(Henri Helander’s contributions to this website include the Alternative History (Conspiracy) Theory Index and a compilation of videos all placed online in 2018, 40 Years After Jonestown. He lives with his daughter in Äänekoski, Finland and works with disabled people. He became aware of Jonestown and Peoples Temple – in about 1985 when he was 9 years old – through Manowar’s song Guyana (Cult of the Damned).)
People can be led to believe in the most unbelievable things and most outrageous scenarios. Conspiracy theories are on the rise and flourishing. The administration of world’s most powerful country is spreading conspiratorial lies about coronavirus, and former President Trump has ”confirmed” that the so-called “Deep State” is operating among our midst.
Conspiracy theories can be big business. Countless amounts of currency are cast in survivalist bunkers and soldered in cables and DACs of high-end (of the Hi-Fi) people. Belief in these theories can be a misguided hobby or – as in the latter case – a hobby can become the genesis for a conspiracy theory. (Actually, the cable conspiracy is easily one of the more plausible, and harmless, theories around.)
Not many people deny that there are Unidentified Flying Objects, but are those UFOs inhabited by delegates of alien civilization? That is a different matter entirely. For UFO believers as well as conspiracists alike, the slightest shred of evidence is proof enough, be it a blurry picture or a handheld shaky video footage. It’s all good… until the stage is set for the men in black to appear. Hard at work with no smiles on their faces and no song in their hearts, they prevent any leaks of classified knowledge, concealing hard evidence by harvesting all the crashed UFOs and suppressing all information about what they’re doing and what they’re finding. Dr. Steven Greer’s documentaries are a prime example of all of this. He mixes highly dubious “evidence” of alien spacecrafts with conspiracy theories of government cover-ups, then chokes up to drive his message home. So did another UFO enthusiast, by the name of Marshall Applewhite of Heaven’s Gate cult fame.
The World Trade Center attacks of 2001 saw the U.S. Government take very drastic measures against its own people, according to other theories. Instead of religious extremism, 9/11 attacks were orchestrated by people at the very top, such as Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Bremer. To what end? Why, it’s simple: to gain control over the world’s oil production, to wield more power over Americans, and to justify and to benefit from the upcoming military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s incredible that people actually believe that their own government would be willing sacrifice so many lives, although we’re not talking Hitler’s Germany here. But then again, flat-earthers are still around. They never went away.
Jim Jones was both an avid consumer (at least he said so) and origin of numerous conspiracy theories. As a self-proclaimed god, he saw himself as so important, such a threat to the U.S. establishment, that the CIA and FBI needed to take him down by any means necessary. And part of the tragedy of Jonestown is how Jones’ inner circle bought into his drug-fueled, paranoid, conspiracy-driven wavelength of thinking and eventually saw no other solution except mass suicide to the community’s problems. They generated those problems themselves with their manufactured conspiracy theories, supplemented with prison camp tactics.
Conspiracy theories about Jonestown did not die on November 18, they just changed the identities of their adherents and the details of the plots. Why was Jonestown built, what purpose did it serve, why did people die? Author Michael Meiers described Jonestown as a testing site for an AIDS outbreak, while the Black Panther Party suggested that the whole population was exterminated by neutron bomb explosion. “Well-documented” articles on CIA/FBI-based conspiracies are abundant on the web. And those don’t include Guyanese explanations: that Prime Minister Forbes Burnham ran Jonestown as a prostitution ring, or as a drug-manufacturing center, until things got too hot and he had to shut it down. At the end of the day, I think that what really happened in Jonestown was so horrible, people can’t wrap their minds around it. And that means they need alternate theories to explain what actually happened.
The mother of all conspiracy theories is the alleged existence of God. Religion was conceived to prey on human weaknesses and is maintained and profited by lots of ”churches” and their ”ministers.” If you believe in God (or any kind of deity), you can be led to believe and obey anything. Finding God can be a good thing for an individual suffering from addictions, but on a larger scale, religion’s power over humans manifests itself in religious wars, discrimination, hate, people choosing not to get medical treatment for themselves, and in saddest cases for their offspring, bizarre cult tragedies and terrorist attacks.
Terrorist attacks are today’s cult tragedies. Manson family members committed the Tate-LaBianca murders, members of Peoples Temple killed Leo Ryan at Port Kaituma, Branch Davidians shot ATF agents at Waco, and Aum Shinrikyo spread sarin gas. Still, the destructive cults of yesteryear more often seemed like a danger to their own participants, ex-members, and in some cases their immediate family. The cult of today is a danger to people at large.
There’s not a slightest shred of evidence of God’s existence, not even the most blurriest picture, vaguest sound recording or the shakiest camcorder footage, but still people believe, pray for their lives and “sow the seeds” of thousands upon thousands of dollars to scam ministries.
On the other hand there’s mountains, or in this case piles of bodies, proving God’s absence. Why didn’t God hear the anguished cries of children of Jonestown? Why didn’t he see when the bodies started to pile up? On a much smaller scale, these are shades of Auschwitz indeed.
One thing is certain. On November 18, 1978 in Jonestown, Guyana, no God nor any kind of savior sat on his throne with a mic in his hand, urging his followers to kill themselves. Alone, consumed by all-too-human madness, Jim Jones made the fateful decision, and no amount of conspiracy thinking can get past that fact.