This year, November 18th is the 30th anniversary of the Guyana cultic horror. The leader of the cult, Jim Jones, was demented and cunning enough to hide it from doctors, clergy, politicians, journalists, most lawyers, and a majority of his own cult members. Masses of articles, scores of books, and a dozen or so TV productions, tried vainly to explain it. But they succeeded only in displaying the atrocity, not in explaining it. And it is not as though there were no warnings, or warning signs. There were!
So the question is not only, “What was wrong with the man, and why did so many fall for him and flock to his so-called ‘church’?” The larger questions, the scarier questions, are: “What does it mean that so many bright and seemingly shrewd observers of our diverse culture did not spot the signals?” and “What blinded them?”
Since I was the earliest in the Bay Area to investigate the Jones cult, I believe I am more qualified than most to bring real answers. So here goes. Greed, ambition, jealousy, pride, fear, cowardice, lust, immaturity—all of these, coupled with the lack of a well-tested and trustworthy frame of reference, were elements in the failure of persons at all levels to see the obvious.
It is easy enough to make the age-old assessment: brainwashing. And of course it is true in regard to the cult members and to Jones’ tactics. What is still not considered by the “experts,” however, is what I call the “external brainwashing” (as opposed to the internal brainwashing that Jones performed on his cult members). And I will give you a couple of examples.
The first has to do with Mayor George Moscone and his outrageous defense of Jones—up to the moment of the Guyana mass murder. What could explain this prominent politician’s sheer ignorance? It is not complicated. Mayor Moscone was terribly indebted to Jones, because Jones sent hundreds of cult members to dozens of precincts and brought a slim victory not only to Moscone but to the young Willie Brown and others in the local machine. It was no problem. For in fact Moscone’s District Attorney, Joseph Freitas—not at all by chance—had positioned Jones’ high-level aide, Timothy Stoen (member of the cult for several years), as attorney in charge of voter fraud. (I interviewed Stoen shortly after he broke out of the cult and admitted his terrible mistakes.)
But Moscone was more fearful than Willie Brown, Ralph Nader, and the rest of those politicos whom Jones got elected. The reason is that Jones knew all about the Mayor and his almost nightly visits to the Tenderloin District’s prostitutes. After all, if I knew about it by way of reporters I worked with and who chuckled about having followed Moscone’s limousine to his occasional rendezvous, you can bet that Jones not only knew, but let the Mayor know that he knew.
Ralph Nader, by the way, showed his appreciation of Jim Jones by informing on several terrified cult members who had escaped but remained hiding in the Bay Area. They had sent a note to Nader, begging for help, thinking they could trust him. Nader immediately took the note to Jones who, in turn, let the frightened little group know that he was now aware of everything they were up to. (Later, of course, the media had no problem finding a photograph of Nader and Jones shaking hands, seeing as how the two of them shared the same radical leftwing political posture.)
The second example of external brainwashing has to do with a pastor in another Disciples of Christ church. He was in trouble with his congregation because of his radical political views and support of socialist causes. (I had interviewed this minister and was aware of his Marxist training.) Jones was well-connected in the hierarchy of the Disciples of Christ denomination and soon found out about his fellow pastor’s trouble. So he directed scores of his cult members to flood this pastor’s church with letters of praise for the “wonderful” minister. The minister proceeded to pin all of those letters on a bulletin board where his parishioners would take notice. This pastor, in the depths of depression, had no idea that he was thereafter emotionally glued to Jim Jones who appeared like an angel, a new god, the comforter. Is it any wonder why the pastor, after being fired, then urged several of his loyal followers to join Jim Jones’ “church” wherein they died a few years later, having been forced to drink the fatal Flavor Aid in a Guyana jungle outpost.
What do we have, then, if we were to lay out a comprehensive analysis of the Jim Jones history? An exciting and charismatic preacher comes out to California and is welcomed by his liberal compadres in a leftwing denomination fraught with theological deviancies so bizarre that it would shock Hollywood’s spicier icons. He claims to have been active in community organizing back in Richmond, Indiana. And he knows how to raise much money. He is clean, exemplary even. He professes a morality based in compassion for the underprivileged. With all that, he easily ingratiates himself with the far left politicians of San Francisco. Cecil Williams, pastor of the socialist oriented Glide Memorial Methodist Church, brought Jones on his TV show and plainly could not keep his hugging hands off the sleek and dazzling Jones.
The Bay Area elites saw Jones’ energy and how they could use it. The inner city crowd thought he was the answer to all problems, seen or unseen. Jones had invaded Bay Area ecclesiastical sanctuaries as well as political arenas throughout the State of California. Jerry Brown spoke from his pulpit, as did Carter’s wife, Rosalynn. The Lieutenant Governor and Jones scratched each other’s backs to the bone, and even went to the Caribbean together. Indeed, this “Marxist Messiah” had managed more than ten years, scheming in and out and through the back alleys of California’s darkest political regions.
Jones succeeded because California was infested with liberals who laughed proudly at anyone to their right. They even scoffed at a couple of conservatives who shouted warnings into the deaf skulls of scoundrels unable to see past the glowing tips of their marijuana stogies.
John Barbagelata was possibly the lone conservative who saw the real danger of Jones and his cult. In a public statement he announced that Jim Jones was the most dangerous man in the Bay Area. But the black supervisor, Terry Francois, also had some misgivings about Jones, indicating that there was at least one supervisor other than Barbagelata who had common sense. Can you imagine? In the whole San Francisco hierarchy, only two of them could see Jones for the charlatan he was: the conservative John Barbagelata and the moderate Terry Francois.
There remains a sad irony in all of this. If it were not for Jim Jones and his voter fraud, Barbagelata would no doubt have been elected as Mayor.
The ministerial side of things was just as pathetic. Of the dozen or so Disciples of Christ ministers, it was the lone conservative pastor, Russell Coatney, who confirmed my view of Jones. Coatney told me in an interview that he had tried to warn his fellow ministers. “They just laughed at me,” he said.
I am sad to say that he was right. I was already aware of their having made fun of him, the lone conservative among them. How strange: Because, of all the sermons I heard those liberals preach, not one of them reached the spiritual power of Russell Coatney. One in fact was so powerful that I never forgot its effect upon me. It was years earlier. I walked out the door of that church not the same man that walked in. Russell Coatney knew God’s Word and how to get it through to a thirsty soul.
But, with all the failings and subterfuge I confronted throughout my long investigation of Jim Jones, certain questions have never left my conscious mind: Why did conservatives, alone, see Jones for what he was, a hazard to humanity? Why was it that only liberals fell for his charisma, his rhetoric, his deceit?
But now we come to my main point signaled by the title of this article: “Jonestown, Its Portent.”You see, after my having warned fellow workers, two journalists, a couple of attorneys and a family member, that Congressman Leo Ryan would not leave Jonestown alive—and after having this worst fear turn to reality—I was stunned to the point where I was barely able to accept the apologies that poured forth from my liberal minister friends. Then soon came the inquiries from people needing to know how such a horror could have happened. Some, however, asked the heavier question: “What is the meaning of it?”
These kinds of questions began only after people got their bellies full of the gorier details. The scapegoating was rampant, to be sure. But gradually a pursuit of meaning began. My response was something that I knew intuitively. And I would tell people, either directly or in letters, that we must look upon it as a portent, a mini-example, a kind of metaphor for where our country is heading. Jones was the hint of some more grotesque leader waiting on the dark horizon of a festering America.
And how could I know this? I was no sage or prophet. Yet by a simple and unavoidable circumstance, I was pushed to observe and study the man and his cult for more than eight years. Then after its ghastly demise I saw that America’s media and academia, because they were tutored and led by intellectual cowards, were unable to see the implications of it. It was unbelievable. Those professionals who should have been most able to explain it were possessed of the same spiritual dementia that drove both San Francisco politicians and New Age theologians to protect and justify Jim Jones. No rocket scientist was needed to perceive it. Anyone positioned as I, and having information pathways to Jones’ inside atrocities, would see it. But no one had such access, until two years later in 1972 when I met with Lester Kinsolving. He saw it and almost instantly knew it for what it was. Lester was the wisest and most trustworthy journalist of them all. His analytical skills combined with a flawless frame of reference. From then on nothing stopped him. Within a month or so, Kinsolving had a series of eight articles ready to go. And the San Francisco Examiner went with four of them. It was then that Jim Jones and his cult landed on that newspaper, like vultures on a fresh carcass. He had harnessed hundreds of his members and they then surrounded the Examiner office. Jones, with a large cadre of his San Francisco politicians and New Age clergy to defend him, threatened a big law suit. As one of my lawyer friends put it, “the Examiner ceased examining.”
But, as I said, Jones was the hint of something awful ahead. And his cult was similarly a metaphorical signal of a massive cult-like entity that awaits our nation and its people who refuse to learn, who close eyes and minds to an evil that stands in their face and roars like a lion. Evil will target the prepared and the unprepared. But its effect upon the prepared is not as deep or lasting.
Decades ago this nation ceased its preparedness. The bastion of the least prepared and the most corrupt is San Francisco and its minion communities in Marin County, Berkeley and the several likes of them. (It still astounds me that the City Council of Berkeley instituted an ordinance whereby, if a man were to walk stark naked down the middle of Telegraph Avenue, he could only be given what is tantamount to a citation for jay walking.) So, if national leaders had the courage, they would study the malevolence that slithered its way to an ill-prepared California metropolis in the late1960s. A paltry few saw the evil in it. But our nation does not perceive the intellectual cowardice that allowed it. Responsible and bright leaders were under the illusion that their reasoning ability is far beyond that of the common man. Because of the weaknesses I listed earlier, these elite minds are blind to the signs of impending evil.
For the last 25 years, when confronted by those who were driven to find meaning in the Jim Jones cultic atrocity, I urged them to consider it a portent. I wanted them to awaken and see the metaphorical warning that—by way of Jonestown—was handed to us through one window in the house of history. For years after, I would look out there, in the middle distance of a dark future, to spot the event most likely portended by Jones and his Guyana mass murder. What did it signal? Foreboding, foreboding, the anguish never left me.
But finally, Jim Jones and his cult are back upon us. What it portended has come forth, massively, unmistakably. I cannot even deal with the satire. I am unable to process the implications, the parallels, called forth in the words, “Jonestown, its portent has arrived.” Yet, if they serve a purpose, so be it.
Here it is, then, the manifestation of the portent. A young and charismatic black lawyer comes almost out of nowhere to work the hopes and weaknesses of a naïve citizenry. He molds them into an image of his Marxist-socialist vision. And, just as it was with Jones (where people, politicians, and radical activists flocked to him, believing he was just what they wanted and needed), it is now with Barack Obama who is looked upon as a saint of sorts—just as people told me Jones was a saint and a leader the world desperately needed. And just as I was forced to go up to Jones’ cult and study him close up (since one of my close friends said he was a tower of compassion and understanding, while another of my friends, within two weeks of the first friend, told me that “Jim Jones is doing weird things with my ex-wife and my kids”), I now had no choice but to study Obama. Why? Because, again, people had given me polar opposite assessments. So once again I was impelled to look heavily into the matter.
I have done so. But in this case, and unlike with Jim Jones where I had no real bias, I was right at the start predisposed against Obama, for economic and political reasons. He was a far left extremist, documented to be the most liberal man in the Senate. So I observed him and his wife (just as I did Jim Jones and his wife). I studied their rhetoric. And I can now assure you that there is no significant difference between Obama’s rhetoric and that of Jim Jones. As with Jones, I saw the clever fashioning of an out-group in order to solidify the loyalty of the in-group. I saw straw man fallacies, and the lack of moments wherein a truth is uttered strictly for the sake of truth. Obama lacked authenticity, the character that puts national stability ahead of self-achievement. I saw in Obama a sense of entitlement, a belief that he should have what he wants, meaning that he does not consider those deeper elements of his desires, the whys and wherefore of them. He desires being the nation’s president much more than the well-being of the nation. He, as did Jones, wants and needs to change the external world, not for the sake of the world, but for the sake of himself. That is to say: Though he thinks he is dynamic, he is in fact static. So he needs to change the world into a wild entity that tolerates almost everything, and enslaves the minds of its denizens. That is the world that will tolerate the Obama who is death-oriented, un-alive, hopelessly static. He is a statue molded by the dull artisans of socialism. He is hopelessly ignorant of inner change, the “new creation” heralded two eons ago. I tell you an irony: Jim Jones sensed that he was un-alive. It accounts for his preoccupation with death, from childhood up to the moment he gasped his last breath. But Obama, with his static mind, has not a clue that he got it all backward, that he is a lost artificiality. My fear is that he might well see the Light only after some cataclysmic event of his own making. Because, you see, unlike Jones who had his own little cult, Obama leads a gigantic cult. He leads it disguised as an outsider. The cult is Islam. And Obama leads it by way of being its great Western Defender. In the most insidious fashion he has become the energizer of Islam’s massive incursion, from East to West. As President, he would be the principal driver of Islam’s invasion, and therefore the ultimate manifestation of the Jonestown portent.
Think about this: Jim Jones, like Barack Obama, at about the age of 42 found that sudden prominence wherein the media, liberal politicians, and New Age theologians were dazzled uncommonly, unreasonably. They were struck in ways almost magical. He somehow fit a mold envisioned by the California mindset with its radical aims, its dangerous games, and its succulent claims of a socialist paradise.
It mattered not a whit that no one knew who or what he was. Those clouds of beautifully colored rhetoric assured little chance for people to see the horizon of horror beyond, to a time when another young charismatic wonder—30 years after Jim Jones, but with similar rhetoric—would dazzle a nation to the point where it completely forgets that this young politician was the only man in the Illinois State Senate to vote for the murdering of viable babies who survived what is euphemistically called “late term abortion.”
Jim Jones, in his behind-the-scenes activities, directed and enjoyed activities so atrocious that I cannot describe them in this article. But none approached the killing of viable little babies. Jones did not attempt to justify his sickening propensities. But he did describe the acts while instructing his minions to perform them in a special subset of the cult which he called the Planning Commission. One investigator termed it a “freak show.”
Obama, though, is an intellectual coward. It is almost as if he is terrified to describe the heinous act that he supports and voted for. One might think that Obama fears describing the procedure, because in describing it he would have more difficulty trying to justify his having enabled it so fervently over the years.
Obama is merely a purveyor of other peoples’ ideas. He fears scrutiny. He thrives only in company with fellow radicals. It’s a cult-like characteristic used metaphorically in several theater and literary classics such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Night of the Living Dead, Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula, and Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
In other words Barack Obama is not a genuine thinker. He therefore disallows the tough questions. There is, then, but a bare chance that he, by way of powerful questions, would ever be drawn to those dungeons of his own absurdities. (I do not say this glibly. For my specialty over the years has been in questioning the cult-like thinking within the radical minds that have pushed America to the edge of chaos. My assessment of Obama comes without any doubts. It could easily be proven, were he to allow a confrontation with the truth. (But, of course he would never allow it.) Truth demands certain questions. Obama fears those questions. He fears truth even though he is not cognizant of it. It has been said other ways: “The light shone in the darkness and the darkness comprehended it not.”
Does not anyone see it? Obama has for years been connected to Weather Underground terrorists, William Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn. And his main spiritual advisor over the last 20 years is the radical Reverend Jeremiah Wright who went overseas, hand in hand with America’s most infamous Muslim leader, Minister Louis Farrakhan. They met with the Muslim dictator, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi to dance and plan and scan possibilities to which we will never be privy. Thank God for the few Americans who have imagined, and who now perceive the horror and its imminence.
Do you have doubts? Does he have doubts? Well, then, let him answer the questions that have not thus far been put to him.
Politically correct, spiritually incorrect: that was the Jim Jones cult.
And now comes its portent: the immensely more dangerous Barack Obama.
(David Conn is the co-author of The Cult That Died (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1980) and more recently the author of Lednorf’s Dilemma, which is reviewed here. An excerpt from the book appears here. A second article by Mr. Conn, Jonestown: Spawn of the Disciples of Christ, appears in this edition of the jonestown report. He can be reached at DavCon137@aol.com.)