Brian Baker

Groupthink and cults: a terrifying combination that is far too pervasive

The last week has been rather sensational for murder cults and couples.

Former Manson Family member Leslie Van Houten is looking down the barrel of freedom, while Canadian serial rapist and teen killer, Paul Bernardo, was moved to a medium-security prison in Quebec.

Van Houten, 73, witnessed California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal rule in her favour by reversing Governor Gavin Newsom’s parole denial. Bernardo, 58, on the other hand, was moved from Millhaven Maximum Security Prison in Bath, Ontario, to La Macaza, Quebec, 40 kilometres north by northwest of Mont-Tremblant.

As shake-my-head-worthy as the Van Houten and Bernardo results are, they gave me pause about one of my biggest fears: groupthink.

My top three fears are deep water, abandonment and groupthink; the latter being latent.

Now, I tie the Manson Family in because they were a cult. I include Bernardo in my discussion of groupthink mainly because he did not act alone. His wife at the time, Karla Homolka, partook in folie a deux.

As provocative as the Manson Family’s true crime story is, the frenzy of their collective thinking, controlled by a charismatic man, which led to the Tate-LaBianca murders, is utterly terrifying.

It’s ironic because the teenaged me used to talk about the paranormal and Nostradamus to the degree of a frenzied heretic. I’m sure some people thought I was most likely to join a cult, but no. I was big on free thought. And admittedly I spoke as passionately about the paranormal as a teenager as I did about classic rock, Film Noir, puffins and supermodels. Let’s just say, I’d have a tough time finding a cult that incorporated that menagerie.

The idea of people making irrational decisions as a group and them being widely accepted, whether it be a cult, organized religion, political organizations, sports teams fans, hate groups, gangs, QAnon, corporations or the military, is deeply problematic to me.

Mind you, I don’t count the “woke” as an example of groupthink. It’s just a label that right-wing groups use to admonish those who want rights for everyone. Misogyny, antisemitism, homophobia, transphobia and racism are pervasive out there, and those people who are of the discriminatory variety like to hide behind the veil of name-calling. Woke is the same thing as “Antifa” — far-right rubes beating the drum of paranoia to admonish those who protest fascism.

But I digress. Maybe my aberrant reaction to groupthink is tied to the fact that I was raised as an only child — admittedly sheltered — in a predominantly white, suburban, secular environment that made me uncomfortable with groupthink.

I was bullied a lot for being different. Different how is still a mystery, but I was still mocked, beaten and taunted for being who I was. Which, in my tweens, was just a shell waiting to be filled up with outside experiences.

Much like today, I wrote a lot back then, and kids, especially of the jock variety, don’t like writers. Hell, look at all the hate aimed at journalists today, and it’s quite clear that the pen is mightier than the sword.

Now, be forewarned I am not in the individualist camp. I do follow scientific reasoning. And science, like any human endeavour, is cratered with contradictions, waiting to be ironed out.

Circling back to Van Houten, I hear that the land where Abigail Folger, Wojciech Frykowski, Jay Sebring and an eight-month-pregnant Sharon Tate were murdered is allegedly haunted. Yes, Van Houten wasn’t involved in the Polanski-Tate rampage, but she was responsible for the LaBianca killings, and that stigmatized house was formerly owned by “Ghost Adventures” czar Zak Bagans. (Seriously, what is it with that guy and true-crime landmarks?)

The paranormal and true crime truly intersect. And admittedly there is plenty of groupthink within the paranormal community. But when it comes to the paranormal, it’s acceptable to think outside the box; to not be siloed. And even though groupthink is a latent fear of mine, I’m still utterly fascinated by the bizarre craziness that people believe.

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