There are many cults in America, each one stranger and more tragic than the last. I would suggest that Jim Jones and his many dedicated disciples can be included in the top three on that list. In fact, the followers of Jim Jones known as The People’s Temple, would eventually meet a fate that is parallel to David Koresh and the Branch Dividians, but without the hellfire and brimstone that took all of the cult members’ lives. Instead on November 18 1978 the 913 Jonestown, Guyana members of the Temple would die in what is still known as the “largest mass suicide in history,” even though it was discovered that many cult members didn’t willingly ingest the drink. Instead they were forced to drink the cyanide-laced grape Kool-Aid at gunpoint. Members who tried to escape were shot to death. Sounds more like a mass murder to me. Survivors believe that Jim Jones himself didn’t commit suicide. They insist Jones escaped with his life although this has been proven to be untrue. The false notion that Jones lived after the mass murders belies the continued ownership Jones had over these people’s minds.
Jones was born in 1931 in Randolph County, Indiana to James Thurman Jones, a WWI veteran, and Lynette Putnam. Putnam was just plain delusional. She believed she had given birth to a Messiah. Perhaps she and Jones had a celibate marriage. Economic difficulties during the Great Depression (nothing great about it from what I’ve read) necessitated that the Jones’ family move into a shack without plumbing. I should imagine keeping up with the Jones’ would be a definite step downward in that circumstance. The poverty Jim Jones endured in his youth may have set the stage for his craving for great wealth as an adult and cult leader.
Jones, an intelligent child, was a voracious reader in his youth and enjoyed reading about his mentors,. Wouldn’t you know they included Hitler, Stalin, Karl Marx and Ghandi. Jones developed an interest in religion and here’s a shocker, it was because he found making friends rather difficult. Although he exhibited pathological behavior from an early age, I can’t help but sympathize with the child. Had he born into a healthy family, there probably wouldn’t have been a Jonestown or a People’s Temple. Childhood acquaintances describe Jones as being a “really weird kid” who was “obsessed with religion … obsessed with death”. He engaged in normal boyhood activities such as holding funerals for small animals on his parents’ property and stabbing a cat to death. Mee-ouch. Ironic, considering decades later, he would humiliate a little boy for stepping on a bug. “I’m gonna give you a break this time, ….put you in a class and talk about why you stepped on that bug.” would be his ominous words. Jones had some childhood friends, one of whom claimed that Jones’ father, who was an alcoholic, was associated with the Ku Klux Klan. Well if Putnam wouldn’t let James have any sex, that might have driven him to drink. Unexpectedly, Jones sympathized with the country’s repressed African-Americans probably because he too was a social outcast. Misery loves company, I guess. Jones later recounted how he and his father clashed on the issue of race, and how he did not speak with his father for “many, many years” after the old man refused to allow one of Jones’ black friends into the house. Okay I can understand not talking to his father for a couple of days perhaps but many years? This certainly reveals the intensity of Jones’ beliefs. I can’t help but look at Jones’ photo and ask myself, what happened to make this little boy grow into a psychopath who would one day be responsible for the death of hundreds of people? The hand that rocks the cradle truly rules the world, or at least a town of 900 people.
Jones became a handsome man, in spite of his character. He married nurse Marceline Baldwin in 1949. In 1951, Jones began attending Communist Party meetings and rallies in Indianapolis. He was harassed for his participation ni the rallies during the McCarthy Hearings. This provoked a religious response in Jones who asked himself, “how can I demonstrate my Marxism?” Why, of course, infiltrate the church. Well he was a Messiah after all. A Methodist superintendent helped him to get a start in his church even though he knew Jones was a communist. That superintendent should have been shot at dawn. In 1952, Jones became a student pastor in Sommerset Southside Methodist Church, but he left that church because he was prohibited from allowing blacks into his congregation. One thing I can say on Jones’ behalf is his lack of racism and consistency in this belief were indeed quite impressive, especially in 1950s America. Then again, Jones may have targeted these people because he knew they were marginalized and therefore, easier to manipulate. Jones soon saw a faith-healing service in a Baptist church and realized it was a means to financial gain. With financial resources from such healings, he knew he could help accomplish his social goals. Such a “resourceful” man.
Of Monkeys and Men
Jones organized a mammoth religious convention and fundraiser to take place 1956, in a humongous Indianapolis hall called Cadle Tabernacle. Jim invited religious leaders so he could appear in headlines. Without significant finances, Jones’ Temple would go nowhere. As it often is with these c cultists, it was all about the money, for now. Jones actually shared the pulpit with Rev.William M. Branam, a healing evangelist and religious author as highly revered by some people as Oral Roberts and Billy Graham. Roberts of course became involved in a money scandal within his own organization but that wouldn’t be for decades after the Jones’ fundraiser. Jones’ association with Branam was both brilliant and frightening. Cult leaders are often very intelligent and know how to influence masses of people. Oddly, Jones’ actually sold monkies in order to raise church funds. Monkies. Not Davy Jones’ band. Real live monkies. Seriously. And somebody equally strange was buying them. Who wants a pet that poops all over their house and throw feces at the walls? Naturally, people who associated with Jones. Whatever.
The People’s Temple
Jones began his own church, which changed names until it became the Peoples Temple Christian Church Full Gospel.The People’s Temple was an inter-racial establishment. Jones stopped associating with the Communist Party. In 1960, Indianapolis Mayor Charles Boswell appointed Jones director of the Human Rights Commission. If only Boswell had seen the future and the way Jones would decimate human rights, he might have chosen more wisely. A monkey, perhaps. A narcissist, Jones ignored Boswell’s advice to keep a low public profile, and he gave interviews on local radio and television programs. It was difficult to oust Jones from his post since the public generally liked Jones: Jones helped to integrate churches, restaurants, the telephone company, the police department, a theater, an amusement park, and the Methodist Hospital. The hospital’s desegregation was the result of Jones’ intervention when he was placed in the black ward after a health collapse in 1961. He refused to move, made the beds, and emptied the bed pans of black patients. Pressures resulting from Jones’ actions forced hospital officials to desegregate the wards. Impressive. That’s how cult leaders operate. They appear to be sincere in the public light and in this manner attract more and more followers.
Jones received criticism in Indiana for his views. A swastika was placed on the Temple, a stick of dynamite was left in the Temple, and a dead cat was thrown at Jones’ house after a threatening phone call (perhaps it was the cat he stabbed to death as a child). Jones himself was involved in some of these threats. He and Marceline adopted several children of “partial non-Caucasian ancestry” (not too black and not too white). whom he called his “rainbow [brite?] family.” Jones stated, “Integration is a more personal thing with me now. It’s a question of my son’s future.” Jones began to refer to the Temple overall as a “rainbow family.”
In December 1963, he told his Indiana congregation that the world would end in a nuclear war on July 15, 1967, resulting in a socialist Eden on earth. He moved the Temple to northern California to await this magnificent prophecy. While Jones always spoke of the gospel’s virtues, Jones concealed the fact that his beliefs were based on communist theory. He mixed communist views with that of religion: “If you’re born in capitalist America, racist America, fascist America, then you’re born in sin. But if you’re born in socialism, you’re not born in sin.” Jones spoke out again traditional Christianity as “fly away religion,” referring to its teachings as a tool to oppress women and non-whites. Odd, considering his mother would have choked in her grave had she known of her son’s peculiar views.Jones even went so far as to tell the Temple, “What you need to believe in is what you can see … If you see me as your friend, I’ll be your friend. As you see me as your father, I’ll be your father, for those of you that don’t have a father … If you see me as your savior, I’ll be your savior. If you see me as your God, I’ll be your God.” In 1977, Marceline stated in an interview that, “Jim used religion to try to get some people out of the opiate of religion,” and had slammed the Bible on the table yelling “I’ve got to destroy this paper idol! ….You’re gonna help yourself, or you’ll get no help! There’s only one hope of glory; that’s within you! Nobody’s gonna come out of the sky! There’s no heaven up there! We’ll have to make heaven down here!”
Jones gained public support with prominent politicians. In San Francisco, Jones and George Moscone, a mayoral candidate, met with vice presidential candidate Walter Mondale. Mondale publicly praised the Temple, resulting in Jones and the Temple gaining serious influence in San Francisco politics. The Temple helped to get Moscone elected as mayor in 1975. Moscone returned the considerable favor by appointing Jones chairman of the San Francisco Housing Authority Commission. However in spite of these glorious developments, all was not as well in the Temple as it seemed. Two years after Moscone’s election, Jones and several hundred Temple followers left San Francisco and relocated in Guyana, after Jones learned that New West Magazine was about to publish an article detailing sexual and physical abuse by former Temple members. Not one for modesty, Jones named the new Guyanese settlement “Jonestown” after himself. Jones did not permit members to leave Jonestown for any reason. It was the beginning of the end for members of the People’s Temple. Jones began his preparation for what he called “Translation,” where he and his followers would all die together and move to another planet and live blissfully ever after. Perhaps they would encounter the Heaven’s Gate cult and hitch a ride on their space ship.
Descent into Madness
Jones may have become paranoid, or he may have devised a plan to further captivate his flock. He claimed that when he went to put on a pair of shorts, “they had the needle fixed with some poison on it… I knew right then what someone was up to. But I want you to know I’ve not been off my feet.” His audience cheered, relieved that their savior hadn’t been poisoned by a traitor in their midst. Rather like a Judas selling Christ for 30 pieces of silver, you might say. That was the image Jones deliberately sought to impress upon his followers and it appeared to work. None of them knew, of course, that Jones was obsessed with nuclear war and he was addicted to drugs. Slowly however, surviving members, including his own son Stephan, believed he went “insane.” For Stephan, he realized something was truly wrong with Jones when Jones took him to his mistress’ house. Later, Marceline told Stephan that Jones had related in detail what had happened with himself and his mistress. “I could no longer rationalize his behaviour.” Sometimes Jones whipped his crowd into a tribal frenzy, producing howling noises, and sounds reminiscent of a movie presenting Native Americans in battle. God (pun) only knows what else the Temple did during those ceremonies.
Naturally every earthbound god needs his goddesses and Jones was no exception. In spite of his marriage to Baldwin, Jones insisted on a steady diet of young, white virgins. The unfortunate young women were sexually molested and raped by Jones. No one intervened, believing the Temple’s leader when he insisted his sexual deviances were meant to expose hypocrisy in the church. That made no sense but none dared to question him. Jones praised open marriages and any spouse who was jealous over their partner’s infidelity was verbally attacked before the congregation. He simultaneously preached celibacy for his flock. Say what? Jones banned sex among Temple members outside of marriage, but he engaged in sexual relations with both male and female Temple members. For Jones’ perverse enjoyment, each person confessed their sexual practices and women complained about their husbands’ lovemaking. Jones told his congregation he was the only true heterosexual in the Temple, yet he also sodomized men.
On April 11, 1978, the Concerned Relatives, an organization established by escapees from the Temple, circulated a packet of documents called an “Accusation of Human Rights Violations by Rev. James Warren Jones” to the Peoples Temple, members of the press, and members of Congress. In June 1978, escaped Temple member Deborah Layton detailed crimes by the Peoples Temple and substandard living conditions in Jonestown. Suzanne Jones, a stepdaughter of Jim Jones, turned against the Temple. After she abandoned the Temple, Jones referred to Suzanne as “my goddamned, no good for nothing daughter”. Family loyalty. It warms the heart. In November 1978, Congressman Ryan investigated Jonestown. His brought with him relatives of Temple members, an NBC camera crew, and reporters for various newspapers. The delegation packed up and ran for their lives when Temple member Don Sly (a good surname for this guy) attacked Ryan with a knife. Congressman Ryan and his people succeeded in taking fifteen People’s Temple members who stated they wanted to leave. At that time, Jones said they could leave as they desired. Of course, Jones had that proverbial Ace up his sleeve and as Ryan, a reporter and a cameraman from NBC, a San Francisco Examiner photographer and Temple member Patricia Parks boarded two planes Jones’ “Red Brigade” armed guards arrived in a red pickup truck and shot all five dead. Several temple members were killed inside a Cessna airplane. Neville Annibourne, a Temple member, managed to survive and described many horrors that occurred regularly in the People’s Temple. One of the supposed Temple defectors, Larry Layton, drew a weapon and began fired on members of the party. An NBC cameraman filmed the first few seconds of the shootings. Jones attempted to defect to Soviet Russia; they had been negotiating an exodus for months. However, the U.S.S.R. would not take them after the murders.
Later that day Jones explained to the Temple that suicide was necessary due to supposed betrayal via
conspiratorial government organizations. He stated that men would “parachute in here on us….shoot some of our innocent babies…. and….they’ll torture our children, they’ll torture some of our people here, they’ll torture our seniors.” According to a surviving Jonestown member, Jones’ claimed that government would convert their captured children to facists and that “the ones that they take captured, they’re gonna just let them grow up and be dummies.” The word “betrayal” of the People’s Temple was used in his preaching that day. Jones declared that the time had come for the group to commit “revolutionary suicide” by drinking cyanide-laced grape-flavored Flavor Aid. Jones opened a container full of Kool-Aid, however, empty packets of grape Flavor Aid found on the scene proved that this was used to mix the “potion“, along with a powerful sedative. 909 people died of apparent cyanide poisoning that day. This resulted in the greatest single loss of American civilian life in a deliberate, criminal act until the 9-1-1 killings. Photographs of the morbid event are simple heart-breaking. That so many people believed in the teachings of the twisted Jim Jones even as he abused and misled them, is baffling. Their pathetic loyalty brought them to this grim end.
When members cried during the forced suicide, Jones counseled, “Stop this hysterics. This is not the way for people who are Socialists or Communists to die. No way for us to die. We must die with some dignity….Don’t be afraid to die..[they were]”just stepping over into another plane” and that death was “a friend….We didn’t commit suicide; we committed an act of revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane world.” Children were given the drink and families were told to lie down together. On a regular basis prior to the actual suicide, Jones held ceremonies called “White Nights“, where his followers drank a liquid he falsely stated was contaminated with poison. This was meant to psychologically prepare his flock for the actual event. Jones didn’t ingest the poison. He was found dead in a deck chair with a gunshot wound to his head that coroner Cyrill Mootoo stated was a self-inflicted gun wound.
Jones’ son Stephan believed the cowardly Jones had someone else shoot him. Marceline died of cyanide poisoning. Sons Stephan, Jim Jr., and Tim Jones did not die in the mass suicide because they were playing with the Peoples Temple basketball team against the Guyanese national team in Georgetown. Three days before the tragedy, Stephan refused to return to Jonestown for Ryan’s visit. Stephan was unfairly accused of being involved in the Georgetown deaths, and was placed in a Guyanese prison for three months. Talk about visiting the sins of the father on the children. Stephan had been in the Guyanese commune for 8 – 10 months before his father’s arrival and described that idyllic time as “the best months of my life.” But when his father arrived “work went from being a means of production to a means of control….when you were off work, your time was his time.” Not surprisingly, Jim Jones“was constantly seeking adulation and praise of whoever he was with.” Stephan is now married with three daughters. He appeared in the documentary Jonestown: Paradise Lost. He has never grieved for his father. No wonder.
A surviving death tape of the massacre and aftermath revealed how bone-chilling Jones’ control over many of his people had become. “How very much I’ve loved you. How very much I’ve tried to give you a good life….a handful of people with their lives have made our lives impossible….No man takes my life from me. I lay my life down….if we can’t live in peace then let’s die in peace….we have been betrayed. We have been so terribly betrayed.” These words are among the final that Jones would ever state. Even at this moment of death, many
cult members cheered for their twisted leader, and supported his grim views. “I’ve never lied to you. I never have lied to you,” Jones lied. Members cheered. “Take the potion like they used to take in Ancient Greece…anybody that has any dissenting opinion please leave.”Another tape recorded the voices of the “sons and daughters” of the People’s Temple, and their supposed acceptance of their imminent deaths. “We do have the right to die and everyone has made that decision. Anyone who [inaudible] is given permission to leave.” Clearly, Jones’ statement about the right to leave was mere propaganda.
Vernon Gosne, surviving People’s Temple member discussed what life in Jonestown was like. During Ryan’s visit, Gosne wrote a note that was to be passed to Ryan about the reality of life in Jonestown and that he wanted to escape, but instead the note ended up in Jones’ hands while Jones was being interviewed by Ryan. The expression on Jones’ face in the interview was very telling. Gosne was terrified, believing he would be killed. Ultimately, Gosne survived the massacre. Gosne’s 5-year-old son did not. The two boys picture are (left) James Warren Jones and (right) Stephan Jones, Jim Jones’ sons. The adoption of James Warren was the first adoption of a black child by a white family in America. Stephan was the Jones’ only biological child. Both boys survived the massacre.
There is the mistaken belief that people join cults. No one joins a cult. They are recruited by cult members who recognize both a need in the new individual for acceptance, and an advantage to the cult in having that person join. Usually new members who do not acquiesce to the cult’s beliefs are immediately rejected. Sometimes they are forced through”brainwashing” to adopt the cult’s way of life using several different methods:
- the individual is never allowed to be alone
- the individual is imprisoned in a room s/he is forced to watch hours of videotape of the cult leader espousing the cult’s views
- depletion of the individual’s financial resources
- physical and emotional abuse
As unlikely as it sounds, these tactics work on the majority of people who are integrated into a cult. The majority of cult members never leave. That is, until a mass death/murder takes place under the delusional leader’s orders, under the foreboding guise of, “how very much I’ve loved you.” Personally, I’m parched. Grape Kool-Aid anyone?