How to Become a Cult Leader is a fictional textbook that describes through a documentary series what gives birth to a cult leader and what it is that sustains them for a period of time surrounded by followers. It is interesting to understand what quality of them attracts crowds and showcases dedication and loyalty for some time. The entire series covers each aspect of this playbook, and throughout, viewers are introduced to cult leaders who left a devastating impact.
The first episode of the show is about the leader of the Manson family, the infamous Charles Manson. Through this episode, the makers talk about how Charles ‘Charlie’ Manson managed to build a group for himself that was based on a strong foundation of him being a messiah, and he surrounded himself with young women who were charmed by his good looks and his way of connecting with them through his words.
Charles Manson spent plenty of time in jail, where he immersed himself into reading as many books as possible on spirituality and leaders that could help him become one. His time behind bars meant easy access to a lot of things he could not have afforded otherwise. This throws light on how manipulative men like Charles are, and it is easy for them to make people believe in things regardless of any basis in reality. The idea of self-isolation and believing in themselves through solitude and patience is what led Charlie to finalize what he wanted to do.
As the documentary states, he was raised in rural America by his relatives, and the pain of abandonment and not being wanted by his mother left a deep impact. The makers, unfortunately, did not talk about the psychological effects of being neglected on Charles as an adult. It could be one of the reasons for his delusions and his grave need to make his presence known by doing something so shocking that it did leave a mark but at a cost.
The young Charles was known for manipulating women to fight for his cause, and that behavior never changed until he was arrested and convicted in 1971. The narcissistic side of him, which is a common trait seen in most cult leaders, was hard not to notice, and he knew of the power he held over women. This was just the beginning of his trying to find his foothold, and soon he was able to do that upon reaching the birthplace of the counterculture movement in the USA, Ashbury. Visiting this place changed his life because it allowed him to become a hippie and attract as many women as he could, and make them feel wanted.
His ability to talk to women, especially, and make them feel heard is a classic maneuver used by cult leaders to make their followers feel like they matter. Charles was competent at implementing the ideas in a manner that it would seem the concept came from the cult member or a possible recruit and not him. This is the same idea used in the Christopher Nolan film “Inception.” Planting ideas in a way that it would seem like genuine inspiration to the other person.
By the looks of it, the man took advantage of the political and socio-economic atmosphere of America in the 1960s. The country was in a war with Vietnam, and there was a stretch of baby boomers who were part of various communes where they felt a sense of belonging. Charles managed to make use of the scenario to woo women and enamor them to his way of thinking. He had a penchant for spotting lost and bruised souls who wanted to be guided. He changed his personality just to be able to speak the language of the youth of that decade and leave a lasting impression with his rugged yet hypnotic features.
Charles Manson is a cult figure, and there are many books authored by him and experts on the kind of work he did, followed by his act of crime. Charles Manson is a case study in himself, and the experts are quick to point out that his idea of being a cult leader was a mixture of everything he had seen or heard around the country. His bunch of female followers were enamored by his words that they were okay to coexist with each other in the commune as his lovers. The topic of the episode, ‘laying down the foundation,’ works well in the case of Charles Manson because his approach was right, and the target audience he chose fell right into the trap and did not see anything wrong with his statements and the actions followed by them.
His loyalty test on women was of the chemical variety. He tried the psychedelic narcotics on himself and acted as Jesus, their savior. His act of crucifixion during his trip was just his way of letting women know he was willing to embrace their pain, and that is why they should follow his words. The 1960s was a period where such narcotics were easily available, and Charles had a deep understanding of what could help him become a real-life messiah for the women who had blindly followed him. He is the Pied Piper, and the women are the children willing to follow him into a large ditch.
An anecdote involving Dennis Wilson from the Beach Boys and his brother led to Charles Manson beginning his crusade against Hollywood, where he moved to gain more traction as a cult figure. His ambition to become a musical superstar was cut short, and this led to him and his groupies barging into homes in the middle of the night as a scare tactic to gain attention and garner a spotlight. As the experts state, rejection is something Charles hadn’t ever gotten used to. He was able to control the bunch of women, but he could not get hold of people who could help him be a rockstar.
Charles refused to understand that maybe he wasn’t as talented as he claimed to be. The man was used to having people at his beck and call willing to work as per his whims. This led to the formation of Helter Skelter, a magazine in which he wrote in detail about his vision of what the world will be like in the coming future. He speaks about the imminent racial war and the wilderness war that will take them to the desert to make them the rulers. This bizarre idea could have been a result of his mental health, which was never a topic of discussion. The series of manic episodes led to Charles Manson and his group killing an upcoming actress, Sharon Tate, and her bunch of friends from Hollywood. These brutal multiple murders put the spotlight on him and his Manson family from across the country, and thus was the end of the man who wanted to be a revered cult leader but was cut short by his scanty vision.
Charles Manson remained a cult figure long after he died in prison, and there have been various mentions of him in pop culture. The last one is the recreation of the actress’ murder in the Quentin Tarantino film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The Manson family has been a topic of discussion as much as he has since 1970, and there are still many questions left unanswered.