As an amateur researcher into cults, I have long been aware of the tragedy at Jonestown in Guyana, and knew that there were extensive recordings of Jonestown meetings and sermons, but I didn’t know how to obtain them until I did a Google search on the Internet on the subject of “Jonestown” and found the Father Cares radio special by James Reston, Jr.. This link led me to Rebecca Moore’s website, where I found the listing of tape transcripts.
Jonestown was of particular interest to me because I viewed it as one of the most severe cult situations of the past century. I felt that the cultic manifestations — those manifestations that recur again and again within all cults — were at their most extreme in Jonestown . As an example: All cults manifest a controlled milieu. Members tend to be separated from external influences and sealed within an environment where all information, social fellowship and activities are directed at maintaining the cult’s “orthodoxy.” Orthodox behavior and, eventually, orthodoxy of thinking result. Certainly the appearance of orthodoxy becomes necessary. Those with doubts keep their thoughts to themselves.
In Jonestown this controlled milieu was as extreme as it can get. A sealed compound, in the jungle, with armed guards, far from civilization. Truly, once inside Jonestown, escape must have been nigh on impossible, and dissent inconceivable. The tapes I obtained proved of great interest to me.
The most apparent thing in these tapes is the organizational structure that was in place for controlling the behavior and modifying the thinking of the membership. To a large degree, Jim Jones assumes the position of moderator in community meetings, taking a central course in “debates” and appearing reasonable. Many of the tapes are “cathartic.” Members are constantly singled out and accused of unorthodox behaviour and thought. It is not Jones who does the accusing, rather it is other members. Each member of the group acts as a regulator on every other member.
This is a classic cult manifestation which George Orwell demonstrates at length in his cult novel 1984. Members spying on each other, squealing on each other, public accusation, public confession, public humiliation to regulate thinking, all these cultic manifestations are here, in most extreme form. One is prompted to think it must have been most similar to Chinese Communist “thought reform” schools.
Jim Jones is a most extreme example of how a man with good intentions can go sadly astray. Surely, living in Jonestown must have been living in a hell on earth.