Power and indoctrinated in Satanism by it. The prosecutor in the Manson case said a direct connection with The Power could not be proved, but he felt the ideologies and structures of The Manson Family and The Power were so similar that some connection was quite likely. One journalist reported that The Power was extremely deviant sexually. He explained its success with converts as the natural result of this deviance:
The Power, as did Manson, employs sexual excesses as a means by which to shake loose any influence society may still hold over the initiates. Both groups practice communal living and indiscriminate sexual relations among members… Savage and indiscriminate sex is forced on the entrants into the cult not as a means of religious communion but as a means of purging the initiates of any residue of Grey Forces [conventionality] that might be latent in them. Sex is a means of cutting members off from the outside and subjecting them to the will of the group, or the wills of the group leaders.
My years studying The Power convinced me that the specific claims of wickedness made by some outsiders were false, but that a quasi-sociological hypothesis hidden behind these stories was correct. I found no actual connection between Manson’s murders and The Power. “Savage and indiscriminate sex” was not forced on new recruits. The Power was, however, a closed social universe created and maintained by intensive emotional interaction between participants. In this it resembles the Manson Family or any other small sect or deviant subculture embodied in a specific social group. Powerites often spoke of “sexual energy” as the glue that held them together, referring not to orgiastic group experiences but simply to intense bonds of positive feeling that tied members together in a strong, closed social network.


In August 1969, Charles Manson led his ragtag “dune buggy attack battalion” in the murders of actress Sharon Tate and six other persons. The California police arrested Manson in November, and very soon a rumor began that Manson’s sinister group was an offshoot of The Power. A Los Angeles radio station telephoned the London Chapter of The Power asking if the rumor were true. When Cain and Lilith were scouting out the American territory early in 1970, they were both worried and attracted by the idea that Manson was a schismatic Powerite. Manson was one of the reasons the pair drove out to Los Angeles. Lilith says, “I got a real wild idea in my head and decided we should go off to California and check out Charles Manson and what was happening out there. ‘Cause we had just been pointed out as being involved in these strange ritual murders.” I asked her if there were any real connection between Manson and The Power. “None. None whatsoever!” Had he ever come to a meeting? “No. None of us had ever met him, heard of him. None of us recognised him when we saw pictures of him. If he had any contact with us – which he may have done, he may have spoken to someone on the streets who was selling magazines – it would have been a very brief contact which whoever it was didn’t even remember. And I have the feeling that he never actually spoke to any of us.” This is exactly the response I got from other knowledgeable Powerites.

The Manson murders were a public relations disaster for the widespread youth counterculture of the late 1960s. Many Americans were quick to believe that Manson accurately represented the counterculture. A counterculture reporter recalls reading the news reports about the murders with a friend. They agreed “We are in trouble.” They knew they and other harmless deviants would suffer guilt by association in the public mind. “Neither of us rushed out to shave and get a haircut, of course, but when, a few months later, long-haired, bearded Charles Manson (ballyhooed throughout the press as the leader of a tribe of “hippies”) was arrested for the crime, I began to wish I had. For a time it seemed as though every freak in the country was on trial, as the media made no attempt to distinguish between the drug-crazed, hairy beast called Manson and every other drug-crazed, hairy beast walking around.”

Vincent Bugliosi, prosecutor in the Manson case, could never quite decide what kind of link there was between the Manson Family and The Power. Certainly, he never attempted to bring any Powerite to court. Bugliosi notes several parallels between the Manson Family and The Power, and says, “They are enough to convince me, at least, that even if Manson himself may never have been a member of The Power, he borrowed heavily from the satanic cult.” Bugliosi conjectured at length:
I’m inclined to think that Manson’s contact with the group probably occurred in San Francisco in 1967, as indicated, at a time when his philosophy was still being formulated. I believe there was at least some contact, in view of the many parallels between Manson’s teachings and those of The Power as revealed in their literature.
 Both preached an imminent, violent Armageddon, in which all but the chosen few would be destroyed. Both found the basis for this in the Book of Revelation. Both conceived that motorcycle gangs, such as Hell’s Angels, would be the troops of the last days. And both actively sought to solicit them to their side.
In 1971, Father Adam, then head of the Boston Chapter [of The Power], admitted his feelings to a newspaper reporter. “Manson had obviously got hold of some of our ideas from somewhere and had taken and distorted them in a particular way. It is unfortunate. If we had had the opportunity to speak to him, we could have avoided that series of very brutal killings.” I rather think Father Adam had been swept along by the press reports, just as many other readers were. The ideas common to The Power and Manson’s group are not at all that unique. Other “satanic” cults existed, most notably Anton Szandor LaVey’s Church of Satan that has lurked and performed in San Francisco for years. Surely the Book of Revelation is available for anyone ready to open a Bible. To the extent that both groups were socially isolated, introverted, millenarian cults that arose in Christian nations at the time of the youth counterculture, we would expect them to have some of the same characteristics, even if they differed absolutely in their practices concerning violence. But some of the more bombastic, rhetorical passages in Power literature do sound like Mansonian proclamations. The Gods on War, completed by Edward [de Forest] in August 1967, announces, “The final march of doom has begun. The earth is prepared for ultimate devastation. The mighty engines of WAR are all aligned and brought together for the End. The scene is set.” This stormy book, packed with pictures of war, contains three long essays attributed to the Gods Jehovah, Lucifer, and Satan. In each, one of the Gods expresses His orientation toward war. Each essay is really a character study of one of the Gods. The book assumes that destruction is coming, that the world has entered into the Latter Days, and seeks to take rhetorical advantage of all the powerful images of war provided by press coverage of recent conflicts. In a passage most Mansonian in mood, the Lord Satan advises the reader to participate fully in the holocaust:
Release the Fiend that lies dormant within you, for he is strong and ruthless, and his power is far beyond the bounds of human frailty.
Come forth in your savage might, rampant with the lust of battle, tense and quivering with the urge to strike, to smash, to split asunder all that seek to detain you. And cast your eye upon the land before you. Choose what road of slaughter and violation you will follow. Then stride out upon the land and amongst the people.
Rape with the crushing force of your virility; kill with the devastating precision of your sword arm; maim with the ruthless ingenuity of your pitiless cruelty; destroy with the overpowering fury of your bestial strength; lay waste with the all-encompassing majesty of your power…
For the world can be yours, and the blood of men can be yours to spill as you please. And you can have your pleasure of the world through violence and the wielding of the sword. And your lust can stride upon the face of the land, taking whatever it desires, and discarding the empty husks when you’ve sucked them dry.
This is pure rhetoric, bombast meant to arouse the emotions and make The Power look intense, formidable, unusual. No real Powerite I knew ever made the mistake of thinking these words were commandments that required action. Father Adam once told a reporter, “Very satanic members find it difficult to fit into the church. They cannot live as Inside Powerites.” The cult did attract some violent young men, but they seldom stayed with it for long and almost never became inner members.

Stung but interested by the alleged tie to Manson, The Power sent two leading members out to California, where they spoke with Bugliosi and Manson. They told the prosecutor they were innocent but apparently did not completely convince him. Manson was not helpful to the cult’s cause. During the murder trial, Bugliosi asked him if he knew Edward Jones, also called Edward de Forest [the author here is referring to Robert de Grimston, head of The Process –Vermouth]. Manson said he did not know de Forest, but claimed he did know Jones: “You’re looking at him.” Another time he said, “Jones and I are one and the same.” This was pure mystification.

The Death issue of the Power magazine, which came out in 1971, did not help the cult’s image. News reporters noted it contained a brief article by Charles Manson, “written especially for The Power.” Manson describes death as “Total awareness, closing the circle, bringing the soul to now. Ceasing to be, to become a world within yourself. Locked in your own totalness.” Calling death “peace from this world’s madness and paradise in my own self,” he identifies it with isolation from the world, from outer reality, an isolation created by his own madness and developed through the social autarchy of his cult. Death – the ultimate in social implosion.

Other rumors circulated, linking The Power to heinous, inexplicable events. For the last few years, reports of animal mutilations have come from several sections of the country. Cattle or wild animals are found cut to pieces, their carcasses lying ripped on hillsides, far away from human settlements. Rumors about these mutilations have spread and evolved, an interesting example of collective behaviour and the collective development of myth.

Some reporters spread the tale that a sinister satanic cult called The Xtul Group was responsible for all these animal mutilations. Of course, the Xtul Group is meant to be The Power. It was not in fact responsible. From its very beginning, the cult has been antivivisectionist. [The author relates earlier in the book how a key experience leading to the cult’s formation happened to members at Xtul, Mexico – Vermouth]

The very last straw was an assault on The Power by Ed Sanders, former leader of The Fugs (a rock band) and literary light of the counterculture. At the end of 1971, he published a series of magazine articles, and then a book, about the Manson murders. He devoted an entire chapter to The Power, saying it was an important “sleazo input which warped the mind of Charles Manson.” Sanders called Powerites “hooded snuffoids,” and described the cult as “The black-caped, black-garbed, death-worshipping Power Church.” He said it was “an English occult society dedicated to observing and aiding the end of the world by stirring up murder, violence and chaos, and dedicated to the proposition that they, the Power, shall survive the gore as the chosen people.” His chapter on the cult was a stew of information, misinformation, and hate.

In quick response to Sanders’ attack, The Power went to court, lodging a libel suit for $1,500,000 against the book and another one for $1,250,000 against the magazine article. The book publisher, E.P. Dutton, said “The book was carefully checked by our attorneys and speaks for itself.” A public relations lady hired by The Power pointed to “false and defamatory material” published by Sanders, “statements that Powerites were linked with the Manson family prior to the murder of Sharon Tate and that a Power member opened the kitchen door to Sirhan Sirhan shortly before he murdered Senator Robert F. Kennedy.” She also accused Sanders of claiming The Power enjoyed “eulogizing Hitler, sacrificing humans and animals and then drinking their blood, sex orgies, kidnapping, and loving dope.”

In public statements, cult leaders tried to convince reporters that this horrendous smorgasbord of disgusting satanic delights was fantasy. Father Adam asserted, “We don’t have orgies; we don’t practice cannibalism; we don’t sacrifice animals; we don’t drink blood; we don’t practice magic rituals or put curses on people or say the Lord’s Prayer backwards.” But the story was impossible to stop. The New York Times described the reception that Powerites often received on the streets. “‘Are you devil worshipers?’ ask the very curious. Others, less curious than angry, make rude remarks.” At this time almost all the income of the cult was derived from street begging. The Power was struggling to project the most bland, appealing, innocent religious image so that people would be inclined to contribute to their “church.” Sanders’ publicity about Manson threatened financial disaster and endangered the very economic survival of The Power.

The Power’s trouble extended to the Toronto Chapter. The cult had received $23,049 from the Ottawa government under the Local Initiatives Programme. This money was to be given to young people hired through the church to do social service work. The group contends that all the money was properly spent and that church money went into the projects as well. In March 1972, a newspaper, The Toronto Sun, attacked the program by denouncing the “Satanists” who had run off with public money. Prime Minister Trudeau was drawn into this controversy on a radio talk show. As The Power tells the story, all ended well, with an outpouring of friendly statements from civic leaders and knowledgeable reporters drowning the negative “Satanist” comments.

Sanders’ publishers decided to settle the libel case out of court. The book company undoubtedly wanted to sell thousands of copies and was anxious to come to a fast settlement. In a press release issued March 8, 1972, Dutton said, “A close examination has revealed that statements in the book about The Power Church, including those attributing any connection between The Power and the activities of Charles Manson, accused and convicted murderer, have not been substantiated.” Dutton agreed to remove all references to the cult from future editions and to join with it in announcing a cooperative end to the lawsuit. Writing in an open letter as the spokesman for The Power, Father Adam said, “We are satisfied that the actions being taken by Dutton, the publishers of the book, and Ed Sanders, the author, constitute suitable vindication of the Church.” On the third of April, a parallel settlement was announced with the editors of the magazine that had printed Sanders’ articles. They were able to get out from under the suit against them by publishing excerpts from the press release issued by Dutton. The cult got no money from either publisher. In a meek attempt to assert its new, clean image, the cult inserted the following self-description in the press release: “The Power is a religious organisation devoted to spreading the work of Christ.”

The cult also sued the English publisher of Sanders’ book, and there the outcome was quite different. The case actually went to court, and a verdict was rendered in March 1974. The Power lost! Their case against Sanders and the English publisher was dismissed, and the cult was ordered to pay court costs. Of course, this does not mean that Sanders’ statements about The Power were true.

The Power was not responsible for Manson, but the controversy had a tremendous impact on the cult. Already committed to making peace with conventional society, already completely dependent on the good will of conventional society for its economic life, The Power was spurred to even greater attempts to clean up its image and downplay the Satanic aspect of its doctrines. St. Peter denied Christ and suffered for it; The Power would deny Satan and also suffer. To escape the dark halo of Satan, it would compulsively overfulfill the demands of Christ. To gain public support, it would first hide, then later abandon some of its most precious symbols and concepts, leaving a gnawing cultural void. Without Satan, what would distinguish The Power from all other religions?