Monday, June 29, 2015

Motive: They Believed In What They Were Doing - The Perspective of an Elite Warrior

I'm new to this forum but not new to the strange and macabre events of 9-10 August, 1969. To introduce myself, my name is J and I'm a 20 year veteran of Army special operations. I was an Airborne Ranger for 8 years prior to being selected to a secretive counter terrorism unit based in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. I was a part of hundreds of nighttime raids and kill/capture missions and deployed everywhere from Mogadishu Somalia to Bosnia and Herzegovina, to Afghanistan and finally four times to Iraq for a total of 8 combat deployments. For those of you that may question my background, I've sent Matt numerous documents to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am who I say that I am. I'm as highly trained and combat effective as an elite warrior can be but my reason for contributing here has nothing to do with me, my accomplishments, or personal accolades. It's to give some perspective and lend credence to something that has always intrigued me about the horrific events that unfolded in August of 1969.

To begin, killing humans doesn't come naturally. There's a great book written about the psychology of killing humans titled "On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society" which is written by Dave Grossman. I brought this book with me to read when I attended the selection course for the unit I would ultimately spend twelve years in before retiring from the Army. To be honest, I'm not much of a reader other than my true passions; music (specifically guitar), true crime, and horror movies. To summarize, the book "On Killing" is loaded with statistical and empirical data from our wars and discusses how most people, even in the military and law enforcement community can't actually kill when faced with the task. It also discusses how the military tried to make soldiers more effective at killing by changing the simplest things such as training to shoot silhouette (human body shaped targets) which was a departure from the traditional bullseye marksmanship type of targets it had used for years. The book isn't about just those things but gets to the deeper psychological hurdles one has to jump and navigate in order to kill humans. It's way too much to get into here and now but my take away from the book was that killing humans is a very unnatural act and most people can't go through with it.

While reading portions of the book, I could relate to just how challenging killing could be as I thought back to my first engagements on the streets of Mogadishu in October of 1993. I was 24 and had been through Ranger School, Airborne School, and well over two  years of physically and mentally challenging training events. I remember watching Somali men aiming their AK's towards me and my teammates and thinking "don't make me have to do this". I was so tunnel visioned and my heart pounded as I slowly squeezed the trigger and watched as my bullets struck the three skinny Somali men in the face and chest. They continued running towards me and one of them didn't slow down until I shot him in the pelvis. I can still, clear as day, see the look on his face as his body jerked towards the ground in his final seconds of life. The next 18 hours were spent doing much of the same and after more than 22 years later, I can still see and hear the sights and sounds as if it were a few hours ago. Unlike having PTSD, I can think about it when I want to think about it and it doesn't control my thoughts.

Fortunately, I don't have PTSD and after living through numerous harrowing events and situations since October of 1993, I'm able to sleep well at night and wake up with a smile. I was able to continue to go back because I knew I was protected and felt that something or someone always had my back. The trust in my teammates and beliefs in what I was doing was more important than anything. That's what brings me to write this.

I'm not versed enough in all of the different theories (probably common knowledge to most of you) in regards to August 9th and 10th 1969. I did however read Helter Skelter back in 1982 and it was the first of many true crime books that I read in my teenage years. Between Charles Manson and the Zodiac, I'm not sure which I find more interesting. Probably the Zodiac only because he had a super high intellect and has yet to be named, caught, identified and tried by a jury of his peers. In other words, there is no proof that it's this person or that person, only theories about his true identity. But in the case of Charles Manson and his band of wickedness, I don't pretend to be an expert in any of the theories nor do I care to support one theory over another. The facts are the facts, people are in jail and hopefully they will never be released. I say that because by their own admission, they are where there are because of their actions and role in the heinous crimes they committed.

As I told Matt by email, I've recently been re-bitten by the Charles Manson bug and have been combing over a few of the blogs and websites over the last few weeks. It's been quite a while since I read anything about the case and my life experiences are different than when I first read about Charles Manson. Based on my experiences, a few things really stand out to me.

Like Tex Watson and crew, I've been given a location and instructions and told to go and kill or capture people of high importance. Unlike Tex and crew, I was highly trained and very effective in reading situations and have a natural ability to complex problem solve while in a very ambiguous and rapidly changing environment. That's called "cognitive dexterity" and one of the key components to being an operational member of the unit I was assigned to. Here's where I start to have issues with the story about the events in August 1969. Tex Watson and crew were unskilled yet pulled off a near perfect operation on the night of August 9th. Some of the things that immediately jump out to me, how did Tex know what lines to cut or where the lines were located? How did he figure this out in the dark with a group of women standing around not knowing what they were doing? As well, the adrenaline coursing through their collective veins must have been tremendous. What were they thinking at the time? I'd be worried that the occupants of the house own a gun or an attack dog. Will I die in the process of trying to accomplish what I've been tasked to do? Is it worth it? I can tell you, I've been a part of some very strategic, pin point and precise operations. The killers seemed to know what they were doing especially with all of the adrenaline pumping through them. This always stood out to me but stands out even more to me now. Creeping up on a house full of people in the middle of the night is a rush in itself but creeping up on a house full of people that you're going to exterminate is a whole new level. I have to believe that they were more skilled than I originally thought.

I don't understand how a group of twenty-something year old kids could accomplish this except for one small but critical detail. They had to believe in what they were doing. They had to believe in their cause. They had to believe in the reason  they were sent out to kill that night. A typical and rationally thinking person, if pulled off the street, would not be able to load into a car in dark clothing; creep up on a house in the middle of the night, cut phone lines, shoot people point blank in a car, go into the house and round everyone up, and finally shoot and stab everyone in the residence until they took their final breaths. If a typical and rationally thinking person was witness to the horror that took place at 10050 Cielo Drive, they wouldn't sleep for days. Watching people die, especially in such a violent and up close and personal manner is not an easy thing to watch. A typical and rationally thinking person wouldn't be able to get the images and sounds of blood curdling screams and pleading for their lives out of their heads. A typical and rationally thinking person would most definitely experience some sort of post-traumatic stress. Instead, these kids got back into their car and in a logically and rationally thinking state of mind, decided to wash themselves, discard their clothing, and upon return to the ranch they went to sleep. In similar traumatic and life altering experiences I've been a part of, I was able to go to sleep afterwards because I one thousand percent believed in what I was doing. I didn't commit senseless murder. This makes me think that they definitely believed their actions were justified.

On top of that, they got back in the car with Charles Manson not too many hours later, and did it again but this time taking it a bit further and they mutilated one of the bodies after they completed their task.

One of the other details that stands out to me is that the killers were so effective. Believe it or not, people don't die very easily. Voytek Frykowski put up one hell of a fight and if the killers were under the influence of drugs and in a haze due to narcotics, Voytek Frykowski would have easily been able to fight off two small women and one large man. He would have taken some licks and probably some lacerations and stab wounds, but he could have easily fought off two drug impaired women and one drug impaired man. Even after being shot. Again, firsthand experience on my side, I've witnessed a 130 pound Iraqi man kicking the shit out of three to four (highly trained in MMA/Combatives) commandos. When people think they are going to die, they switch into a mode that is beyond human strength. In the news we've all seen videos wherein ten cops wrestle one man to the ground and the cops can barely get the cuffs on the individual. I've lived it and witnessed this firsthand and it wasn't a case of being over the top aggressive with the people I needed to subdue. I applied the force necessary to control the situation and protect my teammates.

If we look at the story and the facts that we all know to be true (I'm sure this comment will draw criticism from the people that have it all figured out), Linda Kasabian is the only one that acted like a typical and rationally thinking person, sort of. She couldn't do what the others were capable of doing. Maybe she didn't believe in the cause because she hadn't been brainwashed enough into thinking that these acts were justifiable. But, one thing is clear and that is she didn't feel safe enough to up and leave the ranch of her own accord. To me, that is her true crime. The guilty parties all admitted to committing the acts. That isn't disputable. What is mostly disputed (nowadays it seems) is the Helter Skelter motive. Not that I subscribe to any of the newly presented theories, or the Helter Skelter motive for that matter, but the motive to commit these acts had to be something that these inexperienced kids believed enough that they were able to sleep and function normally and go out again a number of hours later and kill once more. Again, I'm not an expert in all of the intricacies of the case, but I do know death and killing and the psychology and physiology behind being able to carry out high risk operations.

Based on my knowledge of what is required to successfully carry out these acts from a physical and emotional point of view, I believe the killers were highly motivated. I believe they rehearsed (creepy crawling). I believe they conducted some form of reconnaissance to locate the phone lines. I believe they were completely clear minded and not under the heavy influence of mind altering drugs or narcotics. I believe that they were able to function rationally and logically after the crimes because they truly believed in what they were doing. I believe they brought all of the correct tools needed to be successful at their task (bolt cutters/rope/gun/knives/change of clothes). This leads me to believe that they didn't just go and commit these crimes on a whim. They had a plan, they had the equipment, they had a flag to rally behind, they had the clothing, they had the vehicle, and they had a clear head to successfully complete their task. Now what motive best supports their actions and ability to commit such gruesome atrocities?

People commit murder every day. Generally murder is financially motivated but revenge, jealousy, vendetta, frustration, hate, drugs, etc are all in the mix too. This piece isn't written from the standpoint of theorizing what the motive was. That was proven in a court of law based on all of the evidence gathered. I guess some people say there was a mass conspiracy and cover up but I'm here to tell you, the government doesn't do a good job of keeping secrets. In order to keep secrets, one must be isolated and in this case, there is only ONE group of people that were isolated and those are the people that lived at Spahn Ranch. If government (LAPD) conspiracy was at play, they are far too incompetent to be that good at covering up the truth. People talk to their spouse, they talk to friends, they talk to everyone. In my career, I'd get back from a sensitive deployment and run into a fellow unit member's wife at the grocery store and they'd ask me how my trip was. Again, I'm not an expert on all of the intricacies of this case, but government cover up is probably more a thing of folklore than reality. Government is too big to be good at much of anything.   

As far as motive, one thing is clear to me and that is this was a group of wicked people that really believed what they were doing was justified. The victims family members understand the evil required to commit these crimes and they've lived every day since wondering how this could have happened to their sister/brother/son/etc. As well, the killers own family members probably wonder similarly how their loved one could have committed such brutality. The devil had his hand in these events and worked through these people.

I hope this somehow lends a perspective that few understand and to be clear, I'm not an assassin for the government. I'm not a baby killer fighting George Bush's dirty little oil war. I fought pure evil for your ability to write, speak, and live freely in the greatest country on the planet. If you don't believe in the unprovoked evil that crashed planes into our buildings, feel free to go hang out in Syria or Mogadishu for a few weeks. Maybe then, you'll have an better understanding of the evil in the world. An evil that would gladly saw your head off and the heads of your children, on video for its own evil gain.  I'm sharing this perspective to help you better understand how normal, rationally thinking people can't watch the blood drain out of a woman who happens to be eight months pregnant, and watch it spill all over the carpet, hear the gurgles of death, and then go and have a good night sleep back at the ranch. 

Lastly, we have the benefit of time to look back and reflect on these events. The prosecutor had mere months to gather information and present that information to the world. Was it perfect? No. He didn't have the luxury that we have today and that is time and resources such as the internet.

As well, I hope that the victims families have found peace somehow.