Decades after the vicious Hollywood Tate and LaBianca murders by Charles Manson's terror cult, known as "The Family," Manson remains an enigmatic subject of scientific study. He clearly understood normative social influences, the influences that make people conform in order to be liked and accepted even when it is dangerous to do so. His skilled use of these principles put him near the top of the list of history's more destructive cult leaders.
The anti-establishment counterculture of the 1960s provided a strong base for Manson to achieve a charismatic influence on his followers. He had remarkable talents in dance and music that earned him attention within a counterculture obsessed with a musical style that symbolized the culture's identity. Through his music, he built associations with established bands, elevating his social prestige. In a culture whose ethos involved a deep-seated mistrust of authority, Manson's career as a convict actually promoted, rather than detracted from, his image as being trustworthy. These factors worked together to lend credence to the interpretations of society and music lyrics that formed the foundation of his vision of an impending apocalypse.
Manson's intense charisma drew the personality types to him that were ripe for cult indoctrination. The people that Manson brought into "The Family" were young, socially insecure people who felt betrayed or ostracized and victimized by society, and apprehensive about the future. He had acute abilities to understand his recruits' psychological anxieties and was able to make them feel accepted and cared for as he preached love and unity. He further drew them into his "family" using informational social influence -- in other words, using information that followers see as truth to achieve conformance. He built a vision of an apocalyptic racial war, which he called "Helter Skelter." By generating an adversary and promising power after the war, he gave them a unified purpose.
Compliance and Conformity
Manson intensified his use of normative influences and known methods of cult brainwashing to keep control of his followers. Moving his "family" to a remote commune setting, Manson was able to isolate his group from society. He demanded strict adherence to his will. Disobedience was reprimanded. Displays of individualism were sanctioned harshly. Only ideas of collectivism and love were allowed. New names were given to disciples when they entered the group, and these were changed periodically, to erase devotees' identities and individualism. Sexual rituals and drugs were encouraged to remove inhibitions and produce selfless, religious adherence to Manson's will.
The most staggering of Manson's manipulations was his use of anomism to achieve total compliance to his will. Anomism is the lack of recognition of the necessity and responsibility for rational thought. Manson used continual role-play scenarios in which his followers would dress and act the parts of different characters for extended periods, eventually corroding their perceptions of differences between reality and play and acceptance of social norms. Coupling anomism with his spiritual indoctrination, when Manson finally sent his people to kill Sharon Tate and her guests, they had no sense of doing wrong. They saw the murders as acts of kindness and the divine good of the group itself.
- "Leadership Quarterly"; 18 (2007) 176 194; The Toxic Triangle: Destructive Leaders, Sucsceptible Followers, and Conducive Environments; Art Padilla, Robert Hogan, Robert B. Kaiser
- Free Essays.cc: Charles Manson: Methods to the Madness
- Psychology 4A; Social Influence; Conformity
- Civilizational Perspective; Donald A. Nielson; 1984
- Simply Psychology; Milgram Experiment; Saul Mcleod, 2007
- Pearson Education, Inc.; "Social Psychology 6th Edition"; Elliot Aronson, Robin M. Akert; Chapter 8; Chapter review
- Handout/Getty Images News/Getty Images