By Lester Kinsolving
Examiner Religion Writer
[Second of four parts which were never published]
REDWOOD VALLEY, September, 1972 — The Rev. James Jones, charismatic prophet-pastor of People’s Temple Christian (Disciples) Church here, has repeatedly told his congregation that he is the reincarnation of Jesus Christ – and that San Francisco is due for impending destruction by an atom bomb, The Examiner has learned.
Eyewitnesses to these stated claims by the Rev. Mr. Jones have signed affidavits and submitted to tape recorded interviews, both in the Bay Area and in the vicinity of Redwood Valley, near Ukiah.
Some have asked for and have been guaranteed anonymity. Two who did not, Opal and Marion Freestone, were married by The Prophet Jones. They were parishioners of his for more than a decade and followed him from Indianapolis to California.
Yet they are no longer parishioners of the Prophet Jones – because with Marion’s disablement in an accident, they cannot afford to pay the 25 per cent of gross income which the People’s Temple demanded.
Marion Freestone recalls that five years ago he accompanied Jones and five of the flock to one of the caves which pockmarked the area around Ukiah. He recalls seeing Marvin Sweeney and Rick Stahl lower themselves out of sight in this cave – which he recalls was designated as the refuge for members of The People’s Temple when the bomb destroys San Francisco and other major cities. Reference to this cave were heard by a number of additional witnesses.
(Freestone still has the large medicine kit filled with bandages and vitamin pills, a staple of People’s Temple secret diet, as prescribed by The Prophet Jones.)
He and other witnesses recall The Prophet Jones’s repeated warnings not to look south, toward San Francisco, when the bomb drops – due to the blinding flash.
He also recalls that The Prophet has assured all of the flock that he will warn them of this doomsday enough in advance so that they alone can escape destruction.
The Freestones and other witnesses also recall repeated instances in which Jones, (after the congregation had been carefully checked for any strangers) has shouted:
“Who am I?”
To this, the mammoth and bedazzled congregation has screamed:
“You’re Jesus Christ!”
Once you can get a congregation to believe such things, the dividends can be impressive, as attested by the renowned wealth acquired by Philadelphia’s famed Father Divine – who admitted that he himself was God Almighty.
Yet that movement wilted somewhat when the alleged demigod Divine proved to be shockingly mortal – by dropping dead.
This lesson was hardly lost upon a dynamic young faith healer named Jim Jones who, according to Eugene Corder [Cordell] of Indianapolis, visited Father Divine in the late 1950s. According to other witnesses, Jones has spoken affirmatively of the cherubic-looking, ingenious, and affable black deity.
While Gods are not supposed to die, Jesuses can either resurrect or ascend – which may explain the Rev. Mr. Jones’ more modest posture as Jesus Reincarnate, when compared to his apparent model in Philadelphia.
Yet the financial rewards are hardly modest, given such required donation as 25% of the gross income and some 4000 members.
Such a financial bonanza must, however, be rigidly guarded and its members impressively disciplined.
That members of People’s Temple are carefully regimented was evident on the sidewalks of the Examiner, when 150 of Jones’ flock picketed for hours, quietly and under impressive control.
They were protesting this writer’s reporting of various criticisms of The Prophet Jones. But among these pickets were those who, just the previous week (before the Examiner had published anything about Jones or the Temple) wrote 54 letters.
Those letters are as strikingly uniform in structure as was that impressively regimented picket line. The letters all either commend this writer’s reporting, or his weekly column – most of them quoting Jones’ own high commendations in this regard.
When apprised of this, Opal Freestone laughed and recalled that one of the regular requirements of People’s Temple members is “letter writing sessions,” where members are required to turn in as many as 10 letters per day.
These letters, she told The Examiner, are censored. If they are approved by Jones and his lieutenants, they are sent to anyone on whom The Prophet wishes to impress his desires (or the willingness of his followers to obey him).
Another regular requirement of People’s Temple members is attendance at “Catharsis Sessions.” During these meetings, which can last for hours, members either voluntarily confess even the most intimate sins (especially those which are sexual) to the assembled congregation – or else they are called up and made to confess amidst ferocious critiques from other members.
Mrs. Freestone also recalls that she was given orders not to associate with non-members of the Temple, except as absolutely necessary in her secular job. As for those who leave the congregation, they are either to be shunned – or warned that something dreadful will happen to them.
This technique has worked effectively for generations of voodoo leaders and witch doctors. And in Ukiah, given the present circumstances, it works especially well.
The city’s population is 10,300 – while the reported membership of The People’s Temple is 4,700.
This awesome segment of the body politic has managed to infiltrate almost every power structure in the Ukiah Valley.
People’s Temple members are employed in almost every business or industry in the area. (After eating with two witnesses late at night in one restaurant, this writer was informed that the waitress was a member of People’s Temple – as were two couples sitting one booth away.)
The cult has members on the school board, among the Grand Jury (of which The Prophet Jones has served as foreman), in the Sheriff’s Department and – most significantly, in the apex of law enforcement: The District Attorney’s Office.
But in the Mendocino County Welfare Dept. there is the key to Prophet Jones’ plans to expand the already massive influx of his followers – and have it supported by tax money.
The Examiner has learned that at least five of the disciples of The Ukiah Messiah are employees of this Welfare Department, and are therefore of invaluable assistance in implementing his primary manner of influx: the adoption of large numbers of children of minority races.
Welfare Department statistics have been obtained by The Examiner which show that most categories of welfare recipients have remained generally static – in a comparison of June 1967 with June of this year.
But in one category – aid to families with dependent children – the case load has soared – from 563 in 1967 to 1, 027 this June.
In addition to ordering his followers to adopt as many children as possible, The Prophet Jones is recalled by witnesses as having recurrently issued orders as to how they are to vote.
And even if any of his massive flock should in a sinful moment care to disobey Jesus Reincarnate, their astounding public obeisance to the Rev. Mr. Jones is hardly lost upon observing political leaders – who can easily measure the effect of a 4,700-member voting block in a town of 10,300.
If the civil government is awed, the communications media have proven downright subservient.
Ukiah has two radio stations (one with the call letters KUKI) and a daily newspaper (circulation 7,461) called The Daily Journal.
KUKI has provided The Prophet Jones with hours of free time in which to denounce his critics, in tones so hypnotically dulcet as to recall commercials attesting the gentle action of Fletcher’s Castoria.
When dissenters dare to criticize the Rev. Mr. Jones on a KUKI talk show, they are ridiculed by the talkmaster.
As for The Ukiah Daily Journal, some 23 clippings about The Prophet Jones were recently hand-delivered to The Examiner (by an employee of the Mendocino County Probation Dept.) They are so effusive as to suggest that they could have been dictated by The Prophet himself.
Most recently, The Daily Journal decorated 3 top columns of its front page with a photograph of The Prophet Jones. He is accompanied by two of his adopted sons, all clad in coats and neckties, posed squatting on the front lawn with three large dogs.
Such polished political ploys apparently appeal to many – for The Prophet Jones seems to have admirers who are not (yet) of his fold.
But there are other residents of the area – including one who has known the Rev. Mr. Jones for nearly two decades, from the vivid vantage point of the inside of The People’s Church. And for Marion Freestone, at least, the atmosphere in the Ukiah area is eerie.
This was obvious when the elderly man pointed to an object on the floor next to his chair, a holstered .38 caliber pistol.
“We’re scared of those people at People’s Temple,” he said. “As soon as we can save enough money, we’re moving out of here.”
This reaction confirmed what former Ukiah Baptist pastor Richard Taylor described to the Attorney General’s office as:
“An atmosphere of terror.”
By others, who have also been inside the Rev. Jim Jones’s People’s Temple, this Ukiah Messiah is regarded as more maniacal than messianic – in his exercising a ministry which they feel is better described as a monstrosity.