Monday, May 28, 2018

MansonBlog Tour 2018: Heartbreak and Change of Heart about the Manson Girls

Walking Encyclopedias
I went on the Manson Blog Tour to see if I could feel, see, touch, or hear something that would get me a little closer to learning why the murders took place. 

I was the last to arrive at the house where we were all staying.  As a newbie, I'd met none of the bloggers before. Honestly, I was kind of scared I'd be walking into the "Star Wars" bar. Thankfully, it wasn't as creepy as I imagined. 

It was crazy-cool to spend time with the bloggers and others in real life. They are information superheroes. It was like being around a bunch of walking encyclopedias. Many times, I just listened. 
The creator of Shorty's memorial box, etc.

When I talked, I found myself saying, over and over again, "This is heartbreaking." I said it at all the cemeteries -  especially at Shorty's grave in the potter's field. I repeated it at Cielo, Waverly, and the location where Shorty met his demise. I could be heard again at Spahn, when we saw the memorialized box containing Shorty's finger bones and again when we saw his possible murder weapon (and loudly when someone suggested I touch it to see if I got any vibes). I was probably the most heartbroken when we walked by what was left of the road on which the killers drove out of Spahn. How could those murders have happened?  What destroyed those young adults' morality and compassion? 

David suggested a book that may help: "The Manson Women and Me" by Nikki Meredith. Initially, I poo-pahed another book. After you read as many Manson-related books as many of us have, they get tiresome because we tend to judge the author's knowledge with a microscope instead of trying to learn something new. But, because I respect David's opinion, I gave it a shot.  The author is a social worker and former probation officer who went to high school with Stephen Kay and Catherine Share. She spent several years interviewing Krenwinkle, Van Houten, and their families trying to determine the answer to this question: If the women weren't psychopaths, sociopaths, or had personality disorders – what happened to their humanity on those nights?  She chose not to interview Atkins, suggesting that Susan's behavior may have been caused by the condition of hematolagnia (bloodthirst).  Yuck.

Although the author spends an exhaustive and, in my opinion, unnecessary amount of time trying to correlate her own life to those of the killers, her theory is that the murders were Manson's idea and the group lacked the ability to stop him. Why?  Too much empathy for the Family.  A brief summary:

1.   Manson created an environment that eroded feelings for people outside the group. "One of the techniques for mobilizing ordinary people to commit mass murder is to identify potential victims as subhuman." None of this is new, if you think about it. Nazis thought the Jews were subhuman. Same with the Hutus and the Tutsis, Guatemalan military and the Mayan Indians, etc. In the book, Meredith describes studies which show that the brain's empathy circuit can be fired up or down depending on how people are labeled.

2.   The intense empathy the group had for each other, particularly Charlie, is what made them so dangerous.  They perceived themselves having a fused identity. Similar to other extremists (she writes a lot about ISIS), anyone who didn't share their views were enemies and all enemies must be destroyed.  "How does fused identity lead to cold blooded killing?  It is the perception that if the group is threatened, dramatic action is required to defend it." Together, the Family would do what none would do individually.

3.   "Any program that succeeds in boosting an individual's empathy for his or her own group might actually increase hostility toward the enemy." This part was exceptionally poignant to me. In a large scale, the author relates this to almost every war on earth. On a small scale, to the Family. Leslie and Pat had unwavering loyalty to the Family and lacked empathy for their victims for years after their arrests. Remember that during her interview with McGann, Leslie said this about the family: "You couldn’t find a nicer group of people."

This doesn't mean the author gives them a pass. She offers her opinion on parole suitability at the end of the book.  Van Houten: Yes, but with a caveat: What does it say about a society where any nice girl can be made a killer?  Krenwinkle: Meh, due to anger and other issues. When Krenwinkle asked her, the author wouldn't even write a recommendation letter to the parole board.   

Did the book help me understand why the murders took place? No. But, it did make me more empathetic toward Van Houten and Krenwinkle, who I have never, ever thought of as anything more than dirt. So, thanks David for suggesting I read it. I didn't plan for my newbie post to be a book report, but that's what evolved. Kind of like how the Blog Tour evolves each year. This year's tour became about paying respects, and I’m glad it did. I never thought that paying respects would lead me to having a (very small) change of heart about two of the female killers. I guess we all have lessons to learn. 

Several years ago, Squeaky was interviewed in prison. She must have been about 50. She said she still supports the "girls" for committing the crimes, because "they did what they thought was right." At the time, that comment made me want to vomit. Now? The comment makes my heart break, but it also makes me wonder...

Spahn Necessity
Let's imagine ourselves as 19-year-olds. Imagining ourselves as girls would be better, since there were more of them on the ranch. We are very impressionable. A little lost - wanting something different, but not knowing where to go. It's the late 60s, we are in California, and we've just started dipping our toes into the counterculture. We meet this cool cat who tells us we are beautiful, that he loves us for who we are, and takes us into his family where he says there is no wrong. We sing songs, have sex, take fun drugs, and play make-believe on a ranch all day. (Spahn is very cool if you don't have allergies!) We all love each other very much. It's real love – not this fake, conditional stuff our family has shown us. This is a real family. The women are our sisters, and the men are our brothers. California is the only place on earth. We feed each other, care for each other, and protect each other. Then one day, our group is threatened – we're told Black Panthers are coming, and we know from the news how truly frightening they are. Charlie starts teaching us how to fight with knives. And then another one of us is put in jail.  We've been taking so many drugs we are sure that what Charlie’s been saying all this time about war is starting to happen. He asks us repeatedly if we would do anything for the family. We all say yes because we are ONE.  No one understands what real love and unity are but us. We prepare for battle to protect our own. One night, Charlie asks us to do something special. He tells us to get a change of clothes, go to a house, and do whatever Tex says. 

What would you have done?  Would you have been loyal?