Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Was Charles Manson Part of a CIA MK-ULTRA Experiment with LSD?

I've wondered of late if the bizarre Charles Manson murders were somehow encouraged or orchestrated by forces—perhaps in the US government—aimed at discrediting the peaceful hippie movement and the drugs it favored, such as LSD. 

The gruesome Tate-LaBianca murders on August 9&10, 1969 are often cited as the death knell of the 60s, and this point is made in the 2018 documentary by Jakob Dylan, "Echo in the Canyon," which celebrates the musical culture of Laurel Canyon near Los Angeles, and also documents the grave effect the murders had on the scene there. 

A little Googling on the topic lead me to the 2019 book, CHAOS: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties by investigative journalist Tom O'Neill. While it doesn't provide a direct link between Manson and the CIA, there's a great preponderance of evidence to connect, in horrifying way, the CIA's secretive MK-ULTRA program which may have recruited Manson while he was serving time in federal prisons. 

The book takes the reader on a journey through 20 years of O'Neill's research and hundreds of interviews with movie industry players, police, surviving Manson Family members, relatives of their murder victims, and others, including LA DA Vince Bugliosi, who made his name and fortune with the book Helter Skelter about the murders (and threatened to sue O'Neill when he learned about his research). 

O'Neill begins the book poking huge holes in the official record and prosecutorial procedure around the Manson family. Chaos details how a huge raid by the LA County Sheriff's office on the Manson family ranch in the weeks following the Tate-LaBianca murders lead to no arrests, despite stolen property and guns being found. Manson was also freed later that August after being caught with a stash of marijuana joints while in bed with an underage, 17-year-old girl, despite being on federal parole. O'Neill began to wonder if Manson was somehow being used as an informant by police, and thus kept getting a "Get Out of Jail Free" card. 

Elke Sommer and Sharon Tate in The Wrecking Crew
The author interviewed friends of Sharon Tate, including actress Elke Sommer, who appeared with Tate in her last movie, The Wrecking Crew. Sommer said Roman Polanski was a controlling, abusive husband. A tape of Tate having sex with other men staged by Polanski, who forced her to do it, was found in their home after the murders, but dismissed as evidence by Bugliosi. At the time of the murders, Polanski, who is now living in exile from the US after being prosecuted in 1977 for drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl, was working in London, reportedly having affairs, and leaving his pregnant wife in their California house with cast of characters including drug dealers who cornered the market on MDA along with Wojciech Frykowski, one of the murder victims. 

O'Neill interviewed some of these characters and their associates, who bragged of connections to US intelligence that the author was able to confirm. Several times, they threatened to kill him in violent ways if he pursued his research, and said Bugliosi was fearful of them, which is why he changed their names in Helter Skelter. Two of these men were in Jamaica at the time of the murders, giving them an alibi but leaving open the possibility that they could have enlisted Manson to commit them. 

Soon, O'Neill's research pressed him to "broader connections and social implications" of politics in California. In Chapter 7, "Neutralizing the Left," O'Neill delves into efforts to defuse the Black Panther Party and how Manson might have connected with those efforts. He focused on "two secret intelligence operations that were under way in Los Angeles in 1969: the FBI's COINTELPRO and the CIA's CHAOS. Their primary objective, according to three congressional committees that investigated them in the mid-seventies, was to discredit the left-wing movement by any means necessary—an aim that, coincidentally or not, described the effect of the Manson murders."   

Saturday, April 6, 2024

100 Years of Surrealism, A Movement Inspired by Cannabis?

Remedios Varo. Harmony (Self Portrait). 1956

Surrealism, the trippy art and cultural movement that developed in Europe in the aftermath of World War I, traces its roots to the publication of André Breton's essay Manifeste du surréalisme, published in October 1924. 

The movement "aimed to allow the unconscious mind to express itself, often resulting in the depiction of illogical or dreamlike scenes and ideas. Its intention was, according to Breton, to 'resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality into an absolute reality, a super-reality,' or surreality. It produced works of painting, writing, theatre, filmmaking, photography, and other media as well." [-Wikipedia

Breton's manifesto states that, "hallucinations, illusions, etc., are not a source of trifling pleasure. The best controlled sensuality partakes of it." It continues, "The realistic attitude, inspired by positivism, from Saint Thomas Aquinas to Anatole France, clearly seems to me to be hostile to any intellectual or moral advancement. I loathe it, for it is made up of mediocrity, hate, and dull conceit."

Under the heading, "SECRETS OF THE MAGICAL SURREALIST ART," Breton evokes the hashish-taking poet Charles Baudelaire

"Surrealism does not allow those who devote themselves to it to forsake it whenever they like. There is every reason to believe that it acts on the mind very much as drugs do; like drugs, it creates a certain state of need and can push man to frightful revolts. It also is, if you like, an artificial paradise, and the taste one has for it derives from Baudelaire’s criticism for the same reason as the others. 

"Thus the analysis of the mysterious effects and special pleasures it can produce -- in many respects Surrealism occurs as a new vice which does not necessarily seem to be restricted to the happy few; like hashish, it has the ability to satisfy all manner of tastes -- such an analysis has to be included in the present study. It is true of Surrealist images as it is of opium images that man does not evoke them; rather they 'come to him spontaneously, despotically. He cannot chase them away; for the will is powerless now and no longer controls the faculties.' (Baudelaire.)"

Mayor Breed Lights Up San Francisco's Weed Week

San Francisco Mayor London Breed stopped off before attending the Giants home opener on Friday to welcome participants in the first SF Weed Week, to be held throughout the city on April 13 – 20th.

The kickoff press conference was held in conjunction with a Cannabis Mylar Art Exhibit, showcasing over 1,000 commercial mylar product packages from the legal and illicit market, at the Mirus Gallery & Art Bar at 540 Howard Street throughout April. 

One of the Mylar Art pieces at Mirus
The event was organized by cannabis journalist David Downs and attended by about 100 supporters from the Bay Area and beyond. Downs said he got the idea for a “Weed Week” after hearing about Beer Week in the city, and by Amoeba Records in-store events. “Cannabis growers are rock stars. Strains are celebrities. We’re treating them accordingly,” he said.  SF Week Week events will be held on 7 consecutive nights at 7 different cannabis lounges, showcasing 7 new cannabis strains.

Wearing a Giants jersey and bright orange suit, Breed said she was grateful to be part of, “an opportunity that is so San Francisco.” She added, “When you think about San Francisco, you think about fun, you think about excitement, you think about joy. And the cannabis community, even before it was legalized in California, has been such an important part of that.” 

Mentioning the Beat poets in North Beach and the Summer of Love in the Haight as examples of San Francisco culture that have spread across the world, Breed said today’s efforts would help “transform the conversation and open up opportunities for people to experience joy through cannabis.” She joked that SF Weed Week should be held at the same time as Restaurant Week (because, the munchies).

Cannabis businesses are projected to bring in $789 million to the city in 2024/25 Breed said, mentioning that SF has approved 52 business permits through their equity program, and has given out $11 million in grants for equity programs in cannabis. She said SF Weed Week was an opportunity to “support our dispensaries and small business, and use this as a way to bring tourists and other people back to our city for an experience that only San Francisco can provide.” 

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

On His 100th Birthday: Marlon Brando and Marijuana

 Marlon Brando 

Marlon Brando, born on April 3, 1924, was an actor with an intensity like no other. He made his name after Tokin' Woman Tallulah Bankhead, who turned down the role of Blanche DuBois written for her in A Streetcar Named Desire, suggested "the cad" should play Stanley Kowalski. Brando went on to make motorcycle rebels cool in The Wild One (1953), and won his first Best Actor Oscar for On the Waterfront (1954).

In his book Songs My Mother Taught Me, he wrote, "So many things happened during the sixties and seventies that now a lot of those years are a blur. I was still trying to give my life some meaning and enlisted in almost any campaign I thought would help end poverty, racial discrimination and social injustice. But that wasn't all I did in those years; there was a lot of partying, getting drunk, having fun, jumping into swimming pools, smoking grass, lying on beaches and watching the sun go down. During the sixties in Hollywood, everybody was sleeping with everybody."