Susan Atkins, a member of Charles Manson's "Family", is up for parole for the 18th time in September.
Most people have little doubt that Manson's group can be described as a dangerous cult (although an article by Denise Noe gives an interesting challenge to the idea). Manson was a charismatic leader who exerted extreme control over members of his group, up to and including ordering the brutal murders of several people.
That may be true. That doesn't suddenly give the cult members license to behave as they did. A CNN article states that "Charles Manson used his hypnotic powers to direct Atkins and other "family" members to kill seven people."
Charles Manson is not a supervillian. He doesn't have magical powers. He might have a convincing personality, but at the end of the day, everyone still has a choice whether they're going to listen. Manson's followers quite willingly joined him, enjoyed his company, and eventually accepted that murder was a good idea. This wasn't a case of Stockholm Syndrome.
Even if one argues that they surrendered control to the charismatic Manson, that was still a choice. Each of us is responsible for our own behavior. If we take drugs, we're still responsible for what we do in a drug-induced state. If we drink and drive, we're still responsible for the accident we cause while blitzed out of our mind. If we decide to blindly follow a leader, that doesn't somehow absolve us of that decision.
Image Courtesy Getty Images