The Maniac Neo-Nazis Keeping Charles Manson's Race War Alive

How Atomwaffen wants to make Helter Skelter real.

Charles Manson is dead now, and we are the richer for it. Manson was a thief, a pimp and a murderous cult leader bent on race war. He was true scum.

No wonder some alt-righters are pouring out drinks for him.

“A great revolutionary,” said one commenter of Manson on the IronMarch neo-Nazi internet forum.

″The world really does feel a little emptier,” said another.

One bereaved bigot simply posted a Celine Dion lyric: “Near, far, wherever you are I believe that the heart does go on ...”

“Hero.” “Champion.” “Warrior of Truth.” Such were the tributes used Monday to describe a demented butcher.

Charles Manson pictured at California Medical Facility in August 1980.
Charles Manson pictured at California Medical Facility in August 1980.
Mirrorpix via Getty Images

If you’re wondering who might rhapsodize a psychotic racist in this manner, the answer is other psychotic racists, many of whom belong to Atomwaffen Division, a particularly bloodthirsty and anti-American branch of the so-called alt-right that has made worshipping Manson a part of their cultish devotion to violent insurrection.

Even within the alt-right — a loose association of white supremacists and fascists — the Atomwaffen Division is considered extreme. The group, whose name translates to “Atomic Weapons Division,” puts out ISIS-style propaganda videos on YouTube that feature members clad in skull masks and camouflage outfits, sometimes on training exercises in the woods, often holding guns and the organization’s distinctive yellow-and-black nuclear-themed flags. In one video, members burn a copy of the U.S. Constitution on a grill.

Atomwaffen is best known for a double homicide in Tampa this May, in which Devon Arthurs, a member of the group who had converted to a violent, fundamentalist version of Islam, shot and killed two of his roommates, who were also Atomwaffen members. A fourth roommate, Brandon Russell, was arrested later for having bomb-making equipment and radioactive material. Russell, too, was part of Atomwaffen. He had a framed photo of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh in his bedroom.

Apocalyptic lunacy has always been part of far-right politics, and a vigorous strain of it runs through today’s alt-right white supremacist movement. It should come as no surprise, then, that Manson, whose once-upon-a-time status as a longhair could never obscure the swastika carved into his forehead, might serve as a new vessel of madness for today’s violent racists. In many ways, he was a forebear of groups like Atomwaffen and a bug-eyed prototype for the modern race warrior.

Manson’s deranged political teachings were a mish-mash of Scientology, occultism and Nazism, all bundled into an original end-of-days tale. Stay with me, he told his followers, and you’ll be saved from the coming race war.

“Manson was motivated by an apocalyptic belief in the imminent end of the world through a race war in which the White population was doomed to defeat,” Jeffrey Kaplan wrote in Encyclopedia of White Power: A Sourcebook on the Radical Racist Right. “The victorious Black population would in time realize that the White man is genetically more fit to govern, and would seek in vain for White survivors of the racial Holocaust to assume the reins of power. The Manson family, having survived the apocalypse by hiding in a timeless cave at the center of the world, would then emerge to take power.”

This worldview led Manson and his followers into an especially desolate part of Death Valley called Barker Ranch in 1969, where Time magazine described them as “holed up in run-down cabins” leading an “indolent, almost savage existence, singing Manson’s songs, dancing, swimming in a small pool, stealing cars for cash and picking through garbage for food.” Here they would dodge the apocalypse.

By the early 1980s, of course, Manson had failed to dodge his own downfall. He wasn’t in a timeless cave at the center of the world. He was in a cell in San Quentin, serving a life sentence for the gruesome murders of seven people. Manson had led his followers, known as The Family, in the 1969 slayings of actress Sharon Tate and six other people in a two-night killing spree in Los Angeles.

It was in prison that Manson started a correspondence with a longtime American neo-Nazi named James Mason, who would come to view “Charlie” as a prophet of hate. Mason was the type of man who considered Auschwitz a “damned nice place,” and his wingnut journey would take him from the heart of organized white supremacy to years of inept obscurity and, ultimately, back to a faint relevance in the Trump era thanks to the alt-right and Atomwaffen.

A fascist since he was 13, when he joined the youth movement of George Lincoln Rockwell’s American Nazi Party, Mason had radicalized himself while watching black people take to the streets during the civil rights era. As a young adult, he set up Nazi booths at county fairs in southern Ohio, where he’d grown up.

“We should shoot for bringing down the system,” he would later say. “Destroy the system.”

Mason eventually left the American Nazi Party and joined a splinter group called the National Socialist Liberation Front. Some NSLF members were fans of Manson, which prompted Mason to begin researching the cult leader. In 1980, Mason reached out to the incarcerated Manson. The two began communicating regularly by mail and phone.

“What I discovered was a revelation equal to the revelation I received when I first found Adolf Hitler,” Mason would later explain.

Through “Charlie,” Mason came to understand that Hitler’s death had brought about the end of Western civilization. Every government in the world was now part of an anti-white global conspiracy run by “super capitalists” and “super communists.” Nothing about Western culture or its institutions could be salvaged. It would all have to be blown to smithereens.

“It’s just like a human organism that has ingested a fatal dose of poison,” Mason would explain. “[If] you fall asleep with it and try to ride it out, you’re going to die, but if you become suddenly, violently ill and expel that poison ― even though the experience may be rather unpleasant ― you at least have a chance to live. Manson called that Helter Skelter.”

So inspired by “Charlie” was Mason that he took the murderous cult leader’s advice and renamed his neo-Nazi organization Universal Order. Mason began writing a newsletter called “Siege” to promote Manson’s views as a continuation of Hitler’s philosophy. In 1992, Mason would collect these writings into a book that neo-Nazi skinhead leader Tom Metzger called “435 pages of hot revolutionary style white propaganda.”

For Mason and other white supremacists, Manson was almost a divine being, an atavistic incarnation of hate. The cult leader fit neatly into a strain of fascist magical realism called “Esoteric Hitlerism” that became popular after World War II when the Greek writer Savitri Devi proposed that Hitler was the ninth avatar of Vishnu and racist dupes somehow bought into it.

This type of crazy remains en vogue among the alt-right today, with notable exponents such as Andrew “weev” Auernheimer, a neo-Nazi hacker and the webmaster for The Daily Stormer, whose charismatic ravings make him the closest thing to a contemporary Manson in the movement. (Auernheimer has ties to Atomwaffen and after the Arthurs murders issued an overloud declamation about how he knew the shooter and the victims but had previously banned Arthurs from a Daily Stormer forum.)

But the effects of Manson on today’s white supremacist movement ― in no small part thanks to Mason’s efforts ― go beyond evil juju. Consider white separatism in the modern context. Organized racists in America these days like to call themselves “white nationalists.” This of course is partly a public relations gambit — “white nationalist” is maybe more palatable than “neo-Nazi” or “white supremacist” — but it’s also an accurate description of what they want.

Groups across the racist political spectrum want a White Nation, an ethno-state, somewhere in America for just the White Race. The three-piece-suit-wearing figurehead of the alt-right, Richard Spencer, is very open about this. So is veteran skinhead Jeff Schoep, the leader of the National Socialist Movement. As is KKK-enthusiast Brad Griffin, aka Hunter Wallace, a leader of the League of the South.

In 2000, Mason wrote Manson to thank him for this brand of white separatism. In a two-page history of the Universal Order he penned for Kaplan’s The Encyclopedia of White Power, Mason wrote:

Although few would realize or admit it, the gradual move away from “White Supremacy” toward White Separatism, from any hopes of recovering the U.S. government, toward establishing new, independent regions, is precisely what animated the creation of the Manson enclaves in the Death Valley during the 1960s. At issue is bare survival as a species as the world system begins to crumble and die.

Mason’s adulation of Manson made him somewhat of an outlier in the American neo-Nazi scene of the 1980s. And Manson veneration remains a prickly subject for current white nationalists. On Stormfront, another neo-Nazi forum, the commentary Monday about Manson’s passing mostly had a “Good riddance and thank God he’s dead” tenor. The Manson Family killed white people, after all. And Manson’s degeneracy reflects poorly on white supremacy.

But degeneracy has never prevented neo-Nazis from attracting supporters. For years, Mason’s “Charlie”-inspired insights were sought after by other prominent racists, including Metzger, who interviewed Mason for over an hour in 1993 for his “Race and Reason” show. When talk turned to violence, as it often does with far-right extremists, Mason clucked disapprovingly about a 1984 mass shooting in which a survivalist gunman took out his rage at “international bankers” by massacring 21 people in a McDonald’s in San Ysidro, California. “It wouldn’t be such a bad thing if they would pick their targets a little more carefully,” he said.

Mason faded into relative obscurity for the rest of the ’90s and early aughts, when he was in and out of prison on weapons charges and for an inappropriate relationship with a 14-year-old girl, of whom he had taken nude photographs.

But in 2017, the year his hero “Charlie” would pass into the astral plane, Mason has found new relevance, and a fawning group of disciples in Atomwaffen.

Earlier this year Atomwaffen republished Mason’s book “Siege” online, and announced the launch of a new Universal Order website.

“JAMES MASON IS BACK!” read a July headline on the fascist zine Noose, an Atomwaffen site. After years of trying, the article said, Atomwaffen members had finally tracked down Mason for an exclusive interview!

And to the violent group’s absolute glee, Mason was still Mason, an unhinged admirer of Manson and mass murderers.

“My views on Manson have not changed,” he told an Atomwaffen member. “We had a society post-WW2 that was disintegrating, a mile a minute. We had a hippie generation, a country that was heading headlong into national suicide. Manson’s commune was solidly, solidly white.”

When asked for his thoughts on Anders Breivik, the far-right Norwegian terrorist convicted of killing 77 people in a bombing and mass shooting in 2011, Mason replied that Breivik was “dead-on.”

“I’m never gonna disown anybody who does something like that,” Mason said.

Elsewhere in the interview, Mason said he’s “mildly encouraged” by the rise of Donald Trump.

As recently as Sunday, one day before Manson died, Mason apparently wrote an article on the Universal Order website: a 1,400-word treatise praising Nazi eugenics and euthanasia.

Mason’s young devotees, meanwhile, have hinted on Twitter ― another key radicalization platform ― that they’re planning a memorial for “Charlie,” a more elaborate send-off for this proto-alt-right Hitlerian avatar of death and terror.

“#JeSuisCharlie,” one commenter posted.

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