Take a guy like Manson and plop him down in regular ol' middle America, and he's just a crazy guy with a wonky eye and a motormouth. In fact, Manson was a run-of-the-mill screw-up his whole life -- in West Virginia; Ohio; Indiana; Washington, D.C.; and Florida. But then something happened -- he was arrested in California. And it was California that put Manson in prison for seven years in the 1960s, and California where he was paroled in 1967.
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He was free only for about 33 months.
This is where things take a turn for the Satanic. California, for all its liberal leanings and laid-back vibes, has been a hub for fringe religious cults for decades. Jim Jones and his ill-fated Peoples Temple followers were headquartered in San Francisco. Children of God, the weird sex cult that River Phoenix's family belonged to when he was a kid, was started in Huntington Beach, California. Branch Davidians: California. Remember those guys who killed themselves to reach an alien ship traveling on the Hale-Bopp comet? San Diego. Scientology? Southern California. Finding a cult that didn't get its start in California is like finding a silicon breast implant that didn't end up there.
Enjoy the fresh air while you can, little pre-boob.
Not only was/is California "Cult State, USA," but in 1967 California was also home to tens of thousands of disenchanted young hippies looking for their slice of the counterculture pie. So what do you get when you mix a two-bit pimp with America's runaways in a bowl primed for fringe religious movements? Sadly, eight murders that made no sense.
After all, Manson wasn't the brightest guy on the block, as IQ tests later confirmed. And he didn't have many original ideas -- his whole message was a garbled amalgamation of other people's writings -- everything from the Book of Revelation, his weirdo interpretations of Beatles lyrics, and the self-help book How to Win Friends and Influence People got thrown in the Manson sermons. It just so happened that his audience was composed of young girls too naive and too drugged to notice he was spewing complete nonsense.
You'd think the flying gestures would have tipped them off.