“The Jonestown Tragedy: What Have We Learned in 30 Years?” by James L. Knoll, IV, M.D.*
It is, alas, chiefly the evil emotions that are able to leave their photographs on surrounding scenes and objects. And whoever heard of a place haunted by a noble deed, or of beautiful and lovely ghosts revisiting the glimpses of the moon?
- Algernon H. Blackwood
Try as I might, I could not wrap my ten-year-old brain around it. It was frightening and made no sense to a little boy in the fourth grade. Why on earth didn't they resist? Why didn't someone try to stop it? My homeroom teacher had just assigned the task of writing a short story on a topic of our choosing. With the horrific Time magazine cover photo fresh out and on my young mind, I decided to write my story on Jonestown. While other children were writing stories about sports figures or the family pet, I was busy crafting an attempt to fathom something dreadful.
In my story, I was a resident Jonestown member who managed to hide and escape the ceremony of imposed death. To write my story, I had to think carefully about how one might possibly avoid an enforced, terrifying and incomprehensible "order" to kill oneself. As I recall, I believe my strategy involved something along the lines of feigning death or hiding under debris. Pathetic a strategy as it was, it was the best my ten-year-old mind could devise. Of course, I had no way of knowing that not only would this have been ineffective, but I was blissfully unaware of concepts such as psychopathic manipulation, thought reform and other factors acting in concert that resulted in Jonestown members even being there in the first place.
I can only speculate on my homeroom teacher's reaction to my "work." If it signaled the need for a concerned parent-teacher conference, I was not included. Retrospectively, I am inclined to wonder if this was an early warning sign that I might become a forensic psychiatrist.
Many years later, my travels in forensic and correctional psychiatry have given me the opportunity to think further about many aspects of the human condition. One theme that has presented itself as inescapable is our desperate need to deny the reality of death. Throughout the lifespan, the giving over of one's cultural values, ideals and sense of meaning is, in essence, a masking over of anxiety about death. It is no easy matter to acknowledge and live with "the full extent" of one's helplessness and "insignificance in the machinery of the universe." The terror and dread produced is responsible for much of our thoughtless inhumanity towards each other, and results in a flight from reality that becomes devoid of inwardness. This ultimately allows us a willingness to harm the psyche of others in an attempt to avoid tragic reasoning and knowledge.
Tragic reasoning is "the ability to preserve those facts we are reluctant to confront because of the pain they involve and connect them with other facts that escape detection because they would extend and magnify that pain." It exposes the fraud of all ideologies and guarantees. It challenges all our ways of knowing and of being. It enables one to glimpse the cruelty and destruction that is in our nature - our heritage from the ancestral struggles of our evolution. The importance of the tragic is that it gives life one of the very few meanings we can discern when we step outside of our own imposed system of guarantees. It is our point of unity: "The tragic is the situation that all subjects face insofar as they are subjects." For it is the fact that we can die from within that makes us human, and life can only be lived by internalizing "death so deeply that it becomes not that thing that will happen at some distant point in the future nor that intrusive thing we spend most of our lives forcing out of our consciousness, but that finality that must enter into and transform all of our choices in a way that fully delivers us over to our finitude."4
What follows is another attempt on my part to analyze and make sense of a horrendous, sad, frightening tragedy. Whether the intervening years have improved our ability to face and understand the Jonestown tragedy, I leave to readers of this document. It is my sincere hope that we might learn, heal and evolve from a better understanding of events such as this. I apologize in advance if my language or speculations are offensive to anyone - this is the opposite of my intent. I take full (dis)credit for any inaccuracies or deficits, and am open to reconsideration of any legitimate data.
v The Jonestown Tragedy: Contributing Factors
For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.
- H. L. Mencken
To Whomever finds this note..The story of this movement, this action, must be examined over and over.
- Anonymous note left at Jonestown, November 18, 1978
The Jonestown mass murder/suicide orchestrated by Jim Jones was the result of a complex constellation of historical, cultural, psychological and situational factors. Attempts to explain the tragedy in simple terms or with "broad brush strokes" will inevitably be insufficient. The tragedy can only be understood in the context of a number of critical factors that contributed to, and finally precipitated, the worst mass murder-suicide in modern history.
This work will take a psychiatric naturalist perspective on Jonestown and Jones' psychopathology. From a naturalist point of view, Homo sapiens act the way they do "because of the various influences that shape them, whether these be biological or social, genetic or environmental." Naturalism does not undermine the importance of responsibility or morality, but places them within the world as understood by science. Table 1 gives a list of critical factors that contributed to, and ultimately culminated in the tragedy. While the list is not exhaustive, it consists of main factors that have been most frequently cited in the literature. Each of the eleven factors played a significant role, and obviously cannot stand alone, but must be considered as acting in concert with the others. The following text will attempt to describe each of the factors separately; however, some degree of overlap can be expected.
1. Historical & Social Context
There's battle lines being drawn.
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong.
Young people speaking their minds
Imagine no possessions,
I wonder if you can,
No need for greed or hunger, A brotherhood of man.
Imagine all the people sharing all the world.
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command.
The historical and socio-cultural context in which Peoples Temple evolved is critical to an understanding of the tragedy. The period of the 1960's and early 70's was a time of radical social change and political upheaval. Particularly in the wake of the Vietnam War, many citizens were disenchanted with American government and longed for a different philosophy emphasizing equality and social justice. The zeitgeist of the time involved sentiments of mistrusting the government, while at the same time promoting "peace" and social justice.
Within this context, Jones' message of social equality, harmony and selflessness had a powerful allure. Indeed, he appeared to "walk the walk" with legitimate humanitarian efforts, particularly early on in the movement. He and Peoples Temple were responsible for offering shelter to the homeless, rendering free health care and providing other public services. Even after establishing Jonestown, Peoples Temple went on to establish a health clinic for local Guyanese. The clinic took care of native Amerindians who would otherwise have had no care at all. This ultimately had the effect of dramatically enhancing Jones' public image as a self-sacrificing humanitarian - one who was not merely in step with the moral zeitgeist, but at its vanguard. For example, Jones and Peoples Temple received an official commendation from the California State Senate in 1976 which states that Jones:
.extended financial and other kids of support to the Telegraph Hill Neighborhood and Health Clinic in the Bay area, the American Cancer Society, the Mendocino County Heart Association and other medical research and testing programs, KQED and other educational broadcasting stations, Big Brothers of America, anti-hunger groups throughout the world, Indian relief, city schools, hospital development, and to the family of a slain highway patrolman in the Fresno area.
.Pastor Jones' ministry is concerned not only with helping to meet the needs of those who are disadvantaged, but also identifying the causes of those needs so that they might be eradicated from our society.
People who were seeking to be a part of something "greater than themselves" were highly attracted Jones' message. Once they sought out contact with him, they were no doubt further impressed by his charisma and dynamic persuasive skills. This scenario most likely fit the cases of younger, middle-class members. The effects of Jones' message and the structure he provided to seniors, minorities and recovering addicts may have some overlap here, but ultimately must be further defined.,  Ultimately, it is likely that Jones presented to each individual whatever alluring message he discerned they wanted and needed to hear.
2. Jones' Charisma & Psychopathy
In a certain light he looked like Elvis
In a certain way he feels like Jesus
Everyone dreams of him just as they can
But he's only the humble Delivery man
- The Delivery Man (Elvis Costello)
The face of evil is
always the face of total need.
- William S. Burroughs
Jones' well documented charisma was likely a component of his psychopathic personality. Psychopathy is a clinical construct used to describe a more aggressive and highly narcissistic form of antisocial personality. Dr. Robert Hare has attempted to approach the clinical construct by developing a research tool - the Psychopathy Checklist. The PCL-R measures psychopathy via research-established criteria. Criteria include personality characteristics such as glibness, superficial charm, grandiosity, manipulative behavior and other antisocial behavioral/lifestyle factors.
Current theories on the development of antisocial and psychopathic personality have supported the concept that some forms of psychopathy are, in fact, associated with childhood abuse or neglect. For example, it was found that a history of child abuse or neglect was related to the impulsive and irresponsible lifestyle or externalizing features of psychopathy. One integrated theory suggests that juveniles who experience developmentally adverse events (e.g., poor parenting, abuse) are likely to develop distorted internal models of interpersonal relationships and self-regulation. Psychodynamic theorists suggest that a lack of parental caring may be internalized in a way that precludes an individual's ability to bond with others in a healthy relationship. Instead, a psychopath's attempts to "bond" are made via destructive and controlling behaviors. A neglectful and abusive upbringing may leave the individual with a reflexive need to control and/or dominate others.
Certain behaviors may appear early in the lives of psychopaths, particularly casual lying, petty theft, and cruelty to animals. Jones' childhood has been described as neglectful, and there have been reports that he was cruel to animals from an early age. As an adult, he reflected back on his childhood as a painful experience, stating, "I was ready to kill by the third grade, I mean, I was so fucking aggressive and hostile, I was ready to kill. Nobody gave me any love, any understanding." Thus, it is likely that from an early age, Jones had already developed strong antisocial traits, and a worldview influenced by a need to control others.
Jones was highly skilled at conning and manipulating others, all without remorse. In addition, it is no stretch to conclude that he had a grandiose sense of his own self worth, as evidenced by his preoccupation with power and portraying himself as a god. There is little difficulty in picking other psychopathic traits out of Jones' history, such as promiscuous sexual behavior, deceitfulness, lack of empathy, irresponsibility and criminal versatility. While the precise reasons for his turn towards escalating substance use are not entirely clear, one might speculate about his need for stimulation and intolerance of boredom. Obviously, here one must also factor in the culture of the 1960's, as well as the possibility that Jones was self-medicating to cope with stress and/or chronic feelings of emptiness and suicide.
The psychopathic leader's parasitic relationship to his followers is key to understanding their "dance" together. The leader must convincingly demonstrate that he is the only source of goodness to the follower. For example, at one point Jones instructed a member that "My aura.My power is what people need and want. I have come from the highest plane to gather together those spirits who are ready to continue on to the next level." No doubt, Jones derived critical emotional gratification in return: "Your presence has given me stamina. I can feel your strength resonate inside of me.. You are an incredible source of energy to me."
As is characteristic of psychopathic leaders, Jones did not himself ascribe to the Spartan lifestyle that he demanded of his followers. The psychopath's innate sense of entitlement and expansive self-worth leaves him with the conviction that he is simply owed the best of conditions. But not only is he owed better conditions than his followers, they should be grateful to ensure these circumstances. Guilt or remorse plays no role here - after all, would a King assign himself to the conditions of a peasant? This would detract from his kingly "aura," and undermine the precious faith of his courtesans. As Layton notes, "Father's living conditions were extravagant in comparison to the rest of ours.. I noticed medications, well organized, on a shelf next to the window. There, untouched and waiting for use, stood my mother's anti-nausea medications and almost all of her pain medication."
Inequitable living conditions were not nearly enough for Jones. There appears to have been a need, or feeling of entitlement to followers' possessions, money, relationships - and even their relief from suffering. Of course, with this last demand, Jones' sadism becomes transparent. Jones' psychopathy was indeed marked by sadistic qualities - control alone was insufficient. There is one example of this from Layton's book that is particularly compelling. Prior to her move to Jonestown, Jones ordered Layton to hand over a family heirloom for the simple reason that he wanted to give it away as a "gift" to curry favor with an attorney.
Layton states, "The statue, Die Erwachende, meant so much to Mama; it was the last token of her life before the Temple that she had held on to." Thus, in many ways the statue symbolized, at the very least, several things. As a sentimental family heirloom, it stood for family history and connections with one's past. The totalist leader must aggressively undermine and dissolve family ties, so that he may place himself in the role of supreme "parent." It is also interesting to note that the statue's name translates to "The Awakening." In this sense, it stood for both Layton's awakening to her more mature, adult relationship with her mother, as well as a realization of her own autonomy and capability. Jones' cruel and unnecessary demand that the statue be relinquished demonstrates a particularly piercing, insightful form of sadism. Not only must he have control, but he must extinguish every last bit of internal refuge, even the symbolic, in a supremely painful manner. Finally, he must have the satisfaction of the follower offering up this priceless sacrifice as a show of loyalty.
3. Broad Appeals: Religion, Socialism, Transcendence
Reality means you live until you die. The real truth is, nobody wants reality.
- Chuck Palahniuk
Part of Jones' appeal and success may have been his approach of adopting several broad ideologies at once. Beginning with the socially acceptable and virtually unassailable message of religion, he was able to attain the façade of legitimacy. His message of racial and social equality only added to the force of his appeal. What could have been more comforting and appealing than The minister's blend of religion and social equality? Jones cast a wide and powerfully seductive net that offered a compelling blend of transcendence, utopian paradise, and sense of purpose. Indeed, his ability to shift from one ideology to another to suit the occasion and his purposes should not escape attention.
It is the broadness of Jones' seductive appeal that seems to differentiate him from other cult-like leaders. As noted by Washington Post reporter Charles Krause, "there were a variety of reasons why people had joined Peoples Temple. For some, it was a political statement; Jones offered the promise of a socialist society free of materialism and racism at a time when such a society was particularly attractive. For others, the Temple offered religion, structure, and discipline - a way to escape the violence of the ghetto and the dead end of alcohol and drugs."
Finding a purpose or meaning for our existence is a powerful drive in all of us. Frankl was the first psychiatrist to emphasize the importance of studying meaning in life within a psychological context. Frankl's experience as a Nazi concentration camp prisoner led him to conclude that a primary motivation for humans is a "will to meaning," or a drive to find meaning and purpose in life. In contrast, a failure to find meaning and purpose may result in feelings of hopelessness, suicidality and other self-defeating actions. Thus, perhaps Jones' appeal, when distilled to its essence, is that "[h]e gave us a sense of importance, and in return, we handed our will over to him." And this is precisely what the expert manipulator does to extend his "confidence" to his mark before reeling him in.
The Appeal of Religion
Heaven was created by poor people.. They had to dream, because they knew they'd never get anything out of this earth. So religion is a dark creation of those who are oppressed, those who are in bondage.
- Jim Jones Sermon, c. 1973
Cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker laid bare, in a psychological and existential manner, our need to deny the reality of death. Becker noted that throughout the life span, the giving over of one's cultural values, ideals and sense of meaning is, in essence, a masking over of anxiety about death. In other words, death is the "worm at the core" of human pretensions to happiness. Indeed, it is too painful and bleak to contemplate that humans "may be nothing more than walking digestive tracts - ultimately insignificant, finite, and expendable.. To push this possibility out of consciousness, human beings have fabricated cultural meaning systems and complex social organizations to suggest that humans really are significant and that human existence is not finite (p. 802)."18
Thus, religious beliefs have been viewed as playing a critical, protective role in managing the terror of death. This concept has been researched extensively, and has been referred to as Terror Management Theory (TMT). According to TMT, the motivation to deny death serves as a unifying concept to explain human cognition and behaviors. Our innate biological instinct for survival, combined with our capacity for self-consciousness sets the stage for painful awareness of our mortality, and its attendant terror. In this sense, the powerful lure of religion "is that it deals with the 'ultimate concern' and thus fits the biological landscape." Also of interest are research findings that fear of death (called mortality salience in the literature) can motivate aggression against "others" who threaten one's worldview. For example, it was found that President Bush's popularity was increased when thoughts of death or terrorism were especially salient. Thus, reminders of death act to intensify and bolster efforts to defend a particular faith or worldview.
Jones communicated strong and repeated messages to his followers that their very existence and ultimate transcendence were dependent upon him and him alone: "He reminded us in his sermons that those who had chosen to join were here because we were on the verge of crossing over to the next plane. Without his help, we would not make it. Those who left or betrayed the Cause in any way would be reincarnated as the lowest life form on earth and it would take us another hundred thousand years to get to this point again. I didn't want to start over as an amoeba." When people hold the belief that they are valued participants in a "cosmically significant cultural scheme," they are able to push aside, to varying degrees, the fact that they are physical organisms subject to decay and death.
When this underlying motive is considered, one powerful reason for followers' dedication becomes clear: "When they twist and turn to please the leader and the group, they are trying to qualify for absolute goodness and purity so as to be worthy of being included in their transcendence. The individual gives himself to the group because of his desire to share in its immortality; we must say, even, that he is willing to die in order not to die."
4. Standard Techniques of Thought Reform
The most basic feature of the thought reform environment, the psychological current upon which all else depends, is the control of human communication. Through this milieu control the totalist environment seeks to establish domain over not only the individual's communication with the outside (all that he sees and hears, reads and writes, experiences, and expresses), but also - in its penetration of his inner life - over what we may speak of as his communication with himself.
Deborah Layton: Tell me why letters from America are not allowed to be delivered there? What is so dangerous about a note from a loved one?
Jim Jones: Because those people are not with us. They are part of the system that oppresses us.. If they are not with us, they're against us!
- Deborah Layton in Seductive Poison
It is speculated that Jones learned many of his thought reform techniques by studying Marxism and Leninism. The ideology of the Temple became focused on placing the group and "cause" above the individual. Self-sacrifice (of followers) was considered the highest act, whereas selfishness was the lowest form of behavior. Jones mandated public "catharsis" of all "transgressions." This involved public confession, humiliation and punishment. Loyalty tests were given in the form of staged suicides and "admission" of various crimes. Followers were required to write up their innermost "treasonous" thoughts and send them to Jones.
Numerous irrational and conflicting messages were given to followers. One such message demonstrates a particularly fascinating example of projection on a rather primitive level. Jones declared himself the only "true heterosexual" and had most, if not all, male followers "admit" they were gay. The fact that he was coercing sex from many male followers somehow did not present a contradictory message to Jones. Standard cult practices have been described elsewhere, and will not be discussed here at length.,  In essence, they involve a leader with total control, and eventually, relative isolation of the group. The following list of basic techniques of thought reform can easily be found amongst Jones' methods:
Jones' use of these techniques helped indoctrinate members and ultimately led to a collective group regression whereby the group resists most implications that they are following harmful directives. Collective regression involves a group's intense identification with an idealized leader. Group members have a shared, elevated conception of themselves as a group, as well as a shared group fantasy of merging with the "omnipotent" leader.
To gain the leader's support, submission to the leader's will is essential. This inevitably generates secret hostility within individual group members. This then becomes a set-up for the group leader to displace this hostility onto outside groups or individuals. The displacement of group anger also serves to promote group cohesion and paranoia. As Freud noted, "It is always possible to bind together a considerable number of people in love, so long as there are other people left over to receive the manifestations of their aggressiveness."
When a leader is idealized, members feel freed from moral constraints. The need to be critical of the leader's commands is reduced or abrogated, allowing members to override the normal rules of society in the name of the "cause." The rigor and effectiveness of Jones' methods can be seen in a document entitled "Analysis of Future Prospects" that Temple leader Carolyn Layton prepared for Jones. The document provides a compelling example of how group members replace the usual societal rules with the group's/leader's priorities. The document states:
What about the stories the ones who leave would tell,
- held against their will
- money taken
- forms of discipline
Would we not be in for a lot of suits, money to return and terrible publicity.
Where would we go where publicity would not follow and how would the children survive this?
If an older person did leak. that they wanted to return, or worse, could we say that we did not realize this and send them back, or would the whole thing trigger a ton of investigations.
Gene [Chaikin] thinks that we should just let everyone that wants to go back and that that would solve our financial problems. It is obviously not that simple for seniors are an economic base we need and the youth are a labor force we need.. the breakdown in structure would have terrible consequences for the discipline of the group as a whole. This does not include possible PR and legal problems.
Based on these documents prepared by a high level member of Jones' inner circle, it is not difficult to conclude that Jones was adept at running a totalist community, as well as realizing how his actions would be viewed by U.S. agencies. Finally, the issue of involuntary and/or surreptitious use of psycho-active medications (called psychotropic medication) by Jones on certain members of Jonestown has long been speculated about. While the true story is as yet unclear, an FBI communication does suggest that large amounts of these medications were present at Jonestown. The communication states:
Lt. Colonel Bruce Poitrast.advised that he was probably the first doctor on the scene at Jonestown.. stated that he noted that Jonestown had a very well stocked pharmacy that could easily have lasted for a period of two years for that population given at that time. He stated that he noted that mainly antibiotics and psychotropic drugs were in Jonestown and that the quantity of psychotropics were greater than would be necessary for that population.. He believed that the Guyanese Defense Force took custody of the drugs.
It is likely that the psychotropic medications included antipsychotic medications prevalent at the time, such as thorazine (generic: chloropromazine). Also likely would have been sedatives of the benzodiazepine class, such as valium. It is important to understand that these agents do not have the ability to "change" people's thinking or beliefs per se. Rather, if they were used, it was probably for their ability to produce sedation, decreased agitation and decreased motivation. However, in the hot, humid climate of the Guyana jungle, the side effects of thorazine (heat intolerance, photosensitivity, easy dehydration) would have been particularly problematic. Further, given the massive amount of labor required in Jonestown, it would have been counterproductive to have too many individuals sedated and with poor motivation.
5. Geographic Isolation
What happens when good people are put into an evil place?
- Philip Zimbardo
In 1974, Jones acquired a lease from the government of Guyana to develop approximately 4, 000 acres in the Northwest Territory. Guyana may have been chosen because it was a cooperative socialist republic, and the only English-speaking country in South America. In addition, the black minority government welcomed the image of itself as a refuge for Americans fleeing racism and oppression. The development was initially called the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project, but later became known as Jonestown once most of the members had migrated.
The following factors played a role in hastening the migration of Peoples Temple to Jonestown in the summer and fall of 1977:
Of course, Jones' portrayal of these factors to members was carefully filtered and re-cast: "Father wanted everyone out of the country before Kilduff's ugly stories went to press. He really cared so much. He was safeguarding our futures by trying to get us to safety before our government attacked us." Surviving members report that prior to Jones' arrival, the Agricultural Project was difficult, but livable. In contrast, once Jones arrived, conditions began to significantly worsen. This is not surprising given that Jones' substance use and psychopathology had become progressively worse prior to his arrival at Jonestown. Once isolated in Jonestown, there was little to restrain his decompensation. Further, he would likely have felt the need to re-establish himself as Jonestown's leader with an increased intensity of purpose.
The geographic factors at play in the Jonestown tragedy cannot be underestimated. Members were more or less captive in Jonestown, without reasonable means of escape should they decide to leave. Egress was prevented by the thick, untamed jungle, and later by armed guards. Should someone miraculously make it to Georgetown, Jones had successfully paid off Georgetown officials so that they would warn him of any suspicious behavior involving Temple members. Jonestown living conditions were difficult due to the thick jungle and unfriendly terrain. Massive work efforts were required to make the area livable. Members worked eleven hour days, and their evenings were occupied with meetings and various "educational" programs. Children were raised apart from parents, and couples were not allowed to live together.
Jones' health appeared to deteriorate significantly once he moved to Jonestown. He was observed to be periodically incapacitated due to drug use, in particular barbiturates, benzodiazepines and amphetamines. Jones' own son Stephan described him as "pretty lost long before Jonestown" due to increasing drug use. Among the other drugs he abused were Quaaludes, codeine, morphine and alcohol. Tolerance of the tranquilizer Phenobarbital was evident in Jones' autopsy - levels found in his kidneys and liver would normally be lethal in nonusers.
There would likely have been no one capable of confronting Jones in an effective manner about his problematic substance use. He was essentially free to abuse substances with reckless, self-destructive abandon. He would sometimes appear delusional, and would ramble for hours into the night over the community loudspeakers. During rants, he portrayed the U.S. as a greedy, racist and "capitalistic" society that his followers were fortunate to have "escaped."
The literature has previously made reference to the nutritional deficiencies of Jonestown. It is known that Jones' diet was far superior to the vast majority of Jonestown members. The extent to which this was intentionally imposed by Jones, however, is the subject of some controversy. The Jonestown diet likely had much to do the remote and inhospitable terrain resulting in great difficulty transporting food and provisions. In particular perishable foods did not hold up well in transit from GT to Jonestown.
Tim Carter, one of only four living survivors to have witnessed the Jonestown tragedy, has reported that it was primarily Jonestown's inaccessibility that was responsible for the low protein diet of its members. For example, he noted that attempts were made to "import" chickens; however, none could survive the arduous journey. Approximately 1, 000 chickens per week would be transported, but most of them would die in transit. This allowed the people of Jonestown to eat chicken only about once per week. In addition, efforts had been made to obtain an incubator; however, it became stuck in Georgetown customs.
Carter's reports are consistent with recently released documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act. A document which appears to be a Jonestown daily business ledger states:
.about 100 lbs. of fish spoiled. Said they should have packed the fish with more ice. Said she got a half a bag of fruit for every bag because of spoilage. Told G-town, and they were upset and wanted to know if this was exact information. Need to know so next time they can pick the fruit when its more green.
Carter has also reported that Jonestown attempted to raise pigs, but struggled through trial and error, and initially used the wrong type of feed. Breakfast usually consisted of rice, gravy and grits. People with special dietary concerns were accommodated. For example, seniors and children were given more food and which had a greater protein content. In sum, Carter reported that there was no deliberate attempt to under nourish the people of Jonestown.
Rather, the diet may have been marginally inadequate and boring, largely due to the geographic isolation of Jonestown. On the other hand, there is the question of whether other options were available, given the true financial holdings of Jonestown. For example, Carter himself had wondered about the realistic possibilities of transporting meat and fish with the aid of dry ice packing. However, it was not clear whether this was a realistic possibility in GT at that point in time.
6. Fostering Fatalism
I've prophesied the date, the hour, the minute and the year they're gonna put people in this country in concentration camps. They're gonna put them in gas ovens, just like they did the Jews.
- Jim Jones Sermon, mid 1970's
There is some evidence that towards the end, some followers may have been so depleted and despairing that suicide was a welcome proposition. Jones became considerably more fatalistic as some of his trusted former leaders defected. In July 1977, Grace Stoen began legal action for the custody of her son, and sometime later a Guyanese court issued an arrest order to take the child into custody. Jones was also ordered to appear and explain why he should not be held in contempt. This was a critical turning point in Jonestown and it lead to the "September Siege," and subsequent "White Nights." At that point, Jones had to realize that not only might more people defect, but they might also seek redress in the courts. Jones' "White Night" drills increased members' belief that there were "enemies" lurking in the jungle, and death was always imminent. A fatalistic belief was strongly promoted that "outsiders" were pursuing them to destroy them for what they "represented."
As Jones' own sense of fatalism grew, he ratcheted up his efforts to control and systemically deprive his followers of sleep and other basic necessities. It is noteworthy that prior to the mass suicide, four people actually attempted suicide as they had already begun to welcome death as a form of escape. The more Jones worked to alter the behavior of his followers, the more they became increasingly frustrated and continued to act out and complain. One former member noted that as Jones became more illogical and dysfunctional, some higher ranking members began making decisions without him. Jones' system of punishment included: public humiliation, increased manual labor (the "learning crew"), a sensory deprivation box, and - when all else failed - involuntary administration of antipsychotic medications.
Seniors who expressed a desire to visit their relatives were physically threatened and/or assaulted. Jones became increasingly bitter and distraught, complaining that he had sacrificed his whole life for people, yet he could not trust anyone. Finally, Jones began warning that if escapees were caught they would be shot. A combination of demoralizing conditions and an impending sense of doom likely resulted in strong fatalistic cognitions. Thus, while some of the residents of Jonestown may have chosen to die because they put the group above the self (altruistic suicide), many may have chosen death to relieve inescapable suffering (fatalistic suicide).31 However, current evidence strongly suggests that most were simply killed or forced to kill themselves. Certainly, combinations of these are likely. Nevertheless, it seems to be an inescapable conclusion that Jonestown had become a hopeless, demeaning environment.
Finally, it should be noted that in times of trouble, groups often stiffen and enforce conformity. Encouraged by leadership, a group may be transformed into metaphorical "Spartan fist," as it prepares to steel itself against threat or chaos. Fear and anxiety further drive the contraction of attitudes, and a return to earlier, more comforting and familiar practices. Indeed, Jones used fear induction to great effect in Jonestown. Under such circumstances, behaviors that stray from the familiar become too frightening to consider. When threats to safety and survival occur frequently in a group, the uncertainty and terror produced is mastered by reifying a system (or individual) which promises order, safety and permanence. This may partly explain, in addition to other factors, why group members did not openly revolt against Jones.
7. Desensitization to Suicide
What I am trying to say is if we make a stand or decide to die how are we going to do it?.... How will we have the knowledge to know now is the time to go ahead and do it?
- Carolyn Layton (Memo to Jones, 1978)
Jim Jones was no stranger to contemplation of suicide. Indeed, he had struggled with thoughts of suicide for much of his life.,  His cumulative risk factors for suicide will be discussed below in section 8. Jones systematically indoctrinated members to the concept of "revolutionary suicide." In this way, Jones glorified suicide as an act of selfless, dedicated socialism. Jones further desensitized members with suicide "drills" that members were to understand as tests of loyalty. The overarching message appears to have been one of self-sacrifice for the "cause," and commitment to the group above the individual.
As Jonestown began to mentally and emotionally unravel, "drills" would reference the "Six-Day Siege" to reinforce the imminence and insolubility of the threat of death. For example, during one suicide drill, Jones announced, "But who would care for our children, once we are all dead? .. They will take our babies and torture them. Have you forgotten our Six-Day Siege? .. There is no way out, no resolution, my dear mother. Our enemies have outnumbered us."
Jones' reframing of suicide is perhaps most apparent in his communications as recorded on the "death tape." Jones actively reframes suicide as a positive transition into a more preferable plane of existence. In addition, he defines the act as: a) a political duty, b) a way to avoid persecution, and finally c) as caused by forces outside the group.
8. Jones' Mental Illnesses
An evil life is a kind
We can be destructive or constructive, defeated or successful. We actually create situations by our thoughts and words.
- Jim Jones ("As a Man Thinketh, So He Is," May 1956)
In addition to his primary psychopathology of psychopathy as previously discussed, analysis of Jones' mental health must also consider his progressive substance use, paranoia, and - towards the end of his life - psychotic symptoms. Given his chronic struggles with suicide and fatalism, one must also consider the possibility of a major mood disorder such as depression. From a psychiatric perspective, the issue of substance use confounding Jones' true psychopathology must be acknowledged. Certainly, his escalating use of substances may have either caused or exacerbated symptoms of depression, paranoia and psychosis.
The most common way that psychiatrists distinguish substance-induced disorders from primary psychiatric disorders is with a careful analysis of the temporal relationship between the symptoms and the substance use. To date, I have been unable to find reliable data that would shed light on this issue in the case of Jones. Unfortunately, Jones appears to have heavily abused substances up to the time of his death, and so we have no period of detoxification from substance use to examine.
Given his professional success and highly developed social skills, a primary paranoid psychotic disorder seems unlikely. Further, most primary psychotic disorders have an age of onset during the late teens, early twenties and thirties at the latest. It has been reported that as an adult Jones had the following paranoid beliefs:
Jones' paranoia appears to have accelerated after he had lived for a period in Jonestown. When a powerful, charismatic leader becomes paranoid, this mental state becomes practically virulent, and infects the leader's entire following. This is exemplified in a memo from Carolyn Layton to Jones, which states:
Someone must viciously hate you and think you a threat or the shootings and assassination attempts would not have taken place. I think logically it must be the CIA there. They may have some false notion that you really are starting to arm Guyana.. The traitors may have convinced them of this - they may really think it is all true and this is why they see us as such a terrible threat to be destroyed.
However, it is unclear whether Jones' paranoid symptoms were the result of substance abuse, a primary psychosis, long-standing personality traits, or some combination of these. Further, with Jones, one encounters the problem seen with many paranoid individuals: sooner or later, their unusual activities do in fact draw the attention of authorities. Thus it is likely that some of his paranoid beliefs may have contained some grains of reality. For example, in reality Jones was faced with opposition from former members, reporters, and eventually the IRS. However, Jones' paranoia likely inflated these events into full blown "conspiracies."
Given what is known of his personality structure, he would be prone to magnify genuine complaints or criticisms from the outside community. Amplifying detractors' criticisms into large, systematized conspiracies would also serve the purpose of adding to his grandiose sense of self importance. Again, what is unclear is how much of this Jones actually believed, and how much he deliberately invented in order to further control his followers. For example, Jones often frightened Jonestown members with threats that the "CIA" was attempting to kill them. This worked effectively to unite the group more tightly against an "outside enemy," as well as fostering dependency on him for their survival.
Returning to Jones' substance use, he would sometimes appear delusional, and would ramble for hours into the night over the community loudspeakers. Hs mood would cycle from a high of significant intensity, to a sluggish low. Over the years his drug use steadily escalated out of control. Jones' non-stop, all-night rants over the speaker system of Jonestown lead one to consider the driven, pressured speech of a manic high. Of all the substances Jones was known to have abused, it is the stimulants which are most likely to produce this type of behavior. Further, stimulant abuse is well known to produce paranoia, psychosis, and rage-reactions.
The "crash" from stimulant abuse is commonly associated with feelings of depression, sluggishness and increased suicidal ideas. American Embassy officials visited Jonestown in 1978 and reported that Jones exhibited erratic behavior, slurred speech and confusion. Thus, it seems likely that Jones had developed a vicious cycle of using stimulants followed by depressants such as barbiturates and benzodiazepines (e.g., valium). There is certainly evidence that Jones used and possibly abused alcohol. However, the details of his other non-prescription substance use are unknown.
Setting aside for now the issue of primary vs. substance-induced paranoia, let us turn to the issue of Jones' overall personality structure. It is not at all uncommon for antisocial individuals to adopt and cling to the position of an aggrieved "victim" who has been dealt with unjustly by authorities, "the system," or life in general. This type of cognition allows personal responsibility and regret over past transgressions to remain conspicuously absent. The result is for these individuals to become mired in their persecutory ruminations. Hyatt-Williams has conceptualized antisocial offenders using the psychological theories of Klein and Bion. According to his theory, impediments to psychological development may cause the individual to become relatively fixed in a persecutory developmental stage, or what Klein has called the paranoid-schizoid position.
In the paranoid-schizoid stage, the individual's world view is based on feelings of mistreatment and frustration at what is perceived as intentional harm or unnecessary, purposeful withholding of gratification. Increasing levels of distress may result in more paranoid cognitions, such as distrusting all authority, or unfounded beliefs that they are being singled out for persecution. Fixation at this stage is associated with the use of more primitive defense mechanisms such as splitting, externalization and projective identification.
Healthy development necessitates the transition away from the persecutory position to a more mature stage, which Klein called the depressive position. In the depressive position, the individual will have developed fear or worry that he has injured or destroyed some aspect of society, or otherwise his fellow man. Cognitions associated with the depressive position include regret, victim empathy and interests in making reconciliation with society. This developmental theory has been symbolized by P/S D, where P/S symbolizes the paranoid - schizoid position, and D represents the depressive position. A general overview of this concept of antisocial offender development is outlined below in Table 2.
Table 2: Antisocial Offender Development
Thus, persecutory cognitions are felt as threatening, undeserved attacks upon the self. Individuals in this position feel a need to "look out for number one," even at the expense of others. They are likely to have very sturdy, chronic defenses to protect against the expectation of being mistreated or abused. Consistent with their feelings of being persecuted, they also suffer from strong feelings of destructive envy. Via projection, they perceive society and others as persecutory by withholding the "goodness" and happiness to which they feel entitled or, in the case of Jones, his "place in history" as God-like leader. These cognitions have been described by Mullen in his analysis of five mass murderers who, by pure chance, were incarcerated and were not killed. The offenders were described as suspicious, resentful grudge holders who had strong feelings of persecution or mistreatment. They tended to ruminate over past humiliations, and harbored resentment over past social rejections.
In contrast, the depressive position allows the individual to confront reality more smoothly. It involves feelings of responsibility, guilt and concern over harm done to others. Some incarcerated offenders may eventually take up pursuits that demonstrate a negotiation, or attempted negotiation, of the depressive phase. For example, a man sentenced to life for murder may become involved in running the prison "lifers" group. Others may take up creative pursuits such as art, music or poetry, all examples of "reparative" activities. Certainly, the successful transition out of the persecutory position is no simple task, and some individuals may not be capable, or only partially so.
Jones may have struggled for most, if not all of his life, to negotiate a way out of the persecutory stage. For example, he did, in fact, attempt to carry out humanitarian acts of goodwill. He professed goals of "bettering" society, although how much of this was guided by genuine aspirations and how much by psychopathic manipulation is difficult to say. Once his actions came under public scrutiny, his momentum towards the depressive position appeared to falter. Substances probably completed his regressive transition backwards towards a persecutory mind set.
Turning to the issue of Jones and suicide, a brief review of the "escape" theory of suicide may be helpful. When the drive to avoid negative/painful emotions, meaning and self-awareness becomes strong enough, there is a significantly increased risk of suicide and/or self-destructive behaviors. This theory has been called the "escape theory" of suicide to denote the suicidal individual's motivation to escape from aversive self-awareness. Jones struggled with suicide periodically throughout his life, and appears to have had a morbid preoccupation with it. For example, he used suicide "drills" to indoctrinate members.
According to escape theory, when the individual is unable to avoid negative emotions and painful self-awareness, a process of "cognitive deconstruction" occurs in which there is a rejection of meaning, increased irrationality and disinhibition. Suicide then becomes the ultimate step in the effort to escape from meaningful awareness and its implications about the self. Table 3 provides an outline of how escape theory might be applied to Jones and the Jonestown tragedy.
Table 3: The Jonestown Tragedy & Escape Theory
In the United States:
After years of desensitizing his most loyal members to the idea of suicide, the option became a "rational" consideration, to be discussed like any other strategy or business plan. This accepting attitude towards a planned suicide can be seen in a Carolyn Layton memo to Jones entitled "A Final Stand If Decided On." The memo states:
.I think we concluded before that (1) there is no good, sure way to do this, (2) a number of people would rather sell out and denounce us than die, (3) some young people who would not mind dying for some tangible ideal cannot reconcile themselves to planning their demise.
.What I am trying to say is if we make a stand or decide to die how are we going to do it?
.How will you have the knowledge to know now is the time to go ahead and do it?....Perhaps planning is the answer to all this - maybe there is a practical way all this can be arranged.
Similarly, this detached and accepting attitude can be seen in a memo to Jones from Jonestown physician Dr. Schacht which appears to be informing Jones, per his request, about the use of cyanide to commit mass murder-suicide. The memo states:
Cyanide is one of the most rapidly acting poisons. I had some misgivings about its effectiveness but from further research I have gained more confidence in it.. I would like to give about two grams to a large pig to see how effective our batch is to be sure we don't get stuck with a disaster like would occur if we used thousands of pills to sedate the people and then the cyanide was not good enough to do the job. I also want to order antidotes just in case we may need to reverse the poisoning process on people.
Jim Jones & Suicide
I really have a strong desire to die at the time of this writing. I have been imprisoned in my mind for many, many years - constantly trying to conceal a lifestyle alien to the American society.35
- Jim Jones Commentary about himself, c. 1977-78
Turning to an assessment of Jones' suicide risk factors at the time of the Jonestown tragedy, a complete psychological autopsy is not possible, as much important data is currently unavailable. Nevertheless, here I will attempt to outline Jones' suicide risk-enhancing and risk-reducing factors, a process sometimes referred to as a "post-mortem suicide risk assessment." Again, I remain eager to revise my conclusions should new reliable data be uncovered.
Post-Mortem Suicide Risk Assessment of Jim Jones
Focusing on Jones' protective factors, one is obviously inclined to question the strength and functionality of his social support system. Not only would he be disinclined to divulge personal vulnerabilities, but most followers lived in fear of him. The extent to which Jones even had the capacity to relate to others in a way that would provide him with this type of emotional support is unclear. While Jones' married status gives him a statistical reduction of risk, the true quality of his married relationship might be questioned. Responsibility for a child under 18 is often cited in the literature as a protective factor against suicide. However, in Jones' case, it appears to be neutralized by his "belief" that he and all of his "children" (both literal and figurative) were going to be better off committing suicide.
While on the subject of suicide and children, it is interesting to note some of the similarities between the phenomenon of familicide-suicide and the Jonestown tragedy. Familicide-suicide is a subtype of homicide-suicide. Homicide-suicide is the phenomenon in which an individual commits a homicide, and subsequently (usually within 24 hours) commits suicide.,  A familicide-suicide is usually committed by a depressed man who kills his entire family. He is likely to view his act as a "delivery" of his family from continued hardships or stressors. In familicide-suicides, there are often associated precipitating stressors, such as marital problems, financial troubles, or work-related problems. In other words, there is typically some type of major life crisis or stressor. The familicidal-suicidal father not uncommonly suffers from paranoid suspicions, depression, substance abuse and personality disorder. Given that Jones had clearly established himself in the role of "the father" to his followers, whom he called his "children," many similarities are seen.
In comparison, consider the case of a familicidal-suicidal man described by Schlesinger. The man developed his first episode of depression triggered, in part, by his inability to complete a home improvement project. As the depression intensified, dormant conflicts involving his competency and self-esteem were rekindled, resulting in pronounced feelings of failure. After a period of agonizing about his problems, a course of action became clear to him. He believed that his only recourse was to kill his family and himself to spare everyone the humiliation of his perceived inadequacy.
Here, the individual who is beset with depression and long-standing self-esteem problems progressively develops a distorted, rigid view of his options. A mounting pressure to act, in combination with a distorted perspective and the need to discharge an explosive amount of rage results in extreme violence. In Jones' case, all of these factors seem to apply, in addition to a probable need to make a lasting statement and exert some last form of control over circumstances that seemed to be spiraling out of his control. [A further exploration of this issue appears in The Jonestown Tragedy as Familicide - Suicide in this edition of the jonestown report.]
In summary, it is not difficult to arrive at the conclusion that Jones had significant psychopatholgy, as well as a substantial amount of risk factors for suicide well before the tragedy. In addition, his role as "father" to the group had certain prognostic implications, when viewed through the dynamics of familicide-suicide.
9. Critical Defections
I can reach you in justice and judgment, but that's not my concern. I love you. I have no intention or desire to hurt you.37
- Jim Jones November 9-10, 1978
How very much I've tried my best to give you the good life.. But in spite of all of my trying, a handful of our people, with their lies, have made our life impossible.. We have been so terribly betrayed.
- Jim Jones (the "death tape")
The defections of trusted and high level members had to send a troubling message to Jones, as well as a confusing one to the group at large. It is likely that Jones derived much vital support to his self-esteem by dedicated, unquestioning followers. Defections not only undermined group cohesion, but also exacted a major toll on Jones' self-image. Here, one of the features of charismatic leadership bears examination. The charismatic leader is actually much more fragile than his appearance would suggest. This due to the fact that this type of leadership is tenuous, precarious and uncertain. It is in need of continual reinforcement with greater and greater displays of mystique, grandeur and power. The charismatic leader experiences the precariousness, and must go to further and further extremes to protect and sustain it. Obviously, there comes a point when this position is simply untenable.
Thus, the charismatic leader possesses, by his nature, certain vulnerabilities. One of the main tools of the charismatic leader is charm, which conveys not only magic power, but the leader's own delicate need for love and protection. Encouraging others may be very reassuring and indicative of the kind of treatment he wished for (likely unconscious) but vigorously defended against. In this sense, a charismatic leader can be seen as in need of an audience to "save" him from either failure in society, or perhaps even impending mental illness. The course of events during and after the leader's achievement of power sometimes raises the question of whether the attraction of followers was the means, for a time, of forestalling the onset of serious mental illness, or a break with reality.
In any event, defections would have been traumatic because it would have created questions about the cult's values in the minds of those remaining. As Layton noted after her own defection, the rejection of Jones and the group by "one so trusted, so close and devoted to Father might ignite second thoughts in their minds." Jones was highly intelligent and perceptive, and therefore would have quickly come to just such a conclusion. Based on his personality structure and previous actions, it is very likely that defections would prompt Jones to become increasingly paranoid, controlling and fatalistic.
10. Ryan's "Neutral" Visit
Is there something else we should have known? Is there some other question they should have asked?
- President Clinton (statements to press regarding the Waco/Branch Davidian Tragedy)
Remember, we are still in a state of siege.. So we must unify and forget what little differences and disagreements and what we may feel are deprivations and realize that we are under the onslaught of a direct move of a mercenary fascist effort of the United States of America
- Jim Jones November 9-10, 1978
What if . the U.S. puts heavy pressure on the [Guyanese] government like. trying to extradite Jim [Jones]. then there is no other route that [than] a show down to the very end.
- Carolyn Layton memo to Jim Jones
The precarious dynamics involved in group standoff situations are an understudied and underappreciated topic. This complex issue will not be elaborated upon here, except to point out that certain cognitive processes are now known to be salient in such situations. In particular, the phenomena of self-fulfilling prophecy and escalating commitment have been observed to amplify a crisis into a tragedy. It is of utmost importance that "negotiators" understand the leader-group dynamics and belief systems to avoid inadvertently precipitating a tragedy. For example, diagnosing David Koresh as having a personality disorder or hypomania was of little use in the immediate situation.
In contrast, a well informed understanding of patterns of leadership, teachings and apocalyptic beliefs is of high relevance. Interestingly, an informed understanding of Jones' beliefs and patterns of relating to the group was imminently available in the form of Peoples Temple defectors. For example, the affidavit of Deborah Layton, dated June 15, 1978, contained grave and compelling information. The following points, taken directly from the affidavit, were enough to warrant approaching Jones with extreme caution, and only after careful analysis and reflection:
§ He steadfastly and convincingly maintained that the punishment for defection was death.
§ His theory was that the end justified the means. At other times, he appeared to be deluded by a paranoid vision of the world. He would not sleep for days at a time and talk compulsively about the conspiracies against him. However, as time went on, he appeared to become genuinely irrational.
§ In September 1977, an event which Rev. Jones viewed as a major crisis occurred. Through listening to coded radio broadcasts and conversations with other members of the Temple staff, I learned that an attorney for former Temple member Grace Stoen had arrived in Guyana, seeking the return of her son, John Victor Stoen.
§ One morning, Terry J. Buford, public relations advisor to Rev. Jones, and myself were instructed to place a telephone call to a high-ranking Guyanese official who was visiting the United States and deliver the following threat: unless the government of Guyana took immediate steps to stall the Guyanese court action regarding John Stoen's custody, the entire population of Jonestown would extinguish itself in a mass suicide by 5:30 P.M. that day.
§ Conditions at Jonestown were even worse than I had feared they would be. The settlement was swarming with armed guards. No one was permitted to leave unless on a special assignment and these assignments were given only to the most trusted.
§ The tenor of the broadcasts revealed that Rev. Jones' paranoia had reached an all-time high. He was irate at the light in which he had been portrayed by the media. He felt that as a consequence of having been ridiculed and maligned, he would be denied a place in history. His obsession with his place in history was maniacal. When pondering the loss of what he considered his rightful place in history, he would grow despondent and say that all was lost.
§ During one "white night," we were informed that our situation had become hopeless and that the only course of action open to us was a mass suicide for the glory of socialism.
Tim Stoen, the former Temple attorney who had defected and joined the Concerned Relatives, described Jonestown as a concentration camp where Jones brainwashed members and kept them against their will. The group lobbied the State Department and Congress, and eventually found an ally in Leo Ryan, a California Congressman. Ryan decided to conduct what he called a "neutral" fact-finding mission. However, he was accompanied by members of the Concerned Relatives and news reporters who had written articles critical of Jones. In essence, a politically-powerful outsider from an "enemy" nation was demanding entrance, and wanted to bring Jones' detractors with him. Given the circumstances and his psychopathology, how could Jones interpret this "mission" as other than a serious and direct threat?
Congressman Ryan's presence must have been particularly menacing to Jones, who probably viewed Ryan as a vengeance seeking rival who flaunted his political "muscle" to pursue Jones to his far off exile. The scenario evokes images of Martin Sheen on a mission to "terminate with extreme prejudice" the dangerous, self-appointed God in the form of Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. Both the Colonel and the Army Captain well knew how the mission must end - with the death (i.e., "castration") of the "god head." A more dangerous psychological message to Jones would have been difficult to devise. The threat to the group's integrity unleashed intensely violent aggression, previously directed only toward a vague outside "enemy."
During Ryan's visit, members put on a rehearsed show and performance. In response, Ryan announced that Jonestown appeared as though it was the best thing to happen to many members. This elicited an exuberant cheer. However, the next day, November 18, 1978, the tone changed. A resident slipped a reporter a note asking for help to leave. Sixteen other residents, including some long-time members, assembled to leave with Ryan. Jones' responses and facial expressions captured on video suggest a dangerously escalating mix of desperation and anger. The defections stimulated group turmoil, and separated some families. As Ryan left, a Jonestown member attacked him with a knife. The congressional party managed to make it to the Port Kaituma airstrip where two planes awaited. Temple members ambushed them on the airstrip, and Ryan, three journalists and a defector were killed by gunshots. Another dozen were wounded.
Once Ryan and others had been killed, there appears to have been no question in Jones' mind about what his next move should be. Indeed, it is arguable that Jones reached his "terminal" decision at the time he gave orders to attack Ryan and/or ambush the congressional party. This hypothesis seems to be supported by Jones' comments on the "death tape." Jones primarily cites the death of Ryan and others as the point of no return for Jonestown:
The congressman's dead. The congressman lays dead. Many of our traitors are dead. They're all layin' out there dead.
We can't go back. They won't leave us alone. They're now going back to tell more lies, which means more congressmen. And there's no way, no way we can survive.
Here's why it's too late for Russia. They killed.
At this point, a few comments on the psycholinguistics of Jones' speech on the death tape may be of interest. Even in the face of an impending mass suicide, Jones retains the ability and/or need to present himself as a "prophet" who can see into the future. He blends this need with the more urgent need to persuade his followers to comply with his demands. Note also how he begins to divorce himself from all responsibility for the ambush:
Now what's going to happen here in a matter of a few minutes is that one of those people on that plane is gonna - gonna shoot the pilot. I know that. I didn't plan it, but I know it's going to happen. They're gonna shoot that pilot, and down comes that plane into the jungle.. I never have lied to you. I know that's what's gonna happen.
It is interesting to note how Jones attempts to avoid responsibility for both the attack on the congressional party, as well as the mass suicide. Not only does he claim ignorance about the attack on Ryan, he reframes the mass suicide as an act of selflessness on his part - e.g., taking on "responsibility" for the actions of his followers:
And once we kill anybody - at least that's what I've always - I've always put my lot with you. If one of my people do something, it's me. (Pause) And they say I don't - I don't have to take the blame for this, but I can't - I don't - I don't live that way.
Hmm? I didn't, but - but my people did. My people did. They're my people, and they - they've been provoked too much. They've been provoked too much. What's happened here's been to - basically been an act of provocation.
In many instances, a clearer understanding of Jones' communications can be gained by substituting the word "I" or "me" for the word "we." For example, in the following comments, Jones ultimately makes the transition himself:
We had nothing we could do. We can't - we can't separate ourselves from our own people.
No way I'm going to do it. I wi - I refuse. I don't know who fired the shot. I don't know who killed the congressman. But as far as I am concerned, I killed him. You understand what I'm saying? I killed him. He had no business coming. I told him not to come.
Here, perhaps in a moment of intense desperation, Jones comes closest to telling the truth. However, his intentions still remain grounded by his efforts to manipulate and portray himself in a favorable light. Finally, Jones must have perceived that a significant impediment to the group following his order to commit suicide was the frightened reactions of the children. He makes reference to this issue at multiple points in the death tape:
I call on you to quit exciting your children, when all they're doing is going to a quiet rest.
Can't some people assure these children of the relaxation of stepping over to the next plane?
This is of interest in that parents' innate care for their children represented a potentially powerful anchor to life for Jonestown. If anything was going to give pause to the group's turning away from life, it would be their respect for young life and the need (emotionally and biologically) to protect it. Jones apparently realized this all too well. Indeed, it would be impossible not to, as one may discern by listening to cries of children on the death tape. This presented a serious obstacle to Jones, who made perceptive, repeated efforts to reduce its force.
11. Miller's "Last Stand": Dealing with Autonomy
I feel like that - as long as there's life, there's hope. That's my faith.
- Christine Miller (the "death tape")
When you are black and oppressed, it's treason to not want to think.
- Jim Jones instructions to Jonestown, March 17 - May 25, 1978
Anyone who reads the transcript of the death tape cannot fail to be awed by the attempt of one member, Christine Miller, to inject a dose of rationality and halt the tragedy. Here, I focus on Miller's incredible, selfless stand as an important and poignant moment in the flow of events leading to the final tragedy. I do not consider it as "causal," but rather as an unavoidable challenge to Jones' self-destructive plans, which he had to confront and overcome.
The failure of Miller's last ditch plea for life and autonomy was a critical turning point. When her rational discourse was "shouted down," there was nothing further to "check" reality, or oppose Jones' orders. Miller had a unique character that allowed her to maintain a degree of autonomous thinking and behavior, even while under the influence of Jones.
It is the way in which Jones dealt with Miller's voice of autonomy in the critical moments which is interesting to consider. In addition to the potential life anchoring pull of the Jonestown children, Miller's words represented yet another obstacle Jones had to grapple with. Jones' responses to Miller, in combination with the well-indoctrinated "group mind," ultimately overcame Miller's antidote to distorted, fatalistic cognition.
MILLER: ..I feel like that - as long as there's life, there's hope. That's my faith.
JONES: Well - everybody dies. Some place that hope runs out because everybody dies. I haven't seen anybody yet didn't die. And I'd like to choose my own kind of death for a change. I'm tired of being tormented to hell, that's what I'm tired of. Tired of it. (Applause.)
I have twelve hundred people's lives in my hands, and I certainly don't want your life in my hands. I'm going to tell you, Christine, without me, life has no meaning. (Applause.) I'm the best thing you'll ever have.
Note how Jones does not actually respond directly to Miller's honest, arresting statement. This tactic should be familiar to those who follow the public speaking styles of politicians. In addition, Jones returns to a fatalistic view which he bolsters with an irrelevant, but logical statement - everyone dies. Interestingly, this appears to garner group support.
Next, Jones skillfully responds by simultaneously giving Miller her "due" autonomy (I don't want your life in my hands), yet also asserting that she has "no life" without him. Again, the group is responsive. Jones appears to have been a master of such doublespeak and mixed messages. At one point, Jones has enough respect for Miller that he takes her advice to call Russia:
Maybe the next time you'll get to go to Russia. The next time round. This is - what I'm talking about now is the dispensation of judgment. This is a revolutionary - a revolutionary suicide council. I'm not talking about self - self-destruction. I'm talking about that we have no other road. I will take your call. We will put it to the Russians. And I can tell you the answer now because I am a prophet.
Here, Jones again communicates a mixed message - he will give Miller her due, yet at the same time undermine her in front of the group. He takes the opportunity to reframe the act of suicide, as well as re-establish his role as a "prophet" who already knows the answer is "no." Finally, Jones attempts to go "head to head" with Miller's logic. His tactics, however, remain the same. He uses the strategy of not explicitly denying her autonomy by using language that does not directly oppose her statement. Eventually, the group must have sensed that Jones was in need of support.
MILLER: I said I'm not ready to die.
JONES: I don't think you are.
MILLER: But, ah, I look about at the babies and I think they deserve to live, you know?
JONES: I agree. But also they deserve much more; they deserve peace.
MILLER: We all came here for peace.
JONES: And we've - have we had it?
JONES: I tried to give it to you. I've laid down my life, practically. I've practically died every day to give you peace. You look better than I've seen you in a long while, but it's still not the kind of peace that I want to give you. A person's a fool who continues to say that they're winning when you're losing.
JONES: We win when we go down. .. immense amount of damage that's going to be done, but I cannot separate myself from the pain of my people. You can't either, Christine, if you stop to think about it. You can't separate yourself. We've walked too long together.
MILLER: I know that. But I still think, as an individual, I have a right to -
JONES: You do, and I'm listening.
MILLER: - to say what I think, what I feel. And think we all have a right to our own destiny as individuals.
MILLER: And I think I have a right to choose mine, and everybody else has a right to choose theirs.
MILLER: You know?
MILLER: Well, I think I still have a right to my own opinion.
JONES: I'm not taking it from you. I'm not taking it from you.
JIM MCELVANE: Christine, you're only standing here because ..
This exchange is followed by group members deriding and shouting Miller down. Shortly after, another critical point occurs. Group members begin to voice their support and approval of Jones, which appears to give impetus to Jones' orders. In addition, one member, Jim McElvane, assists by reframing suicide as a painless transition into a fantasy world.
MAN 2: We're all ready to go. If you tell us we have to give our lives now, we're ready - all the rest of the sisters and brothers are with me.
MCELVANE: ... Things I used to do before I came here. . It might make a lot of you feel a little more comfortable. Sit down and be quiet, please. .I used to be a therapist. And the kind of therapy that I did had to do with reincarnations in past life situations. And every time anybody had the experience of going into a past life, I was fortunate enough through Father to be able to let them experience it all the way through their death, so to speak. And everybody was so happy when they made that step to the other side.
If we have a body that's been crippled, suddenly you have the kind of body that you want to have.
It feels good. It never felt so good. Now, may I tell you. You've never felt so good as how that feels.
Ultimately, Jones attempted to reframe the mass suicide as a revolutionary suicide committed by the "tribe" of Jonestown. The tragedy may have served manifold purposes for Jones - it allowed him to avoid facing the consequences of his illegal acts and exploitative behavior. It allowed him to avoid the reality that he was a mere mortal, with faults and vulnerabilities. It was also an act of defiance - a narcissistic triumph over his "enemies."
Surely, Jones understood that the results of the mass tragedy would leave outsiders horrified, amazed, and upset. The event forced others to confront the tragedy. Indeed, Air Force personnel involved in transporting and identifying victims reported experiencing significant levels of emotional distress. It also triggered regret at not having been able to prevent the suicide, a sentiment intensified by the sight of children's bodies. But perhaps this is as Jones intended, as he stated in some of his final words:
So they'll pay for this. They brought this upon us. And they'll pay for that. I - I leave that destiny to them.
- Jim Jones (the "death tape")
The author would like to acknowledge and thank Tim Carter for his gracious efforts to help me better understand the Jonestown tragedy. Thanks also to Fielding McGehee for his thoughtful comments and consideration, as well as Deb Layton for providing guidance via her fascinating video documentary.
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 This point underscores the risk and lethality involved in any attempt to disrupt group procedures.
 This strongly suggests that Jones would be operating from an irrational, paranoid stance.
 This provides evidence of a past behavioral pattern: Jones has extreme reactions to perceived "injustices."
 Another example of a past behavioral pattern: Do not interfere, or I will respond with an extreme form self-destruction that will involve others.
 This suggests not only an extremely paranoid community on high alert, but also foreshadows a readiness to use armed force.
 This presents clear evidence that Jones would be highly vulnerable to anything which adversely affected his image, which was precariously grandiose.
 This point hardly needs elaboration, and eerily predicts the final outcome.
 Zee, H: The Guyana incident.
 The irony here, of course, is that it was Jones who no doubt gave the orders for the ambush. In reality, he is asking his followers to take responsibility for his actions.
 Stephenson, D: Dear People.
 May also be understood as: I win when we go down.
 Jones attempts to portray Miller as "selfish" in front of the group for thinking independently.
 An example of giving Miller her "due" autonomy in front of the group.
 Jones must concede this point, regardless of what he believes, or risk openly declaring that followers have no autonomy.
 Note that this is neither a denial nor an affirmation.
 In the midst of losing the debate with Miller, Jones is quick to transition to someone else.
 This individual transparently comes to Jones' rescue.
 I was fortunate enough through Father.. This qualifier indicates that this member had well learned that he must not claim any special authority or ability by himself, but must give all credit to Jones.
 The term "revolutionary" suicide itself evokes a grandiose view of the group's actions.
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