(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 most unbelievable things and most outrageous scenarios. Conspiracy theories have been on the rise for quite awhile and keep flourishing as Republicans are spreading conspiratorial lies about COVID-19 vaccine. Former President Trump even ”confirmed” that the so-called ”Deep State” is operating among our midst. Then he proceeded to undertake an attempt to steal the presidential election of 2020 with totally unfounded conspiracy theories, to the point of insurgence when his core followers invaded the US Capitol at his behest on January 6th. Fruitless effort didn’t stop him from repeating the same lies to his uneducated fan base while the cult surrounding him shows no signs of waning down. Just ask Ted Nugent. People taking QAnon seriously seem far beyond the reach of rationality.
Conspiracy theories can be big business. Countless amounts of currency are cast in survivalist bunkers, 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, 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 videocam 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, 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 taking 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, 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. Huge part of implementation of the tragedies in Guyana (Jonestown, Georgetown, Port Kaituma) is how Jones’ inner circle bought into his drug-fueled, paranoid, conspiracy-driven wavelength of mind and eventually saw no other solution except mass murder/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. 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 what really happened in Jonestown was so horrific in every sense, people just can’t wrap their heads around it, so they need alternate theories to make senseless seem sensible.
The mother of all conspiracy theories is the alleged existence of God. Religion was conceived to prey on human weaknesses, it has been maintained and especially profited by lots of ”churches” and their ”ministers.” The crimes of Catholics, Laestadians and Jehova’s Witnesses are burdensome on the whole institute of religion, as those are some of the worst crimes in the world. Hypocrisy is paramount. If you believe in God (or any kind of deity), you can be led to believe anything, therefore eventually at the grip of the ”right” misleader you might be ready to obey anything. Mere knowledge that up to 40% of American adults believe in the claims of young Earth creationism is somehow chilling as it is appalling, since it’s so unimaginable in face of all the science that has been taught to us. 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, 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, Aum Shinrikyo spread the deadly sarin gas. Still, the destructive cults of yesteryear more often seemed like a danger to their own participants, their chidren, ex-members, and in some most tragic instances like Order of the Solar Temple, 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 final fateful decision. There’s no amount of conspiracy thinking to get past that fact.