A Review of CHAOS: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties by Tom O’Neill
Kevin Barrett • July 29, 2019
“With Alan Scheflin, a forensic psychologist and law professor who’d written a book on MKULTRA, I laid out a circumstantial case linking (CIA mind control guru Jolly) West to Manson. Was it possible, I asked, that the Manson murders were an MKULTRA experiment gone wrong? ‘No,’ he said, ‘an MKULTRA experiment gone right.’” (CHAOS , p. 369)
I moved out of Southern California in the summer of 1969. I was ten years old, and my parents were fleeing decadence and depravity in favor of the more wholesome Midwest.
Before our move, a story had circulated about some local (Newport Beach) high schoolers who had “gone on an LSD trip” and gotten caught by police. As I understood it, the teenagers had “taken LSD” and started leaping from rooftop to rooftop, “tripping” all over the neighborhood and waking people up to the sound of thundering hoofbeats overhead. At the time I wondered whether LSD conferred a miraculous leaping or flying ability, since the houses in Lido Sands, though rather tightly clustered, were mostly spaced perhaps eight or ten feet apart, which seemed like a long way to jump.
I vaguely recall this “LSD-fueled teenage midnight horsemen of the apocalypse” story having something to do with my parents’ decision to move back to Wisconsin. Southern California circa 1969, a few years after the hippie movement had peaked and turned into a bad trip, didn’t seem like a good place to send your kids to high school. (Little did my parents know that the 60s would hit Wisconsin high schools ten years late, putting me and my siblings directly in the path of the psychedelic hurricane.)
Years later, as an “experienced” (in the Jimi Hendrix sense) subversive teenage wannabe intellectual, I would read about the Manson murders and notice how convenient they had been for the Establishment. From the moment Charlie Manson’s grinning, demonic face started leering from every front page and TV screen in America, the whole hippie-antiwar thing had seemed a whole lot scarier. I read the official version of the Manson myth, Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter, and thought: This is too crazy to be true. None of the Wisconsin hippies I know are even remotely like these characters. Maybe it’s something they add to the fluoride in the Southern California water.
By 1975 I had seen Mark Lane’s presentation of the Zapruder film and knew that America had experienced an unspeakably evil coup d’état in 1963. In 1979 I read John Marks’ The Search for the Manchurian Candidate: The CIA and Mind Control and discussed it with William S. Burroughs, who told me he had been aware of such activities for many years before they were publicly revealed by the Church and Rockefeller Commissions: “The thing about these secrets is they’re not all that secret.”
Well, maybe not, Bill. But if you had proclaimed in 1960 that the CIA’s most heavily funded program aimed at turning people into killer zombies, you would have gotten blank stares at best. Rumors whispered in bohemian demimondes, blown up into dystopian parody in books like Naked Lunch, are hardly threats to national security secrecy.
Looking back, it seems doubtful that America ever recovered from the bad trip of the 1960s. Indeed, one has to wonder whether potential recovery wasn’t intentionally forestalled. The Kennedy assassinations, along with the killings of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Fred Hampton, and so many others, were a national nightmare. So was the pointless carnage in Vietnam. The protest movement that rose up against the nightmare, seeking to awaken the nation and return it to sanity, collapsed into the drug-fueled promiscuity and bloody chaos whose avatar was none other than Charles Manson. Now, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Manson murders, we must wonder whether Manson was also an avatar another kind of CHAOS: the CIA’s ultra-secret, ultra-illegal domestic counterinsurgency program.
That notion isn’t entirely new. In 1993, while researching my first book, A Guide to Mysterious San Francisco, I heard rumors that Manson was a CIA mind control slave. But since this was just hearsay, unsupported by citable sources, I left it out of the book, and consigned it to the relatively short list of major conspiracy theories that might actually not be true.
That list keeps getting shorter. Tom O’Neill’s CHAOS: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties makes a convincing, thoroughly documented case that the official Vincent Bugliosi rendition of the Manson murders is as blatantly bogus as Bugliosi’s “Oswald acted alone” version of the JFK assassination. Though O’Neill doesn’t quite come right out and say so, his evidence suggests that CIA mind control maniac Louis Jolyon “Jolly” West and/or his acolytes brainwashed a psychopathic prisoner named Charles Manson, gave him a CIA get-out-of-jail-free card, set him up next door to Jolly’s safe house in the Haight-Ashbury hippie district of San Francisco, and taught him how to control human minds using drugs and hypnosis. The CIA’s Operation CHAOS, it may be plausibly surmised, first weaponized the Manson family for use against the Black Panthers, then finally turned Manson into the ultimate TV commercial against the antiwar counterculture. When Manson and one of his CIA handlers, Reeve Whitson, rearranged the Tate murders crime scene before anyone else got there, they were literally setting the stage for the upcoming theatrical production.
Tom O’Neill’s twenty years’ research definitively demonstrates that a massive cover-up of the truth about the Manson murders is no longer a hypothesis, it is established fact. Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, as well as the courts and big media, have been effectively corrupted and muzzled. But the truth, or at least enough of it for us to get the picture, is tucked away in the documents they forgot to shred. Though the most important Manson-related documents have either “mysteriously disappeared” from various archives or are being stubbornly withheld for undisclosed reasons, O’Neill—an obsessively persistent journalistic gumshoe—managed to get his hands on enough of them, and to find and interview enough witnesses, to turn the conventional picture of the Manson family upside-down and inside-out.
The whole story, in its multilayered complexity of detail and documentation, is beautifully told in O’Neill’s book. Like many authors with mainstream publishers, O’Neill generally refrains from speculating about the big picture; instead, he lays out the hard facts and invites the reader to connect the dots. So let’s accept his invitation and consider the the CIA’s Operation Manson in historical perspective.
Political Demonization and the Creation and Maintenance of Public Myth
The Manson op was an exercise in demonization. Manson, an ordinary psychologically-disturbed small-time criminal with psychopathic tendencies, became, under the expert tutelage of Jolly West & Co., an avatar of the demonic second only to Hitler in the mass mediated popular imagination. Manson’s long hair and scraggly beard became an icon of pure evil, as Hitler’s mustache had before, and as Bin Laden’s beard would later. In literally demonizing Manson, Jolly and The Company (wasn’t that a ‘60s Bay Area band? No, you’re thinking of Big Brother) figuratively demonized the antiwar counterculture that was giving the Establishment fits.
By demonizing Manson, the CIA “skunked” the antiwar counterculture’s message of “peace, love, freedom” by associating it with an image of violence, hatred, and extreme authoritarianism. After all, the people behind such operations know that the best way to discredit a message is to put it in the mouth of an unpleasant spokesperson. That’s why criticism of the world’s worst crime syndicate, the international bankster cartel, has come to be associated with Hitler’s evil mustache. In like fashion, resistance to Zionism and other Western assaults on the Islamic world has come to be associated with Bin Laden’s big black beard. These associations didn’t just happen by accident. They were engineered.
Philip Zelikow, effectively the sole author of that work of fiction known as the 9/11 Commission Report (which he completed in chapter outline before the Commission even convened) is a history professor and self-styled expert in “the creation and maintenance of public myths.” Zelikow defines public myths as “beliefs (1) thought to be true (although not necessarily known to be true with certainty), and (2) shared in common within the relevant political community.” The public myths he is most interested in are those that most powerfully shape political perception and behavior; the first example he gives is the myth of the dastardly Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, which transformed America from an isolationist republic to an interventionist empire.
Anyone who has studied the alternative literature on such events as Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy assassinations, and 9/11 knows that any overwhelmingly powerful mythic event that changes public perceptions and, in so doing, changes history, ought to be greeted with profound suspicion and subjected to the most painstaking scrutiny. As Philip Zelikow wrote in a 1998 Foreign Affairs article, a catastrophic terror attack on America, such as the destruction of the World Trade Center, would be a “transforming event,” a “watershed event in American history” that would, “like Pearl Harbor…divide our past and future into a before and after.” The “after” would feature “draconian measures, scaling back civil liberties, allowing wider surveillance of citizens, detention of suspects, and use of deadly force.” Zelikow’s 2001 false flag operation would achieve all that and more. It succeeded in demonizing opposition to Zionism and empire, and to tyranny in general, by associating resistance with the fearsome image of a scary looking guy sporting an easily-identifiable villain’s beard.
Indeed, bearded heavies like Bin Laden and Manson seem to come straight out of central casting. They remind us of neoconservative guru Leo Strauss’s advice to Machievellian operators: Make your operation like a B-grade Hollywood Western: slap a big white hat on the good guy and a big black hat on the bad guy. And if you don’t have a real enemy to play the villain’s role, invent one.
The official version of the Manson myth is told by its self-aggrandizing, profiteering hero, Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecutor who put the bad guy behind bars. In somewhat similar fashion, the official version of the 9/11 myth, ventriloquized by Zelikow, seems told by a sort of Greek chorus representing the heroic victims, the American people. But in both cases, the ostensibly heroic narrator is the real villain. In the case of 9/11, Zelikow must be suspected of involvement in writing the script for the 9/11 false flag operation itself, and then plagiarizing that script for his Report. And in the case of Bugliosi, it’s clear that he consciously crafted a big lie for the jury that he later adapted for his bestseller, committing numerous crimes, including subornation of perjury, in the process.
As for the villains, both Manson and Bin Laden were manufactured by the CIA. As O’Neill’s evidence suggests, Manson was Jolly West’s golem, taught by Jolly how to manufacture more golems…preferably 14-year-old female ones. Bin Laden, for his part, was created by the CIA and its Saudi assets as a front man for the CIA-Saudi war to expel the Russians from Afghanistan. Originally assigned the hero role for an audience of Muslims, Osama was later transferred to a different movie in which he played the villain for an audience of Americans.
Though the official Manson narrative demonizes hippies, O’Neill’s revisionist account shows that the worst decadence and depravity was located not at the corner of Haight and Ashbury, but in Hollywood and the entertainment industry; Los Angeles, as Faulkner famously said, is “the plastic asshole of the universe.” The movie and music business, O’Neill shows, was (and presumably remains) infested by gangsters, intelligence agency criminals, and an astonishing variety of perverted human vermin. (There is considerable overlap between those three categories.) The worst part is that these people, the scum of the earth, literally run the show. Real power and authority is invested not in elected officials and the courts, but in supermob gangsters and their intel agency partners in crime. The cops, courts, and media are terrified of such people, and basically do whatever they’re told.
The Manson murders and the JFK assassination, two nightmarish crimes, bookended “the 1960s”: that brief period from 1964 to 1969 that witnessed the meteoric rise and fall of youthful idealism, whose chief expressions were the civil rights and antiwar movements. Like 9/11, the JFK assassination divided time into a more innocent “before” of wholesome family sitcoms and a less innocent “after” of protests, violence, and social breakdown fueled by pills, especially of the psychedelic and birth control varieties. Between JFK and Manson, youthful idealism looked like it might win the day. After Manson, America entered a “whole new world” of extreme disillusionment.
The JFK and Manson murders aren’t just linked in the American mythic imagination; they also intersect by way of a certain already-mentioned CIA mind-control psychopath, Dr. Jolly West. O’Neill’s Chaos presents evidence that Jolly West brainwashed and rendered mad two key figures in the respective dramas, Charles Manson and Jack Rubenstein a.k.a. Ruby. We have already seen how West made a madman of Manson. As for Ruby, it seems he was very likely programmed to kill Lee Harvey Oswald, just as Sirhan Sirhan was later programmed to fire in the general direction of Robert Kennedy. And though there is no hard-and-fast documentation proving West mind-controlled Ruby, O’Neill does document West’s suspiciously quick and intense post-assassination interest in Ruby, which culminated in West getting a private audience with the gun-smuggling cop-bribing Mickey Cohen organization hit man. Prior to West’s closed-door no-witnesses one-on-one with Ruby, the latter had been perfectly sane, though puzzled about being accused of a crime he had no memory of committing. From the moment West stepped out the door of Ruby’s cell, Ruby was stark, raving nuts.
America has real enemies, people like Jolly West and his bosses, psychopathic vermin who have infested the highest echelons of power. In the wake of their murder of JFK, they understandably feared exposure. The biggest threat was coming from honest, idealistic, politically-engaged citizens, most of whom leaned toward the political left in general, and the civil rights and antiwar movements in particular. To neutralize that threat, they flooded the civil rights and antiwar communities with LSD and amphetamines (as well as Cointelpro and CHAOS agents provocateurs). After several years of this, they administered the coup de grace by immortalizing the iconic evil hippie, Charles Manson, in a mass mind-control operation that sounded the death knell of the 1960s and set the stage for the age of dystopian neoliberal authoritarianism that followed.
The takeaway is that our real enemies conceal themselves by fabricating ersatz enemies and elevating them to mythic, iconic status. Their controlled mainstream media summon us daily to engage in the obligatory Orwellian two minutes of hate. When will we wake up and learn to hate not the cartoon figure on the screen, but the psychopath behind the curtain?