Looking Past the Jonestown “Story”

I am a seeker of the truth. I always assume others to be also, but I am often wrong in that assumption. While my research on Peoples Temple is vast and has extended over many years since I was a teenager, I find increasingly that others have fallen hook, line and sinker for the media’s longstanding story about what happened in Jonestown. As far as I’m concerned, the assertions that Peoples Temple was a dangerous organization and not what it seemed to be, are up for debate. Any organization is bound to have as many differing opinions about it as it has participating members. My mother and I were out to breakfast at a restaurant yesterday, and today neither one of us can agree on what we ate. I defy you to find any two people who agree on any situation they’ve both seen. Lies – outright and of omission – have taken hold and grown roots. My own frustration with people’s belief of and misinformation about Jonestown as a complete issue must pale in comparison to the feelings that must fester in the hearts and minds of actual survivors. I can only imagine the frustrations when you are faced time and again with lies and innuendo of a situation you’ve actually lived in and around, knowing that what you hear is plain wrong.

But how does one fight a lie that has permeated and grown roots for almost 30 years?

The unfortunate aspect of this is that the very same incident which gives the subject a public identity – the scenes of carnage in Jonestown – is an almost insurmountable hurdle in dispelling all the myths behind it. The proverbial “Catch 22” situation. Even knowing the bit that I know as result of my research causes frustration when trying to keep another’s attention long enough to make my point. Seemingly a simple situation to surmount, however, it also reveals people’s willingness to eat what they are fed.

After purposely forging ties with some well known survivors whose email addresses were readily available on this website. I have been lucky in that I have perused and actually made friends of many who were actually in Jonestown. My original intent was merely to express my heartfelt condolences to the survivors as I knew in our society, how the media and our own government had treated them so shabbily. I wanted them to know that there were still some thinking and feeling folks out here. I was humbled even further when I found open and quite receptive people ready and somewhat eager to share their truths with me. I have been lucky to have made some ongoing and very close relationships with Laura and Ron Kohl, Rebecca Moore and her husband, Fielding McGehee, Don Beck, Juanell Smart, and Tim Carter. Quite in opposition to the preconceived notions about those who were/are involved with Peoples Temple, I have found them all to be individuals, all with their own personalities, woes and human frailties. Not once did I detect any hint of brainwashing or any other of the falsities they’ve been endowed with by the media and the U.S. Government. I found them all to be very thought-provoking, sensitive and more responsive than even people in my biological family. Even though almost our cross country’s distance separates me from most of them, their warmth, ability to give one a perspective on the world’s realities and seemingly genuine care for a person’s humanity have truly shortened the distance.

Although I have been a “victim” of the media and government smear campaign about the citizens of Jonestown, Guyana, I am no longer. And neither is anyone who takes the time and care to make connections with Jonestown’s survivors. The community deserves better treatment in the media than what it has received, because its intention was founded on what the U.S. as a society is lacking: conviction, equality and justice. It is quite ironic that we can be drawn to the crimes of psychopaths like Jeffrey Dahmer, Charles Manson, and Ted Bundy, because we as a society understand crushing another person to smithereens, or that we will fall under the influence of non-reality reality shows like Survivor (talk about irony) exploiting people’s need for and willingness to do any humiliating and dehumanizing thing for a dollar bill, and yet we don’t try to probe the human foibles that led a laudable human experiment to fail. So a group of people gives up the evils of this existence in search of a more harmonious way of being, and finds itself duped by a charismatic leader, and this is somehow an unbearable thought to our consciousness? I beg to differ. I will always beg to differ.

(Susan M. White Hicks’ complete collection of writings for the jonestown report may be found here. She can be reached at rokkee4@yahoo.com.)