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Apocalyptic is a term used to predict the end of the world. In Ancient Greek, the word means an uncovering. In Revelations in the Bible, it is the uncovering of knowledge in the form of a revelation from God. The term ‘apocalypse’ in Revelations represents the final destruction of the Earth. Many cult leaders have used the threat of the apocalypse to control followers. The ideology, language, and acts of the Charles Manson and his family were apocalyptic. Manson’s end goal was an apocalyptic race war. His apocalyptic mindset and his charisma led his follower to adopt his belief the country was about to become embroiled in a race war known as Helter Skelter.
Charles Mansion was born November 12, 1934, to 16-year-old, Kathleen Maddox and name Charles Milles Maddox. His name changed when his Mother married William Manson. He began to display criminal behavior at a young age and was kicked out by his Mother. Manson quickly graduated to more serious crimes. Probation officers described him as unstable, psychotic, and a danger to society without proper supervision. Along with being mentally unstable, Manson was on mood-altering drugs, like LSD. He became obsessed with the Beatles song ‘Helter Skelter” and began exploring the religious teachings in the Bible’s Book Revelations.
By the 1960s, Manson used his charismatic personality to persuade young drug users to follow him. His ideology was based on racial Armageddon. According to Manson, the African American race would rise up and kill the whites in revenge for years of oppression (Altman 5). Manson’s murderous campaign was focused on the idea, the world would soon end. He moved his followers to Death Valley believing a cave under the ground, referred to ‘bottomless pit’ in Revelations. He also told his follower to multiply by 144,000 so there would be enough people to win the war against the African American population.
According to Max Lerner, ideologies are weapons. This was definitely true in the case of Manson. Ideology was used as an instrument to seduce others to engage in acts of violence. The ideology can be grounded in different theoretical perspectives. For Manson, his approach was individualized. He used different language devices to persuade others to set aside their moral principles to accept his warped view of the world. Religion has been manipulated to create apocalyptic ideologies by other cult leaders. The concept of apocalypse referred to the end of the world as an imminent actuality (Moon 3). Manson’s approach was not new, but he twisted the words in the Bible to create a sense of urgency surrounding the end of the world.
Manson was clearly a racist who manipulated followers to kill for him. He used the threat of the apocalypse to convince them if they did not act, they would not survive the end of the world (Altman 8). His followers were young and high on drugs. The language he used was designed to incite his followers to violence. Manson rhetoric persuaded the drug-addled youths in the “family” to believe his hype and engage in heinous acts of violence. When Mason ordered his followers to go out and murder rich white people, they obeyed his command without question. His goal was to make believe the acts had been committed by angry African Americans.
Inciting violence is not protected speech. Manson used his skill of persuasion to convince his followers to commit seven murders including the murder of pregnant women. Even though he did not kill, he is considered the charismatic mastermind. Prophecy and apocalyptical speeches are designed to stir people to act. Manson instructed his followers to commit frauds and other crimes to obtain money and to commit murder. He used language to work his follower up to a fervor so they would be willing to kill.
Manson’s ‘apocalyptic mindset’ contributed to the level of violence that was exhibited by the group because by claiming it was the end of time, he gave them permission to abandon their morals and commit the brutal killings. He used a combination of fear, threats of violence, and charisma to persuade his drug-addled followers, the world will end because of a race war (Bartlett 3). Mansion use brainwashing techniques and the apocalypse as a tool to convince followers to believe his rhetoric. Like other cult leaders, Manson used religious language to give his speech credibility and to pose it in the truth.
Leaders that use an apocalyptic mindset bring the future into the present (Bartlett 3). The narrative makes the leader the messenger of God. Followers are typically religious seeking comfort or social connections. The first step is to fulfill a need in the follower by offering comfort and love. By joining the Manson family lost youths found a place to belong. Once the leader has the followers under his spell, he begins to persuade them he is the messenger of God. Followers must listen to his messages or suffer the wrath of God. Once Manson had his followers under his spell, he used fear and intimidation to ensure they followed his orders.
The apocalyptic mindset requires follower willing to follow his end of the world mindset to successfully accomplish their goals. For Manson, it was sparking a race war. Apocalyptic thinkers can be found in every religion. Most form as an offset of mainstream religion. Manson group formed out of a counter-culture which encouraged new age thinking, the drug culture, and his mental illness. If Manson tried to find a large group of youths willing to kill on his orders in current society, he would not have the same luck. The 1960s provided an opportunity for egomaniacs and sociopaths to come out of the word work and lead right-wing religious or political groups.
Apocalyptic language has been used as a tool for manipulating and striking fear in unsuspecting people. Leaders, like Manson, recognize weaknesses in others and prey on them to get them to do what they want including killing. Their manipulations would not work for the mainstream public. They must prey on the most vulnerable to find people to believe their rhetoric. Cult leaders use the threat of death and an eternity in hell to convince followers their mortality depends on them. Once the follower embraces apocalyptic thinking, they become more vulnerable to brainwashing.
God’s judgment of mankind influences human behavior. Even though the Bible and other religious text expressly forbid violence, the cult leader manipulates the words of the religious text to convince followers to set aside other parts of the text to embrace violence. This is what happened with Manson’s followers. His ideology and use of persuasive language changed how his follower looked at violence. Manson convinced followers killing innocent people would save them from dying when the race wars began. Normal youths who had no past history of violence committed seven heinous murders in the name of the apocalypse.
Apocalyptic language, theology, and acts have been an influential part of the formation of cult groups. Manson’s use of an apocalyptic narrative allowed him to convince his followers he was the messenger of God. He used different language devices to persuade and influence his followers to engage in violent acts. His apocalyptic mindset and his charisma led his follower to adopt his belief the country was about to become embroiled in a race war known as Helter Skelter.
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