A brief history of crime by remote control
People of a certain age will recall the infamous Tate-Labianca murders of August 8 through 10, 1969. Most will rightly associate those infamous murders across those shocking days with the notorious killer Charles Manson. Some incorrectly believe to this day that Manson was present at the two locations where the murders were committed. He was not. Manson ordered his cult stooges to commit the murders but, like many killers who are also cowards, Manson elected not to be personally present when it happened.
That Manson is nevertheless today incorrectly remembered as the principal on-the-scene murderer may be down to the genius of one man. He was one of the greatest prosecutors who ever lived, and his name was Vincent Bugliosi. It was Bugliosi’s job to prosecute Manson and his so-called “family” on behalf of the people of the State of California. Because Manson wasn’t on the scene when the murders occurred it was a considerable burden for Bugliosi to meet. But meet that burden he did.
Bugliosi carefully walked the jury through the theory of the case, that Charles Manson had an almost hypnotic hold over the members of his cult. Manson had developed a crackpot theory that, if he ordered a series of ghastly murders and left behind evidence framing people of colour for those murders, he would foment a black and white race war across America. From the ashes of that conflict Manson believed that he would emerge as king. He called the race war “Helter Skelter,” from the Beatles tune of the same name.
Thus was reinforced the popular American tradition of crime by remote control, a useful doctrine created to bring to justice those who inspire, encourage and provoke criminal action without getting their hands dirty. It is why many mob bosses were brought to justice. It is why the saner persons among us understand that, even though he didn’t personally fly the planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, Osama bin Laden was nonetheless the principal evil behind the September 11th attacks on America.
That is the theory that will bring Trump down if he is indicted, tried and prosecuted. We have Vincent Bugliosi to thank in part for cementing in the minds of Americans the idea that a criminal doesn’t have to personally be present for a crime in order to bear the greatest culpability for the crime. Bugliosi metaphorically placed Manson at the scene of the crime. The jury was convinced and Manson was sentenced to death. (A sentence that was subsequently commuted to life in prison when the Supreme Court ruled capital punishment unconstitutional in 1972.)
As I write this, more than 950 men and women have been criminally charged for crimes associated with the January 6 insurrection. To date, the longest sentence handed down was for Thomas Webster, an ex-Marine who once served on the protective detail of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. Webster wielded a flagpole with which he attacked police officers. He got ten years behind bars.
The sentence Webster drew should therefore be the starting point for Donald Trump’s sentence. Trump is the man who, Charles Manson-like, inspired, encouraged and provoked the January 6th criminal attack on the American Capitol. Any sentence less than ten years for Trump would be monstrous.
Interestingly, unlike bin Laden or Manson, Trump actually wanted to march with the attackers. Trump wanted to lead the charge and be part of the violence. In a way, the Secret Service did us a grave injustice by restraining Trump from his impulse to join in with the insurrectionists. It would have made it easier for the prosecution to establish beyond question Trump’s violent and treasonous intent.
As it is, we have the Manson precedent with which to prosecute Trump for his part in the insurrection. But unlike with Manson, we know beyond question Trump’s role in the planning and execution of the events of that terrible day. We have his speech before the mob in the Ellipse. We have testimony of witnesses who observed him throughout the day. We have his criminal inaction from the day and his deliberate attempt to hide his intent.
We have, in short, sufficient evidence and precedence to indict, try and convict Donald Trump for insurrection. Let it be so. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.