Ah, it’s that time of year again, the holidays, 31 Days of Halloween, less than 400 days before we elect our next president. It’s also heading toward Thanksgiving, that strangest of all festive occasions, you know, the day we celebrate our betrayal of America’s indigenous peoples by over-eating. That America’s only holocaust fell in this month of November doesn’t seem particularly inappropriate to me. Jonestown as America’s Holocaust: It’s how I see it, and my book Jungle Rot explains my point of view on this dark matter.
As for not being an event uniquely suited to Thanksgiving, oh hell, yeah. We have our Native Americans’ wholesale betrayal and slaughter that began the whole thing, because nothing says thanks like measles etc. Then too I think that Thanksgiving just brings out the beast in crazy white men. I even wrote a different book on this, all about the way Robert Wagner celebrated Thanksgiving with his wife Natalie Wood – she died, by the way – but old Jimbo Jones there, he took celebrating the season back to its roots. I mean, he didn’t slaughter a bunch of innocent Native Americans – probably because there weren’t any left – but there was a large tribe of my own in Guyana, San Franciscans, and he killed nearly a thousand of us. He didn’t manage to bring about a tragedy on the scale of somebody like Hitler, true, but Jim was under severe time constraints, so shouldn’t be judged too harshly. He did the best he could.
Why another book on this subject? Because no one called it murder; no one seemed to want to address the inconvenient truths such as these: Jonestown was a slave plantation, if you were black; most of the nine hundred people who died were black too; the inner circle – Jim’s straw bosses – was white. These embarrassing things bring to mind the old not-so-glory days of Auschwitz, Belsen and their associated murder camps. It was a long-planned slaughter of a large number of extremely decent men, women and children, committed by a small number of (as Jim would have said) “elitists,” who were – how awkward! – whiter than white. The cyanide had been ordered long before, the money was placed in off-shore bank accounts, and most of Jim’s stooges were either in Georgetown or safely in the City by the Bay, and only then was it killing time.
I wrote the book because I wanted to parse down and make understandable to myself, and maybe to nine or ten other people who might read it, how those who killed had planned to kill, how they executed those plans, and then went on to other things.
This wasn’t a C.I.A. plot. This wasn’t some B.S. MK Ultra experiment. It was murder writ ginormous. And since those who died were mostly black, that makes it a holocaust, just as Hitler killing primarily Jews made that a holocaust. I never did think much of people who heard hoof beats and thought zebras; the simplest explanation is usually the truest. He and his little groupies took black money, and black dignity, and black freedom, and then black lives.
So that’s why I wrote the book. There’s no deep message in my story; there was no deep message in Jim Jones’ story except maybe this: Think for yourself always and only. And if you are a minority and put your trust in the hands of white folks, well, you should probably, in the words of Dante, “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.”
(Kathleen McKenna Hewtson’s previous article for the jonestown report is here. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)