Many former members of Peoples Temple may remember me as a pastor of the Los Angeles church for several years. Before that time, though, I lived in Ukiah, working side by side with my brothers and sisters to demonstrate my commitment to the issues, to the church, to the cause. I remember once that I was suffering from a painful cold infection in my ears during a bus trip Ukiah to San Francisco. I was to sing in the choir, and I refused to give in to the incredible pain and pressure in my ears. My eardrums burst while I was on stage singing, and blood and infection ran down my cheeks. I still did not give in. With a shocked expression, one of our nurses escorted me from the stage and laid me down on a mat. That was the “mind over matter” dedication that the Temple asked from us, or at least, that I asked of myself.
Later, back in Ukiah, Jim asked how my ears were doing. I told him the doctor said that the eardrums had grown back together perfectly. I fed into the money-making miracle machine. Yes, it was a miracle! Today I have constant ringing in my ears to remind me that I am that same person and that the incident was very real.
I believe it was my dedication that led Jim to select me to set up the Los Angeles Church. I was as idealistic and dedicated as anyone in the Temple. As the early L.A. tapes reveal, Jim had declared that he “looked the world over and could find no one more suitable for the job” than me. Jim pronounced boldly that I was his “alter ego.” He said that by moving me to L.A., he had effectively brought everything dedicated and sincere about the Ukiah Peoples Temple into the L.A. church.
In 25 Years Hiding From a Dead Man, the article I wrote for this website last year, I said, “there were two Jim Jones.” One Jim tried all available tools in the name of pragmatism. He believed in accomplishing his goals by any means necessary. The other Jim Jones was less of a user and more sincere. One Jim had a mad drive to take over the world at the expense of the individual. The other Jim Jones actually cared about the individual and protecting his rights. Different than many might think, Jim liked to tell the truth on a one-on-one basis. That was also when he was most kind. He needed his sunglasses to distance himself, to manipulate, or to be mean. Mainly, he was mean through other people. In almost every instance, when he was sadistic, he got others to do it for him.
The difference between the two Jim Jones, in my view, came in his perception of being threatened. If Jim was not threatened by you, he seemed to want to empower you and defend you. Unfortunately, as time went on, he became threatened by his own shadow.
Jim also had an inner battle going on between hope and bitterness. Drugs increased his bitterness, causing him to “take the wrong fork in the road,” as the late Archie Ijames once said. Drugs also caused him to become seriously paranoid and insecure. This really evidenced itself through sex.
Jim was successful at many good things. He had unique abilities to sensitize the public to injustices between the rich and the poor and was exceptionally talented at inspiring the crowd. For those who had an ear to hear, Peoples Temple opened new doors into the possibility and the hope for a better world.
But when Jim felt threatened by someone, he developed a need to compromise them sexually or humiliate them in public or both. I believe that public humiliation was reserved for those he could not compromise sexually. Many former members have memories of bad experiences, and – not surprisingly, given Jim’s approach to and use of sex – many of these bad experiences are directly or indirectly connected with sex. The hesitation to speak on the subject has lingered over all these years.
Anything that does not empower the people is a cult. This includes the American government, the business world and even the family unit. We also know that nothing is all good or all bad. Thus, it is incumbent on each of us to pick the good from our experiences and reject the bad. This article represents part of my attempt to speak of my experience, both good and bad.
Not long after the formation of the L.A. church, Jim ran into a serious legal problem. He was arrested in the restroom of a late night movie theater where a lot of gay men hung out. Apparently, he approached an undercover agent with an erect penis in a provocative way. This incident threatened to bring down Peoples Temple, and those who knew about it teamed up to prepare for the possible backlash. While the lawyers worked to get the arrest sealed, Jim became more and more threatened and paranoid, convinced that he would still be exposed. To reduce the fallout, we were told to invite people from a local “homosexual church”, but members of the church did not return after their first visit. Jim still needed some homosexuals. He was determined to make Peoples Temple a more openly homosexual church to stop insiders and outsiders from turning against him in case his own homosexual arrest became public.
After the arrest, Jim told Karen Layton, “No more sex with strangers.” He was forced to find outlets for his sexuality within the church to avoid being destroyed from without. He used the preposterous notion that he had to “relate” to other men’s homosexuality, to reach them on their level, or he would propose to introduce men to their inner homosexuality. Although Jim was the one who was actually guilty, the arrest led him to spread a new ideology: that all men were latently homosexual except for him.
With revolutionary, dedicated, uncompromising enthusiasm, members of the Temple’s inner staff had helped create healings for the cause. (Not all healings were fake, though. When the whole church worked together on healings many of them ended up being real.) The same importance for the cause – perhaps even greater – was placed on some men to fake homosexuality to protect Jim. Men didn’t have to say that they had had a homosexual act, but they had to remain quiet if Jim stated in public that he had sex with them. Many were asked to raise hands falsely when he asked who all he had sex with.
One former member of Peoples Temple has written a book which claimed that Jim hated men. This is simply not true. Jim claimed that every homosexual act he had was for the cause. This is also not true. Jim had homosexual affairs from the beginning and with men outside of the church that had nothing to do with furthering the group’s cause.
I remember well before I was a pastor in Los Angeles, sitting in a church service in Ukiah, Jim introduced a classical pianist. He played so beautifully for us all. Jim told the story of how he had met him in a homosexual bar. He told that what impressed him the most was that the pianist came up to him and said, “I know what I want, you know what you want, let’s just do it.” Jim said this was great honesty and held it up like it was an exemplary thing. This same man showed up on my doorstep later, when I was a pastor in L.A. He’d been sent there because he was seen as some kind of problem in Ukiah. When he realized that Jim was not going to have anything more to do with him, he wrote a hurt love letter in which he said “the doorknob only turns one way,” and then he took off. We never heard from him again.
In L.A., Chris Lewis became Jim’s main poster child for homosexuality, yet I don’t even think Chris was gay. In the middle of a sermon, Jim would call for Chris, who would generally be lollygagging in the back of the church or in the kitchen. Chris would come out knowing exactly what he was expected to do. Jim would say, “We got all kinds of homosexuals around here. Chris is a big man, you might not want to mess with him, so you better watch out if you’re prejudiced against homosexuals. Chris might just kick your ass.” My friend Chris would then strut up and down the aisles. He wasn’t too worried about it. He was doing it for the cause.
It was during this period that Jim had a series of private chats with me in the upstairs staff area backstage in L.A. To understand the context better, allow me to mention that I actually lived in the area where the inner staff worked when they were in L.A. They looked at me with a whole lot of trust at that time. Also understand that Jim had been meeting with me and teaching me how to conduct funerals and weddings, and to make donations to the police, etc.
In these private chats, Jim asked me many questions about sex, among other subjects. I was very honest and open with my answers. Jim asked how I handled it when a pretty woman made advances. It was a reasonable question. I was so honored to be a pastor, I told him, that I tried my very best to be a sexual neuter, much like a Catholic priest, because that allowed me to be fully dedicated to the job. The odd thing I remember him asking was about masturbation. He was curious about the most times I had ever had an orgasm in one day. He asked what I fantasized about while masturbating, and I told him “nothing.” It seemed hard for him to believe me. He reworded his question several times, as if I were the first human being that he had encountered of this description. It seems to me that he must have thought that fantasizing was corruption of some form. Understand that as he questioned me, he lived in fear that his sexuality might destroy his ministry.
It was after this conversation that Jim went to Karen Layton and some others and told them that he trusted me “more than he trusted himself.” Karen made a big deal about it. She raised her voice and her hands in the air and said, “Jim has never, ever said anything like this about anybody.”
The great respect that I had from the other inner staff ended later when I was asked to join the Planning Commission, which ruined everything. Karen and Jim both told me that the Planning Commission could learn from my great honesty. However, when I went to Ukiah for the P.C. meetings, I learned that honesty was not really welcome. I was expected to be an attack dog or to be attacked myself. I made one attack on Howard Cordell that was somewhat appropriate, but I felt bad about it later and decided not to play ball. As a result, Jim and I became more alienated from each other, and he began to perceive me as a threat. Frankly, I thought his behavior in the Planning Commission was insane and absurd. I was especially worried that he contradicted himself all the time. It was around that time that I found amphetamines in his pill bag.
While isolated in Los Angeles during the years of my tenure as a pastor, I had no clue that Jim had become a paranoid, delusional, sexually-insecure power freak. I remember standing on the stage in the middle of a meeting with 2000 cheering people when I quietly asked Mike Prokes, “Do you feel a sense of power when you’re speaking and people cheer?” “Yes, I do,” he replied. “I don’t,” I told him. “I feel a sense of responsibility, not a sense of power.” Then I looked over toward Jim who was speaking and said, “but I know some people do.”
One night in Los Angeles, Jim sent for me to come to his room backstage. He was wearing a T-shirt with no pants, like women often wear for nightshirts. Jim often dressed in that manner to conceal the fact that he had no chest hair and a growing gut. (The last pictures of him in Jonestown show his top button still uncomfortably fastened. He came to me several times and asked me to button my top button to hide my chest hair. At least I didn’t have to shave it.)
As I entered Jim’s room, he reeked of cheap men’s cologne, either Brut or English Leather. He showed me his penis and said the herpes sores on him were not open, that it would be okay if I sucked him. I had never heard of herpes. I told him he should use his hand. He said, “Your mouth would be softer.” I answered, “When I’m horny, I use my hand.” He lowered his shirt and accepted the rejection. The next night I heard he was asking for me again, so I drove to the Albertson’s parking lot and slept all night in the car seat. Afterwards, when he said he’d been looking for me, I told him where I’d gone. He got the message.
Near the end of my time in the church, Jim asked me to go along and be prepared to “moon” the Planning Commission. I thought this might be funny, but it turned out he deviously attempted to humiliate me. This incident upset me, but it wasn’t until he ordered the drugging of a young boy in a Los Angeles meeting that I decided to leave the church.
The little boy was a gifted child prodigy singer, guilty only of talking to Jim in a spunky manner over a microphone. Jim acted as though this little child was a major threat to his image. He sent a nurse to take a glass of water with knockout drugs in it for the little boy to drink. Later, after the big church service was over, the body of the unconscious child was carried into a post service PC meeting where a couple of jerks made goblin and spook noises into his unconscious ear.
That did it for me. I was not going to be party to such things. I had been placed over these L.A. members to be responsible by them, not to watch them be sickly abused right in front of me. I formed the words “power trips” and “humiliation tactics” on my lips for the first time and began preparations to leave. Among other things I made a series of tape recordings to protect myself. This turned out to be a prescient precaution, since after I left I was roughed up by a goon squad. I was also told that Jim had put a Mafia contract on my life.
There is little argument that to have believed in cause and effect, Jim Jones created the wrongest effect imaginable by using wrong methods. Among these wrong methods was telling all the men in the church that they were inwardly homosexual to protect himself or to justify the fact that he was the guilty party. I always believed that he behaved as though he may have been homosexually molested as a child. While claiming himself the world’s greatest lover, he very often alienated those he made love “at” rather than “to”. Apparently he missed out on what he needed the most: intimacy. Jim was a sexual predator-addict overcompensating for a deep feeling of inadequacy. We can only imagine the difference he could have made if he had put as much emphasis on World Improvement as he placed on convincing others of his own sexual prowess.
The truth is, though, he never raped anybody. He seemed to accept rejection very politely, even if he might go through others later to humiliate or torture that person. The same woman that later wrote a book and told the press how Jim raped her was called into a council meeting in L.A. by Jack Beam while I was present. The purpose of the meeting was to tell her to stay away from Jim sexually. At first, Jim was not in the council session. Everyone confronted her and she had every opportunity to say anything she wanted to, yet she indicated that she wanted to keep seeing him. Then Jim came in and after listening to the confrontation, he quietly came to her defense.
Jim undoubtedly cajoled people to have sex with him, but allowed the decision to be up to the other person. He told men that if they let him screw them, it would prepare them if they were ever in prison (as if that makes any sense). I am sure that he made women think that he was God and then tried to sleep with them. We do not accuse a man who buys dinner and shows off his new car just to get someone in bed, of being guilty of rape. Jim believed that what you finally chose to do was on you.
As the end grew near, Jim became more criminal. Hue Fortson told me how my friend, attorney Eugene Chaikin, while speaking in front of the crowd in Jonestown, told Jim that he would be crazy if he took certain action. Jim screamed and went on and on about how nobody better ever call him crazy! After that, few people saw Chaikin because he was drugged into virtual catatonia for much of the remaining time. You can’t tell me that he later voluntarily committed suicide. You can’t tell me that nearly 300 children voluntarily committed suicide. You can’t tell me that anyone else would have committed suicide if Jim had just temporarily removed himself and John Victor Stoen – the child who was the subject of the custody battle that threatened Jonestown’s existence – for the sake of the larger community.
While living in Ukiah, I married M. Norris, a very sweet and dedicated girl. We had a little integrated child that bore my same name, Little David. I loved them both very much. Jim sent M. and Little David away to protect the community because M. received food stamps while she was working. She was not in any kind of trouble; it was a precautionary move to protect the community from what could have happened. Why didn’t Jim remember the example of M.? Why didn’t he leave the community in order to protect it. Without Jim’s presence no one would have attacked the community, and no one would have wanted to die.
Jim had become a self-fulfilling doomsayer and prophet of hopelessness.
The article is adapted from a chapter in my book, Jonestown Legacy. Survivors best exemplify that legacy. Lowest on the list are the dwindling numbers who still carry on with divide-and-conquer tactics, humiliation, character assassination, and egocentric drama. Highest on the list are those survivors who have not allowed bitterness and hopelessness to steal their imagination and their love. There are many examples of survivors still demonstrating hope, humanitarianism, and conscience, the most recent of which is a survivor who coordinated the creation of the November 18th Fund with the San Francisco Food Bank (see story). Activities such as these exemplify our call to service in Matthew 25 – and on the Peoples Temple letterhead – and represent the best of what we did in Peoples Temple and what we can do today.
My book reveals how that Jim was an extraordinary copyist: He copied elements of our larger society that today seem to be leading in the same direction as Jonestown. This book demonstrates that Peoples Temple was not a cult, but rather a movement that copied ongoing cult tactics from our larger society. From this perspective, I believe Peoples Temple was a mirror, and the ways we examine the Temple should be the ways we examine ourselves. If you find this hard to grasp, I encourage you to read the book. The release of this book has been delayed, in part because the last chapter in the book is still being written, and in fact is still being lived out. I understand how that many survivors have not regained their ability to have hope and optimism for tomorrow. That is why the last chapter tells about proven paradigm shift technologies, cures for diseases and unbelievable energy answers that offer hope for “life more abundant” in our time.
Upon request I would be happy to post individual chapters of the book, including “Words and Expressions Copied from Father Divine and Daddy Grace,” “Society as a Cult,” “Politics and Religion,” “Bait and Switch and Copycat Leadership,” and the complete text of “Sex in Peoples Temple.”
(After going up against Jim Jones, David Parker Wise, a former Pastor of the Los Angeles Peoples Temple was hunted down, and told that a contract had been taken out on his life. His complete collection of writings for the jonestown report may be found here. His website is JonestownLegacy.com. Mr. Wise can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)