On Tuesday, The New York Times, in its ongoing quest to find and publish the worst op-ed of all time, unleashed a screed so stupid that it actually measured up against the regular work of Charles Blow and Paul Krugman. Today’s hottest take came courtesy of Baynard Woods, reporter and editor at the Real News Network, whatever that is. The title: “Charles Manson Was Not a Product of the Counterculture.” The piece says that instead, Manson was a forerunner to today’s conservatives.
Never mind the fact that the radical Left cheered Manson, including former Northwestern University professor and wife to Bill Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn. Never mind that Manson hung out with cultural figures ranging from Dennis Wilson to Neil Young to Jerry Rubin.
The piece begins by disowning Manson as a totem of the Left, though he clearly was:
The Manson murders — the seven killings committed by Charles Manson’s followers in two days in Los Angeles in August 1969 — are often thought to mark the end of the 1960s, as if those brutal slayings were the inevitable outgrowth of the counterculture, the dark consequence of long hair, free love, casual drug use and a general breakdown of authority and social norms. This sentiment was most famously expressed by Joan Didion in her book “The White Album.” She wrote that “in a sense” it was true that “the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brush fire through the community.”
Didion was right, of course. But Woods thinks that because Manson was a racist and a sexist, he was a right-winger — presupposing his own conclusions. Ignoring the presence of Leftist racism and Leftist sexism, though the evidence was rife of such thinking during the rabid 1960s, Woods writes, “Mr. Manson was not the end point of the counterculture. If anything, he was a backlash against the civil rights movement and a harbinger of white supremacist race warriors like Dylann Roof, the lunatic fringe of the alt-right.”
Now, it’s hilarious that Woods can’t actually take his thinking to the next level — if Manson was of the Left and Roof was like Manson . . . then is it possible that Roof might not have been a typical representative of the Right? Is it possible that the fascistic alt-right is actually closer to the radical identity politics of the Left in many major ways than it is to the Right? That would be true, given that alt-right thinkers explicitly reject the individualism and constitutionalism of the Right.
Woods isn’t wrong to lump in the alt-right with Manson’s perspective. But his notion that the alt-right and the Left are mutually exclusive leads him to precisely the wrong conclusion, all in an attempt to protect a radical Left that planted the seeds for the alt-right.