Will it become a reality?
Who is supposed to be in charge of PR down at enlightenment headquarters? The avant-garde of fanatical progressivism dodged the bad press bullet of the century 42 years ago. Now they’ve reloaded the gun and left it handy for their enemies—it’s almost like they’re nodding toward the piece with a wink. The wokies must be betting the opposition will end up shooting themselves with it–going by past performance that’s playing the odds. How else can the political survival of People’s Temple promoters be explained?
Daniel Flynn’s book, “Cult City: Jim Jones, Harvey Milk, and Ten Days that Shook San Francisco,” was published two years ago by Intercollegiate Studies Institute. The treatment is carefully structured with sources from media of that era. Nearly every observation in it is easy to verify. Taking the book apart would require the impeachment of hundreds of renowned sources. So far nobody from the establishment has been gutsy enough to even try. Page after page of Google hits fail to turn up a single review from any mainstream daily or periodical. It’s like the old saw about Europeans and tipping—they don’t know and they don’t wanna know.
When you toss around historic comparisons it’s always a good idea to get the history down—otherwise it might be turned on you. It’s even worse when you were there and you get it backwards. Jackie Speier is a congresswoman from California. She is also, after being shot 5 times at the Port Kaituma airstrip in Guyana, among the luckiest survivors of the Jonestown massacre of 1978. Until recently she restrained herself from comparing Republicans, particularly Trump fans, to the Jim Jones cult even when goaded to. She’s suddenly changed course and it’s no navigational improvement politically:
“I recoiled from the question,” she said. “I wasn’t prepared to think this was a parallel. Now, four years into this nightmare of melodrama and manipulation, the parallels are pretty clear.”
“Community had become their family,” Speier said, “and like the 70 percent of Republicans today who think the election was filled with fraud, those that had some sense of independence couldn’t express it. Once you get deep into something like this, even if you know it’s not right, you stay there, you’re transfixed.”
Jones persuaded his followers to turn over their assets to him, which created pressure on others to do the same, and Speier compared that to Trump raising $200 million since losing re-election.
“If you’re a true believer, you will show your allegiance, your faith, by providing your world possessions to the family,” Speier said.
Shining light on The People’s Temple is a strategically prickly path for a Democrat, especially one from northern California. In 2012, here’s what David Talbot, founding editor of the ultra-woke Salon, said about George Moscone’s election as San Francisco mayor in 1975:
“In the December runoff between Moscone and Barbagelata, Peoples Temple went even further to secure victory for its candidate. On the eve of the election, Jones filled buses with temple members in Redwood Valley and Los Angeles and shuttled them to San Francisco. Security at polling places was lax on Election Day, and many nonresidents were able to cast their ballots for Moscone, some more than once. “You could have run around to 1200 precincts and voted 1200 times,” said a bitter Barbagelata later, after losing by a whisper of a margin. But he was not the only one who claimed that the Peoples Temple stole the election for George Moscone. Temple leaders also claimed credit.”
Those are lines of copy that Talbot probably isn’t pointing at for rereading about now. Jim Jones went on to campaign for Jimmy Carter on a stage with Rosalynn. The list of his Democratic enthusiasts is lengthy and embarrassing. It includes Harvey Milk who himself only made it nine days further than victims’ at Jonestown. That was a significant coup of fake news in itself. There is absolutely zero evidence that Harvey Milk’s sexuality was a motive in his murder. But it’s the same major media–that insists everyone else lies to the public—that has vaguely instilled the mass perception that homophobia cost Milk his life—so, now it’s a blasphemous hate crime to doubt that fantasy.
Historic distortion gets a lot worse though. What is more vivid in American cultural memory–the death of nearly one thousand Americans and a US congressman at the hands of the most macabre maniac in US history–or the murder of two municipal politicians by a disgruntled one of their own? Do the two events remotely compare? Both victims, Moscone and Milk, were keen supporters of Jim Jones. Milk continued his loyalty after he learned of the massacre.
The People’s Temple was all about equality, social justice and bringing heaven down to Earth. Naturally, that attracted celebrity attention upon the Temple move to California in 1965. On the surface they pursued a worthy goal. The problem with utopia—which is literally “no place”–is always how to get there. Persuasion drew people in to the Temple and negative reinforcement kept them from getting out—well, that and the gushing approval of local big wheels.
California assemblyman Willie Brown compared Reverend Jones to Martin Luther King, Mahatma Ghandi, Einstein and—apparently in a positive sense—Mao. The Washington Examiner says: “Willie Brown, who had endorsed Jones as “a close personal friend and a highly trusted brother in the struggle for liberation” in a 1977 letter to Fidel Castro. Mao, Fidel and Jim Jones do add up to an appropriate combination. Four days after the mass suicide he was quoted in The San Francisco Examiner as having “no regrets” about “past association” with Jones. This is the political mentor of our next vice-president. Nobody is sure how long the “vice” will remain in her title.
We live at a time where media—and even senators conducting the inquisitions they call “hearings”—can find conspiratorial relations anytime words may have passed or the slightest connection exists between people. Newsmen troll the deep around the clock for any hint of links between Republicans and bigotry, sexism or violence, real or imagined. A politician is in hot water whenever anyone controversial lands in the same photo-op. The flimsy pretexts for smears have cued mainstream audiences to ascribe collaborative guilt with any hint of association. A kooky claim from a second rate entertainer—like Jussie Smollett—can place half the nation under indictment for weeks. Media puts the lenses in specs we use to look at national spectacles. It’s always clearer looking back. But anyone asking for a new prescription still gets tainted as a conspiratorial fake news monger.
The events in Guyana on November 18, 1978 amounted to the worst man-made tragedy outside of war to US citizens in history until September 11, 2001. Nearly no one on the east coast had heard of the People’s Temple before the death of Leo Ryan made front pages. News of the massacre followed hot on its heels. But the media hardly obsessed over the tragedy. Jonestown never got the coverage of the invasion of the US embassy and seizure of hostages in Tehran one year later. Unlike Harvey Milk, an unrepentant Jim Jones fan, the real life horror story never got a major motion picture. Underlying it all is the fascination for groupthink, bullying and submission shared by everyone who idealizes victimhood and despises competitors.
Republicans made no effort to exploit the disaster. A Google search turns up a single quote from Ronald Reagan who was out of the country at the time: “I’ll try not to be happy in saying this,” Reagan said. “He (Jones) supported a number of political figures but seemed to be more involved with the Democratic party having been helped by him or seeking his help.” Tweeted, such a comment could stir mass convulsions these days. While a sixteen-year-old boy standing idly in front of the Lincoln Memorial evinces supposed genocidal intent—specially entitled demographics condone violence daily as the media sits comatose. We still haven’t heard the end of Trump’s convoluted comments on the Charlottesville rally. Whatever slaughter of the English language his words amounted to—they place him nowhere near a mass murderer—much less the American champ of that event.
Jim Jones immersion into 1970’s Democratic politics reaches depths undisputed by anyone. He met with Walter Mondale in San Francisco. Jerry Brown spoke from his pulpit. Jane Fonda attended services at the People’s Temple. Diane Feinstein, to her credit, was more standoffish than most of the SF pols. Still, she was president of the local supervisors when they sent a letter praising Jones’ community efforts. Feinstein was a signatory. Angela Davis, Carlton Goodlett and Huey Newton gave orations to the flock in Guyana from thousands of miles away by telephone. They lavished adoration on the pastor and encouraged his victims to stick with him. Here’s Professor Davis:
“I know you are in a very difficult situation right now and there is a conspiracy, a very profound conspiracy designed to destroy the contributions which you have made to our struggle. And this is why I must tell you that we feel we are under attack as well. When you are attacked, it is because of your progressive stand, and we feel that it is directly an attack against us as well. Therefore, more of us need to know that we will be carrying on this idea, then we will do everything in our power to ensure your safety and your ability to keep on struggling.”
It wasn’t like Jones was any master of deception. The local media reported on Jones’ claims of miracle cures that included raising the dead. They also wrote of fraud, corporal punishment, brain-washing and children withheld from parents. If you can listen to recordings of the man and remain undisturbed that is likely a symptom—you may well be a danger to yourself and others. Politicians and celebrities of the late 70’s knew the ghoul live and in person. Anyone who stuck with Jones had ample warning.
What’s more ominous with how Jonestown is popularly perceived isn’t with the public figures that came out unscathed. It’s that all of the People’s Temple’s principles and tactics have been adopted by psychotic movements alive today that enjoy approval from academics, politicians, people in media and the glitterati. Any gathering of adults—at whatever level of organization—that relies on overwhelming peer pressure and torturous negative reinforcement is toxic. This is just as true when the venom is aimed at discouraging acquisitive behavior or highbrow exclusivity. It’s even worse in the cloying guise of universal love and gushing humanism. You can never be too suspicious of group goals that aren’t specific. People who claim to out-love others can easily excel at out-hating them.
Day to day interaction shrouded in religious sanctimony isn’t safe in the most cloistered religious commune. When it becomes de rigueur in empires of Soviet or Maoist proportion—the rare kinds of governments Jones was keen on—mass graves are ultimately in the pipeline. Any entity on Earth that sets itself above ridicule is not trustworthy. When you can’t even cite the critical facts about such things they are always a threat. The insult “drinking the kool-aid” only refers—in mainstream sources—to the kinds of people who are instantly disgusted by Jonesisms and Jonesology. Meanwhile, the supposedly unfaked are singing from the People’s Temple hymnal while putting spark to the Kwik-E-Mart.
The creepy uncle is a stock character in American farce and sitcom. It’s one thing when his name is “Fester” but something else when it happens to be “Joe.” Let’s hope our avuncular incoming prez reminds us more of the guy from Petticoat Junction than the Georgian dictator who shared that nickname. In older days, bringing up the chief exec in the same breath as a mass murderer would sound like anti-American slander. That was before the last inauguration. Presidential character assassination is now parlance for the political course. So, if our pens be poisoned—let’s make the most of them.