Lost Utopia

(David Arnett is an artist who has incorporated some images on Jonestown into his work. Warning: This example of his work has a graphic image of bodies in Jonestown. He may be reached at Depravedave@myspace.com.)

“Attention! Anyone coming near my abode, don’t touch my window or my door. You might find yourself in a lot of trouble – It’s meant only for mercenaries.”

Jim Jones, Monday, October 16, 1978

Among the key factors of the turn of events at Jonestown on November 17 and 18, 1978, the one that stands out most to me was the total isolation of the community. Obscured by jungle, there were no telephones in Jonestown. The only “radio room” was in Jim Jones’ cabin, so all communication went through “Dad.” Cell phones and the internet were still the stuff of science fiction.

“You asked me about Russia. I’m right now making a call to Russia. What more do you suggest? … And I can tell you the answer now, because I am a prophet. Call the Russians and tell them and see if they’ll take us.”

Jim Jones, Saturday, November 18, 1978

Most residents of Jonestown had a better life there than they could have had in the United States. “Dad” supplied food, medical care, a stake in the community, and a common goal to work towards. These people surely knew that they were pioneers. I can’t imagine how proud they must have all been of Jonestown. “Dad” had saved many of them from the streets, drug addiction and poverty. He’d gotten a few out of jail, and who knows what else.

These people had reasons – each very different I’m sure – that they were so fiercely loyal to their leader. These weren’t brainwashed-zombie-robots, many of these people sincerely felt that they owed him their lives! This man could make or break an election back in California, and in Jonestown, he had created a “heaven on earth.” But it was a heaven isolated by jungle, where his absolute power, drug use and paranoia could all fester… just long enough to absolutely consume him.

“The puma? The leopard? The ocelot? ‘Bout 50 different uh, breeds of uh, poisonous reptiles?… Are you aware of this– any of this? How long you been around here?… The anaconda?… Thirty-six foot long? Can crush a horse in seconds!

“We have met too many pigs. We’ve met too many snakes. No, there’s nothing in the human book– in the an– animal vocabulary that describes humans. We’ve met too many capitalists, mangy capitalists. Vomitous capitalists. We’ve met too many of them and their past shenanigans– You are not going home to that fascist Babylon, until our people are here. And then we’ll be glad to be rid of the likes of both of you.”

Jim Jones, November 1977

The near lynch-mob mentality on some of the recorded meetings at Jonestown is what I find hardest to believe. Only in the seclusion and atmosphere of the jungles of Guyana could this mentality take hold, mutating their communist/socialist and spiritual way of life into a nightmare of fear, hysterics (as Jim says on the Death Tape) and violent discipline. Sleep depravation, hunger and hard, long work days became the norm. This environment makes it increasingly easy (and emotionally justifying) to gang up on anyone not doing their share, or going with the program.

“Get Dwyer out of here before something happens to him.… Dwyer. I’m not talking about Ujara. I said Dwyer.… Ain’t nobody gonna take Ujara. I’m not lettin’ ‘em take Ujara.”

Jim Jones, Saturday, November 18, 1978

Jim Jones was desperately ill at the end of his life. Even if the nature of the illness – an unknown jungle fever? a slow collapse after years of drug abuse? a precursor to AIDS? – he surely felt like he was weakened, sick and nauseous, a key factor of his mental state during the last days of Jonestown. Along with the isolation of the community, the miles of massive jungle that obscured it, and the realization that his Jungle Utopia would not be realized, and that his own life would be remembered by scandal, he felt, as he put it…

“All is lost… ”