What have we learned in 32 years?

Thirty-two years later, it seems the effect of our members dying en masse in 1978 has been exactly the opposite of what they had hoped. We all knew, had known, about mass suicide, the tactic, the final test of our loyalty and commitment, which Jim Jones had articulated going back to my first days in Peoples Temple. But no one considered the possibility that, when “Father” called for suicide, it might be over an obvious provocation, or something inevitable, such as some people wanting to leave.

Over these same 32 years, the US has descended to new lows: fascism at home and pursuit of a new manifest destiny abroad, not bounded by this continent or constrained by international law, but taking us wherever the world’s resources are, on whatever pretext may be found, while our dumbed-down and puffed-up citizenry rise to the cry of the new demagogues, ready to hate the bad guy du jour, and call that “values.”

I have sorely missed Them, our family, who would have stood up against this. I have reasoned inductively that Jim Jones, controlled by the CIA who trained and loosed him to pursue his grand design, through him extracted and then murdered the black and progressive leadership of the Bay Area, or enough of it, so the great right-wing conspiracy could come to pass without interference and realize the success it enjoys today.

Sometimes, it seems it has all come full circle, that today it is mainstream US society lining up to “drink the Kool-Aid” of complicity with militarism, murder, torture, and a sense of entitlement that our boundless appetites must be fed at any cost to the rest of the world – a sure formula for mass extinction.

Rereading Dick Tropp’s “Last Words,” I hear the despair underlying his professed acceptance of the act in progress. I hear a call for investigation in his exhortation to read, to study, everything. When he writes, “Let all the books be opened,” I hear a plea to ME, to us, the survivors to understand what he still could not accept: The necessity for them all to die. He knew how incomprehensible it would be. When he said “I tried, I have failed” (to say why they were all dying now) he could only manage a weak and shaky, “we were born too soon.”

What Dick did not know – what no one in that pavilion knew – was that Jim Jones had worked for the CIA in Brazil in the 1960’s. We know that now. But we haven’t heard much about it. I submit that Jim Jones was still working for the CIA in his leadership of Peoples Temple, leading a West Coast suicide mission to its ultimate resounding success. Let that book be opened.

(Kathy Barbour [Tropp] joined Peoples Temple in 1970 with her companion, Richard Tropp, and was living in the San Francisco Temple on November 18, 1978. Her other articles in this edition are Remembering Dick Tropp and The Names. Her complete collection of writings for this site can be found here.)