Newsweek compares Charles Manson with Donald Trump in an article all the while insisting it does no such thing.
“Manson was able to speak in a way that engaged those who felt marginalized or alienated,” Newsweek’s Melissa Matthews contends in an article titled “How Murderer Charles Manson and Donald Trump Used Language to Gain Followers.” She then quotes a former president of the American Psychoanalytic Association, Mark Smaller, who tells her: “Our current president speaks in an emotional or affective way to large numbers of people in our country who feel a kind of alienation or disconnection from the government.”
Yes, leaders persuade and water is wet. But Donald Trump is not Charles Manson is not Donald Trump. The people playing cheerleader to Charles Manson in 1969 appeared very different from the people wearing Make America Great Again hats in 2016. One gleans the opposite impression from Newsweek.
“I fell in love with Charlie Manson the first time I saw his cherub face and sparkling eyes on TV,” Jerry Rubin of Chicago Seven fame proclaimed. He made the pilgrimage to Los Angeles County Jail to rap with Manson for three hours. The disruptive tactics Rubin and his six co-defendants used in their trial in the Windy City Manson and his three co-defendants plagiarized in their trial in the City of Angels. “His words and courage inspired us,” Rubin reflected of the serial killer. “Manson’s soul is easy to touch because it lays quite bare on the surface.”
The Weathermen, who as Students for a Democratic Society members rioted with Jerry Rubin in Chicago in 1968, idolized Charles Manson in 1969. Like Manson, they read too much into rock lyrics. They named their group and manifesto after a lyric from a Bob Dylan song just as Manson imagined his mission as instructed from The Beatles’ “white album.” In honor of Manson, a Weatherman cadre named themselves “The Fork.” Others in the group adopted a split-fingered greeting to symbolize that fork Manson Family member Patricia Krenwinkel stuck in the stomach of victim Leno LaBianca.
Bernardine Dohrn, a real cheerleader turned Manson cheerleader, told her fellow Weathermen: “Dig it: first they killed those pigs, then they ate dinner in the same room with them, then they even shoved a fork into the victim’s stomach. Wild!”
Jerry Rubin dropped out of at least four universities, lived in a kibbutz in Israel, played ideological tourist in Castro’s Cuba, and formed the Youth International Party. Bernardine Dohrn hailed from a wealthy family, earned membership in the National Honor Society in high school, and graduated from the University of Chicago. One of her fellow activists, Diana Oughton, forming “The Fork” cadre grew up on sylvan estate with a windmill, deer park, and goose pond. Another in “The Fork” group, Kathy Boudin, lived in the townhouse used as the façade in The Cosby Show to display the opulence of the Huxtables.
The Manson Family, though not its patriarch, generally came from if not the wealth of the Weathermen at least from middle-class homes. Squeaky Fromme, who pulled a gun on President Gerald Ford in Sacramento in 1975, was the daughter of an aeronautical engineer. She once performed on The Lawrence Welk Show. Sandra Good, “Blue” to Fromme’s “Red” in the Manson Family, was a “prima donna” who “came from money, had allergies to this and that, and was always complaining,” according to fellow Family member Dianne Lake’s recent memoir Member of the Family. Patricia Krenwinkel’s dad sold insurance and she taught Sunday school. Manson’s muscle Tex Watson starred in football and track, and performed as an honor student in high school before joining a fraternity in college.
Manson did not persuade the poor and economically disaffected, as Newsweek implies. Indeed, the dregs of society raped and beat him in prison. Even after winning notoriety, their threats coerced him to turn the “X” above his nose into a swastika to get the Aryan Brotherhood off his back. Manson found his gullible audience with millionaire Dennis Wilson, who opened his rented log mansion to the guru and his harem, and Angela Lansbury’s daughter Deirdre, whose mother’s house, closets, and credit cards became commandeered by the motely crew of violent hippies.
While Manson shared traits and views with political extremists of his era, he bears no likeness to Donald Trump, or to any current political leader in either party for that matter. This did not stop Newsweek from making its cheap comparison, a response to the murderer’s passing that, like a Rorschach test, tells us more about the magazine than the man they criticize.