RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Charles Manson has died at the age of 83. He was serving a life sentence for orchestrating a series of murders in 1969 which captivated the nation's attention. Here's a news clip from NBC.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NBC NEWS BROADCAST)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Seven people brutally murdered in a glare of Hollywood publicity - the involvement of a mystical hippie plan which despised the straight, affluent society - young girls supposedly under the spell of a bearded Svengali who allegedly masterminded the seven murders. One of the girls was only 16 years old.
MARTIN: Charles Manson, his followers and the murders they were responsible for had a lasting impact on American culture. Joining us now is Jeff Guinn. He's the author of a book titled "Manson: The Life And Times Of Charles Manson."
Jeff, thanks so much for being with us this morning.
JEFF GUINN: Hi.
MARTIN: Give us a sense of the effect that these murders and the Manson trial had on the country at the time.
GUINN: Manson was basically the wrong man in the right place at the right time. 1969 in America - it seemed as though the country was coming apart. There were great divisions culturally, racially. And Manson comes into this at a time when the media is sort of trying to top each other with sensational stories that went all the way back to a newspaper war in Los Angeles.
Because celebrities died in such a spectacular way, then there's a hunt for the murderers that goes on for months while Los Angeles panics, thinking anybody could die next. Then it turns out that the murderers are supposedly a hippie cult. They're led by a tiny man, 5-foot-2, who continues to do outrageous things all during the trial. He doesn't show any remorse. It's so bizarre.
And for the first time, I think, in American criminal history - in modern times, the Lindbergh kidnapping had sort of stood as the example of, oh, my God, this is so horrible. And everybody knew about it. Everybody was fascinated by it. That's what happens with Manson. But I think what made the difference - Manson was sentenced to death along with some of his followers, and the California Supreme Court took the death sentence out of play. That meant Manson stayed with us, and every few years, he would stage something to get himself back in the public eye.
MARTIN: So clearly, he was someone who needed that kind of public affirmation. He created this, like, mythology around him. How was he able to convince his followers to commit these crimes?
GUINN: First of all, we have to remember that his followers at any given time didn't encompass anything more than a couple dozen drug addled kids who had family issues and were looking for someone to tell them what to do.
GUINN: Manson was a demagogue. What demagogues do is exaggerate public concerns and make it seem like imminent danger. He used the racial card, that the blacks were going to rise up, there was going to be a race war, helter skelter. The whites would be slaughtered, and then his followers would come back and help him rule the world.
MARTIN: So there was a racial element. Just briefly, when you look at - ooh, the line just dropped. I think we've just lost...
GUINN: I'm here.
MARTIN: Jeff Guinn, you're there? Just briefly, do you see the impact of Charles Manson on today's culture?
GUINN: Very much so. I mean, a lot of the white supremacist groups are using tactics out of the Manson playbook, exaggerating all kinds of racial problems.
MARTIN: Even today. Jeff Guinn, biographer of Charles Manson. Manson died yesterday at the age of 83. Jeff Guinn, thank you so much for your time this morning.
GUINN: Thank you.
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