Most articles on the death of madman Charles Manson opened by mentioning his role in the diabolical Tate-LaBianca murders. The AP story started this way:
Charles Manson, the hippie cult leader who became the hypnotic-eyed face of evil across America after orchestrating the gruesome murders of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and six others in Los Angeles during the summer of 1969, died Sunday after nearly a half-century in prison.… The Manson Family, as his followers were called, slaughtered five of its victims on Aug. 9, 1969, at Tate’s home: the actress, who was 8½ months pregnant, coffee heiress Abigail Folger, celebrity hairdresser Jay Sebring, Polish movie director Voityck Frykowski and Steven Parent, a friend of the estate’s caretaker. Tate’s husband, “Rosemary’s Baby” director Roman Polanski, was out of the country at the time. The next night, a wealthy grocer and his wife, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, were stabbed to death in their home across town.
Charles Manson led this cult of killers. After a sensational trial that truly shocked America, Manson and four genuinely scary members of his “family” — Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, Leslie Van Houten, and Charles “Tex” Watson — were sentenced to death. But because the California Supreme Court had struck down the death penalty, all were spared execution and instead given life sentences.
Manson had directed his “family” members to go out into the dark of night to do “something witchy.” That they did. The way they killed Sharon Tate was especially gruesome. Shortly after midnight, they stabbed Tate at least a dozen times, mutilating the beautiful actress, who was due to give birth in two weeks. Tate had reportedly begged for the life of her unborn child but was told by one of the Manson girls: “Look bitch, I don’t care about you. I don’t care if you are having a baby. You are going to die and I don’t feel a thing about it.” The Manson girls repeatedly rammed forks into Tate’s belly to kill her child. The dead baby boy was later removed from his mother’s still womb and buried with her in her arms.
Manson’s acolytes took Tate’s spilled blood and used it to paint the word “PIG” on the front door of her home.
As for the murder of the LaBiancas the next day, Manson himself tied up the couple and ordered his devotees to do the kill. They brandished their knives and ferociously hacked away. They would leave a fork sticking out of the dead belly of Leno LaBianca, a supermarket executive. The fork was used to carve the word “WAR” on his belly.
Everyone knows that Charles Manson inspired those murders. None of that is being forgotten in reports of his death. But what also shouldn’t be forgotten was how the murders inspired Bernardine Dohrn, the ’60s militant Marxist who spearheaded the Weather Underground.
That surreal, cruel moment came at the appropriately titled “War Council” held in Flint, Michigan on December 27, 1969, two days after Christmas. It was attended by some 400 student radicals from the SDS-Weathermen cabal, who promoted this political-ideological-sexual gathering as a collective “Wargasm.” For the lovely ’60s hippies, it would be (as usual) a night of radical politics, unrestrained sex, and violence.
Among the ringleaders was the late John Jacobs, who had coined a fitting slogan for the evening and for the entire movement: “We’re against everything that’s good and decent.” That became obvious when the indecent Bernardine Dohrn grabbed the microphone. “We’re about being crazy motherf—ers,” Dohrn shouted, “and scaring the sh-t out of honky America!”
It was like a radical revival meeting, with the Rev. Dohrn at the political pulpit. Inspired by the spirit — that is, some sort of spirit — Bernardine fired up her brothers and sisters with her hideous ruminations on the vicious Tate-LaBianca murders. The future professor of child education at Northwestern University School of Law — no less than founding director of the university’s Children and Family Justice Center — thrilled over the scene in the bloody Tate living room:
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!
One would like to think that this gory moment appalled even the hardcore in that room, but that wouldn’t be accurate. The faithful, from Bernadine’s sweetheart, Bill Ayers, to everyone else in the hall, knew Bernardine was serious — and they dug it. As reported by Mark Rudd, one of the core leaders of SDS and the Weathermen, the assembled “instantly adopted as Weather’s salute four fingers held up in the air, invoking the fork left in Sharon Tate’s belly.”
Imagine. Just imagine. A room full of highly educated young people from some of America’s most hailed colleges. United in a grotesque four-finger salute of diabolical death.
Bill Ayers has been asked to comment on the episode. The best face that Ayers has tried to put on the event is to claim that his sweetheart was being “ironic” or had employed “rhetorical overkill” (Freudian slip?) or was speaking “partly as a joke.”
Among the former ’60s radicals who later investigated the incident is David Horowitz, today a leading conservative. Horowitz set out to document the incident, interviewing his old comrades: “In 1980, I taped interviews with thirty members of the Weather Underground who were present at the Flint War Council, including most of its leadership,” he wrote. “Not one of them thought Dohrn was anything but deadly serious.”
I’ve likewise talked to witnesses. A few years ago I spoke to a Weather Underground cadre who was there. This witness was a good guy — a courageous Vietnam vet who offered his services to the FBI and had infiltrated the group at great personal risk. His name was Larry Grathwohl, who I wrote a tribute to here at The American Spectator in July 2013. There, I recounted a conversation I had with Grathwohl the previous summer.
Grathwohl had been at the War Council. When I asked if Dohrn and the others were indeed serious, and whether the rest of the radicals had joined the four-finger salute, he confirmed vigorously: “Absolutely! No question.” He repeated emphatically: “Remember, I was there. I saw it.”
In fact, Grathwohl added a tidbit that I hadn’t read in accounts of that evening. He said that throughout the remainder of the night, as the “flower children” danced, they gleefully bopped and grooved with their fingers in the form of the four-finger salute, thrusting their arms up and down and back and forth, laughing joyfully. Larry demonstrated for me. I felt sick to my stomach.
“How awful,” I said. “Oh, yes,” he replied. “It sure was.”
Mark Rudd, the SDS leader who shut down Columbia University a year earlier, in the spring of 1968, translated this message for the wider world: “The message was that we sh-t on all your conventional values, you murderers of black revolutionaries and Vietnamese babies. There were no limits to our politics of transgression.”
No, there were not. And this is not quite the flowery image of the innocent ’60s idealists dancing with daisies that liberals would like us to believe about this degenerate generation of ideological goons and nerds and thugs.
A line had been crossed that night in Flint — the first steps into a dark world. From the high altar of Rev. Dohrn’s four-finger salute flowed domestic terror cells, gunpowder, bomb-making units. A “new decade now dawned,” recalled Rudd, as “the New Red Army marched out from Flint, exhilarated and terrified.” Its members would spend the next decade literally plotting the violent overthrow of the United States of America, which (quoting their hero, Che Guevara) they declared “the Great Enemy of Mankind.”
They planned attacks, planted bombs, and engaged in murder, all along fleeing the federal authorities as fugitives on the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list. Ayers would change his name from town to town, chillingly visiting dead cemeteries where he borrowed the names of deceased babies from tombstones as his macabre aliases.
Neither Ayers or Dohrn would get prison time. Quite the contrary, both spent the 1980s earning education degrees from universities like Columbia, and in the 1990s would become professors at, respectively, University of Illinois-Chicago and Northwestern.
Dohrn and Ayers, of course, were back in the news again in 2008, when their friendship with an aspiring Illinois politician named Barack Obama was raised. A chilling symbolic moment in Obama’s rise was the political blessing he received in the living room of Bill and Bernardine in their Hyde Park home in 1995. (Even the New York Times reported on this on the newspaper’s front page in October 2008, albeit downplaying the incident. See: Scott Shane, “Obama and ’60s Bomber: A Look Into Crossed Paths,” New York Times, October 4, 2008.)
Obama during the 2008 campaign would do his best to distance himself from Ayers, just as he did another leftist Chicagoan, his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
In fact, Obama and Bill Ayers actually did a number of things together in Chicago. They jointly served as board members at the Woods Fund in Chicago; they worked on “school reform” through the Chicago Annenberg Challenge; they served on a juvenile-justice panel (organized by Michelle Obama); they appeared together as speakers or panel participants at Chicago events; they had many mutual associations, including with disturbing figures like Rashid Khalidi; they acknowledged one another in books and reviews and even endorsement of their books; they had a relationship as neighbors (three blocks apart); plus numerous other reported associations. (I detail these and many additional connections, with copious endnotes, in my book 2010 book, Dupes.) In 2001, the same period when Ayers openly lamented that he had not done enough damage to the Pentagon, Ayers donated $200 to Obama’s reelection campaign for the Illinois Senate, which Obama happily accepted and was never called upon to repudiate. The relationship was professional and personal. Some have speculated that Barack met his wife Michelle at the Sidley & Austin law firm where Bernardine Dohrn worked.
But, hey, who’s counting — eh?
By 2008, Bill and Bernardine were enthusiastic backers of the group “Progressives for Obama,” spearheaded by SDS founder and leading ’60s radical Tom Hayden.
Unlike Charles Manson, who spent the rest of his life in prison, neither Bill or Bernardine were sentenced to jail time for their alleged crimes, some of which (albeit not as sadistic as Manson’s) could have killed many more people. As Ayers later infamously celebrated, “Guilty as hell, free as a bird!”
Of course, what Charles Manson did was truly of hell. Manson was guilty as hell, and he didn’t get away with it — neither in this world and surely not in the next.
But as we look back at the evil that Charles Manson committed in 1969, we shouldn’t forget how Bernardine and buddies saluted that evil.
Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College. His books include A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century and Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.
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