The notorious serial killer Charles Manson was a fine salesman, very good at persuading people. According to the prosecutor at his trial, he persuaded his followers that there was going to be a race war between black and white people, which they would escape from by hiding in a hole in the ground. The murders his followers committed were intended to incite this war, which would end with them emerging to rule over what was left
This crackpot theory has since been cited as evidence of Manson’s psychopathic nature, and the way he used it to manipulate people has been picked over again and again. It is therefore deeply distressing to see that he was right all along – and this time we cannot accuse a patently disturbed career criminal of manipulating us, because we voted for those who have proved him right, are of legal age, and had a choice.
Until the murder of George Floyd at the hands (or rather the knee) of that Minneapolis police officer, there were two highly polarised forces fighting for control of each Western democracy, and therefore the world. On the one side you had the traditional middle class, who run things a certain way, within their own institutions, and make the rules of conduct everyone has to live by. On the other you had the populist movements which have arisen because people feel those institutions and rules have failed them, and they want to be the opposite for the sake of it.
One of the rules of conduct which has been imposed upon people is “multiculturalism”. We have all had the official anti-racist rhetoric rammed down our throats by those who rule what have often been institutionally racist countries and agencies, as if spouting it excuses their own crimes.
But though we are told that racism is wrong, which it is, we are not given a way to understand the different cultures and their representatives in our midst. Consequently the uninformed are unable to bridge the divide between themselves and their neighbours. They are then excluded on the grounds of being racist or ignorant, with no place and no voice in the world of those who rule us.
Obviously this generates a backlash against immigrants, who are perceived to be profiting from the exclusion of others from opportunity and cultural validity. But it also generates a backlash against natives of different racial origins – and in Western democracies–and that means black people.
Even if a black person has lived sixty years in their white majority homeland, was born there and has known no other home, they still experience many forms of discrimination for being different. Those who rise above this by achieving success or celebrity are often the first to recognise this, indicating the depth of the problem.
So, indigenous black communities are opposed to both the complacent white middle class culture which keeps them down, and the new populism which openly seeks to exclude them forever, as “foreigners”. This has always been a subliminal feature of politics and community relations. Now, thanks to George Floyd’s killing and the inadequate white establishment response to it, the opposition has broken out into open warfare, exactly as Charles Manson predicted.
Fighting your future
While white people vote for Brexit, attack immigrants and try and destroy parliament and police, black people loot shops, those symbols of discriminatory capitalism, attack white people and try and destroy parliaments and police. Neither side is achieving anything, or ever will, except to get angrier.
But both white populists and black activists ultimately blame each other for the sins of the middle class elite, as they see them. Whites think they are too much in the pay of foreigners. And blacks think they are too much in the pockets of white people, Uncle Toms, who are inherently anti-black.
As we have already seen with Brexit, winning an argument, or looting a shop, and it doesn’t make the anger go away. On the contrary, the worse things get, the more people look round for someone else to blame for them – the Brexiteers who turned on the EU are now turning on the UK itself, the very thing they said they were fighting for
It is a truth is any democracy: the white middle class elite never goes away. In Portugal democracy was overthrown by the conservative military in 1926, and the subsequent dictatorship then overthrown by Marxist military in 1974. When democracy was restored, a key promise of the victorious Armed Forces Movement, the people voted for the middle class parties you find in any democracy, not Marxists. They even altered the post-1974 constitution to remove all the references to making Portugal a socialist state, even though the main political parties claimed to be socialist or social democrat.
No amount of revolt against the “liberal elite”, by white or black populations and their sympathisers, will remove that elite or the system it operates. But as Michael Collins found in Ireland, when he was murdered by fellow nationalists for signing the Anglo-Irish Treaty which gave them a watered down version of which they had fought and died for, once you have gone so far it is more dangerous to turn back than to keep going, no matter what the consequences.
Eventually white populists and black activists will have to turn on each other, and seek the protection of the elite when they do so. If they do not get that protection, they will accuse the elite of conspiring with the other side.
This is precisely what happened within recent memory in Northern Ireland. Extensive collaboration between Protestant paramilitaries, the police and the British Army provoked Catholics, but many Protestants blamed those same police and army for not protecting them and their traditions when attacked by Catholics
Charles Manson’s race war is being staged by proxy at present, with both sides attacking “the system” rather than each other. But it didn’t take long for the proxy Nazi-Soviet conflict of the Spanish Civil War to become World War Two, even though The Soviet Union wasn’t initially one of the allies.
When “the system” doesn’t go away, the other two points of the triangle will attack each other for allegedly controlling the system, the common enemy. Neither does, so neither will be right, so no negotiated peace will be possible as there is nothing real to negotiate about.
The only question is who has provoked this and why. Or perhaps there is a second question – why did we all see them provoking it, but give them the power to do so?
Death Valley, D.C.
Manson said that he and his followers would escape to a hole in the ground during this war. Groups of his followers went looking for this hole, inspecting various sites in Death Valley, California, to see if they were fit for purpose.
So who went down into a hole in the ground when demonstrators were thought to be about to turn violent? Donald J. Trump, no less. He also said he was merely “inspecting” the bunker, not hiding in it. But his own Attorney General has contradicted him, even though he says it wasn’t Trump’s own decision.
There have always been underground bunkers for key government officials, which have the same purpose Manson described: those who feel they are entitled to be the rulers hide in them so that when the crisis is over, they will continue ruling over what is left. They are not equipped as last resorts in a crisis but with all the facilities a ruler would need to continue doing their job, and monitoring the situation, from the safety of their impenetrable depth.
Duck and Cover
During the Cold War, with its ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation, many such bunkers were constructed for defence institutions and also private citizens. Switzerland once made it a state policy to ensure that every citizen would have a place in a nuclear shelter. Since the Iron Curtain fell, many have been sold off to private citizens as accommodation, showing how many facilities they actually had.
Trump should know all about the possibility of race wars. Like little brother Boris Johnson, he openly played the white populist card to get elected. He blames “the system” for everything the voters he courts don’t like, so none of them has responsibility for anything. Building the border wall to keep Mexicans out is one of a long litany of actions which demonstrate that he also blames people of colour, of any description, for drugs, crime and terrorism, though his own national statistics don’t bear this out.
His message is clear: “the system” should be torn down because it has been hijacked by foreigners and foreign ideas. It needs to be replaced, along with all the people who have corrupted it. Yet he is very well aware that black activists who don’t like him and his voter constituency say exactly the same in reverse: that the system needs to be torn down because it is full of Trump’s voter constituency, who use it to project their cultural dominance and oppress blacks.
If you want to get elected, you try and spread your supporter base as far as possible. But if you are in office and are being attacked, as Trump has been from day one, you go back to where you know your core support is. Even starting with Nixon, the War on Drugs was understood to mean a War on Blacks, especially young blacks.
When Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate collapsed under his son Richard, it was torn apart by ex-combatants who had run out of steam arguing about who was the true upholder of the “good old cause,” because the ideology was incapable of embracing new ideas.
More recently, when Robert Mugabe was threatened in Zimbabwe by the same black populations he claimed to represent, he talked about the guerilla war which had created his power, and relied for support on its veterans rather than attracting new constituencies of support with new policies.
Predictably, Trump has used the violence following the death of George Floyd to call for more law and order. This is always a rallying cry for his faithful, who believe only they want it, and that the law enforcement agencies are there to protect them from those they consider different. He is currently being sued by a coalition of civil rights groups over one manifestation of his solution, the violent dispersal of a Black Lives Matter protest opposite the White House which was obstructing a photo opportunity in which he was depicted holding a bible. Using Flag and God as the last resort is a common move for political in deep up to their necks.
As a sitting president Trump is in the same position once lamented in the famous quote by the 2nd Earl of Manchester – “If we beat the king 99 times, he is king still, and so will his posterity be after him; but if the king beat us once, we shall be all hanged, and our posterity be made slaves. May say he wants to overthrow the system, but when all this is over, which he hopes will be after he has cancelled the November election under “emergency powers,” only he will rule what is left.
Since Manson committed his crimes, very few have wanted to live in a world where he really was a prophet, and the person to turn to if you wanted to know the truth. The lunatic has not only taken over the asylum, he has made it the hole in the ground from which he can issue his truth, and everywhere else the asylum.
No one wanted to talk to black communities. Whenever they raised their concerns, whether legitimate or not, they were told in effect “you would say that, wouldn’t you?” Neither did anyone want to listen to the politically incorrect, the forcibly unemployed, the homeless or the out of fashion – their views weren’t good enough, they didn’t matter anymore than the life of a black man did.
This is precisely what should not happen in liberal democracies, which exist to give power to “the people”, even if you don’t like what they want or think, provided those who disagree don’t face negative consequences. It is also what should never happen in a Christian country, as Christ died for us all, and racism or discrimination are direct contradictions of Christian teaching, strange though that may seem to some.
Ballot or the Bullet
The white populists and black activists are right: the system has failed them by discriminating against them unfairly. But they will never tear it down, as they will never resolve their problems that way, modern Africa bearing strong testimony to this. It is like Malcolm X, when he spoke of a different view of history for American Blacks, We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock; the rock was landed on us.
What is needed is to redefine what is acceptable in public life from within. The anti-racists who look down on those outside their circle will never achieve this. Not only another generation of blacks have been sold down the river, but minorities, and those of the former middle class with skill sets that are no longer needed, as those jobs are now in China and elsewhere.
But all the conflict can be stopped by people displaying the basic humanity they do, when pushed, on an everyday basis, instead of expecting others to do it for them. That starts with electing people who represent what we are, not what they have made us into. If we did, we might just take back control – by keeping Mansonism in the asylum permanently, where we all know it really belongs.
Seth Ferris, investigative journalist and political scientist, expert on Middle Eastern affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.