Chaos

Did you know that Charles Manson and his followers were arrested and released multiple times not long before the Tate-LaBianca murders? What was the motive behind these killings? Why are files about Manson still secret, 50 years after the crimes?

I’ve just finished reading Tom O’Neill’s fascinating and compelling new book about Charles Manson and his followers, Chaos – Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties. If you are interested in understanding US culture and politics in the 1960’s and 1970’s, you’re going to have to spend time with this book and consider its implications. Chaos does a splendid job documenting in compelling detail how Manson and some of his followers had “get out of jail free” cards. The book also proves Manson’s prosecutor, Vince Bugliosi, to be a self-promoting sociopath and a completely unethical lawyer.

Chaos doesn’t quite connect Manson to known US Intelligence operations such as COINTELPRO. However, the book does make a compelling showing that the Manson pattern of local law enforcement being countermanded by “higher authorities” from the federal secret police (FBI-CIA) is consistent with these covert domestic operations. Manson and his followers are treated differently from other criminals. There are significant irregularities. Did you know that, at the time Manson was putting together his little cult, he was under federal probation? Did you know his probation officer, a guy who was studying connections between drug use and violence, had only one person under his supervision?

The author spent 20 years on this book. It started as a magazine piece and morphed into a life-dominating experience in street-level journalism. Part of what makes this book so useful is that the author doesn’t take the easy way out and engage in reasonable-but-salacious theories about “what really happened.” Instead, he shares his reasoning with us, his motivations for pursuing various leads and asking specific questions. Many of these questions remain unanswered. Chaos helps us consider important issues – both about the Manson case and about current events. This book puts a remarkable degree of order to a multidimensional spiderweb of connections, and helps us make better sense of them.

Law enforcement in southern California has been making a dog’s breakfast of hugely important cases for decades. Anybody who studies the murder of Robert Kennedy soon sees that the LAPD’s handling of the case was wildly improper. Bobby Kennedy’s family has argued in public that the convicted assassin could be factually innocent of his murder. That killing was just a bit more than a year before the Tate-LaBianca crimes. The LAPD “police spying” case was litigated for years in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Again, tons of horrifying information about illegal police and prosecutorial policies and practices came out. A few  years later, nobody close to southern California law enforcement or the criminal justice system in LA was surprised by the Rodney King beating.

Thinking about Patty Hearst in the 1970’s, or OJ Simpson much more recently, one doesn’t have to look far to see that the cases are irregular, that there’s quite a bit more going on than meets the eye. In all these cases, we see compelling evidence of corruption in high places across law enforcement and the news media. At the same time, we also see that some of the most important sources for tracking down important leads come from sincere “by-the-book” members of law enforcement and journalism. In the end, it comes down to each of us thinking critically and with heart, but without succumbing to the temptations of overreaching. Tom O’Neill serves as a fine role model for this approach to journalism.

The 50-year anniversary of the Manson murders finds the USA perhaps as upset and divided as it was in 1969. The historical record proves that America’s most bitter divisions in the 1960’s were made worse – consciously – by the federal ‘intelligence’ agencies and by their local agents and colleagues. Nobody doubts that these agencies are vastly more entrenched and powerful today than they were 50 years ago. So to me, the most important question implied by Chaos – Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties isn’t about Charlie Manson or the 1960’s, but about today: To what extent are America’s current violence and culture wars the deliberate work-product of US domestic covert operations?

My takeaway from all of this is a sense that modern America is far more like the former East Germany than anybody wants to admit. I say we should all demand a Truth and Reconciliation process, right here in the good old US of A. We need to open our military and intelligence files and take a good look at what happened – is happening – to our society.

Surely we can do better. 

Reflections on Chaos – Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties, by Tom O’Neill with Dan Piepenbring

1971 Diane Webber Flashback

Here is another view back through the mists of time…

This video is the product of clips from several different super-8 movies my father and I shot back in May of 1971. This is the second 1971 performance I’ve cut together from old home movies and published on-line. The other one was shot at the main stage of the Renaissance Faire during the same month, back in ’71 (see below).

Here’s a short piece I wrote about being on stage with Diane and Perfumes of Araby in the following year, 1972. At some point in the not-too-distant future, I’ll get back into the archives and see how much footage there is from 1972. It is quite possible there will be stuff in there that is at least as good as the material from ’71.

Here’s the first clip of Diane from the Faire, on the main stage, in May of 1971:

1971 seems like a long time ago…except when it feels like yesterday.

Black Lives Matter!

Cell phone video is a powerful force for Democracy.

Alton Sterling’s life matters as much as mine does. Philando Castile’s life matters as much as my wife’s does. The racial problems in US law enforcement are not new but they are becoming less deniable by the day.

This human catastrophe stems from problems that are deeper and more serious than the current debate suggests.

For further disturbing reading, see:

Racial injustice has played a decisive role in my life and in my legal career. I write to offer a few ideas and a prescription to address some of the most corrosive social ills of our time.

In the late 1960s, as a child I got to take some enrichment classes at Los Angeles Community College. Today it is hard to imagine the political ferment on college campuses 50 years ago. I remember being a 9 year-old kid, walking down a long row of tables at LACC, each one of which represented a political cause. I looked up at a tall black college student with sunglasses and a big afro hairdo.

“Why are you so angry?”

He took off his sunglasses and sat down to look me in the eye.

“We’re angry because the cops hurt us. We are getting drafted to fight in Vietnam. Do you know about little black kids, younger than you, getting arrested just a couple years ago for sitting at lunch counters?”

“I heard of it, yes. There is a lunch counter at the Thrifty Drug Store on Sunset and Fairfax. My dad says its too expensive, but I think black people are allowed to eat there.”

“America is a lot rougher than Hollywood. You should think about it.”

In the spring of 1984, I worked as a Certified Law Clerk for the Los Angeles County District Attorney. I got to appear in court and put on felony preliminary hearings. The first words I ever spoke in court on the record were, “Scott Pearce, for the People.” After reading dozens of identical police reports on different drug cases, I went to my supervisor.

“These cases have problems,” I said. “I don’t think the cops are telling the truth. Shouldn’t we be worried about putting on false testimony?”

“Sworn police officers are our colleagues. We have plenty of conflict with them over which cases to file, believe me, but we are confident of the cases we do file. You’ll see. No go back to court.”

A couple years later, I joined the office of the Los Angeles County Public Defender, proud of the work and looking forward to “working within the system” for justice.

Scott Pearce in Division 40

July 1986: A Dashing Defender of Just-Us, in Division 40 of the LA Criminal Court House

I was horrified by what I saw. Going into the central jail to visit clients, I noticed that I was a 27 year-old white man in an expensive suit. Walking down a long line of cells, dozens of brown arms reached out from behind the bars to shake my hand or touch my sleeve and ask for help or to make a phone call to a relative. “Is this South Africa?” My honest reaction was that about 95% of the people behind bars shouldn’t be there at all and the other 5% shouldn’t ever be allowed to get out.

My transactional experience in Hollywood legal work prepared me well for work as a Deputy Public Defender. I was a natural at plea negotiations. My colleagues and I would try to stack the trial courts with lots of cases that had to be tried that day or dismissed, and then go in and work out superb plea bargains.

It did not take me long to realize that pleading defendants guilty – even for a “superb deal” – wasn’t in their interest. At the same time, the trial courts did not seem preferable. Most of the judges were ex-prosecutors or insurance company lawyers, and the evidentiary decisions tended to go against the defense. Sentencing was brutal, even before “Three Strikes” laws led to the wholesale warehousing of criminal defendants.

I admired the tough public defender trial lawyers. I still do. Even so, I knew I coudn’t survive for long as a witness to the daily injustices, and the occasional good I could do for people didn’t seem enough to compensate. I told people I felt like the train conductor to Auschwitz. “This is systematic injustice. It can’t be cured or improved from within. What is the satisfaction in being a Constitutional patina of “due process” when the substance of the criminal justice system is a race war?”

Straight Outta of Compton came out in 1988, not long after I left the public defender’s office to practice on my own and to get into corporate bar exam review and teaching. N.W.A. earned its spot in the Rock and Roll hall of fame with “Straight out of Compton” and “F— the Police.” I spent a little time in the Compton Courthouse in the 1980s, and if anything the N.W.A. album is sentimental and optimistic. Listening to the first couple of cuts on that album felt exactly the same as the first time I heard the Sex Pistols.

30 years later, 1986 seems like a gentle, bygone era. Incarceration rates have exploded during these years. Inequality and injustice in many other forms are obvious, too. What is to be done? Well, for a start:

In the summer of 2002, a couple of videotaped incidents of police violence were global news. One of the incidents happened in Inglewood, California, where I worked as a law professor. I was interviewed on TV2, Denmark’s national television station. Here is the five-minute interview:

Integrity and Compromise

Scott in 1976

Outside the LA Board of Education in 1976, after speaking against undercover cops in class.

1976 Flashback:

“You’re talented, Scott. Why do you have to get up there and lecture your elders about what’s wrong with America? They don’t want to hear it. Why don’t you give them what they want? They will love you if you do, and they’ll shower you with praise. Don’t you want that?”

So spoke my debate coach at Hollywood High, Kay Ross. My debate partner and most of my friends agreed with her. “What’s wrong with winning?”

OK, I thought to myself, early in the spring of 1976. I’ll do it. I’ll pick one big contest and do just what everybody has been telling me to do. I’ll pander to the Authority Figures and see what happens.

The Los Angeles World Affairs Council hosted a speaking contest about World Trade. I decided this would be an ideal opportunity to show my coach and classmates that I could be as good as anybody at “bringing home the brass.” Ideas be damned – it’s all about winning!

Let’s journey back in time and read what I had to say to my beloved Adult Authority Figures on April 27, 1976:

World Trade Means More Jobs

World trade has been responsible for many major accomplishments throughout the history of our civilization. The new world was discovered because merchants wished to find easier trade routes to the East. Major European nations established colonies in America in order to be the best at harvesting the tremendous resources available to those eager merchants who wished to refine and transport them. The United States was established largely because of disputes over the regulation of trade, and countless wars have been fought throughout history over trade rights.

Trade is considered so important because there are tremendous economic advantages at stake – advantages best gained by open and free trade. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that “the craft of the merchant is to bring a thing from where it abounds to where it is costly.” A company which transports products to places where they are needed usually turns a healthy profit as well as providing a needed service or commodity.

Another value of trade is as follows: World trade means more jobs. According to the U.S. Labor Department, 70,000 American jobs are created for every billion dollars spent on foreign trade. Our domestic unemployment statistics are certainly affected by our success in world trade.

American wages are the highest in the world. At the same time, the labor costs per unit are lower here than they are in most countries: even lower than in nations which pay only ten or eleven cents an hour to those who ship or produce merchandise.

One reason for this is that American workers are among the most productive workers in the world. For example, an American worker produces almost twice as much merchandise per man hour as a British worker does. Another example is that an American coal miner gets paid eight times as much as a Japanese worker – he also digs coal fourteen times as fast. One result of this is that America sells millions of dollars’ worth of coal to Japan every year.

Trade statistics show the value of good labor – we export more merchandise outside our borders than any other country in history. We sell 59% more to Western Europe than we buy in return; 73% more to Japan than we buy.

Many people in America have grave doubts about the value of foreign trade. They suggest that America should not take the risks required to develop a broad program of international trade. They complain that imports hurt American business and take away American jobs. While it is true that such trade does eliminate some jobs and make some American businesses less viable, at the same time it creates many more jobs – and it makes many businesses more profitable.

It is very easy for an average citizen to be misled about the relative merits of international trade, because foreign imports are very visible, while exports are only a statistic in the financial section of the newspaper.

The record shows that America imports roughly 15 billion dollars’ worth of goods a year, and exports about 20 billion dollars’ worth. If we closed our borders, we would lose 5 billion a year.

The Department of Labor also says that four million jobs depend on trade, while no more than 400,000 jobs have been lost or cut back because of imported goods. The record also shows that there are ten jobs related to our exports for every one job whose loss might be ascribed to imports.

It should be known how important international trade is to other countries as well as to our own. Japan could never have had a chance to ever achieve any real post-war success if she had not been a competitive and aggressive member of the international trade community. The ability to export specific goods to the American market is vital to the success of many of the world’s smaller nations.

Americans should realize that America needs the majority of goods that she imports. We may not need Datsun cars or Panasonic radios, but we do need raw materials like tin and magnesium, and we enjoy coffee and bananas.

60% of the goods imported by the United States are products that are not produced in any great amount in this country. In order for us to get the merchandise that we do need and enjoy, we must also accept some that we could do without.

Many of the imported products that do compete directly with American-made goods have value. One of the reasons, if not the reason for the new variety in American cars is the competitive impact of those small foreign cars.

World trade does not affect the average citizen only through big business. Small businesses are also greatly influenced by international trade. World trade gives the small businessman a greater variety of merchandise to sell at a more varied price range. The increased competition created by a large trade industry on both the local and international levels is healthy. It gives the consumer more goods to choose from.

On the local level, a small businessman who reaps the benefits of foreign trade is able to hire clerks and other assistants as his business grows. On a larger level, when an industry becomes successful as a result of its dealings with other countries, literally hundreds of jobs may be created.

The more people that work, the more prosperous the entire business community becomes. A working man is able to purchase more goods, making it possible for other companies to become successful and hire more workers also.

In addition to spending more money on material things, a working worker does not receive unemployment insurance, or any form of relief from the federal government. This leaves the government free to spend more money on other important things.

On a more personal level, people are generally happier when they are working. As a nation, our level of contentment can be measured alongside the unemployment figures.

One statement that is often made is true: the world is getting smaller every day. We have made great technological advances which reduce the time required to send ideas or goods from one point to another greatly. Today, more than ever, we are our brother’s keeper. The fact that many other countries depend on the markets open to them by world trade for their very livelihood makes our continued dedication to foreign trade almost essential to world prosperity and peace. The fact that such trade is very profitable for American businessmen and workers makes our continued participation in foreign trade satisfying.

The buying and selling of merchandise has been spoken of by many people in many different situations. John Roche once said, “The flow of goods and capital is the livelihood of our world community.” That statement is very true today. I think that a nation’s economic situation is easily determined by its success in foreign trade.

I would like to end this talk with a concise and rousing tribute to the institution of foreign trade, but rather than stumble through all of that, I’ll close by saying:

“The ship of state sails best with the trade winds.”

The last line in this speech was not original. I stole it from a 1940s-era radio sitcom, Fibber McGee and Molly. From start to finish, I wrote the text of this speech as a parody of “the party line” on international trade. I tried to “give them what they want” in such a way that my friends – but not my intended audience – could see my true feelings.

The well-dressed businesspeople loved my speech, gave me first prize, and made wistful observations about how well the world would be served by young leaders such as myself.

“Wonderful, Scott,” exclaimed Mrs. Ross. “I knew you could do it if you put your mind to excellence instead of making everybody sit through another angry outburst!”

I’ve been thinking about this old world trade speech as I ponder the future in light of the British vote to Leave the European Union.

I am a British citizen and I spent a summer studying international law and human rights at Oxford University. All of my upbringing and education – and the ritual pats on the head I got back in the spring of 1976 – push me to be in the Remain camp…and yet I found myself unable to do it.

I’m viscerally thrilled that Leave prevailed – not because it will be good for Britain in the short to mid-term, but because I think it’ll be good for Democracy, both in the UK and in Europe. I see the various “free trade” agreements as anti-democratic and too thoroughly linked to US militarism. President Obama’s rhetoric in favor of these agreements isn’t any more substantial than my teenage ramblings back in ’76.

Maybe with the UK out of the European Union, Germany and France will find it easier to develop a foreign policy independent of the US. Maybe NATO can be disbanded and the Russian olive branches of peace can be accepted. Maybe US military bases in Europe can be closed, quietly, and our troops return home.

Sure, these dreams may seem far-fetched…but five years ago only a handful of right-wingers were arguing for the UK to leave the European Union, and yesterday a decisive majority of my fellow Brits voted to Leave.

Still at it, 40 years later!

Still at it, 40 years later!